Interview with David Antonelli

Published 2013-09-20.
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
The first serious novel I ever read was The Brothers Karamazoff by Dostoevsky. I am rereading it now and it is having the same effect as it had the first time. I love the way the characters seem to jump off the page and constantly surprise you as the novel progresses - seeming to turn on a dime and completely renounce what they were preaching a few chapters earlier! When I first read it I was a teenager and it changed my life - it made me want to accomplish something similar and opened up a whole new life for me, the life in which I could possibly become a writer or film director rather than a scientist, as I always thought I would be.
How do you approach cover design?
I design the cover pretty much the same as a musician would design the cover of an LP or CD. It always seemed strange to me that in the literary world book covers change with every new printing. Who could imagine if Sgt. Peppers got a new cover every time Capitol re-released it? I think the cover should be an intimate part of the impression you are trying to create and should stick with the novel forever.

In terms of the actual creative process it depends on the novel but I usually have an idea of what I want in the back of my head but then suddenly I can come up with a moment of inspiration and come up with something even an example I wanted a cover for The False Man that showed images of LA in a kind of faded nostalgic way as it deals in part with the effect of the past on our lives, but it also had to suggest excess and duplicity - I originally wanted multiple images but one day at the Avalon Hotel in Beverly Hills over breakfast the sun fell across the water of the swimming pool such that you could see perfectly the reflection of the pool side dining area and background tiles. Perfect, I thought! So I ran up to my room to get my camera and I was lucky enough that the reflection was still there when I got back. It really was perfect because the reflection suggests duplicity, the setting conjures up the image of a morning after a decadent LA party, and the tiles in the background bring to mind a recurrent theme n the novel involving the game Tetris.
How does the film Inbetween differ from the book?
Inbetween is a psychological thriller written in a style that projects the most intimate thoughts of the characters' obsessions to the foreground. Thus, the action sequences are balanced by more dream like sequences depicting a spider web of interconnected characters and their longings and relationships. Maybe like James Bond meets Marcel Proust!

When I decided to turn it into a film I knew that I had to project the same overall feel of the novel without losing any pace or making the film too heavy or convoluted. So I had to preserve the artistic vision while also making it more structured and faster paced than the novel. I used long probing tracking shots, unusual lighting, set decoration, and locations to give it style. I turned Martin into more of a comic character to give the movie another dimension and make the film more accessible. I also picked repetitive musical themes to hold together the various sequences, which could seem disparate at first before the film comes together at the end.

Interestingly, the movie came out before the novel and directing the film gave me a better idea of who the characters were and why they had become the way they were - the actors demanded I tell them and so it forced me to improve the characterization so when the novel came out it was much stronger than it was before.
How did you come up with the idea for The Narcissist?
I've always been very much influenced by films, visual art, and music as much as poetry and literature and the two films L'Avventura by Antonioni and the Dutch film The Vanishing were instrumental in coming up with the plot for the Narcissist. In L'Avventura a woman disappears from an island - very much like what happens in The Narcissist - but her fiance loses interest in finding her and instead falls for her best friend! You never find out what happens to the woman. In the second film a woman vanishes but in this case she was abducted and buried alive. So I was always intrigued by the question if a woman vanished by her own will from her lover's life, leaving no trace at all, why would she do it?

But at the same time I wanted to create something that was infused as much with the spirit of Hollywood Film Noir as it was by the vision of French poets like Arthur Rimbaud or the surreal mystery novellas New York Trilogy by Paul Auster. In this way The Narcissist draws on many styles - much like Jules and Jim by Francois Truffaut, a film that bounces back and forth between romance, comedy, history, and melodrama as the story unfolds.

From all this eclectic mix I had a bunch of elements and I managed to "sew" them altogether like a patchwork quilt and gradually come up with something that was completely cohesive and consistent but also shocking and unusual. On top of all this it is a homage to Antonin Artaud, every bit as accomplished and original as Terry Allen's Ghost Ship Rodez, which I viewed in a Santa Monica art gallery a few years ago.
Why have you published with Smashwords and how has it helped your career?
I started writing back in the 1990s and it didn't take long to get an established agent - she was the biggest in Western Canada and heaped all sorts of praise on my early work (some which has yet to be released). The problem was getting published! At first I naively thought it would be a slam dunk but the better and better my writing got the harder it seemed to get into print. Eventually I switched agents and the second agent in less than a year gave up on fiction altogether. Then I got an agent in Paris and in two years she retired due to health problems.

