* you can find the original interviews and much more on my 'everything writing' blog (http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com), including author spotlights, guest posts, book reviews, flash fiction or poetry - new items posted 6am UK time Monday to Saturday and writing exercises at 6pm very weekday.
Sunday, 24 June 2012
Author interview no.123: David Antrobus (revisited)
Back in September 2011, I interviewed author David Antrobus for my WordPress blog. I hope you enjoy it...
Welcome to the one hundred and twenty-third of my blog interviews. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate the author further. Today's is with non-fiction, fantasy, horror & literary author (amongst many genres) David Antrobus. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here.
Morgen: Hello David. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
David: Like Max in his wolf suit, I wanted to make mischief of one kind or another. And Where the Wild Things Are was the first book that truly made me believe we can spin actual worlds from the noise in our heads.
Morgen: Ah… I’ve not read the book but the film was lovely.
David: From there, I eventually discovered speculative fiction and literature, and those two threads (one darker, one fine) are pretty much the ones I've followed ever since I was a child. My first stories were clumsy attempts to be an English Ray Bradbury, an enterprise doomed to failure, but I will always be grateful to his lesson of combining genre-specific plot with a lyrical sensibility. I was always a writer, although I didn't fully accept this fact until I walked away from an entirely different career as a youth worker.
Morgen: First writings are bound to be practice (one of my Monday’s nighters has her first manuscript propping up a wobbly table… I’m not kidding!). And oh to write full time… What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
David: My first eBook is straight nonfiction, but almost everything I've ever written (and not yet published) is a kind of hybrid of dark fantasy / horror and literature… at least in its intent if not execution. I love the combination of the disquieting and the poetic. Not necessarily in an ornate or flowery way but in a melodic and rhythmic way more akin to music, my other great love. As I delve further, I might consider other genres… and in fact, I am a very versatile writer, having penned music reviews, articles, poetry, and various other web content, so tangents won't surprise me.
Morgen: Sounds darkly beautiful. :) What have you had published to-date?
David: I've been published in a university press and in many online resources, from poetry to pop culture to youth and media issues. My interests coalesce around writing, music, youth and social media / technology. But my first actual eBook, and only a short one at that, was my account of a road trip I took on 9/11 to New York City, called Dissolute Kinship: a 9/11 Road Trip. And it was fun and slightly disorienting to see it on the familiar Amazon product page.
Morgen: But a lovely feeling I’m sure (and I can’t wait to see mine). How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
David: All of it. And I'm drowning. Help?
Morgen: Absolutely, where I can. This is a start perhaps. :) Maybe you’ll do a guest blog for me? Or a few… you certainly write in enough genres. Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions and do you think they help with a writer’s success?
David: I have only entered a handful of competitions and not yet won anything, and if I had more time I would enter more, as I do believe they help raise awareness of your name. And during those moments when you have to choose between a decent meal and affording the monthly instalment on the domain name for your blog, say, the prize money can’t hurt.
Morgen: Absolutely although I think in the main most writers pay out more than they get back but, like the lottery, you have to be in it to win it and it all adds to your CV. But as you say it’s finding the time. I know how that goes. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
David: No, I don't, and I don't believe they are essential any more, thanks to electronic and self-publishing, but a part of me is intrigued, nevertheless, to know whether one would take me on; traditional publishing is taking a beating but I'd be lying if I didn't feel a certain sense of mystique toward it, an arcane aura.
Morgen: I agree. :) Your book is available as an eBook, what was your experience of that process? And do you read eBooks?
David: I have a Kindle and I love it. I also love books. It's fantastic that we now have the option to read either. Just like I appreciate both mp3s and vinyl records. I never understand the need to choose one or the other. And yes, my book is only available as an electronic download, currently. Although I suppose I could always print one out from the original Word .doc if someone insisted on a hard copy! Oh, right, the experience? An eye-opener. Fairly steep learning curve, but weirdly compelling. I actually enjoyed most of it, both at Amazon and at Smashwords, which probably doesn't say anything good about me, really.
