November 20th, 2012

Ben Ethridge and Me

A few years back, a young guy named Benjamin Kane Ethridge started e-mailing me; he had a new novel out called Black and Orange, and since it was about Halloween and since I was a Halloween expert, would I read it? I did...and it was wild. In the beginning, I wasn't even sure about it, but Ben kept working on it and revising it and polishing, and it either got better or grew on me, take your pick.

Well, it turned out that Ben was also a local SoCal guy, and we started to meet at various events and signings. He's a really cool fellow, with a sweet "Aw, shucks" kind of manner that belies his obvious gifts and work ethic.

You may know what's coming next: In 2010, Ben and I were both nominated in the First Novel category of the Bram Stoker Awards. The Castle of Los Angeles and Black and Orange were up against Gemma Files' amazing western dark fantasy A Book of Tongues and Lucy Snyder's gorgeous urban fantasy Spellbent. Wow, talk about competition.

I won't be disingenuous here and say I expected to lose. Although I personally am not a big campaigner and I didn't do anything to push it beyond making it available to voters, Castle had already received lots of wonderful press and a Black Quill Award nomination. But here's the thing: I wouldn't have minded losing to any of those three other books, but I secretly was rooting for Ben. I knew he'd be so thrilled and his book was quite fine indeed.

As it turned out, we got the second best of possible outcomes - Black and Orange and The Castle of Los Angeles tied (the best outcome would have been a four-way tie, but the rules are set up to make sure that doesn't happen). We got handed our trophies by a couple of nobodies named Gillian Flynn and Joe Hill:



Ben has gone on to prove that Black and Orange wasn't a flash in the pan. This year he's already released Bottled Abyss and Dungeon Brain, and I know he's got more fantastic stuff in the pipeline. In the meantime, he was kind enough to provide me with his take on our First Novel tie.

Take it away, Ben!

My Stoker Experience
by Benjamin Kane Ethridge

I’ve written about this subject before, so for the sake of those who might have read an earlier account, I hope I don’t repeat myself. With regard to the Bram Stoker Award, winning it, at the time I had a complex cocktail of emotions, rational and irrational about the concept. I’d seen some wonderful, jaw-dropping big press books fall to the wayside against lesser (in my opinion) small press books, and then I’d also seen some nominated small press works be soundly beaten by lesser, yet more commercial fiction products. In other words, I’d seen both small and large presses unfairly lose out. So where would my book fall? How would it be perceived? Would it be considered a small press book that squeezed past a more worthy New York published, money making endeavor? Or would it be praised, yet overshadowed?

                I’m negative, so I believed some kind of failure was bound to happen. I’d done my best to get folks to read the book, while at the same time trying not to come off too cheerleader about it. I didn’t want to be “one of those guys.” All I could do was make sure people knew the book was available to review. After that, the rest was up to the readers. I could see some books gathering recommendations like crazy and yet nobody outside the Horror Writers Association knew anything about them. That’s not a slight on the books or the association, just an observation and a motivator for me to see my work expand to other audiences.

                This effort might have been what really got more eyes on my novel and perhaps got more people in the association to give my book their vote (for I was up against amazing competition). I felt that Lisa Morton, who also won the award that day in Long Island, would safely take the prize. She’s an accomplished writer and well known in the community. Possibly the only reason I tied her, was some voters, perhaps unjustly, felt she’d already won the award before and wanted to give someone else the opportunity. Had she never claimed the castle prior to that night, I’m certain it would not have been a tie. I’d have been sitting at the table, clapping, with a knowing smile on my face while my wife patted my arm reassuringly. Thankfully, Lisa was able to continue her well deserved streak of garnering award after award, and I was able to take one home as well!

                The one thing I never did was take anything for granted. People would nudge me when they saw the recommendations stacking up for Black and Orange and they would say, “Hey, looks like you have a shot.” I refused to agree with them. It’s not that I thought the novel substandard or undeserving, but as I said before, so many great works have not made it to the final tribal council (Survivor reference, ahem). The stars have to align. Luck and hard work, in the end, was how it happened for me.

                Now maybe if I win another Bram Stoker Award one day, I won’t feel my fate is only controlled by good fortune. But that’s another tale to be told.

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For more about Ben or to find out where to purchase his books, visit http://www.bkethridge.com