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Just posted a new tale, bit of a brain-teaser, over at Scribd.

The story is called “The 1001st Night” and clocks in at around 1450 words. Very odd, but I like it. The way it weaves back and forth, exhibiting multiple points of view and perspectives and yet somehow coalescing into…well, see for yourself.

I’ll be adding it to my “Stories” page here (eventually) but Scribd has racked up some impressive numbers for me since I signed up and I thought I’d give them first dibs.

If you’re a real completist, you should probably subscribe to my Twitter link too because I’ve been known to post little snippets and Twitter-verse there and nowhere else. Just to keep everyone on their toes.

Glad to be offering new work for your perusal.

Hope you enjoy “The 1001st Night”.

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Among the Invisibles

 

From his favorite hideaway, five storeys above the ground, Little Po is an inconspicuous witness to the chaos below.

There has been talk of trouble for weeks, soldiers and police regularly taking up stations on street corners, stopping and harassing people, making a nuisance of themselves.  Intimidation is the norm with the ruling junta but this time, it seems, their tactics have only succeeded in making things worse.

Shouts and screams, the rattle of automatic weapons and crak-crak-crak of small arms fire.  Smoke drifts over the neighbourhood, a grey, evil-smelling pall.  There are makeshift barricades and men roaming about with home-made clubs and pop bottles filled with gasoline.  The building shudders from a nearby explosion, a crump as a burning car bursts its seams, provoking whoops and cheers from the surrounding crowd.

Little Po is safe or, at least, safer than he would be down there, in the midst of the mob.  Some women have joined in, adding their unmistakable shrieks to the din.  Most of the men are intoxicated, swilling alcohol looted from a nearby store.  They swagger about, brandishing crude weapons, their courage fortified by drink.  The boy creeps back under the overhang created by ducting and ventilation works.  Finds his tattered blanket and slips into an uneasy sleep, sucking his thumb for comfort when the tumult disturbs his slumber.  This sooty rooftop, shared with none but the occasional stray cat and roosting pigeon, is a refuge, shelter from a dangerous and hostile world.

He wakes to dull morning light, the stench of burning rubber.

His hunger is an undiminishing ache, a twisting, voracious worm in his guts.  He spends most days in a surreal netherworld; sick, confused and disoriented.  Bumping into buildings or colliding with passersby, clutching at them for support and being swatted and cursed for his trouble.  He begs, he steals and still only manages to scrape by.

As he descends via the rickety fire escape, he is aware that slowly but surely he’s losing the battle.  Malnutrition is eating his frail body and soon he will be reduced to nothing.  When someone reaches such a state, people say that person has “joined the invisibles”.  One day, they’re simply gone, evaporating into the air, leaving nothing behind, not even an ounce of bone dust to bury or mourn over.

The first person he spots when he ventures out is Old Fania.  Her pet monkey chatters on her shoulder and she makes a warding gesture at him.  He gives the witch a wide berth.  The monkey eyes him sullenly but is constrained by a short leash made of twine.  The little beast has been known to inflict a painful and septic bite.

The streets and avenues have been transformed overnight.  Rubble and debris are scattered carelessly, gutted buildings stripped of everything that can be carried or dragged away.  He scours the ground for leftovers, something to eat or barter.  But he’s competing with other scavengers who fiercely guard the meager leavings, growling and threatening him if he approaches.  He is smaller and weak and therefore must go without.  It is not that ordinary folk are unsympathetic or hard-hearted, it is merely that deprivation has become a way of life to the people in this part of the city.  They have been herded together, marginalized, made to feel they must fend for themselves.  Poor and increasingly desperate, they have lost any sense of shared or communal suffering.

The riot last night followed days of demonstrations, spontaneous protests against the inhuman living conditions. There have been scores of deaths, nervous soldiers shooting into crowds, protesters beaten and dragged away by security forces.

And finally the world press has taken notice.  Reporters flood in and, congruently, the economy goes into a tailspin as investment money dries up, foreign nationals leaving in droves.  It is a familiar, sad story in this region of the world.

