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One of my regular readers/visitors dropped me a note awhile back asking why I, a self-proclaimed “indie”, allowed advertising on my blog. There was an unspoken query: do you make income off these ads, hmmm?

Well, I’ve taken steps to alleviate all concerns. Yesterday, when I re-upped my annual WordPress membership, I also paid an extra $30 to block advertising. Enough is enough.

By the way, I absolutely did not receive any stipend for the ads, nor do I have any idea as to their content (I shudder to think).

Welcome to the new, commercial-free “Beautiful Desolation”.

Enjoy your stay, there’s lots to see.

And no admission fee…

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100_0750I can hardly fathom it, but this is blog post #299.

Wow.

When I consider the amount of writing that represents, the amount of words, I’m more than a little taken aback.

I find it fascinating how much the blog has morphed in the past six years. It started out as a platform for an angry-not-so-young man venting about the stupidity of traditional publishing and now it’s pretty much anything goes.  A couple of years ago I started adding music and short films and recorded spoken word pieces—that was exciting. New technologies put film-making, the creation of music and visual art, into the hands of more of us and while that’s led to an explosion of amateurism and incompetence, it has also allowed a few bright lights to shine as they try out new disciplines (and make some rather brilliant beginner’s mistakes).

But the absolute best part of having this blog is that it puts me in person-to-person contact with my readers. I was somewhat slow getting on the whole blogging bandwagon but now I can’t tell you how thrilled I am at how many people have written and reached out to me through this site. I soon came to realize I have readers from virtually every part of the world—I recall one chap who wrote to me from a university classroom in Melbourne, Australia. Bored with his instructor, wanting to talk about writing. Still makes me smile.

I’m also pleased that Beautiful Desolation has put me in touch with fellow indie artists, writers and musicians who have little truck with the corporate scene and want to express themselves without interference or compromise. I think after close to 30 years in this biz, I’m seen as some kind of “grand old man” of indie writing/publishing. Occasionally, I’ll get calls or e-mails from someone in the press, a reporter seeking my views on independent publishing, e-books, the state of writing in general, and I have to smile. As a prognosticator, my record isn’t exactly stellar. I think I’m on record as saying a few years back that e-readers were mere gadgets and people would eventually tire of them and return to physical books.

Ahem…

Let’s face it, life ain’t easy for us indie types. Most publications refuse to take us seriously or review our work so it’s very hard to get any “buzz” going when we release new material. On top of that, there’s the absolutely unprecedented amount of writing being released these days (see my last blog post), and that flood of material, that deluge of (mostly) offal, renders it well-nigh impossible to draw readers to excellent, literate, world-class writing. Who wants to pick through a reeking dung pile in the faint hope you might find a glistening pearl?

But I’ve stuck it out for nearly three decades, refusing to be cowed by idiotic editors and scumbag agents. Yeah, the money is lousy and the rewards few and far between but, y’know what? My strange little imprint has released some really fine titles over the years and there isn’t one of them I’m not honored to call mine. No hackwork, no sharecropping, no selling out. Every one of my books, right from the first, is original, innovative, literary, intelligent. How does that compare with the shite polluting the last box store you browsed?

* * * *

A couple of weeks since my previous post and you know what that means:

25,000 words on paper in the last ten days. A new project in a new “genre” I’ve never tried before. Good Lord. Sometimes even longtime readers must just throw up their hands and wonder what possesses me. I wish I knew. All I can do is follow my Muse, wherever she leads me. And often that’s taken me into some mighty strange territories. I mean, a western, for heaven’s sake?

I’m quite encouraged by this new project (still unnamed) but it’s going to involve a lot of research at some point. As soon as this rough draft is completed, I’ll be Googling like a sumbitch, trying to find out all about—well, never mind. Think I’ll wait a bit, hold off until this piece is further along before I open up about it. Even my wife is in the dark as to what I’m up to.

Not much time for leisure and entertainment in the past while, but my sons and I did manage to zip in to Saskatoon to see Nicholas Winding Refn’s latest flick, “Only God Forgives”. My review appears over on my film blog.

One last thing:  three hundred blog posts deserves some kind of special recognition. So I’ve prepared a treat for #300, a little freebie for everyone who’s dropped in out of curiosity and came back because they liked what they saw.

My thanks to you, one and all.

DSC00247

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Some years back I posted about the search terms people employ and (somehow) end up at this site. There have been some humdingers.

