Category: Literature

“Mutant Thoughts (I)”

This is intended to be a semi-regular column devoted to my various enthusiasms, pet peeves and the strange notions that all-too-frequently bedevil me. Not intended for folks with delicate sensibilities or soft brains. Read on.

  • Recently received a note from an Italian digital musician wishing to use images from one of my strange, short films to accompany a piece of music he’s been composing. Why not?
  • Things like that happen every so often. Like the two academics (one from Hong Kong, the other the Netherlands) who contacted me seeking permission to include some of my photos on the “cut-up” method for presentation at separate conferences. Happy to oblige…always in the hope that exposure in different venues will help draw attention to my literary work (well, a fella can dream, can’t he).
  • Some good, smart discussions on Twitter lately regarding books, writing process, films, politics, etc. (Shout out to Shaun Hamill, Steve Savile, Geoff Andrew, among others.) The trolls seem to have gone into hiding for the time being, leaving room for rational discourse. A refreshing development.
  • How do my fellow progressives feel about the first month of Joe Biden’s presidency? Anyone who was expecting massive policy changes, a sudden lurch to the Left, an administration to rival FDR’s is either soft in the head or has only just awakened after a fifty-year coma. “Meet the new Boss/Same as the old Boss.”
  • Go out today and either buy or borrow a good book. Just this once treat your frontal lobes and higher brain functions with the respect they deserve. Enough with the empty-headed, escapist fare. Remember: you are what you read.
  • The fact that Justin Trudeau and his cabinet declined to join the rest of their parliamentary colleagues in a motion condemning the treatment of the Uyghur people at the hands of the Chinese shows just how morally bankrupt and hypocritical the Liberal Party of Canada has become. An absolutely disgraceful display.
  • We’ve signed up for a three-month tryout of the MUBI movie-streaming service. Great selection of cinema from around the world…but the goddamn thing keeps freezing and buffering, even during a 15-minute short film. I’ve contacted them and they’ve reached out, trying to effect a fix but so far, no good. And if they don’t solve the problem soon, hasta la vista MUBI!
  • Is it just me? It seems like my fingernails and toe nails are growing at an accelerated rate during this extended lockdown. Please apprise if something similar is happening to you.
  • Sherron keeps trying to get me to explore the wonders and benefits of kimchi…but I still recoil from the stuff. It looks like the material that gets caught in our kitchen drain; it may be a miracle food for some, but my rising gorge says otherwise.
  • Back to the Big City (Saskatoon) soon to check the state of my new hip. Hopefully will have a bit of extra time for a side trip to Peryton Books and, later, some tasty ethnic cuisine before heading back on the road.
  • Making excellent progress on what will be my next Black Dog Press release, Notebooks: 2010-2020. Printed up a draft and will give it to Sherron for proofing in about a week-ten days. And then final tinkering and polishing. Still anticipating an early May release date (perhaps even sooner, but don’t you dare quote me on that).
  • Listening to a couple of newish Bob Mould CDs in my office the past few days. Ol’ Bob still rocks, the spirit of Husker Du lives on!
  • These days half the time when the landline in our house rings it’s either a “robocall” or a scammer. This is what our society has been reduced to.
  • One Twitter post in particular caught my eye the other day. A high school student was seeking advice on how to publish their book. Excuse me? Isn’t this a case of putting the cart before the horse? How about learning the rudiments of grammar and syntax first, gaining a basic understanding of language or, like, paying your fucking dues? We don’t need more books published, we need to identify and weed out the absolute shit that’s already being churned out at an accelerating pace. Most of it produced/excreted by sub-literate tits with no notion of just how terrible they really are. Sorry, kid, you won’t be getting any help from me.
  • I’ll close this first installment with an appropriate quote from Aldous Huxley: “If most of us remain ignorant of ourselves, it is because self-knowledge is painful and we prefer the pleasures of illusion.” Yep, that about sums it up. See you next time!
Photo: Sherron Burns

…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

Best Books Read in 2020: The Roundup

I try to read at least a hundred (100) books a year but in 2020, due to various circumstances, I didn’t quite make that goal.

Ninety-three was the best I could manage; not bad, but still, c’mon, Cliff, you should be able to make it to the century mark. There was a roughly equal split between fiction and non-fiction and, as usual, my tastes were all over the place.

Here’s my “Best of…” roster for 2020 and, man, when compiling it I had to make some very difficult choices:

Fiction:

PROCESSED CHEESE by Stephen Wright

YELLOW EARTH by John Sayles

VANISHED BIRDS by Simon Jimenez

RED PILL by Hari Kunzru

STATION ELEVEN by Emily St. John Mandel

AMERICAN WAR by Omar El Akkad

AUSTERLITZ by W.G. Sebald

RULE OF CAPTURE by Christopher Brown

METROPOLIS by Philip Kerr

PLAINSONG by Kent Haruf

GROWING THINGS (Stories) by Paul Tremblay

A CHILDREN’S BIBLE by Lydia Millet

Honorable Mention:

PROVIDENCE by Max Barry

THE ASSAULT by Harry Mulisch

MAY WE SHED THESE HUMAN BODIES (Stories) by Amber Sparks

THE GLASS HOTEL by Emily St. John Mandel

RABBIT FACTORY by Larry Brown

Non-Fiction:

HITLER: ASCENT (1889-1939) by Volker Ulrich

POETRY FROM THE FUTURE by Srecko Horvat

SAPIENS: A BRIEF HISTORY OF HUMANKIND by Yuval Noah Harari

ON TYRANNY by Timothy Snyder

THE UNWOMANLY FACE OF WAR by Svetlana Alexievich

IN TRUTH: A HISTORY OF LIES FROM ANCIENT ROME TO MODERN AMERICA by Matthew Fraser

CULT OF GLORY: THE BOLD AND BRUTAL HISTORY OF THE TEXAS RANGERS by Doug J. Swanson

CHURCHILL AND ORWELL by Thomas E. Ricks

THATCHER STOLE MY TROUSERS by Alexei Sayle

Honorable Mention:

SONGLINES by Bruce Chatwin

ROAD TO LITTLE DRIBBLING by Bill Bryson

HOW THE SCOTS INVENTED THE MODERN WORLD by Arthur Herman

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

“Electric Castles”—Cover Art

A peek at the cover of my next release through Black Dog Press, ELECTRIC CASTLES: A BOOK OF URBAN LEGENDS.

Chris Kent performed his usual design magic and special thanks to Gabriele Marras, who supplied the original photo.

My odd little imprint has always focussed on releasing the best and most beautiful books, but this cover surpasses anything we’ve come up with before. As you can probably tell, we’re mighty pleased with it.

The proof has been printed and is already winging its way toward my mailbox and the ePub and Kindle versions should be available later today.

Place your order with me if you’d like an autographed copy, otherwise buy ELECTRIC CASTLES at your favorite independent bookstore.

Support indie publishers and booksellers!

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.