Archive for the ‘ Awards ’ Category

BEGINNING TO END

Not long ago, Crystal Lake Publishing printed a slightly older version of the following article / interview, “Ah-ha: Beginning to End” or “Chuck Palahniuk and Michael Bailey Discuss the Spark of Creativity” in It’s Alive: Bringing Your Nightmares to Life, a recent recipient of the Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in Nonfiction.

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Chuck Palahaniuk is a novelist and freelance journalist whose work can only be described as transgressional fiction. He has written such novels as Fight Club, Survivor, Invisible Monsters, Choke, Lullaby, and that’s all before 2002! He has written eighteen or so other books since then, such as his most recent novel Adjustment Day, a few coloring books, Bait and Legacy, and the graphic adaptations of Fight Club 2 (with Cameron Stewart) and Fight Club 3 (in the works). Adapted films of his work include Fight Club, Choke, Romance (based on his short story), and the forthcoming Lullaby and Rant.

With permission from both Chuck Palahniuk and Crystal Lake Publishing, “Beginning to End” is now free to share with the rest of the world, so enjoy!


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One lives in the Pacific Northwest and nearly lost his home in a wildfire the summer of 2017, while the other used to live in what is now a scorched part of Sonoma County from a wildfire the autumn of that same year. One’s surname is often mispronounced [ paula-nick, for those stumbling over it ], while the other’s surname is often mistaken as having Irish heritage [ Bailey, in this case, is English) ]. Both have been threatened by fire, both have problematic last names, and both have been nominated for the Bram Stoker Award on various occasions, and in a mix of categories.

Whether or not one believes in coincidence, these two magicians of creativity have been brought together, one thing leading to another thing leading to another, to discuss the spark of creativity from beginning to end. Something short and sweet.

Imagine these two strange fellows sitting behind laptops or notepads, conversing from places not-so-far-apart—perhaps one sips coffee, while the other sips tea (or maybe water or nothing at all)—to reveal some of their dark magic:


Michael Bailey: The first volume of Where Nightmares Come From focused on the art of storytelling in the horror genre, while this latest edition explores how storytellers transform ideas into finished product. Most writer interviews start with the obvious question: “Where do you get your ideas?” But let’s not go there. Story origin has been done to death. Instead, how about: What’s the first thing you do after your mind sparks original concepts? In other words, what’s the very first thing you do after that original ah-ha! moment?

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Chuck Palahniuk: Once an idea occurs I repeat it to other people to see how readily they engage with it. And to see if they can offer examples of it from their own lives. And to test whether others have seen the idea depicted elsewhere in the popular culture. If they engage, if they expand upon the idea, and if they offer no recent examples of it in fiction or movies, then I proceed.

MB: What’s your first-draft poison: dictation, pen and paper, pounding tired keys on an old typewriter, fancy computer / laptop, tapping tablets, cocktail napkin notes, or a combination of sorts? How do you release your words? And once released, do they live primarily on virtual paper, physical paper, or both?

CP: I make all my notes on paper. Only after I’ve collected several pages of notes do I keyboard the notes into a word processing file and begin organizing them by cut and paste. The next step is to look for plot holes and create the bridging scenes or moments to resolve those.

MB: I used to have an uncontrollable need to transcribe the noise from my head directly onto the page. Early drafts were perfect, of course (in my undeveloped head), ready to sell without revision. I think most writers go through something similar at the beginning, before learning the stuff not to do. Early in my endeavors I met Thomas F. Monteleone and F. Paul Wilson, and they fortunately set me right. They explained that writing / storytelling is a disease (if one must do it) … and like all diseases, one can’t go untreated for long, lest they shrivel up and die. They took me under their wings and showed me the ropes, for many years. And they introduced me to Douglas E. Winter, who (also over the course of many years) taught me the art of self-editing (much more difficult than editing the work of others). He slashed and sliced that evil red pen of his until my manuscripts bled, severed them in half, typically. “Start here,” he’d say, “on page 13.” My writing has evolved, sure, and my writing has gotten slower because I can’t help but edit along the way. With all that pre-loading, I guess my next question is this: How ugly (or pretty) is a Palahniuk first-draft?

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CP: What you’d call my first draft is actually my third or fourth draft. In a story, each of the three or five acts gets its own draft, and each must work well before I tackle the climax of the story. That way my eventual finished first draft isn’t too shabby.

MB: And a follow-up: How has your first-draft evolved during your writing career? Do you binge and purge? Do you edit-on-the-go?

CP: My process has stayed essentially the same since 1992. I takes long-hand notes. Then, transcribe the notes into a computer file. Then, print the draft and carry it with me on paper so I can read and revise it anywhere in the world. Then use those edits to revise the computer file, print it and repeat the process.

MB: Some writers set daily or weekly goals, whether it’s word count or page count. Some try for 5,000 words a day, some 1,000. Some try for 5 pages a day, some 10. Some try to at least write something each day. And there are some oddballs, like me, who go for months without writing a single word, sometimes as long as a year (although I’m always doing something creative), when suddenly the mind takes a laxative and dumps out 10,000- to 30,000-word chunks. What are your writing goals and / or habits?

CP: As a physically active person I hate to sit and keyboard. Notebook in hand, I’ll go for weeks just jotting down details that might apply to a story. This used to be called “brain mapping” in the science of the 1990’s. It takes a stretch of rainy weather before I’ll settle down and begin to type. Often the typing takes place aboard an airplane or in a hotel room or some other stifling place where I have no other options. As for goals, each January 1st I decide what I will accomplish for the year.

MB: What’s the most you’ve ever written at one time (not necessarily in a single sitting, but what you’d consider all-at-once)? And how long have you gone without writing?

CP: My greatest single sitting output was the eleven-page story “Guts.” To be frank, that many keystrokes makes my elbows and wrists ache like you wouldn’t believe. Years at the Freightliner Truck Plant have left me with carpal tunnel syndrome, and any kind of marathon typing now requires a Vicodin. Blame it on the drugs, but that short story just poured out.

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[ read Chuck’s short story “Guts” in Haunted ]

MB: Writer’s block: real news or fake news?

CP: Writer’s block: Not my problem. As with any living thing, there are dormant and active phases. When I’m not actively writing I still watch and listen, always trying to identify new patterns and ideas.

