Category: new literary fiction

Companion volumes

Perfection!

(Click on image to enlarge)

For ordering info, visit my Bookstore.

Next up…STROMATA: PROSE WORKS (Publication date September 20th, 2012)

I’ve already leaked some of this over at my RedRoom page but (rubbing his hands together eagerly) here’s the cover of the companion volume to the New & Selected Poems.

Stromata: Prose Works (1992-2011) includes the creme de la creme of my short prose pieces (some folks call them prose poems).  These are brief (usually under 500 words) narrative works, often quite surreal, twisted, satirical and, frankly, vicious. These bits are perfect for performing at readings and frequently provoke gasps and, seconds later, gales of laughter.  Some of my favorites are in Stromata: “Cranes”, “A.I.”…material that hasn’t been in print and available to readers for many, many moons.  And some new pieces that, I think, show a progression in terms of themes and my approach to the subject matter.

I’ve said it before but here it is again: I love these two thin volumes.  While books like The Last Hunt and Of the Night reflect my skills as a storyteller, the collected poems and prose poems prove that I can “dangle” artistically with the best of them.

Dangle? Sorry, that’s a term that might only be familiar to hockey fans. If a player can really fly on the ice, skate fast and stickhandle you right out of your jock, we say, “man, look at that guy dangle”.  It’s like a whistle of appreciation.

I hemmed and hawed about it but there will be an e-book and Kindle version of Stromata (unlike the poems). Frankly, the books are so beautiful, who would want to settle for electronic copies? Why not get the real thing and have two lovely tomes that you can treasure forever?

Chris Kent did both covers and, I’m telling you, his book designs just keep getting better and better. He seems to understand intuitively what I’m looking for, the “less is more” mentality I apply to every aspect of my life.  Chris is a delight to work with—no huge ego, just a desire to execute  covers that are artful and eye-grabbing and irresistible.

Both the Selected Poems and Stromata retail at $12.00 (U.S.A. & Canada) and they each clock in at around 116 pages. Slim…but there’s a lot of power packed into those little gems.

New & Selected Poems is available now, today, this very instant…the release date for Stromata is September 20th.

More info to come…

(Click on covers to see larger versions)

Now available: “Eyes in the Sky” (a novelette)

I just checked and my science fiction novelette “Eyes in the Sky” has been posted on the Amazon Kindle page and is now available for purchase.

You can find it here.

In terms of a teaser, have a look at  “Eyes in the Sky” excerpt.  Now, don’t you want to read the rest?

Well…

It’ll cost you a mere $.99 to download my spooky “what if…” tale, a possible past where there is no such thing as either a Nuclear or Space Age.  10,000 words long and a helluva bargain at less than a buck a pop.  I wrote an “Afterword” for it too.  A little added bonus.

I’m still not sold on these gadgets and readers but the nice thing about the Kindle is that you don’t need the actual device to read my tale, you can download the software for free from Amazon, read it on your computer screen or iPhone or what have you.  Cool.

History buffs and sci-fi fans are bound to love “Eyes in the Sky”, but I’m also hopeful the general reader will be drawn into the tale and find it entertaining and thrilling.

And don’t forget, “Eyes in the Sky” will also appear in my upcoming short story collection, Exceptions and Deceptions (December, 2012).

An exciting year of publishing ahead, so stay tuned.

“Eyes in the Sky” (A Sneak Preview)

Here’s an excerpt of my science fiction novelette, “Eyes in the Sky”.

What can I tell you?  This one’s a stunner.  I love it to pieces.  A marriage of two great loves, history and sky fy.

10,000 words and guaranteed to be one of the best SF tales you read this year.  How do I know that?  Well, if you’re like me, you read damn few SF stories so, honestly, I don’t think the competition is all that fierce.

Here’s the pitch:

“Eyes in the Sky” features an intriguing “What if…” scenario, a captivating vision of a possible past:

What if the atom bomb hadn’t worked and the Space Age was a bust?

What if Cold War adversaries employed less traditional tactics in their efforts to keep tabs on their intractable enemies?

What if history’s dark, turbulent course had veered off in a different direction?

“Eyes in the Sky” is accompanied by original cover art by John Enright.  John is a talented artist I found through the “Epilogue” site but the link I’ve provided will take you directly to his gallery.

The excerpt (about fifteen pages), will give you an excellent preview of the novelette and if you’d like to read more, it will shortly be posted, in its entirety, on Amazon (along with an Afterword I’ve written on the story’s origins and influences).  I’ll add a link as soon as it’s available.  Or, if you’re willing to wait awhile, “Eyes in the Sky” will be included in my upcoming short story collection, Exceptions & Deceptions (due out December, 2012).

I’m hoping the folks at Amazon will allow me to list the novelette at 99 cents—a bargain price for a terrific read.  Cheaper than a lot of dumb, useless apps.

