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  • Endless Joke
    Endless Joke
    by David Antrobus

    Here's that writers' manual you were reaching and scrambling for. You know the one: filled with juicy writing tidbits and dripping with pop cultural snark and smartassery. Ew. Not an attractive look. But effective. And by the end, you'll either want to kiss me or kill me. With extreme prejudice. Go on. You know you want to.

  • Dissolute Kinship: A 9/11 Road Trip
    Dissolute Kinship: A 9/11 Road Trip
    by David Antrobus

    Please click on the above thumbnail to buy my short, intense nonfiction book featuring 9/11 and trauma. It's less than the price of a cup of coffee... and contains fewer calories. Although, unlike most caffeine boosts, it might make you cry.

  • Music Speaks
    Music Speaks
    by LB Clark

    My story "Solo" appears in this excellent music charity anthology, Music Speaks. It is an odd hybrid of the darkly comic and the eerily apocalyptic... with a musical theme. Aw, rather than me explain it, just read it. Okay, uh, please?

  • First Time Dead 3 (Volume 3)
    First Time Dead 3 (Volume 3)
    by Sybil Wilen, P. J. Ruce, Jeffrey McDonald, John Page, Susan Burdorf, Christina Gavi, David Alexander, Joanna Parypinski, Jack Flynn, Graeme Edwardson, David Antrobus, Jason Bailey, Xavier Axelson

    My story "Unquiet Slumbers" appears in the zombie anthology First Time Dead, Volume 3. It spills blood, gore and genuine tears of sorrow. Anyway, buy this stellar anthology and judge for yourself.

  • Seasons
    Seasons
    by David Antrobus, Edward Lorn, JD Mader, Jo-Anne Teal

    Four stories, four writers, four seasons. Characters broken by life, although not necessarily beaten. Are the seasons reminders of our growth or a glimpse of our slow decay?

  • Indies Unlimited: 2012 Flash Fiction Anthology
    Indies Unlimited: 2012 Flash Fiction Anthology
    Indies Unlimited

    I have two stories in this delightful compendium of every 2012 winner of their Flash Fiction Challenge—one a nasty little horror short, the other an amusing misadventure of Og the caveman, his first appearance.

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Monday
May142012

Pod People

I am now officially a pod person. I've been interviewed before, which is an interesting experience the first few times, but when you notice yourself repeating many of the same answers in slightly different ways, it can be a case of diminishing returns. Which illustrates the importance of fresh questions on the part of the interviewer, but also behooves the interviewee to remember to dig deep and not resort to phoning it in... which is an apt figure of speech for the most recent experience I had of this strange concept in which one person asks questions of another person and they share the result of the conversation in the assumption others will find it interesting. But anyway, what I'm getting at is, on this occasion I did actually phone it in. Almost literally. Well, okay, Skyped it in. And the interviewer, Carolyn Steele, who runs the website Trucking In English, shaped this audio into something very listenable—a podcast, in fact, and the only known recording of my voice on the internet.

Ostensibly a conversation about Dissolute Kinship, it moves surprisingly seamlessly (given my propensity for inexplicable tangents and, um, awkward, ah, speech fillers) between the topics of New York City itself, both then and now, and the wider implications and fallout of the attacks of September 11, 2001. I even talk a little about growing up Catholic in a Protestant country. So, uh, religion and politics. Great. I eagerly await the hate mail.

But somewhere in there, she somehow manages to get me to make a connection between the unifying nature of the world's initial reaction to the horrors that day and the subsequent democratization that's largely been wrought by the internet, offsetting the more rigid and authoritarian reaction in the political sphere. It's an interesting counterpoint to the almost dystopian pessimism into which it's far too easy to lapse. And it takes no small amount of skill to elicit thoughts I probably wouldn't have come up with on my own. I guess that kind of synergy is the point, really, is why interviews can be so illuminating. Greater than the sum, kind of thing.

Anyway, have a listen here and if nothing else, see how mockable my outlandish Anglo-Canadian accent is.

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also writes for Indies Unlimited and BlergPop. Be sure to check out his work there if you like what you read here.

