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DU staffer Gregory Hill wins Amazon contest for unpublished novels

DU staffer Gregory Hill has won in the general fiction category of the 2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest. His winning entry, a novel titled East of Denver, will be published in June 2012 by Penguin Group. Hill also received a $15,000 advance.

Hill, 38, who has worked as a book-buyer at DU’s Penrose Library since 2002, was one of thousands of writers who entered the contest for unpublished novels earlier this year. He and the other five finalists (the contest also has a young adult fiction category) traveled to Amazon headquarters in Seattle this weekend and were there for the announcement of the winner on Monday.

“It was very low key, no drum rolls. Some bigwig at Amazon said, ‘The winner for general fiction is Greg Hill,’” says Hill, who survived four rounds of cuts to make it to the contest’s final round, in which Amazon customers voted for the winner. “I thought, ‘I’ve got to act cool right now.’ I felt incredibly self-conscious about how everyone was looking at me. It wasn’t until [my wife] Maureen and I got back to the hotel and she went to the bathroom that I took a moment and sat on the bed and I just about started crying.”

According to a press release, East of Denver “tells the story of Shakespeare Williams, who returns to his family’s farm in eastern Colorado to find his widowed, senile father living in squalor. Facing the loss of the farm, Shakespeare hatches a plot with his father and a motley crew of his former high school classmates to rob the local bank.

The story is based on Hill’s own past growing up in Joes, Colo. (called Dorsey, Colo., in the book), and his more recent experiences watching his father’s battle against Alzheimer’s disease.

Hill already has been assigned an editor; he says will revise the book on his own and based on her feedback. The day after the announcement, he still was having trouble believing the good news.

“One works very hard to do creative stuff in his or her life, and virtually everybody gets told no over and over and over again,” says Hill, who also plays with his wife in the Denver band the Babysitters. “So being told yes this one time — a big, very large yes — still in the back of your head you’re looking at the pie chart and it’s 99 percent no and there’s one tiny sliver of yes. It’s very hard to make sense of it.”

East of Denver is available for pre-order on Amazon.

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