Meanwhile, click on the link below for the excerpt.

Hope you enjoy this sample from “Eyes in the Sky”.

“Eyes in the Sky” excerpt

Briefly…

Lots of activity around Casa Burns of late, fascinating diversions and developments, including:

My son, Sam, finally overcame all sorts of technical glitches and released his latest cinematic effort, a short film titled “Snoop”.  It’s already garnered a good number of “hits” and positive comments from folks who’ve seen it.  I know I’m prejudiced, but I’m just amazed how well it’s framed and cut; the kid’s visual eye is nothing short of amazing.  Be sure to head over to YouTube and take in an eye-catching caper film.

Last weekend, I checked another item off my “bucket list” and participated in a sweat lodge out at the Sweetgrass Reserve.  My gratitude to Joseph Naytowhow and my wife, Sherron, for making the arrangements, and to elder Fred Paskimin for a once in a lifetime experience.  It’s going to take awhile to assimilate the power and intensity of that afternoon.  A lot of spiritual energy surging and buzzing around that cramped, sweltering interior…

A few of you have been pestering me for an update re: my “100 Book Challenge”.  All I can say is that I’m holding my own.  I just finished book #82 but I confess progress has definitely slowed over the past couple of months.  I’m going to have to pick up my game if I expect to make the cut.  Recent reads include Knockemstiff, a superb collection of short stories by Donald Ray Pollock, and The New Space Opera 2, a so-so anthology of SF tales that featured a couple of genuinely solid efforts, including “The Island” by Peter Watts, which was the high point of the book.

Spending too much time over at Jukesy, arranging playlists of strange, ambient tunes and discovering new groups to add to my personal soundtrack:  A Place to Bury Strangers, The Vandelles, The Radio Department, Hank Williams III…

Still researching my western novel, arranging my notes for the next draft, which should commence soon.  But there are distractions, including pricing out a new roof for our house (which turned 100 this year), tons of yardwork, a pressing need for all-season tires for the Toyota—

And, of course, my upcoming reading at the McNally Robinson bookstore in Saskatoon (Wednesday, October 12th).  In case you missed my previous plug, here’s the official invite, drawn up by my pal Alicia at M-R:

Hope to see you there.

“Eyes in the Sky” nabs an Honorable Mention

Received word from Greg Freed, an administrator of the Galaxy Project science fiction writing competition, that my tale “Eyes in the Sky” garnered an honorable mention in this year’s contest.

Placing in the top five with over 100 entries ain’t half bad…but what made my day was when I received an e-mail containing words of encouragement from none other than Barry Malzberg.  As I wrote to Greg Freed, having folks like Monsieur Malzberg and Robert Silverberg judging the contest was one of the reasons I decided to submit my tale in the first place.  The notion that one of those luminaries might read my work…well, that made it irresistible to me.  Those few short sentences from Barry Malzberg meant a lot to this scribbler—a classy act by a classy guy.

Congratulations to co-winners Susan Forest (Canuck gal!) and Robert Walton, as well as my two fellow honorables, D.K. Paterson and John Hemry.

Kudos to Greg Freed and the folks at Rosetta Books for sponsoring the competition and doing such a good job organizing the entire venture, making sure winners were notified promptly, etc.  All in all, a pleasant experience though unlikely to get me back on the ol’ submission treadmill again.  These were special circumstances and now that the results are in, I’ll be sending “Eyes in the Sky” off to the Amazon Kindle people.

I’m interested in the “Singles” program Amazon offers, short works for budget prices.  I’ll charge a buck or two so folks can download “Eyes in the Sky” and hope that readers—sci fi fans or otherwise—will be drawn by the same elements and strengths that attracted the attention of Messrs. Malzberg, Silverberg and Drake.

“Eyes in the Sky” features a classic what if... scenario, an alternative history where the Space Age never happened, the nuclear bomb was a dud and the Russians and Americans are locked in a very different kind of Cold War.  Ten thousand words and every damn one of them counts.

Sound intriguing?  Keep popping back here for further developments.

Coming soon

“The Midnight Detective” (Spoken Word)

Couldn’t get into serious writing yesterday–still catching up on research on my western novel, The Last Hunt, and I’m not yet at the point where I can begin to tackle necessary revisions.

My science fiction story needs one final polish/run through before I send it off.  I’ll likely get that done today.

And so…yesterday.

Decided to create a little something with Garageband.  The first effort wasn’t very good but the second tune had promise (as soundtrack music for the creepiest film ever made maybe) and then came the third number…

Well.  I didn’t really set out to create a spoken word bit, but that’s how it came out.  I was poking around my notebook and came across a series of phrases that, if you put them together, would almost make a kind of narrative…

I plugged in the microphone and gave it a shot.  The very first vocal track was perfect and then I started building and shaping music around it.

