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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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Thursday
Mar082012

What is this Kinship of Which You Speak? Pt. 1

It occurred to me recently, in one of those sudden, sobering facepalm moments, that here I have this blog all dedicated to writing and everything, and yet almost twenty posts and three months in, I have yet to revisit the book I mentioned in my opening post. In other words, my own book. In other words, I'm a bit of an idiot.

The thing is, it's actually hard for me to talk about my book. As I mentioned back then, I am currently working on its sequel, but the entire decade-long episode surrounds a kernel of such genuine pain that I rarely express or even visit it. In fact, you can see it in my face in the embedded photo (wow, where does the time go?). The sequel itself is not going particularly well, either, for slightly different reasons. In fact, personal and darkly precious as they are—black pearls formed around gritty irritants—a part of me will be very relieved to get these two books behind me, so I can concentrate on lighter fare... such as disturbing, transgressive and/or graphic horror fiction. Yeah, I know, that sounds like a joke, but it's actually not.

I don't mean those books are bad. Not at all. I think Dissolute Kinship is a very decent short book, in fact, and I have every reason to believe its follow-up will be equally good, albeit a tad less redemptive. It's just that I've lived them now and they feel a little like millstones... like the haunted past... and I now want to escape some of the darkness and breathe a little.

So let me try to explain why I was in the predicament in the first place. I once worked with damaged kids. When I say damaged, I suppose I mean "abused and neglected and marginalized youth", in the jargony parlance of our official mandate. These are inadequate and even glib terms when describing lives that have barely gotten off the ground, lives that have only just woken from the sleep that comes before life and have already found themselves blighted by some of the worst afflictions of the human condition: addiction, poverty, cruelty, sexual predation, the vast indifference of the wider world.

My job on the streets was to be available to the kids who haunted the arcades and alleyways in case they needed and (more crucially) asked for services, and to advocate relentlessly for them once they did. I've never felt such a weighty responsibility. We would wrestle with the "system" (loosely, the government agencies centred around social services, education, law enforcement, etc.) and sometimes provide the voice for an individual child that pain or anger had silenced, however temporarily.

The youth on the street knew we were there, knew what we offered, and by no means did all of them access our services. But they knew. Which was sometimes enough. We were safe adults, usually predictable in our movements (deliberately so) and they knew where to find us. Even if it was to hit us up for a couple quarters to play Mortal Kombat.

Over time, we became street fixtures ourselves, and this is where trouble can start.

_____________________

Okay, this is getting too long for a single blog post, so I'm going to split it into two parts.

Click for Part Two.

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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.

Monday
Mar052012

Smashwords Read An Ebook Week

My book is available for free as part of the Smashwords Read An Ebook Week promotion, as from now until March 10. To download a copy, go here, and fill your boots.

 

 

 

 

 Or, if that doesn't work....

Friday
Mar022012

Ten Endings

I want to talk about endings. How important they are, obviously; but more because I simply want to share some of my favourites. A lazy post, in a way, but perhaps a fun or enjoyable one. I love a well-crafted passage of writing, wherever it occurs in a book, and most who love language would probably concur. Yet more satisfying and occasionally beautiful still are those final lines of a novel that both summon and summarize the themes and rhythms of the entire narrative in a handful of incredibly wrought, startling, sorrowful exquisite, elegiac sentences.

Some quotes stand alone, gorgeous synecdoches; others require the full context of the preceding novel. No matter. Beauty is beauty, and in my own writing I use these as perhaps unattainable benchmarks for how I want my language to develop and move throughout a piece. I say unattainable, because for me a sublime failure is still more interesting than a bland success. If I had written anything even approaching the brilliance of any of these, I might just retire happy… or not. Yeah, probably not. I offer these without commentary or void even of my usual lame attempts at humour. Savour them and please add your own favourites in the comments section.

(It ought to go without saying, really, but here there be spoilers!)

