I’ve met some smart, funny, terrific people, thanks to “Beautiful Desolation”, and it’s always a particular thrill to read a comment or receive an e-mail from one of you. Writing is a lonely business and those missives, brief as they are, remind me why I keep putting pen to paper, year after year after year. And let’s have a rousing cheer for the internet, without which none of this would be possible. I mean, jeez, from halfway around the world you can wave or send regards or blow a kiss…or a raspberry (whatever floats your boat).
I spent perhaps an unhealthy amount of time trying to come up with ways to say “thanks” for your support and patronage for the past three years. There are a good number of you who take great pains to keep in touch and pass the word to other folks out there who are fed up with the tepid fare offered by traditional publishing sources: the books and magazines we buy and yawn our way through.
For the past six months or so the e-Reader crowd have been coming by in droves. Welcome, welcome. Dive right in and enjoy my stories, poems and radio dramas. There are dozens of offerings on this site, hundreds of thousands of words. Works that will astonish, amaze or, at least, entertain. And it’s all FREE. Download it, peruse it on your Kindles and iPads and Sonys (what the hell, a book is a book) and God bless ya.
I have to say there are certain, ah, special circumstances that give this anniversary more significance.
The impending release of my novel So Dark the Night is a super-big deal around Casa Burns. The cover nears completion and then it’s a case of loading the book onto Lightning Source’s template, crossing our fingers…and zipping it off. Looks like a late-April release. Will give you a peek at the cover soon–it’s a beauty. Wait’ll you see it, kids, it’ll knock your socks off. Christ, I love this book. It’s the best thing I’ve ever written and I’m practically vibrating in anticipation.
2010 marks my 25th year as a professional writer. That’s a helluva long time, a helluva lot of words on paper. Too many to ponder without suffering some kind of brain seizure. So we’ve got the third anniversary of the blog, my silver anniversary as an author and a new book coming out. That’s gotta call for something a little something extra, a bonus item or two…
How about an hour of free music? This is music I recorded with my iMac’s Garageband software. Space tunes, all instrumentals, totally trippy and out there. Some of my friends have downloaded these oddities on to their iPods or their computer hard drives. Go for it. Knock yourselves out. And above all else, enjoy the music. With my compliments and thanks.
I call my project Soundtrack For a Science Fiction Film Never Made and if you’d like to give it a listen, pop over to my “Audio” page, scroll down, past the spoken word section and you’re sure to find it.
Ah, but I’m not done.
I also want to unveil my new blog, Cinema Arrete. After literature, film is my great passion and for ages I’ve wanted a site where I could talk about some of my favorites and steer people toward flicks that aren’t on prominent display at their neighborhood movie store. I think that with places like YouTube now renting movies, there might be an increased demand and a wider assortment of movies to choose from–after all, cyberspace is like an endless virtual store and titles are always in stock. It might be the perfect time to re-introduce film fans to the work of auteurs like Henri-Georges Clouzot and Carl Theodor Dreyer.
But it’s not just a one-way street. I want cinephiles to steer me toward works and creative individuals that I’ve missed or neglected for some reason. I want to re-watch classic movies, research them and write essays based on my impressions and speculations. Sometimes I’ll re-examine a work and discover I’ve been dead wrong and will be forced to backtrack. The downside of being an honest critic is that you have to learn to like the taste of crow.
My refusal to bestow any respect on CGI fests like “Avatar” and the latest comic book adaptation will enrage those of you who (shudder) go to movies purely for fun, for the eye candy and escapist fluff. Sorry, if that’s the sum total of your aesthetic, Cinema Arete likely isn’t for you.
Pop over, give it a look-see and let me know what you think.
Okay, that’s enough for now. I’m feeling kind of misty-eyed at the moment and it might be that extra shot or two of scotch I’ve had. Or it could be an indication of emotions lurking closer to the surface than usual as I ponder this blog and what it has meant for my writing. Most importantly, it’s given me access to you, o wise and discerning readers, a venue to display my odd wares.
Thanks so much for spending some of your precious time here. Visiting and browsing this…repository of my poor words.
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…
All this fun I’ve been having with Garageband means that I’ve been a trifle negligent with new blog posts and for that, my apologies.
But I’ll try to make it up to you by posting a new short story that I absolutely love. This time it’s a longer effort, around 2000 words–titled “Death Threats” for reasons that will become clear as the story progresses. I’ll post both an audio version and a PDF for those of you who either don’t like the sound of my voice (understandable) or who lack the ability to download the recording.
I have a great deal of affection for this story, which was written in mid-late May (2009). Have no idea what took me so long to add it to this blog. My guess is that this tale sort of fell by the wayside while I worked on the four linked stories that devoured my entire summer. This is a stand-alone effort and I feel quite confident that it will find favor in your eyes (and ears).
