The 2014 Bram Stoker Awards® Preliminary Ballot

So the Bram Stoker Awards® Preliminary Ballot is out, and I’m honored to be on it in a couple of places. I figured I’d throw some thoughts around about some of the categories, without indicating anywhere who I might move to the final ballot. In most cases, if I don’t mention a work it’s because I haven’t read it, yet—and I won’t be voting in several categories because I won’t have read everything on the preliminary ballot before the deadline.

There are a boatload of excellent tales here. I know a good chunk of these authors personally, and many more on Facebook and Twitter. They’re delightful people, and possess the imagination and skill to make you glad you turned the page, even when you’re cringing in terror.

Superior Achievement in a Novel
Tim Burke – The Flesh Sutra (NobleFusion Press)
Adam Christopher – The Burning Dark (Tor Books)
Michaelbrent Collings – This Darkness Light (self-published)
Lawrence C. Connolly – Vortex (Fantasist Enterprises)
Craig DiLouie – Suffer the Children (Gallery Books of Simon & Schuster)
Patrick Freivald – Jade Sky (JournalStone)
Chuck Palahniuk – Beautiful You (Jonathan Cape, Vintage/Penguin Random House UK)
Christopher Rice – The Vines (47North)
Brett J. Talley – The Reborn (JournalStone)
Steve Rasnic Tem – Blood Kin (Solaris Books)

So let me dispense with the obvious bias and say that of course I’m honored and humbled that Jade Sky is here. Thank you so much to everyone who read it and liked it enough to recommend it.

As for my competition? Holy. Crap. There are some excellent books here. This Darkness Light by Michaelbrent Collings, Suffer the Children by Craig DiLouie, The Reborn by Brett J. Talley and The Vines by Christopher Rice are all fantastic, mind-blowing stuff. I couldn’t be more honored to get stomped by these excellent tales, and I look forward to reading the few I haven’t.

In this category I really wanted to see the incredible Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer on the ballot. I’m also surprised not to see more popular authors like Thomas Ligotti and Stephen King, but to be honest I didn’t read any new King this year, either….

Superior Achievement in a First Novel
Maria Alexander – Mr. Wicker (Raw Dog Screaming Press)
J.D. Barker – Forsaken (Hampton Creek Press)
Janice Gable Bashman – Predator (Month9Books)
David Cronenberg – Consumed (Scribner)
Michael Knost – Return of the Mothman (Woodland Press)
Daniel Levine – Hyde (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Josh Malerman – Bird Box (Harper Collins)
Whitney Miller – The Violet Hour (Flux)
Chantal Noordeloos – Angel Manor (Horrific Tales Publishing)
C.J. Waller – Predator X (Severed Press)

I’m light on this group, to the point where I won’t be voting because I haven’t read them all and won’t have the time to do so. I enjoyed Forsaken, Return of the Mothman, and Angel Manor, and with all the buzz Bird Box is next on my TBR (and my Kindle). Some great stuff here, and these are writers to watch!

It’s always great to see new authors getting some recognition, and I wish everyone the best of luck—with the awards, with their novels, and with their writing careers. Getting published is a good first step, but from my experience getting read is the truly hard part. Go get em!

Superior Achievement in a Young Adult Novel
Ari Berk – Lych Way (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)
Jake Bible – Intentional Haunting (Permuted Press)
Ilsa J. Bick – White Space (Egmont)
John Dixon – Phoenix Island (Simon & Schuster/Gallery Books)
Kami Garcia – Unmarked (The Legion Series Book 2) (Little Brown Books for Young Readers)
S.E. Green – Killer Instinct (Simon & Schuster/Simon Pulse)
Tonya Hurley – Passionaries (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Micol Ostow – Amity (Egmont)
Peter Adam Salomon – All Those Broken Angels (Flux)
Sam Swanson and Araminta Star Matthews – Horror High School: Return of the Loving Dead (Curiosity Quills Press)
Johnny Worthen – Eleanor: Book 1 (The Unseen) (Jolly Fish Press)

In this category there are two I haven’t read, which I’ll rectify before ballots close, so I can give everyone a fair shake. Of those I have read, the two that really stuck with me are All Those Broken Angels and Unmarked.

