Sallow Bend hits the Bram Stoker Awards® preliminary ballot

I was absolutely floored this morning to see my latest novel, Sallow Bend, on the preliminary ballot for the Bram Stoker Awards®. This is the longlist, so it’s not a finalist yet, but it’s a huge step all the same. I’ve got all my fingers crossed that it makes it through to the next round, when it will officially become a finalist. This will be my third shot at such a prestigious achievement. Previously, Crow Shine and The Gulp both made the preliminary ballot for Superior Achievement in a Fiction Collection, but neither made it through to the shortlist. Third time lucky? Here’s hoping. Then again, look at the rarified company this book is currently keeping (including Stephen King, holy shit…). If any HWA voting members haven’t read Sallow Bend yet and would like a copy, please hit me up and I’ll get one to you right away. Here’s the full preliminary ballot for Novel:

The 2022 Bram Stoker Awards® Preliminary Ballot
Superior Achievement in a Novel

Baxter, Alan – Sallow Bend (Cemetery Dance Publications)
Iglesias, Gabino – The Devil Takes You Home (Mullholland Press)
Ihli, Noelle W. – Ask for Andrea (Dynamite Books)
Katsu, Alma – The Fervor (G.P. Putnam’s Sons)
King, Stephen – Fairy Tale (Scribner)
Kiste, Gwendolyn – Reluctant Immortals (Saga Press)
Kraus, Daniel – The Ghost That Ate Us: The Tragic True Story of the Burger City Poltergeist (Raw Dog Screaming Press)
Malerman, Josh – Daphne (Del Rey)
Nix, Gwendolyn – I Have Asked to Be Where No Storms Came (Crystal Lake Publishing)
Roberts, Nick – The Exorcist’s House(Crystal Lake Publishing)
Ward, Catriona – Sundial (Tor Nightfire)

And here’s the full ballot with all categories.

Huge congratulations to everyone across the board – what an amazing display of dark fiction talent. I’m honoured to be a one small part of it.

Content warnings are not weakness

I posted a version of this back in 2021, but rather than edit that I’m reposting, as the link to the previous one is in several places online. This is an updated version to address a couple of points that always come up in relation to this subject.

There are frequently posts on social media where a certain subset of people end up ranting about including content warnings in horror books. Content warnings are sometimes called trigger warnings, but given the way edgelords all over have co-opted the term “trigger” as some kind of insult, it’s actually easier and more accurate to refer to what they actually are – warnings about the contents of any given book (or movie, etc.). From here on, I’m going to refer to them simply as CW.

There was a day when I was against the idea of CW, then I learned more. Now I’m not. Horror, or any other fiction for that matter, has no rules. Story is how we mirror and interrogate our world. Write your soul, your pain, your truth. Anyone who tries to tell you what you can write can go suck it. Equally, if you write something deeply offensive or harmful to others, be ready for consequences. Don’t be a dick is always the benchmark, for fiction of any kind or life in general. But write what you want. You should always consider whether a story is yours to tell, but we want diversity in our fiction. We want to see our world reflected. Doing that without harm is the trick.

Horror, of course, is meant to be confronting. But that doesn’t mean it should be traumatic, or that people avoiding trauma are somehow wrong, weak, or censors. If a reader asks for CW, that’s okay. People carry all kinds of trauma they don’t want reinforced. CW are not censorship. You don’t have to include them, of course, but don’t deny or complain about others discussing them. That’s a dick move. A lot of people don’t want CW, they want no spoilers. Fair enough, I’m like that too. CW should definitely be somewhere out of sight. A good idea is the back of the book maybe, where people who want them can look. Another option is to have them available via the publisher or author website. That’s an inclusive move. I’ve added a page to my site here that people can check or be directed to, then anyone who might need a warning about the content of any of my books can find what they need. It’s not exhaustive, but it’s something. I definitely deal with some seriously fucked up shit in my stories. Horror is the genre of honesty, after all, and honestly, the world can be pretty fucked up.