Enjoy, my friends and please do let me know what you think:
Death Threats (PDF)
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:
First, let me give a quick plug to a new site devoted to writers and writing. I received a note from one of the administrators and after making sure they were legit and not just a money grab directed at desperate, wannabe writers, I promised them I’d drop a word in my next post.
Lit Drift looks smart and hip and whoever designed their site did a smashing job; appearance-wise it’s one of the best author-oriented venues I’ve come across on the web. Their only revenue is derived from advertising and they don’t promote any specific print-on-demand outfit or offer editorial services at ridiculously inflated prices. I say pop over and see what they’re up to; I like the way they operate. And if you need further convincing, they give away free books every Friday and darn good ones at that.
Another thing I want to bring up is the possibility that I may offer both my novels, So Dark the Night and Of the Night through Lulu.com. My pal Ian Sales (watch for him, he’s gonna be a superstar on the Brit sci fi scene) has worked with them and approves of their bare bones approach to publishing. The author presents his/her manuscript and they print copies as each new order is received. No overhead, no piles of books moldering in a warehouse somewhere. Traditional publishers take note.
There’s a bit of a process that goes along with this decision, including revising the manuscripts and making sure they’re basically typeset and ready for printing, clearing up a few typos folks have pointed out to me, polishing them to an even brighter sheen. I’ll also have to secure permissions from the artists who provided me with such wonderful covers and prepare some jacket copy and…
You get the idea.
Drop me a line and let me know your thoughts–how many of you would be interested in securing copies of the two books? So Dark the Night, because it clocks in at around 400 pages, will likely retail around $18-20 and Of the Night in the $14-16 range. That’s an estimation but likely pretty close to how it will end up.
And, finally, I wanted to tell you how much I’ve been enjoying mucking about with Garageband, the music program that came with my iMac. Folks, I have been making some lovely music, a series of atmospheric pieces, instrumentals ranging from cool ambient tones to rockin’ riffs. I’ve recorded about seven or eight minutes so far, often so immersed in a piece that an entire afternoon will be gobbled up and I won’t realize how much time has elapsed until I hear the boys downstairs, home from school.
I’ll be adding the best bits to the blog later on–it’s a thrill to have another mode of expression open to me.
Enough for now. More promo work to do today (the burden of an indie artist) and then, hopefully, a couple of hours of Garageband later on. Getting lots of hits on the stories I recorded and posted last week so I guess folks are enjoying them. There will be more to come soon. Just keep tuning in…
My Muse has taken charge of my summer and is refusing to relinquish it. Writing a couple of stories for the Esquire fiction contest was supposed to be a warm-up, something to limber up the ol’ wrists and get the synapses firing. I wrote the first story and the second one occurred to me and a third…and all of them featured a recurring character, this Conrad Dahl fella, at various ages, from 13-19. I’ve pondered and batted around the idea of writing (at some point) a linked series of stories but had made no specific plans, didn’t even have an outline committed to paper. Now here I am with three stories–“Twenty-Ten”, “An Insurrection” and “Never, Ever Say That To Me Again”–written for that fucking contest. One (“Twenty-Ten”) is complete and was submitted with about four hours to spare before the deadline and the other two need at least a week of polishing and I’m bouncing around the notion for a fourth Conrad Dahl story that would (he hopes) complete the cycle. Which means at least another 2 or three weeks and pretty much the rest of my summer devoted to short fiction.
What about that novel I was supposed to be revising? What about the filming and recording I had planned, to sample and explore some of the features of this amazing, stunning, paradigm-shifting new iMac (I’m still enamored, can you tell)?
And do you think I can seize back the initiative, demand that my Muse shitcan this story cycle, at least for now, and get back to the novel? Not bloody likely. It doesn’t work that way, my dears. I can’t program my inspiration, channel it with any degree of success. Not this lad. And I’m very single-minded, I can only focus on one project at a time; I’m not one of those agile bastards who can juggle any number of novels, article ideas, short stories, what have you. After I finish this blog entry it will take me the rest of the morning to regain a fiction-writing mindset. I’ll play lots of music, pace around my office, let every last vestige of this post evaporate away before I’ll be able to return to my regular work. Get my game face on again.
I have no idea why my Muse has determined that these short stories should be given precedence. I’m frustrated by this change of plan; I thought I had my summer all figured out. Matter of fact, this entire year to this point has been taken up with works that weren’t exactly at the top of my list of priorities. My “Innocent Moon” radio play took me wayyy too long to research and complete, eating up the early part of 2009. And then I worked on finishing the long version of “First Room” and a short story that will shortly appear on this blog called “Death Threats”. And now these linked tales.