1. “Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.” — J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

2. “Then there are more and more endings: the sixth, the 53rd, the 131st, the 9,435th ending, endings going faster and faster, more and more endings, faster and faster until this book is having 186,000 endings per second.” — Richard Brautigan, A Confederate General from Big Sur

3. “Everything had gone right with me since he had died, but how I wished there existed someone to whom I could say that I was sorry.” — Graham Greene, The Quiet American

4. “We were alone with the quiet day, and his little heart, dispossessed, had stopped.” — Henry James, The Turn of the Screw

5. “He fits himself around her, her silk pyjamas, her scent, her warmth, her beloved form, and draws closer to her. Blindly, he kisses her nape. There’s always this, is one of his remaining thoughts. And then: there’s only this. And at last, faintly, falling: this day’s over.” — Ian McEwan, Saturday

6. “Listen. Slide the weight from your shoulders and move forward. You are afraid you might forget, but you never will. You will forgive and remember. Think of the vine that curls from the small square plot that was once my heart. That is the only marker you need. Move on. Walk forward into the light.” — Barbara Kingsolver, The Poisonwood Bible

7. “So in America when the sun goes down and I sit on the old broken-down river pier watching the long, long skies over New Jersey and sense all that raw land that rolls in one unbelievable huge bulge over to the West Coast, and all that road going, all the people dreaming in the immensity of it, and in Iowa I know by now the children must be crying in the land where they let the children cry, and tonight the stars’ll be out, and don’t you know that God is Pooh Bear? the evening star must be drooping and shedding her sparkler dims on the prairie, which is just before the coming of complete night that blesses the earth, darkens all rivers, cups the peaks and folds the final shore in, and nobody, nobody knows what’s going to happen to anybody besides the forlorn rags of growing old, I think of Dean Moriarty, I even think of Old Dean Moriarty the father we never found, I think of Dean Moriarty.” — Jack Kerouac, On The Road

8. “I lingered round them, under that benign sky;  watched the moths fluttering among the heath, and hare-bells; listened to the soft wind breathing through the grass; and wondered how anyone could ever imagine unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth.” — Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights

9. “Hill House itself, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.” — Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House

10. “It had ceased raining in the night and he walked out on the road and called for the dog. He called and called. Standing in that inexplicable darkness. Where there was no sound anywhere save only the wind. After a while he sat in the road. He took off his hat and placed it on the tarmac before him and he bowed his head and held his face in his hands and wept. He sat there for a long time and after a while the east did gray and after a while the right and godmade sun did rise, once again, for all and without distinction.” — Cormac McCarthy, The Crossing

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A version of this post appeared on Indies Unlimited on February 24, 2012. also writes for Indies Unlimited and BlergPop. Be sure to check out his work there if you like what you read here.

Monday
Feb202012

The Three Rs - Rules of Riting Revisited

Illustration: Andrzej KrauzeSo, after flirting with anarchy in my last Indies Unlimited blog post, I’m now going to continue to obsess about rules, just like that lady who didth protest too much.

In my defence, rules are kind of fascinating, even when we disagree with them. I mean, how was it decided, for example, that in the English city of Chester, you can only shoot a Welsh person with a bow and arrow inside the city walls after midnight? Not even sure which part of that rule I disagree with most, especially since it’s apparently okay to shoot a Scotsman with a bow and arrow in York at any time of day or night. Except Sundays. (Oh, that’s alright, then. And no, I promise I’m not making any of this up, you can check.)

But, back on track. My purposes here are to highlight a really cool link, in which the Guardian newspaper, following an excellent response by crime writer Elmore Leonard to a similar request, asked a bunch of accomplished writers to list up to ten “rules of writing” of their own. It really is an impressive list. Now, I could simply point you there and hope you go read them, but not only would this be a very short blog post, but the piece itself is very long, is in two parts, and honestly, even I am not that naive. So instead, I’ll grab a fairly random handful of these rules, and hold them up for inspection. As well as mockery. Okay, not mockery; some sporadic light teasing, perhaps. All done in a spirit of affection, of course.

1. Elmore Leonard: “if it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.”

Hey, Elmore, that sounds a bit like writing to me. What’s that? Uh. Just kidding.

2. Margaret Atwood: “Take a pencil to write with on aeroplanes. Pens leak. But if the pencil breaks, you can’t sharpen it on the plane, because you can’t take knives with you. Therefore: take two pencils.”

I now have an unrequited urge to ask the redoubtable Margaret Atwood if she’s heard of pencil sharpeners. Or mechanical pencils. Or, uh, iPads.

3. Geoff Dyer: “Have regrets. They are fuel. On the page they flare into desire.”

Uh-huh. Nodding my head vigorously if slightly stupidly here. Okay, not a good look. Moving on.

