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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 Stephen King (9)

Saturday
Aug182018

This Pain Needs a Name

I stare at the sky, eyes raw with grit, at this shroud of burnt orange and corpse-grey where blue once smiled its summer brilliance. The alien sun a faded blood-coin suspended within the rattling final breath.

Extinction. Exhalation. Wanting rain, fearing squalls.

Leaves and boughs caked in layers of sandy clay, encased like a warm dry antithetical ice storm.

Nobody has been this way in weeks. I sent my children far, not from ego but the opposite. So they might find some good beyond this. So they might have a chance.

Emma-Lynn and Aaron, if names become monuments.

But I fear we didn't do it right. Sanguine golden limbs among the shadows. Tales a-walking, ploys a-dancing.

And this pain needs a name.


***


"This is so sudden! You sure it's a good idea?"

"I do. We need this."

"But camping? Hiking? We never did this before."

"Sure we did. Not together, but we did it."

"Yeah, I was basically a kid when I did."

"So was I."

"So why'd you think this is a good idea now?"

"Trust me."


***


Present tense, I read the classics here. Over and again. Mary Shelley's lost and tender monster; a watery lamented spectre looming over Manderley; passion daubed across rugged brumous moorland; Brontë, du Maurier, Austen, Woolf; odes to girls, dirty precious haunted love songs etched into bones of landscape and carnival machinery. The Overlook. Hill House. Montauk. Joyland.

Our blessed migrant wake.

Why are you faking your presence? The headaches bunch like midway rides, subsequent cars of dissatisfied riders, gathering and griping, demanding redress. My blinded echoing skull is occupied by cutthroats. We usher in ghostly revolution.


***


No one could have scheduled this or made of it a scheme. We were young. A cleft in the land was damp and vulvar, and we followed it down—breathless, scowling, and leaning female. Moistened breath. We took our hints from the dreadful land that shouldered us.

"These bugs," you said. Oh, Emma-Lynn.

Battalions of mosquitos and lone earmarked deerfly.

"What of them?"

"I need to leave. They terrify me."

Aaron? Is that you? My god.

All composure gone, you ruined our trip, quietly shrieked your dissent, made of me a wounded fool.

Although pluralities concurred.  

The land was the land, and still is. Our trifling dramas dissolve in the face of everything, each item, all entireties, the kit and caboodle, the whole shebang, this thing we can never fully understand, all gone, so gone, so bereft, so utterly arrested.

We're lost. Blinded. Quieted. Hurt.

And still we need a name.

Friday
Dec202013

40. to 37. Hellraiser to Snowtown

37. Snowtown, or The Snowtown Murders

This one's completely rooted in our reality, as unpalatable as that can be, and tells the stark story of the 1990s series of based-on-truth killings in South Australia. For me, the horror lies in addressing your reaction to the main antagonist, John Bunting, and how you reconcile your gut level need for him to meet his just deserts, and what you envision those deserts to be. A true sociopath, at heart as mundane as any, yet more persuasively ugly than most attempts to capture such banal human evil. Brilliant performances all round here, especially Daniel Henshall as the mundanely creepy Bunting.

38. Pan's Labyrinth and The Devil's Backbone

Cheating here, but these two gorgeous films by Guillermo Del Toro are so completely related that I can't untangle them. Both childhood fables in which adult horror is introduced, by way of the Spanish Civil War, their mood is consistently gorgeous and very compassionately human in spite of or, perhaps more pertinently, in opposition to, the undercurrent of fascism and terror. Sure, call them dark fantasy. Whatever. But be prepared for them to enter your nightmares for a lengthy stay nonetheless.