So what happens if my Muse decides to try to try her hand at writing a ballet or a libretto to a fucking opera? There’s no way of getting around it: I’d have to give it a shot. I throw up my hands in frustration, I curse and shake my fist at the sky but in the end I must accede to the wishes of the one who defines me as an artist and person. I’m a control freak and the act of writing is the only time I let that go. That can be terrifying, enlivening, thrilling, daunting; like walking a high wire naked, with no safety net and only half the world watching, hoping you’ll fall. Addictive and sick-making. Adrenaline-charged and gut-churning. I often quote Robert Penn Warren, the act and process of writing the pain I can’t live without.
I’m guessing some of you out there know what I’m talking about.
We’ve sacrificed our backs, fingers, even our peace of mind. All for the sake of following our Muse wherever she takes us: never without complaint but, in the end, always obedient, wary of offending her fickle, unpredictable sensibilities.
The horrific, unspeakable risk such an attitude might entail…
Speaking of which, I’d better explain what I’m up to:
This year Esquire magazine is promoting a fiction contest where authors are invited to write stories based on three titles they (the editors) provide. You can visit their website for further details. I discovered the contest in May, printed up the info for later reference. Found the stuff again in late June, thought writing a story based on someone else’s title might be an interesting writing exercise. Wrote down the first title, “Twenty-Ten”, and went for it. Not necessarily thinking of submitting the finished work to the contest, just seeking to limber up my wrists before the real work of the summer began.
Well, I wrote one story and it turned out pretty darn good so the next day, suitably encouraged, I wrote a second and almost immediately a concept occurred to me for the third. So in the space of a few days I had three handwritten drafts. Tapped them into the iMac, opened one up, did a bit of fiddling…and now, three weeks later, here I am.
But I have a problem and I’ll bet you spotted it right away, didn’t you? You’re only supposed to submit one story and I’ve got three I’m quite taken with. I read all of them to my family the other night, hoping they’d immediately point out a winner but the verdict was mixed. They loved the stories, the characters, but each seemed to favor a different tale. Even I had changed my mind as to which one I preferred by the time I’d finished reading the last of them. Good grief. Well…I’ve got until the 31st (what is that, Friday?) to choose one story and edit it into tip-top shape. Because I will indeed be submitting something, despite my oft-repeated reluctance to enter writing competitions. For one thing, there’s no entry fee (mandatory). For another, Esquire, like the BBC, is a flagship, one of those names you’d dearly love, as a writer, to have on your resume. And one last consideration: I’ve written three bloody good tales, any of which is worthy for consideration.
My break’s over. Yesterday was fun: I sat around reading Paul Auster’s Man in the Dark (not one of his great ones, unfortunately), straightened up in the office, cleaned my area of the basement (we’ve been painting and installing a new ceiling light/fan in our kitchen so everything is a mess), listened to some alternative radio on the ‘net, trying to ease up and relax…but it’s time to get back at it. Grind, grind grind. Funny how hard you have to work on a story to make it read and flow naturally.
This tales have already taken up more of my summer than I’d intended–this started out as a simple writing exercise, remember? I still want to dive into edits of my next novel and here we are, approaching the end of July. Yike!
Time to finish up these tales and get back on track. It’s been an intriguing interlude but that novel beckons, miles to go before I sleep and all that.
That’s it for the update.
Hope you’re all having a fun summer. We’re finally getting some hot, sunny days, real Saskatchewan scorchers.
And, last but not least, it’s our 19th anniversary tomorrow.
Thanks, Sherron, for everything.
Forever and ever, doll…
We’re fast approaching the 40th anniversary of the first landing on the moon. My recollections of that day are very clear; it made a deep and long-lasting psychic impression on me. I’ve tried to express something of that magical time in this short film, titled “July 20, 1969”. My wife Sherron helped me put this snippet together (using the wonders of this here new iMac). The pictures are from the public domain, the music plucked from Garageband…the text derived from a short prose work I completed years ago.
This anniversary (Apollo 11) seems to be affecting me more than this sort of thing usually does. I firmly believe watching those fuzzy pictures from 250,000 miles away was an absolutely seminal moment from my childhood, those few days igniting my fascination with science fiction, other worlds, distant spaces, journeys into darkness, etc. I’m pleased to be able to pay tribute to the exploits and achievements of the Apollo program and I hope our little film gives some small hint of the sense of wonder and excitement I felt back then…emotions I retain today when I look at the pictures, see their faces, and have a clearer understanding of the daunting obstacles they faced, the sacrifices they made and the grandness of vision our forays into space represent.
This film is dedicated to the lads of Apollo 11: Neil Armstrong, Edwin Aldrin and Michael Collins
And the crew of Apollo 1: Roger Chaffee, Edward White, Virgil I. Grissom