Thursday
May102012

The Good, The Bad, The Indifferent

"When you have to shoot, shoot. Don't talk." © The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, 1966I’ve discovered a potentially fatal flaw in my personality. I mean, outside the more obvious ones (no need to point them out in the comments section, folks). Put simply, I like genre and I like literary. In musical terms, I like teen pop and modern classical, Spears and Stockhausen, Avril and Arvo. But this post is neither a demonstration of my “amazing” pop cultural eclecticism nor a reflection of my mental health anxieties; we like what we like, after all. No, this post is an attempt to reconcile two apparently opposing impulses in the world of writing; the aforementioned (alleged) impasse between genre and literary fiction.

For anyone who has attended a university-level creative writing course, even a single workshop, this dichotomy might already have raised its slightly distorted head. I majored in English literature and I’ve also attended a one-year certificate course in creative writing at a local university, and I don’t regret either of them. My purpose here is certainly not to trash the rarefied air of academia. Far from it. Because I genuinely learned a great deal about writing—about what works and what doesn’t work, about the inner alchemy and the outer pragmatism of this eccentric world—from those two experiences. Not to mention the confidence boost of sharing your work among motivated and engaged peers as deeply in love with the written word as you, alongside the equally essential practice of reading in front of an audience so you don’t forget that word’s spoken nature either.

But. There’s a prevailing wisdom within such circles that genre is inferior to literary fiction. It’s either implied or stated overtly. That one is entertainment and one is art. One is frivolous and disposable, the other profound and eternal. (Interestingly, we hear the same, equally dodgy “received wisdoms” in music criticism. A received wisdom is usually an unexamined one, after all.)

I’ve thought about this long and hard. Which isn’t especially easy for me. So bear with me. I write in many forms. I’ve written music reviews, poetry, many styles of fiction, nonfiction, journalism, articles and essays. Although I’ve been told my own writing style is “literary”, and believe there is plenty to admire in that category, I don’t ever intentionally set out to write “literary” fiction. I love the writing of Ian McEwan, which is considered predominantly literary by those who define such things, but I also read Stephen King’s predominantly genre material every bit as avidly.

I sometimes wonder whether we’re overly restricting ourselves.

Let’s, for the sake of argument, deny that a firm delineation between the two even exists. Why would one contain more “art” than the other? Fiction itself is a genre, alongside its siblings and cousins poetry, lyric prose, creative nonfiction, journalism, etc. Likewise, writing itself is a kind of genre, alongside music, dance, theatre, film and the visual arts in general.

See where I’m going with this? I hope so, because I don’t.

But seriously, why would we arbitrarily assign less significance to any one particular level or manifestation of “genre”? We don’t tend to ascribe a deeper resonance to writing over, say, dance. Or sculpture over theatre. Nor do we elevate detective fiction above, say, science fiction, other than for admittedly subjective reasons of personal taste. Then why this line drawn between “literary” and “genre”? What does it mean, and what does it say a) about us, and b) about the works we assign to each category.

My experience has been that between the extreme caricatures of navel-fixated ivory towers on the one hand and outright penny-dreadful hackery on the other, most fiction writers fall into some great amorphous blob somewhere in the middle. Who is to say whether Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian is genre (horror, western, adventure, western horror adventure) fiction or literary fiction? And in a very real sense, who (aside from literary critic Harold Bloom) the hell cares? We either love it or hate it in the end, which is great, and perhaps the only failure, ultimately, is the work that leaves us indifferent. Similarly, we can take an acknowledged genre writer like Dennis Lehane, and ask why his works would necessarily lack any more of the beauty (or truth, or mythology) of art than those of [insert currently celebrated literary darling here]… And, like I say, I’m not even all that sure we can use “art” as a legitimate criterion or signpost here, anyway.