4. Ann Enright: “The first 12 years are the worst.”

Yes. And I would add—in flagrant violation of the entire principle of comparatives versus superlatives—that the next 12 years are also the worst. Face it, it never gets better. And I don’t even think I’m kidding this time.

5. Ann Enright: “Only bad writers think that their work is really good.”

I must like short and punchy, since Ms Enright gets two entries in a row here. And yes, I included this because we all feel hubris sometimes—until hubris grows suddenly weary of being felt and makes a break for it, leaving us alone with our far more familiar companion: crippling self-doubt. Screw you, hubris, we never loved you anyway. Sob.

6. Richard Ford: “Try to think of others’ good luck as encouragement to yourself.”

Good man! The spirit of Indies Unlimited right there. I also enjoy that he follows it up with “Don’t take any s@#$ if you can ­possibly help it,” which achieves a certain balance between gracious and curmudgeonly, one of the more difficult poses to maintain, I’ve found.

7. Esther Freud: “Trust your reader. Not everything needs to be explained. If you really know something, and breathe life into it, they’ll know it too.”

Leave a little mystery, let your readers fill in the gaps. This feels like all-round good advice, like when the Brazilian government encouraged people to pee in the shower.

8. Neil Gaiman: “Write.”

Well, thanks for that, Neil. Must have scratched your noggin a good while before coming up with that one. But wait, hold up, he’s not done. He follows up later—like a drunk sportswriter mixing metaphors—with a slam dunk out of left field right in the top corner…

9. Neil Gaiman: “Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”

I take from this: listen to the instincts of others—at first—but be wary if they then try to help you write the specific story they want to read, and not the story you want to read. Kind of like that initially harmless and even amusing drunk who then proceeds to follow you home from the bar. The one you turn to at some point, growl at in a low yet threatening voice to go write his own story and stop creeping yours. Sure, the metaphor died a little there, but what of it?

10. PD James: “Write what you need to write, not what is currently popular or what you think will sell.”

This. Thank you. More of us need to pass this on. And very much related is Hilary Mantel’s “Write a book you’d like to read. If you wouldn’t read it, why would anybody else? Don’t write for a perceived audience or market. It may well have vanished by the time your book’s ready.” In other words, drop those sparkly-vampire boy-wizards now, you don’t know where they’ve been.

11. Andrew Motion: “Think with your senses as well as your brain.”

Again, succinct. But an invitation to live inside your story, to translate the sights, smells, sounds and textures into words. The real magic of writing. Maybe it takes a poet. And yes, that was an entirely sincere one.

12. Will Self: “You know that sickening feeling of inadequacy and over-exposure you feel when you look upon your own empurpled prose? Relax into the awareness that this ghastly sensation will never, ever leave you, no matter how successful and publicly lauded you become. It is intrinsic to the real business of writing and should be cherished.”

I sense some disturbing similarities between writing and sex here. We could investigate further. Or we could succumb to a probably fortuitous hybrid of wisdom and cowardice and move on…

13. Will Self: “The writing life is essentially one of solitary confinement – if you can’t deal with this you needn’t apply.”

14. Will Self: “Oh, and not forgetting the occasional beating administered by the sadistic guards of the imagination.”

15. Zadie Smith: “Tell the truth through whichever veil comes to hand – but tell it. Resign yourself to the lifelong sadness that comes from never ­being satisfied.”

A basic density being my default mode, even I’m beginning to pick up from the last few examples that writing is probably not the ideal pursuit if your goal in life is, uh, to be happy. Damn. Hmmm. It really is too late, isn’t it?

16. Sarah Waters: “Talent trumps all. If you’re a ­really great writer, none of these rules need apply. If James Baldwin had felt the need to whip up the pace a bit, he could never have achieved the extended lyrical intensity of Giovanni’s Room. Without “overwritten” prose, we would have none of the linguistic exuberance of a Dickens or an Angela Carter. If everyone was economical with their characters, there would be no Wolf Hall . . . For the rest of us, however, rules remain important. And, ­crucially, only by understanding what they’re for and how they work can you begin to experiment with breaking them.”

This comes closest to saying what I’ve been trying to express in my last two posts. It encapsulates that ambivalence with eloquence (ouch, after that particular ornate string of Latinate pretension, I will now be hounded for life by the finger-wagging ghost of William Strunk). But it does. And I would argue that the last clause, encouraging as it does the possibilities inherent in such experiments, may lead a few of us toward that greatness… or at the very least to soar awhile in that rarefied air. While waiting for the inevitable plummet earthwards, no doubt, toward a horribly gruesome crash that will nonetheless have been well earned.

And finally, if only because it’s both funny and annoyingly smartass to point out a paradox, here’s the ultimate (non) rule…

17. Michael Moorcock: “Ignore all proffered rules and create your own, suitable for what you want to say.”

(Seventeen? What kind of number is that? Who makes lists of seventeen? And yes, I did completely make up the word “didth” back there.)

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A version of this article first appeared on Indies Unlimited on February 17, 2012. also writes for Indies Unlimited and BlergPop. Be sure to check out his work there if you like what you read here.

Friday
Feb172012

A Quiet Belief In Darkness

Okay, a couple of reviews I wrote this week for two better-than-decent books I recently read. Don't know why, but I love that opening sentence. Anyway, they're both on Amazon, but I'll reproduce them here.

First up, what is ostensibly a horror collection titled The Dark Is Light Enough For Me, by John Claude Smith:

In a market that is pretty much saturated with the tiredest of horror tropes (vampires, zombies, werewolves), along comes this refreshing debut collection by John Claude Smith. And when I say refreshing, I certainly don't mean "lightweight". The darkness itself, in fact, is very much a constant character in these stories of guilt, hubris, paranoia, abuse, vanity, addiction, desire and depravity.

Many of these stories, though modern, have Lovecraftian antecedents in mood and theme, and if I had to name a more contemporary writer with which to make comparisons, I'd have to say Thomas Ligotti—although, again, with a slightly more modern twist. I don't want to say "gothic" exactly, since that would unfairly typecast these unsettling tales, and they deserve a wider audience than that.

Smith's language is often baroque and inventive, occasionally straying into the ambitious realms in which a scrupulous editor is necessary (and perhaps lacking at times), but any risk of overreaching is admirably offset when compared to the largely anodyne nature of so many contemporary horror clichés. Smith manages to unearth and expose more layers of that deceptively simple term "horror" than most: here, existential dread arrives in unexpected places; disgust and dismay, too. Some of these stories are downright distressing, in fact.

Which is all a convoluted way of saying: buy this book, read it, and be prepared for some serious insomniac unease.

I said "ostensibly" back there as it manages to be something more than straight horror. Anyway, moving on to my second offering, RJ Ellory's A Quiet Belief In Angels.

At first glance, A Quiet Belief In Angels is a coming-of-age crime melodrama with an ameliorating echo of Steinbeck. But if we recall the familiar dictum that truth is stranger than fiction, we can appreciate that RJ Ellory's plot owes at least as much to his own backstory as it does to any lurid dimestore novel. It earns its occasional extravagances, in other words. And it does this in two ways. First, as mentioned, the author's own life has been punctuated by some remarkably similar losses and heartaches as those of his protagonist, Joseph Vaughn. And second, the gentle, lyrical tone of the novel manages to temper and even mask what might otherwise appear ludicrous.

In an interview with fellow author Richard Godwin, Ellory claims there are "two types of novels […] those that you read simply because some mystery was created and you ha[ve] to find out what happened. The second kind of novel [i]s one where you read the book simply for the language itself, the way the author use[s] words, the atmosphere and description. The truly great books are the ones that accomplish both."

Ellory very much accomplishes that difficult synthesis. It's flawed, of course; what isn't? But the balance between the dismaying mystery that emerges from a series of violent child murders in small town 1940s Georgia onwards, and a soft, lush lyricism redolent of the southern landscape itself, is both a satisfying one and a successful one. This is a mystery yet it transcends genre conventions. It is a story of serial killings yet it transcends the police procedural. It is character-driven (Vaughn in particular is a compelling and unorthodox protagonist) yet quietly contemplative. It's a haunted tale, more than anything, a branch of southern gothic with a tragic twist.

Finally, I was also extremely impressed with the deft manner in which an English author manages to capture the authentic atmosphere, speech rhythms and culture of the American south, with very few jarring notes ("launderette" for "laundromat" was one of them, alongside the publisher's puzzling decision to use British style single quotes for dialogue in the Kindle version I had).

That aside, this is a novel well worth your time.

Enjoy them both.

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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.