There’s been some big news in the realm of creepy middle grade books lately, and we here at Spooky MG are absolutely over the (full) moon about it.
Each year, the Horror Writers Association presents the Bram Stoker Awards for superior achievement in horror and dark fantasy literature. The list of Stoker winners is crammed with legends: Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Victor LaValle, Caitlin R. Kiernan. And the award statuette—a gothic, gargoyle-bedecked house, with the winner’s name engraved behind its opening front door—has to be the coolest anywhere in the book world.
Stoker Award categories have included novel, screenplay, graphic novel, short and long fiction, and young adult novel, among others. Now, beginning with the 2022 publishing year, the HWA is establishing a middle grade category for the Bram Stoker Awards (YESSSS!!!!).
Spooky Middle Grade chatted with Becky Spratford, current Secretary of the Horror Writers Association, about the news.
Jacqueline West/Spooky MG: Hello, Becky! Thanks so much for joining us at Spooky MG, and extra thanks for all you do to promote horror for readers of all ages!
So, to get things started: Why has the HWA decided to add a middle grade category to the Bram Stoker Awards now? How did this change come about?
Becky Spratford, HWA: The discussions about adding a Middle Grade category have been going on informally for a handful of years. It all began in earnest when the Horror Writers Association presented R.L. Stine with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2014 Bram Stoker Awards ceremony.
Around the same time, the HWA’s Library committee began their work to promote Horror to kids through public libraries. The HWA Library committee, for which I am a co-chair, administers the Dennis Etchison Young Writers Scholarship http://horrorscholarships.com/dennis-etchison-young-writers-scholarship/ to one teen writer each year, and last year we had a record number of applicants. We also award up to five Young Adults Write Now endowments of $250 each to libraries who offer programming to teen writers of horror. In past years, we did not even receive five applicants, but again, last year we awarded all five and interest this year is already strong.
In 2019 we also launched Summer Scares, a national reading program (which I co-chair) where librarians recommend three titles each in the categories of Adult, YA, and Middle Grade Horror. We then use those titles and authors as a way to get more horror titles and programming into our libraries. The Middle Grade category has seen the largest uptick in interest with authors and library workers.
The HWA’s overall goal is to both support horror professionals and promote the genre. Adding the Middle Grade category to the Bram Stoker Awards slate accomplishes both of these things. Middle Grade Horror is strong. The books are excellent and varied and there is a whole generation of readers growing up with these awesome books. The Board was unanimous in extending the The Bram Stoker Award to Middle Grade Horror Fiction as a way to honor the excellent work in this category as we do for adult and teen horror fiction.
This is such great news – and R. L. Stine paves the way for creepy MG lit once again! Perfect.
When will the category be officially put in place? What books will be eligible?
The category begins with all middle grade horror titles published in the 2022 calendar year and will continue every year going forward. Any novel intended for the age group of 8-13 year-olds with a word length beginning at 25,000 words is eligible in a given calendar year. We will be awarding the Bram Stoker Award for the Best Middle Grade Novel (published in 2022) at StokerCon 2023.
What can middle grade authors do if they’d like their books to be considered for the award?
All authors or editors of eligible works are welcomed to submit their own work for consideration by the jury.
Beginning around April, the portal for authors or publishers to self-submit will open on the Bram Stoker Awards website here: https://www.thebramstokerawards.com/submissions/ . You do not need to be a member of the HWA to submit. There is also a recommendation portal for all HWA members to submit titles to be considered in any Bram Stoker Award category. You must be a member to submit an official recommendation, and you cannot submit your own work.
Once those submissions are complete, how are finalists and winners selected?
The Bram Stoker Awards process for every category is the same and it is very clearly laid out here: https://horror.org/awards/rules_current.pdf. However, for the short version, the Bram Stoker Awards use a hybrid system of a closed jury for each category who review the submitted titles and submit a ranked list combined with the recommendation portal mentioned in the previous answer. This allows the general membership to also have a say.
A long list of 10 titles in each category are presented to Active and Lifetime members who can vote for up to 5 in the first round. That vote creates the official “Bram Stoker Nominee” list of 5 titles in each category. Then the Active and Lifetime members can each vote for 1 per category.
Having the HWA support MG horror in this way means so much to those of us who read, write, and love spooky MG fiction. Big thanks to the whole organization.
Can you tell us a bit more about the Summer Scares Reading Program, another way the HWA is reaching out to MG and YA horror fans?
