Writing Dark and Mary Beth

I mentioned this when I was writing about Blue Smoke, about how some writers are just too dark for me these days. It is probably just my perception – I hardly watch sad movies or police procedurals anymore, and the other night when I was watching Serenity, well, I had my face turned from the screen most of the time. I swear, if I didn’t know I wasn’t pregnant, I would think I’m pregnant (Pregnancy cured me of my love for scary movies.)

I have written romantic suspense. I have written from the POV of the villain (once, I think, and he was a wicked evil stalker rapist). Like Toni was talking about the other day on her blog, I want to know why people do the things they do.

I just don’t know if I want to crawl into their heads to find out.

I read my first Lisa Gardner book last summer and it really had me squirming. I read another, and then just decided she was way too dark for me – lots of suspense and very little romance.

Tami Hoag used to write amazing romantic suspense books (though maybe if I went back to read them now, they might make me cringe.) But after Night Sins, I think, or Guilty as Sin, there was no longer romance, and the evil side of humanity was just overwhelming to me.

Anne Stuart’s Black Ice was way more suspensey than romancey, and that “hero” was something else. I was not compelled to read more of her books.

I used to read Catherine Coulter back in the day when she wrote all those interconnected Sherborne or Sherbrooke people, remember those? And when she started writing contemporary, I followed her along. But it seemed to me her villains’ POV became just a place where her own dark side could run amok.

I wonder if that’s part of why writers write dark, to look into their own darkness. Maybe that’s why I can’t write a villain’s POV – maybe I don’t want to see that side of myself. Maybe that’s why I can’t even read it.

So clearly, I like romantic suspense light ;)

I am very anxious to hear your thoughts on this.

Mary Beth , I dreamed you sold two books to Intrigue.

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Kelly Boyce said...

I like a good mix of light and dark. I don't want to read a whole book that's all dark and murky. Throw me some humor to lighten things up from time to time. I want to walk away from a book feeling good, not beaten down.

Anonymous said...

I don't mind dark, so much as detailed. There's a line between showing how bad a villain is and wallowing in his creepiess. When I read stuff like that, it takes forever to get rid of it. Feels like I'm wearing it. And yeah, having kids definitely made a difference in my tolerance level for icky stuff.

I bought one recently that was unexpectedly a serial killer book. It was so creepy, 1/4 of the way through, before even getting into the killer's pov, I put it in a trash bag, double-knotted it, and put it in the garage. I felt awful about it, but I didn't want it in my house. I felt like Joey putting the scary book in the freeezer.

Gina Black said...

I have the same problem. I just don't want to go into the dark. But...I'm trying. I recently bought two JoAnn Ross book (her latest two) and Allison Brennan's first because I know them and not only want to support them but trust them and I'm going to see if I can get through this unwillingness I have to go dark.

In my case I can blame in on Stephen King. I read The Stand once and that was it. No More Dark, if you please...

Tracy Montoya said...

Interesting topic, Mary. (I was actually thinking about blogging on it one of these days, but you did it better!) Pregnancy lowered my tolerance for dark, scary stuff, too, although I have to say that mostly applies to movies and TV. I still love Lisa Gardner and Jeffrey Deaver and Karen Rose--all of whom write pretty dark.

I think part of what I like about dark suspense is seeing this evil, very realistic villain (or villains) overcome and brought to justice. When things look SO dark and SO awful, justice can still be served and love can still overcome ugliness.

Sometimes it's hard for me to write dark, though, even though it's what I do. My first Intrigue was pretty dark, and then when I did the Mission series, I just couldn't go there again. Consequently, that series is quite a bit lighter. (The middle book got a little gritty in places--and some readers have called me on it!)

Sorry to blather on, but this topic totally fascinates me. I'll be back to read more of the comments.... (ROFL on Stacy putting the scary book in the double-knotted trash bag!)

Anonymous said...

