The Dark Side

The majority of my writing is pretty dark. My short stories are psychologically dark, not so much violent. Joe Café, my first novel, is probably the darkest thing I’ve written and it is violent. I’ve been thinking about this lately because I get, ‘dear GOD!, how do you think those horrible things?’ responses from people on occasion. I’ve probably talked about this before. I don’t care. I’ve been writing freelance marketing stuff all morning and I have ceased to care about anything except training my stupid, hateful, ignorant, ugly freaking fingers to insert only one space after a period. This goes against 18 years of writing habit. But that’s the way it’s gotta be. Even here, Hise won’t let me out of the box if I don’t do it. But I suppress, I want to talk about the sick, vicious, blood-drenched, soul-crushing things that exist in my mind.

It’s funny. I can’t watch horror movies. I can’t stand gore. In third grade, we watched a video on skin grafts (WTF?). I had to be sent home with a fever and light-headedness. I was better in fifteen minutes when I got home. My wife has horrible nightmares. Dreams where she hacks people apart with axes and chainsaws. And she is the sweetest person I know. I have dreams about my sixth grade teacher, my friend Toby, and the cast of Cats playing touch football in a bowling alley. The scariest dream I have had in as long as I can remember – in all honesty – is one I had the other night where I was shopping for clothes with Justin Timberlake.

I don’t watch the news. It depresses the everloving hell out of me. But I’ll read Cormac McCarthy while I eat breakfast. I’ll write a story about the agony of methamphetamine withdrawal that touches on the darkest human emotions I can possibly fathom – the worst things I have ever felt about myself. There are scenes in Joe Café that made my wife think separate beds might be a good idea. I can write about a drunken sociopath carving the internal organs out of a nun without batting an eye. I tried to watch A Nightmare on Elm Street once and I wouldn’t sleep without a stuffed animal in my bed for weeks.  I was 12.

It’s a weird thing. I am a pretty nice person. I don’t like violence. I know that terrible, terrible things happen in the world, but I read an article about African genocide one time where the reporter talked about watching yellow, baby chicks pecking at the corpse of a small child. I still want to shriek, move to a cabin in the woods, paint all the walls baby blue and hook myself up to a valium drip every time I think about it. But I KNOW that people read Joe Café and think, ‘that Mader guy is one sick, depraved individual’.

This has nothing to do with whether the book is “good”.  If you like dark FICTION like I do, then you’d probably like it. If you are my mom (who has been forbidden from reading it), you would probably cry for a while and then spend the rest of your life figuring out where you went wrong. Didn’t I breast feed long enough?!?! (Well, you’re not my Mom – except if my Mom is reading this (hi!), but you get the idea.)

Here’s the thing. I have said it a million times. I will say it a million more. I will say it until you hate me and want bad things to happen to me. Fiction has to be honest. And the fact of the matter is that Jeffrey Dahmer was a real person. He did absurdly horrible things. It sickens me to the core to think about it. But I could write a story about a psychopathic serial killer doing the same things without batting an eyelash. And I can make that shit seem REAL. I’m not quite sure why.

DV Berkom wrote a great piece recently about the difficulty of getting inside the mind of her psychopath. That is part of what got me thinking about this. Heck, I enjoyed writing the graphic scenes in Joe Café. Not enjoyed in a ‘got off on it’ kind of way. But it was fun to take my brain to a place that it usually refuses to venture. What does that say about me? Hell if I know.

When I was a younger and less physically attractive writer, I had real issues with this. I’d write a story about a coke addict and worry if the character was too realistic…what would people infer? I wrote about the depraved, evil, horrible things my characters did and cowered, waiting for all my loved ones to decide I was fit to be committed.

It’s still something I trip out about sometimes. I recently reconnected with a bunch of my old students on facebook. I was writing Joe Café when I was teaching writing workshops…they were fifteen or sixteen then. They are adults now. They used to ask about the novel I was working on and I would give very evasive answers. Now, they are going to read it and see how &*$#ed in the head their teacher really was.

But that’s the moral to the story. I’m not crazy. Well, yes I am, but I’m an amusing kind of cuddly, OCD crazy. I don’t know why it doesn’t bother me to write about the most horrible experiences of my life. I don’t know why it doesn’t bother me to write about rape, murder, bad acid trips, or anthropomorphized manifestations of my darkest fears. Steven King doesn’t think about these things. Does he? God, I hope he doesn’t. He has piles of money he should be rolling around in (or sending to less well known authors) (jackass).

I guess what I am trying to say is that I learned a long time ago that you can be a writer who hedges his bets, or you can be a writer who lays it all out there in it’s gory, dope-sick, depraved, erotic beauty. I have chosen to be the latter.