My personal favorite is “self-pissing for pleasure”. Now that is one particular kink that has never crossed my mind. Apparently people don these rubber suits and—

Forget it. I can see from the expression on your face you’re not ready to hear the rest of it.

This installment features terms drawn from the past 6-8 months.

Stuff like:

“unicorn transparent” (great name for an anthology of bad fantasy tales)

“beautiful man hands”

“scene of necrofile sex”

“pones of slpeen grils beming fuck” (still awaiting translation on that one)

“beautiful prostitutes”

“literary agents are fucking idiots” (dude after my own heart)

“cliff sex and other cartons”

“Pissing mouth sci fi porno”

…and, finally, my two favorites this time around:

“desolate vagina”

“I’m fucking fat”

* * * *

I’ve been blogging regularly for six years.

People still manage to astonish me.

Nuff said.

IMG_1142

Photo: Liam Burns

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surfaceThese days I’m toiling away on a rewrite of the concluding novella of my short story collection in progress Exceptions & Deceptions.

While I’m otherwise occupied, feel free to enjoy two of my recent ambient tunes.

The second, longer piece is an extended version of the soundtrack music for my new short film “Exoplanet”.

WOW Signal

The Zone

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Taking a break from writing, concocted and edited a new short film.

“Exoplanet”…a love letter to science fiction.

Dedicated to Ian Sales and other bringers of wonder:

 

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100_0738I’ve been editing my short story collection Exceptions & Deceptions since November and, I gotta say, the grind is starting to get to me.

Writers who put great stock in their editing know exactly what I’m talking about. You can obsessively work on a piece to near irrationality, trying to get the sound, the tone exactly right. Note perfect.

The art, after all, is not in the initial act of creation, it’s how you shape and hone the material afterward.  Can’t tell you how many books or short stories I’ve read where I had to give credit for the originality of a concept or approach, only to see that uniqueness surrounded, besieged and eventually defeated by drab, unremarkable prose; featureless, uncolored sentences, bereft of rhythm, dumb as stone.

Right from the beginning, I wanted to tell my stories as simply as I could, in as few words as possible. I loathe long reams of description or exposition, what some of my colleagues call “info dumping”. Conversely, I love snappy dialogue and believe that a brief conversation between two people reveals far more about them than five pages of backstory.

I take the editing process to ridiculous extremes. Exceptions & Deceptions includes (at least at this point) around twenty stories culled from the past fifteen years. Most have been previously published but that doesn’t mean I can’t go in and “touch them up”. I’m a different writer than I was back then, a better writer. I’ve raised the bar a number of times since I began the oldest story more than a decade and a half ago.

I’m also a tougher, more demanding editor.

So I’ve really been putting these nineteen tales through their paces, demanding that every word, every syllable be accounted for.

It’s a tiring process. Make that exhausting (more descriptive and accurate). Three months of poring over three hundred manuscript pages, running through them again and again, watching and listening for anything the slightest bit off-key . Going at it day and night, seven days a week. Falling into bed utterly spent, knowing the collection will be the first thing to pop into my head when I open my eyes in seven or eight hours.

But, honestly, I don’t think it’s as bad as it used to be. I pace myself a bit better these days. Take frequent short breaks, stretch, go for walks. Shut down my brain earlier, try to unwind with a movie or good book in the evening. I go for a massage occasionally and sometimes Sherron will set up our big, clunky table, give my shoulders and lower back a solid working over. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: the woman has healing hands.

Over the past few years, I’ve been making a concerted effort to break this cycle of artistic self-abuse. Thanks to tools like Garageband and iMovie, I’ve been able to expand my horizons to other disciplines and, with Sherron’s encouragement, I’ve been applying myself to more visual art: painting, collage, photography. I’ve periodically posted samples of my film and music experiments, the ones that don’t blow up and end up wrecking my secret lab. I no longer rely on the printed word solely to express myself…and I think that’s a healthy development. Might even literally be a life-saver.

However, I sense that no matter what steps I take, writing will always take a toll on me. I want to be an author of stature, respected by my peers, acknowledged and sought after by intelligent, discerning readers. Placing those kinds of expectations on yourself as you commence each new poem, play, novel, short story is bound to create enormous creative tensions, which might translate into fine work, but are also accompanied by certain rather distressing emotional and physical side effects. Trust me.

