You’re going to be great: Interview with Branden Boyer-White, runner-up of the 2017 Miami Book Fair / de Groot Prize

We created the Miami Book Fair / de Groot Prize to fan the flame in emerging writers who yearn to be published. Awarded to the author of an unpublished novella, the prize offers both material and professional support for emerging writers in the forms of a cash prize, publication and the opportunity to publicly present their work at the Miami Book Fair.

degroot-winners-13The prize will return next spring. Submissions will be accepted beginning February 14, 2019 and must be received online by midnight EST on April 30, 2019.

While you perfect that novella you’ve been itching to submit, we thought you might enjoy getting to know our previous winners so we asked them to answer a few questions. Last week, we spoke to runner-up Niki Tulk, who won for her novella Before Rain. Next up is our second runner-up, Branden Boyer-White, who won for the novella Dice. Read the interview below for Boyer-White’s thoughts on writing, the impact the award has had on her work, and her one big tip for new writers, first passed along to her by Dave Eggers: “Don’t be surprised if it takes you a while. It just takes a while,” she writes, “let it take the while it takes. You’re going to be great.”

Once you’re done, click here to read more about this prize and the new submission period.

Q1: Can you tell us a little about your experience as a writer to date?

I’ve been writing stories since I was about ten or eleven, and really decided to put everything I’ve got into “being a writer” by college, where I majored in English so I could study how The Greats did what they did. There hasn’t been another path for me since then—this is what I’ve wanted. I got my MFA from Arizona State University in 2012, which is the same year I published my first two stories in lit journals. Since then, I’ve been writing as much as I can, continuing to develop my skills and style, and sending work out, all while putting a roof over my head writing marketing copy. Right now, I’m focused on finishing a novel about a cowgirl in Montana and some new essays about growing up in the desert around Palm Springs, so geographically, it’s an adventure! 

Q2: Your novella ‘Dice’ was the runner-up for the award. Can you remember what encouraged you to enter the competition?

I wanted to enter because the prizes were so awesome! I thought I’d be thrilled to even be a runner-up—and lo, I am! It was also a rare opportunity to send out a novella I have that I’m really proud of, but haven’t been able to place anywhere—the oddball length makes novellas hard to submit, so a chance to dust mine off, give it another polish, and send it out was too good to pass up, especially given the prestige of the award.     

Q3: Has winning the award had an impact on your writing?

It honestly has, in the sense that it gave me this big charge to start getting my work out there more and re-engage with my writing as a passion, rather than a to-do list item. In those long lulls where you’re just in your day job and pecking away at an endless-feeling novel manuscript, it can start to feel like you’re digging a tunnel with no light at the end; I’d definitely gone on autopilot a little in this uninspired way, and winning felt like this blast of bright light and fresh air in my process. In the four months since I was notified I was a finalist, I’ve started an entirely new project, finished and sent off a story I’d had in the drawer, and my novel-tunnel-digging feels less like a chore and more like something I really want to get into every day out of genuine excitement.

Q4: What would you say to someone who is considering entering the competition, but is unsure whether they have enough experience as a writer?

Your experience as a writer almost doesn’t matter—it’s the quality of your work that does. If you think you have a life-charged, beautifully-crafted, transcendent novella on your hands, who cares if it’s the first thing you’ve written or the fiftieth. Good work is good work, so why not give it a shot? You lose one hundred percent of the contests you don’t enter. Be professional and polished, of course, but those skills are just about being thorough and doing your research. Proof your manuscript to exquisiteness and follow the submission guidelines like they’re your religion for the moment. Plus, doing things like submitting to competitions is how you gain experience as a working writer, so just get started building your experience! Now!

Q5: What’s your one big tip for a new writer?

I’m going to pass along what Dave Eggers said to me when I met him as a wee twenty-one-year-old college student, absolutely sure I’d have my first novel on shelves before I turned thirty: “Don’t be surprised if it takes you a while. It just takes a while.” I’m still finishing my first novel, and I’m definitely past thirty, but it’s a better book than I could have written before this, with those years of lived experience and practice that happened in between that new writer’s impatient ambition and the fuller, more sure-footed writer I am now. Let it take the while it takes. You’re going to be great.

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