Superversive Human Waves out of Darkness

By now everyone here has to know that my imagination tends to the dark. Although that may be a tad understated, since even in the fluffiest, silliest thing I’ve ever written (Knights in Tarnished Armor, for those who are wondering) there’s a really broad streak of darkness under all the fluff.

So how does someone that dark get to be all Human-Wavey and superversive?

To start with I refuse to write horror. If I tried I’d either drive myself insane or go so grimdark it would make Lumley look like a wimp. Yes, that Lumley. Yes, that vampire series. This is why I Do Not Do Horror. My imagination goes there all by itself. I don’t bloody well need to wallow in it.

Instead, I deliberately aim for the lighter side of things. I focus on the characters and how they deal with whatever crapsack world my imagination decided to throw them into – and mostly my characters are fighters. They get beaten flat and pick up and keep trying. They have hope, even if they have to make it themselves out of leftover straw.

Um. Oh, dear. That does rather echo a lot of how I feel and act about my own life. It’s not crapsack, but there have been times. And I do keep on picking myself up after I’ve been knocked flat and wading back into whatever the hell I’m fighting for. And hoping. And… Shit. I didn’t think I was that bloody autobiographical.

Oh, well. Writing does that to a person. Since my usual method is something along the lines of “sit in front of keyboard, try to put conscious mind on hold and let the story do it’s think”, I tend to find my subconscious leaving me pointed messages in what I write. Sneaky bastard makes them fit the story, too, so they’re not obviously Messages From Bob.

The conscious side of thing is largely shaping and the later editing phase where I catch as many of the klutzy phrasings and other weird grammar glitches that find their way into what I write (because yeah, I have a rather distinct voice that tends to drop several favorite phrases in all the bloody time, then I have to go and find the damn things and make sure I don’t have a dozen or more on every page).

So anyway. Leaving that little diversion aside, it’s a human trait to find things to enjoy no matter how much things have gone to shit. For evidence, babies are still born in places like North Korea, Zimbabwe, the middle of war zones, you name it. Weddings still happen. People live their lives as best they can.

So naturally, characters in the lowest pit of Hell are going to do the same things. When they’re not fighting for their lives or whatever, they’ll have the normal kind of responses to life, the universe, and everything. They’ll make friends, catch up with old friends, bicker, relax, and do normal people things. And that, even if everything else is bleak and grim and dark, is where the hope lives.

A character can be struggling along with his soul eaten, everyone he’s ever loved murdered brutally before his eyes, and if you leave him with the possibility that things will improve and he’ll find a happy place (no, not that happy place. That’s for the porn. Which I do not write. Because every time I try to write anything erotica-ish my brain goes “oh god that’s so silly” and switches off. Damn it. The stuff sells by the buck-load) it’s going to feel like a happy ending (no, not… Oh bugger it. Think what you will. You will anyway).

The other technique I use is – as I mentioned before – keeping the tone light. Which is how the Hello Kitty gay bondage scene in ConVent happened. Seriously gruesome sacrifice, check. Victims clearly suffered rather a lot before dying, check. Hysterically funny (or so I’ve been told by people I trust), er… wait, what?

The thing is, this works. I’m certainly not the only author to use it (Pratchett does, quite a lot. So do Sarah, and Dave, and Amanda, and…). It pisses off the self-righteous brand of Feminist Glittery Hoo Haas something fierce, which is an added bonus. They don’t like people making jokes about Things That Should Be Serious (which is a big reason why most of the Interchangeable Feminist Authors write gray goo – if you try to take Things That Should Be Serious seriously, you either get gray goo or grimdark). The thing is, humans cope with big scary frightening things by making jokes. It helps us wrap our heads around them and accept them. Why else would there be so many jokes about X dies and… It’s a way we tell ourselves that things will probably be okay when we die. Even though death is probably the biggest scariest thing out there, at least on a personal level.

So, yeah, when the Big Bad is trying to destroy the universe, someone is going to make off-color jokes about this being the Big Bad’s way of compensating for something. And that is how a really broad streak of darkness doesn’t stop me writing human wavy and superversive things.


  1. I’ve never formally done a body count of my fiction, but it’s up there. Perhaps the worst was when an evil scientist trained his disintegrator on a captured agent and halfway missed…. it was pretty gruesome. But at least he got what he had coming, and sent off with two bad puns.

    ConVent did seem to have an awfully high body count. It was like in addition to the sacrifices, you came up with the idea of kills for power just to amp up the bloodbath. It was both humorous and dark. Someone who didn’t get it might think you hated cons.

    I gave it a good review.

    1. Body counts are relatively meaningless compared to how you treat the corpses, I find. The evil scientist one sounds like a good one to use.

      Quite a few people who didn’t get it did get the idea I hated cons, but those who did gave me the nicest compliments (“you bitch, you kept me up all night laughing!”). The biggest challenge with those books is keeping Jim sufficiently matched that he’s not going to just deal with it and turn the whole thing into a non-event. Which means I need a really powerful enemy.

