I had a dickens of a time with the cover of Righteous Blood.
For some reason, I resisted doing what I’d done on previous occasions: go on-line, to a site like RedBubble (or some place similar), tap in “dark fantasy art” as my search term and see what came up.
For So Dark the Night I must have looked through over a thousand images. Easily.
Not only was the effort of actually finding art to match the mood and message of Righteous Blood daunting, if I did manage to identify an illo that appealed to me I’d have to locate the artist (not always easy), secure their permission to use their art for a reasonable fee (ditto) and then, y’know, come up with the money for the transaction.
Earlier this spring I needed a break from writing, retreated to my basement dungeon where I like to paint and shoot my strange, short films, and slopped away happily on a couple of canvases. Both pieces turned out well, but my favourite was inspired by apocalyptic thinking: global warming, the massive wild fires that have raged around the world due to drought conditions and human tampering. I titled it “Red Skies” and quickly recognized how it might be the answer to my cover art woes.
Mark Rothko was definitely an influence, wouldn’t you say?
I sent a Jpg of “Red Skies” to Black Dog Press’s longtime cover designer Chris Kent last week, told him to use it as source material but not feel slavishly bound to the original. We had to be careful with other people’s artistic efforts but I wanted to give him permission to play with the image to his heart’s content.
Chris is a full-time teacher, a husband and father, an athlete constantly in training…but he also has an artistic side that he loves to indulge, a passion for design and art that’s very much a holdover from childhood.
Over the next few days, he tinkered with my painting, spitballing me a few initial notions like this one:
But I got a sense these first salvos were sort of tentative, Chris not sure how much license he had to tamper with my work.
But then, with his next flash of inspiration, he abandoned all fealty to the original and just fucking went for it. I opened up the file he sent, sat back and gaped at the shattered, fractured version of “Red Skies” that now graced the cover.
And went absolutely mental over it.
Sent him a few minor suggestions, nothing of any great import, he went away did some more polishing and then delivered the final version. His masterpiece.
What do you think?
Maybe you were a subversive.
Part of a cell.
Or you ordered some questionable books.
Matching some profile.
Compromised by a friend.
Betrayed by a rival.
Brought in for routine questioning.
Vehemently denying all charges.
Tragically expiring while in custody.
The official inquiry tactfully deflecting blame.
A closed casket, to spare your poor mother.
© 2016 Cliff Burns (All Rights Reserved)
Photo credit: Liam Burns
Or, at least, that’s how it seems.
Where did the past month go? Well, I’ll tell you:
Mostly it was swallowed up by a 12,000-word novelette set in my “Ilium” universe. At one point I spent eighteen consecutive days slaving away on said project, from eight in the morning until eight at night. Fun, fun, fun.
Because for me to be at my most creative I have to be fully immersed in a work, utterly incognizant of the “real world” around me.
And so it’s been with this latest piece.
I’ve barely been reading, just some essays from a posthumous collection by the great Tony Judt. So burned out the most I can manage in terms of entertainment the last few nights are a couple of old Gene Autry westerns. I kid you not. The singin’ cowboy a balm on my brain.
But yesterday I finally printed up my “Sherron Draft” and this weekend my devoted and long-suffering wife will go through the novelette and render her verdict. And from there: revisions and more revisions until at last I’m satisfied I’ve got it as note perfect as I can.
The ceaseless grind. That’s the part they don’t tell you about in those helpful “how to” articles in Writer’s Digest or that expensive creative writing class you just enrolled in. Creation, getting words down on paper, that’s the easy part…it’s the process that comes afterward that tests your mettle. How much effort are you prepared to expend to make your story or poem the best it can possibly be? Meticulous, tireless editing. That’s the difference between genius and wannabes.
Somehow I also managed to complete an overview of a fictional Quebecois film-maker and enfant terrible, a 2000-word “mockumentary” that’s the best piece of satire I’ve written in ages. I have some plans for that one and will likely release it in the next week or so. I’ll update you as soon as there’s anything to report on that front.
…and like everybody else, I’ve been watching the political shenanigans south of the border with growing incredulity.
Here’s my two cents worth:
First of all, this talk of a “contest” on the Democratic side is a joke. Hillary has the money and power, Bernie is a nice guy with some cool ideas. Bernie represents a movement; Hillary is a fucking machine. She’s got this one wired tight. End of story.
Regarding the Republicans, I’m starting to see shades of Barry Goldwater in 1964.
Name not familiar to you youngsters? He’s the dude who famously said: “Extremism in the defence of liberty is no vice”.
Still doesn’t ring any bells?
