• 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)
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    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.

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  • 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 Ray Bradbury (4)


Something Bad

“These dangers arrive quickly, just like death” — Marina Abramovic

Loss is a thing that once strayed and now lurches haltingly westward. It shuns its own footprints, ignores the dry dirty blizzard of its shedding skin, stifles with a great grey trembling paw its own desolate cries.

Don’t ever ignore what we were: combatants, companions. Custodians of conundrums. Siblings of stealth. Cryptic co-sponsors in a game without rules. Comrades. Compañeros.

The blue velvet night, the aquarium night, draws itself back for the raw abraded morning. Infected. Throbbing. Pulsing with ill-health. Gauze in a motel window still as a shroud, something lurking and medical.

The dawning truth of last night’s Chinese food scattered like a crime scene: sickly cardboard, spilled noodles, the scarlet provocation of congealed sweet-sour sauce, that fortune cookie message I thought I tossed in the trash. “Something bad is headed your way.” You ever see a fortune like that before? Yeah, me either.

The day struggles to wake, and off to the west gaunt towers of fine steel bone blink red for the airplanes like hangovers. Things no longer welcomed but necessary.

Me. You. Boy. Girl. Mojave jawline, Death Valley confluence.

Trucks pass on the interstate, insensate and tidal.

Why’d you leave? Who was the last to breathe? Why can’t I erase the name Melanie even from my dreams?

Fragments of words catch on the sodium lights, flame out, fall, all your breathless, dismal confessionals. Every confab obliterated, refashioned. I can fake amnesia better than anyone. Fake it until it’s real, so I never have to see the arc of a hunting knife flinging a bloodmist, can never hear the ragged shriek of someone who manages to track, to apprehend, without ever intending to, the lurker now wearing their own dreadful face.

Those ominous, luminous words: “Don’t leave me.” About as terrible as any three words could be. 

Deathly. Dancin’ with the ones that brung us. Let me walk you out soon. Come close and say it. What are the ardent things within us that cleave so hard to all this?

Later that evening, I hear a girl singing, comin’ around the corner. I mean barely singing. Tracing the edge of some abandoned tune while the sun skulks lower in a cardiac sky. All those reds returning to blue, the lowered pulse of the industrial night, the ceaseless, remorseless turn of the earth.

Right when I think I’ll see her, the world blinks like a giant eye, and I don’t see her.

I don’t ever see her.



Off The Hook

You’ve probably already heard that wonderfully creepy urban tale about a teenage boy and girl making out in a car in some Lovers Lane in Anytown, USA, and how the boy starts telling the girl of the “Hook Murders” in the area, whereby amorous teens are being killed by an insane, escaped killer with a hook for a hand. Perhaps not the smartest move on the boy’s part, as his girlfriend gets all distracted by fear, going from initial anxiety to eventual near-hysteria, resisting his advances and demanding they leave that instant. Which he eventually does. He’s all bummed, they bicker on the way back, arrive at her place, she jumps out, slams the door…. and screams. He runs around to her side of the vehicle…. and sees what she sees: a single bloody hook dangling from the door handle.

Creeped out? Good, because I am, and a good haunting is no fun alone.

So, already predisposed to think of hooks, I was struck by a thought the other day. This is by no means a common event, so I don’t want to minimize its surprise value. Along the lines of Barry Eisler’s recent advice to read like a writer, I was considering opening lines—of both short fiction and longer—and how well they draw the reader in when skilfully crafted. But my mini epiphany occurred at the moment I realised an opening line isn’t always a hook… although it probably should be. Certainly in shorter fiction. But even in a novel, you might really want to get your hook in no later than the first paragraph.

There are many forms available for your narrative hook, from similes and metaphors to character dilemmas and overt questions, even quotes and anecdotes. But the real world of books contains some incredible examples of opening hooks, thirty of which I’ll now itemize here for your enjoyment (the numerical order isn’t significant). Some are long and involved, although most are short and, at least on the surface, simply describe something essential to the story, without adornment or prevarication (yet don’t let that fool you; some of these writers are wily foxes). I’ll throw in the odd stray opinion as I go, usually as to why I find the words so damn compelling.

