Highlights from the 2019 Bram Stoker Awards® Preliminary Ballot

If you haven’t heard, the Horror Writers Association (HWA) has released the 2019 Bram Stoker Awards preliminary ballot.

What it is

An annual award for superior achievement in horror writing, named after Bram Stoker. Categories are as follows:

  • Superior Achievement in a Novel
  • Superior Achievement in a First Novel
  • Superior Achievement in a Young Adult Novel
  • Superior Achievement in a Graphic Novel
  • Superior Achievement in Long Fiction
  • Superior Achievement in Short Fiction
  • Superior Achievement in a Fiction Collection
  • Superior Achievement in a Screenplay
  • Superior Achievement in an Anthology
  • Superior Achievement in Non-Fiction
  • Superior Achievement in Short Non-Fiction
  • Superior Achievement in a Poetry Collection

What I’ve read

Last year, I didn’t read much, so the award is a reminder of all of the wonderful horror fiction, nonfiction, and poetry I’ve missed out on (I did see a number of the TV shows and movies that were nominated for Superior Achievement in a Screenplay, so there’s that). In fact, the only item on the whole ballot I read in 2019 is this one:

The Luminous Dead

From Goodreads:
A thrilling, atmospheric debut with the intensive drive of The Martian and Gravity and the creeping dread of Annihilation, in which a caver on a foreign planet finds herself on a terrifying psychological and emotional journey for survival.
My rating: ★★★★★

What I’m looking forward to

Everything else

Here’s the thing. It’s shameful that I’ve only read one of these works. 2019 was a good writing year for me but a bad reading year, and that’s my own failing.

Every writer on the ballot and every piece of work they’ve written has accomplished something remarkable within the horror genre. I listed above only some writers I was already familiar with in one form or another, whose name I would pick out on a shelf, whose work I’m already committing myself to read. But this ballot? It’s another resource to introduce me to writers whose works I haven’t read, whose style I don’t know.

I almost didn’t write about the ballot, because I’ve read so few of the works this time around. But I am always, always excited to talk about and share books with other readers. And if you’re a reader, this ballot is a great place to start as you put together your plans for the year. This is good stuff.

“Look at the preliminary ballot for the Stokers and tell me horror hasn’t entered a new Golden Age.”

Gabino Iglesias

Lists like this, and like Tor Nightfire’s All the Horror Books We’re Excited About in 2020, make me so happy to be a horror fan. If you’ve already read something, please link to your review or share your thoughts with me! And did you read something that came out in 2019 that isn’t on the ballot but you think it should be? Let me know. I want to hear recommendations.

Horror books 2020

Completed Goodreads challenges

Last year, I almost didn’t hit my Goodreads Reading Challenge goal. The reason: podcasts. I got so hooked on podcasts (My Favorite Murder being the primary culprit) that I didn’t listen to audiobooks. Most of my reading is done over audio (other folks with ADHD—I love audiobooks because they allow me to multitask, which I need to do! Anyone else find this?)

Then I discovered Books in the Freezer, which bills itself as “A podcast discussing the deliciously disturbing world of horror fiction.” This not only reminded me that I do, in fact, love reading horror, but it made me realize there’s a lot more to the genre that I haven’t explored. So I sat down and made myself a 2020 TBR. I focused on horror novels coming out this year, horror novels by women, horror collections and anthologies (I really don’t read enough short stories) and horror novels that I’ve been meaning to get to for far too long.

In the end, I had a list of 84 books and novellas (I figure these even out, because a really long book still only counts as one). Now, my goal is 52 books, so that still gives me room to pick and choose based on what I feel like. I used Milanote to organize it:

Milanote book log screenshot

Side note: Milanote // Milanote is fantastic for making to-do lists, organizing projects, and tracking goals. They have a number of templates available to give you ideas. You can also make your own. I use it for tracking TTRPGs I’m running, novels I’m planning, short stories I’m submitting, video game characters I’m leveling (ESO, mainly), household projects (including my Konmari goals for this year), plus I’ve used it to collaborate with other members of the indie company I’m in.

Conveniently, one of the books at the top of my list, The Twisted Ones by T. Kingfisher (Ursula Vernon), was also a group read in Ladies of Horror Fiction. It’s the perfect book for a group read, because I immediately wanted to talk about it.

