Search
Browse
  • 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.

Networked Blogs

 

 

Tweets
Places I Hang Out
Wednesday
Apr042012

The End of the World Playlist

At first glance, Dan O'Brien's The End of the World Playlist is yet another short, sharp, vicious zombie tale packed with everything you expect from the genre; perhaps short on depth, but a fun carnival ride of post-apocalyptic gore. Yet look closer and there's more. There's plenty of slick and frankly hilarious dialogue, for example, fleshing out (sorry) characters who also reveal more depth than initial impressions might suggest. Which is essential, because the reader needs to feel empathy for the handful of human characters up against an increasingly frantic and numerous undead horde they've previously coexisted with, albeit anxiously.

As a huge music fan, I have to confess to being disappointed in the cursory nod this novella gives toward the title. I am admittedly being quite literal, but it's alluded to fairly early on then pretty much abandoned as a concept thereafter, which feels like a missed opportunity to tie this fast-paced story into a potentially rewarding conceptual framework. But that's a small quibble. The story moves fast, as do these zombies (yes, the slow/fast zombie dichotomy is once again highlighted by the speed of these dead folks, which I only mention as a warning to those purists who oppose this more recent, accelerated branch of the mythology). O'Brien provides just enough detail to allow the reader to care for the handful of well-drawn characters before unleashing the inevitable mayhem. The rare moments of reflection, flashes of what we've lost, mere sparks in a dark cellar, are all the more poignant for that.

Minor kudos and criticism aside, this is above all a well-written, fun(ny) and engaging novella with (it's becoming increasingly important to note) less of the editing issues of many independently published contributions to this overcrowded genre.

More 3 and a half stars, really, but that's not a bad thing. I'd read more of this type of stuff from O'Brien.

*     *     *     *     *

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

Thursday
Mar292012

Entitled

Oh my god, okay, so there’s this thing, right? Did you hear? There are these people, just ordinary people like you and me except they got lucky because there’s this revolution going on and people are bulldozing the libraries all across America right now and taking apart those Barns’n'No-Bull stores or whatever they’re called, which is, ha, funny, because it’s like that saying about locking the barn door after… anyway, I gotta tell you this, it’s so cool, and you’ll never believe it, but back to these lucky folks, one of them is called Joe Konehead and there’s even this really young chick named Amanda Hawking (I think she’s the little sister of that handicapped spacegeek with the creepy computer voice), and they heard about this new book revolution, only they’re not books, they’re eBooks and, oh my god, LOL, this is so amazing, you gotta keep listening. So they made, like, more money than Jesus at a Casino thanks to these iKindles and MaxiPads and all the other eReaders that all these big companies are now making especially for the eBooks, and you know, here’s the thing, you can now go sell your eBooks on them since it’s so easy, anyone can do it…

What’s that? No, you don’t have to be like Walt Shakespeare or even that Dan Vinci & Co dude, you know? Seriously. You don’t need to worry about the writing. It’s not like your high school English class any more, with all those Mice and Mockingbirds and a bunch of hillbillies with weird names like Spartacus Lynch who sound like totally uncool racists, lol—you know, those classes everyone knew were stupid and wouldn’t help you in life in any way what-so-ever. No, it’s all done for you in the software, now, and you get it all formatted for you when you upchuck it to Amazon or whatever, or this other website called Crushwords that literally crushes up all your words and spits them out of an actual meat grinder along with a really helpful manual that you honestly don’t really need to read, and it’s so cool… only you don’t actually see it, it’s all done behind the scenes… although I don’t exactly know how they separate the bits of shredded paper from the ground beef afterward… but moving on…!

What’s that? Editing? Nah, Squishwords and Amazon do all that for you, you don’t need to bother with it because you’ll be busy rounding up new words to join together for your next book because it’s all about mo-men-tum and you also have to market it, so what you do is you get someone to help you set up a blog on WordLess.org or Booger.com or whatever and you don’t need to do much, just put in one of those blue lines you click on which takes you to where your eBook is selling like hot, juicy, word-drenched cakes as you watch the money pouring into your PlayPen account while you sign books and look awesome and adorable having your photo taken and shit.

