Saturday, March 9, 2024

Breaking Up Is Hard to Do

I have been an Active member of the Horror Writers Association since 2007. Over the course of my 17-year membership, I served two terms as their secretary, another six years as a member of their Board of Trustees, and three years on their Scholarship Committee. Solo, I coordinated the HWA’s presence at BookExpo (then North America’s largest trade show for booksellers) from 2009 to 2015. This entailed booth selection and physical prep, scheduling member authors for book signings, maintaining financial records of funds (which I often laid out to be reimbursed later), and taking time off work to be there from early in the morning until the show closed each day. In 2011, I chaired both Stoker Weekend (the prototype and precursor to what has become StokerCon) and the Stoker Awards in New York (with the lovely Nanci Kalanta).

All of this was volunteer work—and all of it performed because I was committed to what the HWA was doing and believed, deeply, in their mission.

In 2022, I co-edited the HWA anthology Other Terrors: An Inclusive Anthology, which became one of the organization’s most critically-lauded original anthologies—earning starred reviews in Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and Kirkus and nominations for both the Shirley Jackson and World Fantasy Awards. I think it’s fair to say that the anthology’s critical reception bestowed a modicum of prestige upon the organization.

On New Year’s Day, I received an email that my membership in the HWA had lapsed—oops! I forgot to renew my dues, which I had done faithfully for the 16 years prior, and made a mental note to do so after celebrating the holiday.

Long story short: I forgot.

I continued to receive emails (about spirited giving, Summer Scares, even received an invitation to contribute to the 2024 StokerCon souvenir book) and the newsletter so it slipped my mind that I had neglected to pay my dues. I never received a single email or nudge from anyone in the HWA after New Year’s Day. (As a point of context, during my years of service on the Board, we used to divvy up the non-renewals to see if anyone had a personal relationship or rapport with those members and would reach out to see if their failure to renew was an oversight or an intentional choice due to some issue we’d then try to help resolve.)

Flash forward to February 21st. I received another email from the HWA announcing the final ballot for the Stoker Awards—and quickly realized with a start that I had never received a ballot to vote on the preliminary ballot. That jogged my memory that I needed to pay my dues, which I did that weekend. I messaged the organization’s Executive Director who instructed me to email the appropriate party “to make sure you can vote on the final ballot.”

I did as instructed and received an impersonal email that began, "Per the Bram Stoker Awards rules…" Cut to the chase: You were tardy paying your dues, so you don’t get to vote. (I paraphrase.)

Gobsmacked is the word that best captures the moment. No explanation of this rule (that basically says that if you’re not a member in good standing on January 31st, you can’t vote) was given. I can only assume that it’s meant to dissuade/prohibit an influx of new members after the preliminary ballot is released for the sole purpose of voting. But, again, I’m a 17-year member who has dependably paid in excess of $1,000 in dues over that time—I don’t think any reasonable person could think my renewal was predicated on wanting to help stack the vote in someone’s favor. The org’s Executive Director graciously offered to take up a fight on my behalf, but there should have been no dispute over this situation in the first place. I think I have more than exemplified "a member in good standing" for almost two decades.


The HWA has grown in size and stature—and deservedly so. The downside of this growth, of course, is that the larger an organization grows, the greater the risk that is sacrifices its personal touch and loses sight of its own history and those who have helped contribute to its success. 

It was time for a self-assessment. What does the HWA offer me?

I don’t need a mentor;
I don’t need access to their health insurance;
Their latest anthology call (there’s one per year if we’re lucky) afforded three member slots—statistically a joke. (By contrast, my co-editor and I managed more than triple that number on Other Terrors, which was published by William Morrow.)
Neither their jury system (put in place largely to balance the popularity contest aspect of the member vote) nor their membership have put a single LGBTQ+/queer horror anthology on the ballot since 2008. Likewise, not a single queer horror anthology has won since that same year. In fact, only one queer horror anthology has been nominated in the history of the category, which originated in 1998. A single queer horror anthology in 26 years. As a queer anthologist, this depresses me to no end. #StokersSoStraight?
Now, I can’t even vote in the Stokers, punished for my tardiness in paying my dues. Twenty-five days meant the difference between being able to cast my vote for the worthy works I read last year and having to sit the year out. 
There are other grievances over the years—minor and otherwise—that I could elaborate on that have made me feel increasingly alienated and less than. But those are largely based on emotions, so I’ll leave those out of this otherwise fact-based account. 

I have been a vocal supporter of the HWA, a pom-pom shaking cheerleader, even when doing so strained friendships with professional colleagues back in the day. The volunteer hours I have freely donated over the last 17 years would easily equal in the tens of thousands of dollars if quantified, as do the volunteer hours of the countless volunteers—past and present—who have kept the organization running year after year. I realize that I’m nothing special—and with a single email earlier this week, the HWA drove that point home. Message received.

Every relationship comes to a crossroads at some point, and I find myself standing at mine with the HWA. I’ve come to realize that I no longer benefit from being a member, so I take my bow and exit stage right. Since I can’t even vote, I requested a refund of my just paid membership dues. My $75 is but a mere blip on the radar that no one will even notice. The HWA will continue to flourish, as it should. It’s in the capable hands of good, hard-working folks. Its mission and work are important for the survival and success of the genre. It’s a bittersweet goodbye, yes, but why continue an association that no longer brings either joy or benefit? As the old—albeit cliché—adage goes, all good things must come to an end. 


Carson Buckingham said...

Wow, Vince. So sorry this happened to you. But when you consider the fact that Dean Koontz, who founded HWA, walked away in disgust because it had become such a circle jerk when it came to Stokers and everything else, what can the rest of us honestly expect? And with all the time you donated, too! It is clearly true that people have no appreciation for things they get for free. It is beyond reprehensible what they did to you. And who knows how many other people thy fucked over? You're well away from it and you really don't need them for anything. Good vibes your way, my friend!

Leslie said...

Vince, I'm sorry to hear that you were treated as you were. I too find myself wondering why I put in all that time and energy. For many years, it was friendship-based--the pleasure of working with friends like Lisa, Rocky, Eric Guignard, you, and a few others. That has disappeared. I also concluded that my writing (nonfiction, critical) was really not valued by the organization. I'm really proud of the Haunted Library of Horror Classics that Eric and I edited for 8 volumes. No one else seems to care. The critics may have loved my annotated editions of Dracula, Frankenstein, Lovecraft, and Jekyll & Hyde, but I snagged exactly one Stoker nom for one of the Lovecraft volumes and lost to a self-help book. This was a clear sign that I shouldn't waste any energy thinking about Stokers. I paid for a "lifetime membership" a while ago, and at least it's keeping me alive! I wish HWA well, but it no longer seems to be an organization for me.