The dangers of transgression

So, I’ve written about this topic many times before. It’s one that rears its head often in the life of a horror author. Perhaps this monster I’m describing could more accurately be described as a many-headed beast, because there are many different aspects to it. The subject in question is that of transgression.

My thoughts were focused on the topic this week because of two events. The first was a 2 star review of Mycophoria onAmazon. Now, don’t get me wrong. I like to know what readers didn’t like in a book, and one way is to express that in the form of a review. However, this one did cause me to reflect on the things that cause readers offence, and the things that don’t. If you’ve read Mycophoria, then you will know it is a homage to James Herbert’s approach in books such as The Rats, The Fog, The Dark, etc. There are a number of graphic scenes, and I put a warning in the book description before people download it. I like to let potential readers know what to expect, not to give myself a label, or deliberately hype the product. Anyway, this person thought the scenes involving gore, torture and carnage were OK, but as soon as it got to the chapter involving a couple trying to re-vitalise their sex lives (and the whole escapade going badly wrong), that triggered them and they had to stop there. Whether this reader was offended by the material or whether they thought it was a little absurd is open to debate. They didn’t give enough information. Yet, I’m often perplexed why people are OK with violence, but when it comes to what people do with their naughty bits – even if it is consensual, then that’s a boundary too far for them. I guess this aversion could come from a number of sources: upbringing, culture, religion, society; yet when one analyses it from a rational and objective point of view, there’s no reason why this type of transgression should be seen as more problematic than the other. It’s simply how individuals choose to draw their own lines.

The second event that prompted me to write this article was a notification from Facebook on my ‘Writing in Starlight’ account. It informed me that a post had been removed. Here is what it said:

The post itself? Here it is:

So, it was a bit of dark humour. Certainly not an exhortation to self-harm or suicide. Yet FB’s bots seem to have been triggered. It’s not that big a deal to me. My page has not been suspended and the joke was from a while back. I can only think that in the wake of criticism of social media networks following racist abuse of our football squad, then they are probably being hyper-sensitive.

I also began to ruminate on the notion that today’s society doesn’t know how to process, evaluate and respond to information.

Anyway, getting back to my writing. There seems to be a lot of moralising amongst writing circles at the moment. Particularly regarding a writer’s duty to its audience. It’s almost as if we’re responsible for every reaction we get from our readers. Now, I do believe there is an unwritten contract established (when a writer is doing their job properly) with their readers. But this probably varies from writer to writer. Mine is simply this: I will try my utmost to tell the truth as I see it and be memorable. I don’t seek to preach or necessarily to give you a ‘happy’ ending, but if somehow you identify with one of my scrivenings, then I consider my job done.

In doing the above, I may well (albeit inadvertently) give you an insight into my thinking. As Kurt Vonnegut once said, ‘I’ve heard that a writer is lucky because he cures himself every day with his work. What everybody is well advised to do is to not write about your own life — this is, if you want to write fast. You will be writing about your own life anyway — but you won’t know it.’ I may well disturb and provoke. Perhaps, if I’m lucky, you might be entertained. Yet I choose to do it via the ‘dark pilgrimage’. Some call it being transgressive, and many better than I have spoken on this subject, including a favourite author of mine, Craig Clevenger. Check out his essay on ‘The Safety of Transgression Versus the Risk of Honesty’ here.

Suffice it to say, I’m drawn to cross boundaries, test them, and expose them. The taboo sometimes has to be broken to reach a healthier place. Ironically, I added a ‘trigger’ warning to my novelette, The Abnegation Society, as it contained transgressive scenes. Yet one reviewer thought it wasn’t extreme enough! This is what I mean when I say people draw their own boundaries, and an author can’t second-guess them. There – I’ve got things off my chest. But what do you think? I’m guessing that since you’re following this blog-newsletter then you too appreciate the horror genre. What are your boundaries? Do you have any – and when do you cross them?


  1. Kevin Hurtack says:

    Good topic, Tom. I would say that in general my hard limits are any gratuitous violence, sex, etc. Especially anything involving kids. I’m generally aware of an author’s style prior to reading his/her work so its usually not an issue for me. I’ve read ‘extreme’ horror like Edward Lee, and knew what to expect. If I remember correctly there’s a sex scene in King’s ‘It’ that was rather pointless to me as a reader and kinda creepy now that I’m an adult with kids of my own. But I kept reading it because the story in general had a lot of good things going for it. I think I can overlook stuff that’s gratuitous if its just one scene, but if it’s something like ‘torture porn’ which is just gore/sex/violence for the sake of it and has no real story (or an unoriginal/half-baked one) beyond that then I’m out.

    1. Tom Adams says:

      Thanks for your views on this, Kevin. I agree with you on all this. The only area I’m prepared to accept censorship is that which involves children.

Leave a Reply to Kevin Hurtack Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: