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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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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.

Monday
Feb132012

Breaking the Rules

As much as we sometimes pretend we don’t, we love rules. Even the most maverick of writers is receptive to those clever, memorable guidelines, if only to know what to kick against. And the reality is that rules for writing—as for life, let’s face it—are not only abundant but are bewilderingly contradictory.

See, the thing about rules for writing is that, kind of like a yin-yang symbol, they always contain cute little seeds of their exact opposites. Witness the exhortations—from such authoritative guides as Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style and George Orwell’s Politics and the English Language—to err on the side of simplicity, to avoid in particular the pretensions of Latin- and Greek-based language in favour of good old Anglo-Saxon English (put simply and memorably: “avoid fancy words”). Plain common sense advice about plain common sense English, right? Well, yes and no. Outside the secret and no-doubt sordid fantasies of botanists everywhere, Orwell’s example of a snapdragon is still in no danger of being superseded by antirrhinum almost seventy years after he expressed his reservations. Similarly, ameliorate and clandestine have their place, even if we are more often inclined to use help and secret.

The thing is, contained within this particular dictum is a received wisdom that is equally worth challenging: that pretension is somehow wrong or unseemly.

Personally, I’d trust a style guide that said something along these lines: “if your intuition (sorry, “gut” if you love the Anglo-Saxonisms) tells you that what you’re currently writing requires some pretension, then don’t shy away from it”. The music of the Ramones was every bit a product of artifice as anything produced by Van der Graaf Generator. And there may well be moments during your writing (for pacing, for rhythmic or melodic reasons) that require the risk of spouting the dreaded purple prose. In which case, I say go for it. Life is risk. Hell, writing is risk. Let the rules take a back seat once in a while. After all, playing soccer in just the penalty area is called “training”; you use the whole field when you play the actual game. Or, more in keeping with my tortured metaphor, that guitar you coveted and saved for and so proudly brought home in its sleek black case happens to have six strings and twenty frets, so why only noodle around on the top E string and the lower three frets every time? You didn’t buy it just to stroke its feminine curves, did you? (Don’t answer that.) And I haven’t even started on effects pedals…

I’m not saying go all Yngwie Malmsteen here—a sweaty blur, shredding ’til your fingers bleed, hands like demented octopi—but the odd flourish might not go amiss. Of course, you’re not Jimi or Jimmy and your attempts will probably fall flat, but what if by reaching, by risking overreaching, you unveil something in your style you weren’t aware of, a capacity for lyricism or poetry, a music previously unsung? I’d say that’s worth the risk, wouldn’t you? Especially since, by baring our souls so publicly, we’re already making complete fools out of ourselves anyway.

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A version of this article first appeared on IndiesUnlimited on February 10, 2012. also writes for Indies Unlimited and BlergPop. Be sure to check out his work there if you like what you read here.

 

Tuesday
Jan312012

On Board at Indies Unlimited

Uh oh, what have I done? Today, the website Indies Unlimited officially announced that they're finally at the barrel-scraping point and have clearly run out of decent indie authors to ensnare in their evil global-domination schemes. Against all commonsense advice, they went and "recruited" me—if by "recruited" you mean "drove up beside me in a van with blacked-out windows, threw a burlap sack over my head and dragged me to an undisclosed location that smells of cordite and sourmash whiskey".

But on a serious note, one glance at the range of talent and sheer Hollywood charisma of that staff team makes me feel honoured to be accepted among their ranks. I could call them out one by one, but I don't want to embarrass them. Suffice to say they are indeed a great bunch of writers... but more importantly, they give every indication of being great human beings, too. Well, everyone other than that Mader character. You gotta watch that one, he's crafty.

On a day on which the Guardian features an article predicting a correction in the market for e-publishing, it's even more essential to believe that independent writers can make their mark and achieve success on their own merits, so I thank Stephen Hise and the Indies Unlimited crew (motley and worrisomely shady as they are) for this opportunity to prove that quality and community can and will attract enough readers to make this whole experiment viable. Except "experiment" is too cold a word. These are passionate people behind their casual, urbane façades, and as funny and warm as they are once you break the ice (bribes and flattery usually help), they take writing seriously. Seriously enough to abduct people on the street. And threaten them with something that had a lot of little wires attached. Yes, that serious.

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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.

Tuesday
Jan242012

Punk Fire or Indie Schmindie?

Inspired by this excellent post by fellow traveller Dan Mader, I've been doing some thinking about what it means to be an indie author in relation to this new publishing milieu within which we find ourselves.