Indeed, there have been times in the history of English literature when the distinction was as plainly meaningless as I’m arguing here. Stories and storytelling were not politely revered in some airless grand hall, but were populist mass entertainment, gaudy and messy as medieval marketplaces, and this is nothing to be ashamed of. Without such street theatre, the single greatest practitioner of the written and spoken language, William Shakespeare, would probably not have emerged from his decidedly average education and lower middle class roots. Similarly, without the Bardic tradition of songs, poetry may not have evolved. Why would we wish to unravel all that—the music, the words, the rhythms, the art, the entertainment, the colourful cultural detritus both good and bad—so we can score meaningless points over something that ought not be a contest in the first place?

Perhaps language itself is the problem here. As in, we’re using it wrongly. For the sake of argument, let’s take science fiction as an example. There is hack science fiction and there is good science fiction. No one would argue this. Perhaps, therefore, we should be merging our terms and speaking of literary science fiction. In other words, if something is written well, its subject matter and even genre conventions become less important. Good, bad, indifferent. These are the only distinctions that matter. And quite honestly, I reserve more opprobrium for the latter than I do for the first two. I prefer full-on bad to bland and safe. But that’s just me.

Anyway, apologies for getting all philosophical this week—I certainly don’t claim to have had the last word on this and may indeed revisit it in future posts, and welcome further thoughts, or even mass ridicule. Although, be gentle with me, I’m far more fragile than I look. But hey, in the interest of fairness, let’s just say there’s a hint of truth lurking within the distinction. In which case, we may give the last word to Stephen King (whose work has fallen into either category over the course of a long career), who memorably and respectfully summarized the difference between the two in a way that avoids any declaration of war:

“I have no quarrel with literary fiction which usually concerns itself with extraordinary people in ordinary situations, but as a reader and a writer, I’m much more interested in ordinary people in extraordinary situations.” [From the Afterword, Full Dark, No Stars, 2010]

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A version of this post appeared on Indies Unlimited on May 4, 2012. also writes for Indies Unlimited and BlergPop. Be sure to check out his work there if you like what you read here.

Thursday
May102012

Three In One Week

Reviews of Dissolute Kinship, that is. Varying from the indepth to the brief, all three of them kind and thoughtful and fair. Honestly, I wish I could express the right degree of gratitude toward people who not only bother to read my work, but who then go the extra mile and review it. I hear too many authors complaining about how too few readers review after reading. Well, how often does any one of us take that extra step? I do on occasion, but certainly not for every book. Reviews are gold, but they're not an automatic right.

Anyway to the first: Jim Devitt succinctly delivers the following, in a generous 5-Star review entitled A Grand Perspective:

David Antrobus captures the essence of community and perspective in this vivid account of 9-11. The pages come alive, not with destruction and tragedy, but with hope and meaning. The author opens his mind and feelings, leading us through the process from an outsider's point of view. In the end, he helps us understand by painting a masterpiece with words. He shares with us everything, from the guilt felt while viewing ground zero to the greater understanding how human lives are interconnected. Great job, Antrobus.

I have to say I'm extremely gratified how many readers of this little book get what I was attempting to do, that it was never solely about the actual attacks, but about how we moved on and how we created new connections after being brought together in such initially appalling circumstances.

Okay, on to the next. A.B. Shepherd, in a similarly brief but insightful assessment, has this to say:

This book focuses on the devastation he finds when he gets to New York City following the events of September 11, 2001 and the affecting and poignant way he has of describing what he sees. For some people, like me, who still find the devastation of that day very difficult to deal with, this sometimes evoked more emotion than I expected.

If you want to read a well written first-hand perspective of the visual aftermath of 9/11 this is an excellent book. A literary triumph. It's short length is not a detriment. My only criticism is the off-hand introduction of some very relevant emails that David sent to friends at the time. I feel they could have been incorporated a little more seamlessly.

Fair point about the emails, by the way. As much as they illustrate the more raw, unedited version of my reactions to events and scenes, I never did manage to blend them in a wholly satisfying way.

And finally, Carolyn Steele brings all her experience with trauma to bear in a very attentive and lengthy analysis of my book. I won't reproduce the entire thing here, but if you're interested, check out the link to Carolyn's blog. I will, however, quote some of my favourite parts of her astonishingly empathic response, many of which choked me up, quite frankly:

[T]he traveller in question is a poet, a philosopher and somewhat acquainted with trauma and you have a book that transcends genres such as ‘memoir’ or ‘travelogue’ and even ‘poetry’. It is simply unique.

