My, my, how time flies.
It seems like only yesterday we were having the book launch but I see that a significant amount of time has passed since then, the summer well in progress…and I’m overdue for an update.
You know how it is, when this blog goes silent, that means I’m working. So deeply immersed in a project, I’m thinking of nothing else. Including food, water and most of the other basic necessities of life.
I’ve been feeling in a rut, writing-wise, which sometimes inspires me to bend my brain in other directions. I know very little about visual art, theory or practice, but every so often I like to pick up a paintbrush, find an old slab of board and have at it. This time around, my medium of choice was collage. I keep files of visual images and dozens of issues of old magazines lying around just in case I get it into my head to try something like this. Collage is a cumulative process; I moved the images here and there, tried them against different backdrops…but the key for me came when I decided to incorporate small blocks of text, usually relating to economic theory (the most savage form of social Darwinism imaginable).
It struck me as I was going through the literally hundreds of images I’ve collected over the past X amount of years, that I am an astonishingly morbid person. I mean, Jesus, click on the image (above), you should get a larger sized version. Would you trust someone who saves pictures like this to babysit your kids or date your daughter?
This is some sick, sick shit.
But as I was piecing everything together, as it all started to fall into place, I realized that what I was creating was a depiction of humanity run amok, the awful, indescribable damage we, as a species, have inflicted with our ideologies, our stupidity and greed. Depressing, yes; sick-making? Undoubtedly. But is this vision inaccurate, flawed or misleading? Well, like any creative endeavor, it’s up to each individual to decide for themselves.
The end result of that little experiment pleased me to some extent but I didn’t feel like I was quite done with cutting things up. My eyes happened on a pile of books I’ve snagged from various thrift shops and library book sales over the years. I decided I wanted to create an homage to one of my literary heroes, William Burroughs. I’m sure you know all about the “cut-up method” that was developed by Burroughs and his mentor, Brion Gysin. Take any number of literary texts, carve them up, piece them together and marvel at the wonderful word collisions and strange juxtapositions that are created.
My project started out as a noble venture but, as with most activities that involve me creatively, my Muse took over and things quickly got out my control.
I used scissors to pare out sections of a 1960 thriller called Operation Terror! I then snipped out various portions of the other books I had lying around: an anthology of detective fiction that included Poe’s “Murders in the Rue Morgue”, a forgotten novel by Ngaio Marsh, etc. etc. Found a heavy sheet of black cardboard, set up on our basement workbench and proceeded to play with the various passages I’d selected.
At one point I realized I was probably defeating the purpose of the whole intention of “cut ups”, that my method was too conscious and controlling but by then it was too late. I was caught up in creating an all new narrative, trying to come up with a satisfactory climax–
Once I’d arranged the text into a coherent storyline, I decided I wasn’t done: I would then write a story based on the outline I’d created using the borrowed snippets. A completely original work utilizing pre-existing text. And I’d frame it as a teleplay for a long-forgotten TV series…
I repeat: Good Lord.
But there’s no use trying to talk sense to my Muse: she simply won’t be reasoned with. Once she gets an idea into her head, I am powerless to resist her.
So at the conclusion of this article you’ll find a link to the PDF version of my weird, whacky “mashup”. It’s an homage to Mistah Burroughs in the form of a script from a 1950’s crime drama that never was. Go figger.
I make no apologies for this story and predict it might annoy a significant proportion of readers. But fans of Burroughs and Gysin might be more inclined to give grudging approval to the thought behind this bizarre creation. They would see it, quite rightly, as a labour of love and even if they found fault with its execution, they’d think kindly of me for at least making the attempt.
Click on the link directly below for a free download of my story:
A couple of things to cover this time around:
The proof copy of So Dark the Night arrived and we’ll get pictures up soon. It’s a beautiful book—the folks at Lightning Source have done a brilliant job and we couldn’t be happier with the finished volume. Unfortunately, there were a few minor glitches: for one thing, we forgot to add the cover price (yeesh! what dopes!) and there were a couple of formatting mistakes inside that needed tweaking. So we sent in a revised set of cover and text files and that should be it.
In the meantime, the proof sits on my desk, just as pretty as you please. At least five or six times a day I walk over, pick it up and ogle it, turning it over and over in my hands.
So…unless there are any unforeseen problems, we should be going into production in the next ten days and I’ll begin taking orders for So Dark the Night at that time. Or you can buy my book through Lightning Source (and eventually Amazon and wherever else I can get it)
Watch this space.