Morgen: I’d say enjoyable says all the right things… “fairly steep learning curve” sounds like I might have something to learn. :) What was your first acceptance and is being accepted still a thrill?
David: I think it was a music review of an album by the band Sigur Rós, at PopMatters, an online pop culture 'zine. And yes, it's always a thrill even when one single person has read and enjoyed something you've written. It's magic, in a way; translating that inner turmoil or joy or whatever you are experiencing from the firing of millions of neurons in that grey spongy stuff inside your skull into symbols on a page and having someone else pick those symbols up and recreate similar pictures or thoughts or emotions in their own heads. What is that if it isn't magic?
Morgen: Absolutely. Of course I’d love my books to sell well but I think it’ll be the first review (hopefully not a bad one) that’ll be the ultimate thrill for me. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
David: A few here and there, although I send very little out. Surprisingly, since I'm a sensitive soul in many ways, I shrug and move on. I've been reading about writing for so long that I both expected and accepted them as a rite of passage.
Morgen: Oh I’m rubbish at submitting (note to self: submit more). :) What are you working on at the moment / next?
David: I am visiting New York City again, in time for all the 10th anniversary stuff around 9/11, which will no doubt be a weird mix of the harrowing and the maudlin, but I may finish that whole decade-long chapter by writing a sequel, thus freeing myself to work on my fiction. And speaking of which, I do have a scattering of short stories I may release either individually or as a collection before I go back and wrestle with the Evil Novel That Refuses To Be Written!
Morgen: So you’ll be there when this comes out… I bet it’ll be a memorable atmosphere. Ooh short stories, I LOVE short stories. :) Do you manage to write every day? What’s the most you’ve written in a day?
David: Noooooooo…. don't torture me!
Morgen: OK next question. :) No, go on… I don’t write every day so you can’t be any worse.
David: I am so absorbed in learning the ropes of epublishing, the whole marketing and promo aspects, that no, I am not writing anywhere near enough… and to take in the second question, I am so not prolific that I can't afford to be this distracted from the actual tapping of keys. The most I've written in a day is probably not much more than 1500 words, and I know that's pathetic, but I obsessively go back and rewrite, sometimes sentence by sentence, one step forward two steps back, a habit I am currently determined to break. Uh, I am now officially and publicly ashamed.
Morgen: 1500 is still a decent (competition) length short story. Quality not quantity, by the sound of it, in that case. What is your opinion of writer’s block? Do you ever suffer from it? If so, how do you ‘cure’ it?
David: I suffer from it all the time. Writing is the hardest thing I've ever done.
Morgen: Another of my Monday nighter’s finds it tortuous (she writes poetry). In fact I’m pretty sure she said once that she hates it but is then so pleased with what comes out that it’s worth the torture. I don’t think I find any of it tortuous… even the research and editing, my least favourite parts.
David: Listen, it was easier when I worked with damaged teens and street kids. I had one kid threaten to run a screwdriver through my skull and once had an angry drunk adult hold a homemade blade to my ribs while I was backed up against a wall. I've seen people deliberately slice their forearms open from wrist to elbow right in front of me. I could go on and on, but you get the idea.
Morgen: I do… wow… but experiences make vivid stories.
David: And writing is harder than all of that. I don't think I really cure writer's block as much as roll with it, recognise when it's not working and do something else, something related, and return to it later. It's a constant dance. The kind of dance you do when someone's emptying both barrels near your feet.
Morgen: Now there’s an image. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
David: Get an idea, generally, for most stories. Then see what transpires. Longer stuff, I plot… to an extent. My novel is currently a series of vignettes and scenes with no real connecting tissue other than the vague sense in my head of where it's going. I have notes and ideas and characters scattered every which way and I'm supposed to somehow make all this coherent? That might take someone far more organized and grounded than I am. In fact, as a writer, I probably commit most of the cardinal sins we're told not to.
