Contemporary Dark Fiction: Broadening Your Appeal by Richard Thomas

Herniated roots richard thomasIf you are writing fiction these days, you are most certainly always looking for new markets to publish your writing. And if you write horror stories, you may have a pretty good idea of what’s out there for you. Likewise, if you are a crime writer, you probably have a list in your head, or typed up someplace, of the best markets to hit. But why stop there? Why limit your ability to place your work?

I tend to call my own writing neo-noir, which is just French for “new-black.” Now what does that mean? And how does that differ from horror? When I think about classic horror stories, in literature and in film, I have a somewhat limited perspective. I think of vampires, and werewolves, and demons. I think of zombies, and aliens, and serial killers. But horror is so much more than that. To be horrified (disgusted) is also to be terrified (anxiety), making the story you read one where the worst fears of your life finally come true and make their way to your doorstep. Horror is also the girl trapped in the basement next door, the mother that drowns her children, a disgruntled co-worker that goes on a shooting rampage. Can you see where this meets up with neo-noir?

I tend to think of neo-noir the evolution of classic noir (film noir and in literature) where there are elements of sexual tension and violence—a woman in trouble (a femme fatale) and a hero that comes to the rescue, usually a cop or a detective. In contemporary noir, or neo-noir, we aren’t as limited. I think of films by David Lynch (Blue Velvet, Mulholland Drive), Christopher Nolan (Inception, Memento) and David Fincher (Seven, Fight Club) as great examples in film. Dennis Lehane (Shutter Island, Mystic River) may be the biggest author of neo-noir, but also consider emerging voices such as Brian Evenson, Stephen Graham Jones, and Craig Davidson. They focus on problems, on situations that have gone horribly wrong, and they challenge the reader to watch, and judge, to be a part of the action, to get involved in the story.

But let’s not leave out the speculative. When I think of speculative fiction, I think of writing that asks questions, that speculates. What if there were vampires in modern day society? What if we did land a rocket on Mars? What if we could travel back in time? Speculative fiction is an umbrella term that deals with the fantastical, especially science fiction, fantasy and horror. So don’t close off your story ideas to a bit of the supernatural (F. Paul Wilson has done pretty well for himself with his Repairman Jack series).

The point I’m trying to make here is that whether you write straight crime or splatterpunk horror, whether you write magical realism or gritty neo-noir, be open to your work growing and expanding, to a wider range of markets that may be interested in your writing. You can certainly maintain a voice, a following, and write in more than one genre (or sub-genre). Let’s take a quick look at Duotrope.com, so I can show you what I mean.

I did a quick search for professional paying markets (which means .05/word or higher). Here are the results, focusing on short stories:

Mystery/Crime: 4
Suspense/Thriller: 3
Horror: 14
Fantasy: 21
Science Fiction: 24

Now, there definitely is some overlap amongst these listings, so the total (66) is not accurate. But hey, look over here, a market that is open to fantasy, horror, crime, AND thrillers. And these are just the professional paying markets. Obviously there are more markets that pay less, or don’t pay at all.

The point I’m trying to make is that you shouldn’t limit your perspective, or even the way that you see your own work. What would you call the work of Cormac McCarthy? I’ve heard it called post-apocalyptic horror, southern gothic, western, and literary. I mean, even when it comes to writing noir, or neo-noir, we call the story a mystery, a thriller, crime, and suspense. Step outside of your comfort zone, and don’t be afraid to let your horror story turn into fantasy, your crime caper to drift into the supernatural. Broaden your appeal, and you’ll expand your network, get new followers, and challenge yourself on the written page, all at the same time.

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Richard Thomas is the author of Transubstantiate and the short story collection Herniated Roots.