But the idea that people asking for CW are somehow “snowflakes” is bloody toxic. If I love cake but I’m allergic to peanuts, it’s not censorship of the cake’s integrity or commentary on the cake’s validity to include a list of ingredients. It’s not weak of someone with a peanut allergy to want to avoid a cake that can harm them. People without allergies can ignore the ingredient list. People with peanut allergies can stay safe. It’s really that simple. If you don’t include a list of ingredients and someone has a peanut allergy, they’ll avoid all your cakes entirely just in case. But if they have one allergy and your ingredients point out their problem isn’t in the cake, you might even gain a new reader. Do people read cakes? This analogy has taken me down a dark alley and mugged me. Let’s move on.

I don’t think books should have CW included. If you want to put them in the back, or somewhere people can easily ignore them or find them, that’s great. But they shouldn’t be required by any means. There are inherent issues that arise from that kind of prescriptivism. As is often the case, the best way lies somewhere along the middle path. Supplying a resource like I’ve done on my site here is easy and it’s kind. The vast majority of people don’t need CW, don’t care about them, and probably won’t ever even know about that particular page on my site. For the people who do need it though, there it is. Supplying that kind of information is such a simple kindness, and it’s a real indication of privilege and downright dickishness to say something like, “Ugh, the fact it’s horror should be trigger warning enough!” No, that’s not true. There are people out there who love horror but have PTSD from e.g. childhood abuse – they shouldn’t have that trauma reinforced while trying to enjoy books about ghosts or monsters or any other kind of horror.

And here’s where some edgelord (it’s always the edgelords and edgeladies) comes along and starts posting articles talking about how studies have shown that using trigger warnings in university courses can actually be counterproductive and so on. Like that’s some kind of gotcha. Guess what, fuckknuckle, we’re not talking about the real and challenging process of educating yourself at university. We’re talking about the kind of stuff that people choose to entertain themselves with. They shouldn’t be forced to confront damaging issues while they’re trying to relax and enjoy downtime.

And those same edgefolk always come along with something like, “These snowflakes need to take responsibility for themselves and their issues!” Guess what, fuckmuppet? That’s exactly what they’re doing. By asking for content warnings, they can judge for themselves and take personal responsibility for anything they consume. If it’s not something that is an issue for you, well done! You can literally just ignore it. It takes more energy for you to rant, incorrectly, about their “weakness” than it does for you to simply fuck on by. No one is changing your experience, and who the fuck are you to gatekeep a genre for others?

Just to reiterate:

Horror is meant to be confronting.

That doesn’t mean it should be traumatic, or that people avoiding trauma are somehow wrong, weak, or censors.

People with trauma can and do love horror.

If we can create whatever we want and protect people with trauma as well, why the fuck wouldn’t we?

The importance of your own place on the web

Ryan Cahill recently tweeted: “Processing some updates on my website and I stumbled across the stats differences from 2021 to 2022. 2021 had ~17k hits on my author website, ~5k visitors. 2022 the hits increased by 2.5 to ~43k, while the visitors tripled to ~15k. Websites are important.”

It is a really important point, especially with social media in the turmoil it is. Authors (or any other creative for that matter), your own central home on the internet is absolutely essential. As we’ve seen with the horrific Muskening of Twitter, it’s easy for a third party app to be absolutely fucked in pretty short order. Even if Twitter survives, engagement has dropped off a cliff and I don’t know if that will recover. I’ve talked to other authors who are worried as they’ve seen a significant drop in sales because they can’t talk directly to potential readers like they used to. There’s not a lot we can do about the loss of those promotional channels other than keep signing up for alternate social media sites and hopefully be around the next one as it grows into a main character in the social media landscape. We’re also almost certainly going to have to diversify and know that one site will no longer rule them all. But beyond all that, you need a website.

Twitter has for a long time been the main hangout for authors and readers. Being a primarily text-based interface, that makes sense. There are lots of alternatives out there, which I’ll get to later, but currently nothing compares to Twitter. And the imminent collapse of that site is what’s prompted this post. Any site can fail at any time, so if you rely only on social media for your online presence, you’re constantly playing digital Russian Roulette.

