Did you know Terry Pratchett never won a Hugo Award?
No, seriously. He didn’t. Ever.
I KNOW, RIGHT?
I was shocked. I mean that. I was genuinely gobsmacked when I looked it up a while back. In fact, he wasn’t even short-listed for a Hugo until 2005, thirty-four years into his publishing career. And do you know what he did? This part abso-fucking-lutely blew my mind, folks. He turned the nomination down. The man turned down a nomination he’d been waiting his entire career and a vast portion of his life to receive. Do you know why? Why he would possibly do such a thing? I came upon this quote from Mr. Pratchett himself, I don’t know 100% if it’s legit, but it seems to be: “When they told me I just thought: I can’t handle this, not after all this time, and asked to be let off. That meant I enjoyed the con hugely instead of being a bag of nerves with a blood pressure of 200/95, and when the fateful verdict was given on Sunday night I was eating sushi two miles away. Best Worldcon ever!”
I just…I really couldn’t believe it. I mean, I can absolutely believe it, but I don’t believe it.
Terry Pratchett was arguably the greatest humorist and satirist the SFF field ever saw, and without question the most successful and prolific. The man wrote over 70 books, 36 novels in the Discworld series alone. He sold more than 85 million books worldwide in countless languages. He was the the best-selling UK author of the 1990’s. When he passed, the world actually stopped for a few moments, and rightfully so.
I’m trying to imagine an author with that pedigree contemplating the possibility of not picking up a major award, especially after finally being recognized with the nomination.
It should be a difficult thing to imagine, but actually it’s not. Because of those two words with which I led.
Here’s the point at which I’m getting, ultimately: No one, especially in SFF, respects comedy.
They buy it.
They read it.
They laugh their asses off at it.
They’re moved by it.
They genuinely love it.
But they do not respect it.
Now, I’m not a half-moon in one of Terry Pratchett’s fingernails and I never will be. I have, however, learned a few things about being the author of humorous SFF books as of late. You see, last year Tor.com Publishing really opened up mainstream SFF novellas by creating an entire line of print, electronic, and audio books that are novellas. I had the absolute privilege of writing one of their launch titles, Envy of Angels, which was released in October of 2015 and is the debut book in an entire series called Sin du Jour.
The book stems from an idea I had about who cooks the food the supernatural beings are always eating in urban fantasy novels, and also this notion: I’m fucking sick of how serious and depressing and dystopian everything seems to be lately. I wanted to write a funny book. I wanted to write a wholly unexpected, absurd, hilarious book that would make people happy, but about which they’d still believe in and care about as much as any grounded, realistic story.
And so I did.
Before Envy of Angels came out and for about a month after I had zero thoughts of awards. None. It honestly hadn’t even occurred to me to consider such a thing, and I didn’t even question why. I just wanted the book to be well-received and sell marginally well and I wanted it to be attractive as a television/streaming series property. That was it. That was what I was focused on. Awards? That was like a word in another language. I think because I was solely viewing it in the context of the Tor.com Publishing novella line, which I fully expected and still expect to clean up in that category of every award this year.
And in the back of my mind I knew I’m not the one who wins them awards. Kai Ashante Wilson will win awards. KJ Parker wins awards. Nnedi Okorafor wins awards. They’re all genuinely amazing, serious authors, and I’m the commercial guy peddling my broad, funny books. And that was cool. Honestly.
Except it’s not. It’s not cool. And I’m not “just” anything, and neither is the book I wrote.
Because I noticed a few other things: People were laughing. Readers, critics. The book made them laugh. A lot. And it made them happy. And it made them feel stuff about things. And they got it. And they really dug it.
Most have embraced it outright. But I also noticed an entire other category of review, and it was really weird at first. It’s what I call the apologist category of reviews. And they aren’t negative reviews. I have no issue with people hating the fuck out of my stuff. Comes with the territory. But these were/are people who liked the book, who laughed, who had a great time. And they had no problem admitting that and writing about it…but then, oddly, would come the back of their hands. “That said, obviously it’s just a light/breezy/fluffy/snuggly read that’ll amuse you for a bit so meh.”
It’s like they’re letting everyone know that, even though they’re copping to liking it, they didn’t take the book seriously. Because that’s not what you do with a comedy, especially if you’re a critic. Comedies aren’t serious literature. Everyone knows that. So, you have to nod and wink and make it clear you know it’s still fluff. You’re still a serious critic and consumer of books who knows the rules.