39. The Shining

Still controversial, probably because of the largely subconscious narrative King himself was never fully comfortable with: that of a man who might easily turn on his family—whom he avowedly loves—and completely annihilate them. Makes the whole thing terrifying on a level horror films, or novels, had rarely touched on until then. So many creepy yet poetic moments. Here's one:

 

40. Hellraiser

One of my favourites, despite being quite dated in some ways, although the Cenobites could never be truly dated given their extradimensional origins. I'm still a huge fan of Clive Barker's then-transgressive explorations of pain, pleasure and beyond, and revisit his early short stories in the peerless Books of Blood often. It's all about the Cenobites, though. There's a depth to their realm it's awful to even begin to contemplate. Tear your soul apart, indeed.

Friday
Aug242012

Fear and Loathing No More

Long before the interwebs dubbed them “epic fails”, I used to collect such stories in the dimly-lit, ironic laugh-a-thon I call my “mind”. Like the bank robber who wrote his holdup note on the back of an envelope that not only displayed his own name and address clearly and almost heartbreakingly, but also that of his parole officer, upper left corner, return address. Then… he left the envelope. Or a different guy—surely related via some spectacular yet hitherto undiscovered boneheadedness gene—who held up the teller with a rifle… but left the cork plugged proudly and prominently in the end of his painfully-obvious-to-everyone toy firearm.

Anyway, that’s a trip down Fail Boulevard. And highly amusing as that journey undoubtedly is, I want to explore another part of town: Success Street. Success. Even the word itself sounds like it tastes good (cf: succinct, succumb, succour, succulent). Yeah. Did I ever mention how much I love words? So much so I want to eat them. With bacon. And chocolate-dipped seahorse roe.

But I digress.

Look, without further ado, here are seven awesome ways to totally guarantee your writing success.

7. Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, insert the word “Game” in your title. It certainly worked for Orson Scott Card (Ender!), Clive Barker (Damnation!), Tom Clancy (Patriot!), George R. R. Martin (Thrones!), Neil Strauss (seduction!) and Suzanne Collins (Hunger!). Although I suppose the jury’s still out on Herman Hesse… not altogether surprising, given The Glass Bead Game‘s so not-intimidating German title (Das Glasperlenspiel) as well as the novel’s popular and frothy mix of existentialist, epistemological and ontological themes. Ahem. But the overall idea is sound. If it’s not already taken, I suggest something like The Hungry Game of Patriotic Seduction. Kind of puts you in mind of a Clancy/Kundera collab. Which would be magnificent. Oh, and for your sequel, you might want a title that somehow incorporates girls with interesting tattoos and frustrated soccer moms just beginning to explore the pain/pleasure dichotomy.

6. Don’t just make your vampires sparkly, make them iridescent. In fact, make them musical. So they walk into a room accompanied by the ominous baritone strains of “Bela Lugosi’s Dead”. Also, give them love interest. Try to avoid thinking about how skeevy they actually are, given their deathly pallor and propensity for amorous violations of the species barrier. Along these lines, make them handsome and/or beautiful so your readers completely overlook the fact they resemble something that died in its parents’ basement a long time ago. Writing is stage(d) magic, right? As in, sleight-of-hand and misdirection. Readers are suckers. Just never say that last part again. Ever. Not even with your inside voice.

5. Worry about how your target audience will react to everything. Pander to them. Shy away from profanity, sex and violence, and assume your readership is as rigidly and deeply puritanical as a fingerwag of church ladies at a Calvinist Convention… in Alabama. Actually, forget that last one: violence is your birthright as an American. As the aforementioned George R. R. Martin aptly put it: “I can describe an axe entering a human skull in great explicit detail and no one will blink twice at it. I provide a similar description, just as detailed, of a penis entering a vagina, and I get letters about it and people swearing off. To my mind this is kind of frustrating, it’s madness. Ultimately, in the history of [the] world, penises entering vaginas have given a lot of people a lot of pleasure; axes entering skulls, well, not so much.”

