Category: blogging

Happy 10th Anniversary

Making notes at Troy

This blog is now ten years old. Ten years to the day.

Well, well, well.

Who could’ve imagined “Beautiful Desolation” would still be around? I’ve seen the stats: most blogs sputter out after a year or two, the individual(s) involved eventually losing interest or not finding the time or unable to post regularly enough to keep it up to date and viable.

I can understand that. Over the lifetime of this blog, I’ve written 450+ posts, averaging about one every ten days or so. Which for a full time scribe and stay-at-home dad is a pretty hefty investment of time and energy. Plus, I’ve never posted just for the sake of posting, I’ve always had something to say or share (even if it’s frequently, especially in the early days, invective and bitter, icy fury).

Right from the beginning, “Beautiful Desolation” was a platform, a bully pulpit from where I could hold forth on subjects near and dear to my indie, contrarian heart. My thirty+ years as a professional author provides me with a host of experiences and encounters to draw from, and I must say it gives me considerable pleasure when young writers contact me and tell me how a certain article or mini-essay or rant I’ve posted inspired them or bucked up their courage during a low patch in their life. My entire career, from the get-go, has been all about empowering myself as an artist and not allowing others to tamper with my work, diluting its emotional, aesthetic and spiritual intensity and passion. That was an obsession for me even before I “turned pro” way back in 1985. I have always fiercely defended my work and questioned the effectiveness/competence of editors who take it upon themselves to “improve” my writing, “smooth out” the rough spots, etc.

Epidaurus (amphitheater)

I made it plain from those initial posts that this blog is devoted to the celebration of literary, intelligent, innovative, genre-busting fiction that defies fashion and formula and seeks truly new and unique representations of the world around us. I’m contemptuous of amateurish drivel and people who think insisting on proper grammar and syntax is “old school”. I respect authors who make herculean efforts to write and revise their work, laboring tirelessly, excellence their only goal. I’ve been a full-time author for a long time and struggle each day to find the courage and inspiration to go on. It takes me weeks to polish a story, years to finish a full-length manuscript. So you’ll excuse me if I say that, by those standards, dabblers and weekend scribblers and NanoWriMo wannabes just don’t make the grade, sorry.

It’s been interesting to go back to some of those early posts on “Beautiful Desolation”—some of them are very, very angry and confrontational. I’m thinking of my pointed words on contemporary science fiction, Cormac McCarthy’s rather lifeless interview on “Oprah”, the mediocrity that is CanLit and my repeated diatribes against the idiocy that is National Novel Writing Month (“part-time writers unite!”)

The nastier stuff kind of flickered out after the first couple of years, though I’m still capable of delivering withering scorn on command. I’ve said a few things about paranormal romance and shapeshifter-erotic-fiction that had a few people gnashing their teeth and hastily “unsubscribing”.

Ah, well. Some folks are touchy about being sub-literate and dull-witted.

Istanbul market

Recently, this blog has taken on a more overtly political tone, which reflects my growing interest in leftist politics, socialism, Marxism…really, anything that is an alternative to the capitalist juggernaut devouring all the resources on this planet, rendering it unsuitable for a growing number of species (a list that will eventually include, y’know, us).

The election of CEO Trump to head Corporation America, the emergence of the far right around the world, as well as the on-going shenanigans of the neo-liberals and their wealthy sponsors, have alarmed progressives and activists, who view the rising intolerance and racism as part and parcel of a system that disenfranchises and impoverishes the masses, in order to fatten the wallets of the elite.

A concerted effort to unite disparate voices and causes under the banner of freedom, true freedom, must be undertaken or we are headed down a long, dark, scary road. I hesitate to predict what our society will look like when we reach the end of that particular journey. My imagination quails at the notion, quite frankly.

But, as I’ve come to realize, one can’t always dwell on these gloom and doom scenarios; for the sake of balance (and sanity), you have to be able to conceive of a better, healthier, more equitable world, a chance at a brighter tomorrow. And so I’ve sought out individuals and organizations, voices that offer entirely different perspectives on where the human adventure might lead us, given the right kind of moral and spiritual leadership. I’ve been fortunate enough to discover people like David Harvey and Terry Eagleton and Slavoj Zizek; Paul Mason, Naomi Klein and Tariq Ali. The LEAP Manifesto and the existence of good, ideologically committed leaders like Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders offer at least the hope for change, the introduction of real ideas into a partisan, over-heated discourse.