That said, I have to stop equating the creative process with torture. There has to be a happy medium. I have to approach my work more playfully and allow myself the very human possibility of failure. I don’t want my fiction to become so perfect, polished and tight it’s almost robotic.

Ease up.

Recognize my writing for the blessing it is, rather than a curse that exacts nothing but pain and toil.

Yes, a blessing. A gift. A calling.

So, if that’s the case, what’s with all the angst?

100_0741

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Memo to one and all:

You might be noticing a few changes to Beautiful Desolation—I’m streamlining, consolidating for the purposes of simplicity. Eliminating some pages, expanding or creating others.

The end result will be that you’ll be able to navigate around my blog more easily, find what you’re looking for in less time. The new look will also highlight the growing importance of short films and music in my creative life. Technology has allowed me to explore disciplines other than writing and for that I’m immensely grateful.

You’ll find tons o’ free material to download—novel excerpts, stories, personal essays, films, ambient music, spoken word pieces…hours of fun and entertainment.

But the idea, of course, is that once you fall completely under my spell, want to read everything you can get your hands on by this whacked out Cliff Burns dude, you simply visit my bookstore, follow the link(s) and drop a few shekels my way.  Because I gotta tell you, without the occasional sale, some actual coin in pocket, this indie guy finds it hard to pay the bills. The “freeconomy” is fine and dandy for some, but as far as creative artists are concerned, it’s also getting harder and harder to make a buck. And, like everybody else on this side of Heaven, sometimes we find it a real squeeze.

‘Nuff said.

If you notice any glitches or broken links, drop me a line (blackdogpress@yahoo.ca) and I’ll effect a fix ASAP.  Might be a few bumps in the road along the way but, when all is said and done, this blog will be more navigable and user friendly and that’s worth a little short term pain and frustration.

Thanks for coming by.

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My wife and niece (hey, Brittany!) insisted it was time for me to do more “social networking” (ack! ack!) and I’ve conceded only to the extent of agreeing that they could start a Facebook page dedicated to my work.

If you’re into that sort of thing, here’s a link to the page in question (you’ll also find it on my blogroll).

I’m not the administrator of record, so I’ll be passing along photos, links, updates and rants to my wife, who is much more in tune with what’s going on in cyberspace.  Apparently, when it comes to Facebooking (to quote Shakespeare) “brevity is the soul of wit” and I’m to keep my eruptions as short and to the point as possible.

Ah, well, I’ll do my best to be as concise as I am intemperate.

The main thing is not to be boring.

And, I promise, that will never be the case as long as you’re hanging out with me…

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One of the activities that’s given me the most pleasure in the past couple of years is creating music.

When words no longer suffice, I click on Garageband and commence work on some atmospheric, ambient melange, usually employing at least a dozen tracks before I’m satisfied the result is sufficiently whacked out and spacey.  I’ve posted the best stuff on my Audio page and you’re welcome to listen to it, download…have at it.

A couple of years ago I got it into my head to write a murder ballad.  I was raised on Johnny Cash and Hank Snow—one of the first tunes I can remember hearing is Johnny’s spooky version of “The Long Black Veil”.

I think I had that song in the back of my head as I sat down and wrote out the words to “Poor Mary”.  The song wrote itself very quickly—I recall there were only two or three drafts.  But once I finished, it was head-scratching time.  What in the name of God was I going to do with the bloody thing now?  I can’t read or write music, can’t play an instrument.

Ah, but I’m fortunate enough to have a pal who can pick and strum and carry a tune.  So I handed the lyric sheet over to Laird Brittin and asked him if it was possible to create an actual song out of the few lines of poetry I’d composed.  He liked the lyrics and came back with an arrangement that is nothing less than stunning.  If you like “Poor Mary”, the vast majority of the credit goes to Laird, who truly found the perfect “sound” for the piece.

To give the tune a listen (it’s only three minutes and some long), click on the following link:

01 Poor Mary

This happens to be my 200th blog post and I can think of no better way of commemorating that milestone than releasing “Poor Mary”.

Special thanks to Laird for recording, arranging and mixing this version.

My appreciation, as well, to the many, many folks who still make a regular habit of stopping by this blog and checking out my take on “the writing life”.  It ain’t a particularly rewarding or empowering existence/vocation, but I’ve never regretted my decision to go the “indie” route.