4. Take a stand on the big publishing issues of the day and stick to your guns, even in the face of any contradictory evidence. No, wait: don’t just stick to your effete, feeble Saturday night specials—amass bigger and better versions! Fully automatics. RPGs. Decide whether this issue is black. Or whether that one’s white. Never grey, nuh-uh. I mean, really, how does one choose a specific shade of grey when they are essentially infinite (certainly more than a paltry fifty, Ms. E. L. James)? Simple: one doesn’t. So, go ahead, decide that the traditional publishing houses are ancient, threatened elitists dripping with unctuous literary pretension or decide that independent authors are a talentless hollow-eyed Noob Army of wretched hacks who are to fine writing what Justin Bieber is to fine musicianship. But decide. And don’t dare waver or show nuance. Nuance is just another word for “liberal pantywaist do-gooder”, after all. No. Save “flexibility” for your special yoga moments.

3. Defend your brand. Your brand being you, obviously. If someone has the audacity to dislike one of your books in a review, take the fight to Amazon. Or beyond. Argue and defend it all over the interwebs. It’s your baby. You are almost literally advocating for your kid at the most dysfunctional school board meeting you’ve ever attended. You need to make horrible threats, maybe even personalize the conflict by accusing your reviewer of having a balloon animal fetish trying to ruin you. Use every rhetorical trick in the book to belittle your attackers, pull no punches. How can you be the bully when you are one and they are many? Right? It’s more important to demonstrate your passion than your professionalism. Just ask Gordon Ramsay.

2. Spam. I mean spam the living hell out of every Facebook group, every Twitter account, every Goodreads and LinkedIn group you can conceivably sign up for. Cover the online world with your bland, pink, lukewarm meat. Make sure you log in every day and repeat the same blurb about how your book is the bestest and most awesomest book since Stephen King and J. K. Rowling teamed up to invent rabid St Bernards who eat bespectacled young wizards in deserted Colorado hotels. Use multiple exclamation points. And don’t make friends. They take up too much of your promo time.

1. Die. This is the most surefire yet simultaneously most drastic way to achieve success in the arts, and only recommended when all else fails. Actually, I don’t really recommend it at all; it’s generally a stupid idea and will make people cry. Unless you are already known for crazy. And even then, it’s worth pointing out that what worked for Hunter S. Thompson may not work for the average person. This is a man whose body contained more drugs in his lifetime than all of Bristol-Myers Squibb and Pfizer combined, a man whose remains were fired out of a cannon to the tune of Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky”. I think it’s safe to say his example was pretty much an outlier by any measure you could choose to make.

*     *     *     *     *

A version of this post appeared on Indies Unlimited on August 10, 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.

Friday
Aug102012

The Mirror's Gaze

© Thomas Harris“Here is a list of terrible things,
The jaws of sharks, a vultures wings,
The rabid bite of the dogs of war,
The voice of one who went before,
But most of all the mirror’s gaze,
Which counts us out our numbered days.”
― Clive Barker, Days of Magic, Nights of War

***

I did promise a while back that I’d return to the theme of horror fiction, undoubtedly my favourite genre. As a result, this somewhat horror-related post will be lacking the lighthearted humour of my usual fare, so please skip this if you’re not in the mood for heavy and ponderous (you can’t even imagine how much I wanted to add a “LOL” at the end of that sentence).

It’s going to be frankly impossible for me to write this post effectively or accurately unless I come clean about certain autobiographical facts, or full disclosures, or whatever journalistic convention dictates they’re referred to as. For anyone who has read my book, this won’t exactly come as a shock. For, existing somewhere in the mostly buried and certainly haphazard detritus of my personal history is a barely legible doctor’s note (aren’t they all?), diagnosing me as suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and clinical depression. Now, here and elsewhere, it’s been endlessly discussed and largely established that creativity tends to be accompanied by emotional and mental turmoil, so I’m not going to recross that familiar ground this time around, fascinating though it is.

