Category: blogging

The Importance of a Critical Community

I admit it:  I despise wannabe writers.

Now, let me be clear—when I say that, I’m talking about a certain segment of people, who meet a very specific criteria.  I’m not referring to “young writers”, “aspiring writers” or “beginning writers”; those are entirely different categories (to my mind).  Aspiring authors are humble and don’t take on airs.  They possess few, if any, professional credentials; they might have a couple of poems or short stories published or filled dozens of notebooks with their secret writings over the years, but they certainly make no claim to any kind of status.

The wannabe is far less circumspect.  These folks make all sorts of exalted statements and assign themselves great prominence in the literary community.  They’re very quick to proffer advice, usually in the form of smug, self-assured pronouncements that speak of enormous (alas, unrecognized) talent and a vast breadth of wisdom and worldly experience (ersatz).  That they have virtually no standing among accomplished, professional, full-time writers is entirely beside the point.  Why, they’ve written dozens of books (no one has read) and have been putting words on paper all their lives (no one has noticed).  They offer their services as experienced editors and are quick to thrust their work on you, in order to prove they should be taken seriously.  God help anyone who questions their undisputed brilliance.

The on-line universe has been a bonanza for wannabes.  If they have written anything—some of them, like the proverbial hundred monkeys at keyboards, are amazingly industrious, despite their utter lack of talent—they can post every word of it on their blog and to hell with the editors who never responded to their submissions or the people in that stupid writing group who said their suite of poems about losing their virginity was “childish and cliched”, “needs a lot of work” or just “ARE YOU KIDDING?!!!”.

Sometimes I’ll skim through some of the literary sites in the blogosphere and far more often than not I’m appalled by the really sub-literate tripe that people post on a public forum.  Puerile verse and poorly rendered soft porn/romance and slightly fictionalized episodes from real life.  Juvenilia.  Artlessly composed and stupefyingly dull.  Painful and embarrassing stuff, the sort of thing you might find in the locked diary of an emotionally disturbed adolescent.  Some are clearly cries for help:  look at me…aren’t I special…I feel things more deeply than most people…love me…I’m lonely…no one understands meI need affirmation

There might be a few sympathetic comments left by either kind-hearted readers…or fellow wannabes offering cautious praise before inviting them over to their site (presumably to see what real writing is all about).

I have heard it said that the explosion of on-line writing has led to an explosion of bad writing and I have to admit that this is demonstrably true.  The vast majority of what people post on the web is dreadful, godawful stuff, unfit for human consumption.  The lousy rep e-books have is well-deserved (most of the time).

One of my roles as an indie writer who publishes exclusively on the net is to work hard to demonstrate that cyberspace is not solely the domain of amateur hacks and weekend scribblers. There are some truly gifted writers out there, producing original and ground-breaking work.  Some, like myself, have chosen to put their writing on-line because of the desperate state traditional publishing is in these days.  These are experienced authors with real world credentials and undeniable literary chops.  By maintaining the highest standards, tirelessly subjecting our work to the most intense scrutiny, editing ruthlessly, eschewing conventions and formula, we wish to reward intelligent, discerning readers who are tired of the status quo and are exploring other venues, seeking alternative visions and fresh perspectives.

But it can be disheartening for readers, sifting through the thousands upon thousands of blogs and literary sites, trying to find something of value.  And that’s why a credible on-line critical community is required.  With the newspapers cutting or drastically paring down their book sections, I’m hoping more good critics will start web sites and help single out particular writers who shine amidst the dross…and dismiss those who don’t make the grade.

And it would be most helpful if amateur writers used the new technologies to better develop their skills before they foist their cringe-worthy efforts on the rest of us.  I’m talking about searching out like-minded souls, joining on-line writing groups and vetting their work with a diverse assortment of fellow writers (from around the world), getting feedback.  Sharing their work privately, rather than punishing the general public, exposing not their beautiful, unblemished souls (as they hope) but their ineptitude.   If you truly wish to be seen as someone with designs on being a serious writer, worthy of respect, give some thought to what you’re making public—believe me, you’re doing no one any favors if it’s garbage.  You’re hurting yourself…and you’re making it more difficult for your talented, hard-working colleagues to reach potential readers.