On numerous occasions, Dan and I have discussed the parallels with the punk rock movement of the late 1970s (in the UK and in New York) and beyond (post-punk in the UK, hardcore and straight edge in the United States) leading to "alternative" music in the '90s. And they are indeed striking; with the long tail of minimally talented yet enthusiastically raw artists, the do-it-yourself improvisation, unrealistic expectations and the overall lack of financial success, the slightly dodgy/murky concept of not selling out, of "authenticity", even the sense that the rough-hewn fanzines of old have been replaced by blogs... all of which has contributed to a sense of deja vu for anyone who has been steeped in both cultures particularly.

But here is something else. If you extend the history of punk and conflate it (perhaps somewhat unfairly, although a case can certainly be made) with the musical genre known ominously as "indie", things are perhaps not so cut and dried. Indie as it was once identified, particularly in the UK in the '80s, referred to music that was not signed to a major label, literally to an independent label. And with innovative labels such as Factory, 4AD, and Creation, the music was rich, inventive and became a genuine alternative to the more "mainstream" rock and pop of the day. But something else happened. Soon, the term "indie" was being applied to a style of music and not to the commercial environs of the labels themselves. Mostly rooted in post-punk, it made its way across the Atlantic until, today, indie is a full-fledged genre unto itself... although here lies the problem. It's kind of stale. It's kind of rhythmically-challenged. It's kind of snobby. It's kind of soulless... or precious... or, worse, one-dimensional and gutless. So much so that some have taken to calling it Indie Schmindie to denote a very marginalized, very vanilla, very bland type of prettified ephemera.

So, here's the dilemma. If you even partially agree with my somewhat broad and no-doubt slightly unfair characterizations above, you might begin to worry about how it may all play out for indie authors. We're still at the punk rock stage, in which the initial euphoria and electric uncertainty of everyone being a producer and not merely a consumer is still palpable. A buzzing awareness of possibilities. Some dream of making it big, of being the Clash, if you will. Others just enjoy the sense of belonging while hoping to find the right audience. Now, Dan's post and my own sentiments fall neatly into the latter camp. Making it big is still a lottery. Playing for others, then returning the favour the very next night by showing up and watching those same folks don their metaphorical Strat copies and studded, zippered bondage pants, is the fun part... but where will it end? If it ends all stunted and ghettoized while the same tiny minority make off with pretty much all the pie, we'll have failed, no matter how much fun we may have had for a time. Preaching to the choir, writing only for other writers, however much it can be a blast, may be a good look but is not a sustainable one.

Epublishing should be a great leveller. The problem with that is nothing stays level, not for long. And in some ways, that's okay. A great many bands played to ten or fifteen friends in their garage and were pretty fucking awful, and so let's be honest here: many indie writers can't actually write, which is a pretty big handicap when you come right down to it. But where does that leave those of us with some degree of talent? Can the market sustain a Clash and a Pistols (Konrath, Hocking?) while also maintaining some level of success for the Slits and Wire and Gang of Four and UK Subs, not to mention the tens of thousands of equally worthy yet far lesser-known artists still?

The danger is, we'll be drowned in an oversaturated market in which everyone and his or her dog believes the gravy train is pulling into the station. Okay, excruciating mixed metaphors aside, it's all very well buying into a new and exciting landscape of DIY innovation, but if we descend into a future of mediocrity amid an environment in which the Amazons/Apples of the world simply replace the often exploitive practices of the Big Six publishing houses, and only a tiny handful of artists grow rich, what will we have gained? A sense of fun and cameraderie at the expense of a career. Because, really, why can't good writers plough those talents and that energy into an actual career? Why do they, or we, not deserve that?

None of which is a criticism of those very aspects which inspired this post. Like Dan, I am grateful to be surrounded by such positive and talented people, who often give of themselves for the pure joy of paying it forward and helping their peers. I simply hope that each and every one of them finds some reward over and above the satisfaction of belonging to a community, rich as that can be in and of itself.

I suspect fire in the belly—the fervor of innovation, the ardor of love—will be key ingredients in that goal.

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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.

Friday
Jan202012

Story Contest

My story immediately below (see previous blog entry) won the most recent Indies Unlimited "Writing Exercise with a Twist" contest. It's a creepy little piece of flash horror fiction based on KS Brooks' enigmatic photograph and the theme of insomnia. We were limited to 250 words, and boy did I discover how strictly we were limited (ironic for a site with that name), and for which I am now very thankful, as it forced me to hone it, whittle away at the verbiage, and discover the shape within. Not a pleasant shape, but a shape all the same.

Each winner of this contest will be published in an ebook at the end of the calendar year, so it is very satisfying and I would like to express my gratitude to Stephen Hise for his apparently unlimited (ha, that word again!) energy and continued support for independent authors.

Thanks to everyone who voted.