MB: ‘Character’ is arguably the most important part of a story. Some say ‘plot’ or ‘conflict’ or ‘the message’ is most important, but they are wrong, no? Your fiction always breathes with the lives of diverse, colorful, incredibly memorable characters. Where do your characters come from? I realize that’s sort of like asking the “Where do you get your ideas?” question, but since ‘character’ plays such an important part of the story, it seems to be an important question.

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[ his most recent novel, Adjustment Day is now available ]

CP: My characters are always based on actual people. Their most memorable lines of dialog have already been said by real people. Even their dogs are real. Although I’m trained as a journalist I find that there’s more fun (and money) in passing off reality as fantasy.

MB: So you’ve spawned an idea, and created characters, and they converse through dialogue and navigate plots and traverse conflict, and the manuscript has maybe gone through a few drafts (or not) and all that other magic that happens during storytelling, and suddenly you find yourself with a completed manuscript—short story, novelette, novella, novel, comic / graphic adaptation … doesn’t matter. This interview started with an ah-ha! moment—the original spark of creativity—but there’s another ah-ha! moment to consider: the moment one realizes a story is complete. What next? Do you send it to beta-readers, let it marinate in a drawer somewhere, send it off to an editor?

CP: To date I’ve done my beta testing while I write. By testing each scene on my peers or fellow writers in a weekly group. This creates an informal collaboration and allows contributions from possibly hundreds of people. David Sedaris advised me to always test new material by reading it aloud on tours; that works well also. Nothing goes off to New York until it’s made people laugh or cringe everywhere else in the country—or the world.

MB: We recently discussed the fires in California and in the Pacific Northwest, as well as some of our losses and scares. I was lucky and for some reason already had my laptop in the car before fleeing from one of these fires (and I habitually upload files to off-site storage), but the threat of losing creativity begs the question: What if it all burned down? Where do you keep your creations, in case a fire someday threatens (or accomplishes) turning them to ash?

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CP: If you’re talking about past notes, drafts, books, I don’t keep them. I burn everything once the final book has been typeset [ something both writers now have in common after the fires ]. Regarding on-going work, I back-up to flash drives and keep them separate from each other—in my car, with friends—and I always have a printed hard copy of the work in progress.

MB: And since this interview / discussion is for It’s Alive [ a follow-up to Where Nightmares Come From ], what is your nightmare, the thing that scares you most?

CP: Plenty of things scare me. These include driving over extremely high bridges or being buried alive. But nothing scares me the most.

MB: Over the last few years I have collaborated with writers for fiction and have sought out collaborative works for anthologies I’ve edited. My next anthology is composed entirely of collaborations, even [ Chiral Mad 4: An Anthology of Collaborations ]. Collaborations are perhaps my new ah-ha! in this business, something of which I want to see more. I love the concept of multiple minds working together to create entirely new voices and visions. But I have yet to collaborate on 1) interview questions, and 2) with Chuck Palahniuk. So, how about we spin things around? My freelance work is roughly 33% writer, 33% editor, 33% book designer, and now 1% interviewer. What question, in the broad scope of ‘from concept to finished product,’ would you like me to answer?

CP: My question to you is: Do you think piracy has damaged the viability of writing professionally? And if so, how do you bring yourself back to the task despite that threat?

MB: There’s potential in book piracy eventually hurting the industry, but we’re not there, at least not yet [ maybe we are now, I don’t know ]; we may never get there. I would argue that eBooks, in terms of sales, have caught up to printed books, perhaps even surpassed sales in some cases, but I would also argue that most eBooks go unread. It’s easy to purchase digital books—a single-click sometimes. They are priced to move copies. It’s easy to fill virtual shelves with digital books because they are not really there and don’t take up physical space. They are simply strings of binary designed to mimic books, which is neat. But this also makes them easier to steal, sure, like music was easier to steal once it turned digital. How many digital books are read from start to finish? I’d guess 5-10%, if I’m being generous. A printed book, however, for now, is there, is something real, and harder not to read—if it’s pretty enough and smells like a book and you can hold it in your hands—and likewise harder to steal.

Here’s my confession, which might help explain what I’m trying to say. Before the fire (which took just about everything but our lives), I used to have a nice collection of Palahniuk on my shelves. I also used to have a Kindle with about a hundred titles, including your Kindle short story “Phoenix,” released in 2013, which I bought for $1.99 (a steal!). I have read every book of yours (that I used to own), from start to finish … except for one—the title of which I now find ironic because it’s the only book that still ‘exists’ somewhere in those 0’s and 1’s, and I could still read it on my laptop if I choose to. My physical books are gone, sure, but I’ll get new ones going forward, and I’ll probably read those before ever browsing my digital shelves.

My point: book piracy has potential to hurt the industry monetarily, sure (as piracy did the music industry at first), but we’ll always have books (like we’ll always have music). Piracy will never hurt the creative process. Books will survive as they always have. I would argue that those doing the stealing aren’t doing enough damage at this point, but someday (who knows?) they might, and the industry will adapt accordingly. Book pirates are most likely never going to read the books they steal, anyway, and neither are those taking them from wherever they take them, so who gives a shit? We’ll adapt. We’ll evolve. Musicians are still making music. Writers will continue to write, if they must, because writing’s a disease, right? All creators will continue to create as they always have.

No matter the threat, professional writers should continue to write professionally. Books will always have a place in our world, however they—and we—evolve. All we can do as writers is to keep writing. All we can do as editors is to keep editing. All we can do as book designers is to keep designing beautiful books. And readers: must keep reading (purchased books only, please). It doesn’t matter what tools we use to create, and it doesn’t matter what tools we use to immerse ourselves in those creations. We simply need to keep doing what we’re supposed to be doing.


Imagine the coffee and tea cups empty, or perhaps untouched this entire time and now lukewarm and undrinkable. Perhaps Chuck leans back in his chair, and Michael does the same. One stretches, while the other cracks his knuckles and winces. One looks to the blank wall and sets up the next scene, while the other looks off into the distance and listens for the voices. Both move on to the next project, for there are always next projects. There are stories that need to be written. There are deadlines that need to be met. There are books of various kinds in development.