Naturally, these words of caution will not sit well with wannabes.  They’ll sniff that I’m being “elitist” and that the internet belongs to everyone.  Unfortunately, the democratization of the web means that an entrenched cult of amateurism has developed and these people guard their domains like pitbulls.  They brandish their imaginary credentials and howl in outrage should anyone refuse to defer to their alleged expertise.  Why, their writing has been read by thousands of people (who knows how many?) and they’ve published everything from young adult novels to a ten part vampire series, not to mention their “erotic” fiction and two volumes of poetry about a beloved Pekinese that recently went to doggie heaven (all of it available in e-book format, listed on a site with a thousand other books no one in their right senses would attempt to read).

I plead with new and aspiring and upcoming writers to avoid such a ridiculous mindset:  recognize your limitations, don’t publish precipitously, before your work is ready for public perusal and consumption.  Have respect for the legacy of fine writers and great literature that preceded you; after all, you initially dreamed of becoming a writer because of the joy and succor and inspiration the printed word gives you.  Your favorite authors wrote hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of words before they had mastered their craft to the extent that they were, at last, worthy of publication.

Why, in God’s name, should it be any different for you?

For your listening pleasure… (Blog Post #100)

imagesWell, this is cause to celebrate.

This happens to be blog post #100 and, if that isn’t enough, later on this week this site will receive its 50,000th visit.

Wow.  That’s an overwhelming number of people coming to a blog devoted to a Canuck writer who has eschewed the big time, stubbornly maintained his singular vision with an orneriness not often seen in writing circles.

God bless you, folks.  You’re all the proof that I need to reassure myself that the indie path is the one for me and I shall continue to produce work that fits no niches or stereotypes or genres, confident that smart, discerning readers will find me…and help spread the word.

To mark this auspicious occasion I’ve recorded three of my favorite short-short stories, adding music and sound effects to enhance the experience.  Once again, Sherron lent a helping hand, pulling the whole mess together.  The final result surprised and delighted me to the extent that I think it’s safe to say there will be more such efforts in the near future.

Ah, heck, enough of my jabbering.  Have a listen to these pieces and, as always, I encourage you to leave a comment, letting me know what you think…

Cliff Burns Reading Short Stories (V.2)

Temporarily Unavailable

RadarHill_FMy wife and sons are on the West Coast–getting their first dose of rain after a week of great weather–and I’ve stopped answering the phone, shaving, checking  e-mails and visiting some of my favorite sites and forums.  It’s summertime and that means WORK.

It must be a hormonal thing.  While everyone else is seized by an impulse to drag their sorry asses off to the woods and get closer to nature (i.e. Lyme disease, poison oak and bears), I become almost feverish with a desire to be shut away in a 10 X 12 room, scribbling like a madman all day and long into the night.  And then, when I finish, I collapse in front of our big Sony and watch old movies or foreign flicks until I zonk out.

And, indeed, that’s what I’ve been up to since I’ve bid farewell and adieu to Sher and the lads last Sunday.  I got warmed up with lots of “automatic writing”, filling page after page of my notebook with cryptic, allusive remarks cribbed from my subconscious.  Lots of journaling and personal writing too; I use these opportunities when I’m alone to blow off emotional steam, purge my system of some of the accumulated ugliness and toxic sludge.  Restoring balance and focus, checking the state of my faith life.

In the past four or five days I’ve really gotten down to business, completing three short stories and tapping them in–over 10,000 words of new prose.  But that’s just a warm-up.  In the coming weeks I want to tackle a big revision of another novel, really sink my teeth into that one and shake the living shit out of it.

imagesUnfortunately, all that work means I might not be posting here as frequently or at any length.   But I promise you there will be new work added soon, more prose you won’t find anywhere else.  Because the point of this site isn’t to provide me with a platform for my various rants and obsessions (though sometimes it might appear that way).  It’s to give you access to my work, the stories and novels and prose poems and verse and radio plays and essays that I’ve composed over the past quarter century.  It’s all here–well, a good portion of it, anyway.  Available for absolutely nothing.  Posted (see the various “Pages” above) in the PDF format, which (I’m told) makes it compatible with most of those new-fangled e-readers (even the Kindles, I and II).  So download away!

And please pop back in again soon.  I’ll make sure you have some decent summer reading, never fear.  Something for your leisure hours.

Leisure…leisure…have to look that one up in the dictionary some time.  Exotic sounding word.

Meanwhile, it’s back to work for yours truly.

Sigh.  The sacrifices I make for my hordes of readers…

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“Read an E-Book Week” (March 8-14, 2009)

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These are interesting times.