All Those Broken Angels might well be the best book I’ve read all year, in any genre. You can’t go far wrong by buying and reading every word Peter Salomon puts on paper.

Superior Achievement in Long Fiction
Michael Bailey – Dandelion Clocks (Inkblots and Blood Spots) (Villipede Publications)
Taylor Grant – The Infected (Cemetery Dance #71) (Cemetery Dance)
Eric J. Guignard – Dreams of a Little Suicide (Hell Comes To Hollywood II: Twenty-Two More Tales Of Tinseltown Terror (Volume 2)) (Big Time Books)
Kate Jonez – Ceremony of Flies (DarkFuse)
Joe R. Lansdale – Fishing for Dinosaurs (Limbus, Inc., Book II) (JournalStone)
Jonathan Maberry – Three Guys Walk Into a Bar (Limbus, Inc., Book II) (JournalStone)
Joe McKinney – Lost and Found (Limbus, Inc., Book II) (JournalStone)
Gene O’Neill – Ridin the Dawg (Mia Moja) (Thunderstorm Books)
John F.D. Taff – The Long Long Breakdown (The End in all Beginnings) (Grey Matter Press)
Gregor Xane – The Riggle Twins (Bad Apples) (Corpus Press)

Of these the only one I haven’t read is The Riggle Twins by Gregor Xane. I intend to fix that ASAP. This category is so packed with amazing stories that I don’t even know where to begin to whittle them down. I mean, wow, you know we’re in a renaissance of short(er) fiction when you find this many incredible tales—and there were more besides that could easily have made the list.

If you want to see what’s fresh and new and incredible in horror fiction today, you starting with the authors on this list won’t lead you far astray.

One might worry about a personal bias because Limbus II is a JournalStone anthology—but c’mon, you can’t go wrong with Maberry, McKinney, and Lansdale. Three incredible authors; I buy everything they write anyway.

Superior Achievement in Short Fiction
Dale Bailey – Sleep Paralysis (Nightmare Magazine, April 2014) (Nightmare)
Hal Bodner – Hot Tub (Hell Comes to Hollywood II) (Big Time Books)
Patrick Freivald – Trigger Warning (Demonic Visions Book 4) (Chris Robertson)
Sydney Leigh – Baby’s Breath (Bugs: Tales That Slither, Creep, and Crawl) (Great Old Ones Publishing)
Usman T. Malik – The Vaporization Enthalpy of a Peculiar Pakistani Family (Qualia Nous) (Written Backwards)
Alessandro Manzetti – Nature’s Oddities (The Shaman: And Other Shadows) (self-published)
Rena Mason – Ruminations (Qualia Nous) (Written Backwards)
John Palisano – Splinterette (Widowmakers: A Benefit Anthology of Dark Fiction)
Sayuri Ueda – The Street of Fruiting Bodies (Phantasm Japan) (Haikasoru, an imprint of VIZ Media, LLC)
Genevieve Valentine – A Dweller in Amenty (Nightmare Magazine, March 2014) (Nightmare)
Damien Angelica Walters – The Floating Girls: A Documentary (Jamais Vu, Issue Three) (Post Mortem Press)

Here’s another category I’m in, with Trigger Warning. Fun enough, this story was inspired by a beta read of Michael Bailey’s Dandelion Clocks (up in the Long Fiction category)—not in content or even tone, but in style. I’d never tried experimental fiction before, but Michael’s incredible, poetic prose inspired me to try it. I’m overjoyed at the reception.

The Vaporization Enthalpy of a Peculiar Pakistani Family, as well as Ruminations, appear with my story Twelve Kilos in the amazing anthology Qualia Nous, edited by, who else, Michael Bailey. The man’s a mad genius, and I count myself incredibly lucky to have been published alongside such talented authors. (There are many more within. Go buy it and read it, because it’s amazing.) Both of their stories are touching, personal, visceral, and a bit off-center. I can’t recommend them enough.

