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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

31 Days of Horror: Day 16-- Robert Dunbar Guest Post

Today I am happy to welcome one of my personal favorite dark fiction authors, Robert Dunbar.  On top of writing entertainingly creepy books, Dunbar is also a big library supporter. In my book, I included Dunbar as a must have author for public libraries (in theHorror 101 Chapter), as well as including annotations for some of his work in the chapter on monsters [discounted copies of my book are still available].

Tomorrow, I will have a review of his novella, Wood, which, along with all ebooks under Dunbar's Uninvited Books imprint, is only 99 cents this month.

And now here is Robert Dunbar talking about why he writes dark fiction.

When did the horror genre become so reactionary? Where did this mandate come from? The one stipulating that plots must concern vanilla families menaced by the unknown? I can't be the only one less than fully invested in the spectacle of the status quo being maintained.

True art seldom celebrates conformity. Literature should transgress, not reassure.

This is probably why I write about the most threatening kind of darkness … and the things that lurk within that darkness. It's the kind of reading material I've always been drawn to.

For me, the monster is always the lonely one, the unloved and unwanted. The outcast. And even as a child I knew where my sympathies lay. Always. Dracula wasn't a monster so much as a villain out of Victorian melodrama - foreign and sinister - a stale template even then. Of course, the hero would rescue the damsel. Was there ever any doubt? Ah, but with the Frankenstein monster … nothing could be certain. Adam was soulful. He was abject. He remains the classic outsider, the suffering archetype at the heart of so many truly great books. What could be more terrifying than all that pain? Even now the monster is among the most supremely tragic - and most intensely human - of literary characters. All he wants is to belong.

And he never can. No one will ever acknowledge his humanity.

He suffers because he's different.

Some of us can relate. Rarely are protagonists in real literature presented as idealizations of the average. That trope reigns only in the realm of the manipulative and the sentimental. You have to wonder how devotees of this type of fiction feel when encountering a work like my MARTYRS & MONSTERS with its queer hustlers and gallant junkies. Small wonder I'm forever hearing from consumers - I can't bring myself to call them readers - who say I shouldn't be allowed to write like this. (They say a lot of other things too.) Personally, I believe that if a book doesn't challenge preconceptions and stereotypes, even monstrous ones, the writer has failed. The role of art is to illuminate.

Our monsters are among our most important icons. Perhaps that's where the genre lost its way, this strange shift of allegiances, this veneration of the normal. How odd that one scarcely ever hears young writers discussing the supernatural tales of writers like E. M. Forster or Willa Cather. Rarely is there a mention of Gustav Meyrink or Franz Kafka or Yukio Mishima.

Perhaps if they'd written zombie romances …

No, let's not even go there. (My nerves can only take so much.)

This is why I started Uninvited Books. A chasm yawns between brilliantly cerebral dark fiction and manufactured product. Of course, it's not only my genre that's impacted. Take a writer like Ursula K. LeGuin, whose many fine Science Fiction novels have often been lambasted for being "too literary," a deadly offense apparently. Recently, I read an essay by Ms. LeGuin in which she lamented the fact that most science fiction fans read nothing but science fiction. "And many," she added, "read nothing at all."

I so get that. I've always been extremely lucky in the response from critics, but the reader comments on sites like Amazon or Goodreads can be very revealing. The woman who complained that my novel WILLY was too complicated to read in front of the television spoke unwitting volumes. So did the poor soul who bitterly resented that it took him over a year to wade through THE SHORE (not a particularly long book). And what's to be made of a statement like this one?

"I hate all that prose and literary stuff. I just wants me some horror."

So disheartening.

Yet I choose to interpret it all as a sort of reverse testimonial … because some of us don't hate all that literary stuff. Small wonder so many serious writers are prone to depression.

Still … rewards exist. When more evolved readers discover that my work speaks to them, their responses can be passionately appreciative. Over and over, I hear from readers who 'had just about given up' finding dark fiction intended for intelligent adults. This resonates. How could it not? I mean, what else does a writer live for? On so many occasions, I've been moved by these comments, and my feelings are only enhanced by the fact that such people tend to be articulate and sensitive - exactly the readership I've always sought. Sought? More than sought. Conjured. Evoked. Believed in as an article of faith. These are the readers I picture when I sit down to write. Whenever one of them declares some novel of mine to be the finest book they've ever read, it constitutes validation on a profound level … if only because there's not a vanilla character to be found anywhere in my work. It gives me hope.

 Such readers are a gift in my life. How fortunate I am. Perhaps the genre isn't as reactionary as it seems. Perhaps culturally we are emerging from a dark time, like some noble monster groping toward the light.

Robert Dunbar has been called "the catalyst for the new literary movement in horror" by Dark Scribe Magazine, and his novel THE PINES has often been described as "a classic of modern horror." His most recent work is the novella WOOD. Learn more about his books by visiting his personal site at

1 comment:

  1. Okay, I'll bite - especially considering my recent blog posts. Just out of curiosity = clarify "vanilla families" for me.

    And second:

    "And many," she added, "read nothing at all."

    Right on. That, I totally agree with. Because once you start reading widely - following the old Faulkner line about reading EVERYTHING, the good and the bad - you realize pretty quickly all the stuff that's already been done to death, and that your own ideas aren't really that new at all, and it really forces you think differently....