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SEX:coverTwenty-five years ago, I was a frustrated, angry writer.

I’d assembled a “Best of…” collection of tales and spent more than a year trying to find a publisher for it. All of the stories in that collection, titled Sex & Other Acts of the Imagination, had been previously published, some in pretty prestigious publications. A couple had aired on CBC Radio and I’d even received a generous grant from the Canada Council that helped pay for writing part of the book.

Didn’t matter.

See, the widely held view is that single author short story collections, regardless of the stature of the writer, just don’t sell. Sadly, I can tell you from personal experience that this is not an urban legend, for some reason contemporary readers shun the short story format. God knows why. Regardless, publishers tend to shy away from anthologies and such and my little offering was no exception.

“These stories are well written but as you know in today’s marketplace short story collections do not attract significant sales, etc….”

Heard that one a number of times.

But, curiously enough, the one sentiment repeated over and over again was this:  good writing, exciting plots and themes, but we don’t publish this type of thing.

What exactly was “this type of thing”?

My own bizarre concoction, a spicy stew of science fiction, horror, fantasy and mainstream, literary prose. A mash-up of every genre under the sun, defying categorization and safe niches. Which didn’t help matters. As far as Canadian presses were concerned anything with the slightest taint of genre was out—more than one Canuck editor gave me the impression that my stories weren’t, well, Canadian enough, didn’t conform to some weird, unwritten cultural checklist.

And as far as the Americans and Brits were concerned, I was a young, emerging writer, no following, and while my work showed originality and creative spark, it wasn’t worth risking a significant investment of time and resources.

So my book was effectively dead in the water.

But I couldn’t help thinking about a fellow I’d heard about out east, a guy who’d made it his mission in life to stick a pin in the Canadian publishing industry and, in general, make a nuisance of himself. Crad Kilodney’s best stunt, in my view, was submitting classic stories by Kafka and Hemingway and others to a national literary contest and then publicly embarrassing the judges and administrators for failing to recognize their literary merit.

Crad, understandably, found it difficult to place his work so he started publishing it himself and selling it as limited edition chapbooks on the streets of Toronto. My wife brought me back a copy of one he dubbed Bang Heads Here Suffering Bastards in the late 1980′s and I was immediately impressed by the author’s chutzpah and creative passion.

When my Sex collection was passed over by every publisher north of the Rio Grande, I recalled Crad and his fuck you, DIY mentality and thought to myself, shit, I can do that too.

It took me months to put it all together, find the right cover art, a printer and bookbinder, and the final price tag was (gulp) just over $3000 to print 500 copies. Money I did not have.

Fortunately, the entire print run sold out in about five months.

It was astonishing.

I think my old chum Mark Ziesing sold at least 70 copies through his small mail order company alone. The Regina bookstore I worked for at the time also moved a lot of copies and every time Sherron and I travelled somewhere, we always took a box with us, nabbing consignment sales in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary and Toronto.

There were no returns.

The crowning moment was when our bookstore staff had dinner with Canadian literary icon Timothy Findley. Once he heard I had a new book out, Tiff generously asked to see it. After reading it, he sent me the most beautiful blurb possible. I was unable to use his kind words on that edition of Sex and promised him I would never employ them on any other title except the one for which they were intended. And so when I re-release Sex and Other Acts of the Imagination on its 25th anniversary early next year (2015), it will finally feature Tiff’s warm praise:

“This is a book of hot dreams and frozen nightmares. It floats on a plane few writers achieve, where the imagery is raw but the insights are tender. The people in these stories will stay with me for a long time to come.”

Thanks, Tiff. You dear, sweet man.

I’ve published a couple of short chapbooks and a collection of novellas (Righteous Blood) through other small presses but I have to say none of those experiences came close to the joy I felt writing, editing and publishing my own work. No middle men, no editorial interference, no bullshit. Controlling all the creative and aesthetic decisions, right down to the choice of font and margins.

I was hooked.