John Palisano’s Splinterette is similar to but quite different from a short story I’ve written but haven’t published, called, of all things, Splinter. Splinterette is a great story, a different riff on a similar theme, and highlights just how kickass John is with this whole wordsmithing thing.

Hot Tub is dark and twisted and occasionally laugh-out-loud-while-shushing-yourself-in-shame funny, much like a conversation with the indomitable Hal Bodner. Just delightful.

Baby’s Breath makes me want to pay for Sydney Leigh’s psychiatry bills. What a whallop this story packs—it’s mind-blowingly gross, but so much more than that.

The Floating Girls: A Documentary is in some small way reminiscent of A House of Leaves; a sort of found-footage clipping of various media sources to tell a story, but all in prose. It’s heartbreaking and sad in all the right ways.

It’s an honor to count myself amongst these incredible authors.

Superior Achievement in a Fiction Collection
Michael Bailey – Inkblots and Blood Spots (Villipede Publications)
Stephen Graham Jones – After the People Lights Have Gone Off (Dark House Press)
John R. Little – Little by Little (Bad Moon Books)
Helen Marshall – Gifts for the One Who Comes After (ChiZine Publications)
David Sakmyster – Escape Plans (Wordfire Press)
Terrence Scott – The Madeleine Wheel: Playing with Spiders (Amazon)
Lucy Snyder – Soft Apocalypses (Raw Dog Screaming Press)
Robin Spriggs – The Untold Tales of Ozman Droom (Anomalous Books)
John F.D. Taff – The End In All Beginnings (Grey Matter Press)
Alexander Zelenyj – Songs for the Lost (Eibonvale Press)

I have yet to read The Madeleine Wheel: Playing with Spiders. The rest of these I’ve read, and holy crap I’m glad I did. The renaissance in short(er) fiction is apparent here, along with some short fiction and some novella-length works. I don’t know how it’s possible to choose between the astounding collections grouped here.

I’ve already gushed over Michael Bailey. John R. Little is one of my favorite authors, and so is Stephen Graham Jones. Lucy Snyder’s Soft Apocalypses is exactly what I’ve come to expect from Snyder: excellent stories with impact. I discovered Helen Marshall, David Sakmyster (despite the fact that he lives thirty miles from me), Robin Spriggs, Alexander Zelenyi, and John F.D. Taff this year, and I’m so glad I did. These collections are astounding.

Superior Achievement in an Anthology
John Joseph Adams and Hugh Howey – The End Is Nigh (Broad Reach Publishing)
Michael Bailey – Qualia Nous (Written Backwards)
Jason Brock – A Darke Phantastique (Cycatrix Press)
Ellen Datlow – Fearful Symmetries (ChiZine Publications)
Kate Jonez – Halloween Tales (Omnium Gatherum)
Eric Miller – Hell Comes to Hollywood II (Big Time Books)
Chuck Palahniuk, Richard Thomas, and Dennis Widmyer – Burnt Tongues (Medallion Press)
Brian M. Sammons – The Dark Rites of Cthulhu (April Moon Books)
Brett J. Talley – Limbus, Inc., Book II (JournalStone)
Terry M. West – Journals of Horror: Found Fiction (Pleasant Storm Entertainment)

More “how am I supposed to choose?” goodness here. (Again the disclaimer: I’ve got a story in Qualia Nous. The one I haven’t read is The Dark Rites of Cthulhu.)

Many of the stories and/or authors I’ve mentioned are in the above anthologies. Each is very different, but all excellent. I may have to flip coins, draw straws, or consult a Magic 8 Ball to pick between these excellent books, and it’s an honor to have read them. Where decades past saw magazines as the pinnacle of horror fiction stories—and there are still some that are excellent—methinks one can make a compelling case that anthologies are where it’s at in short fiction today.