No, I want to address something else. I belong to numerous online writer’s groups, from Facebook to LinkedIn, and I am noticing a recurring question that frequently gets asked by novice writers, but perhaps surprisingly, not solely by novice writers. Usually presented in a tentative manner, it basically asks whether certain painful topics are off limits, whether writers ought to refrain—through simple good taste, perhaps, or more worryingly, as a duty toward readers’ sensibilities?—from discussing certain painful aspects of the human condition, or even whether writers should avoid certain words (to me, the latter is akin to asking a painter to ignore specific colours). Now, I generally avoid these conversations as I literally don’t have the time to indulge in the lengthy handwringing that almost inevitably follows. And, quite honestly, I am not partial to being misjudged, as so often occurs on all sides when this topic is raised. So, in place of my usual silence in those conversations, here’s a placeholder for my views on this, henceforth to be considered my definitive position. After which, you have my permission to go do something a lot more fun than reading my tortured and over-earnest opinionating.

So, what of those opinions? In one sense, they’re simple: censorship, even self-censorship, is anathema to a writer. Anxiety and second-guesswork over the reception of anything you create will only shackle and smother you. Write the book you want to read—even if zombie gnomes, electric can openers, and baby nuns feature heavily—and damn the torpedoes. Now, obviously, I’m not talking about children’s books, here; fluffy bunnies drenched in gore and cursing like inebriated sailors is never a good look. Well, hmmm… at least in that context it isn’t. But let’s assume we’re talking about adults writing for adults. In which case, I don’t think anything should be off the table. And I mean anything. Some of the best and sharpest writing I’ve read has refused to pull its punches in this regard, from Clive Barker’s Books of Blood to Thomas Harris’s Silence of the Lambs to Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian to Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones to Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door. These books deal with cannibalism, cruelty, murder/rape, madness, child abuse and serial murder. Not exactly pleasant stuff. They are definitely upsetting. But are they well written? Do they stand comparison with other good or even great literature? Would I recommend them? Absolutely, yes to all of the above. The thing is (and not that this should matter, either): all evidence points to the fact that these authors are well-adjusted, generous, and compassionate people. Stephen King himself, who once wrote about a man who literally ate himself, is a wonderful human being, by all accounts. Conflating their subject matter with their personalities is as wrong-headed as inferring Shakespeare was a sadist (or a racist!) for describing Iago’s treatment of Othello. Or for assuming that Marshall Mather’s worldview is identical to that of Slim Shady (remember, people did this. Quaint, huh? Probably not, if you were Mr. Mathers). Such readings are depressingly shallow. It ought to go without saying that a writer can explore scenes of unmitigated horror without endorsing their real life equivalents. And in most cases, the writer’s outraged humanity is the fuel behind such explorations in the first place. If I hadn’t been hurt in certain ways, my own scrutiny of our tenuous connections and adult sorrows alongside their roots in childhood trauma would probably ring hollow or skewed or inauthentic. Perhaps they do anyway. But, as Stephen King so succinctly said once, “We make up horrors to help us cope with the real ones.”

Yes, there is exploitation. Yes, there is insensitivity. Stupidity, even. Those are matters for the writer and his or her conscience. And for readers to embrace or shun as they see fit. But freedom of speech is essential to a democracy, and especially to our current very flawed versions. Without even that, freedom itself would only further adopt the worryingly illusory mantle it’s already begun to.

Again, so I am not misunderstood: I’m not telling you what to do. As a writer, you might have your own (personal, religious, ethical) limits with regard to what topics you allow yourself to explore. That’s fine. Some writers aim only to entertain, and I mean it, there’s nothing wrong with that. I may disagree with what I see as misguided morality but I respect your right to it. But those of us who dig around in the entrails sometimes need to feel our discussion of the world’s sharper edges or bleaker corners will not be interpreted as endorsement or approval of such horrors. I have always believed that art mirrors life and not the other way around. Those of us damaged by events in our personal lives (I’m hazarding a guess that’s most of us) need this blighted avenue in which to explore our various wounds. Who knows, without that opportunity, and without the misplaced judgement of the misinformed and the judgmental, maybe more of us would end up being the Hannibal Lecters of the world instead of the Thomas Harris’s.

