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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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Entries in music (5)

Saturday
Sep072019

Song in Neon

Alone now in a motel, sitting not so pretty.

How come all the girls I ever loved are named after cities?

 

Geneva, come back to me. Adelaide, are you there?

Madison and Phoenix, Savannah down in Georgia,

You ain’t so bothered now, but did you ever really care?

 

This animal in my throat, you better hope

It never breaks out. Go home, go home,

Go home now, dance and eat yourself sober. 

I ain’t guilty of this impending crime, I won’t

Admit that any damn thing is ever really over.

 

Things and people come, more often they go,

But all of that’s some half-digested ego. 

 

Red light through blinds like rays of blood,

Walls green with sixteen thousand hangovers.

Was anything we laughed or cried at ever any good?

Were we not even friends when I thought we were lovers?

 

A fool back then, more foolish now. I’ll leave in

The quiet hours under night’s impartial cover,

Slip away, not even someone’s memory or even

Credibly alive, though maybe I was never. 

Sunday
May192019

Overdue

Harlan sat on his porch of worn uneven planks that, like our world and Harlan himself, had seen better days. We faced west, the direction that once meant hope. The last glint of sun had slid below the rim of the land and only a narrow yellowish strip gleamed through the dead and silhouetted trees, the darkened plain and the starless sky crushing it like a seam of gold in the ground.

We sat in silence awhile. Until we both seemed to realize something at once.

He was the first to say it. "Well, I'll be damned."

"Yeah."

Cicadas. The Collapse had brought such ornate miseries it seemed almost impudent to include among them the silencing of the insect world, but even on a subliminal level we'd felt their loss keenly. Ghosts come in many forms. Yet here they were. Tentative and hushed, but back in some facsimile of numbers.

"Thought surprise was a thing of the past," said Harlan, and I smiled. 

The scattering of bug sounds stabbed at the silence under gathering clouds we could sense more than see.

A breeze was testing the air, thinking about becoming a gust or two.

"Mr. Cutler… Harlan, I mean?" Dammit. How many times over the years had the old man corrected me?

"Son?"

"I want you to know you've kept me sane all these years since the Collapse."

"I know that, son."

"I know you know it. I just wanted to say it."

"Alright. Good to know. Let's drink to that—"

"Sir, I'll get it—"

"The hell you will. And the name's Harlan. How many times…?"

I lost his words on the gathering breeze as he made his slow hunched way into the cabin to fetch a jar or two of the crude cider he fermented from some unknown organic thing. Roots. Fungus. Squash, maybe. It always tasted about the same as it sounded.

I knew what he was gonna say before he said it.

"Bourbon, young fella?"

I laughed. We sat and drank, pretending it was Wild Turkey 101. Imagination ain't exactly perfect, but it can get you halfway there sometimes.

"They quieted down again," I said. 

"Huh. Mayhap the orchestra's done tuning and the symphony's comin'."

We wouldn't get to find out. Those gusts had turned to squalls and soon great hollerings, and the sky dropped its pent-up grief on everything. I scrambled to join him on the porch, and we waited it out, drinking slow and steady, hearing the mayhem of trees crack and splinter and jettison their bones in the dark.

Felt like wicked black wolves now governed the night.

When it was done, a sadness came over me and I no longer felt like pretending Harlan's concoction was even drinkable and I told him I didn't feel too good and took myself home, a ruder shack about a mile south of his place.

Next afternoon, a mite rueful, I hiked my sleepless and hungover ass back over to the old man's cabin. 

Harlan was gone. Debris covered his porch, but so much of it; dirt and bits of tree and even what looked like old coyote shit. From the storm, I figured. Some of it, at least. But after calling his name awhile and knocking on his door like a fool, I went inside. A layer of dust covered everything, the only places clear of dirt my bootprints behind me. What in the hell? I grabbed a jar of his moonjuice, a sandy film on the outside, a dark layer of silt inside, and sat in his creaky old chair on the porch sipping my friend's godawful liquor, hair of the mangiest of dogs. 