This one has two main sources of inspiration:
The first was Roman Polanski’s “The Tenant” (terrific creepy film and the perfect evocation of Roland Topor’s short novel) and the second…well. We’ve all seen the stories on the news, an obscene act of violence perpetrated by someone who is clearly delusional. Our initial, knee jerk response to gruesome incidents like the killing on the Greyhound bus is to wash our hands of the assailant, throw away the key, put him out of his misery, etc. etc. But, of course, as a writer my curiosity is piqued when I try to divine the thinking of such an individual: what in God’s name would cause them to act out in such an extreme and horrific manner?
And so I wrote “Bedevilled”.
I have to say, now that the novel’s done and at the printer, I find I have some extra time to do things like journaling and writing short stories and I’m enjoying myself immensely. “Bedevilled” challenged me and I think the end result is a solid short story. I’ve played around with the formatting on this one, tried to make it more readable and eye-friendly (in PDF form). Let me know what you think, dear Readers, especially you folks using devices like the iPad, Kindle, etc. Do you like the fatter margins, find the spacing agreeable?
Let’s kick off the summer reading season with a tale of psychological suspense, shall we?
Click on the link below and…enjoy!
The first one is a kook. Total whack job.
Rings the doorbell and right away starts babbling about ley lines and planetary convergences, everything explained by this crude chart he holds up for perusal. And all the while keeping his eyes cast down because he’s afraid of being “blinded by immanence” or something like that. It’s hard to make out what he’s saying because he’s weeping, practically vibrating from a combination of fear and excitement. The guy won’t be talked down or dissuaded. Eventually, he just wanders off, pausing every once in awhile to shout and point at the house. Weird.
But the word must be out because another one shows up the next day, an old man who won’t approach the door. Content to stand at the end of the walk, bracing himself on a cane when the arthritis in his hip gets too bad. He’s there until dark. And then he’s gone.
More arrive daily, most content to be bystanders, others bolder. There are all kinds of places on the internet. Conspiracy theorists and cultists and people who believe the apocalypse is due a week from Thursday.
A particularly awkward moment when a woman thrusts out an infant, screaming: “Heal him! Don’t let him die!” Closing the door but she won’t stop screaming. Rushing out to calm her, reason with her. And the whole time it’s “my baby, my baby”, the neighbors looking on with frank disapproval.
It gets worse. A steady stream of people arriving, knocking at all hours. The congestion creating a parking and traffic nightmare. It’s a quiet neighborhood and residents start to complain.
The police and authorities are, predictably, completely unhelpful. Initially dubious, suspecting some kind of publicity stunt. They check around, find the sites in question. Someone alerts the media, which means more unwanted attention, phone calls, requests for interviews. The situation only exacerbated when the Pope becomes involved, issuing a statement denouncing superstition and idolatry.
Uniformed officers are stationed around the clock, an attempt to keep the growing throng under control. Weapons have been seized, along with extremist literature and bizarre religious tracts. The situation quickly deteriorating.
Late one night, someone breaks through the cordon. Presses his face to the door, whimpering: “Libera me, Domine” and, as he is being dragged away, howling: “Miserere mei, Deus!”
Living like a prisoner now, never able to venture outside or peer from a window. And day and night, 24/7, serenaded by a continual soundtrack of prayers and hymns. Someone even sets up a loudspeaker and plays amplified recordings of rabbits being slaughtered and children crying—o, pity the suffering children.
Unplug the telephone, turn off the lights, sit in the dark. They’ll weary of this eventually, go back to their homes. Give them nothing to encourage their simple credulity.
Alone and besieged. Resigned and dangerously bored. Reorganizing the cupboards and bookshelves, performing a thousand small chores. Playing endless games of solitaire and, naturally, winning every single time.
© Copyright, 2010 Cliff Burns (All Rights Reserved)
So Dark the Night is done.
Editing, polishing and buffing now complete. After some proof-reading for typos and mis-spellings, it’s off to the printer in the form of a PDF and, hopefully, by early March we’ll have a physical book to offer you. Really pleased with the changes I’ve made; I’ve tightened the novel considerably, lopped about 5 pages from its length. Speeds up the pacing..the idea is to make the book impossible to put down. And I think I’ve come pretty close to achieving that goal.
Can’t wait to see Ado Ceric’s gorgeous cover art on a trade paperback. Hoping to keep the price around $17-18 max. And, of course, we’ll still be offering the newly revamped So Dark the Night as a free e-book for those of you who have evolved and now do most of your reading from some kind of screen. Judging by the number of downloads I’ve had over the past couple of weeks, I’d say a lot of folks received Kindles or other e-readers as Christmas gifts. After all, what else do you give a discerning bibliophile (if you’ve got over $200 to spare)?
There will be more posts re: the release of So Dark the Night (the book) so stay tuned.