Books like Paul Mason’s Post-Capitalism, Klein’s This Changes Everything and Karl Marx’s Capital provide us with workable blueprints for correcting our course, indicating different, less spooky paths to travel, and once absorbed they alter your whole mode of thinking—I’m talking a complete paradigm shift. We don’t have to live the way we do, there are methods we can employ, mindsets we can adopt to alter our lives, our ingrained habits and actually make the world a better place, just by our example.

Istanbul book bazaar

I’m sure I’ll be writing about this in more detail in the months/years to come.

In the meantime, I hope you’ve enjoyed “Beautiful Desolation” in its various guises. Ten years has given me the time and scope to cover a lot of ground and during that interval I’ve undoubtedly said some things I probably shouldn’t have and managed to piss off an impressively wide assortment of people. But all along I’ve made it manifestly clear to even the most desultory, unwary visitor: if you’ve come to this blog looking for reassurance and treacle, a collegial atmosphere and warm, fuzzy support system, you’ve opened the wrong door, I’m afraid. This site is about the price we pay for having feelings, for being alive and sentient in a world that’s increasingly chaotic and disorienting, our “civilization” gradually losing its thin veneer of humanity, revealing the glistening skull beneath its skin.

“Beautiful Desolation” is, in that sense, the perfect title for this blog.

The more I think of it, what could have been more appropriate?

* * * * *

A few recent developments I should mention:

The Mindful Word, a site devoted to conscious creativity and holistic wellness (hey, how can you argue with that?), has published two short essays I composed, offering advice to young, developing writers…and warning of the possible perils of semi-autobiographical fiction and memoirs. Pop over there to check them out and then take some time to poke around–it’s a cool site.

I also somehow managed to place an extremely odd piece, “A Personal Cosmology”, with The Oleander Review, a literary journal published by the University of Michigan—the issue in question is due out in April. Here’s a sample from “Cosmology” I posted awhile back. Just to give you an idea of what I’m talking about.

Finally, “Happy Birthday” to my pals Laird and Karen—who share the same birth date and the unfortunate tendency to root for two historically dreadful hockey clubs (the Leafs and Canucks, respectively). This lifelong Bruins fan tries not to hold that against them, although sometimes, I admit, it takes concerted effort to restrain my natural tendency to trash talk. But, then again, it’s hard to feel smug when your favourite team includes an unrepentant arsehole like Brad Marchand.

Note: the accompanying pictures are drawn from our Summer, 2016 visit to Greece, Turkey and the Czech Republic. Istanbul, in particular, continues to haunt our memories (and sometimes our dreams). What a magical, terrifying, wondrous metropolis. One day, we hope to make it back…

Istanbul graffiti

Yes, we have no ads here

One of my regular readers/visitors dropped me a note awhile back asking why I, a self-proclaimed “indie”, allowed advertising on my blog. There was an unspoken query: do you make income off these ads, hmmm?

Well, I’ve taken steps to alleviate all concerns. Yesterday, when I re-upped my annual WordPress membership, I also paid an extra $30 to block advertising. Enough is enough.

By the way, I absolutely did not receive any stipend for the ads, nor do I have any idea as to their content (I shudder to think).

Welcome to the new, commercial-free “Beautiful Desolation”.

Enjoy your stay, there’s lots to see.

And no admission fee…

Blog Post #300 (Huzzah! Huzzah!)

Cliff:collageThere it is.

Three hundred blog posts…and counting.

And the credit all belongs to…you. D’you think I’d keep this up for 300 posts I didn’t feel like I was getting through, if this site wasn’t an invaluable line of communication to friends, colleagues and readers from, well, from everywhere? You’ve commented and you’ve written, hundreds of you, and I love it.  Some really smart people hang out at my place, ideal readers every one. These are the individuals I’m thinking of when I start a new poem, short story, novel. I want to constantly surprise and amaze them, show them something unexpected. Never let them down, never take them for granted.

Thanks, folks. Thanks, so much.

Not only am I celebrating #300, there’s other news:

Yesterday I completed the first draft of what appears to be a short novel. Worked on it for nineteen (19) consecutive days, 2500 words a day. The experience left me drained, exhilarated…now I have to take a few days and try to figure out what the hell I’m going to do with it. I have another manuscript waiting for revision, an older effort I’m hoping to resurrect, but think I’ll stick with this new one for awhile. It’s in really rough shape—still, I think there’s a polished gem in there somewhere.  It’ll take work, tons o’ research too. Ah, well, I should be used to that.