The Summer Scares Reading Program began in 2019 and is an official HWA initiative. It is presented in partnership with United for Libraries, Book Riot, and Booklist Summer Scares provides libraries and schools with an annual list of recommended horror titles for adult, young adult (teen), and middle grade readers. It introduces readers and librarians to new authors and helps start conversations extending beyond the books from each list and promote reading for years to come.
Selected authors agree to make themselves available to libraries (free of charge) in order to promote their titles and Horror in general.
Our committee is made up of 5 librarians and an annual rotating author spokesperson. In the past we have had Grady Hendrix, Stephen Graham Jones, and Silvia Moreno-Garcia, and this year for 2022 we welcome Alma Katsu.
Along with the vetted list of titles, the Summer Scares program and committee also provide a program guide courtesy of the Springfield-Greene County Library District. This guide is free and contains a page for each title containing a summary of the book, read-alike titles, programming ideas, and book discussion questions– really everything a library would need to feature and promote the books.
Here is the link to 2021’s Program Guide: https://bit.ly/SummerScares2021
There are also podcast, You Tube, and print components to support the program each year.
You can see more about the current year’s program and access the archive of past year’s here: http://raforallhorror.blogspot.com/p/summer-scares.html
What else is the HWA doing to support young horror readers and writers?
Besides the Scholarship and Endowments and Summer Scares, we added a high school intern this year. She has been working with our Volunteer Coordinator and her teacher to assist us. We have been able to introduce her to authors, have had her work on blog posts and virtual events. We would love to add more young interns going forward.
And just in general, the work we do reaching out to public libraries to encourage them to add horror titles and present horror programming through the Summer Scares reading program and our sponsors like Booklist and Book Riot who also create content to support middle grade horror reads. We have seen an increase in participation by libraries at the middle grade level every single year. Many libraries have let us know that Summer Scares and our librarian-vetted content has allowed them to advocate for more horror for their grade school patrons without fear of reproach for it being “too scary,” despite the fact that we all know they love spooky and scary reads.
YES. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Speaking of loving spooky and scary reads: What books do you think of as the classics of MG horror? Do you have any personal favorites?
As I mentioned above, there are not enough superlatives for the work of R.L. Stine, but I tend to credit Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark story collections for stoking the horror flame of many a middle grade reader, going back to myself [mid 40s] but still today. I volunteer at my local school library 2x a month and it is still a huge favorite.
In 2020, the HWA released Don’t Turn Out The Lights: A Tribute to Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark edited by Jonathan Maberry. This anthology has a diverse and vibrant table of contents featuring modern middle grade horror.
[Jacqueline/Spooky MG note: Hey, we know this one! Spooky MG’s very own Kim Ventrella has a terrifying story in this collection. Find out more here: https://bookshop.org/shop/spookymg]
Becky Spratford, cont: My work with Summer Scares has solidified for me that we are in a golden age of middle grade horror right now. We consider title from the last ten years by living authors for Summer Scares and each year, Middle Grade is always a favorite of the committee come selection time. Clearly, the time to include Middle Grade Horror in the HWA’s Bram Stoker Awards process is NOW.
Hear, hear to all that.
Thank you to Becky Spratford and the Horror Writers Association, and thank you to all of you who read, write, and love spooky middle grade lit.
Here’s to a healthy, happy, horror-filled 2022!
Becky Spratford [MLIS] is a Readers’ Advisor in Illinois specializing in serving patrons ages 13 and up. She trains library staff all over the world on how to match books with readers through the local public library. She runs the critically acclaimed RA training blog RA for All. She is under contract to provide content for EBSCO’s NoveList database and writes reviews for Booklist and a horror review column for Library Journal. Becky is a 20-year locally elected Library Trustee [still serving] and a Board member for the Reaching Across Illinois Library System. Known for her work with horror readers, Becky is the author of The Reader’s Advisory Guide to Horror, Third Edition [ALA Editions, 2021]. She is a proud member of the Horror Writers Association and currently serves as the Association’s Secretary and organizer of their annual Librarians’ Day. You can follow Becky on Twitter @RAforAll.
Jacqueline West of Spooky Middle Grade is the author of the New York Times-bestselling middle grade series The Books of Elsewhere, the Schneider Family Award Honor Book The Collectors, and the YA horror novel Last Things. Her latest book is the MG mystery/ghost story Long Lost [Greenwillow/HarperCollins, 2021], which was both an Indie Next List and Junior Library Guild selection. Find her at jacquelinewest.com or on Twitter @JacquelineMWest.