I’ve also been organizing a few buddy reads this year. On that note, if you want to take a closer look at my TBR, I have a view-only link to my Milanote board.

What are you looking forward to reading this year?

Self care as a horror lover

To continue discussion of self care from my previous post, I want to talk a little bit about how being a horror fan (and specifically a horror writer) can sometimes cause problems.

Horror is booby trapped.

Earlier this week I finished A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay. It destroyed me. I couldn’t sleep that night. My brain was caught in a purgatory of one moment from the book, one single moment I couldn’t escape played over and over in my mind.

Now, I’d been expecting something like The Exorcist, with maybe a bit more ambiguity. I can deal with something like The Exorcist. I don’t scare easily when it comes to books. A Head Full of Ghosts did not scare me. It did, however, disturb me, and that is not something I handle well.

I will pause here to mention that it is a fantastic book and that the only thing I regret about reading it is that sleepless night.

The problem with horror is that unless you love spoilers, you don’t always know what you’re going to get (“box of chocolates” reference here). Sometimes, you’ll run into something that is not what you were expecting, something maybe just a bit too dark or a bit too gory or a bit too close to home. Does everyone experience this? I don’t know. I know I prefer spooky, atmospheric books to straight-up torture porn. I like ghosts over slashers and folk horror over vampires, and I don’t do paranormal romance. That’s me. Monsters don’t scare me. People, however, can scare me quite a bit. And sometimes people are the monsters, and you don’t know it until you’re halfway down the rabbit hole and there’s no “up” elevator from here.

And sometimes horror is just depressing.

That’s a lot of dark, unhappy content to be consuming over and over. Maybe you’re jaded enough that it doesn’t penetrate, but I’m not, and I’ve been writing and reading horror for as long as I can remember. I have novels I haven’t finished reading (and won’t finish reading) because I know they would be bad for my mental health. I had a novel that I was writing that I shoved on the back burner and haven’t look at again because I was disturbing myself a bit too much.

Loving horror can be hard.

So what do you do?

  • Know what you can and can’t handle.
  • Recognize if something is too much for you, and put it down.
  • Take a break sometimes! Switch genres. Let some light in your life.
  • Be aware of how you’re doing. Depression can be sneaky.
  • Save certain books (and other media) for times you know you’re doing well. Sometimes there’s a difference between “I can’t read this” and “I can’t read this right now.”
  • Use resources like Does the dog die? if you know there’s a particular topic you have to stay away from.
  • This is a controversial one, but don’t be afraid of spoilers. Knowing the ending is a lot less annoying than having the ending give you nightmares for weeks in ways you weren’t prepared for or open to. (Feel free to disagree with me)

Anything else? Always looking for recommendations. And if you have any stories about particular situations, I want to hear them.

Why “no burnout” is my #1 New Year’s resolution (and should be yours, too)

2020 is going to be packed. I have a number of aggressive writing goals. I have elaborate plans for overhauling my mental health, my physical health, my apartment, and my schedule.

New year, new decade, same me, but better. My husband and I are calling 2020 “the year that we make all other years easier.”

I know from experience that I have a tendency to bite off more than I can chew. I’m ambitious, I’m determined, and I have big ideas and only so much time. Last year, I had two specific situations (only partially my fault) that ultimately had me working harder for longer than was realistically sustainable. I fell face-first into December with no life left in me.

So at the top of all of my New Year’s resolutions, my “2020 writing goals” list, my “2020 freelancing projects” list (editing gigs are already rolling in), and all of my daily and weekly “to do” lists, item number one is “No burnout.” It is the top priority. All other goals bow to Item #1.

If I’m getting burned out, I need to stop.

If it’s too much, I need to:

  • Take lower-priority items off the list
  • Reconfigure self-imposed deadlines
  • Put other lists on the back-burner entirely to focus on immediate tasks
  • Schedule time for self care
  • Ask for extensions
  • Ask for help

It is important to fulfill promises and meet deadlines. I don’t endorse being a flake. But it is also important, so important, to take care of yourself. No matter what else is on your list, that should be number one. Preachy? Maybe. But I’ve learned from experience, and from my mistakes. 2019’s schedule wasn’t really foreseeable or avoidable, but I have past years when the burnout blame is squarely on my own head. This is less of a lecture and more of a plea: Please, please, please take care of yourself.