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Vacuum FlowerFinally a warming trend around here. February in Saskatchewan has been a spine-stiffening experience; the one saving grace, there hasn’t been massive snowfalls to add insult to injury.

But according to the forecast, the temps will hover around -6 or -8 for most of the coming week. Balmy weather, compared to what we’ve been enduring up ’til now.  Frankly, I always feel better once the first of March rolls around—I can practically hear the crocuses stirring, even under four feet of packed snow.

A flurry of e-mails and communications after my last post and I guess I should have known better. Even by alluding to my novel-in-progress I was opening a can of worms. Now everybody wants to know details about the plot, genre, etc.

Now, you folks ought to know me better than that. I know some writers talk about their on-going projects, post excerpts, furnish plot details and teasers, seeking feedback from fans and readers.

How nice.

How not Cliff.

Kids, not even my wife knows more than the absolute bare bones of my current project. I keep my books, stories, poems under wraps until I’m ready to release them to the world. I want her to be surprised, amazed at my audacity (or, just as likely, dubious of my sanity). I seek no editorial input until a project is very near completion…then I’ll pass it on to Sherron and let her pick at it for errors, oversights or continuity problems. As much as I respect my small cadre of dedicated readers, they have no say in any aspect of my work…nor will I make adjustments to a book or story with the aim of pleasing them (or anyone). I don’t write Choose Your Own Adventure” books, y’know?

Here’s what I will tell you:

My novel is tentatively titled Based on a True Story and it will clock in at around 220 pages (60,000 words). About the same length as my western, The Last Hunt. Genre? Mainstream, crime fiction (of sorts), an old mystery coming to the surface. No fantastic elements whatsoever.

Let’s see, what other questions have people been asking…

Is it a personal project?

Huh? All of my work employs my odd, personal take on things. And while much of it might contain incidents from life, very little of my writing is strictly autobiographical. Characters and situations entirely the product of my fertile and perverse imagination. You wanna write about yourself? Start a fucking diary…

Is it another case for Zinnea & Nightstalk?

No.

Will there eventually be another Zinnea and--

Yes. When it’s time and I clear some of the other stuff off my desk.

Other projects? Like what? Can you give me an example?

Aha. Good for you. Not a chance.

Why do you take so long to release your books?

Because I want to get them right.

Why are each of your books so different?

I don’t want to get stuck in a rut. Look, my own tastes are wide-ranging and eclectic and I want to see that reflected in my literary efforts. I disdain writers who author the same book over and over again or explore the same universe in a ridiculously long and convoluted series, milking their invented world for all it’s worth. That’s why I’m not pounding out one Zinnea & Nightstalk mystery after another, even though, God knows, that would delight many people out there. I’m not a hack, I’m a creative artist who wants to challenge himself, push the limits of a very finite and modest-sized talent. That’s the way I’ve approached literature for the past thirty (30) years and I don’t see that changing any time soon.

Is this latest book cinematic like the others? Your stuff always seems like it could easily be adapted into movies.

Hmm. Yes, definitely. I see what you mean. And a number of my efforts have been optioned…but it never seems to go anywhere. Last month a film-maker contacted me about one of my novellas and it ended badly. I wrote about it over on my RedRoom blog. It isn’t pretty. Hope it serves as an object lesson to other writers out there who might be going through the same thing. Stand up for yourself and remember: until you sign that contract, you hold all the power. Do your homework and work your ass off to get the best possible deal. Don’t get screwed because you’re humble, shy and/or dislike confrontation. People like that get eaten alive.

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

That’s it for now. Still have a full day of editing ahead of me. Should be finished this latest run-through (draft #3) in the next three or four days. Then some time off (it’s been 32 days straight of 10-12 hour writing sessions), do some background reading and research and then…on to draft #4.

Write on…

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Looks like it’s still going to be 2-3 weeks before the physical copies of my new short story collection arrive.

Once again, it seems the geeks have an advantage over the rest of us.  If you don’t want to wait for the “dead tree edition”, you can buy either the Kindle or e-book version of Exceptions & Deceptions and fire it up on your tablet or gear of choice.  

Available today. Right now.  Just point your cursor and…click.

Amazon has their version up and running and another joint called Lybrary.com has an e-Pub version ready for downloading (which can be viewed on most reading devices). I imagine Powell’s Books and Barnes & Noble will both be selling e-versions of Exceptions & Deceptions very soon as well.

Those of you wanting to lay your hands on an actual book, alas, must wait a little longer.