30. “The candleflame and the image of the candleflame caught in the pierglass twisted and righted when he entered the hall and again when he shut the door.” — Cormac McCarthy, All the Pretty Horses

(This immediately alerts the reader to two things: McCarthy will invent compound words like there’s no tomorrow, and the vision behind this is going to be both cinematic and literary.)

29. “As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.” — Franz Kafka, Metamorphosis

(Sounds almost like a children’s fable, doesn’t it? Uh, keep reading. Which you almost can’t help doing after reading that particular opener. Which is the point.)

28. “Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun.” — Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

(With one word, “unfashionable”, Adams transforms this opener from potential mundanity into something richly comedic.)

27. “Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.” — Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway

(I have to admit, some of these opening lines take on incredible poignancy and significance in hindsight, via an almost insane level of initial understatement.)

26. “They murdered him.” — Robert Cormier, The Chocolate War

(I love it when someone cuts right to the chase. Or does he? He actually gives us almost nothing. Who is the victim? Who are “they”? We simply have to read on.)

25. “It was the day my grandmother exploded.” — Iain Banks, The Crow Road

(Um. Okay. Intriguing, you have to say. And who, aside from volatile, unstable grandmothers, won’t read on?)

24. “Call me Ishmael.” — Herman Melville, Moby-Dick

(Again, simple. But why call me Ishmael? Is that not the protagonist’s name? If it were, he’d surely have written “My name is Ishmael.” What trickery is afoot here? Oh, and yes, the novel’s title really is hyphenated, I Googled.)

23. “Like the brief doomed flare of exploding suns that registers dimly on blind men’s eyes, the beginning of the horror passed almost unnoticed; in the shriek of what followed, in fact, was forgotten and perhaps not connected to the horror at all.” — William Peter Blatty, The Exorcist

(Well, I got chills.)

22. “We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.” — Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

(Could be another example of an opening line taking on all the subsequent cultural baggage unleashed not simply by the book itself, but by the movie adaptations and HST’s real life exploits. Still good, though.)

21. “On my naming day when I come 12 I gone front spear and kilt a wyld boar he parbly ben the las wyld pig on the Bundel Downs any how there hadnt ben none for a long time befor him nor I aint looking to see none agen.” — Russell Hoban, Riddley Walker

(One of my personal favourites. Post-apocalyptic and primitivist, another coming-of-age fable for grown up children. You know he’s gonna make you work but if you can grok these opening words even a little, you know the rewards will be there for you.)

20. “Tyler gets me a job as a waiter, after that Tyler’s pushing a gun in my mouth and saying, the first step to eternal life is you have to die.” — Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club

(Well, if you love words and storytelling, you just can’t fault that as an opener, can you?)

19. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” — Genesis, The Holy Bible

(Well, duh. They sound pretty sure of that. No pyrotechnics, though. And, given the stakes, probably the most understated opening line ever.)

18. “Dog carcass in alley this morning, tire tread on burst stomach. This city is afraid of me. I have seen its true face.” — Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, Watchmen

(Yeah, it’s a graphic novel, and some of the impact is lost without Gibbons’ artwork, but it’s still an evocative opener.)

17. “The great grey beast February had eaten Harvey Swick alive.” — Clive Barker, The Thief of Always

(Elusive and allusive, Barker’s technique alone will make me read on, even without such a startling metaphor.)

16. “A screaming comes across the sky.” — Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow

(It grabs you in a visceral way, for sure, and it also becomes much clearer as you read on. I do lean toward the succinct openers, it seems. There’s no real warning here of the approaching complexities of Pynchon’s prose.)

15. “The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.” — Stephen King, The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger

(Not only simple, rhythmically pleasing, cinematic even, but it points to something later on that I won’t even elaborate on for fear of spoilers. Just read this series, is all I can say, and this line will return to haunt you, again and again.)

14. “No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, 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

(And here’s the exception to my general preference for short and pithy. This is fine writing. And creepy as hell. Those of you who read my post on closing lines might even recognise this. Oh, that “not sane” gets me every time.)

13. “Imagine a ruin so strange it must never have happened.” — Barbara Kingsolver, The Poisonwood Bible

(I love this. If you haven’t read this novel, please let the airy, expectant poetry of this opener convince you to do so. And what an audacious line to use in a fictional work.)