 

A LITTLE OF EVERYTHING

The latest Written Backwards interview is with John Langan. author of such novels as House of Windows and The Fisherman, as well as numerous fiction collections, including Mr. Gaunt and Other Uneasy EncountersThe Wide, Carnivorous Sky and Other Monstrous Geographiesand his latest Sefira & Other Betrayals. His work can be found in magazines and anthologies all over the world. We discuss a little of everything …

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Michael Bailey: When overhearing people discussing the fiction of John Langan (because I often find myself doing most of the listening and not much of the talking while in crowds), I often hear things like “literary” and “quiet horror.” What do you consider quiet horror, and likewise what do you consider literary?

John Langan: “Quiet horror” is a term I associate with the years surrounding the Splatterpunk movement, when it was thrown up as a more restrained alternative to the work of Skipp & Spector, Schow, etc. At the time, quiet horror was connected to writers such as Charles Grant and Steve Rasnic Tem. If I’m not mistaken, Doug Winter wrote a review essay arguing (compellingly, to my mind) that the apparent differences between the groups were vastly outweighed by their similarities. In the years since then, the term quiet horror has been employed in a less-systematic way in an attempt to identify works of horror in which the emphasis is on atmosphere and subtlety of effect rather than more dramatic narrative moves. Although I haven’t made a systematic study of it, I have the sense that it’s applied to those writers we associate with the classic tradition of the ghost story, with M.R. James or Susan Hill. The problem is, if you read James’s fiction, then you’ll find that there’s a lot of delightfully over-the-top stuff going on. (I also suspect that this more recent use of quiet horror is an attempt to draw a line between it and more cinematically inflected fiction, i.e. zombie narratives.)

As for the word “literary,” it’s one of those that tends to cause all manner of uproar, isn’t it? As I see it, the most important thing to remember about “literary” is that it’s an adjective, not a noun. In other words, it describes a certain set of characteristics that can be applied to any kind of fiction. What those characteristics are may be subject to debate, although I’m reasonably sure they would include attention to character and style. I think it was Nabokov who said that the literary is that which we are always rereading, and I like that definition very much.

MB: In the acknowledgments for your debut novel, House of Windows, you wrote, “This book had a hard time finding a home: the genre people weren’t happy with all the literary stuff; the literary people weren’t happy with all the genre stuff.” Who is your intended audience?

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JL: It used to be that I read everything I wrote to my wife. So while I wrote whatever I did because I wanted to read it, myself, she was my first audience. Then, after our son was born, it became harder to maintain this practice. I still have her in mind as my ideal reader, but these days, I’m also thinking about friends such as Laird Barron, Stephen Graham Jones, and Paul Tremblay. Anytime I write something that these guys like, I know I’ve made contact with the ball.

MB: Who do you write for? Who should anyone write for?

JL: At the risk of being redundant, I write for myself, my wife, my friends, and then anyone who’s willing to pick up the story or book and give it a chance. I’m not sure that there’s a universal answer for the second question—although it would seem to me difficult not to be writing for yourself—but I think you should write for whoever helps you to write. If writing for yourself alone is enough to make that happen, then that’s great. If writing for someone else helps, then that’s fine, too.

MB: Having read The Fisherman, which won the Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in a Novel a few years ago, I would have to say that I would consider it a multitude of things (horror being one of them), but not necessarily any one thing over the other. It’s horror, sure, but it could be considered cosmic horror, or Lovecraftian, or “quiet,” the way Victor LaValle’s wonderful novella The Ballad of Black Tom is a little of each of those things. What do you consider The Fisherman?

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JL: I’m happy to call it a horror novel, but that’s because I subscribe to a big-tent view of horror, in which all manner of narratives can be gathered under its folds. I tend to think that fiction in general is a fundamentally hybrid or mixed art (an idea indebted in no small part to the ideas of the literary critic M.M. Bakhtin), so it seems to me entirely appropriate that all manner of genres and sub-genres should be part of a novel.

MB: Is there a need for genre and sub-genre? I recently read a post by a prolific writer in which he stated (not verbatim) that he doesn’t write horror, or science fiction, or any one thing; he simply writes what he wants to write, and lets other people determine what they want to call it. Do you agree?

JL: From a critical perspective, I don’t see anything wrong with having categories that allow you to point out similarities between different works of literature. From a reader’s perspective, I don’t see anything wrong with having categories that allow you to find books that are similar to those you’ve enjoyed already. And from a writer’s perspective, I don’t see anything wrong with having a tradition to engage with in my work. So I guess as long as the genre category functions in an expansive way, in a way that brings more to the critic / reader / writer, I’m quite happy with it.

MB: I once overheard an editor say that she wished you wrote more often. Your first novel was published in 2009, and your second in 2016. But between that seven-year span you also published two fiction collections: Mr. Gaunt and Other Uneasy Encounters (2008) and The Wide Carnivorous Sky and Other Monstrous Geographies (2013), and co-edited an anthology with Paul Tremblay called Creatures: Thirty Years of Monsters. That’s four books in seven years (five if you count the anthology, which I do, because I know how much work goes into them), which I would say is a good pace. Do you wish you wrote faster, or published more often?

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JL: Over the past several years, I’ve published a reasonable number of stories—as well as, very recently, a third collection of stories. My problem is, in part, that many of those stories have appeared in smaller press publications, which someone who’s read, say, The Fisherman may not necessarily have heard of. But I have enough material for at least another three collections after Sefira, and I’m hoping to do something about that sooner rather than later.

I do, however, wish I were one of those writers who can toss off a novella in a week. In part, my daily process means that I don’t work particularly quickly: I do a lot of revising as I’m writing. I’ve also learned that some works require more time than others to complete, and may need to be put aside for a while. (This was the case with both The Fisherman and Sefira, the title piece in my new collection, both of which took me years to finish.) And while I’ve enjoyed a great deal of success with my writing, it hasn’t been enough to support me and my family, which means I need to work a day job, which cuts into my writing time. In addition, I’ve been reviewing horror and dark fantasy for Locus magazine, which also requires a certain amount of time that would otherwise go to fiction writing.

Moving ahead, I’d like to devote a bit more time to writing longer works, especially novels.

MB: What are your writing and / or publishing habits? Do you write when you want to write? Do you set goals?