Little Po drinks from a puddle and forages from a dumpster behind a restaurant.  He is covered in rat bites and festering sores that won’t heal.  He knows that his situation is increasingly desperate but there is nothing to be done about it.  As he clambers out of the stinking bin, the back door of the restaurant bangs open and an employee toting a five gallon pail of grease and slops spots him.  They regard each other for a long moment and Little Po finally slinks away, what little food he has found clutched in his fist.

There are rumours that local businesses have hired a squad of off-duty cops and given them the job of ridding the city of riff-raff.  Some kids were gunned down as they sat on the steps of a church.  A church.  In the last two weeks, several dozen street urchins have been either killed or spirited off in dark vans, never to be seen again.

Later that morning, Little Po is walking through a park and spots Fish and the Silent One.  Fish has fresh bruises on his face, rolled for pocket change.  And the thing is, everyone knows Fish has absolutely nothing worth stealing.  He tells the joke that he’s so poor, someone once cut him open and stole his heart.  And he’ll show you the long, zippered scar to prove it.  The Silent One glowers behind him, a menacing presence.  His head is squashed, misshapen.  He can’t speak but his dangerous mien says don’t fuck with me, brother.

Little Po falls in alongside them and they head off to the mission together, stand in line for a bowl of watery soup. Supposedly there is a piece of chicken in there somewhere.  Either donations are down or the priests have been dipping into the collection plate again.  Little Po deftly palms an extra slice of bread, the maneuver escaping the sharp-eyed Brother’s notice.

When they finish, they hang out in the graveyard for awhile.  Fish produces three precious cigarettes but smoking only makes Little Po queasy so he puts his away until later.  Soon afterward a cranky old caretaker shows up and chases them away.

Fish says he wants to stop by Ven’s place, that he’s heard something and Ven Ficus is the one to go to if you have information to trade.  Depending on his mood, he’ll either reward you generously or snap his fingers and have you turned in to a human pretzel.  But Taft, Ven’s imposing gatekeeper, says his bossman isn’t in today and hints that it’s in their best interest to fuck off.  Now.

Fish is disappointed but vows to come back later. Taft goes back inside and they hear him say something to the other hoods. Mocking laughter follows the trio down the street.

As they walk, Fish has to keep stopping to retch.  Every time he does, he groans.  He says something feels broken inside. Little Po and the Silent One exchange grim looks.  Who knows when the free clinic will open again. The French doctors who ran it were declared persona non grata and given forty-eight hours to clear out.  No one has replaced them.  Word is the junta was embarrassed to have foreigners tending to the needs of the poor.  This past winter Little Po caught a bug that made him cough until his ribs ached.  He truly believed he was going to die. His lungs still feel tender, especially on cool days.

In the early afternoon he parts company with the others, waving as he angles away.

Despite the soup he is still famished, light-headed.  He thinks about the slice of bread in his pocket, the one he is saving.  Little Po takes out the bread, raises it to his mouth and bites off a piece.  This is the way it is.  You are hungry and when you have food, you eat.

Later he will curse his greed.  This, too, is the way of things.

But for Little Po, time has shrunk, contracted, the future no longer measured in years, months, weeks, but days, perhaps hours.  His skin is transparent, his arms and legs thin, meatless.  His joints ache; pain and hunger and despair are constant companions.  The world around him is losing definition, leaking away at the edges.

Soon he will join the invisibles.  It is almost certain.  He knows this.  Maybe even tonight, on his rooftop haven, under the high, eternal stars.  He wonders what it will be like to be dead.  His undernourished imagination has a hard time grasping the notion.  The priests speak of heaven and hell during the sermons that are mandatory with the free meals they dispense.  In the afterlife our sins are remembered and judged. The worthy are rewarded and the evil ones consigned to an all-consuming fire where they burn forever and ever, a-men.

Little Po steers a course toward the only home he has, occasionally stumbling, nearly falling.  Traffic rolls heedlessly by.  The soldier on the corner stares past him, through him.  A few moments later, Little Po looks for his shadow and can’t find it.

Perhaps it is only the angle and intensity of the sun.  He moves on, seemingly lighter than air, no longer able to feel the hard, unforgiving ground beneath his feet.

 

© Copyright, 2009  Cliff Burns  (All Rights Reserved)

* * * * *

“Among the Invisibles” was written the last time I entered a short story competition.