Morgen: Rules are there to be broken… especially if your going it alone, as long as the writing is quality. Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
David: Some characters arrive literally in dreams, as do some names. Otherwise, a name will leap from another book or a movie or real life and percolate in my brain until I can fit it to a persona or simply to another name. I love to play with the sound of names. It's an aspect of other work that fascinates me. Where did Serafina Pekkala (from Philip Pullman's Golden Compass books) originate, for instance? What a melodic name. Or Anton Chigurh? Or even Holden Caulfield? Randall Flagg? Atticus Finch! It's like they're names of beings who have always existed, suspended somewhere, waiting for an author to whisk them from their other world into ours.
Morgen: Maybe Harper Lee was in the loft looking out at the birds… but having memorable names makes them… well, memorable. :) Who is your first reader – who do you first show your work to?
David: Aside from me, nobody. But I don't really have enough finished material to have established any habits in that way. I had the greatest mentor group at a local university for a year and I miss them terribly. In fact, if I were to finish something large and significant (to me), I would hunt one or two of these folks down and beg them to read it.
Morgen: Maybe there’s a writing group near you? I belong to three and they’re invaluable. What is your creative process like? What happens before sitting down to write?
David: I panic about how many emails I'm currently not answering! Ha ha. But no, I will sometimes listen to music, either with my iPod or on my computer, something that is similar in mood to what I'm about to attempt on the page. Or I will read something similar. Or both. Then I'll turn off the music, put down the book, and hope I can get off the ground, or at least move forward. Lots of tea, both black and green. Occasionally red wine, but only if I'm writing at night. You get into that during daylight hours and you end up with a problem.
Morgen: I try and clear my Inbox before I go to bed but getting down to a dozen is very good going for me (and they’re usually the ones that aren’t quick to answer). Do you write on paper or do you prefer a computer?
David: A computer, but it doesn't hurt to write longhand sometimes, and I have done it, especially on trips where propping up a laptop on a motel bed is a pain, the keyboard angle all wrong. I'm not alone in this, as I've talked to other writers, but you write differently when you use pen and paper, perhaps more intuitively.
Morgen: You do apparently. It’s a shame we can’t write the same idea using both methods and see how different they are. I suppose you can but you’d already have the first result in your head which is bound to influence the second. Unless you have a sufficient period of time in between. Mmm, an interesting exercise perhaps. Actually in my Monday night workshop I repeated a prompt recently (just a single keyword ‘spring’ – so we could send the results out shortly to editors looking for spring stories) and I’m pretty sure we came up with different things to last time (a few months ago) although it was on paper both times so that doesn’t really count). What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
David: I tried second person a long time ago, perhaps when I was still a teenager, and I still remember how weirdly different it felt and it might be fun to try it again. Technically, it's no doubt a nightmare to pull off, but since writing is pretty much agony for me anyway, what do I have to lose?
Morgen: Absolutely nothing. I LOVE love love second person (apologies to any regular readers of this blog who have heard me say that umpteen times) and often write it in the Monday night workshops so am now gathering them together for an anthology… I love eBooks. :)
David: I think I tend to use first person with shorter pieces and third person with longer, as a general pattern (it's not even a rule, really). Again, nothing new or original here.
Morgen: But it’s what you write that counts. There are few plots to choose from so it’s what you do with the one you choose. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
David: I am terrified my dark, gritty horror / fantasy novel won't ever get finished and I'll abandon it in exasperation. I love its premise and a number of its characters and I think it has incredible potential, but I wonder whether, technically, it's currently a bridge too far for me, that I should revert to something more simple and linear. But I am stubborn, so we'll see.
Morgen: If you love it then I can’t see you abandoning it. And if you do, you’ll come back to it and the editing will be better for it. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
David: My favourite is when it all works, when the words are flowing and the story is seemingly writing itself and, in the same breath, my least favourite is when something interrupts that near-Zen-like moment; it could be a dog barking slightly more vehemently than normal, or a mosquito whining by your ear, or even a sudden scattershot hailstorm outside on the deck, but that's it, it dies… and when it dies, it's damn hard if not impossible to get back in its original vibrant form.
