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Archive for the ‘new literary fiction’ Category

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Exceptions:cover

(Click on image to enlarge)

Cover art by Joslyn Cain

Cover design by Chris Kent

(Release date: June 15, 2013)

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feed2I was one of the invited guests at the launch of the second installment of the Battlefords’ only homegrown arts magazine, Feed the Artist. I contributed a brief essay to this latest issue and was impressed by the quality of the work (prose and visuals) I found throughout. It’s quite gorgeous; make sure you check it out.

Congratulations to everyone involved with Feed the Artist, the editors and artists who worked so hard to bring a dedicated arts and culture publication to the citizens of this region.

Here’s what I said to the sixty or so people who assembled at Crandleberry’s to give the magazine a grand send-off.

Thanks to everyone who attended. It was a magical evening.

* * * * *

I think it’s appropriate that we’re launching the new issue of “Feed the Artist” here, in a very public venue as opposed to a more formal setting.  While there might be benefits to holding events in clean, well-lighted places, featuring all the latest bells and whistles, there’s also something cold and antiseptic and, let’s face it, increasingly corporate about these fancy-shmancy new galleries and performing arts centers.

Some of you either participated in or were witnesses to the “Tree” piece that was conceived and created around a locale in Battleford. The natural setting became an important element within the performance. I’m also thinking about the “Flash Mobs” that have broken out in this region of late, people congregating in public places and singing and dancing while startled spectators try to take everything in.

All of this is happening outside the rarefied air of institutions and brick and mortar facilities. Because art, after all, is portable, not confined to designated areas and “safe” zones. Why not utilize non-traditional locations to tell stories and highlight the rich history and culture of this region?

Time for artists to escape museums and galleries and theaters and bookstores and re-enter public spaces, remind the citizens of our communities that we have something to say about life, the universe…and the human condition. Something essential, something they need to know if they’re to stay sane in an increasingly frantic and chaotic world.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s “Populist Manifesto” addressed some of these points nearly forty years ago, so I’ll conclude by reading an excerpt from that work (what’s an arts gathering without a manifesto?).

Populist Manifesto (Excerpt)

Poets, come out of your closets, 
Open your windows, open your doors, 
You have been holed-up too long 
in your closed worlds. 
Come down, come down 
from your Russian Hills and Telegraph Hills, 
your Beacon Hills and your Chapel Hills, 
your Mount Analogues and Montparnasses, 
down from your foothills and mountains, 
out of your teepees and domes. 
The trees are still falling 
and we’ll to the woods no more. 
No time now for sitting in them 
As man burns down his own house 
to roast his pig 
No more chanting Hare Krishna 
while Rome burns. 
San Francisco’s burning, 
Mayakovsky’s Moscow’s burning 
the fossil-fuels of life. 
Night & the Horse approaches 
eating light, heat & power, 
and the clouds have trousers. 
No time now for the artist to hide 
above, beyond, behind the scenes, 
indifferent, paring his fingernails, 
refining himself out of existence. 
No time now for our little literary games, 
no time now for our paranoias & hypochondrias, 
no time now for fear & loathing, 
time now only for light & love.

-Lawrence Ferlinghetti (Copyright, 1974)

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100_0742It has something to do with the persistent damp. Seepage; the ground fluid, churning. Things constantly coming to the surface that are better left buried.

In the spring, when the snows subside, dissolve away. Sometimes a careless farmer will plough up the wrong field. Or children will make a grisly discovery in the woods.

We have been condemned, collectively, for those dark times. You would think we all owned Kalashnikovs and a cluster of hand grenades.

They will not forgive the desecration of the churches. Those pictures. Awful, awful. Though some of us insist they were faked…

Listen, we can’t keep apologizing for the past. What’s done is done. It could happen in any modern, civilized state.

They want to call it genocide but we reject that.

It was war and terrible things occurred.

We won’t be treated as pariahs.

We have sinned but are answerable only to God.


100_0743

 

 

Copyright, 2013  Cliff Burns (All Rights Reserved)

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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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A memorable evening last night: we launched my two new collections, New & Selected Poems and Stromata to an enthusiastic audience and, I add (much to my relief), there were no glitches or screwups on my part.  I read for just over 35 minutes and then took questions from those in attendance. Great questions too, folks seeking clarification on my status as an independent author and also asking me about the changes in my writing over the past 25 years, among other things.

I’ll post some pictures ASAP but we also had two cameras running so in the next couple of weeks we’ll be uploading the entire reading on to YouTube where people can tune in and see me in action.

Without a trace of humbleness, I can tell you that there aren’t too many authors in this country who perform their work as well as I do. I take my responsibilities as an entertainer very seriously; I have been to too many readings where the authors have forgotten that they must also be performers. When I hit that podium, it’s my intention to blow people away, destroy their preconceptions, make it a night they won’t soon forget. And usually I succeed.

Thanks to everyone who came out on a chilly autumn night and an especially big THANK YOU to my production crew—Sherron, Sam, Sean, Micah—for their hard work.

Watch for the finished film, I really believe it captured one of the best readings I’ve ever done.

Man, was I hot

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Perfection!

