The Bram Stoker Awards.
Every year, the Horror Writers Association bestows this award upon winners in several different categories. Regardless of how one feels about the debated validity of the Stokers, there's one category in which winners truly stand out, those laboring in perhaps the most challenging form of prose: that of short fiction.
Cemetery Dance's Horror Hall of Fame: The Stoker Winners, edited by Stoker Winner and celebrated author Joe R. Lansdale, brings together a stunning collection of Stoker Award Winners, a volume of short fiction that represents what one should think of in regards to "award-winning." Hard to pick amongst this collection for the best tales, but the following do shine above the rest:
"The Pear Shaped Man", by George R.R. Martin, about that mysterious, filthy, socially challenged obese man we've all seen lurking on the streets or in alleys at one time or another, but in this case, The Pear Shaped Man hides an eerie secret in his cramped home that'll change a young female artist's life...forever.
"The Box", by Jack Ketchum, a haunting story about a husband and father who helplessly watches his family consumed - literally - by an invisible secret, hidden in a bum's empty box.
"The Boy Who Came Back From the Dead", by Alan Rodgers, is a rousing, fun romp about an adolescent boy raised from the dead by aliens, and his difficulties resuming his life on Earth. An excellent example of how some stories, even award winners, should be just plain fun.
"Orange is for Anguish, Blue is for Insanity", by David Morrell, a story about an artist's obsessive quest to understand one of the greatest misunderstood painters of all time, of his friend's mistake in trying to understand his friend's obsession, and the unearthly secret behind it and the painter's genius.
The best story in the collection is undoubtedly "The Night We Buried Road Dog", by the late Jack Cady. In my mind, it's the perfect example of what a Stoker Award Winning short story should be, because it's not based on a predictable monster or demon or serial killer or any of the usual horror staples, but rather on a life of freedom lived on the open road, behind a growling engine pushing metal down endless black asphalt, how men change and grow but never lose a bit of that young wildness, and how sometimes - most times - the ghosts that haunt us come from within, are of our own creation.
Pre-order Horror Hall of Fame: The Stoker Winners today.
Kevin Lucia is a Contributing Editor for Shroud Magazine. His short fiction has appeared in several anthologies. He's currently finishing his Creative Writing Masters Degree at Binghamton University, he teaches high school English and lives in Castle Creek, New York with his wife and children. He is the author of Hiram Grange & The Chosen One, Book Four of The Hiram Grange Chronicles, and he's currently working on his first novel. Visit him on the web at www.kevinlucia.com.