I released books through my imprint, Black Dog Press, in 1994, 1995, 1997…but that last title (another short story collection!), The Reality Machine, cost me close to $7000 and put a serious strain on our finances. It took us awhile to recover and then I embarked on a 3 1/2 year odyssey that became, eventually, my occult thriller So Dark the Night.

The completion of that novel coincided with the arrival of print-on-demand publishing, the biggest change to the book biz since Joe Gutenberg opened his first copy shop in Mainz.  Thanks to POD, publishing on a smaller scale has become much more affordable, plus I now have access to the international marketplace I’ve always coveted. Physical book or digital version, it’s up to my readers.

Since the 2010 publication of So Dark the Night, this press has released 5 more titles, each of them professionally designed and formatted, featuring eye-poppingly gorgeous cover art. You’ll find them in my bookstore and, I think you’ll agree, they look as good as any offering you’ll come across in your favorite book store. The writing isn’t bad either.

So that’s the story behind Black Dog Press, my eccentric little publishing venture. Twenty-five years  and eleven titles later (two more in the pipeline), and we’re still going strong.

I may never get rich but at least my work is out there, available to readers who seek prose that veers from the familiar and mocks the very notion of consensual reality. In this era of corporate publishing, a profit-mongering environment that encourages the proliferation of sub-literate, derivative fiction, independent presses like mine offer hope and inspiration to those of us who revere the printed word and refuse to kowtow to the mediocre and witless.

Thanks for your support over the years.

The best is yet to come.

Write on…

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Poems:CoverThis just in:

My volume of New & Selected Poems (1984-2011) has been shortlisted for a 2013 ReLit Award.

Read about it here.

The ReLits celebrate the best books released from independent Canadian presses and I’m pleased to make the final roster and delighted to be in the company of some really fine writers.

My thanks to the administrators and sponsors and all involved.

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100_0750I can hardly fathom it, but this is blog post #299.

Wow.

When I consider the amount of writing that represents, the amount of words, I’m more than a little taken aback.

I find it fascinating how much the blog has morphed in the past six years. It started out as a platform for an angry-not-so-young man venting about the stupidity of traditional publishing and now it’s pretty much anything goes.  A couple of years ago I started adding music and short films and recorded spoken word pieces—that was exciting. New technologies put film-making, the creation of music and visual art, into the hands of more of us and while that’s led to an explosion of amateurism and incompetence, it has also allowed a few bright lights to shine as they try out new disciplines (and make some rather brilliant beginner’s mistakes).

But the absolute best part of having this blog is that it puts me in person-to-person contact with my readers. I was somewhat slow getting on the whole blogging bandwagon but now I can’t tell you how thrilled I am at how many people have written and reached out to me through this site. I soon came to realize I have readers from virtually every part of the world—I recall one chap who wrote to me from a university classroom in Melbourne, Australia. Bored with his instructor, wanting to talk about writing. Still makes me smile.

I’m also pleased that Beautiful Desolation has put me in touch with fellow indie artists, writers and musicians who have little truck with the corporate scene and want to express themselves without interference or compromise. I think after close to 30 years in this biz, I’m seen as some kind of “grand old man” of indie writing/publishing. Occasionally, I’ll get calls or e-mails from someone in the press, a reporter seeking my views on independent publishing, e-books, the state of writing in general, and I have to smile. As a prognosticator, my record isn’t exactly stellar. I think I’m on record as saying a few years back that e-readers were mere gadgets and people would eventually tire of them and return to physical books.

Ahem…

Let’s face it, life ain’t easy for us indie types. Most publications refuse to take us seriously or review our work so it’s very hard to get any “buzz” going when we release new material. On top of that, there’s the absolutely unprecedented amount of writing being released these days (see my last blog post), and that flood of material, that deluge of (mostly) offal, renders it well-nigh impossible to draw readers to excellent, literate, world-class writing. Who wants to pick through a reeking dung pile in the faint hope you might find a glistening pearl?

But I’ve stuck it out for nearly three decades, refusing to be cowed by idiotic editors and scumbag agents. Yeah, the money is lousy and the rewards few and far between but, y’know what? My strange little imprint has released some really fine titles over the years and there isn’t one of them I’m not honored to call mine. No hackwork, no sharecropping, no selling out. Every one of my books, right from the first, is original, innovative, literary, intelligent. How does that compare with the shite polluting the last box store you browsed?