12. “When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow.” — Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

(Again, this contains information that is essential, but it doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the events behind it. A badly broken elbow may in itself seem a weighty topic to such a very young narrator, but… yeah, read on.)

11. “Mother died today. Or, maybe, yesterday; I can’t be sure.” — Albert Camus, The Stranger

(Okay. In the merest handful of words, Camus suggests dislocation, dissociation and indifference, or some awful combination of them all. If you don’t want to read on from here, your curiosity engine must have seized on you.)

10. “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” — J. R. R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

(Up there with the Bible, in its way. What the hell is a hobbit? Did he just misspell “rabbit?” Oh, he’s a wily one, he knows exactly what you’re thinking.)

9. “It can hardly be a coincidence that no language on earth has ever produced the expression ‘As pretty as an airport.’” — Douglas Adams, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul

(Ha! When in doubt, crack your audience up from the get-go. Dry, sardonic, just very funny, even the title itself.)

8. “The sky above the port was the colour of television, tuned to a dead channel.” — William Gibson, Neuromancer

(Perfect use of metaphor, and so apt in a book that had such a huge influence on the Matrix movies.)

7. “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” — George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four

(It’s all about that “thirteen”, isn’t it? I mean, wha—? This guy got a thing about numbers?)

6. “When he woke in the woods in the dark and the cold of the night he’d reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him.” — Cormac McCarthy, The Road

(Again, more poignant in retrospect, but very much in keeping with the quietly relentless monochrome tone of the rest of the novel. That seed of love is there in the very first sentence. Carrying the fire.)

5. “All this happened, more or less.” — Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five

(Thanks Kurt. So did it or didn’t it? Now we must find out, you sly dog, you.)

4. “First of all, it was October, a rare month for boys.” — Ray Bradbury, Something Wicked This Way Comes

(Brilliant. Making “first” literally the first word, it’s almost a step on from “once upon a time”. And again, plenty of information in so few words.)

3. “I did not kill my father, but I sometimes felt I had helped him on his way.” — Ian McEwan, The Cement Garden

(This is a remarkably accomplished novel considering it was McEwan’s debut, and this line shows all the assurance that, as a pure technician, he’s never relinquished.)

2. “Context is everything. Dress me up and see. I’m a carnival barker, an auctioneer, a downtown performance artist, a speaker in tongues, a senator drunk on filibuster.” — Jonathan Lethem, Motherless Brooklyn

(This is intriguing enough… and then you get to the very next line, which is italicized, and it’s like the sun emerges from behind a cloud. Context, indeed. Wanna know what it is? Ask me in the comments section.)

1. “Ten thousand bombs had landed, and I was waiting for George.” — Rawi Hage, DeNiro’s Game

(I like this juxtaposition of the ordinary with the apparently extraordinary. This is a very beautifully written novel, incidentally.)

Oh, and speaking of strange juxtapositions, here’s a bonus pair:

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” — Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains.” — Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

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


Build Your Wings

When I was maybe 12 or 13 years old, one of the first stories I ever wrote was about an old man wandering the streets in a dystopian future. He was so old and forgotten that he couldn’t even remember his name, going by the initials RDB. Those initials, of course, stood for Raymond Douglas Bradbury, and the man at the time was my literary hero. My very obvious stylistic mimicry of him back then, in that and many other proto-stories, was excruciating yet necessary; all part of a writer’s journey. But it’s no exaggeration to say I almost certainly wouldn’t have been a writer had it not been for Ray Bradbury and his short stories in particular. Up until the time I opened a well-pawed library copy of The Illustrated Man, I knew I loved stories (what kid doesn’t?), but I’d never realised until that moment how those stories could be presented, enclosed in beauty, garnished with lyricism and beauty. Not just the tale but the telling. That was Bradbury’s gift to me and countless other readers who, thanks to his example, began to dream of also being writers.

In some ways it would be churlish to lament the passing of a man who lived to the grand age of 91. Yet in others, his talent was so immense, the legacy he leaves so comprehensive—his longevity itself somehow becoming a part of that legacy—that I have to admit to a great sadness at his passing last week.