Mary, do you think you could send those dreams to the editor and maybe to me too. :-)

On dark writing, the ick factor comes into it for me. Blood, guts, dead babies and animals cross a line for me. The first Lisa Jackson book I read I LOVED. The second opened with a woman buried alive. It was in the woman's point of view. The writing was amazing, but it was so real, it freaked me out. I had a hard time finishing the book.

MJFredrick said...

Wow, this got y'all going this morning ;)

Kelly, I know what you mean about wanting a mix of light and dark. Joss Whedon is usually pretty good at that, but Serenity...the Reevers...ew.

Stacy, Blue Smoke was pretty detailed, at least for me. We wallowed quite a bit in his creepiness (Colleen may disagree with me.) As for feeling like you're wearing it, YES! Exactly. LOL about double knotting the trash bag. (And glad you delurked!)

Gina, I read The Stand as a kid, and again after the miniseries came out. I love that book, but it is definitely squirm-worthy. I wonder if I could read it now. Some of the darkest images in my head are from Stephen King books.

Tracy, I would love to read Karen Rose and Dee Davis, but I'm chicken ;) I agree with wanting to see the bad guys brought to justice, and even more, wanting to see what makes them bad guys to begin with. But (and this is a whole other topic) the reasons they're bad guys to begin with seem pretty pat - abusive family, abandoned, etc. I think if you're going to do a dark villain, you need to find an intriguing reason. My hero in my WIP could have been a villain with his background. I'm twisting him the other way. I read your first Intrigue, and it WAS dark. That poor girl! I have your trilogy in my TBR - need to move it up ;)

Mary Beth, YES on the dead babies and animals. Even kids in danger. I haven't been able to read Linda Howard's Cry No More. And I know I keep saying this, but Lisa Gardner's school shooting book ripped me up.

Hope my dream comes true!

Dixie Belle said...

Maybe the current trend reflects what is popular in TV and movies as well. CSI is pretty graphic and I've never seen Saw. I hate the gruesome stuff.

Shesawriter said...

Boy oh, boy. Are we different or what? I love dark heroes. Heck, the darker the better. And Anne Stuart is one of my favorites. Nobody does twisted men better than her. I think my favorite of hers was Luke in Ritual Sins. He was a cult leader who stole the heroine's mother's money. 0-:-)

No, Mary, you definitely would not enjoy that book. LOL!

MJFredrick said...

TANYA !!!! Where have you BEEN?????

You're right, I'd hate that book.

Dixie, yeah, I've stopped watching Law and Order and any police procedural anymore. And those scary movies? Forget it! Back in college, I lived for scary movies. No more.

Trish Milburn said...

I think maybe we might be hesitant to write too dark in some instances because we're scared to admit that we could even dream up those types of things, wonder why there is that type of darkness even in our brain. I don't think I'd like unrelenting dark. I like either some humor or some romance mixed in too.

Stacy Dawn said...

I can read the occasional one but much prefer and write romantic comedy. Maybe there is just too much darkness in society today but I think the world needs to laugh more.

And to be honest, I don't want to know if I have that darkness in me.

Rene said...

I love 'em dark and grim. I write dark and grim. I'm cheerful in real life, but my writing side is pretty dreary. I don't get into my villain's pov because I'm strict about staying in my hero and heroine's only, just my style, but I'm quite ruthless to my characters.

Trish said...

I guess I'm the odd woman out here.

I love dark. The grittier the better. Bring on the horrific detail. The more twisted and evil the villian, the more likely I am to put that author on autobuy.

Part of the reason I love these dark books and twisted villians so much is exactly what you already mentioned. I'm fascinated by human monsters. What made them into the people they are? Why did they turn out the way they did? You can take two people--with identical horrific childhoods and one will turn into a sadistic killer, while the other turns into a haunted hero. What makes one break and the stand tall?

But even more than that, is the dual aspects of human nature. I think that's why these books are so popular. You have the one side. The dark--twisted, ugly side. But you pair that with the strong side, the noble side.