* * * *

A couple of weeks since my previous post and you know what that means:

25,000 words on paper in the last ten days. A new project in a new “genre” I’ve never tried before. Good Lord. Sometimes even longtime readers must just throw up their hands and wonder what possesses me. I wish I knew. All I can do is follow my Muse, wherever she leads me. And often that’s taken me into some mighty strange territories. I mean, a western, for heaven’s sake?

I’m quite encouraged by this new project (still unnamed) but it’s going to involve a lot of research at some point. As soon as this rough draft is completed, I’ll be Googling like a sumbitch, trying to find out all about—well, never mind. Think I’ll wait a bit, hold off until this piece is further along before I open up about it. Even my wife is in the dark as to what I’m up to.

Not much time for leisure and entertainment in the past while, but my sons and I did manage to zip in to Saskatoon to see Nicholas Winding Refn’s latest flick, “Only God Forgives”. My review appears over on my film blog.

One last thing:  three hundred blog posts deserves some kind of special recognition. So I’ve prepared a treat for #300, a little freebie for everyone who’s dropped in out of curiosity and came back because they liked what they saw.

My thanks to you, one and all.

DSC00247

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LibraryBless Judge Denise Cote and the U.S. Department of Justice for giving a colossal slough-foot to Apple.

By finding the mega-corp guilty of price-fixing their e-books, a small dent has been made in the culture of impregnability and arrogance that has surrounded the company since the halcyon days of Steve Jobs. Responding to the ruling, Apple CEO Tim Cook and official spokesman Tom Neumayr displayed the usual “see you in court” mentality one would expect from a company with the bank balance to fight judgements like this ’til the end of time. No thought of ‘fessing up or doing the right thing. Not from these guys. “Responsibility” is just another word in the dictionary, stuck somewhere between “rectum” and “robbery”.

Let me remind you: everyone else affiliated with this episode has, at least tacitly, admitted wrong-doing and made efforts to settle up. The five major publishers swept up in the case paid tens of millions for their evil, gouging ways. If there was any real justice, they’d have their right hands lopped off as befitting thieves and greedheads but never mind.

Folks, I publish books and e-books and let me tell you, straight up, if you’re paying more than four or five bucks for downloading the latest piece of shit Dan Brown novel or some other crime against literature, you’re being hosed. No kidding. The most I charge for an e-book version of one of my tomes is $3.99. And I manage to make a small profit from it. Enough to make it worth my while.

The major publishers are screwing you when you pay ten bucks for an electronic file that takes a few hundred dollars to create. That’s right, a few hundred dollars. Stop enabling these pigs and find other ways to beg, borrow or, yes, pirate the pieces of crap publishers are foisting on us these days (and over-charging for the privilege). You owe no loyalty to these people and as long as they continue their mercenary, cash-grabbing ways, feel free to boycott them…and seek your reading further afield.

Like the indie (independent) publishing world. We love our readers and fans.

And wouldn’t think of stealing from their pocketbooks or betraying their trust.

Fuck the corporations and their stooges!

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And, no, wise guy, I’m not talking about my naked body as I step out of the shower in the morning.

I’m referring to a recent post over at Mediabistro (why do I continue to subscribe to them, they only depress me) crowing that over 235,000 self-published books were released last year.  That’s physical books and their digital cousins.

Sturgeon’s Law would have you think 90% of those titles are complete crap but, based on my own investigations, I would say the actual figure is closer to 99.8%. Which means, according to my very rough calculations (I’ve detested math all my life), less than 500 of the aforementioned books are worth even glancing at.

Nearly a quarter million books, only 500 possessing any kind of literary merit.  Pretty grim, huh?

But when was the last time you walked through a Chapters or Barnes & Noble book barn? Of the thousands of books your eyes passed over, what percentage looked intelligent enough to warrant a closer look? I’m guessing it was a very tiny proportion. Crap is crap, whether it’s produced by a bad cowboy poet from Dubuque, or issues forth from Random House, with the full weight of their publicity machine behind it.