Patience, my children.  As I type this a proof is winging its way to my mailbox and from there we go straight into production.

I’m as anxious as an expectant father with a pocketful of cigars…

"Blessed..."

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Check it out:

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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* Click on image to enlarge

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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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It’s official:

New & Selected Poems is listed for purchase from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

…and, of course, you can place an order through your favorite bookstore.  God bless the indies!

Finally, you can drop a money order my way and get a personally inscribed copy.

I want to remind everyone that this volume is only available as a “dead tree” edition—no Kindle or e-book versions envisioned at this time.

And if you could see and pick up and handle the book, you’d understand why.  It’s beautiful and should be experienced as a tactile, physical object, a relic from another time.

I love this book…and hope you will too.

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I’ve been getting queries, folks asking about my New & Selected Poems, a volume I promised would be published in mid-July.

There have been…delays. It’s summertime, doncha know, and the pace of life slows down. One must be patient, not overly concerned with deadlines.

(Deep breaths, cue ambient bird chatter…)

But yesterday I finally received word that the proof is on the way and I anticipate (if there are no glitches, knock wood) going into production upon its receipt. Which means the end of next week. Only a month overdue.

But it will be worth the wait. Oh, yes. Last week I confessed to Sherron that the release of this collection, along with a “Best of…” compilation of prose poems that will follow in a few weeks, excites me more than any book since So Dark the Night.

The poems and prose works are a distillation of all of my major themes, obsessions…and fears. The most intimate, personal confessions, microscopic examinations of my soul, combined with cosmological and spiritual speculations, whole universes crammed into the space of a few simple sentences.

I’m delighted to have this material in print—some of it is from older editions, no longer available. It’s a pleasure to introduce it to a new generation of readers. Both volumes cover over twenty years’ worth of writing; I have to say it’s fascinating to examine the development and progression of my thoughts. Unsettling as hell too (as the Afterword to my New & Selected Poems attests).

Ordering information will be posted soon. And watch for more news on that companion volume, including a cover mockup and some sample pages.

Pop by for further details in the coming days…

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A flurry of activity around here, finishing projects and scheming new ones and, meanwhile, trying not to over-do it on the work front.  That means maintaining a regular regimen of stretching, getting out of the house at least once every day for a walkabout, even if it’s only to the library and back. That also means reading more and trying to familiarize myself with this notion of “relaxing”. Re-lax?

I’ve been devouring lots of memoirs of late, a genre I usually wouldn’t touch with a fully charged cattle prod. But I’m not talking about the recent crop o’ crap—whining, self-indulgent wankfests—I’m referring to stellar efforts by Bernard Cooper and Frederick Exley. Exley’s A Fan’s Notes is an amazingly accomplished and courageous book. Two titles by Daniel Pinchbeck have also impressed, Breaking Open the Head and 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl. I find his ideas and conjectures far more lucid and comprehensible than the late Terence McKenna’s; I predict Monsieur Pinchbeck is gonna be a star. He’ll alter more than a few consciousnesses before he’s through…

I’ve been bringing in lots of hard to find books via interlibrary loans…but, unfortunately, I’ve acquired a rather formidable stack, all of which must be read within a finite, prescribed time limit. No pissing about. Brilliant stuff like Graham Robb’s Parisians, Colson Whitehead’s Sag Harbor, The Great War and Modern Memory (Paul Fussell), The Good Soldier Svejk (Jaroslav Hasek) and an anthology of modern German poetry edited by Michael Hamburger. And more on the way…

Ah, but don’t think I’ve been devoting myself entirely to leisure. Surely you know me better than that.

I have not one but two major projects nearing completion. You heard right.

It’s always bothered me that much of my early work (pre-1997) is out of print. There were a number of limited edition chapbooks produced during that interval (That First, Wound-Bearing Layer and Genuinely Inspired Primitive), poetry (violins in the void)…and none of it is available any more. Sold out. A cursory check on-line tells me that a few enterprising souls are offering these hard-to-find editions at a pretty steep price.

So I’ve spent the last couple of months assembling, culling and editing two short volumes, clocking in at around 115 pages each.

The first, which should be out in mid-July, is New & Selected Poems (1984-2011). Over 25 years of my best verse brought together in one nice, compact tome. These poems are personal and revealing, condensed almost to the point of combustion…I love them but they scare me. I think the short Afterword I’ve provided at the end of the book explains why.

The other volume is a compilation of my short prose pieces and monologues. I’m calling it Stromata and the material it covers dates back to 1992. Stromata will be available the end of August.

