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boneclocksI’m still pondering James Wood’s rather unenthusiastic review of David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks.

I read the review about an hour ago and now that I’ve had a chance to shower and clear my head, I’d like to get some thoughts down, try to sum up why I think Mr. Wood—and a number of other critics—have missed the point. Let me make clear, I have nothing against Wood, I think he’s a thoughtful, articulate reviewer, a smart man…I just don’t always agree with him.

There’s a taint, if I can put it like that, to his review, a whiff of innuendo. Mitchell’s a good storyteller, he allows, and The Bone Clocks is admittedly “entertaining”, but…

But what?

Well, apparently, The Bone Clocks lacks coherence, there’s a dearth of human significance and, then, near the conclusion of his critique, Mr. Wood finally lets the mask slip and his biases show:

Gradually, the reader begins to understand that the realism—the human activity—is relatively unimportant…the emphasis is shifted away from the human characters toward the supernatural goings on, and the human characters become mere decoders of the peculiar mystery that has befallen them: detectives of drivel. The fantasy rigs the narrative, so that there is something wearingly formulaic whenever Mitchell stages, as he regularly does, a spot of ‘realistic’ skepticism.”

I’m not sure how much fantastic fiction Mr. Wood has read but he must be aware of some of its noble practitioners, Kafka and Borges, Maupassant and Poe. While Mr. Wood opines that “supernatural” skullduggery detracts from the human story, I wonder if he would say the same thing if he was reading a novel or short story by one of the authors I just cited.

What I like most about Mr. Mitchell’s work is that it refuses to acknowledge genre constraints; he delights in playing with tropes and is fearless about introducing SFnal elements to his narratives, creating a vast and varied universe that astonishes literally at every turn.

Mr. Wood’s final assertion, that The Bone Clocks is a “theological allegory”, reflecting a “bleak Gnosticism” must have made the author laugh out loud.

Really, Mr. Wood?

I suspect David Mitchell’s bookshelves are extensive and a good deal more eclectic than James Wood’s. He (Mitchell) is also of a generation whose childhood was enlivened by tales of the mysterious and macabre, whether in books, movies or on TV. From “Dan Dare” to “Dr. Who”; Lord of the Rings to the magic of Ray Harryhausen. All of those influences going into the creative hopper…and what emerges is a mashup that doesn’t discriminate between “literary” and  “genre” fiction, employing elements of both, worshipping at the altar of neither.

Maybe that’s why a number of science fiction scribes I know are less than approving of Mr. Mitchell’s body of work. They think he’s nicking their best material without giving due credit, while some of literary crowd (like James Wood) would accuse him of slumming every time he goes off reservation and presents them with a “bad-faith tussle with a fantastic assailant who has already won”.

I’ll admit, initially I found the supernatural elements in The Bone Clocks a bit off-putting. I’d read no reviews or advance articles on the novel, not wanting to risk spoilers (and you won’t find any in this piece, I promise). The book startled me, intrigued me, then absolutely drew me in. Imagine a collaboration between Jonathan Carroll and Thomas Pynchon, both operating at the top of their form. There are conspiracies and mazes and secret societies and psychic shootouts…but, sorry, I swore I wouldn’t ruin the fun for you.

If The Bone Clocks was a song, it would have “crossover hit” written on it in big, block letters. The novel defies mere description and resists being slotted into any safe, comfortable niche.

Like its author, it is ambitious, ridiculously intelligent, culturally attuned, charming, witty and serenely confident.

David Mitchell is a marvel.

He’s managed to surprise us, yet again.

What a guy.

 

 

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night:hotelAs previously reported, I’ve completed the final polish of my next Black Dog Press release, a short story collection called Sex & Other Acts of the Imagination.

In the week since I’ve wrapped up work on Sex, I’ve been in kind of a “transition” phase, as I prepare for another edit of my novel-in-progress.

I couldn’t just dive back into the novel after spending several weeks tinkering with a batch of really dark, harrowing short stories—I needed a break, a way to ease into it.

