February is not just the month in Smaragdine when things turn a little colder. Itâ€™s also the month when Smaragdineans announce the winners of various literary awards. Fisticuffs have been known to break out at the award ceremonies, along with more serious scuffles. These people take their awards seriously, and they expect the finalists to be full-blooded Smaragdineans.
Thus, it was with some trepidation that I attended one such awards banquet several years ago, accompanied by Big Bad Bear (still in trouble with the police, so I cannot reveal his identity) and Michael Haulica, a Romanian editor and writer. Michael was there to see if he could track down a couple of Smaragdine authors and to observe the local spectacle. He was not disappointed.
This particular award roughly translates as â€œthe Genre Fiction Shovel,â€ because the award is literally a golden shovel that relates to some Smaragdinean folktale about the price of fame. Beyond the dais sat ten golden shovels, each corresponding to some esoteric category.
The category translations I received from Bear didnâ€™t make too much sense, but I reproduce them here nonetheless:
Best Professional Cockroach
Best Amateur Cockroach
Best Related Amateur Cockroach
Best Recollection of Related Stories by a Snitch
Best Stories of Related Incidents from Perverts
Best Bribe for Preternatural Publication
Best Barter for Supernal Publication
Best Elongated Fiction Sequence
Best Text of Unusual Length
Although some of these categories clearly correspond to categories more familiar to me (like â€œBest Novelâ€), Bear stressed, when Michael questioned him, that to reduce the translation to something more familiar would lose the nuance of the award.
â€œTake, for example, â€˜Professional Cockroach.â€™ In Smaragdine folklore, the cockroach is a trickster creature, like the coyote. Also something with a divided nature, both good and bad. Thus, they can reward dual nature in this categoryâ€”perhaps an agent who has done good but also screwed a lot of writers over.â€
Bear went on to say that the winners of such awards sometimes suffered terribly, became a target in Smaragdinean literary circles. In other words, there were several nominees who were hoping to lose.
â€œWhy show up?â€ Michael asked as we sampled our rather limp salads while a Smaragdine comedian gesticulated and made jokes incomprehensible to us. The awards program would start in a few minutes.
â€œBecause it is a horrible social faux pas not to show up for the awards ceremony,â€ Bear explained. â€œIf you lose but do not show up, it is as terrible as if you show up and win.â€
For this reason, most Smaragdinean writers and professionals try their best to avoid being nominated for any award. Several people told me that only the poor wind up on the finalist lists since the richer writers manage to bribe their way out of consideration. This creates a vicious cycle, although in Smaragdinean the term for â€œvicious cycleâ€ refers to the teenage bicycle gangs that have roamed the countryside since the depression of the 1920s.
In any event, Smaragdineans even treat being nominated for awards by people in other countries with the utmost suspicion.
Michael and I looked at each other with some trepidation as the ceremony began, but at first it looked as if everything would be okay, as in the first two categories a judgment of â€œNo Awardâ€ was given out.
â€œNo doubt some last minute bribes,â€ Bear whispered to us.
However, in the Best Related Amateur Cockroach category, two men tied for the award and immediately began trying to get the other to accept the award. This led to a brawl and a stabbing, whereupon the category became untied. The man who accepted the golden shovel was set upon as soon as he left the stage after an abrupt acceptance speech.
Upon the announcement of the winner of the Best Recollection of Related Stories by a Snitch award, several people drew their guns and started firing.
Bear, Michael, and I retreated to the relative safety of the street, leaving our somewhat cold boiled chicken and potatoes main course on the table.
â€œWhat was that all about?!â€ Michael asked.
Bear sighed. â€œIt is complicated. In that category, the text is nonfiction. But Smaragdineans have no libel laws. So you can publish any lie you like. Most nonfiction books in the country are full of lies so no one believes any of them. But for this award, the judges thoroughly check the veracity of the text. If you win, everything you wrote is deemed to be true. This usually upsets the people you wrote about. In this case, almost everyone in the room.â€
We would have lingered in the street, but the violence had begun to spill out of the banquet hall. The judges had been tossed out onto the sidewalk in their tuxedos. Several of them were screaming as they were pulled apart limb from limb by various of the finalists and their families.
As we ran to safety, I told my companions I hoped I was never translated into Smaragdinean and Michael expressed a rather fervent if garbled wish to get back to Romania soon.