It didn’t even make it past the initial round of readers.

You understand now why I rarely enter these stupid contests?

To read more of my tales (and some novel excerpts), go to my Fiction & Novels page.

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Okay, sorry, yes, I know, it’s been awhile. These things happen. Don’t forget, I’m an independent writer and publisher, which basically means the work never stops. When I’m not writing, I’m filling orders or sending out review copies or doing promo, trying to spread the word about my work discreetly, a word in the right ear, hoping that approach will eventually lead to a tipping point and then all at once I’m no longer an obscure scribbler from the plains of western Canada, the bastard son of Philip K. Dick and Terry Gilliam, but instead, ahem, a writer of stature.

Sigh.  Yes, indeed. Wouldn’t it be nice…

But I’m always heartened when I glance at the ClusterMap (to the lower right) and see where my visitors are coming from. They originate from every continent and often drop by more than once.  A substantial proportion are downloading the stories and excerpts I make available on this site. Sales of my books may not be going through the roof and I may not be getting rich, but I know for a fact that tens of thousands of people around the world have been/are reading my prose and that’s a thrill. God knows, they need an alternative to the tripe they’re finding at their local, big box bookstore.

And I’m only too happy to oblige. Bring me your bored, your lonely, your frustrated, intelligent readers, appalled by what traditional publishing venues are regurgitating like pre-chewed maggots.

Let me risk repeating myself by saying how great it is receiving your comments and personal e-mails; I’m delighted when a smart, well-read person reaches out, sends a few words my way.  It’s a lonely life and sitting at this keyboard, day in and day out, I sometimes lose focus on real world obligations and duties. Interacting with literate folk is a way of bursting the bubble and re-establishing me in Earth Prime. So keep those remarks and observations coming.

Oh, and here’s a (mostly) true story, with a picture to prove it:

She spotted it first, motioning for him to join her. Both of them bending over it, quizzical and amused. Examining the carcass from a number of angles. She even stopped someone, a complete stranger, pointed at the sidewalk, asking him: “Isn’t that something?”

He grunted, unimpressed, impatient to get back to his preoccupations. Hardly giving it a glance before continuing on his way.

She was outraged. “He didn’t even care! How often does he see something like this?” Gesturing at the sidewalk.

“It’s almost Biblical, isn’t it?” her husband observed. “A rain of fish.”

It came up it conversation a number of times in the following days.  Spontaneous recollections of that moment when they stood over it, speculating on how it came to get there, that spot, like it had been left for them to find. She’d taken a picture with her phone, showed it to her friends but, again, the response was disappointing.

“They didn’t get it,” she complained, her expression wounded.

Every so often she’d cue up the picture, gaze at it, reliving the sense of strangeness she’d experienced when she realized what it was, the incongruity it represented. She found it odd that, try as she might, she could recall nothing of the day in question except coming across the fish. Surely something else had happened. Something memorable and out of the ordinary. She wracked her brain. Had they eaten a good meal or gone to see a show?

It bothered her that she couldn’t remember.

The many hours she had chosen to forget.

 

for Sherron

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Here’s an excerpt of my science fiction novelette, “Eyes in the Sky”.

What can I tell you?  This one’s a stunner.  I love it to pieces.  A marriage of two great loves, history and sky fy.

10,000 words and guaranteed to be one of the best SF tales you read this year.  How do I know that?  Well, if you’re like me, you read damn few SF stories so, honestly, I don’t think the competition is all that fierce.

Here’s the pitch:

“Eyes in the Sky” features an intriguing “What if…” scenario, a captivating vision of a possible past:

What if the atom bomb hadn’t worked and the Space Age was a bust?

What if Cold War adversaries employed less traditional tactics in their efforts to keep tabs on their intractable enemies?

What if history’s dark, turbulent course had veered off in a different direction?

“Eyes in the Sky” is accompanied by original cover art by John Enright.  John is a talented artist I found through the “Epilogue” site but the link I’ve provided will take you directly to his gallery.

