Four New Short Stories! And ya read ’em here first…

imagesSometimes my Muse is merciful.

An idea will occur to me and all at once I’ll see the story with such perfect clarity that writing it down is a mere formality, almost a matter of taking dictation.  “Daughter” was like that.  “Also Starring”. “RSVP”.  A couple of others.  Not many.  It doesn’t happen nearly often enough for my liking but when it does, I’m almost sickeningly grateful.  Practically grovelling.

Because usually it’s the opposite.  A tale like “In Dreams. Awake” for instance, was a monster.  You can read it by clicking on the Stories tab (above) and if you do, it’s almost certain you’ll ask yourself:  “What’s he going on about?”  The story in question is not some post-modernist mind-bender, the kind of dense, inscrutable, erudite text beloved by college professors and potheads;  nope, it’s a relatively straightforward narrative, with few bells and whistles.  My problem was that I hated the tone of the story, the narrator seemed so cold and remote. I did draft after draft of that sonofabitch, trying to make the protagonist more sympathetic and likable.  But the story resisted me, my Muse digging in her heels, insisting I put aside my misgivings and follow orders.  Finally, I had to give in and the story is what it is.  A fine tale but I have a hard time even looking at it because that rotten bastard was so difficult, each word, each syllable a struggle.

But that was nothing compared to what happened this summer.

I’ve told you a little about it.  I spotted the Esquire fiction contest–they provide the titles, participants write the stories–and, as a writing exercise, I wrote on each of the themes they posted.  And I described my astonishment when the stories turned out to be linked, sharing the same central character.   Believe me when I assure you that I had no intention of writing four stories based around this Conrad Dahl fella.

And I certainly had no idea this quartet would take up my entire summer.  That wasn’t the plan.  I was supposed to be working on revisions of my next novel.  But something happened on the way to that place, my Muse making it clear that these stories were to be given top priority and finished at all costs.

They cost me a lot all right.

So Dark coverNone of them was easy.  Not one.  And writing these pieces seemed to awaken something in me–or perhaps unleash it is a better word.  The process of writing left me emotionally, physically and spiritually exhausted, like nothing I’ve experienced since completing my novel So Dark the Night.

I’ve talked about emotional truths re:  my radio play “The First Room”.  All the facts are made up but the mood, the feeling of the piece is accurate.

I think that’s what happened here.  Conrad Dahl is not me.  Not in any way, shape or form.  None of the events depicted in the stories involving the Dahl character have any relation to real life incidents and my family is/was nothing like this.  But…the feeling…the atmosphere…

Something put the whammy into me.

And now I’m passing it on to you.  How kind of me, hmm?

I think you’ll quickly discover what I’m talking about.

The four stories below are decidedly mainstream, no vestiges of genre fiction…yet there are aspects here that are as horrifying and intense as anything springing from the pens of the thriller writers who love to keep us all on edge.  Sometimes you might be tempted to avert your eyes, cluck your tongue in disapproval.  Don’t.

Read on.  Explore and discover this character as he grows and develops, follow him from the ages of 9-20 and see how the closing pages of the last story are almost inevitable, directly attributable to the events that have preceded it.

I present the tales in chronological order for those who prefer the linear approach but, really, they can be read independently of each other and should be viewed as stand alone stories.

Feel free to drop a comment below once you’ve read them and had a chance to think about Conrad and his decidedly dysfunctional family.

I welcome your feedback and thoughtful responses…






  1. Yr faverite fan

    Curious and curiouser to see what grabbed our friend Burns this summer…I see the daughters of Mnemosyne have blessed you once again… of course in true Greek fashion.. is it a blessing or a curse?

    As I am quite linear I have elected to read in chronological order…(have read the first 2 so far) nice development happening here I must say, perhpas you were working on your novel and didnt even know it? just a suggestion

    “The Least” captured me..but to be honest left me wanting, slightly dissatisfied and waiting for the Burns knife..the Chill that you do so well with your short stories…you create these word pictures with a master’s touch and upon reflection I think this more subtle piece is one of the best examples of this talent. something to be savoured rather than comsumed.

    “The Future” a keeper, grabbed at my heart , well done!
    beautifully rendered…

    looking forward to reading the others!

  2. Cliff Burns

    Glad I’ve met with the approval of one of my Constant Readers. Funny, when Sherron read those 4, she looked up mischievously and said: “Y’know, you could keep going”. Yer two of a kind.

    God help me.

    After two months of having Conrad subletting my brain, I want the space back.

    Besides, the sonofabitch was welshing on the rent…

  3. Yr Fav back again

    Well well well, had to bring em home with me and see what Conrad got hisself up to.
    …… my earlier opinion still stands, btw, not so sure Conrad has let you go yet Burnsie .. time will tell … I liked the character, his sister and his perspective on life and can’t help feeling there is more to this dude and his story that would draw me back…;-)

    Transitions and the ambiguity of life, love how you take the reader on that journey, not letting us get away with a nicely wrapped up moral or neatly packaged comfortable ending whilst taking us down a spiral path was particularly well done.

    Sooooooo? Which one did you submit?
    My fav is still “The Future” but that says more about me than the best story for Esquire…

    You left this reader wanting more..kudos

  4. Cliff Burns

    Well, chum, “The Future” was indeed the one I submitted to Esquire but it was a struggle to choose between them. The Esquire editors originally proposed three titles and then I went ahead and added a fourth (chronologically speaking, it was the first), which was “The Least”. Haven’t heard from that famous men’s mag officially so I assume I didn’t make the cut. I’d lost patience anyway and wanted to get these little beauties into the hands of the people who would enjoy them most. And, obviously, that included you, kid. Delighted you liked them. Thrilled, in fact…

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