As the narrative takes us deep into Manhattan, the city of New York becomes a character in its own right. Someone you become part of, convulsed with unfathomable grief.

One damaged soul who comprehends the need for repetition, the importance  of outing the trauma, more than most of us…gave the city the only gift he had. When he mentions a sense of shame for having been a tourist in those terrible days, we realise that his processing is not yet done. One day the author will understand that he was the right person in the right place, giving of himself for people who had no more idea than he did why he was there.

I cannot tell you that you will enjoy this book, but I can tell you that you won’t regret reading it. And that you will reread it more than once.

This book is a piece of poetry and a testament to what it means to be human.

See? I defy anyone to not be moved by her words. The bonus is that Carolyn also interviewed me for a podcast to be broadcast soon (watch this space for developments) and if you can get past my annoying Anglo-Canuck accent, you will almost certainly be afforded more insight into the experiences surrounding that maddening little book (and its upcoming sequel).

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also writes for Indies Unlimited and BlergPop. Be sure to check out his work there if you like what you read here.

Sunday
May062012

Short Story Accepted

I had my short story "Unquiet Sleepers" accepted by May December Publications third anthology of debut zombie writers First Time Dead, Volume 3.

Indies Unlimited were also kind enough to announce it today:

Indies Unlimited staff writer David Antrobus is happy to announce that his short story “Unquiet Slumbers” has been accepted for inclusion in the May December Publications new horror anthology First Time Dead, Volume 3. The book is now available for Kindle on Amazon.com.

David has written numerous short stories which loosely belong to the horror/dark fiction genre, but this is his first published zombie story. It is the post-apocalyptic tale of a suburban soccer mom who gets the virus and, while featuring the familiar gut-churning tropes required by fans of zombie fiction, the slow disintegration of her world is surprisingly lyrical and poignant, yet still gory.

As that writeup alludes to, I wanted to write a zombie story that doesn't simply wallow in the gore—although it does that, too, of course—but that locates the bleak heart of something I've always believed about this genre; that there's a deep sadness at the core of it, that the slow leaching of humanity from its victims is both harrowing and steeped in sorrow. So, as fun as it was to play with the idea of a zombie suburbanite/soccer mom (somebody said I should have titled it "ZILF"), I wanted to move slowly away from the goofy premise and explore those more sober and sobering aspects.

If you get around to reading it, let me know whether I succeeded, or just your thoughts on the story in general. It's not often I say this about anything I write, especially fiction, but I am fairly proud of that one.

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also writes for Indies Unlimited and BlergPop. Be sure to check out his work there if you like what you read here.

Sunday
May062012

Alicia

At first, we are voyeurs here on the street, chilled, reluctant.

Inside, Alicia is tapping polyrhythms with her broken nails on the display case, her eyes oscillating wildly, like those of a malfunctioning robot. The beaded change purse she pulls from the pocket of her torn flannel shirt is open like a bodysnatcher’s mouth. Someone asks her if she’s being helped. She glowers, says nothing, takes out a matchbook from the same breast pocket and reads the scrawl inside its fold, her other hand tucking a stray wisp of dirty blonde hair behind her stud-and-hoop ravaged ear.

She mimes a phone, thumb and pinkie aggressively extended, but is rebuffed by bovine looks. Her eyes roll like faraway thunder. Her fleeting anger is a tiny lightning stab. It is there, then it is gone.

But they see it, these bakery workers, just as we enter the store.  A small neat man appears, summoned from the labyrinthine recesses, from its brain department as opposed to its hands department. Ah, permission. A flint sparks in her eyes. Powder clouds of fine-ground sugar and flour float in the air. The aroma is as visceral as a diva’s swan song, powerful, melodramatic, tragically sweet.

However this plays out, frosted icing or lime filling, Alicia-baby will dine on something this afternoon.

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also writes for Indies Unlimited and BlergPop. Be sure to check out his work there if you like what you read here.