The excerpt (about fifteen pages), will give you an excellent preview of the novelette and if you’d like to read more, it will shortly be posted, in its entirety, on Amazon (along with an Afterword I’ve written on the story’s origins and influences).  I’ll add a link as soon as it’s available.  Or, if you’re willing to wait awhile, “Eyes in the Sky” will be included in my upcoming short story collection, Exceptions & Deceptions (due out December, 2012).

I’m hoping the folks at Amazon will allow me to list the novelette at 99 cents—a bargain price for a terrific read.  Cheaper than a lot of dumb, useless apps.

Meanwhile, click on the link below for the excerpt.

Hope you enjoy this sample from “Eyes in the Sky”.

“Eyes in the Sky” excerpt

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Some gals we met through a local “Open Mike” event invited my family and I to pop out to their high school and participate in a public reading.

We love to show our support for stuff like that and were delighted to accept.  The only problem is, I needed something new to read.  And over the course of a couple of days, a notion for a short tale presented itself to me, pretty much full-blown.  A few touch-ups here and there but nothing serious.  It’s wondrous when that happens.  All the proof I need that the universe is conscious, sentient and permanently beyond human ken.

The story’s short, vivid, to the point.  Read on…

Faggot


“Bagshaw,” my father says suddenly.  He’s been silent nearly an hour and his voice gives me a start.

“What was that, Dad?”

“Who I was talking about.”  Shooting me a stern look.  “The little queer.”  I don’t remember any reference to Bagshaw but, never mind; clearly he’s been off on some kind of mental ramble.  “Worked at head office with me.  A swish, and not ashamed to flaunt it either.”  He pauses to get his breath.  His lips are dry and grey.  Everything in the process of shutting down.  Propped up to help him breathe, Demerol to handle the pain.  He’s making a sound, wheezing, could it be…laughter?  “Lord, how I tormented that man.”

“What did you do?”

His face is still drawn but animated by something that looks suspiciously like a smirk.  “I’d put thumbtacks and pins on his chair.  Not every day, spacing it out so he’d always be caught off guard.  I was down the hall but I could hear him squeal.  Served him right.”  I’m leaning forward, fists clenched.  Make myself ease back in the chair, force open my furious hands.  He angles his head toward me.  His eyes sunken, lusterless.  Dark holes in his face.  “Other things too.  I’d send him flowers, have them delivered right to his office.  With a card, Love, Charlie or whatever.”

“You’re kidding.”  I can’t help it, blurting it out.

“Sure.”  His thin smile confirming it.

I haven’t seen this side of him before; I’ve often found him thoughtless but never believed him capable of out-and-out malice.  “You hated him that much?”

“He made me sick.  And I wasn’t the only one.  But I was the sneakiest.”  A sly wink.  “I’d call him, late at night.”

“Call him…”

“Never from home.  Sometimes from other cities.  He’d change his number, get an unlisted one…”  His face crinkling with mirth.  “Didn’t matter.  I worked with the guy.  In Human Resources, no less.  Jesus.  I knew where the bodies were buried and how to find them.  That’s why I lasted so long.”  He gestures for the water glass and I automatically move to comply.  Holding it for him while he sips through a straw.  One final indignity he must endure.

“What would you say,” I ask, once he’s done.  “When you called him.”

“Sometimes nothing.  Just letting him know I was still out there.  Other times I’d be all…uh…y’know…you queer, you dirty, little faggot…you’ll get what’s coming to you.  Just spooking him.”  I back away, fumbling behind me for the chair.  Then I realize I still have the glass and must rise once more, replacing it on the nightstand beside the bed.  Finding it difficult to approach him again, this stranger I’ve known all my life.

“What was his first name?”

“What?  I don’t recall.  He only lasted a year.”

“He quit?”

“Couldn’t take it, I guess.”  There’s no remorse, that’s the thing.  He’s talking about running over a dog in the street, thirty years after the fact.

“And then you left him alone?  Or—”

“Hell, no.”  Frowning at his foolish son. “That might look suspicious, give him ideas.  I kept at it six more months.  Just to be safe…”  He’s fading again, ebbing away.  “Old Bagshaw.”  Almost a whisper.  “You know, the bastard actually lisped?”