The end result is “The Midnight Detective”, a 2 1/2 minute effort that plays around with noirish conceits and comes together for a rather tasty finale.

This piece should work on whatever audio player your computer employs (if it’s fairly new) and, of course, you’re free to download it and share it with pals and like-minded folks who might get a charge out of my whacked out, postmodern detective.

You’ll find more of my musical noodling and spoken word efforts on my Audio page.

Click here to listen to Midnight Detective

* This post is dedicated to Caroline Ames–Happy Birthday, kid.

Reading at McNally-Robinson (Saskatoon)

I’ll be reading from my two supernatural thrillers,  So Dark the Night and Of the Night, at an upcoming event at the McNally-Robinson Bookstore in Saskatoon.

The date:  Wednesday, October 12th
The time:  7:30 p.m.

Alicia Horner, the affable and hard-working Events Coordinator at McNally Robinson, has put together a promo page which provides all the relevant details.

Copies of both books will be available for purchase and, natch, I’ll be happy to sign them for you.

Don’t get to do stuff like this often enough and I miss it.  My readings are very performance oriented (so to speak); I hate a boring author/reader and feel a genuine sense of accomplishment when I’ve entertained a live crowd and won over some new fans.  Always seem to find a receptive audience whenever I read in Saskatoon—yet another reason why that city figures prominently on the list of my favorite places on Earth.

Jot “October 12th” down on your calendar (see how much advance notice I’m giving you?) and, if you’re in the neighborhood, drop by and hang out with us for awhile. And, afterward, browse the store, buy some books, keep the sputtering flame of literacy alive.

Hope to see you in October and I look forward to introducing you to a couple of terrific page-turners.

Brand new fiction! Hot off the presses…

Some gals we met through a local “Open Mike” event invited my family and I to pop out to their high school and participate in a public reading.

We love to show our support for stuff like that and were delighted to accept.  The only problem is, I needed something new to read.  And over the course of a couple of days, a notion for a short tale presented itself to me, pretty much full-blown.  A few touch-ups here and there but nothing serious.  It’s wondrous when that happens.  All the proof I need that the universe is conscious, sentient and permanently beyond human ken.

The story’s short, vivid, to the point.  Read on…

Faggot


“Bagshaw,” my father says suddenly.  He’s been silent nearly an hour and his voice gives me a start.

“What was that, Dad?”

“Who I was talking about.”  Shooting me a stern look.  “The little queer.”  I don’t remember any reference to Bagshaw but, never mind; clearly he’s been off on some kind of mental ramble.  “Worked at head office with me.  A swish, and not ashamed to flaunt it either.”  He pauses to get his breath.  His lips are dry and grey.  Everything in the process of shutting down.  Propped up to help him breathe, Demerol to handle the pain.  He’s making a sound, wheezing, could it be…laughter?  “Lord, how I tormented that man.”

“What did you do?”

His face is still drawn but animated by something that looks suspiciously like a smirk.  “I’d put thumbtacks and pins on his chair.  Not every day, spacing it out so he’d always be caught off guard.  I was down the hall but I could hear him squeal.  Served him right.”  I’m leaning forward, fists clenched.  Make myself ease back in the chair, force open my furious hands.  He angles his head toward me.  His eyes sunken, lusterless.  Dark holes in his face.  “Other things too.  I’d send him flowers, have them delivered right to his office.  With a card, Love, Charlie or whatever.”

“You’re kidding.”  I can’t help it, blurting it out.

“Sure.”  His thin smile confirming it.

I haven’t seen this side of him before; I’ve often found him thoughtless but never believed him capable of out-and-out malice.  “You hated him that much?”

“He made me sick.  And I wasn’t the only one.  But I was the sneakiest.”  A sly wink.  “I’d call him, late at night.”

“Call him…”

“Never from home.  Sometimes from other cities.  He’d change his number, get an unlisted one…”  His face crinkling with mirth.  “Didn’t matter.  I worked with the guy.  In Human Resources, no less.  Jesus.  I knew where the bodies were buried and how to find them.  That’s why I lasted so long.”  He gestures for the water glass and I automatically move to comply.  Holding it for him while he sips through a straw.  One final indignity he must endure.

“What would you say,” I ask, once he’s done.  “When you called him.”

“Sometimes nothing.  Just letting him know I was still out there.  Other times I’d be all…uh…y’know…you queer, you dirty, little faggot…you’ll get what’s coming to you.  Just spooking him.”  I back away, fumbling behind me for the chair.  Then I realize I still have the glass and must rise once more, replacing it on the nightstand beside the bed.  Finding it difficult to approach him again, this stranger I’ve known all my life.

“What was his first name?”