I go through these periods every so often and it’s during these times that I create some of the strange short films and ambient musical pieces that you’ll find under my Films/Music” tab. It’s also when I’ll retreat to my cold, damp basement and slap some acrylic paint on canvas for a few days. Experimenting. Playing.

And I’m prone to sudden attacks of poetry, as well.

Which is what happened this time around.

For the past 7-10 days there’s been a lot of scribbling going on around here and much of it centers around a suite of stanzas I’ve put together under the title “Sixteen Rites of Deconditioning”.

To explain:

For at least fifteen years I’ve kept a couple of notebooks devoted to…I’m not sure what you’d call it. Automatic writing? Free associations? Visions?

When I’m in a certain mindset I feel a compulsion to scrawl words, disjointed sentences, dream sequences, snippets of verse. The spell only lasts a few hours, a day at the most, but I’m often surprised by what these sessions produce. Recently I decided to go through both notebooks and write down certain key words or lines or themes that stood out. Once I assembled a roster of these bits, I began to shape them, dividing them up, juxtaposing certain parts, creating fascinating fusions, collisions and cross-fertilizations.

I was delighted with the end result and just posted “Sixteen Rites of Deconditioning” on my Scribd page–I encourage you to zip over there and cast you eyes over a mind-blowing poem, by far the longest and most complex I’ve written to date.

I welcome your comments and reactions—the poem is certainly subject to a variety of interpretations and I’m interested by how people experience “Sixteen Rites”, if it strikes any familiar chords.

Am I plugged in to the zeitgeist…or spending far too much time alone in my office?

Let me know what you think.

splatter

 

 

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picnicMan, where has the summer gone?

I looked up from my desk a moment ago and watched another leaf begin its slow, stately death spiral to the ground below. The end of August coming up soon, the Labour Day weekend approaching; the nights have been cooler and we’ve been keeping an eye on the temperature in case frost threatens our tomato plants, which have been slow to ripen this year and still need a couple of weeks before harvesting.

I’ve been trying to keep up with the yard work, get outside as much as I can, stay active. My sedentary lifestyle isn’t conducive to good joints and sound posture. Not too great for the heart either, I’m guessing (though I haven’t had any trouble on that count yet, knock wood). As I get older, I have to make more of an effort to maintain my general fitness, monitor what I’m putting into my body and all that. Except the other day I took my bike out for a spin and ended up pulling a muscle in my lower back about two hundred yards from home. Not a bad strain, it turns out, but I hadn’t exactly been exerting myself at the time and I’d done my usual stretching that morning—what gives?

It’s called “middle age” and I’d better learn to deal with it and stop all this raging against the “dying of the light”. I’m told by my venerable, learned elders it won’t do any good. Aging with dignity, that’s the important thing. That and finding the right kind of underwear.

So much for the wisdom of our “elders”.

But as I hobble about this weekend, a cold pack strapped to my back with the sash off my bathrobe, I feel nothing but gratitude for a summer well spent.

It wasn’t all work and I did some traveling (not much), visiting friends and family. Fishing, sight-seeing…no complaints on that count. Even managed to take in a few films, read some books. Pacing myself more than I used to.

But I have to say the progress I’ve made on two separate projects since the beginning of June gives me my greatest feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction.

My short story collection Sex & Other Acts of the Imagination is now finished and ready for production. Sherron completed her proofreading last week and I’ve tapped in all the necessary changes and corrections. I’ve contacted my production and design folks, inquired as to their availability—looks like it will be my usual, reliable crew.

Hoping for a pre-Christmas release of Sex and will get you a sneak peek of the cover ASAP.

Meanwhile, my novel project also proceeded by leaps and bounds this summer, to the extent that I have no doubt I’ll be able to meet my self-imposed release date of April 1, 2015. Sherron also read a rough cut of the novel and, well, I don’t want to blow my own horn but let’s just say she enjoyed it immensely and leave it at that. Everything’s looking very, very good. I’ll be writing more about that book in the coming weeks (I know, up until now I’ve kept it tightly under wraps).

So the next six-eight months bode well: two excellent, book-length projects due for release and new work also on the horizon. A great way to celebrate (in 2015) my 25th year as an independent publisher and my 30th as a professional author.