My father is sixty-four years old and staunchly conservative.  A self-made man.  In our house, he was the one who held the reins and cracked the whip.  Stern but fair, I guess you could say.  My sister sees it differently; she believes mom worked and worried herself to death, trying to please him.

I should tell him.  Right now.  Go over and spit it right into his face.  Just to see his reaction. God.  Wouldn’t that be something?  I’m dying to tell him, I’m about to tell him…but at that moment his mouth sort of sags open and my dying father begins to snore.

© Copyright, 2011 Cliff Burns (All Rights Reserved)

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The show was called “Robot Boy” and I’m hoping at least some of you remember it.

Each episode was six or eight minutes long—it was really just filler so you never knew what time it would run.  Anywhere from 6:30 a.m. Saturday morning until the “Star Trek” theme music cut in at 10:00 sharp.  It’s possible the show was produced out of the nearest TV station, which was in Yorkton, about seventy miles away (the only channel that came in clear).  “Robot Boy” had that really home made look, the production values pretty shabby.  But I didn’t care.  I was an avid fan.  Hated it when I missed an episode, just about inconsolable for the rest of the weekend.  Yeah, even then I was a bit of a diva.

The premise was stupefyingly simple:  Robot Boy (really just a cheap, windup toy) is insatiably curious and one day wanders away from the safety of the toy box to seek adventure in the great, wide world.  But unfortunately he soon gets lost and embroiled in various unfamiliar situations, trying to logically decipher what’s happening with his tiny robot brain.  Some of the conclusions he reaches are hilarious, way off the mark.  He’s totally naive when it comes to things that go on in real life.

There are shots of Robot Boy shuffling slowly down the sidewalk, going about 50 feet an hour, gigantic human shoes stepping over him, nearly knocking him into the gutter, legs moving past in the background, everyone oblivious to the lost little robot creeping through their midst.

My favorite episodes, the two I have the clearest memories of:   Robot Boy is menaced by a ferocious dog…but interprets its behavior as a warning and thanks it profusely while the dog strains to reach the tin figure, just an inch or two out of reach.  And there’s the episode where Robot Boy gets accidentally locked in a supermarket overnight and wanders up and down the aisles, admiring all the “exhibits” in the “museum”.

I Googled “Robot Boy” and found a few bloggers who reference the show.  There’s even a loose association of people who post on forums, swapping old news and rumors.  The main problem is there were only ten or twelve episodes of “Robot Boy” that were ever aired and no copies in any form seem to exist.  Which gives even more weight to my conjecture that the show was locally produced.  Maybe at one time it was even shot on videotape.  But those tapes are long gone or erased and reused.  There are still photos, grainy, not entirely convincing, their provenance unclear.  Forum members are divided, the rhetoric sometimes heated.  People are touchy when it comes to nostalgia.  Some have gone to all the effort of building scale models of Robot Boy, their attention to detail bordering on the obsessive.

I made mine out of cardboard boxes I found in the garage.  I was seven years old and the ugly duckling of the family…but when I slipped inside my cardboard costume I became Robot Boy.  My other life forgotten, my human existence shed like an itchy, constricting skin suit, too tight in the crotch.  The boxes smelled of apples and old newspapers.  I hung my arms out holes I cut in the sides.  Hands instead of pincers and an aluminum pie plate taped to the front, the dial sketched in with black marker.

I kept it in the basement, away from prying eyes.  In a cubbyhole by the furnace, where my sisters would never look.  My alter ego and guardian angel.  Big and blocky and comforting.  Made of indestructible metal.  Powered by atomic cells.  An obedient, loyal friend, willing to endure anything for me, even long hours in the dark.  I loved him and he loved me.   We understood each other.  And when “Robot Boy” was canceled, I grieved and felt a genuine sense of loss and betrayal.  I went down and I kicked the hell out out those boxes, kicked them to pieces.  They never showed re-runs and I wouldn’t have watched them anyway.  Robot Boy was dead to me.  That part of my life was over…

*************************************************************

This is blog posting #150 and, well, I wanted to make it something special.

I trust you enjoyed this trip down memory lane.

Feel free to share your thoughts, on “Robot Boy” or other relevant matters.  Here’s hoping for a great year ahead in 2011 for one and all.

