A man with no sense of smell named Shakespeare Williams returns to his familial home on the eastern plains of Colorado to find his senile father living in filth and disarray and his finances even worse, and so he hatches a plan to rob a bank. Intrigued? That's the plot of East of Denver, a novel by local author Gregory Hill, who's getting some very positive attention for it: Specifically, he's been named a finalist for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, an international competition that pits new writers against each other to win a publishing contract from Penguin Group that comes with a $15,000 advance -- and you could (and should) help him win it.
Of course, you wouldn't want to vote purely out of nepotism (or maybe you would -- I know I would), and luckily, you don't have to: As part of the deal, Amazon is offering a free download of the first two chapters of the book, and they are worth reading. Hill's writing writing is punchy but unassuming, using simple sentences to powerful effect, and the story he weaves catches you at the first hook and keeps you engaged -- visceral, austere and beautiful, just the the prairie land it describes. Not that it's all claustrophobically serious, though: Hill definitely has a sense of humor, even if it tends toward black. Here's the first couple of sentences:
I was driving from Denver to the farm with a dead cat in the back seat of my car. She was a stray I used to feed off my back step. She slept outside. She walked in the rain. Once, after a blizzard, she spent a month trapped in the sewers where she survived by eating baby raccoons.
Makes you want to read more, right? Here's what you do: Go to the Amazon.com listing of the book and click "Buy Now with 1-Click" in the upper right -- so yeah, technically you have to buy it, but it's $0, so really you just have to sign up with Amazon if you don't already have an account. You also need Kindle software to read it (yes, it's a pain in the ass, but stay with us), which you can download for free in about twenty seconds.
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Then, once you've done that and read it, vote on it! There are six finalists in two categories (General Fiction and Young Adult Fiction) competing for a grand prize in each, so basically, Hill is competing against two other people -- and we haven't read their excerpts, but based on nepotism, we're going to go ahead and say they suck. The point is, Hill has an excellent chance of winning this thing, and it's our duty to fucking represent for him. So do it! Do your duty!
The ABNA contest is sponsored by Amazon, CreateSpace and the Penguin Group, and voting stays open until until June 1; winners will be announced June 13. In the meantime, Hill is a man of many talents, and he's also a songwriter who records under the moniker Soapy Argyle. Here's his song "Afternoon," as interpreted by a monster puppet:Follow us on Twitter!