“What?  I don’t recall.  He only lasted a year.”

“He quit?”

“Couldn’t take it, I guess.”  There’s no remorse, that’s the thing.  He’s talking about running over a dog in the street, thirty years after the fact.

“And then you left him alone?  Or—”

“Hell, no.”  Frowning at his foolish son. “That might look suspicious, give him ideas.  I kept at it six more months.  Just to be safe…”  He’s fading again, ebbing away.  “Old Bagshaw.”  Almost a whisper.  “You know, the bastard actually lisped?”

My father is sixty-four years old and staunchly conservative.  A self-made man.  In our house, he was the one who held the reins and cracked the whip.  Stern but fair, I guess you could say.  My sister sees it differently; she believes mom worked and worried herself to death, trying to please him.

I should tell him.  Right now.  Go over and spit it right into his face.  Just to see his reaction. God.  Wouldn’t that be something?  I’m dying to tell him, I’m about to tell him…but at that moment his mouth sort of sags open and my dying father begins to snore.

© Copyright, 2011 Cliff Burns (All Rights Reserved)

“Robot Boy” (1969-70?)

The show was called “Robot Boy” and I’m hoping at least some of you remember it.

Each episode was six or eight minutes long—it was really just filler so you never knew what time it would run.  Anywhere from 6:30 a.m. Saturday morning until the “Star Trek” theme music cut in at 10:00 sharp.  It’s possible the show was produced out of the nearest TV station, which was in Yorkton, about seventy miles away (the only channel that came in clear).  “Robot Boy” had that really home made look, the production values pretty shabby.  But I didn’t care.  I was an avid fan.  Hated it when I missed an episode, just about inconsolable for the rest of the weekend.  Yeah, even then I was a bit of a diva.

The premise was stupefyingly simple:  Robot Boy (really just a cheap, windup toy) is insatiably curious and one day wanders away from the safety of the toy box to seek adventure in the great, wide world.  But unfortunately he soon gets lost and embroiled in various unfamiliar situations, trying to logically decipher what’s happening with his tiny robot brain.  Some of the conclusions he reaches are hilarious, way off the mark.  He’s totally naive when it comes to things that go on in real life.

There are shots of Robot Boy shuffling slowly down the sidewalk, going about 50 feet an hour, gigantic human shoes stepping over him, nearly knocking him into the gutter, legs moving past in the background, everyone oblivious to the lost little robot creeping through their midst.

My favorite episodes, the two I have the clearest memories of:   Robot Boy is menaced by a ferocious dog…but interprets its behavior as a warning and thanks it profusely while the dog strains to reach the tin figure, just an inch or two out of reach.  And there’s the episode where Robot Boy gets accidentally locked in a supermarket overnight and wanders up and down the aisles, admiring all the “exhibits” in the “museum”.

I Googled “Robot Boy” and found a few bloggers who reference the show.  There’s even a loose association of people who post on forums, swapping old news and rumors.  The main problem is there were only ten or twelve episodes of “Robot Boy” that were ever aired and no copies in any form seem to exist.  Which gives even more weight to my conjecture that the show was locally produced.  Maybe at one time it was even shot on videotape.  But those tapes are long gone or erased and reused.  There are still photos, grainy, not entirely convincing, their provenance unclear.  Forum members are divided, the rhetoric sometimes heated.  People are touchy when it comes to nostalgia.  Some have gone to all the effort of building scale models of Robot Boy, their attention to detail bordering on the obsessive.

I made mine out of cardboard boxes I found in the garage.  I was seven years old and the ugly duckling of the family…but when I slipped inside my cardboard costume I became Robot Boy.  My other life forgotten, my human existence shed like an itchy, constricting skin suit, too tight in the crotch.  The boxes smelled of apples and old newspapers.  I hung my arms out holes I cut in the sides.  Hands instead of pincers and an aluminum pie plate taped to the front, the dial sketched in with black marker.

I kept it in the basement, away from prying eyes.  In a cubbyhole by the furnace, where my sisters would never look.  My alter ego and guardian angel.  Big and blocky and comforting.  Made of indestructible metal.  Powered by atomic cells.  An obedient, loyal friend, willing to endure anything for me, even long hours in the dark.  I loved him and he loved me.   We understood each other.  And when “Robot Boy” was canceled, I grieved and felt a genuine sense of loss and betrayal.  I went down and I kicked the hell out out those boxes, kicked them to pieces.  They never showed re-runs and I wouldn’t have watched them anyway.  Robot Boy was dead to me.  That part of my life was over…

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This is blog posting #150 and, well, I wanted to make it something special.

I trust you enjoyed this trip down memory lane.

Feel free to share your thoughts, on “Robot Boy” or other relevant matters.  Here’s hoping for a great year ahead in 2011 for one and all.