Look, it’s a lonely enough profession. I sometimes think I write to combat the loneliness more than for any other reason. It’s an attempt to self heal. Okay, I just ran out of steam, so I’ll end on another fairly pertinent quote by our old friend Mr. King:

“Alone. Yes, that’s the key word, the most awful word in the English tongue. Murder doesn’t hold a candle to it and hell is only a poor synonym.”

*     *     *     *     *

A version of this post appeared on Indies Unlimited on August 3, 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.

Saturday
Jul142012

Use Your Imagination

Life is busy at the moment, so please forgive the short post. One of the earliest pieces of writing advice I ever remember reading arrived courtesy of Stephen King. It was three simple (if slightly crude) words: “ass in chair.” Okay, fine. Thanks for that, Stephen. It can’t be argued with, though. But the next question occurs once you have molded said body part firmly onto the furniture in question: how do you keep it there? How do you stay motivated and focused enough to type out the allotted number of words at whatever rate you’ve set yourself? Well, this week I thought I’d be helpful and share five simple techniques to keep you in your seat, facing your screen, typing mindlessly into a document. An activity we mystifyingly insist on calling “writing”.

1. Remember the scene in Lethal Weapon 2 where Danny Glover is sitting on the toilet and a bomb is wired to explode if he gets up off the seat? Well, there’s a real clue to our dilemma right there. I don’t mean boobytrap your computer chair with an actual bomb, although that would work too, I suppose. Albeit a tad risky. But no, we don’t have to recreate it literally; I mean, we can let ourselves imagine a bomb going off if we stand up before our word quota is met, right? We are writers, after all. With imaginations, presumably. Oh, never mind.

2. So, you’re quietly seething because all your friends took off for a day of sun and surf and you’re sitting alone in this dingy basement again. How do you resist the urge to join them? Simple. With an unhealthy dose of schadenfreude, that’s how. You tell yourself those selfsame frolicking, carefree friends will all lose ten years off their lives thanks to the malignant melanomas that were hatched in their damaged skin cells on this very day. You made the right call, and not only did you write your allotted number of words, but you will be healthier than everyone you know (as long as you ignore the impact on your health of lengthy periods of sedentary existence punctuated only by the rustle of a chip bag or the uncorking of another bottle of Cabernet).

3. You steadily release these literary masterpieces into the black hole of the mighty ‘Zon. You then pointedly ignore the unanimous silence of the world’s cruel indifference. In the movie that runs in your head, the one in which you are the star of course, you watch excitedly as your genius is acknowledged by the literati; you are now lauded among the greats. Okay, if you are able to ignore reality this remarkably, it isn’t any great leap to further pretend there is a man with a hefty cheque waiting for you if you only finish this chapter, edit that section, proofread this paragraph. Add as many zeros to said cheque as you like. Hell, spell it “check”, even, I don’t care. Make the man a famous celebrity. Have him place a Care Bear in a headlock for no apparent reason. Make him laugh at sly librarians. It’s your scenario. Self-delusion (along with near-psychosis) is an essential part of being a writer.

4. Tell yourself if you don’t meet today’s word quota, not only will you make the baby Jesus cry, but you will plunge a battalion of the adorablest kittens into a chronic depression that will eliminate the will to live for 38% of them. You want that on your conscience? (Wait, my spellcheck didn’t flag “adorablest”? Has the world gone mad?)

5. And finally, if the other techniques fail, buy an industrial staple gun, around twenty tubes of Crazy Glue, a roll of the ever-handy duct tape, and use them in ways that will become obvious on even the most cursory of reflections to affix your rebel carcass to your chair.

*     *     *     *     *

A version of this post appeared on Indies Unlimited on July 6, 2012. also writes for Indies Unlimited and BlergPop. Be sure to check out his work there if you like what you read here.