      Stupid crazy-powerful vampire who wants to think he’s nothing special.

      And thank you for the good review!

      1. It was the lead-in to one of favorite, absurdest moments, where two evil geniuses duke it out, one in a stolen blimp with a heat ray vs another with a disintegrator he’s firing out THROUGH the side of his Mesa fortress. (Melting the mountain on top of your enemy until the lava flows though his chambers proves to be the winning strategy, as well as having a sniper pre-positioned on the adjacent Mesa).

        Glad you liked it, I hope it helps. (I could use a few more good reviews. Hell, a sale would be nice since I haven’t had once since mid-September).

  2. Gallows Humor is very common for people in deep sh*t. It’s a way of coping with their situation.

    Oh, some of my “craziest humor” comes out when I’m dealing with depression and/or stress.

      1. Oh gawd. My humor turns very sarcastic and dark… er, even darker when I hit one of those. That’s not exactly a sign of good character judgment.

      1. Hell yes. You can fight and maybe lose, or not fight and *definitely* lose. I’ll take the former every time.

        1. Sometimes, if you don’t fight, someone will jump in and save you… but the part you can control is you fighting, which greatly improves your chance.

          And, of course, if you fight off the help because you’re hopeless you WILL lose. (Pretty sure we’ve all seen that, if only vaguely.)

    1. Absolutely, Paul. It’s where the whole “laughing so you don’t cry” comes from, and it’s as old as humanity. I’m sure way back Og laughed about the way Thag got that tusk right in the whatsis.

      1. Well, Ol’ Thag allus swore he’d ne’er play catcher if it was the last thing he did, and lo, so it was…

  3. Yep. That’s why combat veterans, EMS, cops and the like often joke about the unspeakable. It’s the only way to cope.

    (It’s also why I loathe most of the descriptions of fictional combat. Not only are they wildly inaccurate from a tactical/operational perspective, but they ignore the reality of what it’s like. It’s something you don’t forget.)

    1. Not just COMBAT vets. Back in the 1980’s, when I flew B-52s for Strategic Air Command, pretty much ALL the crewdawg humor was dark.

      Then again, mid-late 80s, it looked at times like we were actually going to HAVE a Nuclear War. . . .

    2. My Dad spent some thirty years in emergency medicine and firefighting. I think a lot of my humor was colored by his, although also he’s about the nicest, laid-back guy you would ever meet. But the humor! Whew… let me put it this way. I was in the house one morning when my phone rang. It was my father’s number, and I picked it up, curious what he was up to, since he’d stepped out to do chores on the Farm where we lived just a few minutes before. “Dad?”
      “Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!”
      Me, laughing out loud. “Do you need me to come help you?” I thought he wanted me to water the chickens (this was midwinter and they had to be watered several times a day since their coop was unheated.”
      “No, really, I heard a pop as I went down…”
      At that point I could actually hear a little pain in his voice, and I think my next words were unprintable as I sprinted out of the house toward the barnyard.

      The upshot was a broken bone in his ankle. But he just couldn’t resist that joke when he called for help.

      1. Ayup. My mom’s a RN, and for years worked ER and surgery by choice. Some of the stories she brought home would have been flat-out unbelievable if you hadn’t met the people in question.

        I’m told, by the way, that some of the worst practical jokes come from med students and interns. And that they should always be very carefully supervised whenever they have access to a cadaver.

        And it’s the ones with the darkest sense of humor that tend to end up in specialties like emergency medicine.

        1. Yep.

          Case in point: in the 1970’s (IIRC) the University of Cape Town’s new medical school opened near Groote Schuur Hospital (where the world’s first heart transplant was performed in 1967). It was reported that a medical representative called on one of the professors there, but when she went back to her car she couldn’t get it to start. Looking up at a line of student heads in a row of windows a couple of floors up, she called, “Won’t someone give me a hand?”

          They threw out a hand. It was the anatomy lab.

          She promptly fainted.

          There was all sorts of consternation and monkeyhouse about it (“Disrespect of a donated cadaver!!!”, etc.), but the brouhaha eventually died down. The laughter lasted a lot longer . . .


    3. Given a horrible enough situation, the jokes, the gallows humor, hell, anything like that is probably the healthiest response. Yes, the jokes can be really, really, really bad. Bad enough they’d get you punched, were it elsewhere, elsewhen.

      But that’s okay. Whatever gets you through, whatever keeps your mind on the job at hand instead of freaking out. When under stress, sometimes our minds get in a rut going around in circles. If gallows humor can get you out of it and back to what matters, it’s good. Even if it’s still bad.

      1. Oh, yes. Which is why the time between a traumatic event and the first joke about it is usually *very* short.

    4. Yah. Not just them, either. You can hit the same reaction in a purely civilian setting if it gives you an interesting enough time. Not as strong, of course, but the same mechanism applies.