By the way, you guys, I like the word eBooks because the “e” part sounds like the noise inside my head, you know? Eeeeeeeeeeee. LOL!

Oh, and here’s a big secret I’m gonna tell you, because I’m going to wet my Lululemons if I don’t: all you gotta do is write about vampires. Or dragons. And guess what? You shouldn’t make them too scary because you have to write for most people, who are all pretty much major wusses, but here’s the really neat part… ha, ha… you make them fall in love. Just like it would happen in real life.

Huh? Story? No, you don’t need to worry, every book ever written has basically one story line. Boy meets girl. Boy loses girl. Boy gets girl again. Or here, if you want to be really clever, just reverse the sexes, lol! See? I’m brilliant! Anyway, just follow that formula and give your characters super-awesome names… oh, and find a really bright, sappy cover, don’t forget, because you need to be noticed in the marketplace, because since those first lucky folks struck gold, a whole boatload of others have joined the bandwagon… isn’t that typical?… and because of that, we have to stand out from the crowd by yelling “buy my book!” louder and louder, and by going to all our friends on Facebook and Twitter and telling them to download our stuff or they’re not even our friends really they’re just jealous… LOL!… and don’t forget to drop into as many groups as you can and tell complete strangers on the internet they better buy your book because it’s the only way anyone will notice it otherwise. No, no, they won’t get upset, it’s called Cap-it-al-ism and we’re adjusting to the marketplace. Everyone’s doing it.

Because, see, we’re undies, got it? That stands for undependent because we’re not dependent on the old record companies any more, that’s what I read on Mushable once, that Numbster changed the whole ballgame and now these Random Penguins and Simon Shyster types are wondering what happened while the undie revolution literally killed off all the literary agents and editors after torturing them with horrible mangled grammar and buried them in a warehouse in Brooklyn I think where all the mob bosses go to mourn the death of the Big Six, which is what they call all the old Sicilian families now they’ve lost the publishing wars. Or, I might have got that slightly wrong, but you get the gist, yeah?

It’s a whole new world and we can make our fame and fortune on the internet, better even than Snooks and The Situation because this is post-TV, baby, this is the newest, sparkliest thing.

Ha, all those people ever since high school calling me a bubblehead or a dialtone, you watch me get the last laugh, me an author and everything. ‘Cos yeah, I’m not even a writer, I’m gonna be an author, which means I am like the next level of writer, like when you go up a level in that War of the Worldscraft game my little brother plays, ROFL. Hey, wasn’t Tom Cruise in that movie? Anyway, you can eat my dust, Tom loser Cruise because I am going to set up my tent right there on the red carpet and the paparazzi will be begging me for upskirts of my sparkly vajayjay but I’m no headshaving wackjob like Brit became and they won’t ever get them, just the promise of them, because the secret is to milk it, and this chick’s fame is gonna last a lot longer than some stupid 15 minutes like that tennis player Andy Warthog used to say. I mean, think about it. Writers… sorry, authors…stay famous way longer than movie stars, even. Shakespeare, who I already mentioned, has been well known now for well over a hundred years, going back even before DiCaprio was born! Think about that! Ohmygod, ohmygod, so excited! *Claps enthusiastically*

*     *     *     *     *

A version of this post appeared on Indies Unlimited on March 23, 2010. also writes for Indies Unlimited and BlergPop. Be sure to check out his work there if you like what you read here.

Saturday
Mar242012

Mr. Glamour Review

Having also read Richard Godwin's Apostle Rising very recently, I arrived at the soon-to-be-released Mr. Glamour in what I term the "Godwin mindset"; essentially, primed for a police procedural with significant elements of fairly graphic psychological and visceral horror. I wasn't disappointed.