JL: I try to write every day, with a goal of completing a page a day. When I’m not working a day job, it’s easier to maintain that schedule. In terms of publishing habits, I’ve tried to say yes to every invitation to contribute to an anthology I’ve received. (Which I suppose has cut into my novel writing.) I have immediate goals, usually to have something done on or not too far past the deadline. My long-term goals are a bit more nebulous: I would very much like to complete one hundred stories and ten novels—arbitrary numbers, I know, but ones that help me have some sense of how I’m doing, overall. I think I’m up to around sixty stories, with several more underway; while I have plans for another six novels if I can ever find the time to write them.

MB: You have been a finalist for the International Horror Guild Award, a Bram Stoker Award nominee for Superior Achievement in a Fiction Collection for Mr. Gaunt, and won for your novel The Fisherman, as well as serve on the Board of Directors for the Shirley Jackson Awards. What do awards mean to you, and what do you believe they should mean to other writers?

JL: The recognition an award nomination brings is a fine thing, while an award can certainly make your day. In my case, the Bram Stoker was the award I had first wanted to win, back when I was a teenager and it was created, so while I could not have complained had any of the other writers I was on the ballot with won it, there was a special delight in hearing my name read out on that night.

At their best, awards can shine light on deserving work, leading readers to writers they might not otherwise have encountered. That said, in any award process, there’s always going to be work that is overlooked, that may not come to light until years later. And even if you win an award, you still have sit down to write the next day. So awards should be enjoyed, but not used as the final measure of success—which is, after all, having readers for your work.

A VISIT FROM THE TOOTH FAIRY

The following is an interview with Zoje Stage, author of Baby TeethWhile this was put together prior to StokerCon (a conference run by the Horror Writers Association), I had the opportunity of meeting Zoje at the event. So, without further ado …

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The Interview [ by Michael Bailey ]:

Baby Teeth seemed to have hit the ground running. The cover for the hardback is simple: blank white-ish background, shattered red lollipop, and those two words, which somewhat suggest that yes, this particular book is going to bite. I remember seeing the book for the first time displayed in a local bookstore in Santa Rosa, California, or maybe Petaluma, and it was like one of those presidential portraits that sort of keep staring at you as you pass, not wanting you to pass. The cover as striking as the title. And I remember thinking, Who is Zoje Stage? I didn’t buy the book, then. And I didn’t buy it the next two or three times it wanted me to buy it.

Some backstory: My wife and I have a yearly tradition of getting each other two books for Christmas, ones we’d not typically buy for ourselves; that way, each year, we are each introduced to two new writers minimum. The books I chose for her were, of course, Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage, and Cherry by Nico Walker (which he apparently wrote while in prison … or is still in prison, I don’t know). Both books were debut novels by writers I had never heard of before, and both had dust jackets that were a mix of white and red. They captured my attention in their first few pages (along with the back cover copy). The problem, however (at the time) was that I bought the books for her, as gifts, and the rule we have is that we can’t read them until the other finishes. She’s a slow reader, so this had me a bit worried because the two books (yours in particular) kept haunting, kept calling. Luckily, she breezed through it in a matter of days.

Suddenly I’m reading the book, and doing the same, alternating between chapters from the point of view of little, troubled Hanna, and her mother. Every time I’d finish a chapter, my wife would ask, “Where are you at?” and I’d tell her, and she’d follow it with a smile and say, “Oh, just you wait” and so I’d keep reading. I haven’t read Cherry yet, because she hasn’t yet read it, but I was lucky enough to have read Baby Teeth. It’s a real page-turner. This book is going to do well, I told myself, and This Zoje Stage is going to do well, and before I know it the Bram Stoker Award nominations are announced and Baby Teeth is on the list for Superior Achievement in a First Novel.

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By the time this interview goes live, we will have already met in Grand Rapids, Michigan for StokerCon, hosted by the Horror Writers Association, and perhaps by then you will have taken home one of those heavy haunted house statues. But for now, we are complete strangers, and so I have a few questions as if we haven’t yet already met (like some kind of strange time-travel). That said …

The questions:

Michael Bailey: What made you want to write Baby Teeth, and why do you feel it’s connecting with readers?

Zoje Stage: I’ve long been fascinated by “bad seed” stories. I hate to say it, but sometimes children seem like otherworldly creatures to me, and it can be pretty freaky when you get a bad vibe from a kid in real life (which has happened). While “evil children” is a trope I’ve enjoyed especially in films, I hadn’t found a book that really delved as deep as I wanted to go, and you know what they say: write the book you want to read. I was particularly interested in exploring the dichotomies of such a child, as I do believe that a tiny percentage of the population may be truly psychopathic, but more often children—as highly sensitive beings—are influenced by the world around them. And I also wanted to see a realistic possibility for how a family would ultimately deal with a disturbed child, and there are parents who really have to confront this.

Part of why I think the book is connecting with readers is the dual-sympathy and dual-revulsion they experience with both Hanna and Suzette. Society puts an incredible amount of pressure on mothers, and that aspect is something a lot of people can relate to. And simultaneously, it’s very compelling to explore the inner workings of a child—especially one who is smart but off-kilter. Apparently even parents of the most wonderful children have glimpsed bits of Hanna-like behavior in their little progeny, and I think this has only increased the relatability of the story, as it makes people really ponder nature vs. nurture.

MB: This is your debut novel, but have you written others that are not-yet-published? If so, what can you tell us about those other manuscripts, and if not, how were you able to land this one so gracefully with St. Martin’s Press?

ZS: Baby Teeth was the sixth novel I’d written, and the fifth I’d queried. The first four were Young Adult, with the connective element of being fairly dark, but the genres were all over the place (sci-fi, fantasy, contemporary, and something too weird to classify but inspired by Shirley Jackson). Then I made a startling realization that maybe I wasn’t the best person to be writing YA (for a number of reasons). While Baby Teeth is technically the second of the adult novels I’ve written, I recently did a complete overhaul of that first adult novel—and maybe it will become my third published book? I do not, otherwise, plan to revisit my earliest novels, and have written a few new things since Baby Teeth.

MB: A Bram Stoker Award is for horror. Do you consider Baby Teeth horror? How fine is the line between that genre and thriller, which book publishers seem to be using for dark fiction. That said, how fine is the line between horror and any other genre? Alma Katsu’s The Hunger comes to mind, which is historical fiction, yet recently won an award for westerns and is up for a Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in a Novel.