Things in my head didn't feel right. The silence in everything was too loud.

I listened for the bugs again, but nothing. Thought maybe it hadn't been a chorus but a coda after all. 

Sunday
Mar312019

Tragicomic

I wanted to tell you about the ones who watch. But I lost the thread. Look, if you have to begin again, whatever story you were trying to tell is no longer the same story. 

So take two.

They are the ones who watch.

Different ones. They are dirty and silent and sit on the landings of broken motels, and they wait. Surveilling some squandered lot under a pewter sky.

A gravestone is a lozenge. Place it on your hungry tongue and wait while it dissolves. This might take a while. Decades even. Until… ah, death (death you rascal, you holy, holy rogue) is now inside you, as it should be. Let us meet again beneath a canopy of green, smiling and true, and grab my forearm, clasp my augmentations, my fingers as you insist on calling them, as they gesture and curl, urging unity, emblematic of accord, my compañeros, my luminous sisters, my radiant brothers, and wait. 

Sounds arrive, fashioned from beachcombed shells and the gentle breath of a hundred tides. An inner ear and some vulvic sculpture, such tender whorls and devotional twists of flesh. Folds and fabrications. To listen is to love. 

Following the atrocity, you arrive late at night. Unobserved, you think. Sleep a fitful hour or two. Moments after a weak and dilute dawn withdraws in shame, the children flock and sing their crude atonal rhymes beneath your window, and reluctantly you stagger from your bed to witness them. 

"Mister, we know why you're here!" shouts one, because they're the children of the ones who watch. 

But you can't let it go, because comedy, so you call back.

"Of course you do. It's because this tale needs a Greek chorus."

And instead of retreat or bewilderment, the children's grimy faces under the lice-swarming tangles once known as hair crease with such genuine joy that it brings you to your knees, and you begin to sob like a small child yourself, one who first believed the promised gift would be a pony or a trainset before you opened it and found the irradiated post-tsunami ruins of a miniature coastal town, which turned out, stunningly and over time, to be a more apposite bestowal.

Because, mindful now, you watch too.

How funny tragedy is. How hilarious the unfolding of awful things, witnessed from some window with a flower box beneath it, while songbirds gather staves and clefs for abstract nests from which they compose and perform something lovely, even though friends and colleagues plummet in fiery feathered arcs around them. 

It doesn't take a giant rock. Just millions of smaller ones. 

And still we laugh. Because it's funny. There's literally nothing in this world that isn't funny. Otherwise nothing is.

Friday
Apr132012

The Method, Man

Dan Mader’s recent post on Indies Unlimited is pertinent here. In it, he goes all Wu Tang on our collective be-hinds, extolling the benefits of “the crew”, of having a cadre of peers with which to bounce ideas off of, collaborate with, borrow from, represent to, and party alongside till you’re hoarse and vacant. He has a point. Writers are horribly misanthropic for the most part, and that solitary nature can be toxic when left to its own unhealthy and addictive devices. I call it the writer’s paradox: we spend most of our time alone figuring out how to communicate with people. I mean, really. How utterly ludicrous is that?

So, I was trying to come up with this week’s post while in the type of mood Mussolini was probably in around the time those Italian partisans captured him and hung him on a meathook, only a much lower grade version, obviously, and was about to burn more bridges than all the desperate, self-hating trolls in and around Madison County by posting something pointlessly scattershot-angry to be read by pretty much anyone on the internet, which you don’t need me to say would have been astoundingly, mindbogglingly dumb, when I found myself in a conversation with our very own Mader and Brooks (which sounds like a Savile Row tailor shop, or maybe part of a law firm: Mader, Mader and Brooks) and they allowed me to rant for a while as they snuck occasional glances at each other, no doubt wondering how they were going to inform my loved ones, until I eventually ran out of steam and left an awkward, very pregnant silence. Not to mention the mother of all run-on sentences.

