[To follow my ABNA journey from the very beginning, click the ABNA label at the bottom of this post]
I have so, so much to say about my trip to Seattle, that I'm just going to do it like I did the "week of the finals" post: day by day.
But first, here are some pictures!
Okay, go use the washroom, get a drink, and then make yourself comfy. Here we go:
My husband and I got up at the ungodly hour of 4:30am to get ready to leave. I'd packed the day before, made a huge, detailed list on which I'd been routinely checking things off for the last two days, so I knew I had everything. We were scheduled to fly out of Halifax at 8 something. We got there early, went through security, etc. Plane left on time.
Okay, right now, go look at Nova Scotia on a North American map. We're waaaaaay over there, along the Atlantic ocean. See how far we have to go to get to Washington? Yeah. It's far. We had a layover in Chicago. From Halifax to Chicago--about 3 hours. Time difference from Halifax--2 hours. Chicago to Seattle--about 4 hours. Time difference from Halifax--4 hours. We were completely bedraggled by then. The first thing we did at Sea-Tac was head for a Starbucks (you can't go three feet without tripping over a Starbucks in Seattle. It's like Tim Horton's in Nova Scotia). Let me tell you, Seattle, your coffee is stronger than ours. Felt better immediately.
We had a bit of a hard time finding our driver, but only because we are dumb and didn't go to the correct spot right away. He was standing there with a sign with my name on it. So cool. He was this nice young man who told us he was working as a driver to pay his way through school. We ended up getting the same driver on the way back, but anyway. He took us to our hotel and we checked in. Grand Hyatt Seattle is a really nice hotel. The bathroom is bigger than most hotel rooms. Tom Kephart from Amazon handled the driver, hotels, everything.
Speaking of Thom, I wasn't supposed to meet him until Saturday morning but I ended up meeting him about an hour after we arrived. Backtracking a little...after we checked in, Jason (my husband) and I headed straight out to the Wells-Fargo bank on Olive to cash the Amazon spending money check that I received the week before. The reason I hadn't cashed it at home in Canada was because they refused to. So I took it straight to the bank in Seattle, where, as it turned out, they also refused to cash it. (Side note: while we were in there, this crazy drunk guy came in and was ranting like a lunatic. I was sure we were all going to be shot and I could even picture the headline "Canadian writer shot in Seattle while trying to cash check. Missed the ABNA gala.") Anyway, I emailed Thom and explained the situation, and he came straight to the hotel, walked us back to the Wells-Fargo bank, and had it all fixed in about three minutes. Thom Kephart is a super hero.
By then, I was almost late for a 5:30 dinner with all the finalists and their guests. This was a plan the six of us concocted about two weeks prior via email (Alan's from Seattle and knows where to go). But we made it just in time. I knew from the second I walked into the hotel lobby who was who. They all looked exactly like their pictures. We walked to the Steelhead Diner for dinner. Jason and I were half-comatose by then, but damn it, we were going to do this.
Dinner was fun, aside from the fact that I almost fell asleep in the bread basket at one point. It was so nice to meet everyone and get to know each other a little before our big day on Saturday. We got comfortable with other, we laughed, we talked...it was great.
By nine, Jason and I were D-O-N-E. Back to the hotel to sleep.
Still on Atlantic time, Jason and I woke up at 4:00am. We had plenty of time to get ready for breakfast at Lola with all the finalists, their guests, Thom, and Kent and Elissa from Penguin. Coffee. Yes! Breakfast was a casual affair and strangely enough, no one ordered the octopus.
After breakfast, we all split up. Jason and I caught the monorail to the Space Needle.Yes, we did go up to the top. Such a touristy thing. Then we went to Pike's Place Market, which was so crowded it almost made me cry. We walked around, bought some souvenirs, had lunch. Seattle is a nice city...it reminds me of a grown-up Halifax with the water and fish and all that.
Finally, it was time to get ready for the gala. Back in the hotel room, it took me an hour to straighten my hair (it's naturally curly and annoying). My nerves were jumping by then. It's really hard to put in contact lenses and apply makeup with a shaking hand. Everyone met in the lobby at 6:00pm, all wearing that same OH MY GOD IT'S ALMOST TIME HELP ME face. Even Thom was nervous. A van brought us to the Sculpture Park where the gala was being held. We got nametags. There were drinks (I stuck to water). There was food (I couldn't eat). There were people from Amazon, Penguin, CreateSpace, and Publisher's Weekly there (intimidating).