Get a website. Make it happen. Even a free one-page site with contact details is better than nothing. You can sign up today at WordPress or Wix or any of a bunch of other places and get a free site. Yes, there’s a chance that company could go under too, but those places don’t have the tenuous nature of social media and are unlikely to be bought and fucked by an alt-right manchild.

Ideally, you’ll have your own domain name (which isn’t too expensive) and paid hosting (which also doesn’t cost much for a simple few pages). It’s an important investment if you can afford it. That way you have control of your presence on the web. Whatever else happens, you always have a web address to direct people to. You always have something for people to find if they search for your name. Like this website right here. Mine is pretty big and complicated, but it’s been a work in progress for well over a decade. However, there are only two things you absolutely must have on your website:

ABOUT: This is just a longer version of any Twitter or Instagram or whatever bio. A decent chunk of information all about you and your work. You don’t need heaps of detail, but enough that anyone searching for you gets a good idea of who you are and what you do. This is my About page.

CONTACT: Here’s where you list at the very least your email address (or use a contact form widget that’s linked to your email address). People need to reach you. Sure, a lot of contact might be weirdoes or spam or whatever, but often it’ll be genuine fans, and that kind of mail is always awesome. And what if an editor wants to invite you to a project or reprint something of yours, etc. and they can’t reach you? They’ll go somewhere else. I’ve spoken to editors who have complained about exactly this – they wanted to work with someone, but had no way to get in touch. Here’s my Contact page. It lists loads of other stuff like my newsletter and Patreon and all my social media and stuff, but most importantly, right there front and centre at the top, is my email address for direct contact. (I have a separate email for “public” places like this and my more personal stuff, so that’s something to consider.)

After that, pages for your books, bibliography, etc. are all great, but About and Contact are essential. If you look around my site you’ll see there’s a page for every book, there’s a page about all my books, there’s a press kit for people to grab photos and bios, there’s free stuff, I even sell signed books directly through my site and more. Like I said before, my site has been a work in progress for years. But most importantly, if people Google me, they find my site. If they find that, they can learn about me and contact me if necessary.

And while you’re working on getting that site up, start an email newsletter to develop a mailing list. That’s a whole other effort, of course, but it’s something that’s proving invaluable as social media becomes more nebulous. I used to use MailChimp but I couldn’t get on with their interface and I use Substack now, which is great. It’s also a blogging platform, which I will use to some degree, but I’m likely to post all major blogging both at Substack and on my personal site. I know some people will stress about that as it’s potentially splitting an audience, but reaching an audience is what’s important. Substack is mainly for my email newsletter and it’s easy to get a widget for people to sign up, like the one I’ve got on the Contact page of my website right now.

And of course you can still have all your social media of choice. I’m still hoping Twitter survives the storm, but in the meantime I’m also on Hive, Mastodon, and Post as potential Twitter replacements. I’ve had Instagram for ages and I like that app, and I’m fairly new to TikTok, but it’s not awful. I’m still on Facebook, though I fucking hate that site and would drop it in an instant if I sold enough books, but sadly I need it still. And there’s also another free way to keep everyone apprised of all that stuff. Linktree is a way to have one link that provides all anyone needs to know about you, and you can update it and adjust it as much and as often as you like. Here’s my Linktree, and you can see I also have a Patreon for people to get extras and a Kofi account if people want to simply just drop me a tip, as well as merch and all kinds of shit. Honestly, there’s too much going on, but I tend to only focus on small parts of that list. Regardless, all of it is great and it all helps to keep my career alive. It also all distracts me from writing enormously, but that’s a balance we need to find in this modern age. But if everything died tomorrow, short of an EMP that wipes out all tech, I’ll always have my website, and that’s where people can find me and my books. That’s essential.

