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Authors by Design chat session on short dark fiction.
(I've hosted this transcript here due to it only
being available to members on the AbD site)

Member: We have BT here who will give us his words of wisdom on short dark fiction.

BT: ok - my bio - currently resides in Adelaide, South Australia, with his much loved wife Jodi and their children; Amie, Corey and Tyarna. His interests include reading, cricket, computers and Australian Rules Football (Go Crows!). His passion (outside of his marriage) is directed toward the creation of twisted tales within the dark fiction genre. His writing credits include works published in Fiction Factor and AntipodeanSF. He is currently progressing toward an Advanced Diploma in Professional Writing, and works for the Department of Defence. A regular columnist for SA50s+ and has joined the team at HorrorScope as an Associate Editor.


Member: Okay, BT, what is short dark fiction in the current market?


BT: Short dark fiction would require a discussion on the definition of "dark fiction" to start with


Member: and by today’s standard dark fiction is?


BT: dark fiction - is more along the lines of the old type of fiction - the Alfred Hitchcock suspension type. More meat in the story and less blood splatter and gore


Member: psychological.


Member: so plot is coming back in style


BT: One would hope so


BT: Dark fiction looks to disturb the reader, make them think, not want to turn off the lights before bed - it has nothing to do with gore. Disturbing and scary would be a good way to dot point it


Member: HorrorScope, is that an e-zine or print?


BT: HorrorScope is Australia's Dark Fiction Weblog. We do reviews and news on all things dark - focusing on Australia but commenting on things internationally


Member: You're on staff somewhere...,


BT: Yep - I've just gained a spot on a local publication called SA50s+. I haven't actually seen the finished product yet so I can't say too much about it


Member: How [do you] find a subject that's universally 'dark'? There are only a few things everyone is afraid of, so it would be easy to retread the same stories.


BT: All subjects can be bent towards the dark - you don't have to look for the old standard tropes. Take any situation that would make you continually look behind you, make you scared and then make it suspenseful and above all a good read.


Member: hmm, I do, and then I scoff at it later thinking that I'm scared of more things than your average bear


BT: I'm guessing you're part of a crit group - do they scoff too?


Member: I'm not, actually. My readers normally like the stories but either I'm not a very dark writer or they just don't turn out that way.


BT: Ok - my first piece of advice to all writers is to join a crit group. The second is to not judge your own work before others have had a chance to give comment.


Member: That's a hard thing to do.


BT: You will learn heaps simply from commenting on others work. Writers need a thick skin to put up with all the rejections from editors. Crit groups will allow you to develop that.


Member: But you have to put in what you get out.


BT: Definitely, but even if you don't submit work for crit all the time, critiquing others will help you grow in your craft


Member: I do have a group of other writers...they just aren't an official 'crit group', and we comment on each others' work.


Member: reading other people's methods... how they brought out certain emotions with showing rather than telling... that helps me


BT: If you have a group that you work with all the time - then that's a crit group - official or not


Member: Can you give us an example of a plot that is considered dark fiction, and can dark fiction be added to a genre that is not considered dark fiction. Does that make sense?


BT: I write a lot about children. As a father, my biggest fear is something "evil" happening to my kids so a lot of my stories revolve around children. I had to write an opening for my last assignment in my diploma. Off the top of my head I began on a lovely beach and built up a comfortable situation of a mother and child playing there. Then I began to turn it dark by having the mother distracted and the kid falling into the water. The darkness begins to come into play when something a little different is in the water. I use a lot of local myths and legends to add background but normal day things like the homeless or a psycho work just as well in most situations.


Member: Children are innocents; in your story do you allow anything really bad to happen to them?


BT: All the time


Member: Do you allow them to die in the story?


BT: The last three stories I've written all have children who die in them - sometimes they come back as ghosts or vampires but sometimes they die horribly.


Member: Is it [dark fiction] the same as horror?


BT: Sort of, but Hollywood has ruined the genre so many in the business are calling old traditional horror - the psychological side of it - dark fiction, less blood and guts to carry a story, although that has its place in dark fiction too.


