Yellow Pages

The Decadent Nouveau fills an artistic void with things that aren't pretty.

Over a couple bottles of wine, Dawn E. Mitchell could see the horror in her fellow writers' eyes as they passed around her four-page short story. Some winced; others slumped into their seats. After all, "Tart" was a ghastly tale about a fat old guy raping his four-year-old granddaughter. "The smell of his flesh was now a sickly combination of sweat, urine, and sex, his penis wet and sticky in my little fingers," Mitchell wrote. "And it had to grow because that is what men and snakes do. They grow with the help of girls, pretty ones like me."

It was unanimous. "Tart" had to be included in The Yellow Book: Twisted Fairy Tales, the second of two paperbacks consisting of 31 short stories, poems, and drawings published last year by the Decadent Nouveau. "Knowing that something I created has such a powerful effect on people -- be it joy or repulsion -- tells me I have successfully gotten across to them on a deeper level and thus created a true work of art," says Mitchell, an Ohio University student.

The Lakewood-based collective of writers and artists patterns itself after the Decadent movement of late 19th-century Europe. Followers believed that life was fundamentally mysterious, and their work had to respect and preserve the mystery. And who better than the 21st-century Decadents to revive the movement? "When the mainstream seems to lean so far toward pretty little empty, fabricated pop packages, what's an unknown artist to do if what they create isn't necessarily deemed acceptable or popular?" asks poet David Kay. "I find the Decadents to be inspirational, and it just seems like there is a void somehow."

To fill the gap, they've distributed the free books in cafés and at concerts where Kay's goth band, Decadent, performs. "The easiest thing to do is come together with other like-minded artists and try to collectively be noticed," says Kay. "If the community isn't there, build your own."