The two books are intended to be companion volumes and their design will reflect that. You’ll see what I mean—I’ll upload the covers once our pal Chris Kent has put something together.

Both books will retail around $12 and, no, before you ask, no advance orders. Nothing until I have the first shipment from Lightning Source sitting in my front hallway.

Looking forward to an exciting summer…although I wish this mix of sun and rain we’ve had so far would be replaced by two weeks of hot, dry weather. A real Saskatchewan summer. Ah, well, it’s still early days. Other than the horrendous mosquitoes, last summer was just about perfect. Here’s hoping for lots sun, fun and reading in the months ahead.

See you at the lake.

Remember to bring a good book.

Here are ten poems, excerpted from New & Selected Poems, just posted on my Scribd page.  Click on the link and go have a look…

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You’ve seen the gorgeous cover, now it’s time to sample the first twenty pages or so of my new western novel, The Last Hunt.

We’ve sent off the text and cover files to Lightning Source and don’t expect any problems with the setup.  Expect to have the proof of The Last Hunt in around ten days and once it passes muster, the book will be on sale and officially available to readers in whatever format they choose. You can get signed copies from me (sorry, the shipping rates are getting rather dear) or order one from your favorite bookseller.

Once I was resigned to writing a western of all things, I made it my goal to concoct a good one, a tale worthy of a genre that has spawned superb authors like Allan LeMay, Richard S. Wheeler, Larry McMurtry, Elmer Kelton and Elmore Leonard and presented us with cinema classics like “Ride the High Country”, “Hombre” and “The Wild Bunch”.  I don’t have the required background or understanding of the period and history and had to rely on people like my father-in-law, Ken Harman, and historian Lee Whittlesey to help me better envision 1880’s America.  I pronounce myself absolutely chuffed with the end result of a year of research and writing (sometimes simultaneously)—The Last Hunt should satisfy western fans but I’m also hoping it will draw in folks who like a tall tale that’s well told, regardless of where or when it’s set.

Okay, I’ll quit yapping.  There are other things I should be doing, including some initial promo stuff, preparing for the official launch, spreading the word…

You’ll help, won’t you?  Facebook about The Last Hunt, tell your friends about this loopy Canuck writer who veers from supernatural thrillers to Old West gunfighter stories. Send them a link to this site.  Warn them some of my stuff might blow their mind.  Call me an “indie writer”.  Tell them it’s not as scary as it sounds…

To read an excerpt from Cliff Burns’ latest novel, The Last Hunt, click here:

LastHunt-excerpt

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Last night we had the official launch of my new novel Of the Night at the North Battleford Library.

A heartfelt thank you to Wendy and all the hardy souls who braved the first serious cold snap this winter to celebrate the birth of my latest literary offspring.  Sherron and my two sons handled the lights and tech and made sure everything went off without a hitch.  Thanks, guys!

Naturally, I over-prepared, endlessly rehearsing my introductory remarks and the three excerpts I had chosen to read.  Ah, well.  I think it went off well and the good vibes bubbled over into the book signing afterward.

Speaking of those remarks:

I’ve decided to post them, since they’re a good, concise description of my experiences over the past two decades as an independent author and publisher.  I hope these words will inspire others while, at the same time, providing insights re: some of the difficulties and frustrations I’ve endured for choosing the less-travelled path (my essay “Solace of Fortitude” covers similar territory, albeit at greater length).

To all the indie authors out there, struggling to make themselves heard:  write on!


* * * * * * * *

 

What do you do when you’ve written a good book and no one wants to publish it?

Twenty years ago, when faced with that dilemma, I made the somewhat irrational decision to go ahead and print it myself.  I knew nothing about what went into producing a physical book but, to my mind, that was beside the point.  Getting that book, that gruesome little book, into the hands of readers was paramount.

Because the alternative—giving up, throwing in the towel—means that a good book never even has a chance at finding a readership.  It languishes in a box somewhere, years and perhaps even decades pass and it doesn’t see the light of day.  It might be a lost classic…or a piece of garbage.  We’ll never know.  Book-lovers aren’t accorded the opportunity to render their verdict.

And let’s take a look at the recent track record of the folks who decide what gets published and what doesn’t.  Hardly encouraging, to say the least.  Sales figures are dropping precipitously, bookstores and chains all over the U.S. and Canada are closing or seeking bankruptcy protection; independent bookstores have almost entirely disappeared.  Venerable publishing divisions have been lopped off or dramatically downsized, layoffs announced, the demise of the book predicted, onset of a post-literate culture looming—

Doesn’t sound like publishers and retailers have succeeded at capturing the contemporary zeitgeist, does it?  Why have so many people, apparently, stopped reading or scaled back to the point where a substantial number of respondents in one poll indicated they hadn’t read a single work of fiction in the past year?