Superior Achievement in a Screenplay
Scott M. Gimple – The Walking Dead: The Grove, episode 4:14 (AMC)
James Hawes – Penny Dreadful: Possession (Desert Wolf Productions/Neal Street Productions)
Jennifer Kent – The Babadook (Causeway Films)
Alex Kurtzman and Mark Goffman – Sleepy Hollow: “Bad Blood” (Sketch Films/K/O Paper Products/20th Century Fox Television)
John Logan – Penny Dreadful: Séance (Desert Wolf Productions/Neal Street Productions)
Greg Mclean and Aaron Sterns – Wolf Creek 2 (Emu Creek Pictures)
Stephen Moffat – Doctor Who: Listen (British Broadcasting Corporation)
Cameron Porsendah – Helix: Pilot (Tall Ship Productions/Kaji Productions/Muse Entertainment/Lynda Obst Productions/in association with Sony Pictures Television)
Jack Thomas Smith –Infliction (Fox Trail Productions)
James Wong – American Horror Story: Coven: “The Magical Delights of Stevie Nicks” (FX Network)

I watch little TV and fewer movies. Of these the only ones I’ve seen are TWD, AHS, and Wolf Creek 2. While of those my clear favorite was Wolf Creek 2, I can’t in good conscience vote in a category while so ignorant of its contenders.

Superior Achievement in Non-Fiction
Massimo Berruti, S.T. Joshi, and Sam Gafford – William Hope Hodgson: Voices from the Borderland (Hippocampus Press)
Jason V. Brock – Disorders of Magnitude (Rowman & Littlefield)
Hayley Campbell – The Art of Neil Gaiman (HarperCollins Publishers)
S.T. Joshi – Lovecraft and A World in Transition (Hippocampus Press)
Leslie S. Klinger – The New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft (Liveright Publishing Corp., a division of W.W. Norton & Co.)
Joe Mynhardt and Emma Audsley – Horror 101: The Way Forward (Crystal Lake Publishing)
Robert Damon Schneck – Mrs. Wakeman vs. the Antichrist (Tarcher/Penguin)
Lucy Snyder – Shooting Yourself in the Head For Fun and Profit: A Writer’s Survival Guide (Post Mortem Press)
Tom Weaver, David Schecter, and Steve Kronenberg – The Creature Chronicles: Exploring the Black Lagoon Trilogy (McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers)

I keep telling myself I should read more non-fiction….

Superior Achievement in a Graphic Novel
Charles Burns – Sugar Skull
Emily Carroll – Through the Woods
Victor Gischler – Kiss Me Satan
Joe Hill – Locke and Key, Vol. 6
Joe R. Lansdale and Daniele Serra – I Tell You It’s Love (Short, Scary Tales Publications)
Jonathan Maberry – Bad Blood (Dark Horse Books)
Paul Tobin – The Witcher

Here I’m only familiar with Bad Blood and Locke and Key, both of which I’d recommend to those who like graphic novels. Other than that, I don’t have enough experience to make any informed commentary here.

Superior Achievement in a Poetry Collection
Robert Payne Cabeen – Fearworms: Selected Poems (Fanboy Comics)
G.O. Clark – Gravedigger’s Dance (Dark Renaissance Books)
David E. Cowen – The Madness of Empty Spaces (Weasel Press)
Corrinne De Winter and Alessandro Manzetti – Venus Intervention (Kipple Officina Libraria)
Wade German – Dreams from the Black Nebula (Hippocampus Press)
Tom Piccirilli – Forgiving Judas (Crossroad Press)
Michelle Scalise – The Manufacturer of Sorrow (Eldritch Press)
Marge Simon and Mary Turzillo – Sweet Poison (Dark Renaissance Books)
Tiffany Tang – Creepy Little Death Poems (Dreality Press)
Stephanie Wytovich – Mourning Jewelry (Raw Dog Screaming Press)

In this last category, I can only state that my experience with poetry is limited to Magnetic Poetry haiku, and dirty limericks. It’s never been something on my radar, so I can’t comment in any meaningful way on any of these works.

So there you have it. One author’s opinions on what a bunch of other authors are up to. I can’t tell you how nice it is not to hide negative comments behind positive–these works are excellent, and will stand on their own if you give them a try.

Again, I’m honored to be counted among them.