A surprisingly pain-free draft—not assailed by the usual demons of self-doubt and I tried to take breaks, the occasional walk, get away from the keyboard. Is this the beginning of a new trend? Will I (gasp) stop punishing my body/mind/spirit in the name of art?

To add to the positive vibes around here, my wife has returned from Yellowknife, so our little family unit is intact once more. Sherron spent ten days up there with a troupe of professional artists, rehearsing and performing a dramatic presentation recreating events from the life of a longtime local character, Tom Doornbos.  They used a variety of puppets and employed a number of locales around Yellowknife to tell their story and their play was a great hit. Now there’s talk of touring it…stay tuned.

After picking Sherron up at the airport, we drove to the Broadway Theater and took in a showing of “Berberian Sound Studio”, which I thought would be good…and turned out to be the best movie I’ve seen this year. You can find the review over at my film blog.

And, finally…I promised you a treat, didn’t I?

Well, how about an entire CD of free music, over forty-seven minutes worth of catchy, mind-warping “chillout” tunes?  I’ve just released “Ambient i-viii” in its entirety over on Bandcamp. Here a link to the site—enjoy, download, share.

I’ll start you off with a sample track, one of my favorites, titled “Ambient vi”:

One last time: THANKS.

And keep those comments and e-mails coming.

Love to hear from you…

Something new in the works

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

More crazy search terms

Some years back I posted about the search terms people employ and (somehow) end up at this site. There have been some humdingers.

My personal favorite is “self-pissing for pleasure”. Now that is one particular kink that has never crossed my mind. Apparently people don these rubber suits and—

Forget it. I can see from the expression on your face you’re not ready to hear the rest of it.

This installment features terms drawn from the past 6-8 months.

Stuff like:

“unicorn transparent” (great name for an anthology of bad fantasy tales)

“beautiful man hands”

“scene of necrofile sex”

“pones of slpeen grils beming fuck” (still awaiting translation on that one)

“beautiful prostitutes”

“literary agents are fucking idiots” (dude after my own heart)

“cliff sex and other cartons”

“Pissing mouth sci fi porno”

…and, finally, my two favorites this time around:

“desolate vagina”

“I’m fucking fat”

* * * *

I’ve been blogging regularly for six years.

People still manage to astonish me.

Nuff said.

IMG_1142

Photo: Liam Burns

I’m on Facebook…sort of

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…

New look for “Beautiful Desolation”

A number of longtime readers have written to me, noting the recent updates and retooling on this blog.

It was time for a change.  It always bothered me that I’d chosen a lunar motif as a background—it brought to mind Buzz Aldrin’s famous depiction of the moon as “magnificent desolation”.  While that phrase may have been in the back of my mind, a subconscious influence when choosing a title for this blog, the allusion was not a deliberate one, I assure you.

I recall quite clearly when the name came to me.  March, 2007.  Sherron and I were standing in a school library and she was trying to interest me (for the umpteenth time) in giving the on-line universe another shot.  She told me the technology had changed since I made the first, tentative foray into cyberspace—she showed me the WordPress site, a sample template…

I finally gave in.  Why not?  I was a fool to ignore the march of progress; miles behind the technological curve, trying desperately to play catch up (still am).  But I knew one thing:  wherever readers went, it behooved me to follow.

“What are you going to call your blog?”

Ah, now, that was a poser.  Obviously the purpose of the site was to highlight my writing, but just calling it “Cliff Burns’ Blog” or what have you sounded rather self-centered and pompous to me.  “Hmmmm…”  Wracking my brain.

“You can always change it later.”

I think I might have been channeling Bob Dylan.  “Beautiful desolation,” I blurted.

Sherron said it a few times, pronounced it acceptable.

And that’s what it’s been ever since.

Sorry, Buzz, but no homage intended.

Before I go, a tip of the hat to photographer Alain Derksen for allowing me the use of his eye-grabbing picture.  I found a number of images relating to Mario Irrarrazabal’s amazing sculpture but Alain’s was the one that, to me, perfectly captured the piece’s remote, austere beauty.  Sadly, the sculpture has been defaced by graffiti and messages left by stupid tourists with no respect for a cultural artifact.

There’s a special ring of hell waiting for them.  Gibbering demons poised with blunt tattoo needles, hydrochloric acid instead of ink…