I’ve just about given up on the big box stores. This past week we were visiting Edmonton and I had the great fortune to spot Old Strathcona Books, a wonderful used book place on Gateway Boulevard. The selection was amazing and the two gals behind the counter friendly and welcoming, real book-lovers, with in-depth knowledge of their wares. My kinda joint.

Get out there and support first rate bookstores like Old Strathcona, marvel at the wide selection of titles they offer, hard to find tomes and marginalia that highlight the diversity of fine fiction available to discriminating readers, unheralded authors waiting to be discovered. Because despite the flood of offal being spewed out these days by traditional publishers and the self-publishing gits, superb works of literature are still being produced…you just have to dig around and search for them.

Don’t be discouraged, steel your nerves and have at it.

The reward, finding a book that changes your perspective, alters the way you think and look at the world, sends seismic shockwaves through your soul and soma, makes all those tireless efforts worthwhile.

Read on…

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Anyone who buys or reads Fifty Shades of Grey:

* immediately loses the right to vote (only adults have that privilege)

* is likely obese (physically or mentally)

* won’t be able to decipher this quote from Jung:  “People will do anything, no matter how absurd, in order to avoid facing their own souls.”

* should be consigned to menial jobs (cleaning, service industry); work more suited to stunted intellects and invalid brains

* must enter mandatory counseling for those suffering from “intimacy problems” (i.e fear of penetrative intercourse and/or anything remotely resembling a healthy sexual attitude)

* will immediately enroll in Morons Anonymous, rising at their first meeting and loudly proclaiming:  “Hello, my name is ______________ and I’m a fucking moron”

* should turn in their library card (in a post-literate world, you won’t need one)

* probably hasn’t had a date for awhile

* is likely to be a shut-in (and if not, should be)

* clearly made a mistake not finishing high school

* signs their name with an “X”

* reads tabloids

* needs help

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My wife and niece (hey, Brittany!) insisted it was time for me to do more “social networking” (ack! ack!) and I’ve conceded only to the extent of agreeing that they could start a Facebook page dedicated to my work.

If you’re into that sort of thing, here’s a link to the page in question (you’ll also find it on my blogroll).

I’m not the administrator of record, so I’ll be passing along photos, links, updates and rants to my wife, who is much more in tune with what’s going on in cyberspace.  Apparently, when it comes to Facebooking (to quote Shakespeare) “brevity is the soul of wit” and I’m to keep my eruptions as short and to the point as possible.

Ah, well, I’ll do my best to be as concise as I am intemperate.

The main thing is not to be boring.

And, I promise, that will never be the case as long as you’re hanging out with me…

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I’m a far better writer than James Patterson. James Patterson is a hack and an embarrassment to the English language. A formulaic, dull, repetitious scribbler who has parlayed his insignificant talent into a personal fortune. A pox on him and all he represents.

I’m a better writer than Stephenie Meyer, Elizabeth Gilbert, Dan Brown, Jodi Picoult, Nora Roberts, Dean Koontz, Sophie Kinsella, John Grisham, Nicholas Sparks.

I’m a better writer than Suzanne Collins, E.L. James, Vince Flynn, Janet Evanovitch, Stieg Larsson, Rick Riordan and a substantial majority of the authors currently atop the Globe & Mail‘s bestseller list.

Any one of my titles surpasses in quality 90% of the books occupying the shelves of your favorite bookstore.

I write for the sheer joy of creating and make no effort to conform to the current marketplace or ride the latest trend; my freedom to write what I please allows me to produce prose that is original, inventive and literate.

My twenty-five+ years as a creative writer have provided me with an aesthetic that is demanding and uncompromising. The bar is always set high, regardless if I’m writing a full-length novel or an essay on the enduring appeal of “Gumby” cartoons.

If, by any chance, you’re bored by the fare you’re finding as you browse around for something new to read, I hope you’ll search farther afield, have a close look at an indie writer with a long roster of professional credits and a lengthy history of doing things his own way.