Well, I don’t write fluff.
And that pissed me off.
That’s when I began to recall all the reviews of other humorous SFF books I’ve read. That’s when I tried and failed to recall humor winning a major award. That’s when I looked up Terry Pratchett’s award stats. That’s when I realized I’d been programmed to automatically and outright discount myself and my funny little book from awards consideration because it’s largely a comedy.
That’s when I began writing this post in my head, I think.
And hey, dig this. As I was mulling all of that in the wake of the book’s release, something else tipped me. Lustlocked, the sequel to Envy of Angels, received a starred review in Publishers Weekly. Thus far it’s one of only two books in the Tor.com novella line to receive a starred review from Publishers Weekly, the other being Kai Ashante Wilson’s highly critically acclaimed (and rightfully so) The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps.
I was floored.
I mean, my little funny book? About sexual lizards and goblins? A starred Review? Publishers Weekly?
Thus did I finally arrive at this sudden, inescapable conclusion: Comedy is fucking difficult. It is hard. It is damn hard to make people laugh solely utilizing words printed on a page. It’s even harder to make them laugh and make them give a damn for 250 pages. It’s especially difficult to balance the tone when you mix humor and the supernatural/fantastic, and make it all believable. It’s more than hard, it’s valid. It’s every bit as valid and necessary and needed as any other mode of literature out there.
And you know what? I did a good job.
I did a damn fine job, in fact.
I believe Envy of Angels is as worthy as any other novella in its category for any award. I really do. I don’t claim to be a better writer than anyone, and in a lot of cases I know for a fact I am not, but I do believe I accomplished exactly what I set out to accomplish with this book, executed it extremely well, and achieved a worthwhile, desired result.
So, yeah. Hat. Ring. Thrown.
In his own lifetime, Terry Pratchett accomplished virtually everything an author could, in their wildest fantasies, hope to accomplish with their work and career. Yet after it all he couldn’t stomach spending a weekend waiting to hear that as far as his funny books had come in thirty years, they still weren’t award-worthy.
That still pisses me off, too.
Anyway. That, as they say, is The Argument. I’ve made it. I apologize for the length and breadth, but some of that had been stewing inside of me for a while and it needed to be served up.
Envy of Angels is eligible in every “novella” category of every SFF award covering the year of 2015. If you’re an SFWA member I’d appreciate your support for it in the Nebula field. If you’re a member of the 2016 World Science Fiction Convention I’d appreciate your support in nominating/voting Envy of Angels for a Hugo.
Finally and obligatorily, here are a bunch of nice things critics have said about the book to entice you to read and vote for it!
“A hilarious, whip-smart, gonzo story that feels like the author shoved Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential biography and Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim series into a blender and hit ‘puree’.” – SF Signal
“One of 2015’s most sinfully delicious surprises.” – Barnes & Noble SFF Blog
“[Envy of Angels] will leave readers grinning and hoping for more stories featuring the Sin du Jour gang.” – Publishers Weekly
“This fantasy is FUNNY.” – Geekly Inc
“Comedy is hard, and good comedy is even harder to find. In Envy of Angels, it’s woven into every page.” – Geek Ireland
“The best humorous urban fantasy ever!” – The Exploding Spaceship
“A laugh-out loud skewering of the fast-food industry, filled with funny dialog and memorable characters.” – Books Bones & Buffy
“Envy of Angels is far from bite-sized. It is a fully realized story with engaging characters, a strong plot, and a brilliant urban fantasy premise that will make many an author jealous they hadn’t thought of it first.” – NY Journal of Books
“Ridiculous. Hilarious. Kind of gross. Hunger-inspiring.” – Stitch’s Media Mix
“Absurd and yet somehow utterly realistic…‘Envy of Angels’ is a fast-paced jaunt through the mad world of angels and demons which lurks just beneath the mundane surface of day-to-day life for any careless fool to step into.” – Forbidden Planet
“Envy of Angels by Matt Wallace is the meal you’ll never forget, that five course dinner that sets your senses on fire and burns every nerve in your tongue but still leaves you wanting more.” – Examiner
“There are moments so absurdly hilarious, so out-of-this-world-insane that I would be hard-pressed to describe them.” – The BiblioSanctum
“Envy of Angels is a canapé of gourmetdark comedy which will leave you wanting more.” – Geek Syndicate
“[Envy of Angels] is a perfect blend of horror and fantasy.” – FangirlNation