Never mind. The point is that in 1964 Goldwater and his followers were like today’s Tea Party—pissed off about special interests and insiders controlling Washington, the whole thing in need of a radical overhaul, etc. Richard Nixon and the GOP hierarchy came to the conclusion that Lyndon Johnson, wearing the mantle of an assassinated president (JFK), was unbeatable in 1964 and decided to let Goldwater and his lunatic fringe seize the reins of the Republican party. Once they were annihilated, they would go slinking back to their rat holes and the true king-makers and lever-pullers could take back the party in time for 1968.
Which is exactly what happened.
Makes me wonder if today’s Republican poobahs aren’t intending the same thing in 2016. Let Trump and his dickhead followers lead the party to certain ruin against the Hillary juggernaut, and then regain control in time for congressional and senate elections and a run at the presidency (hopefully with a more proven, viable candidate) in 2020.
Right now the GOP establishment is spooked—their two star candidates, Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, have failed to produce any excitement or momentum. Bush, in particular, never looked statesmanlike and comfortable in the spotlight and clearly wasn’t interested in making a serious bid. Hopefully, we’ve seen the last Bush in the Oval Office (my daily mantra). Rubio’s been rallying of late but does he have the balls to go toe-to-toe with the Donald? That remains to be seen. He needs better gag writers and he has to take the gloves off. Marco, if you can’t manage to engage with and whup a coiffed, spoiled blowhard, frankly you don’t deserve a shot at the big chair.
I’ve been a political junkie for as long as I can remember and that sphere (especially south of the border) just keeps getting weirder and weirder.
Money has distorted the process and attaining power and stature have become the primary motivations of those seeking to represent us.
Public service? Accountability? Transparency? Ethics?
Mere words, lacking currency or value in a world increasingly fixated on satisfying selfish desires, while consciously and arrogantly absolving itself of the consequences of its greed and stupidity.
Don’t make me laugh.
People, it has been said, get the form of government they most deserve.
In that sense, today’s theatrics and hijinks don’t say much about us as a society and civilizing influence, do they?
When we were young we
killed time indiscriminately
savagely using swords and
laser beams slaughtering it
by the hour with hyper-active
games mindless babble or just
lying on our backs making
shapes out of obliging clouds
Now time flees from us while
we are sleeping or otherwise
occupied each new morning
revealing the extent of the
damage and no matter how often
how hard we try to save or slow
time it runs down runs out always
too soon never long enough
© Cliff Burns, 2015 (All Rights Reserved)
For not the first time (and certainly not the last), I find myself apologizing for the lengthy interval between blog posts.
But, as I’ve pointed out previously, when I’m deeply immersed in a project I don’t have the time or energy to blog—so when these long silences (inevitably) crop up, I think you can safely assume I’m up to something.
In this instance, two short stories have been devouring my waking hours. One, “The Grey Men”, is a mystery/suspense tale clocking in at 1900 words, and “Magic Man”, the one I’m just wrapping up, is 8700 words (33 pages) long.
Upon its completion “The Grey Men” struck me as more accessible and genre specific than my usual efforts, so I did something very out of character and actually submitted it to a magazine for consideration. Longtime readers know I swore off that practice ages ago and only rarely offer my short fiction to publications or writing competitions. Why bother with extended (interminable) response times and form rejections when I can just go ahead and release my work either here or over on Scribd? But, I dunno, “The Grey Men” is a solid, convincing story and maybe just this once a perceptive editor will see its merits and snap it up. I’ll let you know.
I tackled “Magic Man”, in all honesty, because I was feeling quite smug and confident after completing “The Grey Men”. I should have known better.
The first draft of “Magic Man” was written back in 1984. I kid you not. It was one of the tales that signalled a shift from narratives centred around myself, my own life experiences, to venturing out into unexplored waters, creating entirely fictional worlds and characters. For that reason, I’ve always had a rather fond view of “Magic Man”, never completely forgot about it. And so, as an exercise, I pulled the one, typed copy of “Magic Man” out of my archives and set to work.
It was torture. First of all, I had to tap in the story, 4-5000 words of it, and that was an excruciatingly slow process because I couldn’t help correcting and doing adjustments as I went along, which really was incredibly stupid and stretched the process out. Dumb, dumb, dumb. Just type the fucking thing in, Cliff, and then start editing. Nope. Finally, got the entire draft on computer…and that’s when it really got difficult.
Obviously, I’m a much better writer now than I was thirty-one years ago. That guy back in 1984, he was still basically a rookie, a kid learning the ropes. So “Magic Man” needed work, lots and lots and lots of work. At the same time, however, I wanted to show respect to the kid, the one I remembered slaving away on this story, really excited about it because he knew it was a step, more like a lurching, uncertain stumble, in a new and different direction. I wanted to recognize that effort, the courage it took to complete “Magic Man”, and so I was also determined to preserve as much of the spirit of the original as possible.
