We start things off this week where we left off last week--TheRed Penny Papers. Today, however, we're treated to a guest post from one of the lead editors at the online periodical, KV Taylor. I reviewed the spring edition of Red Penny Papers last Friday, so after you read this, you can click here to read that. Enjoy.
The Joys of Short, Dark Fiction
by KV Taylor
At The Red Penny Papers, my co-collector John and I make no bones about our preference for the dark. Pulp of all kinds, from the somber to the hilarious, is welcome, but we do ask that it has that edge to it, that sharp little stab -- or that giant axe-wound. It doesn't have to be horror; dark fantasy, dark sci-fi, even dark historicals can all work to that end, and can even be funny at the same time. All that's needed is that push that forces us, the readers, to face some fear or doubt we have to shove aside to get on with our everyday business. Good dark fiction is a discovery not just for the author, but for the reader, and the best dark fiction is a conversation between them.
The problem is that this can be hard to sustain over a long period of time. I love horror movies, but with most of them, by the time I get to the end, I'm like, "Yeah, okay, you're trapped with some zombies and there are brains everywhere; I'm kind of over the part where I was afraid of you, by now." Part of that is the tendency of dark fiction, especially pulp, to abide by certain tropes that when overplayed make us all roll our eyes--many of which are well-documented on the famous Strange Horizons site. One of the best ways to sustain that tension is to subvert the tropes, turn them inside out, or show them to us through different eyes, which is what we like best at The Red Penny Papers.
But even that can be a stretch. Darkness seems to have the best sucker-punch effect in small, potent doses, where the author doesn't have to sustain, but to build and then release with perfect timing. It's harder to do effectively, but so brilliant when it works. It takes a clarity of purpose that often eludes a writer (or, at least, this writer) on the first draft or planning stages, but it's well worth while.
For example, compare an overwrought horror film with one of the terrifying early episodes of Supernatural or scarier X-Files episodes. Almost all of the disappointing horror in the world could've been improved if crammed into a forty-five minute episode instead of being unnaturally spread out over the course of a meandering two-hour film. Quick, sharp, painful, leaves you spinning and hurting but eager for more. That's how you know you've read a good story, that feeling in the guts.
It's part of why short fiction will never die, and why we like to celebrate it so much. But it's also a difficult format, perhaps more so than the novel, depending on who you ask and what they're more used to writing. It's true what they say: it's not the story, it's how you tell it. And authors of short fiction know this better than most, I reckon.
That's why I, at least, love them so much.
KV Taylor is an avid reader and writer of dark speculative fiction and super-powered love. Originally from the Appalachian foothills of West Virginia, she currently lives in the D.C. Metro Area with her husband and mutant cat. In her spare time she enjoys comic books, Himalayan Buddhist art, loud music, her Epiphone, and Black Bush. She edits for Morrigan Books and collects The Red Penny Papers in her dining room.