It takes its toll but if this approach allows me to fully express myself as an artist, as someone with a unique perspective on the multiverse, I’ll accept the consequences, come what may.

And, hey, if I get to occasionally turn my hand to songwriting, come up with something as fun and enjoyable (and good) as “Poor Mary”, then all I can say is fucking bring it on.

“Poor Mary”  © Copyright, 2010 by Laird Brittin & Cliff Burns  (All Rights Reserved)

No commercial use of this song is permitted.

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Another birthday rolling around, my 48th, and, natch, the critical, self-regarding mind casts its gaze backward, forward, hither and yon, seeking a pattern, a design, some semblance of order.

Usually in vain.

I’ve described my writing “career” as something of a train wreck and I don’t think that’s an exaggeration.  I lurch from project to project, with absolutely no conception of how to “market” or promote myself, zero interest in shilling for my work, peddling it around like an itinerant vacuum cleaner salesman.  My writing doesn’t comfortably fit any niche, veering from genre to genre, encompassing everything from radio plays, to short films, ambient music and spoken word pieces.  My last two novels were supernatural thrillers, my latest is an old fashioned western.  Huh?

But that’s the glorious thing about the new technologies that have sprouted up in the past few years. They allow creative types to try their hand at a variety of disciplines, expressing themselves through different media.  I don’t discriminate between my various projects, no matter what form they take.  They all reflect my interests, fears, fixations and dreams.  They all originate in the labyrinthine depths of my mind.

* * * * * *

Thanks to one and all who have stuck it out thus far.  Popped in to this site for a quick look…and then lingered, read more and more of the entries, downloaded big swathes of my writing or tuned in to some of the weird music I’ve made available for free listening and downloading.

Through this blog I’ve become familiar with good folks and sharp thinkers.  Thoughtful, intelligent people who love the printed word as much as I do.

And I believe that somewhere among the tens of thousands of curious types who’ve visited this blog in the past 4 1/2 years there is at least one ideal reader, someone who has followed my career, read the lion’s share of my oeuvre and eagerly looks forward to each new release.  That’s the gal/guy who brings me back to my desk, morning after morning, my raison d’être, my secret admirer, number one fan and staunchest defender.  Every day I sit down and create purely for the purpose of entertaining, surprising and intriguing my I.R., presenting them with a narrative or tune or spoken word piece that startles them and causes them to re-appraise my work (yet again), examining it in a wholly different light.

I am prepared to go to any extent to unsettle and shake up my Ideal Reader.  I don’t want them getting complacent, taking me for granted.  For that reason, my work must never fall back on tried and true formulas or reinforce commonly held beliefs and preconceptions.

I have to to believe my I.R. would be very disappointed in me if I resorted to such tactics.

My Ideal Reader is as courageous and aesthetically demanding as I am.

And they’d know if I wasn’t giving them my best work…

* * * * * *

It’s become something of a custom for me to either release new work or make some kind of announcement around my birthday.

First, please note to “self-portrait” that accompanies this post.  A couple of Christmases ago, Sherron and my sons gifted me with a big fat scrapbook that I was supposed to play with; included among my tasks was executing a self-portrait on canvas.  Last month I finally got around to it and, well, see for yourself.  I have absolutely no acumen for visual art, couldn’t even figure out how to mix pigments—that’s why my picture is in black and white.

Okay, so I’m no threat to Vinnie van Gogh.

How about another strange, spacey, ambient tune, created a couple of days ago.  “Lapse (II)” clocks in at over seven minutes and I think it’s a worthy addition to my odd musical catalog.

Play…Lapse (II)

And, finally, a couple of updates:

Edits on my western, The Last Hunt, commence soon.  Looking forward to knocking that little beauty into shape.  Anticipating a March, 2012 release date.  I’ll keep you posted.

My science fiction novelette, “Eyes in the Sky“, should be up on Amazon/Kindle in the coming days.  It’s dedicated to “the Golden Age” and I think fans of the genre will understand what I mean.

No plans for my birthday, just another work day.  Forty-eight years old and maybe a tad wiser.  Still a long way to go and enlightenment continues to tease and then elude me.  Every time I think I’m getting close to some kind of meaningful insight into the human experience, something truly ghastly and horrific happens and I am forcefully reminded of the Alain Finkielkraut quote:

“Barbarism is not the inheritance of our pre-history.  It is the companion that dogs our every step.”

Amen.

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