This past weekend I attended ReaderCon in Burlington, an outlying suburb of Boston, MA. One of the highlights of the weekend, and really the last major event on Sunday, the final day, was the ceremony for the Shirley Jackson Awards.
All kinds of genre fiction awards exist, such as the Bram Stoker Awards, the Hugos, the Nebulas, the World Fantasy Award, the Locus Awards, among many others. In many cases, the awards are controversial, surrounded by accusations of vote-trading, log-rolling or other manipulations via insider influence. The Shirley Jackson Awards are relatively newer, and appear to exist free from the negative accusations that plague the others.
This was my first time attending ReaderCon, so of course I hadn’t attended SJAs before. Not only did several of my friends and associates have their own work nominated, but Joe Pulver was nominated for editing The Grimscribe’s Puppets, a Thomas Ligotti tribute anthology published by Miskatonic River Press, in which my story “Diamond Dust” appeared. Because Joe lives in Berlin, he wasn’t able to attend the awards, and asked me to accept on his behalf should he win.
I’d made the same promise at the Stoker awards, for which Grimscribe’s was also nominated, but it didn’t win. I felt a superstitious certainty that I had ruined Joe’s chance of winning the Stoker by thinking too much in advance of what I’d say if I had to go up and accept on Joe’s behalf.
So this time, even though Joe emailed me a short statement to read, I didn’t look at it carefully, didn’t print it out, and certainly didn’t memorize it. As I sat in the audience of 100+, I concentrated on texting absent friends the results of winners in earlier categories such as short story, novella and collection. At the same time, I was flipping over to Facebook and posting updates about the category winners. I posted “Next is anthology” and never had a chance to follow-up by posting the winner, because I heard Andrea Hairston say, “The winner is Grimscribe’s Puppets by Joseph S Pulver Sr, who is not present, so the award will be accepted by Mike Griffin.”
I stopped posting updates, stood and switched my phone from Facebook to the app where I’d stored Joe’s acceptance speech. For some reason, the app displayed the lines of text much wider than the screen, so that only the center of each line was onscreen, and other text extended well off to the left and right edges. As I started up the aisle toward the stage, I tried to resize the text but it didn’t work. At that moment, I thought I would be unable to read Joe’s acceptance speech, and have to improvise. “He said something about thanking the awards committee, and the writers with stories in the book, and the publisher…” and slink offstage.
I was able to swipe left and scroll right repeatedly and read each line of the acceptance speech. At the time, it felt very awkward and I kept thinking: It doesn’t matter if I’m doing a terrible job reading this. What matters is that Joe won! Just get through it, grab the award, and get offstage.
There’s official video of the event, and as it turns out, my reading of the acceptance wasn’t as awful as I imagined. Here’s the portion of the ceremony where awards are given out. About 6:45 into the video is where we get to “Best Anthology.” You can see me pause on the way up the aisle, messing with my phone. At that point, I’m thinking “Oh, shit! I’m about to make a fool of myself in front of Peter Straub and Ellen Datlow and a hundred other VIPs in the field of horror.”
It was a wonderful treat to participate in the ceremony during the first Shirley Jackson Awards I attended. I’m so happy for Joe, for the rest of the writers in The Grimscribe’s Puppets, for Miskatonic River Press, and for those who wanted to see Thomas Ligotti get a bit more recognition as the great influence that he is. Here’s a picture of the award, gripped in my sweaty palm, as soon as I sat back down.
I’ll say again, the Shirley Jackson Awards a great event, a wonderful award, and a swell bunch of people. The people giving out the other genre awards ought to take notes. This is how it should be done.