Dwight Okita was originally one of 5,000 entrants in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest, Amazon.com's first writing competition in search of the next great American novel. Now, after the local gay author's sci-fi work, The Prospect of My Arrival, has been selected as one of the 10 finalists for the award—and the public can help decide who wins by going to www.amazon.com/abna and voting for their favorite work through Mon., March 31. The winner will be announced Mon., April 7, and will receive a publishing contract worth $25,000.
Okita talked with Windy City Times about his work, threesomes and being on a Corn Flakes box.
Windy City Times: So now you're a finalist.
Dwight Okita: It's so thrilling.
WCT: You sound like you can't believe it.
DO: There were 5,000 novels from around the world. I've never had a short story published; I've had plenty rejected. This is my first novel, and it's doing pretty well.
WCT: What is the plot of The Prospect of My Arrival? It seems a bit trippy.
DO: 'Trippy' is the word; I'm a trippy person. [ Laughs ]
To me, it starts with the fact that we live in a new millennium and that interesting things are discovered every day. I'm living proof of that; I used to suffer from extreme depression and mood swings and, for the last 10 years, I haven't because of medicine. Things like that interest me—like how memory is coded within our brains. So whenever I look at the faces of children, they always seem like old souls in new bodies, and they always seem much wiser than they should be. And I speculated about that and—partly because I'm Buddhist and I believe in reincarnation—the notion about allowing a fetus to choose [ after ] previewing the world became a part of The Prospect of My Arrival.
To me, that's interesting because it's not just the story of one person's preferences but it's also about how we, as a world, appear and do. There are so many interesting and horrible things that happen in our world every day that an outsider from another planet would have to say, 'Don't go there.' [ Laughs ] 'They have reality TV.'
There's a little subplot with a serial killer. At first, he thinks he's a piano tuner, which he is. One reason I'm drawn to the dark side is that I grew up a block from where [ serial killer ] Richard Speck killed eight nurses. I was in second grade and I learned about massive violence.
WCT: But you turned it to your advantage.
DO: Absolutely. I think of the survivor—the ninth nurse who hid under the bed and lived. I think about what she had to endure listening to her eight friends being murdered.
That's been my life—this weird juxtaposition of the innocent and the not-so-innocent. That's what keeps things interesting.
WCT: Tell me about the writing process for this book.
DO: The first draft took about a year. Then, it took about another year to expand [ the draft ] ; I had an online writing group I worked with.
WCT: So how did Amazon come to select you?
DO: They did a call for entries last October. I heard about it at the last minute, so I had about a couple weeks to get things together. Like everyone else, I filled out an application form and we just waited. Amazon looked at the first 5,000 that were qualified—no formatting errors or stuff like that. The next cut was down to 1,000, which was interesting because Publishers Weekly gave me a great review for that. Then Penguin Group chose the top 100 and then the top 10. Then, the top three vote-getters will be flown out to New York for an awards dinner but we won't know who won until the dinner. Talk about drama. [ Laughs ]
[ By the way, ] there is a fair amount of gay content in this novel. Prospect, who is in the body of a 30-year-old man, wouldn't define himself because he's not born yet. [ The novel ] does start with a three-way with a man and a woman, and he sees physical bodies for the first time and compares the male and the female. He's kind of fascinated by the touch and the sensuality.
WCT: On your Amazon.com, one of the little-known facts about you is tht you were on the cover of a Corn Flakes box. How did that come about?
DO: I think there's a novel in there somewhere; I haven't figured it out yet.
The Corn Flakes situation [ resulted ] from me being in the theater community. Some of my Asian-American actor friends suggested that I go down and interview because [ Kellogg's ] is looking for Asian men. I did it on a lark. They did a test shot, and I didn't hear back. I called because I wanted to know who got it and they said, 'Some guy named Okita.' I said, 'Well, that's my name.' They said, 'It's a good thing you called because the shoot's tomorrow.' It was pretty surreal walking into a store and seeing myself.
WCT: Do you have advice for aspiring writers?
DO: There are days where I hate being a writer, and there are days where I love it. But if you really feel called to do it, you're going to do it—and having the work published is not what it's about. Publication is frosting on the cake—and I want my frosting. [ Laughs ]
See www.amazon.com/abna .