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I’ve been working, what else?

Plowing my way through Of the Night, polishing a bit here, snipping a word or two there, prepping the manuscript to send off to the printer by the first week of October.  Which means I’ll have achieved my goal and published two books this year.  I thought it was important to do something, well, special to mark my 25th anniversary as a pro writer and getting my two “Ilium” novels out to readers and fans in the same calendar year seemed like just the thing to do.  It’s been crazy hectic, frustrating and maddening…but it looks like we’re going to manage it.

Of the Night is a far shorter novel than So Dark the Night—I like to call So Dark my “A” movie and Of the Night my “B” picture.  One is a bigger, bolder project, the other smaller and more modest.  But I love ‘em both and you will too.  We’ll be using Adrian Donoghue’s cover art for Of the Night and Chris Kent (as far as I know) will be designing the look of the book once again.  We’ll have it out in time for Christmas and the novel will likely retail in the $10-11 region.  There will be further progress reports so keep checking in periodically for more details.

Wild summer here in Saskatchewan, the weather verging on freaky.  Rain, rain, rain.  We have an old house and a basement with a stone foundation so I’ve had a fan running constantly downstairs because of the damp seeping in from outside, the surrounding soil saturated.  I have several hundred books down there, my boys have a TV and their XBox set up so they can have their own little space.  Must work to keep the area habitable, no killer mould growing in the walls, etc.  The lousy weather has made it abundantly clear the roof tiles and eaves need replacing, the trees trimming back (again); yikes, when I think about the pending expense, it makes me wanna cry.

Ah, well, we’ll get by.  Somehow.  We always do.  Just when I think we’re going under, some respite arrives in the nick of time.  But there are some periods, nerve-stretching intervals, when things look pretty bleak and occasionally I am brought face-to-face with the very real risks and terrors that accompany life as a full-time independent writer and publisher.  I’m 46…is life ever going to get easier, will there be some kind of reward waiting at the end of the rainbow?  Or just a tarnished piss pot?

“Theirs not to reason why…” and all that.  Thanks, Alfie, but all those guys died, as I recall.

Hasn’t been much time to kick back and indulge in my other passions:  films and reading.  Watched a few cool flicks like Samuel Fuller’s “Shock Corridor” and “Pickup on South Street”, two Herzog efforts (“Grizzly Man” and “Bad Lieutenant:  Port of Call New Orleans”) and Robert Bresson’s “Pickpocket” but not too many more.  And I haven’t yet gotten around to reviewing those few movies I have watched for my film blogSigh.

As for reading, I’ve just finished Michael Palin’s Diaries (1969-79) and I’ve completed almost all of Denton Welch’s books, marveling at what a magnificent writer he was (no wonder William Burroughs revered him).  Presently absorbed by Charles Simic’s The Monster Loves His Labyrinth, which is composed of entries from his writer’s notebook(s).  Wonderful, wonderful stuff.  If you haven’t read any Simic, rush out and find some.

Lots of music playing while I work—some ambient stations I found on ITunes, as well as albums like The Brian Jonestown Massacre’s “Who Killed Sergeant Pepper”, the definitive Joy Division compilation, “Heart & Soul”; old favorites like Interpol and Elbow and Black Rebel Motorcycle are always on hand to get me revved up.  Soundtracks (“The Thin Red Line” and “The Fountain”) to give me mood music to write to.

That’s enough for now.  I have to get back to, y’know, editing.  Of the Night awaits my full attention.

In the meantime, why not take a few minutes to browse through this site, check out some of the stories, essays, excerpts, spoken word and music I’ve posted here over the past 3+ years?  All of it FREE to read and download.  Honest.  No strings attached.

C’mon, whaddaya say?  You wanna hang out for awhile?

Great, make yourself at home.

If you need me, I’ll be upstairs, first door on the left…

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My, my, how time flies.

It seems like only yesterday we were having the book launch but I see that a significant amount of time has passed since then, the summer well in progress…and I’m overdue for an update.

You know how it is, when this blog goes silent, that means I’m working.  So deeply immersed in a project, I’m thinking of nothing else.   Including food, water and most of the other basic necessities of life.

