Category: creative writing

A Word of Advice (I)

I’ve been a professional author for 30-odd years now and I think it can be fairly said that I’ve earned a reputation as someone who stubbornly (ruthlessly?) defends my aesthetic autonomy.

With that in mind, I guess it’s understandable that I field the occasional question from other artists who find themselves wondering whether or not they have the right or strength of character to resist the suggestions and/or demands of editors, agents and fans.

I tell them:

Listen, as far as I’m concerned your inner editor should always take precedence over any external influences. It’s your name on the story or book or painting or piece of music, not someone else’s, which means you have a personal, vested interest in making sure your work is presented exactly the way you envision it. Brook no compromises or attempts to dilute the power and integrity of your project. 

Editors and agents aren’t collaborators, that is a mindset that must be impressed upon them right from the get-go. You might welcome their opinions, but their input is not necessarily required and won’t be followed if it runs counter to your own thinking. I have encountered more than a few inept, dim-witted editors in the past three decades and I’ve learned to take everything they say with a grain of salt. They aren’t all bad, of course, but, truthfully, most are poor-to-mediocre, their contributions to literature existing largely in their own heads.

Agents, well, agents want to make money. That’s their primary focus and never think otherwise. They aren’t interested in developing the next DeLillo or Nabokov, they’re seeking clients who follow trends and deliver bright, shiny, commercial product. For which they will collect a tasty percentage. It’s all quite cold-blooded and transactional. Why should they hold your hand when they’re more interested in the contents of your wallet?

As for fans, who gives a shit? Your role as an artist is to frustrate expectations and short-circuit preconceptions. Your work shouldn’t reassure or offer words of comfort; if it does that you are kowtowing, truckling to popular opinion. Wrap everything up into a nice, tight bundle, adhere to formula, offer happy endings and you might as well be a ten-dollar hooker on a seedy street corner. You’re laboring on behalf of filthy lucre, rather than contributing to the legacy of creative endeavors extending back to the timeless cave paintings of Lascaux. 

Art that resists imitation, that refuses to be derivative, is the work that lasts, achieving posterity because of its uniqueness, a courageous, unprecedented approach to your chosen discipline.

Why yearn for fifteen minutes of fame when you should be seeking something far more permanent and profound?

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

Finally, on a completely unrelated topic, let me say to those idjits who insist there are no new stories to tell, that they’ve all be told, you are out of your tiny fucking minds.

Every single minute of every single day, billions of human beings are interacting with each other, talking, engaging, sharing space, and each of these encounters represents a narrative that is distinctive and unrepeatable. 

Each restorative walk you take, a trip to the bank or back fence discussion with your neighbor is a short story waiting to happen. No two individuals are exactly alike, every encounter potentially fraught with drama or humor (or, ideally, a bit of both).

Open your eyes, ears, hearts to possibility and it will find you.

Remember that the next time you’re out and about.

Turning a corner, bumping into a stranger…watch what can happen when two ancient souls meet for the first time.

Sometimes it makes for great Art.

Photo: Sherron Burns

A poem for “wannabe” writers & other miscreants

An Intimation of True Genius

Before I sit down and write my masterpiece

I think I’ll take a few minutes and go over my notes

check my sources and of course compose a brief 

biography of the author who despite his apparent 

lack of credentials has achieved true greatness with

his soon-to-be completed debut novel a sensation on 

all seven continents endorsed by the glitterati honors and

prizes pouring in optioned by Hollywood dining with

royalty hobnobbing alongside jetsetters existing in

a social whirlwind object of adoration and naked envy

topping every bestseller list appearing on all the right

programs lionized by my peers no limit to my reach and

power once I finally find the time to buy pen and paper

take a seat at my humble desk and commence work on what

will undoubtedly become a pillar of the Western canon

my much-anticipated long-awaited magnum opus

the only story left untold

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

The context of this poem:

I don’t know how many of my fellow scribblers have been annoyed by some arsehole you encounter—perhaps after a reading or literary gathering—who assures you that they’ve got a great book idea and “one day” hope to have occasion to commit it to paper. Or a total tool who, upon hearing you’re an author, gets very excited because “I’ve had some amazing things happen to me, you should write them down, I bet it would be a bestseller”.

If you’ve had a similar experience, you have my permission to print this poem and carry it around in your wallet, to hand out whenever you come across one of these utter, contemptible fuckwits. That ought to shut them up.

…but, baby, it’s cold outside

A solid week of windchills in excess of forty below.

So, I’ve been hunkered down, editing my Notebooks, prepping for a May release of what will be my fifteenth book.

Fifteen books, not one of them a dog, all of them written out of love for the printed word, rather than for the purpose of fulfilling a contract or meeting some hairy-palmed editor’s neolithic expectations. Let’s see you top that, all you hacks and wannabes.