First, though, allow me to dispense with a couple of negatives: the brave new world of independent authors is plagued with what I consider shoddy or inadequate presentation, whereby simple formatting and proofreading, let alone deeper line editing and grammatical issues, are either given a cursory glance or dispensed with altogether. Unfortunately, independent publishers can also find themselves beset with similar problems. While Mr. Glamour improves on Apostle Rising in that regard (in the latter, a pub named The Crooked Key inexplicably becomes The Crooked Fork in one scene), there still remain those irritating typos and misused homophones (cheap/cheep, horde/hoard) that take you immediately out of the narrative. While these issues are not the train wreck endemic to a certain percentage of indie authors, they remain a distraction, albeit one significantly improved upon in the interim between Godwin's two novels.

So, the even better news? Godwin's writing has grown tighter. Don't get me wrong; I enjoyed Apostle Rising, but there were a few flabby sections and the occasional lack of focus. In truth, the novel could have been shorter. Not so Mr. Glamour—which, in its way, is every bit as nasty and sadistic as its predecessor, yet more honed, with much of the fat sliced away. Godwin has sharpened his storytelling edges from those of a well-stropped straight razor to something more akin to the fabled samurai sword that can slice a human hair lengthways. Perhaps that is overselling it, but the relentlessness of the narrative has improved markedly from something that was very good in the first place. At this rate, Godwin has a Silence of the Lambs in him.

Sharing the male/female dynamic of the cop team with his debut, Mr. Glamour takes more twists and turns with the psychology of the killer this time. And not only the killer: these particular examples of the law enforcement side of the equation—Flare and Steele in place of Castle and Stone (could there be a message or clue in their very names?)—are themselves every bit as nuanced and flawed as their adversaries. Okay, perhaps not quite as flawed, but still...

I mentioned sadism earlier, which in the context of such novels is by no means a negative criticism; and this particular sadism is earned every step of the way by the twisted pathology of the antagonist. While not lingering so long on the scenes of literal torture this time around, Godwin has managed to make that leap to the less-is-more school of horror. Again, he doesn't flinch, but he also refuses to leave the camera running throughout, so to speak. Yet the horror doesn't suffer one bit. No, the victims suffer, and so do we the readers, as we find ourselves inside their tormented heads more often.

In short, Godwin has once more created a seamless hybrid of crime and horror novel while retaining some of the dark lyricism, ramping up the atrocities, and tightening both the noose and the narrative, an altogether impressive achievement.

*     *     *     *     *

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

Friday
Mar232012

The Book Was Better

“I just saw the movie, wasn’t a patch on the book.”

If I’d stuffed my face with a deep-fried Mars bar every time I heard this sentiment, I’d probably lose a weigh-in with an elephant seal, have a mouthful of teeth with the average consistency of a sea sponge, and skin the overall texture of pepperoni by now. I’ll bet every last one of us has said something similar, though. Which makes every last one of us a bit weird, really. Not quite stupid, but getting there, you know?

Let me explain my thinking. (I find I have to do that a lot, which says nothing good about me whatsoever.)

It’s actually quite simple. A book is a book. A movie is a movie. And Popeye is what he is… an extremely odd-shaped sailor with a fetish for canned green vegetables.

Seriously, though, “the book was better” has become one of those irksome knee-jerk phrases that are stand-ins for something else entirely. See: “it’s political correctness gone mad!” which actually means “damn, the world doesn’t condone my bigotry any more, so I’ll just have this here tantrum instead”. Or: “I knew them before they were famous” which translates as “I am an unctuous hipster and will drip oily, corrosive scorn on, you know, like, everyone not in the inner circle of me, dude.”

But what do we really mean when we utter this phrase? In a mundane sense, I suppose we mean “this apple is better than this orange”, but if we already prefer apples to oranges, it doesn’t really bear repeating, does it? We could just make that clear once and be done with it: “I am an apple/book person. Not an orange/film person”. End of story. No, I think what is happening is similar to when people say “oh, TV, I don’t bother watching that stuff any more”—a whole slew of assumptions lie barely hidden beneath the surface, not least of which is that certain media are adjudged inferior. My point isn’t to argue whether or not they are, but to lament the smugness of the assumption itself, as if our audience will automatically nod vigorously in agreement every single time.

