You knew I had to be up to something and you were right.
A month between posts? C’mon, you know me better than that.
This summer has been my most productive, writing-wise, in several years. It’s like the taps were turned on again and I’ve been writing with all my focus and concentration, feeling the juices flowing again.
Two, count ’em, two long stories since June, quite a few poems, a short prose piece that’s one of the best things I’ve written in quite awhile…
And everything registering strongly on the aesthetic Richter Scale—nothing slight or inconsequential. Intelligent, literate efforts, not pandering to any school or taste.
I haven’t lost a fucking step.
Oh, and I’ve started work on a new novel. Well, not quite a new novel—I’m completely overhauling a 250-page manuscript I originally conceived around 2002. If I had to guess, I’d say I’m looking at 12-15 months worth of revisions, so you shouldn’t expect to see that one in print until, ballparking it, mid-2019. No teasers, except that it references a classic Victorian thriller and will be darker and more horror-related than some of my recent work.
But fear not, impatient readers, I shall be releasing not one but two full-length efforts in 2018: first, The Algebra of Inequality and Other Poems, a selection of verse culled from the past five years. The title is nicked from a line in a Don Barthelme short story that caught my eye. Ol’ Don had some zingers.
I know poetry is a hard sell to some folks but I believe it gives me the opportunity to address profound philosophical and spiritual and existential questions in the most spare, personal, unforgiving literary format. Poetry permits no artistic missteps—it really is like walking a tightrope.
And there will be (drumroll please) a new short story collection next year, Electric Castles: A Book of Urban Legends. Original tales, all centered around everything magical and terrifying about cities, near and far, real and imagined. Killer stories, spanning just about every genre, guaranteed to amaze, disturb and warp your puny perceptions and sensibilities. Consensual reality? What the hell is that?
Both books will feature, as per the custom here at Black Dog Press, gorgeous cover art and will be professionally formatted and bound. There will be an e-book version of Electric Castles, still mulling it over re: the poetry. Poetry is so unique and personal and analog…does it really belong on a tablet or phone screen?
Lots of writing and revisions in the months ahead, some highs and lows, good days and days when, as they say, “the bear gets you”. All part of the creative process: painful and terrifying, but also exhilarating and inspiring. No doubt you’ll be reading something of my triumphs and travails here…and I hope it will serve to remind you that the writing life is not easy and requires a great deal of courage and fortitude. Perseverance and sheer guts get you a lot further in any profession than mere talent. Surely you know that by now.
Some mornings I can’t imagine facing that page again.
And yet I do.
That’s the difference between an author and a poser.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: for real writers, girls and boys, every fucking month is “National Novel Writing Month”.
You heard it here…
Photos by Sherron Burns
A few days ago I was sitting in my favourite pub in Saskatoon, having a pint of Guinness (and to hell with the Celiac nonsense), with a chaser of Tallisker, occasionally glancing outside at passersby—
—and then suddenly I was scrabbling for my notebook as the following came to me:
framed for a moment
like aquarium fish
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.
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.
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.
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…
Inspired and, at the same time, still feeling his loss, I dug out some some lyrics I wrote a number of years ago, added musical accompaniment and ended up with “Alias”.
Here’s the the version I recorded…what do you think, do you detect a little Lenny in this piece?
Is it a suitable homage to a beloved troubadour?
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.
I’ve been going through a notebook I’ve been keeping since 2010—kind of a “scratch” book, to horse around in. Poems, lyrics, essays and short stories, in very raw form.
Found the following two poems, which may or may not make it into my next compilation, slated for release Spring, 2018:
We emulate our gods
by turns jealous and paranoid
desirous of silver and gold
hiding our indifference
behind impassive masks
reluctantly doling out favours
callow, prone to deceit
* * * *
Nothing to do with rockets
miles off course
spiralling out of control
threatening civilian populations
programmed for self-destruction
to prevent serious harm
© 2017 Cliff Burns (All Rights Reserved)
The printed proof of RIGHTEOUS BLOOD should be here tomorrow.
Exciting times. Like an expectant father, pacing about the waiting room.
In the meantime, I spent part of my afternoon devising a promotional flier for the book—then Sherron comes home from work, does a little creative re-arranging and suddenly the flier’s looking pretty darn good.
This will go out with review copies and also to specialty or genre stores that might be willing to stock my book:
As the flier indicates, e-book and Kindle versions of RIGHTEOUS BLOOD are already available.
Now just gotta get a look at that proof…
Righteous Blood slowly creeps toward publication.
Susan, who’s been handling my interior layout, has delivered a text file for Lightning Source and is currently working on Kindle and ePub versions (to be read on tablets and other devices).