I’ve been feeling in a rut, writing-wise, which sometimes inspires me to bend my brain in other directions.  I know very little about visual art, theory or practice, but every so often I like to pick up a paintbrush, find an old slab of board and have at it.  This time around, my medium of choice was collage.  I keep files of visual images and dozens of issues of old magazines lying around just in case I get it into my head to try something like this.  Collage is a cumulative process; I moved the images here and there, tried them against different backdrops…but the key for me came when I decided to incorporate small blocks of text, usually relating to economic theory (the most savage form of social Darwinism imaginable).

It struck me as I was going through the literally hundreds of images I’ve collected over the past X amount of years, that I am an astonishingly morbid person.  I mean, Jesus, click on the image (above), you should get a larger sized version.  Would you trust someone who saves pictures like this to babysit your kids or date your daughter?

This is some sick, sick shit.

But as I was piecing everything together, as it all started to fall into place, I realized that what I was creating was a depiction of humanity run amok, the awful, indescribable damage we, as a species, have inflicted with our ideologies, our stupidity and greed.  Depressing, yes; sick-making?  Undoubtedly.  But is this vision inaccurate, flawed or misleading?  Well, like any creative endeavor, it’s up to each individual to decide for themselves.

The end result of that little experiment pleased me to some extent but I didn’t feel like I was quite done with cutting things up.  My eyes happened on a pile of books I’ve snagged from various thrift shops and library book sales over the years.  I decided I wanted to create an homage to one of my literary heroes, William Burroughs.  I’m sure you know all about the “cut-up method” that was developed by Burroughs and his mentor, Brion Gysin.  Take any number of literary texts, carve them up, piece them together and marvel at the wonderful word collisions and strange juxtapositions that are created.

My project started out as a noble venture but, as with most activities that involve me creatively, my Muse took over and things quickly got out my control.

I used scissors to pare out sections of a 1960 thriller called Operation Terror! I then snipped out various portions of the other books I had lying around:  an anthology of detective fiction that included Poe’s “Murders in the Rue Morgue”, a forgotten novel by Ngaio Marsh, etc. etc.  Found a heavy sheet of black cardboard, set up on our basement workbench and proceeded to play with the various passages I’d selected.

At one point I realized I was probably defeating the purpose of the whole intention of “cut ups”, that my method was too conscious and controlling but by then it was too late.  I was caught up in creating an all new narrative, trying to come up with a satisfactory climax–

Good Lord.

Once I’d arranged the text into a coherent storyline, I decided I wasn’t done:  I would then write a story based on the outline I’d created using the borrowed snippets.  A completely original work utilizing pre-existing text.  And I’d frame it as a teleplay for a long-forgotten TV series…

I repeat:  Good Lord.

But there’s no use trying to talk sense to my Muse:  she simply won’t be reasoned with.  Once she gets an idea into her head, I am powerless to resist her.

So at the conclusion of this article you’ll find a link to the PDF version of my weird, whacky “mashup”.   It’s an homage to Mistah Burroughs in the form of a script from a 1950′s crime drama that never was.  Go figger.

I make no apologies for this story and predict it might annoy a significant proportion of readers.  But fans of Burroughs and Gysin might be more inclined to give grudging approval to the thought behind this bizarre creation.  They would see it, quite rightly, as a labour of love and even if they found fault with its execution, they’d think kindly of me for at least making the attempt.

Click on the link directly below for a free download of my story:

G-Man (PDF)

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A couple of things to cover this time around:

The proof copy of So Dark the Night arrived and we’ll get pictures up soon.  It’s a beautiful book—the folks at Lightning Source have done a brilliant job and we couldn’t be happier with the finished volume.  Unfortunately, there were a few minor glitches:  for one thing, we forgot to add the cover price (yeesh!  what dopes!) and there were a couple of formatting mistakes inside that needed tweaking.  So we sent in a revised set of cover and text files and that should be it.

In the meantime, the proof sits on my desk, just as pretty as you please.  At least five or six times a day I walk over, pick it up and ogle it, turning it over and over in my hands.

So…unless there are any unforeseen problems, we should be going into production in the next ten days and I’ll begin taking orders for So Dark the Night at that time.  Or you can buy my book through Lightning Source (and eventually Amazon and wherever else I can get it)

Watch this space.

