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From the Haunted Stacks: 2021 Bram Stoker AwardsⓇ Wrap Up

These phenomenal books are just the tip of the horror iceberg.

2021 Bram Stoker Awards

Each year, the Horror Writers Association presents the Bram Stoker AwardsⓇ for Superior Achievement in twelve categories. There are a few interesting things about these, the most prestigious awards in the Horror genre. One, the award itself is very cool: an eight-inch replica of a fanciful haunted house, designed specifically for HWA by sculptor Steven Kirk. The door of the house opens to reveal a brass plaque engraved with the name of the winning work and its author. Two, the Bram Stoker AwardsⓇ are not for the “best” works of the year, but rather they are “for superior achievement”—which leaves room for more titles to be considered in a broader context. And three, the awards are chosen by a hybrid system of juries (one for each category) and member input. 

When you put all of this together, the results are always a cause for celebration. And that is exactly what happened on May 14, 2022—when the Bram Stoker AwardsⓇ were presented live in Denver, CO. You can watch the entire ceremony for yourself here (or just watch the embedded video below!) 

In Haunted Stacks style though, I am not here to simply list the winners for you, rather I am going to focus on the titles that won in five of the categories, and offer you two more readalikes to continue your superior reading adventure.

Superior Achievement in a Novel

my-heart-is-a-chainsaw-excerpt

My Heart Is a Chainsaw

By Stephen Graham Jones

Winner: For the second year in a row, Stephen Graham Jones took home the prize, this time for his heartbreakingly beautiful, meticulously crafted, and thought-provoking ode to the slasher genre, My Heart is a Chainsaw. Here are two options to try after you finish your visit to Proofrock, Idaho, and while you are eagerly awaiting the sequel, Don't Fear the Reaper.

You can read a free excerpt of My Heart is a Chainsaw here.

the final girl support group

The Final Girl Support Group

By Grady Hendrix

Lynnette is part of a real-life support group of the final girls from your favorite horror movies but after the credits have rolled, they live in real fear, both from PTSD and actual danger as it appears someone is trying to pick them off one-by-one. The story is fast-paced, well-plotted, and full of twists, and Lynnette is the perfect imperfect final girl, a heroine readers want to root for despite her flaws, and in Grady Hendrix’s hands, she may finally get the chance to do more than just survive, but rather, fully live for the first time. This novel went head-to-head against My Heart is a Chainsaw and while it did not win, pairing them enhances the reading experience of both.

a head full of ghosts paul tremblay books for fans of the invisible man

A Head Full of Ghosts

By Paul Tremblay

Back in 2015, Paul Tremblay won the Bram Stoker AwardⓇ  himself for this groundbreaking novel. Here readers are introduced to a Massachusetts teen who begins acting strangely. Is it acute Schizophrenia, is she possessed, or is she faking it? Whatever the reason, it is tearing the family apart. 

Told in two storylines, as the younger sister recounts these events and speaks from 15 years later, the implications and trauma from this horror play out for years to come. Intricately plotted and ranging from creepy to outright terrifying, this is a tale that not only makes allusions to horror’s most famous works (much as Jones’ novel does with Slasher films), but it also stands as a modern masterpiece, honoring its place within the genre while also standing on its own, utterly original and terrifyingly realistic.

Superior Achievement in a First Novel

Book cover of body horror book Queen of Teeth by Hailey Piper

Queen of Teeth

By Hailey Piper

Winner: With its win, Hailey Piper’s Queen of Teeth proved that vagina monsters are a force to be reckoned with in Horror. I wrote about this visceral, sensual, terrifying, and quite simply, brilliant novel in my last “From the Haunted Stacks” column, but never fear, after you finish your time with Yaya, I have two more books you might enjoy.

best horror books 2017

Agents of Dreamland (Tinfoil Dossier Book 1)

By Caitlín R. Kiernan

Okay so I am cheating a bit by listing a series, but these three novellas together are only slightly longer than the typical novel, and Kiernan’s enormous influence on Piper is impossible to deny. Transporting readers to a near future, Lovecraftian, dystopia through the eyes of a covert government agent, “the Signalman,” the series is weird fiction at its best, a cautionary, haunting, and menacing picture of a world that is falling apart at its edges. Kiernan lures readers in with her lyrical language, juxtaposing gorgeous prose with scenes that are horrific, both literally and psychologically. 