Morgen: Not quite the same but that’s why I always carry a notebook. I had a brilliant idea some months back had nothing to write with / on so kept repeating it to myself then think I met another dog walker and poof, it disappeared. Of course I can’t remember what it was so don’t know whether I remembered it later or not (I suspect the latter). If anything, what has been your biggest surprise about writing?
David: All of it. Seriously. If I were forced to pick one thing, I suppose it's the irony of an almost stereotypically solitary profession necessitating the modern writer (ha, that phrase just made me laugh) to engage with social networks. That's some kind of cosmic joke, right there. But it's good for us, I think. We need to engage with other grown ups sometimes, or like over-imaginative children, we can become lost in our heads.
Morgen: We do, absolutely, and I think we met via LinkedIn. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
David: Uh, I am lousy at this. All the clichés, really. Ass in chair. Show don't tell. Keep writing. Listen well to other writers but don't make anyone your guru. Don't do so many drafts that you lose your unique voice. Never give up. Expect rejection. Be a real person when you blog or chat online with readers and other writers. I don't mean be nice, nice sucks. I mean, be real; get pissed off if you feel pissed off. Don't be a pitbull, but don't try too hard to be accommodating all the time. I don't know, I think I'm getting tired here… just be you, with all your warts and all your loveliness.
Morgen: That’s a guest blog post right there. :) What do you like to read?
David: Music writing, horror anthologies, classic literature, poetry, some fantasy and sci-fi, tonnes of stuff online, from Wired magazine to the Huffington Post to PopMatters to countless blogs. My favourite writers range from Cormac McCarthy to Thomas Hardy, Lester Bangs to Sylvia Plath, you know? I love words with passion, punch and panache. Ha.
Morgen: I do. :) Are there any writing-related websites and/or books that you find useful and would recommend?
David: All the usual online places: GoodReads, Shelfari, Amazon, Smashwords, etc. Blogs too many to mention. As for books, Stephen King's On Writing is fascinating, as is Ray Bradbury's Zen in the Art of Writing. A small book by George Orwell, Why I Write, was also inspiring and influential, I seem to recall. I read the Nathalie Goldberg series of books in the early '90s, but for some reason I remember very little of them. What works for one may leave another stone cold.
Morgen: Ooh, Why I Write is a new one on me. In which country are you based and do you find this a help or hindrance with letting people know about your work?
David: Canada, and I honestly don't know. I suspect that, outside of the lingering echoes of some old school industry stuff (publishers death throes), the internet has made that aspect largely irrelevant.
Morgen: Absolutely. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how invaluable do you find them?
David: Too many! Yes, they are valuable, but they are dangerous. I visit LinkedIn and Facebook the most, then Goodreads and the Amazon forums, put in a token appearance on Twitter and a few others, but it's important not to let them become the sole focus of what you do. Of course, they're essential, and it's difficult to pull back when you make so many good online friends or even "friends", but in the end, you have to remember why you're doing this.
Morgen: They are great but yes, a distraction – I spent the entire day yesterday tweeting, Facebooking and LinkedIning while trying to get from 26 (I think) emails in the morning to 11 at 1am but then I tend to answer emails (I get a lot) as they come in as they’re invariably quicker to answer than the ones I’ve been putting off (sorry if you’re reading this and you’re one of those). I’m back down to 11 now so I’m pretty pleased with that, and hope to clear it completely today. Where can we find out about you and your work?
David: I don't yet have my blog set up, but soon.
Morgen: Great! I’d recommend WordPress but I’m biased. :) Do send me the link when it’s ready and I’ll add it in.
David: Otherwise, you can find me at Amazon or on my author page at Facebook or otherwise hanging around some seedy corner of the internet up to no good.
Morgen: I often see you loitering so we clearly know the best places. :) What do you think the future holds for a writer?