For those of you who are currently seeking some fun reading, I’ve decided to post my newest short story, a work of suspense called “Bedevilled”.

This one has two main sources of inspiration:

The first was Roman Polanski’s “The Tenant” (terrific creepy film and the perfect evocation of Roland Topor’s short novel) and the second…well.  We’ve all seen the stories on the news, an obscene act of violence perpetrated by someone who is clearly delusional.  Our initial, knee jerk response to gruesome incidents like the killing on the Greyhound bus is to wash our hands of the assailant, throw away the key, put him out of his misery, etc. etc.  But, of course, as a writer my curiosity is piqued when I try to divine the thinking of such an individual:  what in God’s name would cause them to act out in such an extreme and horrific manner?

And so I wrote “Bedevilled”.

I have to say, now that the novel’s done and at the printer, I find I have some extra time to do things like journaling and writing short stories and I’m enjoying myself immensely.  “Bedevilled” challenged me and I think the end result is a solid short story.  I’ve played around with the formatting on this one, tried to make it more readable and eye-friendly (in PDF form).  Let me know what you think, dear Readers, especially you folks using devices like the iPad, Kindle, etc.  Do you like the fatter margins, find the spacing agreeable?

Let’s kick off the summer reading season with a tale of psychological suspense, shall we?

Click on the link below and…enjoy!

Bedevilled

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Anchorite

The first one is a kook.  Total whack job.

Rings the doorbell and right away starts babbling about ley lines and planetary convergences, everything explained by this crude chart he holds up for perusal.  And all the while keeping his eyes cast down because he’s afraid of being “blinded by immanence” or something like that.  It’s hard to make out what he’s saying because he’s weeping, practically vibrating from a combination of fear and excitement.  The guy won’t be talked down or dissuaded.  Eventually, he just wanders off, pausing every once in awhile to shout and point at the house.  Weird.

But the word must be out because another one shows up the next day, an old man who won’t approach the door.  Content to stand at the end of the walk, bracing himself on a cane when the arthritis in his hip gets too bad.  He’s there until dark.  And then he’s gone.

More arrive daily, most content to be bystanders, others bolder.  There are all kinds of places on the internet.  Conspiracy theorists and cultists and people who believe the apocalypse is due a week from Thursday.

A particularly awkward moment when a woman thrusts out an infant, screaming:  “Heal him!  Don’t let him die!”  Closing the door but she won’t stop screaming.  Rushing out to calm her, reason with her.  And the whole time it’s “my baby, my baby”, the neighbors looking on with frank disapproval.

It gets worse.  A steady stream of people arriving, knocking at all hours.  The congestion creating a parking and traffic nightmare.  It’s a quiet neighborhood and residents start to complain.

The police and authorities are, predictably, completely unhelpful.  Initially dubious, suspecting some kind of publicity stunt.  They check around, find the sites in question.  Someone alerts the media, which means more unwanted attention, phone calls, requests for interviews.  The situation only exacerbated when the Pope becomes involved, issuing a statement denouncing superstition and idolatry.

Uniformed officers are stationed around the clock, an attempt to keep the growing throng under control.  Weapons have been seized, along with extremist literature and bizarre religious tracts.  The situation quickly deteriorating.

Late one night, someone breaks through the cordon.  Presses his face to the door, whimpering:  “Libera me, Domine” and, as he is being dragged away, howling:  “Miserere mei, Deus!”

Living like a prisoner now, never able to venture outside or peer from a window.  And  day and night, 24/7, serenaded by a continual soundtrack of prayers and hymns.  Someone even sets up a loudspeaker and plays amplified recordings of rabbits being slaughtered and children crying—o, pity the suffering children.

Unplug the telephone, turn off the lights, sit in the dark.  They’ll weary of this eventually, go back to their homes.  Give them nothing to encourage their simple credulity.

Alone and besieged.  Resigned and dangerously bored.  Reorganizing the cupboards and bookshelves, performing a thousand small chores.  Playing endless games of solitaire and, naturally, winning every single time.

© Copyright, 2010  Cliff Burns (All Rights Reserved)


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