I Write Transgressive Fiction; Does That Make Me a Bad Guy?

I got a Tweet from David Henry Sterry, one half of The Book Doctors. I had met him and his wife, Arielle Eckstut, at the KWA Scene Conference in March of this year while competing in Pitchapalooza. I pitched my dark comic Transgressive novel Weekend Getaways, or Adventures in Contract Killing and was well received.

The Tweet from David was “what exactly is transgressive fiction?” I responded “Main characters who feel confined by the norms of society. Think Fight Club & American Psycho. (was this a test?)” He came back with “not a test. just curious. is curious george transgressive character? cat in the hat? certainly max from wild things, right? ” Interesting. I hadn’t thought about it from that perspective. I clarified: “Got to add drugs, sex, violence and other taboo subjects into the mix. For the characters, THAT’S normal.” Sometimes the Socratic method does work best.

For my own interests, I looked researched on Wikipedia and found this definition by LA Times literary critic, Michael Silverblatt:

“A literary genre that graphically explores such topics as incest and other aberrant sexual practices, mutilation, the sprouting of sexual organs in various places on the human body, urban violence and violence against women, drug use, and highly dysfunctional family relationships, and that is based on the premise that knowledge is to be found at the edge of experience and that the body is the site for gaining knowledge.”

I looked back at my novel and the other collection I put together, Unemployed and Dangerous: A Trilogy of Transgressive Novellas. Was my work really like this? It was true that I explored very dark themes. The approach was offbeat, sometimes tongue-in-cheek, somewhat lyrical. There was an off-handedness to the extreme behavior, as though it were all just normal.

I have worked in customer service or retail for the better part of thirty years. I am certain that my life experience has informed my writing. I have always enjoyed film noir from the 40’s and 50’s, especially with the deep and dark psychological undertones. There is more than just crime in good crime fiction.

I had to go very deep within myself for that collection of novellas, scaring me at times and my wife just enough, before we both realized that I was lowering myself into a well but also pulling myself back up. And yet I know it’s there.

So, I conclude that I am NOT a bad guy but one who recognizes the possibility of badness, madness, degradation, and despair. Just as it is within all of us. And it is daring and scary to dive into those waters for the sake of a piece of writing and it is a dangerous journey to come back to stable ground. It creates an understanding of duality. It forces self-examination, which is necessary on both a personal and artistic level. It broadens the scope of character and literary skill.

I choose to go there knowing that I have the strength of will and the love of my wife to get back. I would not be satisfied any other way.


  1. Makayla said,

    August 14, 2012 at 11:53 pm

    I definitely don’t think writing transgressive fiction makes you “the bad guy”. I think, based on what you’ve mentioned above, that it’s like a teetering between dark comedy (think “Dead Like Me” for an example of things that are usually not considered funny, but are made to be really light hearted) and dramatic escapism. Awesome job on the post, btw!


    • H.B. Berlow said,

      August 15, 2012 at 5:08 pm

      I think it’s just that you get kind of spooked knowing you can go THAT FAR DOWN and be lucky to make it back to the top. Thanks for the comments.


  2. August 15, 2012 at 9:29 am

    The focus on the physical and the lurid is what seems to set apart your genre. Taken as such, I’m going to add James Ellroy and filmmaker Todd Solondz to the transgressive pile.

    Hm, transgressive pile… that’s a disturbing picture right there.


    • H.B. Berlow said,

      August 15, 2012 at 5:09 pm

      Will agree with you on Ellroy. Only know Solondz by name, never have seen his work. Appreciate the suggestion. Yes, and what exactly IS a Transgressive pile? Hmmm…


  3. myrickeaton said,

    August 15, 2012 at 9:43 am

    Scary thoughts, H.B. You should write a novel about a writer who thinks he can come back, and can’t, and what happens then!….. Now I wonder if my women in jeopardy could be classified as ‘trangressive fiction.’ There are characters in it that also have aberrant behaviors. Wow! Great blog post, H.B.


    • H.B. Berlow said,

      August 15, 2012 at 5:10 pm

      To some degree, yes. I think that most people believe that if it’s not
      “American Psycho” or “Fight Club” it’s not Transgressive. However, I view the off-beat off-color out-of-control behavior of some characters to fit right in.


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