Chris, as you saw from my previous post, has devised another wondrous cover.
Both text and cover files were submitted to Lightning Source two days ago and the book remains in “pre-media”. If there are no glitches (there usually are), a proof of the book will be printed and dispatched to me via courier for close examination. At that point, if all is well, I give the go-ahead for publication, order however many copies I want to sell to booksellers and friends…and from then on, Righteous Blood is officially back in print.
But we’re not quite there. I mentioned previously that the folks at Lightning Source are more than a trifle finicky; their system has very strict specifications and that can be maddening. With previous books, I’ve had to re-submit either the text or cover files two or three times before I got it right. Crossing my fingers I’ve nailed it on this occasion and should know for sure in the next day or so.
Since I began posting about the process of publishing Righteous Blood, I’ve received a number of queries from individuals regarding various aspects of indie/self-publishing. Thought I’d post those questions and my replies for the benefit of all:
Q: You’ve complained various times about the difficulty and complexity of using Lightning Source as your printer—why stick with them when there are other platforms available?
A: Well, you know that old saying about the devil you know…but, really, I suppose I continue to do business with Lightning Source because they produce such lovely, professional looking books, plus they’re the platform that, in my view, promises the best potential access to booksellers around the world. As long as I pay my $12 annual fee, my books remain in Lightning Source/Ingram’s vast catalog, available to anyone who wants to order them, anywhere on the globe. I also like the fact that many mainstream, commercial publishers use Lightning Source as their printer—with over 30 years as a professional writer under my belt, I want all the benefits of high-quality services and standards. My books are created and designed to look identical to (or better than) any title released by traditional publishers. That’s my goal and Lightning Source helps me achieve it.
Q: Have you had any experience with Amazon’s CreateSpace or Lulu.com?
A: No, I haven’t. My understanding is that Lulu is more geared to beginners and amateurs. It’s where you should go if you want to print a few copies of your family history or a collection of your grandmother’s poems (or whatever). CreateSpace seems to produce a lot of stuff I have little use for: fan fiction, erotic shapeshifter romance, the silly shit produced by wannabes and sub-literates. Much of it only available digitally (because it’s so cheap and easy to set up). Both CreateSpace and Lulu are less costly and more user-friendly than Lightning Source, which is why certain kinds of “authors” are drawn to those other platforms. With Lightning Source, there are more hoops to jump through and that tends to discourage non-professionals. I guess that’s yet another reason I use them.
Q: I find the self-publishing process confusing and labor-intensive and I have limited computer skills. Your advice?
A: There is a learning curve and you can expect a great deal of frustration along the way. There are agencies like Upwork, who can provide you with connections to skilled men and women who have extensive experience typesetting and designing books. For a relatively modest fee, they can prep your manuscript so that it is printer-friendly, even set up a cover for you. The more services and help you require, the more expensive it gets. Again, if you’re only publishing a vanity book, something of questionable literary or commercial merit, go to Lulu, get it done on the cheap. You don’t need an ISBN, you’re not looking to get on bookstore shelves, you just want a couple of copies of a title for sentimental reasons.
Q: Even after all this time, do you find there is still a stigma toward self-published books?
A: Undoubtedly, and in my opinion that stigma is well-deserved. Technology and print-on-demand is allowing far too many people to publish their godawful, inept scribbling. It has empowered the wannabes, convinced them that for a few hundred bucks they can be SERIOUS writers. The cult of the amateur has done lasting damage to literature, reducing authors in stature and cultural importance since, after all, “everyone has a book inside them”. That kind of twaddle has enriched creative writing programs (and instructors) for decades.
Q: How much can I expect to spend publishing my book?
A: That varies. If you’re computer-savvy and can handle the set-up yourself, it saves a lot of time and money. Finding and purchasing cover art is another expense—again, if you have some design background, perhaps you could cobble together an eye-catching cover without having to resort to using someone else’s work. My books usually range from $1200-1800 (each), depending on if I’m using my own cover art, the length of the book in question and the number I want printed to sell or send out as promo copies.
Q: How do you promote your books?
A: Short answer: badly. I send out review copies but that’s usually a waste of time. Book reviewers are a dying breed and most of them have a dim view of self-published books, regardless of the quality. Last time I heard, something like a quarter million books are published in North America every year, and self-publishing has only contributed to that deluge. So much crap being printed and so many different forms of entertainment and distractions available to our potential audience. How do you draw attention to your work in that maelstrom? If you figure that one out, you’re on the fast track for a Nobel Prize…
* * *
That’s it for now. If you have any further questions about self-publishing or indie writing in general, drop me a line at email@example.com.
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?