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Violence, Brutality, and Death: Dark Fiction and Why I Love It

    Categories: Writing

OLD POST ALERT! This is an older post and although you might find some useful tips, any technical or publishing information is likely to be out of date. Please click on Start Here on the menu bar above to find links to my most useful articles, videos and podcast. Thanks and happy writing! – Joanna Penn

There are some books that you don’t forget and Martin Lastrapes Inside The Outside is one of them.

I don’t read much horror but I was fixated on this book. It’s also well written and edited so a truly professional job.

I personally write about violent death in my thrillers, and the darker side of things fascinates me, so I asked Martin to write a guest post on it. 

I’m a nice guy. I’m polite and cordial, I open doors, I don’t litter, and I always remember to say “Please” and “Thank you.” So why, then, am I so drawn to darkness? Whether it’s going to the theatre to watch the latest horror film or sitting down with a Cormac McCarthy novel, I find that, for as long as I can remember, it’s the dark stuff that most engages me.

So, I suppose it’s no coincidence that my debut novel, Inside the Outside, easily falls into the category of dark fiction. It’s a coming-of-age story about a teenage cannibal named Timber Marlow. Timber has spent her whole life growing up in a cult of cannibals in the San Bernardino Mountains, well tucked away from mainstream society. Growing up in this cult, she regularly witnesses violence, sexual aggression, murder, and, of course, cannibalism.

The first spark of inspiration I had for this novel came while watching an HBO documentary about “The Iceman” Richard Kuklinski, a contract killer who worked for a series of organized crime families in the Northeastern United States. Kuklinski is a large and menacing man—who, between 1948 and 1986, claimed to have murdered over 250 men—and yet, very often during the documentary, he comes off as charming, articulate, and, at times, sort of funny.

I found this larger-than-life character of a man to be equal parts terrifying and amusing and, before the documentary was over, I knew I wanted to try and create a fictional character that could elicit those same feelings in readers. And that’s how Timber Marlow was born. It’s worth noting that, in the end, Timber is nothing at all like Kuklinski. She does however murder (and often eat) men and she is, if I’ve done my job correctly, quite likable.

Why are we drawn to darkness?

But all of this brings me back to my original question: Why am I drawn to darkness? Why is anybody, for that matter, drawn to darkness? There’s a whole host of reasons I suspect and I’m certain there are people much smarter than me who can address it in a much more articulate manner, but I will, nonetheless, share a few thoughts of my own.

I think the first, and possibly most obvious reason, is people are consumed by death. The fact that we are mortal, that our time here is finite, haunts us daily. And perhaps the only thing more haunting than the idea that we will someday die is the fear that we may one day die a brutal, violent, tortuous death—or maybe that’s just me.

I like to assume that I’ll die a peaceful death, old and gray, surrounded by loved ones, satisfied with a life well lived. But, the reality is, I could just as easily die by multiple knife wounds to the chest or a bullet in my brain. I might find myself one day (falsely, I presume) accused of a crime and beaten to death in my prison cell. And nobody in this world can guarantee me that I won’t one night wake up to find a hooded man standing over me with a rope in one hand and a machete in the other. So, if these ideas (and many others like them) scare the crap out of me, why do I find dark fiction to be so entertaining?

The entertainment is the catharsis involved, the ability to give ourselves over to our greatest fears in a safe environment where we know we’re not going to die. This point, I believe, is also true for why I write dark fiction, as it gives me an active role in working out some of my own deepest, darkest fears, exorcising them on the page and leaving them to haunt the imaginations of my readers.

And while I hope to live a long, healthy life, free of brutality and violence, I will continue to watch films by Wes Craven and David Cronenberg, I will continue to read novels by Chuck Palahniuk and Ron Currie, Jr., and I will continue to write stories that explore the darker side of our humanity.

Why do you read or write dark fiction?

Martin Lastrapes grew up in the Inland Empire. He studied literature and creative writing at California State University, San Bernardino, where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in English and a Master’s Degree in Composition.

Inside the Outside is his first novel and available in print and ebook.

You can find Martin at his site MartinLastrapes.com or on twitter @martinlastrapes

Here’s my review of Inside The Outside. I gave it 5 stars and out of 21 reviews, it has a 5 star average.

I rarely give a 5 star review but this book is original and compelling. I read it in 2 sittings as I found it hard to get out of my head. Timber Marlow is born and raised within a cult of cannibals in the wilds of America. It is normal to butcher and eat the human flesh and the descriptions of the Sustenance rituals are gruesome, but you just can’t tear your eyes away. Timber escapes to the Outside and the story continues there as she is hunted down. Lastrapes keeps you reading by giving hints of the horrors to come. His writing is skillful and incredibly convincing. Definitely don’t read it before bed if you’re alone.


Joanna Penn :

View Comments (20)

  • It's cool to see a writer from the Inland Empire. I live in Riverside! This looks like an awesomely dark story, I can't wait to check it out.

  • Are there really cannibal cults in the woods ?????
    This sounds compelling much like Hunger Games did. You feel a bit revolted but curiosity always trumps, right!?

    • There were actually a handful of scenes in the book that made me feel revolted while writing them. I decided that, since they affected me so much, I should leave them in so the reader good have the same experience.

  • Wow! I love this post. I think Martin nailed it too. I am so incredibly drawn to dark fiction. I love it and I used to feel like a terrible person. Surely death and psychological problems, etc. shouldn't entertain me. But it always has.

    I am definitely going to be giving his book a read. This sounds wonderful.

  • I think that Martin's own love of Dark Fiction and his understanding of why we as readers are drawn to, and love it, is why his book is SO great. His writing style is fluid and you get drawn right into the darkness without even realizing it. Such a great book and a great writer. Thanks Joanna for sharing this with us! And for those of you who haven't read it yet, do yourself a favor and pick it up asap.

  • I am getting around to reading your book! I have a huge pile. I'm getting there, I promise. I like darkness because its a side of me I can't express in public without getting funny looks. Though, also I like random humour and that is more acceptable but the humour is more my motivation for writing than darkness. I think, writers must write what they do or else they will go crazy. Simple as that.

  • I haven't read your book but maybe people are interested in dark fiction because sometimes life can be very brutal, cruel and nasty indeed. Magic fairy tales, sugar dust and all things sweet sadly don't exist as much as we would like them to.

  • I wouldn't say I write dark fiction per se or that I read dark fiction often, but I am drawn to books that are realistic and don't sugarcoat life. I like stories with open-endings, stories where the hero doesn't always get the girl in the end, stories with shocking twists and when beloved characters die tragically, and I like keeping my readers on the edge of their seats by throwing dark curve balls at them because I think this makes things more interesting, captures their attention, and keeps them coming back for more.

  • Sounds great to me. My own personal take is that dark fiction is cleansing both for reader and writer. Mind you, I probably would say that.