GUEST POST : Dark Fiction: Is it a genre? By Adam Pepper

Hey folks I’m honoured to have Adam Pepper over for a guest post.  Adam is the the author of the rather fine novels,  Skin Games, and Symphony of Blood.  You can read my views of these by clicking the links at the end of the post.

I once had a debate with a veteran horror author.  I made a statement which I didn’t think was overly controversial.  I said simply that I consider myself a writer of dark fiction.  It wasn’t an attempt to be pretentious or to distance myself from horror.  I love horror and all of its subgenres.  I just felt it was a more accurate description for the fiction I write.  This author had the best of intentions as he said, “There is no such genre as dark fiction.”  His statement made me scratch my head a bit.  Of course there’s a genre known as dark fiction.  Perhaps it’s not as narrowly defined as Romance or Mystery, but it exists.  Isn’t that what makes it intriguing?  There’s a dark aesthetic that we as readers know and love when we see it, yet it doesn’t carry the same predictability that defines formula fiction.
The best fiction has to take risks.  It is an absolute must.  These risks can be within the narrative voice or the writing style.  It could be an unusual or unique point of view.  Or perhaps the plot itself ventures outside of the typical and expected conventions of the genre.  It doesn’t require reinventing the wheel; in fact many readers would hate that.  But it takes an author with courage and talent to match to produce a truly groundbreaking work that stands the test of time.
Some of the most heralded and successful books of the last few decades meet these criteria.  They aren’t pigeonholed to one genre, and yet they have undeniably dark sensibilities and themes.
Perhaps the most obvious and famously successful work of dark fiction of the last decade was The Road by Cormac McCarthy.  I flat out loved this book.  Is it a horror novel?  It wasn’t marketed that way but it has all the hallmarks of one.  End of the world.  Man and boy against the forces of evil.  Death at every turn, cannibalism…sounds horrifying to me.  Yet The Road won a Pulitzer Prize!  Someone took it seriously.  A lot of folks did.  The thing is, I don’t think McCarthy made any attempts to distance himself from horror fiction and I highly doubt he set out to win the Pulitzer.  His intention was to share an apocalyptic vision in a way that was emotionally moving.  That took courage and heart as well as buckets of talent.
How about American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis?  The story of a yuppie gone mad, terrorizing New York City.  Sounds like the makings of a horror novel to me.  The story is filled with brutality and violence.  But it’s told with an odd and interesting narrative.  The author’s vision is bleak, cynical and downright twisted, yet the story is told with sadistically unrepentant levity and humor.  What a combo.  Not many authors could’ve pulled it off.  Ellis did.
Another work of dark fiction that received both critical acclaim and commercial success was Enduring Love by Ian McEwan.  The story begins with a tragic and fatal accident and essentially evolves into a standard stalker story.  So why was this book taken so seriously and not dismissed like much dark fiction?  It was just so beautifully written that it transcended the trappings of genre.  The ideas weren’t unique; the author’s talent alone carried this one.
One more example to illustrate my point: Lullaby by Chuck Palahniuk.  If there was a “dark fiction” rack in the bookstores, perhaps Chuck would be the poster boy.  Every book he writes has that dark aesthetic and cynical perspective that lovers of this genre, which isn’t really a genre, expect.  But Lullaby in particular is a horror novel, isn’t it?  Reciting a poem that kills on the spot?  How did this one duck the horror label?  Why was the book jacket white and yellow, rather than the prerequisite black?  Was it the marketing department who made that call?  Or is it merely that Chuck is so talented that he is a genre onto himself?  Either way, the book is a horror novel at its core, and a damn fine one.
So, back to the debate I had with the veteran horror novelist, a guy who’s made his living writing for over thirty years.  I don’t think he had a problem with my decision to call myself a dark fiction writer.  It wasn’t that he thought I was a dumb arrogant kid (or maybe he did…)  But he thought it was a mistake.  In his view, I was dooming myself to a life of futility in trying to find an audience for my work.  I strongly disagree.  I think his attitude sells the reader short.  Readers don’t need to be spoon-fed the same tired formulas.  They want strong work.  Original work.  Work that pushes the boundaries and takes risks.  I don’t claim to reinvent the wheel with my stories, but I aspire to greatness.  All writers should.  The four writers cited here, Cormac McCarthy, Bret Easton Ellis, Ian McEwan and Chuck Palahniuk, are all vastly diverse in terms of style and content.  But they are all extremely talented with track records of success to match.  Their work contains cynicism and dark themes.  They take risks within the narrative and don’t allow themselves to be confined by the ghetto known as genre fiction.
There is a genre called dark fiction.  We all know it when we see it.  It has a loyal following and always will.  Don’t get me wrong, I love horror fiction in all its forms, but for my money, the very best, most meaningful and lasting fiction takes risks and doesn’t merely rely on the work that’s come before it.  That’s why I love it. 

At times disturbing and grim, others raunchy and comical, Adam Pepper’s work is known for a unique blend of horror, suspense and speculative fiction. MEMORIA, Adam’s debut novel, reached #1 on the Dark Delicacies Best Seller list and received rave reviews from Cemetery Dance and Chronicle. “Super Fetus,” his outrageous bizarro novella was called “In-your-face, allegorical social commentary” by esteemed reviewer, Paul Goat Allen. His quick-hitting short work has appeared in genre magazines including THE BEST OF HORRORFIND, Vol. 2 and SPACE AND TIME. Adam’s non-fiction credits span from NEW WOMAN MAGAZINE to THE JOURNAL NEWS. Learn more about Adam at his website:



5 thoughts on “GUEST POST : Dark Fiction: Is it a genre? By Adam Pepper

  1. Silence of the Lambs struck me the same way– dark but not necessarily what people think of when you say 'horror'. I don't think it does the genre a disservice to have more specialized classifications. It helps the reader focus in on what they want and better assures that they'll/we'll be happy with our choice.

  2. Thanks James!

    Scott, couldnt agree more. Now more than ever, writers are free to explore and combine genres. For better or worse! In my view better, even if there is some hit and miss.

    Melanie, Silence of the Lambs is certainly dark fiction, although I think we could call it a thriller. I have no problem with labels, particularly to help readers find what they want. But I do believe the very best fiction defies easy categorization.

  3. I was told long ago, that what people think of as horror, urban fantasy and dark fantsy was called dark fiction. Juast publishers named things for putting in bookstores. All that means it is dark in natures.

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