In terms of politics and overall cultural views, it would be difficult to find a public figure I disagreed with less yet admired more than Mr. Bradbury. But then again, he always was a contradiction: a science fiction pioneer who mistrusted hard science, a visionary for a brighter future who disliked technology, a starfield dreamer who set much of his work in small-town Illinois (you could say his Green Town was the antecedent of Stephen King’s Castle Rock). In one sense, he was a conservative neo-Luddite. Yet in others, he was a compassionate and populist advocate for creativity and the arts and the restless, rebellious spirit.

But this won’t be a long tribute. In fact, I’m going to let the man himself have his say for the most part. The following are thirteen choice quotes in no particular order, after which I will include two short passages from two of his short stories that, in some ways, best sum up the exuberance and wonder of this great American writer. He wrote horror, he wrote science fiction, he wrote fantasy. But far more importantly, he wrote.

1. “You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.”

2. “People ask me to predict the future, when all I want to do is prevent it. Better yet, build it.”

3. “My stories run up and bite me in the leg — I respond by writing down everything that goes on during the bite. When I finish, the idea lets go and runs off.”

4. “The good writers touch life often. The mediocre ones run a quick hand over her. The bad ones rape her and leave her for the flies.”

5. “Stuff your eyes with wonder. Live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made up or paid for in factories.”

6. “I have never listened to anyone who criticized my taste in space travel, sideshows or gorillas. When this occurs, I pack up my dinosaurs and leave the room.”

7. “Science fiction is the most important literature in the history of the world.”

8. “Science-fiction balances you on the cliff. Fantasy shoves you off.”

9. “We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out.”

10. “Every morning I jump out of bed and step on a landmine. The landmine is me. After the explosion, I spent the rest of the day putting the pieces together.”

11. “If you hide your ignorance, no one will hit you and you’ll never learn.”

12. “We are the miracle of force and matter making itself over into imagination and will. Incredible. The Life Force experimenting with forms. You for one. Me for another. The Universe has shouted itself alive. We are one of the shouts.”

13. “Go to the edge of the cliff and jump off. Build your wings on the way down.”


An example of his astonishing descriptive abilities and feel for language first, his visceral and poetic sensibility. Here is Bradbury describing a Tyrannosaurus Rex in his famous story “A Sound of Thunder.”

“It came on great oiled, resilient, striding legs. It towered thirty feet above half of the trees, a great evil god, folding its delicate watchmaker’s claws close to its oily reptilian chest. Each lower leg was a piston, a thousand pounds of white bone, sunk in thick ropes of muscle, sheathed over in a gleam of pebbled skin like the mail of a terrible warrior. Each thigh was a ton of meat, ivory, and steel mesh […] And the head itself, a ton of sculptured stone, lifted easily upon the sky. Its mouth gaped, exposing a fence of teeth like daggers. Its eyes rolled, ostrich eggs, empty of all expression save hunger. It closed its mouth in a death grin.”

And sometimes, he was able to capture something beyond wistfulness and dreams, something both timeless and in the moment, the sweep of human history measured against the capacity for human yearning and, well, love. This, from a short story called “The Wilderness”:

“Is this how it was over a century ago, she wondered, when the women, the night before, lay ready for sleep, or not ready, in the small towns of the East, and heard the sound of horses in the night and the creak of the Conestoga wagons ready to go, and the brooding of oxen under the trees, and the cry of children already lonely before their time? All the sounds of arrivals and departures into the deep forests and fields, the blacksmiths working in their own red hells through midnight? And the smell of bacons and hams ready for the journeying, and the heavy feel of the the wagons like ships foundering with goods, with water in the wooden kegs to tilt and slop across prairies, and the chickens hysterical in their slung-beneath-the-wagon crates, and the dogs running out to the wilderness ahead and, fearful, running back with a look of empty space in their eyes? Is this, then, how it was so long ago? On the rim of the precipice, on the edge of the cliff of stars. In their time the smell of buffalo, and in our time the smell of the Rocket. Is this, then, how it was?

“And she decided, as sleep assumed the dreaming for her, that yes, yes indeed, very much so, irrevocably, this was as it had always been and would forever continue to be.”

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A version of this post appeared on Indies Unlimited on June 15, 2012. also writes for Indies Unlimited and BlergPop. Be sure to check out his work there if you like what you read here.


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.

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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.