Shocking stories

Today: sent one query letter and did some editing, plus wrote an essay

We write every day. Some people, such as myself, rat- a-tata- tat on a keyboard into the stretches of night under the delusion that they are writing The Next Great American Novel. Personally, I try to elude that delusion due to the susceptible unreadability of my work. Sometimes, I don’t think about “marketing” at all and certainly don’t consider writing for a wide audience. My audience is limited, but at least they’re not in love with glittering vegan-pires. What I write is meant to offend sometimes or to shock. Or both. And that’s okay, because you can’t have an opinion without offending anyone.

Sometimes, it’s true, I will write something for the sole purpose of shock. If you read my novel when it’s published, you’ll find various pointless areas where perhaps there is very little purpose besides SHOCK. For example, at one point, a 13 year old tortures, kills, and eats a dog. Let’s call that practice for his cannibalistic endeavors. When I began this novel, I never intended to sell it. I mean, this is the sort of story I don’t really want my parents to read. So it didn’t matter what I wrote. It didn’t matter how outlandish or innappropriate or shocking the story was, it wasn’t supposed to be read.

But then it became something a bit more, something less horror, more literary. So what’s a young adult to do? Well, try to sell it and capitalize on the shock factor. This is a novel, after all, that your mom definitely doesn’t want you to read. That’s sort of the point: write something controversial so that people will read it. It’s not that I don’t want people to sympathize with the story, with the characters. I hope people genuinely love the story, but what makes people pick up stories? Well, for one– intrigue.

Think of it this way: why do so many people want to see pictures of Osama Bin Laden shot through the head? Not to disprove some bat-crazy conspiracy. No, it’s restricted- it’s forbidden. Once they receive those photos, they’ll say, “Cool,” and no longer care. But until then, they want them. Why else do people watch viral videos like Two Girls, One Cup or the film The Human Centipede. As humans, we are attracted to what is gross, what is wrong, what is taboo.

And this book shies from no taboo: cannibalism, prostitution, and midget sex included.

No, this book isn’t meant to plainly disgust. But it can do that too. It’s more a satire of disgust, of the American obsession with death. After all, we’ve become too desensitized to death. The Texas Chainsaw Massacare isn’t exactly character-driven, because we don’t care about the characters. They die: that is all. This book deals with those issues, quite morbid at times. Here’s a fun excerpt:

            The preacher hobbled up to the pulpit, smiling a toothless grin. He began with a prayer and then the crowd set forth into a series of songs, the elder women competitive in volume. Throughout the second hymn, Gene could only remember that he did not remember the man’s name. There were no signs with his name nor was his name displayed on any of the flower arrangements, and suddenly Gene realized that he didn’t even care: this was just another poor victim. The preacher’s sermon involved the summation Mr. Nobody’s life into one word: good. “He lived a good life.”

“He was loved by many.”

“He’s in a better place.”

“He did not die in vain.”

This is your entire life summed up into dried up clichés. All that struggling and loving and crying and celebrating and hurting was for a lackluster generalization. And then, “let’s put this man in the ground. The church ladies made us all tuna sandwiches.”

While queing for post-funeral refreshments, Kweller leaned into Gene’s ear. “It’s a shame, don’t you think?”

“What is?”

“Well, the man—he had donated his body to science, which meant that his petrified corpse is going to be butchered by a surgeon-in-training. No way to escape that fate after all. And we just lowered an empty box into the ground.”

Gene saw the humor as well: you’re here mourning your grandma, and somewhere, there are some med students playing hot potato with her heart.

I guess shock and death ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. For books that really appalled me in the best way possible- here’s a list!

Haunted by Chuck Palachaniuk (possibly most perverted work of genius ever)

Tropic of Capricorn by Henry Miller (too much sex, but gloriously lush prose.)

A Clockwork Orange by Kubrick (Buy a dictionary to translate half of it, but interesting.)

The Road by Cormac McCarthy (I have only read parts, but… I’m sold.)

Keep up with book adventures here at my blog! And subscribe to learn more about Word Salad. Stay thirsty (for books), my friends.

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About Derek Berry

Derek Berry is a novelist and spoken word poet. Derek is the author of Heathens and Liars of Lickskillet County (PRA Publishing, 2016). He co-founded and organizes The Unspoken Word, a literary non-profit based out of Charleston, SC, which provides an intendent home for the poetic arts through regular readings, workshops, and community fundraisers. He is on the Executive Board of the Charleston Poetry Festival, the inaugural production of which will be Fall 2017. His work has appeared in The Southern Tablet, Cattywampus, Charleston Currents, Illuminations, RiverSedge, and other journals.He has performed in venues across the United States and Germany. He has worked as a photographer’s assistant, busboy, and bookseller. He currently works at a curation facility for Cold War History.

Posted on May 20, 2011, in Controversy, Cool Posts, Writing. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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