David: There are more writers now than ever before. This is both good and bad. A large number of them will only reach a handful of readers and very few will get rich. But that's not why most of us do it.
Morgen: I’d like to tick over, anything more than that would be hugely rewarding (and I don’t mean money).
David: I think it's exciting. This so called "long tail" reminds me of the punk years in England when I was a teenager. Everyone played an instrument, we fell flat on our faces most of the time and looked like idiots with our safety pins and strategic tears in our clothes, but it was fun and it was expressive and that is how the world of writing is right now, and not everyone will be the Clash or the Sex Pistols or even X-Ray Spex, you know, but I have to settle for some small niche or circle of likeminded lunatics who dig my stuff, I can be happy with that. I could be the Angelic Upstarts of writers, maybe, or the Anti-Nowhere League! These days, more and more, it's a two way street between writer and reader, anyway, which is another really cool aspect of it all.
Morgen: As long as we all look like idiots, we’ll be happy in each other’s company. :) Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
David: With the ten-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks fast approaching, my lone ebook finds itself in a timely moment. I would hate to think that by writing on that topic, even obliquely, I would be accused of exploiting the deaths of almost 3,000 people.
Morgen: Absolutely, and me by posting it when I did (it was 95% because the next free slot for you was around this week) but then I felt better when I read a 5-star review you received on Smashwords: "This is a beautiful mix of 'hauntingly poetic' and harsh reality. David has very eloquently walked the fine line between wanting to understand the pain of 911 and yet leaving those who lost so much with their dignity. His ability to convey the shock the world felt and the grief and heartache of the individual in a few short pages is astounding. I highly recommend this book. It really leaves you thinking." You say you’re going back to New York…
David: If I do indeed write a sequel and it makes me anything more than the pocket change my debut currently makes, I would donate a portion of any significant royalties to something like the 9/11 families or a similar group, as long as they have no political agenda. You heard it here first.
Morgen: Thank you David, I’m sure it’ll be appreciated. I then invited David to include an extract from his book:
"I cannot shake Ground Zero. There are other places on earth reeking of similar harrowing loss, I am sure. But I have never visited Auschwitz, for example. Or Rwanda. Or the killing fields of Cambodia, Srebrenica, or Kosovo. As traumatised as I am, I remain a relative innocent, no small mercy. It seems so odd that the devastation wrought in the financial district of the most overtly capitalistic nation on the planet should affect me so deeply. Was it the falling people? Those doomed jumpers who clutched each other in mid-air? Or perhaps the lone firefighter at street level who was actually killed by one of those awful terrorized victims who fell 10 long seconds towards unyielding ground? Was it the sudden gut-wrenching awareness on the part of the airplane passengers, as those impossible towers loomed inarguably clear on that beautiful fall morning? Was it the dust-painted refugees trudging five, ten, fifteen grim miles across the bridges, home to anxious families in Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx? Was it the elementary school children who watched the people falling? Or perhaps those same children, or their classmates, who would wait in vain for a parent to show up at the school gates? Or the passers-by who witnessed fire-fighters hurriedly covering fresh bodies as quickly as they could? Or rescue workers realizing there would be no agonizing triage, that this was it, no second chances, no inspiring miracles? Is it my own personal history of trauma that’s resonating like a plucked cello string? Where does it all fit? What rough beast passed this way?"
David is a former youth worker who finds writing more stressful than being angrily confronted by a 6 foot 2 inch teen on PCP. But here's the scary part: he loves it anyway.
Morgen: I don’t come into contact with many 6’2” teens, angry, on PCP or otherwise, but I love writing just as much, as you can probably tell. :)
If you are reading this and you write, in whatever genre, and are thinking “ooh, I’d like to do this” then you can… just email me and I’ll send you the questions. You complete them, I tweak them where appropriate (if necessary to reflect the blog ‘clean and light’ rating) and then they get posted. When that’s done, I email you with the link so you can share it with your corner of the literary world. And if you have a writing-related blog / podcast and would like to interview me… let me know.
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