Using Real Life Horrors in Fiction or, “Why would anyone write about THAT?”


Anna Sewell wrote Black Beauty in 1877. If you’ve read the story you might remember the horrific chopped tail flashback, the beatings, and Black Beauty’s infected feet. Sewell’s story was so effective in educating people about the need to treat horses properly that the Massachusetts SPCA sponsored the book’s publication in the States.


Fast forward to 1995. Jack Ketchum was fond of dogs in real life but aghast at the lack of laws protecting canine family members from abuse. He pestered a lawyer pal to no end when writing Red. It’s a story about the wrongful death of a dog, and Ketchum’s fictional story brought attention to the legalities of the problem.


This time it’s Brian Kirk and his disturbing story, “Picking Splinters from a Sex Slave.” It’s about a daughter rescued from the sex slave trade. Kirk could have chosen not to write about it, but that wouldn’t have made the terrible reality of the industry go away. By calling attention to such horrors, Kirk actually got death threats. You can’t read the story without feeling prompted to donate to rescue charities (like Children of the Night) or learn about how to spot possible victims.


Now it’s 2022, and my upcoming novella, Dog Meat, deals with another real life horror: the dog meat industry. There are no scenes of gratuitous violence; I wouldn’t do that. But it is a grim book. I hope you’ll give it a chance. I have no publication date yet (and I’ll scream it from the rooftops when I do), but it’s coming soon from Potter’s Grove Press.

“An animal in need is a sacred object.”


Animal Abuse Referring to the Novel Black Beauty by Anna Sewell:

Ketchum’s author’s notes are found in the front matter of Red.

Brian Kirk’s story can be found in the Gutted anthology.

Feature image by Dan Smedley on unsplash.

59 thoughts on “Using Real Life Horrors in Fiction or, “Why would anyone write about THAT?”

  1. I did not know the story behind Black Beauty, and I’m very glad I didn’t when I read it long ago! Despite the title and subject matter, I’m very much looking forward to Dog Meat.

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  2. Even though it is sometimes hard reading, I think it is important that these issues are high-lighted to increase awareness. I will definitely be checking Dog Meat out when it is released!

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  3. Hi Priscilla – I had heard the story behind Black Beauty – I only read it for the first time about five years ago. This is an interesting post and you make an excellent point. Keep us posted on your publication date!

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  4. I look forward to your story, Priscilla.

    If we don’t write about atrocities, how will people know about them? I learn a lot from books about the real plight of people and animals and the planet. I don’t think we should sugar-coat them either. The pen is imbued with power. Keep using it!

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    1. Thank you for the encouragement, Diana. I just got word that my novella’s publication will be delayed until Sept-Oct. (The cover artist is backed up apparently. These things happen!)

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  5. I agree! Some people think reading fiction is useless and that consuming it does not have any value. But it can be incredibly powerful in moving people’s hearts and minds as you have shown with this post. And books have a very real effect on how people live their lives and invest their time. Horror included!

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