Unlike many of the authors I cited at the beginning of this post, I have tremendous respect for my readers and wouldn’t think of releasing sub-standard or second rate material.  The notion of writing the same book over and over again and not developing as an artist repels me; the concept of writing purely for financial gain is entirely alien to my thinking.

There are plenty of free writing samples on this site, in Stories and Novels, so I hope you’ll click over, skim the opening pages of some of my offerings, see for yourself if I have anything worthwhile to say, words that speak to your heart.

Ignore the bestseller lists and take a chance on something different for a change, work that challenges preconceptions and genuinely surprises you (when was the last time that happened?).  I think my tales will appeal to a wide cross-section of people.  A growing number of folks out there agree (and God bless ‘em).  There’s definitely a buzz in the air…

C’mon, admit it:  don’t you want to see what the excitement’s all about?

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It’s Thanksgiving for our American cousins—it strikes me that late November is a weird time to be giving thanks, especially if you happen to live above the Mason-Dixon Line and your kids have already built a congregation of snowmen in your front yard.

And, frankly, I don’t need the excuse of a national holiday to carve up a turkey and then subsist for the next week on turkey leftovers, turkey sandwiches and, finally, turkey soup (sorry, I just drooled all over my keyboard).  Turkey, mashed potatoes and corn on the cob, with pumpkin pie for dessert.  If I somehow manage to gain admission through the Pearly Gates I fully expect that to be the first meal St. Peter and his horde of super-efficient seraphim waiters place in front of me.

* * * * *

Yes, indeed, busy times here at Burns Central:  Sherron seems to have been on the road since her first day back at work in September. Driving hither and yon throughout her massive, far-flung school division, giving workshops and presentations. She’s seen more of this area of the province than this homebody ever will.

Both my sons are deeply involved in their individual obsessions, namely, submission wrestling and film-making.  Sam and his creative partner Sean hope to have a short movie ready to enter in the “Youth” component of the Yorkton Film Festival and are collaborating on a script. I accompanied Liam to his twice-a-week wrestling session last night and my 48 year old body recoiled and quaked when I saw how those young lads (and one lass) were bending and twisting each other, their bodies impossibly elastic. I was one of those seriously inept, uncoordinated kids who couldn’t even stand on his head so watching my athletic oldest son going through the paces with grace and strength fills me with immeasurable pleasure…and pride.

Meanwhile, I continue to labor away on my western novel, The Last Hunt.  Two consecutive weeks of 12 hour days, grinding and polishing, adding in some of the research material I gathered during my Montana sojourn this summer.  Still insisting that I will release the novel in late March (2012), come hell or high water.  But it ain’t been easy and my body is feeling the effects of the strain.

You’d think after 25+ years I would have learned how to pace myself, manage my time and energy more effectively.  Er, no.  Instead, I completely immerse myself in a project for prolonged intervals, work myself into a state of exhaustion and then, literally when my body-mind-spirit can take no more, I pronounce the story/novel finished…and collapse.  At that point, I usually come down with a nasty virus which lays me out for a week (complete with cold sores, intestinal problems…ah, fun).

How does that gibe with your methods?

And then I read a comment by self-publishing’s latest superstar, Amanda Hocking. Yes, she of a million Kindle sales.  She states, without an ounce of  self-consciousness, that she writes her juvenile vampire novels in about 2-4 weeks.  That’s right, all you fuckheads who were stupid enough to download her awful tripe, a month (usually less) to write a novel. And some of you “writers” out there actually hold her up as an example of a successful author, someone you’d like to emulate.  Message to you wannabe assholes:  I spit in your face.  You disgust me.  May your fingers rot off your hands and your putrid brains liquify in your paper-thin skulls. Leprosy and ALS are too good for you.  I loathe you and what you and your ilk are doing to literature.  You are nothing more than ambulatory turds.

But I won’t cede the field to you, do you hear me? I refuse to allow your excremental scribbling to carry the day. To my last, dying breath I will be composing literate, intelligent, innovative fiction, even if only six people on the planet read it.  I will follow the lead of the Masters, write in defiance of all the trends and market niches, write despite the Amanda Hockings of the world and the offal they disgorge.  Hocking will be nonexistent in a very short time, her moment in the sun is almost up—let her have her money, it will keep her warm as she wallows on literature’s scrap heap, where all the non-talented hacks end up.