Member: Is it whatever is written to scare?


BT: Scaring is part of it - disturbing the reader through all the senses would be a better way of putting it.


Member: So, do you believe dark fiction is all monsters and darkness? Those seem to be what you're mentioning most often.


BT: Not at all - most of it isn't. Imagine a walk home on a dark night. You know you're probably safe but the tension that is built up is what you're after. The definition of monsters is something unknown that attacks and/or scares the protagonist. In this way anything that is against an innocent could be construed as a monster


Member: I was under the impression it was more (or should be more) about capitalizing on things that frighten us--incapacitation, loss, the notion our good intentions may have terrible consequences


BT: It can be but it shouldn't be restricted to that. I've written and read tales that don't scare me but make me not to want to witness the event in real life - it disturbs me - that's dark fiction too


Member: BT--is the recipe for short dark fiction which Edgar Poe used coming back in style?


BT: Poe seems to be popping up in all my research. I've even read stories lately that are based on some of his earlier work.


Member: from what you are saying, Poe used suspense, disturbing imaginary a lot


BT: exactly


Editor: I just popped in to see what was happening and to tell you all that at Virtual Tales, we are really looking for some good dark fiction or horror. A paying market folks.


BT: Hi Editor - As soon as I finish writing my dark novel - I'll let you know - long way off at the moment though.


Member: thank you Editor for letting us know


Editor:  I liked Poe's style and it is timeless


BT: What a lot of writers are trying to do today - in this genre- - is repair the damage Hollywood did to Horror during the 80's and early 90's. Everyone is sick of the teenage blood and gore fests.


Editor:  Wow I have to agree


Member: I am glad to hear that


Editor:  I think leaving a lot to the readers mind to fill in is the scariest


BT: Well put Editor - leading them by the hand to drop them in it is fun too


Member: I love Poe’s style, my fear is what could be in the dark...


Member: So would you say dark fiction is making a comeback?


Editor:  BT how is the market for short Dark fiction


BT: In Australia - it is definitely on the come back because a lot of the country’s top writers are getting behind it and a lot of publications highlighting good fiction are being produced


Editor:  I do know that more markets are trying to keep their dark fiction and horror in the PG-13 range.


BT: The market worldwide is slowly warming to the idea. We want a slow, sustained build up. Not the flash in the pan, boom then bust, scenario of the 80's


Editor:  makes sense BT


BT: Over the past 12 months, I've submitted to quite a few markets and none of them are PG


Editor:  may want to consider it BT


BT: I've read half a dozen anthologies and all of them are very dark - I wouldn't let my kids read them


Editor:  Look at GS's work. It is selling well and the foreign rights publishers are knocking down the door


BT: I've tried writing YA style stuff, Editor, it just always turns to more adult orientated markets


Member: Can you give us names of modern authors of dark fiction?


BT: My all time favorite is John Saul - we both write about kids. Stephen King - of course


Member: Would you consider Dean Koontz?


BT: Yes, definitely. But there are a number of up and coming authors around the place, too. Stephen from TPN is one. In Australia we have Shane Jiraiya Cummings, Rob Hood (not the bow and arrow man - a zombie master) and many others.


Member: As far as resolving the ending of a dark tale...


BT: Just like all other stories


Member:...is it more advisable to give a natural explanation or let there be an unresolved mystery?


BT: You need to have a resolution and most readers prefer a happy ending - always need an ending though.


BT: unless you want a second book, and the editors are happy to let you get away with it


Member: right, well we were discussing 'short'


BT: in short - you need to wrap things up - it just doesn't always need to be that the good guy wins - or girl


Member: not really what I meant. If there is 'something evil' do you need to explain it?