ZS: The first inkling I had that my book might be considered “horror” was in Aug. 2018—one month after publication—when it showed up on a Bustle list called “15 Horror Books to Pick up If You’ve Already Read Everything by Stephen King” (The Hunger was also on that list). Prior to that it had never occurred to me that my name would ever be mentioned in proximity to Stephen King! But more lists came out, and Baby Teeth ended up on Bloody Disgusting’s “10 Best Books of 2018 for the Horror Fan” and finished in the Goodreads Choice Awards for Horror in the #2 slot, right behind Stephen King. Suffice it to say, I’ve been thinking about the “horror” designation a lot over the last year.

I submitted Baby Teeth to my agent as a suspense novel, and so far as I know my publisher marketed it as psychological suspense. But since then I’ve heard it referred to as a thriller, domestic suspense, psychological thriller, and horror. I’ve been told by many, many readers—a large portion of them via social media—that Baby Teeth was the “creepiest” thing they’ve ever read. I’ve had readers report that the book gave them nightmares, or that they couldn’t read it at night, or while their young children were in the house … And that’s when I came to understand that Baby Teeth is a horror novel because it scares readers. It’s that simple. From the publishing world’s perspective each genre may mean a very specific thing, but from a reader’s perspective a “horror” novel is one that scares them—and I really can’t argue with that reasoning.

MB: The bio on your website states that “Zoje Stage is a former filmmaker with a penchant for the dark and suspenseful.” What can you share about your film-making experience, and why the move to fiction writing?

ZS: My storytelling goal with film was actually quite similar to what it is with novels: to create realistic stories with well-developed characters who were in odd situations. Film had been my passion for decades, but ultimately it was not a truly viable way for me to be my “best” creative self. It took me a long time to realize that, as it was a dream I wanted very badly, but I had to concede, as time went on, that I was not making the kind of progress I wanted to make, and my health and finances were becoming bigger and bigger obstacles. It’s also possible that I was intimidated by the prospect of writing novels, and it wasn’t until I was able to see the correlations between directing a film and writing a book that I felt ready give it a try.

As a DIY indie filmmaker (forever dreaming of a budget that never materialized), I basically wore all the hats: writing, directing, producing, shooting, acting, editing, etc. Early in the process, I realized that a novelist also wears many hats. The writer of a novel “directs” the reader’s attention toward what she wants them to see and know. She develops and performs all of the roles. In addition to being the production designer, the novelist stages all the scenes, and sets the mood. Each chapter of a book is like a sequence in a film, written, directed, and edited … But the big game changer? I didn’t need to secure locations or props, or upgrade or rent equipment, or beg friends for help in front of or behind the camera. I didn’t need more money to write a book, and I could realistically aspire—with sufficient practice—to “wear all the hats” with some degree of competence.

I found there were things I could do with novels I couldn’t do with film—like exploring thoughts and language—but my background in film and theatre proved to be extremely transferable. And somehow, in spite of living in a society that prefers “watching” over “reading,” from my perspective there are more opportunities for a book than a film, and room for more kinds of stories. One of the unexpected thrills of being published is the “presence” of my book in the world, and the chance for readers to keep discovering it. The publishing industry may not be perfect, but it’s a world away from the film industry and I’ll never go back.

MB: Do you also write short fiction, or do you tend to stick to longer works (asking for a friend)?

ZS: I have a weird relationship with short fiction (similar to my weird relationship with short films). With both, I’ve had the sense that I need a longer format to produce better work. There was a time when I wrote a ton of speculative short fiction and tried—and failed—to get it published. I haven’t written short fiction in years, although I do have a writing “to do” list that includes a couple short story ideas. Will I ever write them?

MB: To see if we can predict the future, what are your goals for attending StokerCon? Who are you most excited to meet? Do you have any predictions for the other award categories? For the last five years, during the award ceremony, I have circled who I think will win prior to everything starting, and then underline those that actually win; I think last year was my best, something like 90% correct.

ZS: I’ve never been to any sort of writing convention so I’m excited to see what it’s all about and hang out with so many writers. It’s a little funny that I have to travel to Michigan to meet “local” author J.D. Barker—especially since he invited me to participate in a local panel discussion taking place a week after StokerCon—but I’m definitely looking forward to meeting him. As a debut author I still feel very new to publishing (am I even qualified to be on a panel? LOL), so I’m hoping to glean info from more experienced authors. I’m also looking forward to meeting some folks whom I currently only know in an online capacity.

As far as predictions … There are only a few categories I’ll even wade into, as I am way behind on reading all the nominees. Needless to say, the nominees represent a standard of excellence and they are all worthy of winning. But here are a few guesses:

Superior Achievement in a Novel: Paul Tremblay, The Cabin at the End of the World

Superior Achievement in a Fiction Collection: Gabino Iglesias, Coyote Songs

Superior Achievement in a Screenplay: Eric Heisserer, Bird Box

MB: After all the baby teeth have fallen out, what’s next?

ZS: I have multiple things in the works, though the only one with a definite home at the moment is my next novel, Wonderland: On the cusp of winter, a hardcore artsy New York City family moves to a place not quite on the map in the Adirondacks, and begins to experience bizarre and extreme weather. Being so out of their element, they aren’t sure at first if it’s just the influence of global warming, or some sort of haunting, or the decline of their sanity … But the situation becomes life threatening.

I also hope to find good publishing homes for My UnderSlumberBumbleBeast—the children’s book within Baby Teeth—and a short novel I refer to as a Wary Tale, which is a Fairy Tale for adults. And I have two other novels in various stages of completion.

2018 BRAM STOKER AWARDS® FINAL BALLOT

The Horror Writers Association recently announced the final ballot for the 2018 Bram Stoker Awards®. I am happy to report that my novelette Our Children, Our Teachers is nominated for Superior Achievement in Long Fiction. You can read it for free here!

My work has appeared on the preliminary ballot twelve times over recent years, and on the final ballot seven, and it’s always a shock. I took home the statue for The Library of the Dead as editor back in 2015, so my fingers are crossed this year to bring home a statue for my own fiction.

Kudos to everyone who made the cut. 2018 was a spectacular year, book-wise / story-wise. I’ve had a few already ask what stuff of mine has been nominated in the past, so here you go. The complete list of the Horror Writers Association’s final ballot follows.