  4. And this is why no one ever wants me to go to funerals.

    It’s human nature (at least for sane, rational beings) to break the tension and overall grim vibe of heavy situations. Without levity we would all need to spend more time talking to therapists.

    Life in a professional kitchen is fairly similar to time in a combat zone (I’ve been in both). You need that sense of humor to help you come to grips with the pressure and stress.

        1. While driving through the countryside a few years back, our family spotted what appeared to be a family reunion picnic. Dad joked that we should stop and join them as with that many people, nobody would know we didn’t belong. Well we got closer and laughed. Everybody we saw at the picnic were Black. Since we’re White, we would have been very noticeable. [Smile]

    1. With my family, you’re fine as long as you’re not being excessively familiar; there’s some jokes that people simply should not use on those they don’t know and love, and “it was a joke” doesn’t cut it.

      It’s like a stranger walking up and planting a kiss on the lips, it’s gonna cause a really strong reaction….

      1. That would be some relatives by marriage I have. Part of the reason why they early on decided I was evil may have had something to do with this. And my odd conversation subjects in general. You know, how to hide bodies type of wonderings (I don’t think I ever used that particular one with them, but hey, I am odd, and they very definitely aren’t).

      1. I thought that was the proper duty of families, shocking outsiders. That way you know if the person the kid brings home to meet the folks is good enough – they not only deal with your family, they enjoy it…

  5. I spent three and a half years working for In(diana) Dept. of Transportation (1970-73), as a driver/snowplow operator. In months other than winter, this means doing road repairs, picking up trash/dead animals, etc. In Winter, it meant driving a truck with snow plow and “salt bed.” Total length nearly 30 feet, and a weight of about 20-30 tons. (Note; It takes about 1,000 feet/330 meters, to stop from highway speeds.) In spite of “being lit up like Christmas Trees,” people still “don’t see” snow plow trucks.
    Road repair.etc., means working in/near traffic, while cars fly past, *less than* three feet/one meter away. “Minor” injuries are rare, fatal/near fatal are more common. You also see more injury/death than anyone except police/fire. “Gallows humor,” is quite common.

  6. Yep – even standard military humor (which is very, very dark) tends to startle the heck out of ordinary civilians. And guaranteed to give conniption fits and spasms to the ordinary run of those infesting institutions of higher (mis)education.

    1. Clearly the infestation in higher miseducation needs MUCH more exposure to military humor.

  7. A small spark of Heaven is amazingly bright when going through Hell. Humor often provides that spark. And the rougher the situation the. Rougher (and often more ridiculous) the humor… Which is what I think some of the comedians that go for mean are failing to grasp.

    1. They also fail to grasp that the folks standing next to you in the suckage can get away with far more than the folks making jibes from dry ground.

      A certain intimate understanding of the situation lends a credibility that cannot be faked.

    2. Yes, indeed. The best comedians were always the ones that give the impression that “I’ve been there and I’m laughing to help cheer YOU up.”

  8. A perfect example of this: John Ringo. Bodycounts in the billions, but still has moments of gutbusting hilarity.

  9. I have a friend who likes when thngs get dark because it gives the hero more room to rise, when he gathers his strength and climbs out of thr ashes. 6our essay reminds me of that. 😉

    1. G-d does not require perfection, but greatness. And what is a darkness of the soul, past sins and doubts, if not the fertilizer that allows greatness to grow?

      Eh, it was put better than that, if only I could remember now.

    2. It does, yes. The harder something is to achieve, the more valuable it seems. In real life as well as fiction.

  10. Jokes are fine but what I really hate (and this is mainly a problem with television) is when a seriously traumatic event occurs and the characters are back to the status quo by the next episode. Letting the villain go after she slaughters a village because the actress is a popular regular just really irks me and it requires the heroes to be morons. Ugh. Sitcom plotting.

    1. Oy. Yes. If the villain *escapes* that’s one thing (unless the escape is caused by hero idiocy). But letting them go? Hell no.

    1. Thank you. It’s challenging sometimes – because it’s easier to let it go all grimdark – but it’s worth it. Particularly when you get people telling you how utterly *wrong* it is that they were laughing themselves silly over a particularly gruesome demonic sacrifice scene.

      (angelic – well almost, never mind that bit of tarnish – smile) It makes all the effort worthwhile when someone says something like that.

      1. I love snark in a torture scene–even when he gets additional beating in the process.

        In one of my UFs, my hero is strung up, and they’re about to do the tooth-extraction on him. He says, “Can you get my wisdom teeth? They have to be removed anyway.”

          1. Yeah. I’ve read that one. It was a hoot. And don’t mind me, when I’m depressed, I go to TV Tropes, hit the random button, and within 3 pages, I find something that has me in hysterics.

            1. Then, if you’re me, you spend the next four hours or so trapped in there link-hopping and giggling like a maniac.

Comments are closed.