There are several ‘secret’ little groups of writers on facebook that I riff with.  Some of them write for this site. And when we are tired and have spent 10 hours writing we come up with some of the most delightfully depraved, offensive, disgusting, and outright immoral things you could possibly imagine (you probably can’t imagine). Things that even I won’t put in my writing. Things that have me laughing and cringing for days. Maybe someday I will drop that final barrier. Maybe they will, too. I hope so. Because it is entertaining as all hell.

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JD Mader is a Contributing Author for Indies Unlimited and author of the novels JOE CAFÉ and THE BIKER. For more information, please see the IU Bio page and his


Author: JD Mader

JD Mader is an award winning short story writer and novelist. 'Joe Café' and 'The Biker' are out now, as well as 'Please, no eyes'. and the collaborative 'Bad Book'. Mader has been writing for half his life and has no plans on stopping any time soon. Learn more about JD Mader at his blog and his Amazon author page.

45 thoughts on “The Dark Side”

  1. Great article, JD. I can totally relate to the whole OCD cuddly/delightfully depraved thing. Felt that way the whole time I was writing Serial Date.

    Love Lois' idea above. Let me know when the book's available…

  2. Great post, JD. Started reading Joe Cafe yesterday while waiting for a doc appointment. I am on Chapter 10 and am loving it so far. So what does that say about the reader who likes to read this kind of stuff, lol. But I am also writing a serial killer thriller and only into 6 chapters so far. I have to get mad at someone, get really angry at them in order to write/work on that book. Getting angry at someone is how I managed to write the six chapters….she was the first person to die in the book, lol.

    1. Thanks! And thanks for reading JC! Angry. Yeah. That's a good call. I'm not an angry person, but I was for a long, long time. I think maybe I can tap into that more easily than some people. Interesting. Let me know how JC turns out. 🙂

    1. Thanks Richard, I appreciate you stopping by, mate. The feeling is mutual. You cover the UK in blood. I'll work stateside. 😉

      BTW, to anyone reading this, Richard is a brilliant writer with a new book coming out and an amazing one (Apostle Rising) in the bank. Read it if you like your heart in your throat.

  3. Agree with the premise that every writer has to "lay it all out there," not so much with the (slight and probably unintentional)implication that honesty is always going to be "dark." Truth is truth, no matter how it turns out.


    1. Oh, I agree completely. I hope that wasn't what I implied. Everyone has their own truth. Mine is not always dark, either. Thanks…McNally!!!!! 🙂

      (so damn thorough and rational…you'll get yours…wait, am I still typing…

  4. Love this! I laugh when I think of a discussion I had with my husband after my first few novels. "Why do you have all these depraved characters in your books?" he said. "Why can't you write about nice people doing moral, uplifting things?"

    "Because that would be BORING," I told him.

    Maybe he, too, sleeps with one eye open. 😉

    1. Thanks Laurie. If I had a nickel for every time I have had that exact same discussion, I would have a shit ton of nickels. 😉

    1. LOL, thanks. Twisted is so much more interesting than straight (I ride MC's). And the space thing is driving me crazy(er).

        1. David, I was taught that in Canada, too – Grade 9 typing about a hundred years ago. It was hard to break myself of the habit, but I think I've got it beat. Takes less time to type a story now. Just think how many spaces there are in a novel and how much longer it would take to put two spaces instead of one! 🙂

          1. So a North American thing, maybe?

            Ha, Diane, yes, good point. I read that it had something to do with typesetting before word processors, and that modern fonts negate the need for it. I never learned to type, so what do I know? They probably did the same thing over in England and I'm just full of BS!

          2. I don't know about England, David, though that's where my family is from on both sides. I only took typing for one year, long enough to know I didn't want to spend my time working away at a typewriter in an office. And now look at me, spending hours a day at the keyboard when I'm supposed to be retired! But this is a whole lot easier than the old Underwood typewriters with no letters on the keys and the keys took real pressure to get them to work. Back then I could type 40 words/minute. I've never timed myself on a keyboard – don't have the time. 🙂

  5. This is a great topic JD.(single space)One of the short stories I wrote as a teenager was so dark that I dared not let anyone read it. In fact, it's dark enough that I would be forbidden to discuss it here.

    Where did it come from? Is there a little evil in all of us, or just those destined to become terrorists, serial killers, and writers?

    If I ever do edit that twisted little story and publish it, I'll send you a link. It will be located on some foreign server and won't have my name attached to it though. 😉 I'm all about honesty, but damned if I'm going to therapy for it.