BT: no - you need to give enough detail to let the reader fill in the gaps but you don't have to bring something evil into the light for it to be scary or disturbing


Member: so you need to explain it


BT: to some degree otherwise your reader won't know what's going on. I have seen one story where the evil is very lightly touched upon but its consequences are detailed and it can be effective - hard to do but cool


Member: BT - is there a basic formula and do you have any sites or books you would recommend on the art of short dark fiction


BT: I don't like formula's but then all stories tend to be written to one or another. Find your own voice and tell the story how you want it to be told - you'll end up with your own formula. If that happens to align with someone else’s definition of a formula - so be it.


BT: Books - I have one book that I've only so far skimmed through but am dying to read from cover to cover and I suggest all dark writers do the same. “on writing horror - A handbook by the Horror Writers Association” - An excellent resource


BT: In the end, writing dark fiction is like all writing. Develop the craft, tell a good story and make your reader think


Member: I have to say, my interest has been re-sparked since you explained what short dark fiction can be


BT: Nice to know someone's listening


Member: I was surprised when you said the audience liked a happy ending


BT: Human nature


Member: I didn't think horror, or dark fiction often had happy endings


BT: In short fiction - it’s about 50/50 from my reading


Member: maybe 'happy' is relative in this instance


BT: and yes it is relative - if the "hero" survives, then that could be considered relatively happy, he may be missing his soul or an arm and his girlfriend but he's alive - what more could he want?


Member: what no bag of chips and a Pepsi


Member: How bout some beer?


BT: How happy do you want him to be?


Member: BT, what Point of View seems to work best, and/or seems to be the most common or successful with dark fiction?


BT: Most of what I’ve read and write in, is third person. It seems to allow a greater conveyance of overall tension. I've read some very good first person stuff but you miss some of the surrounding tension. I recently read a novella by English author Simon Avery in Black Static - it was in first person and it was brilliant.


Member: okay, thanks.


Member: I'd imagine it would lose tension to assume the narrator must survive


BT: Yes the narrator needs to survive


Member: Or at least survive until the very end when he is killed?


Member: but if its third person, you don't have to have that expectation


Member: unless he's telling the story from beyond the grave


BT: In first person, the story tends to be about bad things happening to a group, and most of the others die


Member: First person fellow doesn’t need to come through fully intact to tell the story.


BT: Hence back to relevant happiness


Member: Fully intact? Does that mean you are only going to half kill one of your cute creatures? If nobody else is going to jump in...?I have another question.


Member: I've seen a growing number of for the luv of or token payment markets (e-zine) that specialize in dark fiction...but how are the major markets doing? The pro markets. I seem to see fewer of them than say 8 years ago.


BT: There are definitely fewer, but I know of a couple that are in the start up phase. We [the genre] are trying to slowly build things up again. I also know of a few that have tried to start and failed. Semi-pro seems to be the main stay at the moment.

Member: okay, thanks


BT: It will get back to where it once was.


Member: BT, before I go, I want to thank you for hosting this very interesting and informative chat. Night all.


BT: Thanks


Member: I wasn't quite clear on what your new position is. Are you an editor or just a reviewer?


BT: Both


Member: that's great


BT: thanks


Member: and the publication?


BT: I’m both for HorrorScope and a columnist for SA50s+. Why?


Member: do they take American submissions?


BT: SA50s+ is a local publication and new so not at the moment but HorrorScope is affiliated with the AHWA and they've recently launched Midnight Echo which does. Check out http://www.australianhorror.com/index.php?view=115 – Guidelines


Member: are these print or online publications?


BT: Print


Member: Any more closing remarks from BT?


BT: Guys, I'd like to take this opportunity to thank you all for allowing me to ramble on about a topic close to my heart. For any additional information, feel free to PM me or check out my blog http://musingsofanaussiewriter.blogspot.com/


Member: BT Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts, information and insight.


Member: yeah, thanks


BT: last thought - Remember that editors aren't going to bash down your door and rummage through your bottom draw to publish your manuscript – submit. The worst they can say is no. Anything else - my wife wants to go shopping for our new dog


Member: yeah, what kind of dog you gonna get?


BT: Yellow Labrador, Dean Koontz eat your heart out. Ok - time to go - thank you everyone once again for the opportunity - enjoy the rest of your nite - BT