The complicating factor, I suppose, and one that exposes my metaphor for the flawed and incomplete thing it really is, is that this orange is based on that apple in some elusive way. Which shouldn’t matter—it’s still a freaking orange!—yet somehow, to most of us, it does. Why? Are we incorporating a little of the knew-them-before-they-were-famous hipster vibe alongside an assumption that books are inherently superior to movies? Is it because, even after just over a century, movies are still the upstarts? Are we making that hallowed mistake every generation makes, by deploring the newest and latest medium (whether it be jazz, rock’n'roll, comic books, hip-hop or video games, whatever “the kids” are into) in favour of what we are comfortable with? Whatever it is, I wish we’d stop it. It’s starting to sound like the jerking of ancient knees, a particularly alarming mix of rubbery creak and twangy groan that makes my stomach feel weird. So yeah, stop it. Please?

Okay, look. There are many novels that have been adapted for film for which any qualitative choice is difficult if not impossible. Let me say it again: a movie is not a book and a book is not a movie. One is pretty much entirely text-based and requires the audience to use imagination and comprehension, whereas the other is almost entirely visual and auditory and requires a little of the same two qualities plus something more elusive. One takes eight or nine hours to ingest, while the other takes around two hours. One is largely a solo project; the other a massive team effort. They are both extremely complex in different ways. Sure, they are related, in that they contain narrative arcs and characters and themes and such things, but they are still very different. Just as a movie and a video game are different. Yes, there are convergences, but overall it makes little sense to judge them by the same metrics.

Anyway, because my OCD side loves lists, I am now going to fire off a random group of 30 books, in no particular order, which weren’t better than their movie counterparts, but were simply different. Not better, not worse, different. Like apples. Like oranges. Like Popeye. Like deep-fried Mars bars. Okay, those last things are bad.

1. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl (renamed Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory in the original movie adaptation).
2. The Body by Stephen King (renamed Stand By Me in Rob Reiner’s film version)
3. The Shining by Stephen King
4. 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke
5. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick (renamed Blade Runner in Ridley Scott’s classic film)
6. Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh
7. The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
8. Psycho by Robert Bloch
9. Atonement by Ian McEwan
10. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien (combine Peter Jackson’s trilogy for the comparison)
11. Mystic River by Dennis Lehane
12. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
13. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
14. One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
15. On the Beach by Nevil Shute
16. Deliverance by James Dickey
17. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
18. The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris
19. Children of Men by P.D. James
20. Misery by Stephen King
21. No Country For Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
22. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë (the best film being the 1939 version)
23. The World According to Garp by John Irving
24. The Godfather by Mario Puzo
25. The Dead by James Joyce
26. Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
27. The Hours by Michael Cunningham
28. Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon
29. American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
30. The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

Note the mix of classic lit, contemporary lit and genre fiction… No real reason, just note it… Okay, I admit it, I was going to make a great point there and completely forgot what it was. Cough. Moving on… Unlike the occasional glaring piece of wrongness, such as The Bonfire of the Vanities or Moby Dick, not one of these film versions is significantly inferior, or even inferior at all, some being arguably superior. Certainly my point stands that you can make a case for either incarnation. An argument can also be made, based on a closer study of these successes, perhaps, that a film—recognizing itself as a different animal entirely—may often work better if it doesn’t try too hard to replicate the source material.

And now, since I’ve only included works with which I’m familiar in both mediums, feel free to add, in the comments section below, the many I’ve overlooked.

*     *     *     *     *

A version of this post appeared on Indies Unlimited on March 16, 2012. also writes for Indies Unlimited and BlergPop. Be sure to check out his work there if you like what you read here.

Friday
Mar162012

The Horror... The Horror...

“Horror… Horror has a face… and you must make a friend of horror.” Colonel Kurtz, Apocalypse Now

You’d think that horror would be one of the easiest of genres within which to write: create a protagonist who is either extremely likeable or go for the opposite, a character deserving of some particularly overdue and nasty payback; either invent or import a monster from Familiar Horror Trope Land (sparkly or not, preferably the latter); bring them together in some unexpected location and everything gets all squishy and liquidized and unpleasant and the audience members lose all control of their bodily functions and curse your parents… except that’s not necessarily what happens at all. Horror is hard to write. Okay, no, I just lied. Horror is easy to write, but good horror is hard to write.

