Category: New Year

Ringing in the New Year

A bit late with my year end wrap up—we were away from home for the first Christmas in ages and I’m only now getting caught up.

A quick glance ahead at 2018 would seem to indicate a year of some promise. I have two books I am readying for release, the first a volume of poetry (The Algebra of Inequality & Other Poems), which will be out April-May. A compilation of my best poems in the past five years. I am currently in the process of culling and selecting from a roster of nearly a hundred and fifty; not an easy or pleasant task. In the fall, finances permitting, I’ll be publishing a collection of short stories, Electric Castles: A Book of Urban Legends. Two hundred plus pages of prose set in cities here, there and nowhere.

Two books in one calendar year—that will be quite a stretch for my wee press but I think we can manage (crossing his fingers).

Looking back on 2017, I see it as a year where I managed to dabble in a little bit of everything: writing, photography, painting, music…

Is it good that I’m no longer so focussed on writing, that it isn’t my sole obsession these days? Am I right to believe that any form of expression belongs in my oeuvre, regardless of the media involved?

I feel such a tremendous sense of satisfaction when I see one of my books that also features cover art that I helped create or devise. That’s empowerment, I tell you. Watch for the cover of that aforementioned volume of poetry, come April; it’s one of mine as well.

I managed to achieve my target of reading one hundred books in 2017—actually, the final tally was 103. I also watched over a hundred movies last year and I’m be posting my favorites over at Cinema Arête in the coming hours.

Here’s my “Best of…” picks for the books I discovered and devoured in 2017. My reading, as ever, far-ranging and eclectic, about evenly divided between fiction and non-fiction.

Best Fiction of 2017

The Street of Crocodiles (Stories) by Bruno Schulz

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

The Tsar of Love & Techno (Stories) by Anthony Maara

Moonglow by Michael Chabon

We The Animals by Justin Torres

Ill Will by Dan Chaon

Sleet (Selected Stories) by Stig Dagerman

Shadowbahn by Steve Erickson

The North Water by Ian McGuire

Honorable Mention:

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

Trajectory (Stories) by Richard Russo

The World Made Straight by Ron Rash

Flings (Stories) by Justin Taylor

Revenger by Alastair Reynolds

Century Rain by Alastair Reynolds

Poetry:

The Collected Poems of Zbigniew Herbert by Zbigniew Herbert

War Primer by Bertolt Brecht

Flying at Night (Poems 1965-85) by Ted Kooser

Non-Fiction:

Scarcity: Why Having So Little means So Much by S. Maullainathan & E. Shafir

The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr

Post-Capitalism: A Guide to Our Future by Paul Mason

The Dilemmas of Lenin by Tariq Ali

October by China Mieville

The Lost Amazon edited by Wade Davis

The Art of Space by Ron Miller

A Philosophy of Walking by Frederic Gros

Keep Watching the Skies! American SF Movies of the Fifties by Bill Warren

Honorable Mention:

A Spy Among Friends by Ben MacIntyre

Unknown Pleasures (Memoir) by Peter Hook

Footnotes in Gaza (Graphic Novel) by Joe Sacco

Trouble Boys (Biography of The Replacements) by Bob Mehr

 

Black Dog Press: The Year Ahead

book-catalog

Over the holidays I devoted a considerable amount of thought to what should happen next with Black Dog Press.

So far, my imprint has released eleven books, a couple of limited edition chapbooks…but now what?

I’ve come to the determination that I won’t be publishing anything in 2017—and before the emails and complaints start flying, let me elaborate.

Despite my considerable efforts, Black Dog Press remains a very marginal enterprise. It is a constant struggle to draw attention to my writing when there are so many tomes being published and self-published, churned out like dumb, identical widgets. I want to pursue new methods for advertising my books, trying my best to overcome my aversion to self-promotion (a particularly ugly manifestation of narcissism). I’ve never been an author who haunts forums, always looking for an opportunity to reference my own work, and I’m not much a joiner, if you get my drift. More like your classic lone wolf.

In the past, I’ve sought out other, like-minded indie authors/publishers but, candidly, haven’t found many who take the printed word as seriously as I do. Very few scribes these days produce genuinely original, literary work; their prose is often derivative (fan fiction) or stuck in a genre of little interest to me (zombie, shapeshifter romance, etc.). Sadly, the proliferation of technology, the growing number of publishing platforms, means that the amateurs and wannabes out there can publish all the crap they excrete, with the minimum of editing or critical scrutiny. Pounding their chests and calling themselves writers, having a fit when anyone dares question their professional credentials. As petulant as they are untalented, vicious, rather than visionary.

Sending out review copies doesn’t work—that much has been made clear. Again, too many books, too few good publications (even fewer qualified critics)…and then there are the unnamed rags that want you to buy advertising space before they’ll even consider your book for review. There’s a special red-hot poker in Hell waiting for that scum.

I adamantly refuse to purchase a positive, five-star review from Kirkus or Publishers Weekly. Never, never, never.