(Click on image to enlarge)

For ordering info, visit my Bookstore.

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I’ve already leaked some of this over at my RedRoom page but (rubbing his hands together eagerly) here’s the cover of the companion volume to the New & Selected Poems.

Stromata: Prose Works (1992-2011) includes the creme de la creme of my short prose pieces (some folks call them prose poems).  These are brief (usually under 500 words) narrative works, often quite surreal, twisted, satirical and, frankly, vicious. These bits are perfect for performing at readings and frequently provoke gasps and, seconds later, gales of laughter.  Some of my favorites are in Stromata: “Cranes”, “A.I.”…material that hasn’t been in print and available to readers for many, many moons.  And some new pieces that, I think, show a progression in terms of themes and my approach to the subject matter.

I’ve said it before but here it is again: I love these two thin volumes.  While books like The Last Hunt and Of the Night reflect my skills as a storyteller, the collected poems and prose poems prove that I can “dangle” artistically with the best of them.

Dangle? Sorry, that’s a term that might only be familiar to hockey fans. If a player can really fly on the ice, skate fast and stickhandle you right out of your jock, we say, “man, look at that guy dangle”.  It’s like a whistle of appreciation.

I hemmed and hawed about it but there will be an e-book and Kindle version of Stromata (unlike the poems). Frankly, the books are so beautiful, who would want to settle for electronic copies? Why not get the real thing and have two lovely tomes that you can treasure forever?

Chris Kent did both covers and, I’m telling you, his book designs just keep getting better and better. He seems to understand intuitively what I’m looking for, the “less is more” mentality I apply to every aspect of my life.  Chris is a delight to work with—no huge ego, just a desire to execute  covers that are artful and eye-grabbing and irresistible.

Both the Selected Poems and Stromata retail at $12.00 (U.S.A. & Canada) and they each clock in at around 116 pages. Slim…but there’s a lot of power packed into those little gems.

New & Selected Poems is available now, today, this very instant…the release date for Stromata is September 20th.

More info to come…

(Click on covers to see larger versions)

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I just checked and my science fiction novelette “Eyes in the Sky” has been posted on the Amazon Kindle page and is now available for purchase.

You can find it here.

In terms of a teaser, have a look at  “Eyes in the Sky” excerpt.  Now, don’t you want to read the rest?

Well…

It’ll cost you a mere $.99 to download my spooky “what if…” tale, a possible past where there is no such thing as either a Nuclear or Space Age.  10,000 words long and a helluva bargain at less than a buck a pop.  I wrote an “Afterword” for it too.  A little added bonus.

I’m still not sold on these gadgets and readers but the nice thing about the Kindle is that you don’t need the actual device to read my tale, you can download the software for free from Amazon, read it on your computer screen or iPhone or what have you.  Cool.

History buffs and sci-fi fans are bound to love “Eyes in the Sky”, but I’m also hopeful the general reader will be drawn into the tale and find it entertaining and thrilling.

And don’t forget, “Eyes in the Sky” will also appear in my upcoming short story collection, Exceptions and Deceptions (December, 2012).

An exciting year of publishing ahead, so stay tuned.

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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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Lots of activity around Casa Burns of late, fascinating diversions and developments, including:

My son, Sam, finally overcame all sorts of technical glitches and released his latest cinematic effort, a short film titled “Snoop”.  It’s already garnered a good number of “hits” and positive comments from folks who’ve seen it.  I know I’m prejudiced, but I’m just amazed how well it’s framed and cut; the kid’s visual eye is nothing short of amazing.  Be sure to head over to YouTube and take in an eye-catching caper film.

Last weekend, I checked another item off my “bucket list” and participated in a sweat lodge out at the Sweetgrass Reserve.  My gratitude to Joseph Naytowhow and my wife, Sherron, for making the arrangements, and to elder Fred Paskimin for a once in a lifetime experience.  It’s going to take awhile to assimilate the power and intensity of that afternoon.  A lot of spiritual energy surging and buzzing around that cramped, sweltering interior…

A few of you have been pestering me for an update re: my “100 Book Challenge”.  All I can say is that I’m holding my own.  I just finished book #82 but I confess progress has definitely slowed over the past couple of months.  I’m going to have to pick up my game if I expect to make the cut.  Recent reads include Knockemstiff, a superb collection of short stories by Donald Ray Pollock, and The New Space Opera 2, a so-so anthology of SF tales that featured a couple of genuinely solid efforts, including “The Island” by Peter Watts, which was the high point of the book.

Spending too much time over at Jukesy, arranging playlists of strange, ambient tunes and discovering new groups to add to my personal soundtrack:  A Place to Bury Strangers, The Vandelles, The Radio Department, Hank Williams III…

Still researching my western novel, arranging my notes for the next draft, which should commence soon.  But there are distractions, including pricing out a new roof for our house (which turned 100 this year), tons of yardwork, a pressing need for all-season tires for the Toyota—

And, of course, my upcoming reading at the McNally Robinson bookstore in Saskatoon (Wednesday, October 12th).  In case you missed my previous plug, here’s the official invite, drawn up by my pal Alicia at M-R:

Hope to see you there.

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