By this time I was so frustrated I quit writing for a few years and took up film making again (which gave me some film festival success back in the 1980s). It seemed the better I got as a writer the harder it was to get published. After success with Finding Rudolf Steiner at the Calgary Film Festival and subsequently with Inbetween at multiple festivals I thought I'd try and get Inbetween published. I had one press agree to publish it, but it went out of business and a second give a 4/5 positive vote when you needed 5/5 to get published! I then looked for an agent and found one who said he would represent me only if Inbetween made it to the major cinemas. This seemed unlikely the way the indie film world was going after the recession, so I was almost ready to give up in frustration.

Shortly after that one visit to San Francisco I noticed that the once iconic Virgin Megastore on Market (not to mention Cody's on Telegraph in Berkeley) had closed down and Apple immediately across the street was bursting with customers, having just released the i-pad. It suddenly dawned on me that the future of printed fiction was uncertain at best and that the internet was a new dawn for the literary world.

A month later I found Smashwords and after that I never looked back. In less than three years I have over 10,000 new readers (more than I would have if I was published in hard form) on Smashwords and Obooko alone! While I am giving my novels away for free this is just a marketing strategy to gain more readers, but it works for the time being as I don't need the money right now and enjoy all the good reviews I received.
Who were your major influences?
In terms of literature I guess you would have to mention Dostoevsky as a major influence simply because his novels inspired me to become a writer and also because his novels all rotate around a crime at the center of the plot and use this as an anchor to investigate issues about human psychology or the political climate of his time. Many of my novels rotate around a crime as a means of exploring a psychological, spiritual, or moral issue.

I was also deeply impacted by the short novellas of Peter Handke, but more from the stylistic standpoint. His use of language is on the level of Hemingway or Flaubert, but his themes are darker and more contemporary. Most people know him for the writing of the film Wings of Desire, but I highly recommend any of his shorter fiction to anyone who likes continental literature.

After that I would say Mishima, James, Conrad, Rimbaud, and Flaubert were at the top of the heap of authors I have read and reread through my life.

In terms of American writers I like Hemingway, Keruac, Richard Ford, and Cormac McCarthy. For me a writer has to care about "how" he writes and not just what he says and these writers are on the forefront in my opinion.
Tell us what inspired you to write The Candidate
Many great authors have a comedy or two under their belt. Shakespeare for sure, and even Dostoevsky with The Idiot. I wanted to take on that genre, but since there are so many ways to go wrong I wanted to make sure I wrote about something close to my own experience and lampoon it. I was a postdoc at MIT at the time and was amazed out how worked up young faculty got about being successful at all costs. MTV was also airing Ren and Stimpie so the idea of a satirical novel with the logic of a cartoon came to mind. In the film world Rasing Arizona with Nicholas Cage would be a good parallel.

I thought of a character taking the form of something like a ridiculous super hero (Powdered Toast Man, for example) but in this case he was a young scientist obsessed with success, but with no skill at all but the ability to sweet talk people. The academics around him are so socially inept and lost in their own worlds that they fall for it. Half way through the novel he is so successful already that he takes a run at the US presidency. I did this because the US presidency is the ultimate image of success and also it ensures the novel isn't just a satire of academics, which would be too easy and has been done before as far back as Jonathan Swift!

The Candidate is a literary ship of fools and perhaps the novel Bliss by Peter Carey or many works by American writer Barry Hannah are the closest in conception in that they take an unbelievable premise and turns it into a wild comedy. It was hard to balance his character between the idiot savant and the manipulative con man but I think I succeeded and while it has not quite caught on in its first year I hope that it gets a bigger readership as years go by.
What are you working on next?
I am working on a novel called The Frozen Ocean - it is a novel about innocent youth gone wrong like Mishima's The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea meets the films Rebel Without a Cause or Quadraphenia. It is my first novel dealing with a teenaged protagonist, so that is a challenge because it is hard to capture all the mixture of frailty and bravado that goes with that age group.