 

Serial fiction coming to my Patreon soon

One of my projects for 2023 is to serialise a story exclusively for patrons on my Patreon account. Already there’s loads of bonus content over at Patreon and I occasionally publish an exclusive short story there, not available anywhere else. At some point, some of those stories might get published in a collection, but not all of them, so some stuff will only ever be for patrons.

The serialised story I’m planning will be a Patreon-exclusive. It may or may not see wider publication at some future point, but right now it’s a real experiment in writing without a net. I’m going to get the first few short chapters written in advance so I’ve got my head into the story and I know I’m heading in the right direction, then I’ll be writing it as I go, with no planning and next to no editing. I might crash and burn horribly. Or I might fly. Who the fuck knows? That’s the beauty of it, and that’s the point of it, really. Right now, I don’t even know if it’s a novella or a novel or what. I’m thinking novella, but we’ll see!

So if you’re keen to read along, sign up for my Patreon at the Monster level or above and I’ll start posting chapters before the end of January.

 

Substack update

Patreon is by far the best place to get all the low down and behind the scenes stuff, occasional exclusive stories and so on, from me. But I’m planning to make Substack a bit more central to my online presence and thought you might like to know. Substack are setting themselves up as a pretty strong social media alternative. I originally signed up there to mainly use it for my email newsletter, as I really hate the Mailchimp interface. But they also offer a regular blogging option, so I might be using that sometimes too – the Blog here on my website is really just a place where I post news now, not articles. To be honest, I’ve really fallen out of the habit of “blogging” outside of Patreon, so this might trigger me to get back into it.

So, if I blog something a little more in-depth that isn’t an exclusive article for Patreon, I’ll be using Substack now, mainly because that also gives me the option to send that blog post as an email to my newsletter list.

And now, on top of that, Substack have added a chat function – which is a bit like a personalised social media feed for anyone to chat directly with a stack author. And that strikes me as quite useful too. I’m not sure how much it’ll get used, but it’ll be interesting to see, especially as other socmed (especially Twitter) is so unstable right now.

Of course, you might already be subscribed to my newsletter and all this is not news at all. Or you might be subscribed but didn’t know what else substack offers. But if you’re not, you might want to sign up. You’ll find it here:

https://alanbaxter.substack.com/

What do you think? Useful or not?

Ellen Datlow Recommendations for Best Horror #14 – long list

Ellen Datlow is the premier horror short fiction editor these days, and every year she publishes Best Horror of the Year. Volume 14 is due out any day now. It’s always a stellar anthology and I look forward to it every year – it’s a real bucket list item for me to get a story in there one year. But also every year, she releases her long list of recommended stories and she’s just dropped the latest one. I’m thrilled to have three stories on that list:

“Out On a Rim” & “48 To Go” from The Gulp, and
“Come His Children” from Cthulhu Deep Down Under Vol 3

Check out the list, as it not only showcases an amazing bunch of authors, but also a bunch of books and magazines that might not have shown up on your radar before. Linked below is the first post – it’s alphabetical and subsequent posts list more recommendations:

https://ellendatlow.com/2022/11/28/recommendations-for-best-horror-14-long-list-2/

DAMNATION GAMES is out now!

My first anthology as editor is now out in the world. Clan Destine Press asked me if I’d like to edit an anthology for them and the supernatural horror and crime beast called Damnation Games was born. I invited a slew of amazing authors and opened general submissions to the Australasian Horror Writers Association and the spread of stories I got blew my mind. This really is a special book. The wonderful cover art is by the talented Luke Spooner of Carrion House. Here’s the table of contents:

Gene Flynn – “A Bitter Yellow Sea”
Alan Baxter – “The Question”
Chris Mason – “Miss Jam”
Philip Fracassi – “The Resident”
Aaron Dries – “Kookaburra Cruel”
Gemma Amor – “The Zoo”
Rick Kennett – “The Faces in Morgan Alley”
Lee Murray – “The Hungry Bones”
Robert Hood – “Dangerous Specimens”
Kaaron Warren – “Remnants and Bad Water”
Gemma Files – “Black Cohosh”
Joanne Anderton – “The Infinity Effect”
Gabino Iglesias – “The End Will Emerge from the Filth”
Maria Lewis – “The Invited”
John F.D. Taff – “Ghost Gun”
Dan Rabarts – “Spool”
Cina Pelayo – “She sleeps, nor dreams, but ever dwells”
J Ashley-Smith – “Men Without Faces”
Kyla Lee Ward – “The Value of Graves”