  • Superior Achievement in Short Fiction, “Fireman / Primal Tongue” (2013)
  • Superior Achievement in an Anthology, Qualia Nous (2014)
  • Superior Achievement in an Anthology, The Library of the Dead (2015)
  • Superior Achievement in an Anthology, Chiral Mad 3 (2016)
  • Superior Achievement in Short Fiction, “Time is a Face on the Water” (2016)
  • Superior Achievement in Short Fiction, “I Will Be the Reflection Until the End” (2017)
  • Superior Achievement in Long Fiction, Our Children, Our Teachers (2018)

 

Superior Achievement in a Novel

The Hunger – Alma Katsu

Glimpse – Jonathan Maberry

Unbury Carol – Josh Malerman

Dracul  – Dacre Stoker and J.D. Barker

The Cabin at the End of the World  – Paul Tremblay

 

Superior Achievement in a First Novel

What Should Be Wild – Julia Fine

I Am the River – T.E. Grau

The Rust Maidens – Gwendolyn Kiste

Baby Teeth – Zoje Stage

The Moore House – Tony Tremblay

 

Superior Achievement in a Young Adult Novel

Dread Nation – Justina Ireland

Sawkill Girls – Claire Legrand 

Broken Lands – Jonathan Maberry

The Night Weaver – Monique Snyman

The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein – Kiersten White

 

Superior Achievement in a Graphic Novel

Abbott – Saladin Ahmed 

Moonshine Vol. 2: Misery Train – Brian Azzarello

Bone Parish – Cullen Bunn

Destroyer – Victor LaValle 

Monstress Volume 3: Haven – Marjorie Liu

 

Superior Achievement in Long Fiction

Our Children, Our Teachers – Michael Bailey

You Are Released – Joe Hill

Dead Lovers on Each Blade, Hung – Usman T. Malik

The Devil’s Throat  – Rena Mason

Bitter Suites – Angela Yuriko Smith

 

Superior Achievement in Short Fiction

“Mutter” – Jess Landry

“Dead End Town” – Lee Murray

“Glove Box” – Annie Neugebauer

“A Winter’s Tale” – John F.D. Taff

“And in Her Eyes the City Drowned” – Kyla Lee Ward

 

Superior Achievement in a Fiction Collection

Spectral Evidence – Gemma Files

That Which Grows Wild  – Eric J. Guignard

Coyote Songs  – Gabino Iglesias

Garden of Eldritch Delights  – Lucy A. Snyder

Dark and Distant Voices: A Story Collection – Tim Waggoner

 

Superior Achievement in a Screenplay

Hereditary – Ari Aster

The Haunting of Hill House: The Bent-Neck Lady, Episode 01:05 – Meredith Averill

Annihilation – Alex Garland

Bird Box – Eric Heisserer 

A Quiet Place – Bryan Woods, Scott Beck and John Krasinski

 

Superior Achievement in an Anthology

A New York State of Fright: Horror Stories from the Empire State – James Chambers, April Grey and Robert Masterson 

The Devil and the Deep: Horror Stories of the Sea – Ellen Datlow

A World of Horror – Eric J. Guignard

Hellhole: An Anthology of Subterranean Terror – Lee Murray

Lost Highways: Dark Fictions from the Road – Alexander D. Ward

 

Superior Achievement in Non-Fiction

Horror Express – John Connolly

The Howling: Studies in the Horror Film  – Lee Gambin

We Don’t Go Back: A Watcher’s Guide to Folk Horror – Howard David Ingham

It’s Alive: Bringing Your Nightmares to Life – Joe Mynhardt and Eugene Johnson

Uncovering Stranger Things: Essays on Eighties Nostalgia, Cynicism and Innocence in the Series – Kevin J. Wetmore Jr.

 

Superior Achievement in a Poetry Collection

Artifacts – Bruce Boston

Bleeding Saffron – David E. Cowen 

Witches – Donna Lynch

War – Marge Simon and Alessandro Manzetti  

The Devil’s Dreamland – Sara Tantlinger  

 

Support Independent Writers / Editors / Publishers

If you feel like making a donation to Written Backwards (even just a dollar), know that your money will be going to a good cause: helping an independent writer, editor, and publisher survive in this cruel world.

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SCIENCE FICTION EBOOK SALE!

$1.99 sci-fi sale
The following eBooks are on sale in the US and UK from February 1st through the 8th: Qualia Nous (anthology), Adam’s Ladder (anthology), and Other Music (novel by Marc Levinthal). For cheap, snag the following:
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$1.99 in the US, and £1.99 in the UK.

A literary blend of science fiction and horror, Qualia Nous contains short stories, novelettes, and poetry from established authors and newcomers from around the world.

  • “0-1” (Introduction) by Michael Bailey
  • “The Vaporization Enthalpy of a Peculiar Pakistani Family” by Usman T. Malik (winner of the Bram Stoker Award for short fiction)
  • “The Shaking Man” by Gene O’Neill
  • “Dyscrasia” by Ashlee Scheuerman
  • “The Rondelium Girl of Rue Marseilles” by Emily B. Cataneo
  • “The Angel Chaser” by Erik T. Johnson
  • “Psychic Shock” by Ian Shoebridge
  • “Peppermint Tea in Electronic Limbo” by D.J. Cockburn
  • “Second Chance” by John R. Little
  • “The Effigies of Tamber Square” by Jon Michael Kelley
  • “Shades of Naught” by Lori Michelle
  • “The Price of Faces” by James Chambers
  • “Simulacrum” by Jason V Brock
  • “Shutdown” (poem) by Marge Simon
  • “Lead Me to Multiplicity” by Peter Hagelslag
  • “Cataldo’s Copy” by Christian A. Larsen
  • “The Neighborhood Has a Barbecue” by Max Booth III
  • “Tomorrow’s Femme” (poem) by Marge Simon
  • “The Jenny Store” by Richard Thomas
  • “Night Guard” by Erinn L. Kemper
  • “A New Man” by William F. Nolan
  • “Voyeur” by John Everson
  • “Kilroy Wasn’t There” by Pat R. Steiner
  • “In the Nothing-Space, I Am What You Made Me” by Paul Michael Anderson
  • “Dura Mater” by Lucy A. Snyder
  • “Ruminations” by Rena Mason (winner of the Bram Stoker Award for short fiction)
  • “Good and Faithful Servant” by Thomas F. Monteleone
  • “Twelve Kilos” by Patrick Freivald
  • “Breathe You In Me” by Mason Bundschuh
  • “18P37-C, After Andrea Was Arrested” by Elizabeth Massie
  • “No Fixed Address” by Gary A. Braunbeck

Winner of the Benjamin Franklin Award, and nominated for the Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in an Anthology. Due to contractual obligations / limitations, the eBook edition does not contain “The Jaunt” by Stephen King. Also available in trade paperback for $14.95. Fiction / poetry; 448 pages; 9×6 format.