Like Piper’s tale, this is a stunning and uncomfortable yet extremely satisfying story of monsters and menace, a tale for those who are looking for a compelling read, filled with strong women, that will immerse them in a rich, atmospheric, and slightly terrifying world that is not too far off from our current reality.

When the Reckoning Comes by LaTanya McQueen

When the Reckoning Comes

By LaTanya McQueen

Mira, a Black girl, Jesse, a Black boy, and Celine, a white girl, were inseparable as children—until the night Mira and Jesse went to investigate the ghosts on a neglected, local plantation. 

Long estranged, Mira returns, at Celine’s request, to attend her wedding to a wealthy man, at that same plantation, now restored to its former beauty, but still very much haunted by the slaves who were tortured there. Using the disturbing real-life trend of celebrating happy moments on restored plantations, McQueen ratchets up the discomfort by creating a story where readers actively cheer the angry spirits on. While Piper’s near-future dystopia asks readers to ponder our present as we move into a terrifying future, McQueen’s novel—which was up against Piper’s in this category—challenges readers to assess how the past still haunts us all, as they both present an engaging and fun story that also forces readers to seriously contemplate the true horrors of systemic oppression. 

Related: 8 Social Horror Books That Tackle Urgent Issues

Superior Achievement in Long Fiction

Twentieth Anniversary Screen by Jeff Strand

Twentieth Anniversary Screening

By Jeff Strand

Winner: Long known for his critically acclaimed darkly comedic brand of Horror storytelling, Jeff Strand finally took home a Bram Stoker AwardⓇ—after numerous nominations—for his novella, Twentieth Anniversary Screening, a story that turns a satirical eye on the deadly return of a cult Slasher film. Here are two more novella-length stories fans of Strand’s tale may enjoy.

Night of the Mannequins by Stephen Graham Jones

Night of the Mannequins

By Stephen Graham Jones

As we have already seen, Jones is a huge fan of the Slasher genre, and back in 2020, he won in this same category for this original take on the subgenre. This tale begins with a prank involving a mannequin, in a dark movie theater, which turns deadly after the mannequin “wakes up” and begins a killing spree. But never fear, narrator Sawyer has a plan to save the day. All he has to do is kill each of his friends before the mannequin gets to them first.

Readers will be simultaneously drawn to and repulsed by Sawyer, engaged in the quirky narrative, and entertained by the pervasive dark sense of humor and satire. Much like Strand’s novella, this is a fast-paced story that will be very hard for readers to shake off even after turning the final page, but they will also love every minute of the experience. 

nothing but blackened teeth cassandra khaw

Nothing but Blackened Teeth

By Cassandra Khaw

Cassandra Khaw, nominated alongside Strand this year, looked back way further than 20 years with their novella.

Four friends gather at a Heian-era mansion in the Japanese countryside to celebrate a last-minute wedding by two in their group. However, the house has a deadly haunted history. 1,000 years ago a bride was awaiting her groom; he never arrived. She asked her guests to bury her alive in the building’s foundation, to wait for him. Every year since, it is said, a young woman is sacrificed to help the lost groom find his way back to his beloved. Immersed in unease and oozing menace, the group is not only stalked by a faceless woman in white, as they struggle to leave the mansion alive, but it also takes a critical look at the characters’ strained and complicated relationships with each other. Like Strand’s work, this is an unsettling and menacing story that reaches out from history to entrap the living.

Superior Achievement in an Anthology

When Things Get Dark, a Shirley Jackson anthology edited by Ellen Datlow

When Things Get Dark, Stories Inspired by Shirley Jackson

By Edited by Ellen Datlow

Winner: Ellen Datlow has won many Bram Stoker AwardsⓇ for her work editing anthologies over the years. And rightfully so. However, this year’s winner was special because it was a volume that asked a diverse group of today’s Horror writers to contribute an original story paying homage to the enduring legacy of a genre master titled When Things Get Dark: Stories Inspired by Shirley Jackson. There are many excellent anthologies available to Horror readers but I would like to suggest two other recent works that also used another Horror classic as their inspiration. 