After which they suggested with exquisite, admirable patience that I tone down the outrage and frustration slightly, and instead of skewering my formless targets with sharpened words, I sweeten the whole deal with an extended metaphor. For which you, kind reader, will henceforth be the beneficiary.

I love music. I adore music. Music has saved my life. Music has preserved my last shreds of sanity. Music has taught me as much as any other human activity, including books. Like many who become obsessed with consuming something, I eventually tried to produce it. I saved my paper route money and picked up a small Spanish guitar for less than £20 when I was around 12, then a horribly battered Strat copy a year or so later for around the same price, for which a friend of mine built a battery powered 10-Watt amp so we could go annoy woodland creatures by playing distorted versions of “Stairway To Heaven” and “Anarchy in the UK” in bucolic settings (squirrels in particular really dislike the Sex Pistols, I’ve discovered).

As we all pretty much did back then (music lessons were for those middle class kids who owned handkerchiefs and didn’t drink from jars with chips around their rims), I basically taught myself to play—jamming with friends who were better, playing along to my worn records and cassettes, painstakingly rewinding and playing, rewinding and playing… until I noticed something that troubled me.

Basically, I sucked.

Don’t get me wrong, I learned a bunch of chords over the years, a variety of rhythmic strumming patterns (if three constitutes a “variety”) and even some picking techniques (if by “some picking techniques” I mean “two slightly different ways of moving my thumb and forefinger”). I was and remain an enthusiastic guitar player and have spent untold years downloading chords and simple guitar tablature for many of my favourite songs, which I have inflicted on very few bystanders given the sheer volume of songs I’ve managed to collect.

Because it bears repeating: I suck.

My singing voice is reminiscent of the sound you made that time you grated your thumb halfway down to the first knuckle instead of the chunk of fresh Parmesan. Hearing it makes honey badgers think it’s mating season. I’ve set off alarms. Triggered border skirmishes. Oh, and I’m not tone deaf. I can actually sing in key and everything. But then, that’s like saying Justin Bieber can wield a paintbrush. It’s meaningless on too many levels to even bother unpacking. The fact remains, I have the self awareness to realise that my career as a musician was basically stillborn from the moment I tried to play that riff from “Smoke on the Water” alone in my bedroom. I may be a complete idiot but I’m not stupid.

All of which saved me the headache of a lifetime of figuring out what time signatures are, as well as the heartache of telling my special friend back home that the oozing, alarmingly lurid rash in my bathing suit area was from sitting too long on hot, sweaty tour buses and had nothing to do with those silly groupies you, ha ha, might have, you know, heard about from an irresponsibly sensationalist media, baby.

So. I’m not taking up space on stage, or anywhere. I don’t have to yell above the fray to get noticed, to land that elusive recording contract, perhaps hit that stage while modelling burlap rainbow lederhosen and rubber nun suits or setting fire to fruit bat entrails and whipping them around my howling, desperate head while silently urging those A&R dudes from Sony BMG who just have to be scattered throughout the audience, to notice me, goddamnit, acknowledge my inherent genius, make me the star I know I should be…

As I said, I’m not doing any of that.

And the world sighs in sweet, blessed relief. Because I knew. All along. I knew I couldn’t turn the sow’s ear of my musical “talent” into the silk purse of a career. In other words, I had only half the prerequisites, which wasn’t enough: a deep and abiding love for music but nowhere near the talent. I even tried writing songs but they were essentially sounds stuck together with modeling glue and yarn. Love, but no talent. At least I had half.

But writing is different. And that’s all I’m saying. That’s all I’m saying. Now go. Figure it out. Scoot. I can feel that mood coming back…

*     *     *     *     *

A version of this post appeared on Indies Unlimited on April 6, 2012. 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.

*     *     *     *     *

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.