The editing process is always incredibly intense for me, driving myself nuts finding the exact right word (and, as Don DeLillo insists, “the right sounding word”). 

At the same time I am still not back to 100% from my hip replacement surgery so can’t stay seated for the prolonged periods of time I’m accustomed to—gotta get up frequently to stretch, move about, which, of course, interrupts my train of thought and then it takes me awhile to re-focus on the manuscript. I’m having trouble adapting to the new regime but that’s the reality I have to deal with now, no use bitching about it.

When I’m not editing, I’m reading and some of the excellent books I’ve finished since the beginning of the year include N.K. Jemsin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson, The Cold Millions (Jess Walter), The Great Glass Sea (Josh Weil) and Jane Mayer’s Dark Money, a stunning exposé of how wealthy special interest groups are undermining democracy.

Movies with Sherron to unwind after a hard day of polishing my book: last night it was “Hud”, a classic starring Paul Newman; other favorites are David Fincher’s “Mank” (best movie of the year so far), Michael Haneke’s “Code Unknown” and the Coen Brothers’ “True Grit”.

I tend to devote the first part of the morning to catching up on Twitter, checking out the headlines and snorting with laughter as I read other writers’ self-congratulatory posts about their latest zombie novel or slasher offering. Sometimes I can’t help firing a comment their way and am always amazed by the sheer vitriol of their replies. The moment you bring up literary standards to these arseholes they completely lose their shit. Their reactions always serve as a reminder that genre people tend to have the smallest brains and thinnest skin.

But once I’ve had my fun it’s back to the business at hand.

Giving myself a deadline/release date is always an effective way of directing my nose to the grindstone. Otherwise I’d drag the process out past the point of sanity.

As I wrote in the introduction to the Notebooks, I have absolutely no idea why anyone would have even the slightest interest in the thoughts and reflections of a cult author with a tiny readership and a marked propensity for misanthropy. 

Nonetheless, come May Notebooks: 2010-2020 will be released into the world and we will just have to wait and see how it’s received.

I’ll probably be posting some teasers in the coming weeks so I hope you’ll pop in for a look.

Have to say, I love having another title in the publishing pipeline. 

It’s not for all tastes but, then again, that pretty well sums up my entire body of work, don’t you think?

After 30+ years, why would I change my approach now?

Photo courtesy Ashley Johnson

Poem of the day

September 19, 2020

I begged you to linger
because you kept the chills at bay
but you insisted you had
business elsewhere
and took leave of me
with an air kiss
that brushed my cheek
with the last warm breath
I’d feel until Easter
paid its ritual visit
on bended pagan knees

Black Dog Press, the catalog

This catalog of my books is incomplete (you can find all my titles here), but it illustrates just what beautiful volumes my odd little imprint produces.

See anything you like?

 

The Notebooks (2010-20)

For ten years I’ve kept track of my random thoughts and reflections in two slim Moleskine notebooks.

Next year, I’ll be releasing a short book containing the best bits.

I’m posting an example of what you can expect, a snippet penned on my back deck a few days ago.

I’m not a big fan of the so-called “cancel culture” and reject any attempt to limit free speech or stifle debate. And so:

“Dialectics taught me that societies emerge out of a clash of ideas. By ignoring or suppressing dissenting views we rob ourselves of that special friction and, thus, are consigned to echo chambers that endlessly reproduce our tiresome certainty.”

Coming soon from Black Dog Press

A post that is looooonng overdue.

But, as I’ve said before, if I’m not blogging I’m undoubtedly at work on some project that is utterly consuming me.

In this case, it’s actually three projects.

I should explain.

Last year I was supposed to release a collection of short stories with urban settings called Electric Castles. But that one sort of got over-taken and set aside when I wrote and released an e-book of topical and controversial non-fiction material titled Mouth: Rants and Routines.

I’ve gone back to work on editing the stories in Electric Castles...but I’ve also been assembling a collection of new poetry as well as making additions to Notebook, a compilation of thoughts, reflections and meditations I’ve been gathering for nearly ten years.

The order of publication is:  Electric Castles in June-July, 2020, Notebook in 2021 and the poetry collection in 2022 (I have a tentative title for that one, just not willing to share it yet).

Putting the finishing touches on Electric Castles has been time consuming and intense (my approach to editing obsessive and exhausting), especially the last tale in the book, a 50-page, 12,000+ word novelette. Still pondering a cover and hoping to nail that down soon. A couple of possibilities, including some of my own visual efforts.

* * * *

I realized recently that it’s now been a decade since I rebooted my Black Dog Press imprint. It sort of went into hiatus after the release of The Reality Machine in 1997. PS Publishing (U.K.) published my book Righteous Blood in 2002 and I retained some hope that finally I would be able to find presses out there that would provide a venue for my writing.