It is also the first part of a tetralogy of novels that explore the themes of relationship and isolation, each of the four using completely different characters in different settings, but the protagonists are in progressively later periods of their lives. This has never been done in literature, so I am excited about the possibilities. Once that is finished I plan to complete the trilogy that starts with the Forest and The Mountain.
How did you come to set parts of The Forest an The Mountain in Budapest?
These novels are part of a trilogy named after the street Andrassy Ut in Budapest and were written over a short spell when I first moved to WIndsor Canada to work as a professor and was at loose ends in my personal life. I had some collaborators in Hungary and was able to go to Budapest several times over an 18 month span. I loved spending hours alone in restaurants and bars, or just walking around observing the people and culture. It was fascinating to me because it was at once on the eastern edge of Europe and had Turkish/Moorish influence, and was also only recently released from the shadow of the iron curtain. I was so taken by the culture that I learned the language, spending almost five years doing written exercises and listening to tapes an hour a day in my apartment back in Windsor. I actually got pretty good and read Annais Nin and Harry Potter in Hungarian!

From these experiences and my desire to write a series of novellas exploring the themes of personal deception in love I started working on The Forest and then later The Mountain. The Forest is all about a successful man who is momentarily lost in life and how he starts to latch on to his fantasies and spontaneous notions as if they are somehow indicators of something new and great about to happen in his life. On a whim he travels to Budapest to renew relations with his ex wife who was born there but raised mostly in the US but then returns to pursue the new opportunities created by the fall of the iron curtain. He then meets a waitress and continues to think that these nebulous ill-fated relationships are to somehow form the basis of a new life. So in this case Budapest is kind a dark and fascinating jewel that can intrigue and enchant as much as it can destroy.

In The Mountain Budapest represents solace at the end of war and the chance of heeling past damage to a relationship. The novel is also about deception in relationship, but this time between husband and wife and the way imagination can often lead to disaster, especially when it comes to infidelity and thoughts of revenge. It explores the notion that when we think we are liberating ourselves spiritually or emotionally it is often at the expense of others and thus our inner transcendence is ultimately not transcendence at all, but some form of isolation or antipathy. The path up and the path down are the same thing, as Heraclitus once said!

The last book will be ready in a few years, and follow in a similar style, and deal in a more direct way than the first two with a tragic love triangle, its setting spanning across Europe and America.
You are a novelist, film director, and scientist - how does that work?
That is a good question and I often wonder myself!

When I was 12 I wanted a book of William Blake's poetry and a chemistry set for Christmas. When I was a teenager my father taught me to admire the films of Ingmar Bergman. In high school I was told by my english teacher that I should be a novelist, by my chemistry teacher that I should be a chemistry professor. I went into literature and philosophy for a few years at university before switching to Chemistry. But I couldn't get the desire to be an artist out of my blood and when I made my first film - an experimental short that is more visual art than narrative - it made it to the three finalists at the Montreal World Student Film Festival! I have been hovering back and forth between the three poles ever since!

But these professions are not as disparate as one might think as they all involve a very strong visual imagination and a deep understanding of people. As a scientist I have to be a motivator, teacher, and manager. As a director you have to be everything - and I mean everything. You have to nurture the actors while not losing control of them, you have to be a businessman, a visual artist, and an accountant. But as an author you have to be able to take all the experiences of your day and distill them into some meaningful form that inspires others. Sometimes I imagine I am like a conjuror, alchemist, or Magus blending images, ideas, or chemical compounds, but other times I just realize that I am lucky to have three different career lines that keep me interested in all of them and always keep me fresh. I like working with people in science and also with actors, which relieves the isolation of writing, but I also like in writing how the outcome is dependent only on me. In films and science it is a team effort and you never quite know where the project will end up and need a little luck to be a success.