Book store sales are dropping, Borders on the verge of collapse, while places like Amazon report an impressive rise in their stats.   Fewer people are reading books but there’s been a modest increase (3%) of those reading “literary” offerings.  Newspapers are in decline, advertising revenues dwindling; to a great extent, folks now get their news, sports and entertainment info from on-line sources.

Despite their daunting price tags, more and more people are using devices like the Kindle and the Sony e-Reader or related palm-sized gadgets.  And employing said gadgets to avail themselves of books presented in electronic formats, downloading and reading them in growing numbers.

I’m an old fashioned lad, a real throwback when it comes to all this technology–miles behind digital sages like Mike Cane, who have seen the future and are showing the rest of us dummies what lies ahead.

But I’m learning.  I’ve posted two of my novels and numerous short stories on this site and, frankly, I’ve been astonished by the amount of people who have downloaded them–some of them are reading my fiction and essays on their computer screens, even printing them up to peruse at their leisure.  But I’m also noticing a growing number who are coming over from various e-book sites and forums, places like this and this

Wonderful.

Frankly, I couldn’t care less how you read something I’ve written, what format you choose.

Coming up in March, some folks are celebrating the new reality in publishing by sponsoring “Read an E-Book Week” and I’m only too happy to throw my weight behind this event.

Thanks to this blog and the ability it gives me to electronically publish my work, I’ve been able to bypass the gate-keepers of publishing, editors and agents with one eye on the fickle marketplace and the other on their bank accounts.  They’re no longer interested in identifying the “best” writers, merely the ones that hold out the most hope of selling the most books and earning them (agents, editors) more money. And that, of course, means producing empty-headed commercial fiction, copycat books and the latest “poor me” memoir.

But, re: the sales figures above, their record of late hasn’t been too impressive.  The reading public has largely ignored the authors they herald, the derivative works they champion.

It’s time for a new paradigm and e-books are part of the solution.  They put power and control back into the hands of writers, allowing them to publish their work without editorial interference or an unhealthy obsession with what’s perceived to be popular.

Authors can now create their own “buzz” and attract readers from around the world to their work.  Others have debated the merits of offering material free, but I have found it has worked wonders for me, raising my profile to hitherto unheard of heights.  Tens of thousands of folks from around the world have visited this blog and many, many of them have taken the opportunity to read and enjoy the material I offer.

Hats off to the folks behind “Read an E-Book Week”.  I congratulate them for their foresight and the vision they have of a future where authors are granted paramount importance and corporate publishing is, increasingly, marginalized, rendered superfluous, perhaps even obsolete.

That day isn’t far off.  And when it finally arrives, it won’t be cause for mourning or despair.  On the contrary–and I’ll be one of the liberated, independent artists dancing a victory jig on their graves…

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The Consolations of Love

I’m blessed, I really am.

Surprised? Not expecting such mawkish sentiment on a site usually devoted to gloom-laden navel-gazing and bitter self-recrimination. You’re wary, suspicious of some kind of a misdirection or trick.

eye-cliff.jpgI assure you, I’m quite serious. Too often this blog has dwelt on the darker aspects of my character, my pride and envy placed front and center for all to see. Which has provided plenty of ammunition for people with a bone to pick–when it comes to showing my warts, I’m not shy.

But now I’d like to turn the tables. No more grousing (for the moment) about the glacial pace of my career, rants on the sorry state of the publishing industry and the useless bastards who—

Instead of going on and on about the indignities I’ve endured, I want to write about how I’ve managed to survive. Persevered through twenty+ years of putting pen to paper. Spasms of tantalizing promise and then (usually) crushing disappointment. Fifteen hundred rejection slips (minimum), at least a dozen phone calls from editors begging off. Two decades of waiting for my BIG BREAK. Waiting and waiting…

I couldn’t have managed without her.eye-sher.jpg

My wife Sherron is stalwart and courageous and true. Kind-hearted but nobody’s fool. Generous and imbued with genuine humility. Tough, strong…but never, ever mean. Sher is simply not capable of deliberate cruelty. One of the good guys. My reason to believe.

How many of you can say that you married your best friend, the finest, smartest, funniest, most creative and inspiring human being you’ve ever met? How many of you claim love at first sight?

Blessed.

It amazes me that we retain so such passion for each other…although now, perhaps, it is a different, more subtle and seductive kind of desire, deeper and so intimate I cannot speak of it without risking an indiscretion.

I am reminded of the woman I heard interviewed on the radio. Married for over fifty years and she admitted, with a little giggle, that even after all that time the sound of her husband coming up the front steps still gave her a little jolt of pleasure and excitement. Isn’t that lovely?