That turned out to be wishful thinking and by 2008, I’d had enough. I wrote up a venomous press release and sent it out to a couple of writing forums, announcing I was tired of playing the game, submitting work and waiting sometimes YEARS for editors/publishers to grace me with a response. Fuck that and fuck them. Basta!

Shortly thereafter, I started this blog and began posting big chunks of material, short stories and novel excerpts that thousands of people read and downloaded.

But I still wanted print versions of my books and that meant familiarizing myself with POD (print on demand) technology (and terminology) and in 2010, I published my first Black Dog Press offering in 13 years, my occult thriller So Dark the Night.

I was back, with a vengeance. Since then, I’ve produced a dozen titles, doing my best to satisfy my small but vocal cadre of readers.

The indie world is the place for me and I have permanently (I think) set aside any notion of commercial success or mainstream acceptance.

I hope those of you who are familiar with my oeuvre will continue to support this eccentric venture of mine and that new readers will drop in and discover an author who defies expectations and subverts preconceptions, creating wholly original and provocative titles for those who love challenging, literate books, short stories or poetry.

Welcome to Black Dog Press.

Pull up a chair, make yourself at home.

There’s a lot to see here and we’ve got all the time in the world.

“The Boy Eternal” (Post #450)

boyIt’s my 450th blog post and, frankly, you deserve a bonus.

All the times you’ve dropped by my strange, little site and found yourself confronted with yet another rant, a venting of spleen directed toward my latest bugbear. Middle of the road, milquetoast, liberal democrats are my current obsession. I despise them, down to the last strand of DNA. Don’t get me started on that.

I reported previously that I was “de-commissioning” an old notebook. I salvaged some poems, ideas…and a few bits and pieces that coalesced into a spoken word piece I’ve recorded and titled “The Boy Eternal”.

It’s personal, to some extent, but I’m never one to let facts get in the way of a good tale.

I present it to you, with my compliments. The music adds a nice, dramatic element.

Have a listen and let me know what you think:

 

  • To listen to more of my spoken word or ambient recordings go to my Other Media page.

Black Dog Press: The Year Ahead

book-catalog

Over the holidays I devoted a considerable amount of thought to what should happen next with Black Dog Press.

So far, my imprint has released eleven books, a couple of limited edition chapbooks…but now what?

I’ve come to the determination that I won’t be publishing anything in 2017—and before the emails and complaints start flying, let me elaborate.

Despite my considerable efforts, Black Dog Press remains a very marginal enterprise. It is a constant struggle to draw attention to my writing when there are so many tomes being published and self-published, churned out like dumb, identical widgets. I want to pursue new methods for advertising my books, trying my best to overcome my aversion to self-promotion (a particularly ugly manifestation of narcissism). I’ve never been an author who haunts forums, always looking for an opportunity to reference my own work, and I’m not much a joiner, if you get my drift. More like your classic lone wolf.

In the past, I’ve sought out other, like-minded indie authors/publishers but, candidly, haven’t found many who take the printed word as seriously as I do. Very few scribes these days produce genuinely original, literary work; their prose is often derivative (fan fiction) or stuck in a genre of little interest to me (zombie, shapeshifter romance, etc.). Sadly, the proliferation of technology, the growing number of publishing platforms, means that the amateurs and wannabes out there can publish all the crap they excrete, with the minimum of editing or critical scrutiny. Pounding their chests and calling themselves writers, having a fit when anyone dares question their professional credentials. As petulant as they are untalented, vicious, rather than visionary.

Sending out review copies doesn’t work—that much has been made clear. Again, too many books, too few good publications (even fewer qualified critics)…and then there are the unnamed rags that want you to buy advertising space before they’ll even consider your book for review. There’s a special red-hot poker in Hell waiting for that scum.

I adamantly refuse to purchase a positive, five-star review from Kirkus or Publishers Weekly. Never, never, never.

What does that leave?

I’ve been looking into hiring a publicist, but that would mean leaving my comfort zone and putting my books, my personality, my face in the hands of a stranger. Granting them permission to do what’s necessary to “raise my profile” (I’m literally squirming as I type those words).

But something has to be done. I’m publishing terrific, intelligent, compelling novels and stories and they’re not getting the attention they deserve. After over 30 years as a professional author, my stature isn’t anywhere near what it should be…and the fault lies with me.

I have to do better at promoting my growing body of work, even if that means trying things I’ve never dared attempt before.

It’s an approach I’ve always shied away from, but there’s no other option.

If I want to continue growing my readership, keep Black Dog Press afloat, I have to cast aside my aversion to, gulp, selling myself to the public.

Sigh.

This isn’t going to be easy…