Adam's Ladder - Cover

$1.99 in the US, and £1.99 in the UK.

The future of humankind as an ever-changing organism is a subject of much debate. Where is our evolutionary path leading? Will the next rung take the form of mental transcendence, will it set humankind on a course toward divinity, or will this uncertain path involve a dark and terrible reversion? Co-editors Michael Bailey and Darren Speegle present eighteen tales that explore the course of evolution, written by some of the best literary minds in the fields of science fiction and horror.

  • “Ch-Ch-Changes” by Chaz Brenchley
  • “Filigree, Minotaur, Cyanide, Bloom” by Damien Angelica Walters
  • “How He Helped” by Ramsey Campbell
  • “Spirits” by Gene O’Neill
  • “The Mythic Hero Most Likely to Squeeze a Stone” by B.E. Scully
  • “My Father, Dr. Frankenstein” by John Langan
  • “Undersound” by Mark Morris
  • “A Laughing Matter” by Erinn L. Kemper
  • “The Serile” by Paul Meloy
  • “Eyes of the Beholders” by Lisa Morton
  • “Strings” by Tim Lebbon
  • “Sliced Bread” by Jeffrey Thomas
  • “I Will Be the Making of You” by Rena Mason
  • “Nameless Citizen” by Brian Evenson
  • “Painting the Burning Fence” by Roberta Lannes
  • “Pity This Busy Monster Not” by Scott Edelman
  • “An End to Perpetual Motion” by Mark Samuels
  • “Swift to Chase” by Laird Barron

Finalist for the Foreword Reviews Book of the Year / IndieFAB. Also available in trade paperback for $14.95. Fiction; 304 pages; 9×6 format.

Other Music - Cover (2nd Edition)

eBook on sale for only $1.99 in the US, and £1.99 in the UK.

With the discovery of the Thompson Corridors, the universe has been opened up, connecting humankind with a vast network of sentient species. Xenosociologist Jesse Suzuki, a nanotech-rejuvenated “oldster,” has joined the forced exodus of the newly young, mandated by law to ship out through the Corridors after his 80th birthday. Jesse finds his way to Eastlink, a sprawling human habitat orbiting Shjodathz, home to a race of regenerating beings who maintain direct memory of all their past incarnations. While studying the Shjodathí and their planetary biomachine guardian Kedel, he discovers a strange anomaly within the AI’s mind that leads him on a perilous, mind-blowing adventure.

The debut solo novel by Marc Levinthal is also available in trade paperback for $12.95. Fiction; 182 pages; 9×6 format; cover artwork by George C. Cotronis; introduction by John Skipp; interior artwork by Michael Bailey.

OUR CHILDREN, OUR TEACHERS

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Unfortunately, Our Children, Our Teachers is no longer available to read online. If you read the novelette during the free reading period, please consider leaving a review on either Amazon or Goodreads (or both).

A little backstory ….

Jack Ketchum (Dallas Mayr) took a special interest in this project early on because the concept was perhaps something necessary to bring out into the open, something that might happen one day, which would be unfortunate. We wanted to collaborate on either a novelette- or novella-length work, and this story haunted us most. Unfortunately, he was unable to collaborate because of medical issues before he passed, and asked that I finish this one on my own.

The story made the 2018 Bram Stoker Awards Final Ballot for Superior Achievement in Long Fiction. So kudos to you, Jack (Sheriff Mayr in the story; that’s his voice). This one’s for you, my friend.

If you would rather have a more permanent copy, this novelette is also available as an eBook for $1.95, and in trade paperback for $6.95.

Support Independent Writers / Editors / Publishers

If you feel like making a donation to Written Backwards (even just a dollar), know that your money will be going to a good cause: helping an independent writer, editor, and publisher survive in this cruel world.

$1.00

2018 BRAM STOKER AWARDS® PRELIMINARY BALLOT

The Horror Writers Association recently announced the preliminary ballot for the 2018 Bram Stoker Awards®, the details of which you can find below. While Chiral Mad 4: An Anthology of Collaborations (the final anthology by Written Backwards) did not survive the great culling, there are many great anthologies competing this year for Superior Achievement in an Anthology. But hey, Lucy and I gave it our best, and it’s a great book full of collaborations that hopefully brought the writing community together. Check it out if you haven’t already!

The anthology co-editors made the cut for different categories, however. Garden of Eldritch Delights by Lucy A. Snyder is on the list for Superior Achievement in a Fiction Collection, and my own novelette, Our Children, Our Teachers, for Long Fiction.

Kudos to those on the preliminary ballot, lots of friends in the genre, no doubt, and also kudos to those whose work did not make the cut. There are many works I’d personally add to this list, but lists can only be so long. And 2018 was a great year for horror!

 

Superior Achievement in a Novel

The Shape of Water – Guillermo del Toro and Daniel Kraus

Dark Mary – Paolo Di Orazio

The Hunger – Alma Katsu

The Outsider – Stephen King

Glimpse – Jonathan Maberry

Unbury Carol – Josh Malerman

Naraka – Alessandro Manzetti

Hazards of Time Travel – Joyce Carol Oates

Foe – Iain Reid 

Frankenstein in Baghdad: A Novel  – Ahmed Saadawi

Dracul  – Dacre Stoker and J.D. Barker

The Cabin at the End of the World  – Paul Tremblay

 

Superior Achievement in a First Novel

The Garden of Blue Roses – Michael Barsa

What Should Be Wild – Julia Fine

Breaking the World – Jerry Gordon

I Am the River – T.E. Grau

The Rust Maidens – Gwendolyn Kiste

Fiction – Ryan Lieske

The Honey Farm – Harriet Alida Lye 

The War in the Dark – Nick Setchfield 

The Nightmare Room – Chris Sorensen

Baby Teeth – Zoje Stage

The Moore House – Tony Tremblay

 