Under Twin Suns, a horror anthology edited by James Chambers

Under Twin Suns: Alternate Histories of the Yellow Sign

By Edited by James Chambers

Nominated alongside Datlow in this category, Chambers’ anthology uses the 1895 classic The King in Yellow by Rober W. Chambers as a jumping-off point for 22 brand new stories and poems. Each author addresses the weird, disorienting stories contained in the original, using their unique modern voice and perspective. The result is an anthology that pays tribute to the past but also actively grapples with it. It is a reading experience as striking as it is unsettling, as wondrous as it is terrifying, and as enjoyable as it is maddening. One story contained within the volume, “The Yellow Crown” by Carol Gyzander, was also singled out and nominated for Superior Achievement in Short Fiction. Clearly, this is another tribute that stands firmly on its own merit.

Dark Stars anthology edited by John FD Taff

Dark Stars: New Tales of Darkest Horror

By John F.D. Taff

In this genre-expanding anthology, Taff features 12 of the most imaginative authors in Horror today, giving them a long leash to dive into terror. The one and only guiding light in their dark assignment, Taff wanted this volume of novellas to be an ode to the seminal, but out-of-print, Dark Forces anthology, released in 1980 and edited by Kirby McCauley, a book credited with bringing Horror to a wider audience. The original anthology featured what many consider to be Stephen King’s best novella, The Mist

Taff’s version is a success serving as a “snapshot” of this moment in Horror for future readers, much as its inspiration did over 40 years ago. It serves its mission so well in fact, I predict it will be nominated itself, in this category, next year. 

Superior Achievement in a Fiction Collection

In That Endlessness Our End by Gemma Files

In That Endlessness, Our End

By Gemma Files

Winner: StokerCon 2022 Guest of Honor, Gemma Files, also left the convention with a haunted house statue for her collection, In That Endlessness, Our End. The book presents an entertaining range of Horror types, tropes, and themes, but of course, still features tales with a movie frame—which Files’ fans adore. It is no surprise that Files, an expert in the scary short story format, won yet another Bram Stoker AwardⓇ, but here are two more collections by female Horror authors that you should be sure not to miss.

female horror writers

Her Body and Other Parties

By Carmen Maria Machado

This National Book Award Finalist and Shirley Jackson Award Winner, is, in my opinion, the best weird fiction story collection published this century. Women, and more specifically their bodies, and the violence done to them, are at the center of Carmen Maria Machado’s inventive, sensual, and eerie collection. Readers see, for example, a woman listing an inventory of her sexual encounters as humanity is being destroyed by a plague or a shop clerk who realizes that the dresses she is selling absorb the women who wear them. But no matter the specifics, the writing is always lyrical, the narration refreshingly direct, and the sex, abundant, and while the supernatural elements are not always as overt as in Files’ collection, every single story is terrifying for readers of any gender.

The Dead Hours of Night by Lisa Tuttle

The Dead Hours of Night

By Lisa Tuttle

After the success of their Bram Stoker Award-winning Monster, She Wrote: The Women Who Pioneered Horror and Speculative Fiction, editors Kroger and Anderson began releasing a series of new books by the forgotten creators they profiled. 

This book is a stellar example, featuring 12 stories, originally published in magazines and anthologies between 1980 and 2017, with both an introduction by Kroger and new notes by Tuttle to preface each of her stories. These are character-driven, intense Horror tales filled with complicated, unsettling stories about fully-realized women, narrated with a captivating and direct tone, immediately drawing readers in, immersing them in the dread, and stringing all along, until a last line that leaves readers gasping, yet, eager to dive back in and experience it over again and over again. It was no surprise when this breathtaking collection was nominated alongside Files’ eventual winner.

The titles I have highlighted here today are just the tip of the Horror iceberg. You can find more information about the Bram Stoker AwardsⓇ—including a list of every nominated title—in all categories, going back to 1987 at https://www.thebramstokerawards.com.