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David S. Atkinson

David S. Atkinson is the author of books such as "Roses are Red, Violets are Stealing Loose Change from my Pockets While I Sleep," "Apocalypse All the Time," and the Nebraska book award winning "Not Quite so Stories."


David Atkinson is the only author alive who can write absurdist-magical-humorous-poignant fiction, period. But that isn't what makes his short story collection great. What makes Roses are Red, Violets are Stealing Loose Change from my Pockets While I Sleep great is his ability to find that perfect sentence to fuse all of the madness together. "We had to get some coffee in us first," says the narrator who must deal with an otherworldly invasion of perky people wearing leotards. "Tell me about it, Ben," says the narrator who only half-listens to the plight of one of our country's Founding Fathers. Sometimes, the madness makes perfect sense, as in "The Quickest Way to a Man's Heart is to Turn Left a Pecos and Follow the Roundabout," in which the narrator begins in a Kix-flavored fit and ends up massacring a story word by word. Whether everything is related or not, you can be sure Paula Abdul won't be returning any of your calls regardless.

– Ken Brosky, author of The Proving and co-author of The Grimm Chronicles

Atkinson has been writing weird stuff for years, which is why I first ran his "Ideas..." story in this volume back in like 1863, when nobody else was publishing absurd flash fiction. This volume is a collection chock full of strange and bizarre short fiction, both chaotic and amusing. David has been a master of grinding it out with small presses and other markets, and this colletion shows the progress he has made over the years cracking into these new markets. Despite its lack of mention of cough syrup or Lunchables, there's tons of great stuff here.

– Jon Konrath, author of Rumored to Exist and Help Me Find My Car Keys And We Can Drive Out!

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Roses are Red, Violets are Stealing Loose Change from My Pockets While I Sleep

A World in Every Sentence


A rabbit who is really a penguin lives in a nest of quarks under the sink, reading Bridget Jones’s Diary and whispering the secrets of the universe through the walls at night. That is the first, and one of the more straightforward stories in David Atkinson’s Roses are Red, Violets are Stealing Loose Change from My Pockets While I Sleep. The book forces readers to adopt whole new worlds with every sentence. Drills spit spheres filled with human brains; Hot-Wheels set saves lives; patio tables are fabricated from old waffles. Roses are Red is composed of more than a hundred pieces of fiction, few longer than a page and a half, and each of them is a radical reading experience.

Each story has its own logic, but they share the ability to subvert expectations. Every sentence in Roses are Red is a discovery, often humorous in its departure from what should follow from the sentence before. In “Frog Legs are Good Though It’s Hard to Get a Grip to Bite if They Aren’t Dead First,” for example, we find this:

Personally, I think throwing me in a Turkish malachite polisher prison was downright unjustified. You can tell me that’s all specified in subsection seventy-three, eighty-two six bis of the Napoleonic bro code, but we both know that “bis” is an imaginary number anyway. I won’t be fooled by Algebra again, not after that run-in with those bat-plastic-pants salesmen. I never should have trusted anyone smoking a cigar, let alone three of them.

This process of subversion continues relentlessly throughout the book. The reader experiences the constant joy of discovery and the exhaustion that comes with it.

But the stories in Atkinson’s collection are not mere word salads. Each story is indeed a story. A first pass at reading might not yield much insight into the world of the piece, but there is a world in there. An example of this might be “Himmler’s Hidden Alien Civil War Gold Caused that Detroit Pawnshop Storage Locker to Lose its International Real Estate Flipping License.” In the piece, History Channel documentaries about the Nazi’s bleed into polluted algae beds via corroded internet cables, giving rise to zombie clones of Eva Braun, Hitler’s companion and, briefly, wife. Fortunately, the zombie apocalypse is averted due to the Eva zombies’ aversion to spray cheese and the fortuitous “Easy Cheese World Subsidy Initiative of 2013.” The piece is as strange and unpredictable as any in the book. Still, it both participates in and critiques the zombie genre. It is on one hand an indulgent romp, and on the other a spotlight on absurdity.

The key to Atkinson’s success in these pieces is specificity. Each new concept, each reference, each break in continuity is not a whimsical departure but an exact movement that makes the piece feel intentional and crafted. In one story, a character has taken out a want ad for an RV trailer which needs to transport “a couple thousand pounds of pornographic Space Ghost collectible silver half dollar coins.” To finance the ad, the narrator had to sell “one complete collection of ballpark hot dogs partially eaten by significant Yankees infielders of the eighties.” Colorado, as a setting, has a distinct presence across the collection as well. Denver and its suburb Lakewood appear on numerous occasions, as do small towns like Glenwood Springs. These locations make Roses are Red feel real, rooted in a specific place. They also have the flavor of inside jokes, which made references that I didn’t understand feel more stable. If I didn’t get where a story went, then perhaps the story was for someone else. Specificity makes the leaps in logic in this book feel purposeful. The reader can feel safe in the writer’s hands, knowing that they’re on a journey, even if the destination is one of bemused wonder.

The tangled path of Atkinson’s work can still yield results. Few books have made me laugh as much as this one — not in amusement, but in surprise. Atkinson so relentlessly subverts expectation that every sentence bears the potential for genuine discovery. The stories in this collection are often hard to parse, but there is emotional depth for those who care to seek it. My favorite story in the collection was also one of the longest. “Ideas: Where to Get Them and What to Do When They Won’t Leave” is a literalized metaphor in which a writer’s ideas manifest as unwelcome visitors. The writer attempts to drive them away by embarking on ambitious artistic undertaking with them. Often, the ideas are turned off by the writer’s eagerness for commitment and are driven away. But sometimes, they stick around. The story captures the melancholy that comes from a new idea falling short, as well as the quite hope of the ones that stick around.

The ideas that inspire a work of art are often ideas that artists have a relationship with for years. No matter the form, an artist may toil for a long time before an idea matures into their vision. Roses are Red has the air of that kind of object. There are hundreds of distinct stories in the collection, many of them challenging. Still, they all bear the mark of obsessive experimentation, of fun had trying something strange and new, and the purity of making something for one’s self, though other’s might also find satisfaction in it.

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