Include William Alexander among those floored with surprise by the announcement of the National Book Award finalists last week. His novel Goblin Secrets is a nominee in the Young People’s Literature category. When I caught up with him as a fellow participant in the Rain Taxi-sponsored Twin Cities Book Festival in Minneapolis this month, Alexander was still trying to process the fact that his very first book had been tagged for such an honor.
It took lots of convincing for Alexander to believe it was real. “I got the call on my birthday, and had a great conversation with Harold Augenbraum, the Executive Director of the National Book Awards—or at least a very skilled actor pretending to be him. Throughout the entire conversation I had a horrible suspicion that this was all a cruel and elaborate birthday prank. So far it seems to be real, but I don't think I'll fully believe it until I show up for the ceremony and they let me in.”
Alexander gave a spirited and fun reading at the book festival to an audience of children and adults, one that reflected his background as a theater actor. He only switched over from the theater to writing fiction in the last decade, with appearances in such publications as Weird Tales, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, Interfictions 2, and Fantasy: The Best of the Year 2008.
His expectations for Goblin Secrets included much more attainable goals than a National Book Award nomination, like reaching “multiple audiences and ages simultaneously, and for the novel to be equally entertaining to adults reading it aloud, small children listening, and older kids reading for themselves.” But since publication, he’s also received recognition from many writers that he considers “personal heroes,” including Ursula K. Le Guin, Peter Beagle, and Susan Cooper. “These are all writers that I loved long before realizing that writers are actual people who walk the earth.”