To Provoke and Offend


This caught my attention a few weeks ago…

“My interests are still too dark, controversial and antisocial to be successful today. See, in the 80s and 90s transgression was hip. Being a provocateur was admired. Today with the closing of the human mind – because people from every sector of society think of themselves as vigilantes, and think of themselves as crusaders and jihadists and zealots and there’s so much more fanatics today then ever before – if ten per cent of our mail was hate mail in those days, I think at least fifty per cent of it would be hate mail today. With that kind of opposition and hostility and fear that it creates, it’s much harder to operate as a provocateur these days. And when I say provocateur, the provocation was strictly aesthetic. A lot of people read politics into everything today and there’s zero tolerance. There’s zero tolerance for innovation, there’s zero tolerance for experimentation, and zero tolerance for taking risks. It would be too unprofitable today, or even dangerous, to flirt with that sort of aesthetic anymore.”

Fred Berger, creator of the long defunct Propaganda Magazine, as said on Cemetery Confessions podcast.  

When I write a short story there are three ‘dream markets’ I submit to. These are publications I’ve wanted to be in since either the start of wanting to be a writer–think Cemetery Dance–or that have become a new benchmark, like Nightmare Magazine and Black Static. So, after collecting rejections, I move the piece along. It’s only the first rejection that ever made me question the quality of my writing. (Not to say there is no room for improvement as there Always Is. Always.)

Every rejection since has me question if this is the right venue, and where their sense of morals lie. Perhaps this is not a wall that writers of vignette, romance and mystery have to scrabble over. The testing of limits. The dark query of how low will you go, what’s wrong and what is right, and can you handle the unhappy ending or the fact that there may be no end at all. Writing horror is running a gauntlet of torture in your mind only to present it to editors while you are still bloodied and bruised, panting with the sweat slick thrill of having just narrowly escaped your own creation only to be told it isn’t what they are looking for right now, but please send more. Please send more. But, more of what?

With that busted compass, it’s not a wonder the smaller publishing houses are a mixed match of quality and content. They aren’t as concerned with the status quo and what mythological audience they ought not offend. I worry that it isn’t my writing style at all, but the content. The offensiveness. The darkness. The unhappy ending. If it were my style, that’s fixable. Some other things just can’t be fixed.

And now, a snippet my most favourite rejection note ever, Amen.

“Some good descriptions and boldness to it, but no plot line; it’s a complete editing mess, just a rambling sex and gore fest; the tenses are all over the place. A bad BDSM trip with some sexual venting…”

– an unnamed editor, circa 2011