  6. You do have a captivating way with words, Dan. I can relate to the nightmare thing. After watching Carrie I was messed up for ages. I'm not much for really dark stuff as I think you already know, but I do have someone with a twisted mind committing a weird murder in my novel for an even weirder reason. It's far from the main part of the book – just adds a little suspense in the middle somewhere. But in the suspense I have enough sense to dispense with all the blood and gore. I could never make it work. And I couldn't write a mystery or suspense novel if my life depended on it. I can't even figure out the logic puzzles in the word puzzle books. 🙂

  7. Thanks Diane, I appreciate you stopping by. BTW,

    "just adds a little suspense in the middle somewhere. But in the suspense I have enough sense to dispense with all the blood and gore. I could never make it work."

    Lovely. For some reason everything in my mind tonight is Bob Dylan and this fit right into the flow. 😉

    jMy mind just barfed this up:

    What's that feeling when midnight's reeling and you're stuck to the bedpost staring at the ceiling? It's time, it's time, just time you're stealing but that ain't worth but a rusty nickel in the bottom of a coffee pot. Grounds ain't ceilings but for my last meal I might take, might take that deal, cause what good's mealing when you know you got but one more hand and you ain't done dealing. And that ace up your sleeve won't make you believe and you can't leave cause you're in too deep and you can't sleep cause the covers weep and the walls creep and crawl with every thing you scratched on every bathroom stall…the words come back but you can't read em all, so you stall…you wait, you wait and pray, but it's too late and your hair's gone grey and there's bills to pay and the man with the tie won't buy your lie even if it is the truth. And who gets truth anyway, you can hear truth if you listen, hear it every day or you can hear a freight train bray, but it ain't honest and it ain't the same as sitting under a tree at sunset. That tree'll shade ya and the ground that made ya, hell it will be there til the sky falls down. It was there when you were gone, nowhere around, nowhere to be found, lost in the light and strobe and sound. Stumbling, shuffling, subway bound. Underneath the streets you listen to the trains run by and the rocktime beats and you try to feel original. But original is just a word and it's a word that everybody's heard. And Woody heard it before I did, and I knew it all when you were still a kid. Still tossing a ball against the wall where fifteen years later your body falls and you can't get up. They've beat you down and you're sure that you're the clown and the world's the circus and just when you think you got it all figured out, you realize you ain't figured out nothing but another cut out snowflake xylophone fake…and it makes ya nervous. But shit, son, don't you know, ain't you listening, did you really think God was at that christening? Did you really think it meant anything at all, those hymnals, those words on the bathroom stall. So close your eyes and let it be, there ain't enough room for you and me…and time, that's the only thing you see, cause when you're knee high you got it all laid out and in a snap you're laid up and outta luck and nobody really gives a fuck. You might as well quit, you might as well die, but you don't cause you've got shit to buy…America's got you boy, but good, and don't try to play misunderstood cause it's time you're buying with that new car and it's time you're buying, but it won't go far cause it's all a sham, it's all a joke, its all the lies and cigarette smoke, and it don't make a difference anyhow – the train'll be leaving any second now and whether you go or whether you stay we'll still end up in the exact same way, same place, same face, same dreams you had that didn't matter then, but you got your paper and your got your pen and if you don't quit, maybe they'll listen. Deep down you know they probably won't, but hang to it, cling to it, play your guitar alone and sing to it. It may be all you got, but it's a lot, son, it's a lot.

      1. Wow! Now that was a mouthful! Sorry to have to admit, but I'm out of the loop where Bob Dylan is concerned. Of course I know who he is, but all through my life I have never been interested in popular music. In high school I couldn't have told you who or what was on the hit parade and who wasn't. 🙂 I'm glad you enjoyed my little word play. After I went to bed I thought of one more 'sense' I could have added, but I forget what it was now. It seeped out while I slept.

  8. We're sick little creatures in so many ways, and I honestly think if our deep recesses *didn't* vomit up these images and urges, we'd be worse still. Darkness as catharsis, in other words. I mean, of all the genres/types of drama Shakespeare wrote, we still tend to revere his tragedies the most. And the very books dedicated to making us live well are often the most depraved.

    1. I read this and thought, what the hell does this have to do with Bob Dylan. Forgot there was an actual post up there. LOL. I agree of course.

  9. I could write honest, depraved stuff, have lived enough of it, but it only depresses me. So while i don't shy away from it in my writing (there are some pretty dark bits in my books) I have to find a way out even there. If there is no way out then life becomes too bleak. At some point it is counter productive, for me at least, to stay too long in those dark places.

    Maybe that is why the humour comes out here – gallows humour. To allow a way out. It IS funny and sometimes I chuckle but I can't stay there much. I mostly watch from the outside.

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