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Posts Tagged ‘Canadian author’

Dilemma

 

Let’s say I do it, let’s say, dearest,

I tear down this crummy, old fence

of ours—then what?

 

Do I replace it with another fence,

clean and white and perfectly straight,

the wood treated with poison

solvents to keep it from weathering?

 

Perhaps a higher fence, six feet

or more, the boards squeezed close

together to dissuade prying eyes;

a solid wall to keep others out.

 

If I plant some kind of hedge, caragana

or what have you, as has been suggested,

will I feel suitably secure (i.e. is such a flimsy

barrier a credible deterrent against thieves)?

 

The other option is to leave our backyard

wide open and accessible to the alley…but

I’m not comfortable with that.

 

I agree that our fence is worn out,

dilapidated, something of an eyesore;

I apologize if it embarrasses you.

 

But as I’ve just explained, it’s no easy

matter replacing it—and some of your ideas

involve considerable expense. We must not

act hastily, allow emotion to over-rule reason.

 

I think for now I’ll keep propping it up as best

I can, until a practical solution presents itself

or, more likely, the entire goddamned thing finally

collapses, defeated by a horde of years.

 

Fence

 

 * * * * *

Diagnosis

 

Apparently I suffered from a

“cute anxiety”, that’s what Miss Haynes,

the school counselor, told my mother,

which somehow explained the boils,

bed-wetting and frequent crying fits.

 

I remember wondering if this cuteness

was curable and how I got it when I

was such an ugly child, my sisters said

so, and no one else took my side or

stated a contrary view.

 

boy

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At long last it’s done.

My son Sam completed final edits on the film he shot of my reading back in October, 2012.  The official launch of New & Selected Poems (1984-2011) and Stromata: Prose Works (1992-2011).

It was a huge file and he had to combine footage from a couple of cameras, synch sound, touch-up glitches and try to make an author reading as visually interesting as possible. No mean feat. But he’s done a fantastic job. The kid has an amazing eye and even if you don’t think much of the prose (or performer), I think you’ll agree that this effort is striking to look at, cut and trimmed and shaped with precision. All credit to my son, Sam Burns.

Here’s the reading, in its entirety.

Sit back and hit that play button…

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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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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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Another lengthy silence, and you know what that means.

Work, work, work…more specifically, edit, edit edit, as I plug away on my next project, a compilation of the short stories I’ve written since 1997. Over 300 manuscript pages to go through but I’m making surprisingly speedy progress. A fascinating mix of stories, many of them “mainstream”, others veering further off-track. Not sure how readers will react to such a diverse selection of tales. Literary and genre fiction rubbing shoulders.

But I’ve also been toiling away at some new prose, including a 4,000 word tale I’ll be posting on this blog closer to Christmas, a special gift to readers and regular visitors. It’s already passed muster with Sherron, who found it a real treat. I’ll tell you more about it in December. Watch this space.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to get back to work. I’ve set myself a May 30th, 2013 deadline for this project, which would free me up for the summer. Able to take the time to weigh ideas, conceive new notions, scheme ambitious schemes.

Something to look forward to after all this grinding is done.

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* Click on image to enlarge

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Couldn’t get into serious writing yesterday–still catching up on research on my western novel, The Last Hunt, and I’m not yet at the point where I can begin to tackle necessary revisions.

My science fiction story needs one final polish/run through before I send it off.  I’ll likely get that done today.

And so…yesterday.

Decided to create a little something with Garageband.  The first effort wasn’t very good but the second tune had promise (as soundtrack music for the creepiest film ever made maybe) and then came the third number…

Well.  I didn’t really set out to create a spoken word bit, but that’s how it came out.  I was poking around my notebook and came across a series of phrases that, if you put them together, would almost make a kind of narrative…

I plugged in the microphone and gave it a shot.  The very first vocal track was perfect and then I started building and shaping music around it.

The end result is “The Midnight Detective”, a 2 1/2 minute effort that plays around with noirish conceits and comes together for a rather tasty finale.

This piece should work on whatever audio player your computer employs (if it’s fairly new) and, of course, you’re free to download it and share it with pals and like-minded folks who might get a charge out of my whacked out, postmodern detective.

You’ll find more of my musical noodling and spoken word efforts on my Audio page.

Click here to listen to Midnight Detective

* This post is dedicated to Caroline Ames–Happy Birthday, kid.

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A few more poems, to close out National Poetry Month.  Dunno what led to this surge of verse of late—it’s not what I’m supposed to be writing, I’ll tell you that.

Ah, well, as previously reported, my muse can be pretty fickle and strange.

And just to prove that’s the case, I’ve added another recent ambient effort, one I’m very taken with, titled “String Theory”.  Bizarro space music and incomprehensible poetry…good grief.  Well, maybe now that Spring has returned to these parts I’ll feel compelled to get back to my real work, a project I shall elaborate on soon, very soon.

Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy today’s little treats:

Morris Ankrum


you could see the wires

stars hung off-kilter

Earth just a rubber ball

a funny shadow where

someone lurked, just out of frame

* * * * *

Those Of Us


who dream in slow motion

and have leaky prostates

and try so fucking hard

and who succeed, often in spite of themselves

and have no mother or father

and who must combat fear and depression

and who find ourselves inexplicably loved

and who are thankful for each blessed moment

and who know someday it must end

* * * * *

Foley Operator


You could hear birdsong

incongruous, but it was there

ambient chatter

shrill commentary

from the safety of the trees

* * * * *

Typecasting


I am tired of my role as resident cynic

the last angry man

critic of all he surveys

offering contempt in lieu of solutions

shouldering my burden of shame

well-versed on the subject of sin

while passionately opposing any notion of free will

* * * * *

And, finally, a few more minutes of music, a soundscape courtesy yours truly.  Here’s a thought:  play this while you’re reading the poetry—and let me know how the experiment goes.

Just click here:  String Theory

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kunderaRecently, Milan Kundera raised a few hackles in the Czech Republic by refusing to return to his home and native land to attend a conference devoted to his work.  Mr. Kundera stated that he did not wish to contribute to a “necrophile party” made up of academics and scholars, discussing and debating his work.

He also said, even more provocatively, that he considers himself a French writer and writes exclusively in that language.

Take that ye cultural nationalists!

It has long been my belief that a writer is a stateless citizen, an individual who inhabits no country and is beholden to no particular culture, gender, creed or race.  To identify oneself as an “American author”, “Czech author” or what have you, is to fly in the face of the kind of universality true authors seek to achieve through the power and originality of their work.

audienceWhen I make my rare public appearances I often have to provide a short bio so I can be introduced to an audience or gathering and I struggle mightily to compose something that isn’t embarrassing or misleading.  Earlier this year my wife adapted a couple of my short stories into theater pieces that were performed at a function here in the small city where we live.  I think the M.C. at one point called me a “local author” and I shrank down in my seat.  Is that all I am?  A local author?  A Saskatchewan author?  Even a Canadian author?

Christ, I hope not.  After twenty-five years of beating my brains out and destroying my fingers and shoulders and lower back, I’d like to think  I have higher aspirations for myself than that.

Nossir, I want to be read not only locally, not only nationally but around the entire fucking world.  I want my books and stories and essays to be devoured and enjoyed by future inhabitants of the Martian colony.  I want my collected works taken on the first flight to Alpha Centauri.  I want my prose to survive long after places like “Saskatchewan” and “Canada” cease to exist.

Isn’t that what all artists of worth strive for?  Immortality, an appeal that persists centuries after their bones have turned to dust.  And that is also why I struggle so hard to preserve the integrity of my work, not allowing some bowdlerized or aesthetically gutted version to supersede and supplant the real thing.

knoxI honestly wouldn’t change places with the likes of James Patterson or Stephanie Meyer for all the filthy lucre in the vaults of Fort Knox.  Their work won’t survive the next twenty years, let alone the uncounted eons that lie ahead.  No, let them choke on their money and watch as their books go out of print in their own lifetime.

It’s funny:  this past week I commented on the on-line site for CBC (our national broadcaster), responding to a short feature devoted to Robert Charles Wilson.  Mr. Wilson has managed to secure something of a reputation for himself as a SF writer, even snagged a Hugo Award for one of his novels.  Frankly, I find his prose merely workmanlike; he is yet another SF scribbler (like Jack McDevitt and Robert Sawyer) who has cashed in on a modest talent for stretching neat ideas into over-long novels and, in the process, made a tidy living for himself.   It’s a situation that’s pretty much endemic in SF but those guys are more guilty of that particular sin than most.

The folks who responded to my initial post comported themselves like typical, moronic SF fans.  They made all sorts of assumptions about me and indulged in numerous pointed, personal, ad hominem attacks, opining that I was merely jealous of Mr. Wilson’s commercial success.

pittWelcome to the Western world, where we equate achievement with how much money we make and how often our picture appears in the news (and our names show up on the ballot of worthless genre awards).

Jesus Christ.

I made the mistake of trying to debate with these “minions of fan-dumb” and earned more vitriolic attacks for those efforts.  Fuck it, I thought, and signed off without posting the really nasty parting shot I had composed.  It would have been a waste of time.  These are the same vacuous shitheads who are lining up in droves to see “Star Trek XXIV: The Quest For Profit” and the latest comic book adaptation, wearing out their thumbs on their game consoles.  The only heads they have on their shoulders are blackheads from all the junk food they cram into their maws so they can stay up all night watching the “Lord of the Rings” movies back to back and wrapping “Fallout 3″.  Fuck them.  No way I’ll lie down with those pigs.

No, I’m bound for the stars.  I write for posterity and to preserve a literary legacy that I hope will last as long as there’s a single, discerning reader out there who longs for something off the beaten track, a work that reminds them what it means to be human, the attendant hopes and accompanying foibles.  A man or woman lonely, isolated, seeking the companionship of a long-dead author whose devotion to the printed word transcends time and vast distances and alien, hostile farscapes.

Keep your trophies, baubles and bullion.

I serve a higher calling…and make no allowances for those whose lack of courage and faith causes them to choose low roads and demean the gifts they have been so generously granted.

space

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