What a stellar list of amazing authors that is. You can get your copy now, wherever books are sold. Here’s a few links to get you started:

Ordering direct from the publisher is good:
In Australia: https://www.clandestinepress.net/products/damnation-games
USA: https://improbablepress.com/products/damnation-games

Book Depository is always a winner as it has free shipping worldwide:
Paperback: https://www.bookdepository.com/Damnation-Games-Editor-Alan-Baxter/9780645316858
Hardcover: https://www.bookdepository.com/Damnation-Games-Alan-Baxter/9780645316841

And of course, there’s also the dreaded ‘Zon, and all formats are now showing up there:
Paperback: https://www.amazon.com/Damnation-Games-Alan-Baxter/dp/0645316857/
Hardcover: https://www.amazon.com/Damnation-Games-Alan-Baxter/dp/0645316849/
Kindle: https://www.amazon.com/Damnation-Games-Alan-Baxter-ebook/dp/B0BN75S9MZ/

Those are US Amazon stores, but for your own country the link is exactly the same, just change the .com bit to .ca or .co.uk etc.

I really hope you’ll give this book a go – I’m incredibly proud of it and guarantee you won’t be disappointed. Reviewers, bookstagrammers, booktok, etc. please hit me up if you’d like a review copy.

AND FIRE POURED FORTH is out now.

I decided to drop a surprise book on you all. And Fire Poured Forth is out now, wherever books are sold!

When my story “In Vaulted Halls Entombed” (from SNAFU: Survival of the Fittest) got picked up by Blur Studios and Netflix for LOVE DEATH + ROBOTS, apart from being beside myself with joy, I realised I had a handful of good military horror stories out there now and maybe I should collect them. It all started with “In Vaulted Halls Entombed”. Geoff Brown at Cohesion Press came up with the idea to produce a series of anthologies featuring stories of military horror, where the fundamental requirement was always the same: extreme military (or para-military) action and monsters. Within this over-riding remit, each volume of the ongoing series has a more focussed theme. I’ve had the great pleasure of being included in five of these volumes so far: Survival of the Fittest first, and then Last Stand, Black Ops, Medivac, and Future Warfare.

So when I decided to collect those five together, I wrote a new and original story called “And Fire Poured Forth”, to make it an even half dozen and to make sure the book had something new in it, and that story also gives this book its title. I put this book together in the first place a couple of years ago, but then LD+R bumped my story to season 2 then season 3. It’s episode 8 of season 3 if you haven’t caught it yet – they did an amazing job with it.

Then, when it did come out, I realised there were already three books with “In Vaulted Halls Entombed” in them. The original SNAFU volume, my second collection, Served Cold, and the soon-to-be-released LD+R anthology to accompany the series. So I decided to hold off on this mini-collection for a while. I gave it about 6 months after LD+R season 3 aired, then though that was time enough. So here it is.

I strongly recommend you read all the SNAFU anthologies out there (a new one has just dropped called “Dead or Alive” and I’m lucky enough to have a story in that one too). I also recommend you watch LOVE DEATH + ROBOTS on Netflix. Apart from my obvious bias, it’s a genuinely outstanding series and I hope there are many more. Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy reading these yarns as much as I enjoyed writing them. And I also hope there’ll be many more from me to come.

From cosmic terrors in underground caverns to warrior nuns protecting humanity to invisible aliens decimating a faraway world, within these pages you’ll find six stories of military horror. Taken from the pages of (or inspired by) the SNAFU anthology series, where the remit is for stories crammed with extreme action, monsters, and military mayhem, everything here will leave you breathless. Lock and load, people. It’s going to be intense.