Saturday, May 3, 2008

Note from a Juror on the SJA

Dear friends of the SJA,

With the SJA final ballot announced (phew!), now seems like a good time to talk about the Shirley Jackson Awards, why they were established, how they work, and what our goals are.

Over the last few years, dark fiction has returned, and is even popping up on the best-seller lists. Big publishers are paying attention, and acquiring titles they wouldn’t have touched with ten-foot poles in the 90s and early 00’s. Dark fiction is getting serious critical attention. The New York Times’ Book Review initiated a semi-annual column devoted to horror. So, now seemed like a good time to start an award honoring those works of fiction that would likely be overlooked by Booker Awards and Pen-Faulkner Awards as well as Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy Awards, but whose merit, often brilliance, is undeniable.

And so, the Shirley Jackson Awards. Ms. Jackson’s work represents everything we seek in our nominees. Smart, dark, and able to tread the line between psychological and visceral with aplomb. Not only was her short story “The Lottery” published in The New Yorker, but it also elicited the most hate mail that magazine has ever received. Now that’s a writer.

A few of us got together and decided that such a new award might draw more attention to our vibrant, dynamic genre. The Stokers (happily for me) honor a slightly different kind of horror fiction, and I suspect that the final ballot of IHG, the other juried award, will look quite different from our own. All the finalists for all the awards deserve the recognition they receive, and it is our earnest hope that the SJA will expand dark fiction readers’ conceptions of horror. In fact, we hope people who’ve never read what’s traditionally considered horror will seek out our nominees, because it’s not about the confines of genre. It’s about these splendid works that transcend their labels. The dark fiction market is growing, and fortunately, there is more than enough room for all of us.

And onto the manner in which nominees were selected. The jury (F. Brett Cox, John Langan, Paul Tremblay, and I) read widely and often. We read until our eyes were bleary. We read the recommendations of the advisory board, we read the submissions from publishers, we solicited material, heard about somebody who heard from somebody about a good book, and tracked it down. We begged, borrowed, and stole material. Okay, we didn’t steal. Well, maybe that other Langan. Anyway, we’re writers, too, so we took it seriously, because it’s important.

When we were ready, we voted privately among the four of us, and arrived at our stellar final ballot. We disqualified our own fiction, but we did consider the fiction written or edited by advisors. Ellen Datlow volunteered to withdraw her anthology Inferno in order to preserve the reputation of the award, and prevent catcalls of favoritism, but we jurors agreed that the disqualification of such a work from consideration would ultimately harm the reputation of the SJA. It’s too good not to consider, and if we truly want our final ballot to reflect the best work of the year, our consciences could not allow us to disqualify it.

I imagine this will happen again, and often. Our excellent and growing list of advisors will no doubt edit and produce some of the best fiction of the year—that’s why they’re our advisors. While jurors will rotate over the years to keep the award fresh, our commitment to impartiality will remain constant, and we take that job seriously.

And so, this year, we’ve come out with what, collaboratively, we believe is the best fiction in the tradition of Shirley Jackson, to be published in 2007. Read the nominees. I dare you to disagree!

Thanks again for your support; it means a lot.

Sincerely,
Sarah Langan

1 comment:

JB said...

Congrats on the new award. I've put the novel finalists on my blog. My blog is hosted with Mid-Atlantic Horror Professionals, of which I'm a member. If there's any way I can help out, please let me know.