Maybe readers have grown tired of the dark.


THE MUSE ALMOST didn’t find me.

He went first to my machine.

I wasn’t there.

He found me sitting on the patio in the dark.

The birds weren’t up.

Neither was the sun.

Night still hung heavily around us.

He almost didn’t recognize me.

I wasn’t writing.

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

The Muse didn’t care.

He was just breaking the silence.

“I had an epiphany,” I said.

“Did it hurt much?”

Not yet,” I said. “But I fear that it will.”

“Tell me about it.”

I did.

“My wife did something yesterday that started me thinking.”

“What’d she do?”

“She did not turn on the television.”

“That unusual?”

“She always wants to catch the early morning news,” I said. “She wants to know what’s going on in the world.”

“Most people do.”

“Yesterday, she didn’t want to know.”


“She said she was tired of seeing the shootings every morning. Said she was tired of seeing all the dying every morning.”

The Muse walked over and turned on the bubbler.

The birds would be coming soon.

They always need an oasis in the Texas heat.

“What’s that got to do with you?” The Muse asked.

“Maybe I’ve been doing it wrong,” I said.



The Muse sat down in my father’s old lawn chair, the one that needs a new coat of red paint.

“You’re having second thoughts,” he said.

“I am.”

“About what?”

“My writing is dark,” I said.

He nodded.

He had read my latest novels.

Never said if he liked them.

But he read them.

“You have pages that smell like burnt gunpowder,” he said.

I agreed.

“You pile the bodies high,” he said.

“And often.”

“Your characters spend most of their time in the dark,” he said.

I nodded.

“You write noir thrillers,” he said.

“I do.”

“Noir thrillers are written about the dark,” he said.

“They are.”

“Characters work better in the dark.”

“They do.”

“So again I ask. “What’s wrong?”

“Maybe readers are tired of the dark,” I said. “Other nationally published writers are talking about how it’s more difficult to shock readers than it used to be. So they have to write darker. The blood has to run deeper. The body count has to run higher. Crimes have to be more sordid and more horrific. Shedding blood is not enough. Now they need someone to suck the blood as well.”

“Is that the new trend?”

“I don’t think I want to go there.”

“So what’s the answer?”

I shrugged. “The world is a dark and a depressing place,” I said. “There’s conflict and crisis everywhere you look. Maybe readers want to come out of the dark. Maybe readers want to laugh for a change.”

“Can you do it?”


“Make them laugh.”

I leaned back and stared at the sky.

It was black and velvet.

The stars were fading.

“I don’t know,” I said.

Caleb Pirtle III is the author of Little Lies, a psychological thriller.Little Lies Final Cover LL Mar 13

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  • Don Newbury

    Oh, Caleb your NOT writing–dark or light–would be terrible shades to waste. Continue to strive writing toward darkEST, realizing that eventual arrival there is probably impossible. As to “lightning it up,” remember Woody Allen’s line: “Dying is easy; comedy is hard,” or something close to that. And tell Linda Brenda says I’d have TV on, even if just a “test pattern,” like back around 1950, when a visit to FW meant a few days with relatives who had a TV. We usually started watching that Indian chief figure Channel 5 slapped on the screen until “daily broadcasting,” which I believe began at 1 p.m.

    • Caleb Pirtle

      Don: I may be wrong, but I believe the set up for horror and comedy is the same. You just change the punchline. I, too, spent a lot of time watching the Indian Chief picture, but mine was on Channel 7 in Tyler. We had two channels and sat enthralled each night. Now I have 250 channels and can’t find anything worthwhile to watch.

      • I know we have both capacities, good and evil. I’ve just never been that interested in the evil – it’s hard enough to be good.

        But you’re right – the body count is ridiculous.

        I think it is a reflection of the news showing us not just what happens locally, but every blasted thing bad in the world anywhere. It makes it seem that the bad stuff is more prevalent. I don’t think it is, or at least not as much as they would have you believe. I think the news is broken.

        I’m not a starry-eyed idealist. Little Megan Kanka was killed about 10 blocks from here. Police looked in MY backyard for her body.

        But that was many, many years ago. From the news feeding me every kidnapping just in the States, you’d think one happened A WEEK.

        It makes people scared to let their own children out – and contributes to the siege mentality.

        When people are jaded, the advertisers and TV writers have to try harder – and they blow things way out of proportion.

        It makes it hard to lead a normal life.

        • Caleb Pirtle

          Alicia, TV overwhelms us with a daily bombardment of crises. We never know when one ends, if it ends, and another begins because a new one is always beginning. After a while, the news becomes suffocating.

  • jack43

    Interesting. I once read an essay (I wish I could find it again) describing how one could check the mood of the people by examining their taste in science fiction. War of the Worlds was written in “The Gay 90s” aka “The Gilded Age” which was marked by a severe economic depression and labor upheavals resulting from adjustment to the industrial age. ET appeared in the 1980s, a time of great economic expansion as industrialization spread around the world and the US and Great Britain approached free market capitalism closer than ever before. Thus War of the Worlds expressed hopelessness and man was saved, not by his mettle, but by divine providence. ET was hopeful, and the extraterrestrial was a kindly, cute and cuddly little creature.

    On the other hand, it is said that people sought light comedy in the picture houses of the Great Depression to escape the misery surrounding them.

    Does any of this offer any guidance? Please let me know. I’m confusing myself…

    • Caleb Pirtle

      Jack, I think you nailed it. I had not heard about science fiction capturing the mood of the people, but it certainly makes sense. And, as you pointed out, I do know that big musicals and happy go lucky comedies were the most popular movies throughout the Great Depression era. People wanted something uplifting and happy to take their minds off their troubles. Days were dark and bleak. I think we may be there again.

  • Darlene Jones

    I think you have to write whatever works for you. There will always be readers who like or don’t like your work, so you have to do your “thing” and then go on to the next book.

  • I hope this isn’t true. Perhaps readers want a psychological element to their “blood”, to be tested, teased, challenged in ways they can’t get anywhere else. Time will tell…but I also believe we must write what we’re good at and not what is popular at the moment. Times change, people change, tastes change…but not so dramatically that readers who love noir will stop craving those stories. I can’t imagine not reading thrillers regardless of what life throws at me.

    • Caleb Pirtle

      Sue, I think thrillers are great and will always have a fan base. Noir thrillers are my favorite. Other authors may have mastered the trick, but I am guilty of never having any light scenes that offer readers a chance to relax and laugh a little. I keep pounding with a sledgehammer. I’m going to try to add some comic relief. We’ll see what happens.

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