Turns out you end up with a lot more decisions than you thought: do you go with quiet or splatter, traditional or transgressive, supernatural or psychological, gritty realism or more fanciful and fantastic? And that’s only the start. There are questions about suspense, how to build it, sustain it, let it go for a while, bring it back shrieking with ropes of blood-flecked drool and sheer malevolence (that’s another thing: beware overwriting; horror as a genre is particularly susceptible). Or endings. Tragic endings are more acceptable in horror than in most fiction, obviously, but does your story earn the especially awful nihilism it culminates in? I mean, what on earth did Frank Darabont think he was doing when he gave Stephen Kings “The Mist” that ending? You can’t give what is after all a solid pulp B-monster-movie, played for some comic moments, the existential, Kafkaesque, sheer dismal bleakness of that ending. I mean, come on… sorry, got sidetracked there. Ha. And anyway, film is a whole ‘nother area outside of our jurisdiction, thankfully. Point being, this shit gets complicated.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. When you picked up your metaphorical Sharpie to write, you were thinking along the lines of something garish, with simple, bold lines, like a Saturday morning cartoon with scares, a largely fun carnival ride of the mind. It’s like you thought to yourself, I’ll just go watch Wile E Coyote and Roadrunner—how taxing can that be?—but you somehow forgot about the acid you dropped earlier and now the plight of this desolate, skinny canine with the gaunt, desperate face is making you dig your fingers disconcertingly deep into your own face and weep uncontrollably even before he pulls back the ominously creaking arm on that ACME catapult. And then… Every. Single. Horrible. Creak. Sounds. Like. The. Irrevocable. Closing. Of. A. Heavy. Crypt. Door…

But enough of William Shatner’s bizarre vocal mannerisms. The point I’m trying to make is that each choice reveals another level or layer, and so on, until you wish you’d never started this horror writing lark and decided to tackle something more simple… like calculus… rendered in Farsi… suspended on an inverted treadmill… over a nest of squirming pit vipers… while balancing a copy of The Collected Works of H.P. Lovecraft on your elbow… while solving a minor border dispute between two irritable Central American states.

So as the great—yet admittedly insane—Colonel Kurtz said, you must make a friend of horror. You must learn its mannerisms, its idiosyncrasies, its rhythms and patterns, winks and nods. Its, ha, heart of darkness (God, I annoy myself sometimes). Do not assume you know what makes it tick until you have read a significant number of the greats: H.P. Lovecraft, Bram Stoker, Mary Shelley, Edgar Allan Poe, Robert Bloch, Ray Bradbury, Helen Fielding, Richard Matheson, Ramsey Campbell, John Farris, Peter Straub, Stephen King, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Clive Barker, Poppy Z Brite, Joe R. Lansdale, etc. All joking aside, you need to respect the genre in order to have a chance of writing horror well. Which is not a given. It’s no accident the horror genre has been referred to more than once as the red-headed stepchild of genre fiction. But, unless you’re out-and-out spoofing it, you need to. That’s basically step one.

And this is a mere taster of what you can expect if you’re damn fool enough to try your hand at writing horror fiction. Over the next few posts, I’ll explore further steps that will lead you to some unexpected places, both in the outside world and in your own increasingly demented head. But let me end here with one particularly notable banana skin. One word: bathos. If you don’t know it, look it up and we’ll wait for you… *hums the theme music from Top Gun for some odd reason* Done? Okay. Bathos will kill your story, and you will never live down a tale that builds incredible, heart-pounding tension, no matter how deftly or skilfully written, only for the characters to be confronted near the end by—say—a were-hedgehog or a vampire koala. There are some things that will never, ever be frightening. While there may be artistry and prowess in teasing out something disquieting about a bird bath or an old blackboard eraser, for example, you will never squeeze a drop of fear out of a garlic press or a beer coaster. Not even if you make them sparkly.

*     *     *     *     *

A version of this post appeared on Indies Unlimited on March 9, 2012. also writes for Indies Unlimited and BlergPop. Be sure to check out his work there if you like what you read here.