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Alum wins Amazon writing contest to get novel published

Sara Felsenstein | Tuesday, March 2, 2010

For Notre Dame alumnus Jim King, a long-awaited dream came true last May when he received an unexpected call from Amazon on a train ride into New York City.

King, a member of the Class of 1977, was one of three finalists for the second annual Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, an international competition seeking the “next popular novel.” He would later be selected as the grand prize winner out of more than 6,500 manuscript entries.

“I got a call one day from a guy from Amazon and he told me that I was one of three finalists,” King said. “Of course I just wanted to scream because I [have been] trying to get a novel published ever since I graduated from Notre Dame in 1977.”

As the winner of the competition, King landed a $25,000 publishing contract with The Viking Press to publish his novel, “Bill Warrington’s Last Chance.” The novel is due for release in August.

“The total number of manuscripts was around 6,500 and I had entered the contest almost on a lark,” King said. “I almost forgot about it because I didn’t think I stood a chance to win.”

The panel that reviewed the top three manuscripts included “Secret Life of Bees” author Sue Monk Kidd, “Alphabet Mystery Series” author Sue Grafton, literary agent Barney Karpfinger and Penguin Press Vice President and Editor-in-Chief Eamon Dolan.

King’s novel is the story of a man, Bill Warrington, who is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, although King never explicitly mentions the disease in the book. Warrington is trying to reconnect with his three adult children who want nothing to do with him.

“The main character was inspired by a neighbor of mine who had lost his wife shortly before I met him,” King said. “Over the years the house he built with his own hands was falling apart around him.”

In the novel, Warrington decides the only way to bring his family back together is to kidnap his 15-year-old granddaughter April, who dreams of becoming a rock star. The two of them take off across America. Warrington forces his children to come together and talk to one another in order to locate April and him.

“The book is about a man trying to bring the family together before it’s too late,” King said.
The novel took King about a year and a half to write. He began writing the novel in a masters program he had entered after nearly 30 years of being away from school.

“I found out about [the contest] on an agent’s blog and decided to investigate it and found out I was a day or two from missing the deadline,” King said. “I put together a pitch, description and manuscript and sent it in.” 

“Bill Warrington’s Last Chance” was already complete when King spotted the contest. King had previously written two novels that were not published. Winning the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award was truly King’s “first chance.”

“I majored in American Studies. [Professor] Elizabeth Christman, who recently passed away, really encouraged me. She was confident that one day, I would have a novel published,” King said. 

King is currently a freelance corporate writer but hopes his breakthrough novel will lead him into a career of fiction writing.

“I’ve already started on another novel, and I’m hoping this is beginning of a different kind of writing career,” he said. 

King tells aspiring writers getting published may take awhile, but the key to success is just to keep trying.

“It helps to be a stubborn Irishman — which I am. It may take you awhile but keep writing, keep submitting, and don’t give up on the dream.”