Imagine There’s No Stoker (It’s Easy If You Try)
I don’t have an ax to grind against the Bram Stoker Awards (or any awards, for that matter). After a few false starts with writing, I feel like I’m only now hitting my stride. At this stage of my career, I’m just trying to write the best stories I can. I want to keep my nose to the grindstone and get better and better. My work has never come close to contention for any award and it’s entirely possible it never will. I’m okay with that.
What I’m not okay with is the drama surrounding awards – the near-manic frenzy for recognition and (sometimes vitriolic) bitterness when it doesn’t come. While I suspect this dynamic exists in all branches of speculative fiction, it seems to flourish in horror – a field that, in my opinion, too often mistakes rudeness for charisma. This morning I woke up to find an angry horror author on Facebook alleging favoritism in the Stokers. I have no idea whether or not his accusations have merit, but I found myself cringing at the snarky, entitled tone of his status update. It may not have been the best time and place for mudslinging.
Pay no attention to the menu at the Stoker awards banquet, the main course every year is sour grapes.
Let’s conduct a brief thought experiment (inspired by the lyrics of John Lennon’s “Imagine”). Imagine a world without awards – a world devoid of not only the Stokers, but all the rest of them, too. The World Fantasy Award, the Hugo, the Shirley Jackson Award, the Black Quill Award, the Nebula, the Pushcart Prize, along with the awards for every other creative field (the Oscars, Golden Globes, etc).
Imagine all of them gone, as though caught up in the Rapture. Gone, at the snap of my fingers. Would genre fiction really be any worse off?
I know…awards fulfill some positive functions. Sometimes, they recognize work that might otherwise fall through the cracks. I’m acquainted with authors who’ve won awards. Often, I have a deep respect for their work and — on a more personal level — I’m thrilled for them. At their best,awards give readers a list of the sort of fiction worth paying attention to. Hell, even a cynic like me can’t — in all honesty — be completely anti-award (in the interest of full disclosure, I’m volunteering to assist HWA with a project tangentially related to the Stokers, because I want to try to be a better citizen of the genre).
All that having been said, imagine the windfall writers and readers would get if all the time, energy, and emotion authors currently dedicate to campaigning for awards (and grousing about being overlooked) was channeled into something constructive like, I dunno, writing.
Of course, this is pipe dream. There’s something in our DNA, something in our heritage as social primates, that leads us to appoint leaders/winners/”bests” even if we don’t need them. There’s something in our nature that loves knowing our place in the hierarchy. If World War III broke out and two-thirds of humanity died, it wouldn’t take long for the surviving third to establish an award for Best Hut. World War IV would be started by the runner-up.
So, we’re stuck with awards. Okay, then. Let’s make lemonade out of lemons. Can we at least use them as an opportunity to build each other up, rather than knock each other down? Can we use them as an opportunity to shine a spotlight on what we perceive as excellence, and accept defeat gracefully if it comes? As an opportunity to focus on what we can give to the field, instead of what we can take from it?
[UPDATE: By late in the afternoon, the angry Facebook status I referred to had been deleted. I applaud the author for doing that. Chalk one up for civility.]