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Most writers in the mainstream writing scene today don’t know what transgressive fiction is, have never heard of it, or immediately think of it as something disgusting, twisted, or perverse. Even the writers who write transgressive fiction oftentimes don’t know what they’re writing, or that other people are writing it too, or that readers exist out there who would be interested in reading it.
Being a writer who writes transgressive fiction, or is even interested in exploring this kind of creative territory, can be a lonely road to travel. Because if you only scratch the surface of transgressive fiction it’s easy to get the idea that it’s filthy, or obscene or lewd, or that people just write it for shock value alone. It’s easy to see all the reviews on Goodreads from people who call it “trash” or “not even worthy of one star” and believe that it’s not worthy at all.
But that’s a big lie.
One of the most distinctive identifying characteristics of transgressive fiction has to do with how it treats descriptions of the human body, specifically the processes and functions that are not often discussed in polite society. Sometimes this treatment is exaggerated and hilarious, as is the case with much of Chuck Palahniuk’s work, and sometimes it’s chillingly precise and realistic, as with Bret Easton Ellis. Either way, it’s almost always just plain gross. The willingness of the author to test the reader’s limits by being what I would call “exquisitely disgusting” is how you can tell that the writer is purposefully exploring the territory of the transgressive. In other words, it doesn’t happen by accident.
Different strains of transgressive fiction experiment with how to ignite the greatest level of recoil in the reader in different ways. Transgressive fiction that falls into the genre of crime/thriller/suspense will most often detail the gory reality of what it takes to dismember and dispose of a human body, while transgressive fiction that is more fantastical or experimental might describe murder or massacre with vivid beauty, painting it as an artistic scene. What I have noticed though, is that most transgressive fiction explores the theme of violence when the author begins to experiment with the power of repulsion and what it can do to a brave reader.
Most transgressive fiction, it should also be noted, is written by men.
Today’s guest post comes from the satirical G.C. McKay, author of the anthology Sauced up, Scarred and at Sleaze and his recently released novel, Fubar. G.C. is one of my favorite writer friends because he always pushes limits and questions the status quo. Plus, he manages to be totally irreverent and profound at the same time. The following is his take on the writing “rules” for transgressive fiction authors.
Transgressive fiction gets a pretty raw deal. In fact, it gets the same treatment by the world we live in as its characters often do inside their stories. This is probably to be expected, as the themes it explores are normally on the, shall we say, darker side of the human spectrum. Whilst we can argue till our faces turn blue (sexual-innuendo obviously implied) about what actually defines transgressive fiction, I’d venture to guess that we can all agree that it… unnerves us, as Lauren Sapala so adequately put it in her post Why are so Many Writers Afraid of Transgressive Fiction?
On that note, here are seven sin-ridden writing tips to keep in mind when your gunk-filled fingernails sit poised over the keyboard:
I got an email from a writer the other day asking about transgressive fiction. She had seen my previous article, What It’s Like to Be a Female Author Who Writes Transgressive Fiction, and she was curious about a couple of things. Number one, she wanted to know how I fueled my ideas to write in this genre, and two, she wanted to know how I handled the reactions of my friends and family members. In particular, did any of my friends and family think I was just writing about my “twisted fantasies”?