Finally, two weeks later, it’s almost done. Sherron is downstairs reading the copy of “Magic Man” I printed last night. I didn’t tell her (never do) what I’ve been up to so she’s in for a treat. She’ll remember this story very well: after all, it’s one of the first I ever dedicated to her.
If “The Grey Men” falls into the mystery/suspense category, “Magic Man” is a bit more problematic. There are elements of dark/urban fantasy, I suppose, but for the most part it’s a mainstream effort. Realistic setting and scenario. Which will likely make it next to impossible to sell or market the bloody thing. The extended length will factor against it as well. In the old days, I might have sent it to magazines like Cemetery Dance or Midnight Graffiti, but the latter no longer exists and the former has been closed to submissions for ages. I might release the tale as a Kindle “single”, sell it for 99 cents a download, but I’m not sure what that would achieve. I’m very happy with how “Magic Man” turned out and would like to see it presented to readers in an attractive, respected venue.
So let me throw it out there: anybody know of a decent-sized anthology or magazine willing to look at an 8700-word story featuring a “touch of strange”? If so, drop me a line at email@example.com.
400 blog posts? Can that possibly be right? Even with all the long gaps, the periods of time when I’ve completely ignored and shunned Beautiful Desolation?
Amazing. Inconceivable. I think that averages out to 40-45 blog posts a year or around one a week. Not bad for a full-time workaholic author.
Looking back over the years it’s interesting to note the changes in tone and content. I confess I was a very, very angry man when I first started posting on Beautiful Desolation eight-and-a-half years ago—check out a few of those early blog posts and you’ll see what I mean. I was fed up with money-hungry, corporate publishers and their idiotic editors, and the greedy literary agents colluding with them to destroy any chance of interesting, innovative authors getting into print. The publishing biz, especially after the big, multi-national takeovers in the 1980s (something else to thank Ronnie Raygun for), has systemically dummied down the marketplace to the extent that sub-literate, amateur purveyors of fan fiction have a better chance getting their work in book stores and sales racks than the next Don DeLillo or David Foster Wallace. Disgusting, innit? My fury with that situation finally boiled over when a draft of my first novel, So Dark the Night, was rejected by an editor who kept me waiting over a year before delivering the bad news. I penned a very public “fuck off” letter to the industry, a portion of which which was reprinted in “GalleyCat“, an on-line site devoted (mainly) to the New York publishing scene. Folks who responded to my expletive-filled tirade warned me that I’d burned all my bridges and “would never work in this town again”.
But by that point I was beyond caring. I had recently discovered print-on-demand (POD) publishing and immediately recognized that printing had finally caught up with the times and authors now had a relatively inexpensive and efficient way of releasing their own work without involving editors and agents or gate-keepers of any kind. I had self-published my first book, Sex & Other Acts of the Imagination in 1990, but those were the bad, old days of offset printing and all the horrors associated with that. Print-on-demand simplified and streamlined the process…and it also didn’t encumber you with 500 or 1,000 copies of your book to store and inventory (with POD there are no minimum print runs).
Thanks to print-on-demand, my wee imprint, Black Dog Press, was reborn, rejuvenated…and I was a much happier camper.
And so the rants here came a lot less frequently—though topics like the amateurization of the arts and National Novel Writing Month always seem to spark more vitriol—and I settled down, embracing the independent (indie) writing world, feeling empowered and artistically fulfilled, knowing that my work was available to the reading public exactly the way I envisioned it. No middlemen, no interference.
Coming up on ten (10) books later, and I keep doing my thing, making no apologies, kickin’ against the pricks. Older, greyer, a little wiser, a “grand old man” (at 52) of self-publishing/indie writing. Still refusing to pay obeisance to fashions and trends, still refusing to whore my talent, writing what I want to write. Power to the people, motherfuckers!
I’ve got a catalog of excellent books and every single one of them is unique and original and highly literate.
After thirty years as a professional author, I’ve seen ’em come and go but, hey, here I am, still standing, still creating and publishing intelligent, highly crafted prose while many one-hit wonders and flashes-in-the-pan have slipped into obscurity or disappeared altogether. Where are they now?
I’m a “neglected” author, I’m a “cult” author, operating on the fringe, below the radar, working without the slightest desire for fame or monetary reward.
But the main thing is I’m working, staying relevant, productive, thematically and stylistically daring. Consumed by the act of creation.
It will be interesting to read blog post #500 in a couple years’ time.
I wonder how much will have changed, with my writing, the state of the world.
In either case, I can only hope (and pray) it’s for the better.
- Sherron finished “Magic Man” a few minutes after I completed this post and loved it. Just for the record…