Hamilton author could be people's choice for Giller Prize

A Hamilton writer's first novel gains nationwide acclaim as a finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize Reader's Choice contest.

A Hamilton writer’s first novel gains nationwide acclaim as a finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize Reader’s Choice contest.

"I didn’t even know we were nominated," said Vince Agro, author of The Good Doctor. "My publisher emailed me and said ‘by the way’ you’re up to number three."

Agro then decided to start getting the word out, by campaigning. He started with friends, relatives and all of the people who had sent him letters of appreciation. "We contacted them and told them the book was in the top ten and that they had an opportunity to vote," said Agro.

Since then the book has held both the number one and three spot, and more recently slipped to number four. Votes are added and tallied daily, with only one vote for your favourite allowed per day.

People's Choice Giller contest run by CBC Books

This is the second year the CBC Books division has run the contest, which uses the submissions for the Scotiabank Giller Prize as its platform.

"It’s a way for people to share their favourites and vote for some of the books they’ve enjoyed," said Adrian Ma with CBC Books.

The Scotiabank Giller Prize accepts submissions from publishers that meet their Canadian content focused criteria. The book must be a first-edition, full length novel or short story collection written by a Canadian citizen or a permanent resident of Canada.

From over 200 entries the jury selects an official long list of contenders for a top prize worth $70,000. That list will be announced on September 4. For the Reader’s Choice contest readers were invited to nominate their favourites, with the 10 most popular books then put to a public vote. The winner doesn’t receive a monetary prize, just bragging rights.

"Since we launched we have had more than 10,000 votes," said Ma.

The Good Doctor

Vince Agro’s book, The Good Doctor has been receiving its fair share with nominations coming in from British Columbia and Alberta as well as Hamilton.

"The themes in the book are universal," said Agro.

"The immigrant story is a really dynamic and significant one for us here in Canada. People abandoned (and continue to abandon) their homeland and they come here with new hopes and dreams. They find it very tough but that’s the human nature of things."

Vince’s first hand experience of the plight of immigrants is a large part of what drove him to write the novel. "I don’t think there are too many novels that take place in Hamilton. It’s very autobiographical. The events actually took place...I just set them ten years earlier," said Agro.

Hamilton's Italian community during WWII

The Good Doctor brings Hamilton’s Italian community during the World War II era to life. It’s a book rich in Hamilton history and filled with striking depictions of the city. It follows the efforts of Doctor Vincenzo Arcone to fight the forces of fascism within his community and the prejudice without.

Agro says he always knew he wanted to write a novel, but from concept to completion the whole process took about 15 years."I had been thinking about it for ten years but five years ago was when I first started writing the manuscript," said Agro.Agro was taking a writing course through Mohawk College’s Continuing Education program when he met his current publisher Noelle Allen with Wolsak and Wynn.

"She was a guest speaker. They asked everyone to submit an article so I presented a little piece from the book," said Agro. "She read it to the class as an example of good writing. That floored me. I went home and started to write more."

With a finished manuscript and ten rejection letters from other publishers, Agro sought out Noelle Allen’s advice. "I read it through and realized that this was a very strong Hamilton story," said Allen.

Agro says the book has been selling well and is about to go through a second printing.

Voting ends Friday, August 31 at noon.

To cast a vote, visit the CBC Books Reader’s Choice contest page. (link to http://www.cbc.ca/books/scotiabankgillerprize/2012/08/readers-choice-top-10-vote-now.html)