But in my spare time I also love sports, music, art, wine collecting, yoga, and travel - so I always have something to keep me happy and involved. I am also interested in men's fashion and like in particular the designs of John Varvatos - I like the way he reinvents the British Mod or dandy in an American rocker format while using the highest level of workmanship comparable to the best european labels.
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Tridents of Glass and Other Poems
Price: Free! Words: 12,170. Language: English. Published: May 19, 2022. Categories: Poetry » American poetry » General
A collection of poetry spanning several decades from 1980 until the present. Tridents of Glass is a 24 part poem from 2021 about the search for intimacy in an increasingly dystopian world. Each poem can be taken in its own, or viewed as a part of the whole. The other poems are culled from David Antonelli's youth and a body written in 2022 after Tridents of Glass.
The Lipstick Empire
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Thurston's life is thrown into turmoil when his lover mysteriously vanishes just days after his proposal. She eventually returns, only to vanish completely just weeks before the wedding. Seeking explanations from her family and friends he goes on a harrowing journey back to Brighton and her hometown Budapest, where he discovers the shocking truth of her double life.
The Sleep
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Laura Chain lost her virginity on New Years Eve 1999 and was christened "The First Woman of the Twenty-First Century" by her now deceased punk rock singer boyfriend Johnny Enzyme. In her early-thirties and living in New York, she feels the magic of her youth fading away, until she meets John Halo, a mysterious British agent who gives her a chance to discover her life’s true meaning.
The Black Tide
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The Black Tide is the story of a young man who becomes involved in a love triangle with two sisters as he pursues his career as a recording artist. The novel explores how time changes relationships such that powerful experiences become irrevocable. It is Flaubert's Sentimental Education meets Goethe's Elective Affinities against a background of the electronic music scene in New York and London.
The Architect
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A young man accepts an offer to assist three hilarious and chilling criminals in the perfect ideological crime: the theft and destruction of a series of paintings with no motive but to elevate the robbers to greater spiritual heights. After a series of alienating experiences he agrees to partake in the crime. His life becomes increasingly unhinged until the novel reaches its tragic conclusion.
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Written in rich evocative prose it is at once a tragic love story and timeless exploration of edgy misunderstood youth coming to terms with the contradictions of arid adult society, The Frozen Ocean is Rebel Without a Cause scripted by Dostoevsky and Mishima with a soundtrack by Joy Division!
The Mountain
Series: Andrassy út, Book 2. Price: Free! Words: 46,870. Language: English. Published: May 25, 2013. Categories: Fiction » Literature » Plays & Screenplays, Fiction » Romance » Action/adventure
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Set during the Croatian War of Independence, The Mountain is the story of a journalist and his wife who try to escape the ravages of war while trying to rebuild trust after her yearlong affair. After abandoning her on suspicion of further infidelity, he encounters a massacre in a small village and then wonders if his distrust has endangered her life and so tries desperately to find and save her.
The Candidate
Price: Free! Words: 74,870. Language: English. Published: June 1, 2012. Categories: Fiction » Humor & comedy » Satire, Fiction » Literature » Literary
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A surreal comedy of outrageous proportions, The Candidate is a novel about a naive and likeable con man who bluffs his way through academia on his way to an assault on the US Presidency. Like Woody Allen's Zelig with the logic of South Park, it lampoons our pathological thirst for success and fear of failure. With a huge cast of hilarious characters The Candidate is guaranteed to entertain.
The Forest
Series: Andrassy út, Book 1. Price: Free! Words: 55,400. Language: English. Published: September 5, 2011. Categories: Fiction » Thriller & suspense » General, Fiction » Thriller & suspense » Psychological thriller
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A man travels to the mysterious world of post communist Budapest and falls in love with a beautiful young waitress. He rapidly becomes the center of two conflicting love triangles but his repeated visits only deepen his sense of confusion. Death in Venice for Gen. X, The Forest is a sumptuous novella that does for modern Budapest what Hemmingway and Fitzgerald did for Paris in the twenties.
Price: Free! Words: 72,330. Language: English. Published: June 27, 2011. Categories: Fiction » Erotica » General, Fiction » Thriller & suspense » General
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Inbetween is the story of a bomb maker and aspiring painter who is trying to escape from his involvements with a terrorist organization. The novel explores his relationships with a young slacker couple in London and his terrorist former girl friend, as he tries to strike back at the terrorist leader while also fulfilling his obsession to meet a mysterious pop singer.
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