Almost right way I met Amy Ackley, winner of the 2010 ABNA for YA. She hugged me. I gushed about her book, which I'd just read a few weeks ago. She was gorgeous and nice and funny. Next I met the one person I was kind of worried about meeting--Libby, the woman who called me on May 14 to give me the news. The first thing I said to her was "I'm so sorry". Read my previous blog post to see how I reacted when she called me. She was gracious and mentioned how much she enjoyed calling the finalists and hearing their reactions. I guess I wasn't the only one who cried and/or was speechless.
7pm--food service. I was so NOT hungry. I had three bites of salad, one bite of salmon, and a peanut butter cookie. Everyone seemed to love the mashed potato station, but I couldn't risk too much solid food. The speeches began. I sat next to a lady from PW, who kept cracking me up with her dry remarks.
Amy Ackley spoke, Libby, the PW lady, a Penguin person, a CreateSpace person. THEN, the finalists. *gulp* Cassandra was first. She did great. I was next. I was so nervous I was about two seconds away from toppling off my chair. I wrote everything down and pretty much read it verbatim. I screwed up at least five times. When I thanked my fellow finalists, I'm pretty sure I called Cassandra "Cassie" instead of Casey, which is what everyone calls her. I had Cassandra written down and tried to change it to Casey at the last second, I guess. Also, my cat's name is Cassie so I say it a lot. LOL I'm so sorry, Casey.
The rest of the finalists spoke (they all did so well) and then it was time. The announcement. Libby got to do it. I was nervous but not expecting to hear my name at all. I went in there mostly knowing who was going to win, and it wasn't going to be me. I was right. She called Regina's name. I felt a tiny stab of disappointment but it was quickly eclipsed by joy. I was so happy for her. Then Alan's name was called. I was thrilled for him as well.
That was it! I hugged and congratulated Regina, hugged and congratulated Alan, shook hands with several people, and off we went back to the van. Amy came with us and we talked about agents and stuff while we drove back to the hotel. Everyone said goodbye. Then I went on Facebook, posted the news, and went to bed.
Airports and airplanes, part II. All day I was enveloped in this weird calm feeling. The thing I'd been obsessing about and preparing for all these weeks was now done. Over. The whole weekend was a whirlwind. I'd gotten 14 hours of sleep in the past three days, had barely eaten, and spent 99% of the time basically freaking out about what was happening. It felt like a dream.
In Chicago that day, our flight was delayed an hour because Air Force One was at O'Hare. So I can now say that one time, Obama got me home pretty late.
Flying back into Halifax, the sky was full of stars. Maybe it was the extreme fatigue or an after-effect from the Chicago hotdog I had at O'Hare, but when I looked down and saw my city and my ocean, I got a little teary-eyed. I was home.
I can't even put this experience into words. Looking back on it, I can't believe I actually did that. Flew to Seattle. Met all those people. Made it this far in the contest. But I'm so glad I did. I made a whole set of new friends, writers like me, amazing men and women who made this trip even better than I expected it to be.
Regina, you are so warm and sweet. Your win is well-deserved and I'm so happy for you.
Casey, I loved hearing about your cool job. Thank you so much for assuring me that I was pronouncing "subarachnoid" correctly.
Alan, you are hilarious and I love that I was able to recognize you just from your hair-do. Your win is also well-deserved and I'm also so happy for you.
Chuck, I loved hearing all your interesting stories. I'm still so impressed that you recited your passage with hardly a glance down at the words.
Brian, it was a pleasure sitting across from you and Rae at dinner and beside you at breakfast. Thanks for saying "no" when we said "We don't talk funny, do we?"
I have to mention all the swag we got from Amazon. A Kindle Touch, several books, a glass trophy with our names and book titles etched on it, and a printed paperback of our own books, the inside cover personally signed by Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon.
I also have to mention Thom Kephart again. Not only is he a super hero, but he's also extremely nice. His enthusiasm and love for this contest is evident. He did such a great job organizing everything, answering our questions, and just generally being there for us and supporting us.
Lastly, thank you to Amazon, Penguin, Publisher's Weekly, and CreateSpace. There are a lot of people involved in this contest and it's getting more popular each year. If you're reading this and wondering if you should enter? DO IT. You never know, right?