I have a hunch Sherron and I will be like that. We just celebrated our 17th anniversary. Seventeen years plus another six years dating and living together before that. Over half our lives together. So we don’t really make big deals about anniversaries and on several occasions have spent our special day apart, in different time zones. We’re at one mind on this: anniversaries, feh! Hallmark moments. Every day together is special—why discriminate?

Every day special, yes. And every day fun and new and exciting and filled with laughter. God, we laugh a lot. And we talk and we talk and we consult with each other and throw out ideas and cross-pollinate…

She reminds me that making art is a form of play.

Not to take things so seriously.

Get out of the house, go for a long walk, be sure to talk to people, re-connect, don’t stay cooped inside all day.

Try new things, don’t be afraid to fail and look foolish.

Sherron was the one who convinced me to give this whole blogging thing a go. I was pissing and moaning about how I couldn’t get my fiction to readers because the &%#@! editors and agents weren’t cooperating and (perhaps sick of hearing this tired refrain for the umpteenth time) she piped up: “So bypass them.” The more she talked about how blogging gave me complete editorial control and access to, potentially, millions of readers, the more the notion intrigued me.

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Sherron found me WordPress and worked on the initial template with me. Showed me how I could import images to spruce up the text, create links, etc. etc. She’s my tech support, visual consultant and co-editor, all rolled into one.

She’s not a whiner (like me), she’s a doer. If she doesn’t know how to accomplish something, she has the guts to learn on the fly, improvising as she goes along. Completely fearless in that respect. Watching her operate when she’s in that mode is a breathtaking thing to behold. Turn her loose on something and she is a whirlwind of creative activity.

She has the unenviable task of being my first reader and editor. Sherron’s become very adept at critical reading, quick to spot typos, continuity problems, lack of clarity. I grumble when she points out a mistake but, invariably, she’s right and I make the change. She knows me well enough, my aesthetics, to comprehend what I’m trying to do when I tackle a story or poem or novel. When I fall short, she tells me in no uncertain terms. She’s absolutely fantastic at brain-storming and we’ve solved numerous plot problems and lapses in characterization by batting ideas back and forth.

Okay, it’s clear, she’s absolutely invaluable, the best thing that ever happened to me…but what about her? What did she get out of the deal? A neurotic, self-absorbed under-achiever with a nasty persecution complex. Sheesh. Talk about drawing the low card…

Well…we do all right. We manage, don’t we, sweetie? And along the way we’ve collaborated on a lot of projects, including plays and, oh yeah, a couple of big, smart, handsome sons. They’re something, aren’t they? Our oldest only about a half inch shorter than me and his bro closing the gap fast. Must be something they’re putting in the milk…

But they’re good lads, not bully-boys. Clever brutes too, always reading or writing and they’ve both done cool movies, you can check out their claymation shorts on YouTube, Twilight Kitten and Ride Through Mount Terror (and do leave a comment, they’d like that).

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Sherron and my sons are my main support system and centre of gravity; they keep me from flying off in all directions. Without them I wouldn’t have lasted as long as I have. No way. Because of them I can’t entertain the notion of giving up. They sustain me, their belief in me so absolute and unshakeable that it shames me to even consider the thought.

Mantra

Because I love her
and because I am an article of her faith
I will not betray her
today

Because she is good and kind
and I cannot bear the notion of hurting her
I will not betray her
today

Because her soul has never known darkness
and she does not wish to be acquainted with horror
I will not betray her
today

Because of her eyes and that smile
insisting all futures are bright
I will not betray her
today

Copyright, 2007 Cliff Burns (All Rights Reserved)

My family gives me the courage to explore the farthest places, knowing that I’ll always be able to return to them once my arduous journey is over. For solace and, if necessary, for healing. I draw strength from that circle of love; their life force never fails to restore me.

We are a loving bunch, very demonstrative, cuddly. I like that. Kisses make some of the pain go away. It may not be scientifically verifiable but it’s true.

We find it difficult to live within our means and would spend our last dollar on a book. We dream great, big dreams and aspire to lives of purpose and significance.

And if we fall short, if things don’t quite pan out as we’d hoped and expected, well, we’ll still somehow find it within ourselves to forge on. As long as we have each other, we can absorb any rebuff, any disappointment. If all else fails, we start over again from scratch, right, guys?

Don’t ever count us out.

Love moves mountains. It empowers us to achieve remarkable feats and inspires our kind to strive, to toil unflaggingly and, finally, incredibly, to prevail

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