* * * * * *
In the meantime, idle hands and all that: once I completed edits on the novel, I had some free time and indulged in some “automatic” writing. This is what I came up with, my first fiction and verse of 2010:
A witch’s heart won’t burn, so what do you do with it? It can’t be buried, its evil influence would still be felt, blighting crops, causing stillbirths. To cast it into a well would poison the water for miles around.
No, best to keep the vile thing locked away. In a lead-lined canister, sealed with wax, submerged in holy water.
And who better to steward the damned things than me? Serving as an invaluable repository for witch-hunters desperate to dispose of something infernal, indestructible. Making a pretty penny off it too, if I may say so. Not many willing to do the work, to be honest.
It’s the shrieking and carrying on that’s the worst. There are nights I have to stopper my ears. They never rest and they never stop yearning to be free. From a hundred shelves, a thousand faceless jars. Some of them claiming innocence, and they’re the most dangerous and insidious of all.
© Cliff Burns, 2010
They have departed to the pleasure domes
abandoned their husks to decay
Meatless, eternal, every wish fulfilled.
Etheric couplings, satisfaction guaranteed;
high adventure, simulated to the last pixel
experience without significance,
vouchsafed by an overcautious A.I.
You can never die and so
you can never live
and virtual love is no love
They can emulate everything except a soul
(but it’s only a matter of time)
© Cliff Burns, 2010
You’ll find it by looking to the right hand side, under the “Stories” widget. Just click on “Audio” and you’ll discover a large selection of my stories, poems, commentaries, even an excerpt from my novel So Dark the Night. All available for free listening and downloading onto whatever device (iPod or cell phone) you currently favour. Many of these pieces are accompanied by music, which provides dramatic highlights, a soundtrack that is either pleasing or provocative (or both).
The most recent offering is a six-minute chat about “indie” writing I recorded because I’ve received a host of questions, both here and in various forums where I hang out. People want to know what it means to be an independent writer…and I want to do what I can to dispel this notion that one goes the indie/self-publishing route because your work can’t cut it with traditional publishers. Hey, kids, I chose to go my own way because after 20+ years of dealing with inept, sociopathic, moronic editors, I’d had enough. New technologies like blogs, podcasts and print-on-demand put more control into authors’ hands, a situation I welcome with open arms.
For the record, here’s what I said–
–and after giving it a listen, I hope you’ll have a clearer understanding of what I’m trying to accomplish with this blog. And please check out the rest of my audio releases, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the production values and the power and intensity of the work.
Theatre of and for the mind…
I’ve been in a somewhat grim state of mind of late, for a variety of reasons I won’t go into. So I was sitting down today, nursing a blue funk, pondering the imminent arrival of All Hallow’s Eve. I turned on Garageband and started playing around; came up with some wacky tracks of music and thought about adding a few words, flipped through my notebook for something appropriate…and for some reason recalled “Darkness”, a poem Lord Byron wrote wayyy back in the early 19th Century. Dug out an old Norton poetry anthology, found the poem in question…and my face split into a nasty grin. It was perfect. Went with the music I’d laid down so nicely it sent a chill through me.
Here it is, a little something for the ghoul that resides in each of us, the darkness beyond the edge of town, as Mr. Springsteen would put it.
My tunes have no shape, they flow and twist enigmatically, illogically. Mood music for troubled minds. Score for a science fiction film never made. Shimmering in the air around you, disappearing without leaving behind so much as a sprinkle of fairy dust.
There’s a strange dichotomy at work here: I’m using this advanced, amazing computer to simulate and record almost any instrument known to humankind…and flubbing and screwing up and patching and improvising…and ending up with some in-teresting stuff.
I’ve got over an hour of music stored in an iTunes folder. Every note of it selected, struck, plucked, bowed, strummed or sampled by yours truly. Using virtual instruments, of course, since I’d be virtually useless if you gave me a real one. Sue me, I’m an eejit savant.
So far this one is our favorite. Hand’s down. A bit of spoken word but just about all instrumental.
I call it “The Departed” and dedicate it to absent friends.
And awayyyyy we go…
Time for another selection from my growing library of audio experiments. Learning something new with each tune…and this time I’ve combined a fairly lengthy (well, okay, three-and-a-half minutes, but right now that’s lengthy for me) instrumental piece with an old prose poem from my violins in the void collection.
Sherron and my sons think I’m starting to get the hang of this technology.
But, friends, I’d like to know your opinion. Give it a listen and then speak your mind:
(Note: After getting word that the recording level might be giving some of you trouble, I went in and boosted the output, raising the volume some. Hope that helps. As previously advised, probably best to listen to my stuff through headphones. That way you get the full effect…)
Here are four short-short stories, my version of “flash fiction”. Ethereal, odd, evocative. Literary and auditory Rorschach tests. Give them a listen…and then tell me what you see.
Submitted for your approval, as my old pal Rod Serling would say:
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…