I’ll trust posterity and put my faith in the notion that as long as humankind exists, there will be discerning readers and that, eventually, my work will find the audience it deserves (even if I’m long gone).

I’d rather work for nothing than be stinkin’ rich and unable to look at myself in the mirror.

Which begs the question:  what price do you put on your soul?

“B.C.” comic strip by Johnny Hart

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This is the view from my window.  Notice the old, dessicated oak tree struggling for life alongside our big maple.  It’s a “witch tree”, all right, look at it.  Entangled in the strangling roots of its neighbor but somehow surviving, year after year.

Cold this morning, with a nut-cutting wind chill.  A good day to stay inside, build a fire and read.  Yesterday, I finished the new Lee Child novel, Worth Dying For, in about five hours.  Just tore through it.  Give Child credit, he’s got a sweet franchise going.  Sometimes his “Jack Reacher” novels are suspenseful, sometimes they slip into formula.  Reacher the unstoppable superman (yawn).  This one is better.  The story hums along and there are good supporting players.

January 1st, if you recall, I start my “100 Book Challenge”.  I’ve already set aside 18 first-rate tomes, fiction and non-fiction, that I’m hoping will get me going, build up some momentum that will carry me through the year.  These include some of the smashing great books Sherron, er, Mrs. Santa left under the tree for me.  Stuff I’ve wanted to read for ages.  Fernando Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet, Jim Shepard’s Love and Hydrogen, Ken Kalfus’s first short story collection, Thirst,  and Huston Smith’s autobiography, Tales of Wonder.

I’ll be spending most of the next two days finishing my year-end cleanup.  A ritual that goes back many years.  Remove all material related to last year’s projects and prepare for new work.  New Year’s Eve, sometimes pretty close to midnight, I clean and vacuum the crappy old carpet in my office and that’s it:  I’m ready for whatever comes.

I know, my family thinks it’s weird too.

And there are my resolutions to prepare, a roster of promises I try very hard to keep (and usually end up batting around .500).  Then I write out a list of “pending projects”, big and small jobs I’d like to focus on in the coming year.  Need to straighten up in the basement too; the workbench overflowing with crap that has to be put away (or shit-canned).

I find I’m feeling pretty good as 2010 draws to an end.  Two books released this year, a number of solid shorter efforts…plus there’s the music I’ve created with Garageband, two disks of weird ambient tunes that still make me smile.  I’ve discovered I love noodling around and experimenting with different media—Sherron has infected me with her belief that making art shouldn’t always be work, there can also be an element of play involved.  In 2011, I want to do some photography, stills and short videos.  Sometimes I get tired of working exclusively with words and need a break.  A chance to explore non-verbal, non-narrative concepts.  I’ve even tried my hand at painting.  I hope to do more visual experiments in 2011 (and beyond).

But the main focus, of course, continues to be improving as a writer, growing and developing,  moving the bar ever higher with each book or story I take on.  I’m certain the “100 Book Challenge” will introduce me to different influences/perspectives and it will be interesting to see how that affects my work.  God, wouldn’t it be wonderful if I started writing more like Italo Calvino or with the ferocity and power of a Celine?

Er, I forgot.  Louis Ferdinand Celine’s not exactly a popular figure these days.  Very difficult to find his work.  Awful man…but even Beckett  admired his writing and those two were miles apart, ideologically speaking.  Celine’s malign nature is as undeniable as his genius.  They probably went hand in hand.  But anyone who denies themselves the opportunity to read Death on the Installment Plan or Journey to the End of the Night because of his personal failings (however despicable) is missing out on some of the finest writing of the 20th century.

All that said, the first book I’ll likely tackle in the New Year is Michael Palin’s Halfway to Hollywood: Diaries 1980-88.  A volume I can zip through in less than a day.  Something fast and breezy and fun to get me started.

And then only 99 more to go…

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