Superior Achievement in a Young Adult Novel

Pitch Dark – Courtney Alameda

The Wicked Deep – Shea Ernshaw 

Attack of the 50 Foot Wallflower – Christian McKay Heidicker 

Dread Nation – Justina Ireland

Wormholes: Book One of Axles and Allies – Dani Kane

Sawkill Girls – Claire Legrand 

Broken Lands – Jonathan Maberry

The Night Weaver – Monique Snyman

The Wren Hunt – Mary Watson

The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein – Kiersten White

 

Superior Achievement in a Graphic Novel

Abbott – Saladin Ahmed 

Cursed Comics Cavalcade – Alex Antone and and Dave James Wielgosz

Moonshine Vol. 2: Misery Train – Brian Azzarello

Redlands Volume 1: Sisters by Blood – Jordie Bellaire

Bone Parish – Cullen Bunn

Denver Moon: Metamorphosis – Warren Hammond and Joshua Viola

Destroyer – Victor LaValle 

Gideon Falls Volume 1: The Black Barn – Jeff Lemire

Monstress Volume 3: Haven – Marjorie Liu

Infidel – Pornsak Pichetshote 

 

Superior Achievement in Long Fiction

Our Children, Our Teachers – Michael Bailey

The Barrens – Stephanie Feldman

Shiloh – Philip Fracassi

You Are Released – Joe Hill

Cruce Roosters  – Brent Michael Kelley

Black’s Red Gold – Ed Kurtz

Dead Lovers on Each Blade, Hung – Usman T. Malik

The Devil’s Throat  – Rena Mason

Body of Christ – Mark Matthews

Bitter Suites – Angela Yuriko Smith

Shape Shifting Priestess of the 1,000 Year War  – Todd Sullivan

 

Superior Achievement in Short Fiction

“All Summers End” – Tom Deady

“Life After Breath” – Tori Eldridge

“Cold, Silent, and Dark” – Kary English

“The Gods in Their Seats, Unblinking” – Kurt Fawver

“The Woman in the Blue Dress” – Heather Herrman

“Mutter” – Jess Landry

“Dead End Town” – Lee Murray

“Glove Box” – Annie Neugebauer

“Fish Hooks” – Kit Power

“Her Royal Counsel” – Andrew Robertson

“A Winter’s Tale” – John F.D. Taff

“And in Her Eyes the City Drowned” – Kyla Lee Ward

 

Superior Achievement in a Fiction Collection

Something Borrowed, Something Blood-Soaked  – Christa Carmen

Spectral Evidence – Gemma Files

That Which Grows Wild  – Eric J. Guignard

Coyote Songs  – Gabino Iglesias

Octoberland  – Thana Niveau

Frozen Shadows: And Other Chilling Stories – Gene O’Neill

Apple and Knife – Intan Paramaditha

Occasional Beasts: Tales – John Claude Smith

Garden of Eldritch Delights  – Lucy A. Snyder

Little Black Spots – John F.D. Taff

Dark and Distant Voices: A Story Collection – Tim Waggoner

 

Superior Achievement in a Screenplay

Hereditary – Ari Aster

The Haunting of Hill House: The Bent-Neck Lady, Episode 01:05 – Meredith Averill

The Haunting of Hill House: Screaming Meemies, Episode 01:09 – Meredith Averill

Mandy – Panos Cosmatos and Aaron Stewart-Ahn 

Ghost Stories – Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman

Halloween – Jeff Fradley, Danny McBride and David Gordon Green

Annihilation – Alex Garland

Bird Box – Eric Heisserer 

Overlord – Billy Ray and Mark L. Smith

A Quiet Place – Bryan Woods, Scott Beck and John Krasinski

 

Superior Achievement in an Anthology

A New York State of Fright: Horror Stories from the Empire State – James Chambers, April Grey and Robert Masterson 

The Devil and the Deep: Horror Stories of the Sea – Ellen Datlow

Suspended in Dusk II – Simon Dewar

A World of Horror – Eric J. Guignard

Welcome to the Show – Doug Murano and Matt Hayward

Hellhole: An Anthology of Subterranean Terror – Lee Murray

The Fiends in the Furrows: An Anthology of Folk Horror – David T. Neal and Christine M. Scott

Phantoms: Haunting Tales from Masters of the Genre – Marie O’Regan

Lost Highways: Dark Fictions from the Road – Alexander D. Ward

Quoth the Raven – Lyn Worthen

 

Superior Achievement in Non-Fiction

Horror Express – John Connolly

Adapting Frankenstein: The Monster’s Eternal Lives in Popular Culture – Dennis Cutchins and Dennis R. Perry

The Howling: Studies in the Horror Film  – Lee Gambin

Woman at the Devil’s Door: The Untold True Story of the Hampstead Murderess  – Sarah Beth Hopton

We Don’t Go Back: A Watcher’s Guide to Folk Horror – Howard David Ingham

Sleeping with the Lights On: The Unsettling Story of Horror – Darryl Jones

It’s Alive: Bringing Your Nightmares to Life – Joe Mynhardt and Eugene Johnson

A Place of Darkness: The Rhetoric of Horror in Early American Cinema – Kendall R. Phillips

Wasteland: The Great Ward and the Origins of Modern Horror – W. Scott Poole

Uncovering Stranger Things: Essays on Eighties Nostalgia, Cynicism and Innocence in the Series – Kevin J. Wetmore Jr.

 

Superior Achievement in a Poetry Collection

Artifacts – Bruce Boston

The Comfort of Screams – G.O. Clark 

Bleeding Saffron – David E. Cowen 

The Hatch – Joe Fletcher

Witches – Donna Lynch

Thirteen Nocturnes – Oliver Shepard

War – Marge Simon and Alessandro Manzetti  

The Devil’s Dreamland – Sara Tantlinger  

Candle and Pins: Poems on Superstitions – Jacqueline West

Gwendolyn Witch and Other Macabria – Twyla Wren

Support Independent Writers / Editors / Publishers

If you feel like making a donation to Written Backwards (even just a dollar), know that your money will be going to a good cause: helping an independent writer, editor, and publisher survive in this cruel world.

$1.00