Rita Mae Brown, Dorothy Allison, Lee Lynch, and I Walked Into A Ballroom….

I spent last week far away from wife and home in New Orleans, Louisiana. I did it because my book, Riding the Rainbow, was a finalist in the 2015 Golden Crown Literary Award in the YA category.

Due to situations beyond our control, our income is limited. I had not planned on attending when I first found out about Riding making it to the finalist short list. I was disappointed, but what can you do? Kids need feeding, the mortgage needs paying, etc.. ad nauseam. I figure I’d prepare an acceptance speech, just in case, and ask a friend to accept for me if the long shot paid off.

I didn’t expect to win. There are some very high profile lesbian authors whose books were also on the finalist list, all of them from publishing companies like Bold Stroke Books, Sapphire Books, Bella Books, and other notable publishers. At the time it was nominated, Riding the Rainbow was self-published. I figured among the glittering lesbian literati my little book would be lost.

Then I was contacted by GCLS and offered a last minute scholarship because someone else had dropped out. I talked it over with my wife, we checked the piggy bank, and off I went on a wish and a prayer.

I had a marvelous time attending panels and giving a short reading from A Man’s Man, my newest YA release. I was stunned to tears by the power of Dorothy Allison’s reading from her classic, Bastard Out of Carolina. I was impressed by the friendliness of the conference board members, and enjoyed meeting and making new friends. One night another author treated me to dinner at Muriel’s, a notoriously haunted restaurant, followed by paranormal authors reading from their work. I looked for ghosties, but couldn’t find any. I was so entertained I didn’t worry about the award, at least until Friday night.

That night I tossed and turned, fighting off an unnamed fear. I couldn’t sleep, and dragged my way through the morning, fighting off tears I couldn’t explain. I was afraid of losing, sure. But I also seemed to be afraid of winning. Friends tried to buck me up, but no matter what words they used, how hard or long they hugged me, I couldn’t shake a feeling of paralyzing fear. I was so tense, that only an hour and a half before the Awards Presentation began I lifted something too heavy for me and twisted my back.

I struggled through a shower I couldn’t stand straight in, and lay down on the bed to wait for the Advil I took to kick in. I phoned my wife, who soothed my ragged nerves and reminded me that in her eyes I’ve always been a winner. By the time I hung up my back was looser, I was calmer, and I could dress in my special outfit carefully chosen for the occasion.

I sat at a table with new friends, enjoying the festivities. My heart beat loudly in my chest as the YA category neared, but I’d prepared myself to graciously lose. I drank a glass of wine, prepped my cell phone’s camera to capture the screen shot of my book’s cover when it was announced, and surreptitiously crossed my fingers under the table.

When the presenters in my category announced, “…Riding the Rainbow by Genta Sebastian!” my table erupted with cheers and everyone jumped up from their seats. I stumbled up to the stage and realized that seated directly in front of me sat – are you ready for this? RITA MAE BROWN, DOROTHY ALLISON, and LEE LYNCH. If I hadn’t already been as nervous as it is possible for me to be short of fainting, I would have lost my voice then and there. Thank goodness I didn’t.

I gave my acceptance speech, stumbled off stage with my very heavy award, and made my way back to my table of friends. The rest of the evening was a surreal experience.

It was a night I will never forget. And I learned some very important things from all of this:

1.  My wife is my rock, my center, and my strength, no matter how many miles separate us.
2.  The fear of winning is almost as powerful as the fear of losing.

and 3. Winning awards is totally addicting.

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