To me, there is much more going on than the battle of good against evil. Dark authors are showing that the good aspects of human nature will outlive the evil aspects. Our ability to survive against all odds is stronger than our need to destroy. And we don't just survive, but we flourish. We might be beaten and bloodied, but we are still capable of opening ourself enough to accept love and give love in return. We are still whole enough to protect those too weak to protect themselves.

The more twisted, and depraved the villian--then the stronger the celebration when the villian is defeated. Because if the hero and hero can survive that kind of hell, and emerge undefeated, still capable of love and committment and caring-- then there is hope for humanity after all.

Anonymous said...

Whoa Theresa! Your last paragraph was POWERFUL!
Mary, I liked Cry No More. It was hard to read, and I didn't like the end, but it ended the way it had to. I wonder if Linda Howard didn't write her last book (I think To Die For, not sure. I've loaned it to a friend) to recover from Cry No More. I laughed so much!
Great topic! I hope your dream comes true too. :-)

MJFredrick said...

WOW, Theresa!!! Very well presented! The bigger they are, the harder they fall!

Trish, I know that's why I don't write that dark - I don't want to go to that side of myself. That said, Don't Look Back is the darkest book I've written.

Rene, I can handle dark better if I'm not in the villain's POV - I could probably read your stuff ;)

Stacy, I can't write comedy, but I'd much rather read or watch a comedy than a serial killer book.

Mary Beth, I do have Linda's book after Cry No More on my wish list. Maybe I need to get it!

Amie Stuart said...

I have to go with Dixie and Theresa (great reply btw). I love dark and it takes a lot to creep me out.

The Stand didn't bother me but a little short story that was made into a movie called Children of the Corn TOTALLY creeped me out.

Funny enough I have a writer friend whose one of the happiest, silliest people I know (and a *very* devout Christian for whatever that's worth--we laugh about me being a heathen) who has this serial killer. Ya'll he's BAD but it's some of the best writing I've EVER seen her do and she can't bring herself to write his story because it freaks her out that she has stuff like HIM in her head.

Trish said...

I've never been freaked out by the things I'm capable of writing.

But it sure freaks my mom out. I made the mistake once of letting her read my writing--and it wasn't even the bad guy!!-- for months afterwards she kept asking me why my characters were in such pain, why the material she read was so dark. Wasn't I happy? Hadn't I had a good childhood? What had she done wrong in raising me?

She couldn't seperate the characters darkness from my personality and decided I had to be hiding some deep/dark angsty pain.

It didn't matter how often I'd reasure her that it was just imagination. That I had just dug deep inside myself and tried to imagine how I'd react if I was in their situation, she was still certain there had to be something lurking there inside me, and that she was responsible for whatever that was.

Trish said...


I meant to add this.

It doesn't really matter whether you love susense light, or suspense dark, because the best thing about voice/tastes--is that there are readers/editors/agents out there who like both.

Toni Anderson said...

Wow Mary, a real can of worms? I am actually reassured by the range that people like. I like dark, I also like light and fluffy as long as it is well written. Catherine Coulter's early historicals were fantastic! But I don't think her voice suits her contemporaries (JMO) I've read most of them and they make my teeth grind :D

But I love Lisa G and Tami.

I can't watch scary movies though--maybe they just don't leave enough room in my imagination. I watched 'Monster' last night. Now that was a powerful movie!

MJFredrick said...

Theresa, interesting about your mom! Poor thing, questioning herself. I could see myself doing the same thing!

Cece, I wonder why this serial killer is her best writing. I can completely understand why she doesn't want to write him, though!

Toni, definitely a can of worms! I agree, CC's voice doesn't fit contemporaries - her characters talk in such long sentences! Monster is the one with Charlize Theron, right?

Toni Anderson said...

Yes, playing Eileen Wournos (sp?) Pretty harsh stuff. I never imagined being a prostitute was glamorous, but the movie portrayal was brutal.

MJFredrick said...

My brother saw Monster and said it was really good. I don't know if I could bring myself....Silence of the Lambs about did me in.

Anonymous said...

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