It feels like I’m in a creative “zone” right now. I don’t want the spell to be broken, the magic to end.

Please, keep those words coming…

 

Photo credit: Sherron BurnsSher:tree

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The Algebra of Inequality*

Once they enter the algorithms
consult their computer oracles
assigning dollar value to life & limb
with suitable aplomb

In the boardrooms of corporations
where the wolves run free
who will pay due compensation
for the sheep they slay?

 

%22Algebra%22

 

*Title derived from “Report” (short story by Donald Barthelme)

© 2014  Cliff Burns (All Rights Reserved)

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DSC00570First Snow

 

Winter invariably defeats
the colorful palette
that precedes it

trees brutally denuded, stripped
of their plumage

hillsides and glens
made barren by the
mass killing of flowers

 
July 1, 2014

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Poetry1I wanted a dedicated space for the fine volumes of poetry I’ve managed to accumulate over the course of my reading life.

Books of poetry have been scattered around various locations of the house but now, thanks to Sherron, we have a charming little bookcase that’s perfect for highlighting our collection. She happened to spot a garage sale on the way home from work and couldn’t believe her luck when she spied this little beauty. Four shelves and solidly constructed.

Poetry has taken on increased significance in my life over the past five or ten years. I’ve developed the patience and maturity required for verse and have a real appreciation for authors who have the vision, concision and mental discipline to execute truly great poetry.

I have numerous volumes by my current favorites—Paul Celan, Arthur Rimbaud, Ted Kooser, W.S. Merwin, Billy Collins—and offerings by lesser known poets like Naomi Shihab Nye and Carolyn Forsche. A cool, eclectic mix of new and old, with a few oddities thrown in to keep things interesting.

I’ve heard it said most people are only interested in poetry for use in weddings or funerals and that’s unfortunate, an indication of how badly poetry is taught in school. Dissected for its component parts like a frog, rather than appreciated for its beauty and, with the very best poetry, universality. Most readers are afraid of poetry, intimidated by it—poetry is “difficult”, “elitist”, “frustrating”.

I wonder how much of Ted Kooser’s work they’ve read. The simplicity and clarity of his language might surprise them. I advise them to pick up a copy of his Pulitzer Prize-winning collection Delights and Shadows (Copper Canyon Press; 2004), encounter a writer who doesn’t hide behind opacity or cloak his ideas and themes in haughty esoterica.

Time to rediscover the joy of reading well-crafted, superbly conceived poetry.

Believe me, there’s a lot of it about.

Seek and ye shall find!

poetry2

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Dore1

Reprisal

 

An intimacy only death allows.

 

Forced into close alignment to conserve space.

 

A press of upturned faces.

 

Rows and rows, near a field of spring wheat.

 

Bright sunlight, a perfect cloudless day.

 

In defiance of this latest atrocity.

 

 

 * * *

 

Dore3

The Last Room

 

Is someone there?

 

Why don’t you come nearer?

 

Step into the light…

 

I can barely see you.

 

There’s so little time.

 

Please, show yourself.

 

I don’t want to be alone.

 

Approach, stranger:

 

Take pity on my penitent soul.

 

* * *

stadium2

Chase Scene

 

—careening down a narrow path, bucking and weaving through the forest, in headlong flight.

 

“Hurry! It’s catching up with us!”

 

Realizing my mistake when the trees around us begin to glow, giving off a vivid, blue light.

 

The ground vibrating, feeling it through the floorboard beneath my feet.

 

Oh, Christ!  Oh, Jesus, help me—“

 

The light coruscating, fierce, accompanied by a blaze of heat, the exterior of our vehicle starting to blister and smoke…

 

* * *

stadium1Sheep

 

Reporting as ordered, funneled in with the rest.

 

Hemmed and jostled, barely able to move.

 

Exhausted and compliant.

 

A clipped, officious voice from the loudspeaker, appealing for calm.

 

Distant shouting, the news spreading in visible ripples through our midst.

 

The gates are closing

 

 

© Copyright, 2014  Cliff Burns (All Rights Reserved)

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