Could it be that the industry is printing and selling books that nobody wants to read?  Perhaps in their efforts to meet the lowest common denominator, rehashing the same types of books over and over again, scraping the creosote off the bottom of the barrel, traditional publishers have alienated serious readers; worse yet, bored them with formulas, derivative prose, copycat covers and cookie cutter authors.

Publishing today has been debased by celebrity and dumbed down to attract people who normally wouldn’t tackle anything more demanding than the back of a cereal box.  This mentality is abetted by greedhead agents looking to nab their 15% of the pie and corporate editors who know full well the suits upstairs want big numbers, bestsellers…and if they don’t deliver, they’ll lose that rent-controlled apartment, all those sweet perqs and per diems that make their lousy lives bearable.  Shit, let’s face it, the markets take one more big dip, the guys in the boardroom start getting nervous and anyone could end up in the street.  There are more than a few ex-CEOs and executive vice-presidents living behind 7-11’s, begging spare change so they can get their Blackberrys out of hock.

So let me ask you something:  why should I, as an author, defer to anyone affiliated with an industry that publishes godawful tripe by the likes of Dan Brown, Stephenie Meyer, Sophie Kinsella and…well, feel free to fill in the blanks with your most detested hack of choice.  Those inept scribblers aren’t better writers than I am:  their prose has all the symmetry and grace of someone slipping on a wet floor with an arm-load of pots and pans.  Understand, I don’t resent their big money contracts, but I sure as hell detest them for taking up valuable shelf space and making mince-meat out of the printed word.

I love good writing and revere authors who trust and respect their audience enough to break away from convention, fearlessly leading readers into strange, unknown terrain. But it’s getting harder and harder to find work that seems fresh and exciting.  You have to look farther afield, to some of the small and micro-presses out there…because traditional publishing is a wasteland of zombies, vampires, tepid romance and poor-me memoirs.  It’s enough to make a book-lover weep.

But there are alternatives.  Those small presses I alluded to…and a growing number of independent authors who, taking a cue from their musical counterparts, have gone their own way, demanding total autonomy over their career and creations.  Seizing control of the means of production, refusing to be exploited and humiliated by a system as ancient, obsolete and calcified as a dinosaur turd.

Independent authors…like me.  Back in 1990 I knew I had a good book, a cool collection of short stories that counted among its fans none other than the great Timothy Findley.  How could it fail?  But that volume, titled Sex & Other Acts of the Imagination, was turned down by literally every press and publisher you can name.  So I released it myself.  We sold out the entire print run in 4 1/2 months…and I was hooked.  I loved the sense of empowerment the process of self-publishing gave me, loved how every decision–from the selection of cover art to the choice of interior font–was left completely up to me.

This year, 2010, our imprint Black Dog Press is two decades old and it’s my 25th anniversary as a professional writer.  Usually I’m not one who displays much interest in birthdays or anniversaries but I felt compelled, on this occasion, to do something I hadn’t done before, which is release two books in one year—just to prove my oddball micro-press is still alive, still kicking.

I think the books in question, So Dark the Night and Of the Night, are representative of the best of what independent presses are capable of producing.  Thrilling, literate, original fiction; books for readers who still treasure a well-told story.

And aren’t they beautiful?  For that, credit belongs to our long-suffering cover designer, Chris Kent, working his magic with lovely artwork created by Ado Ceric and Adrian Donoghue.  I also want to say special thanks to Sherron, for the invaluable role she has played in the conception, creation and release of literally every single thing I’ve written for the past quarter century.

So…what do you do when you’ve written a good book and no one wants to publish it?

D.I.Y.  Do it yourself.  Use new technologies like print-on-demand and e-books and blogging to get your work out there.  Let your readership decide if your prose is worthy…or not.  Write as well as you can and edit your work carefully; do a better, more conscientious job than your traditionally published, over-paid counterparts.  Help defeat the impression that the indie movement is nothing more than a haven for amateurs and never-will-bes.  Most of all, don’t let anyone deny you a voice, your rightful place at the campfire.  Your story is important.  It’s part of a long tradition, a Great Narrative as timeless and enduring as the very fabric of Creation.

“In the beginning was the Word…”

And don’t you ever forget it.

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