What does that leave?

I’ve been looking into hiring a publicist, but that would mean leaving my comfort zone and putting my books, my personality, my face in the hands of a stranger. Granting them permission to do what’s necessary to “raise my profile” (I’m literally squirming as I type those words).

But something has to be done. I’m publishing terrific, intelligent, compelling novels and stories and they’re not getting the attention they deserve. After over 30 years as a professional author, my stature isn’t anywhere near what it should be…and the fault lies with me.

I have to do better at promoting my growing body of work, even if that means trying things I’ve never dared attempt before.

It’s an approach I’ve always shied away from, but there’s no other option.

If I want to continue growing my readership, keep Black Dog Press afloat, I have to cast aside my aversion to, gulp, selling myself to the public.

Sigh.

This isn’t going to be easy…

Looking back…and ahead

Abstract 1“Out with the old, in with the new”, that seems to be the sentiment around Casa Burns these days.

Our youngest kid has now flown the coop and we are, officially, empty nesters. The house seems damn strange without our boys pounding up and down the steps, blasting music or bellowing at their video games in their basement hidey-hole. The silence, as they say, is deafening. But they’re both ready to be out in the world, anxious to be on their own. They’ll have their tough days, intervals when it seems like the whole universe has lined up against them. But they’ll make it. They’re tough and resourceful and bloody smart. Which gives them a leg up in any society.

So we begin 2014, Sherron and I, somewhat sorrowful, missing the lads but eager to get on with the next phase of our lives; back to being a couple again, exploring the world together, seeing where our dreams take us.

I’m fifty years old, as of last October, and that’s also made a difference. I thought any change or transformation would be largely symbolic but turning fifty combined with our sons’ departure has put a whole new slant on things. I feel like another man.

To start with, I realize that more than half my life is gone and if I’m lucky I could have twenty or twenty-five healthy years ahead of me (with my genetics, that might be pushing it).  That’s not a lot of time. As a result, I’m not going to waste any of it on stupid discussions, movies, books, music, feuds or anything that doesn’t further my pursuit of wisdom, joy and matters relating to the spirit.

I did a considerable amount of writing in 2013 (not unexpected) but I also found myself exploring other media, employing a variety of means to express myself. As a result, I created more visual pieces than ever before: acrylic paintings, charcoal drawings, lots of photographs, ambient soundscapes, even a short film. Will this trend continue in 2014 or were all these non-literary ventures merely an aberration? Experiments, nothing more.

We shall see.

I know that for some time I’ve occasionally experienced a certain amount of frustration with the limits of language and wish to communicate via non-narrative, non-Abstract 2linear means. Abstraction invites collaboration, interpretation, input from the audience/viewer. The vast majority of my visual work frustrates literal-mindedness—the equivalent of Rorschach Tests, shapes demanding speculation and discussion.

Not for everyone.

Obviously, one of the high points of 2013 was the release of my short story collection Exceptions and Deceptions. The book features what I think is our best cover thus far and includes a batch of stories drawn from the past fifteen years, a couple of them previously unpublished and available nowhere else. Every time I glance up and see it on my shelf, I get a tingle. Fans of Philip K. Dick, Harlan Ellison, Jonathan Carroll, Neil Gaiman take note: this one’ll rock your socks off. Trust me.

Another fun experience was collaborating with my son Sam on an instrumental number which he then incorporated into a short film for Sherron’s “Agassiz” mask/puppet production, debuting later this month. Sam’s film is a gem and as soon as he uploads it to YouTube or Vimeo, I’ll post a link.

Let’s see, what else…in November I was astonished to learn my volume New & Selected Poems (1984-2011) was shortlisted for a ReLit independent press award. My bizarre verse? Really?

Managed to read one hundred books in 2013, though at one point I didn’t think I’d make it to #80. A big surge in November-December put me over the top. The 100th book, completed December 30th? Italo Calvino’s Under the Jaguar Sun. What a way to finish off the year.

I’ve been noticing how much my reading tastes have changed over the past number of years—hardly any genre stuff these days, except for a bit of SF and the odd mystery/thriller by LeHane or Philip Kerr. Much less fiction, overall. Gimme a fat, juicy history book any day.

We don’t have cable, so we don’t watch television. Have no idea what shows are popular on the boob tube and couldn’t care less. Ditto with movies. By far the best movie I saw last year was Peter Strickland’s “Berberian Sound Studio”. Haven’t heard of it? Tsk, tsk. Grab it off NetFlix, buy or rent it from Amazon, do not miss this flick.

Music?  The new Queens of the Stone Age, as well as Nine Inch Nails (live), Steven Wilson, Mogwai, Benjamin Britten and Gene Autry’s Greatest Hits. Keepin’ it diverse.

Looking ahead: I’ll be working on my new novel, as well as prepping…ah, well, mustn’t give too much away. Let’s just say that Black Dog Press has a number of releases pending in the next eighteen months and there will be further information announced in the days to come.

All the best in 2014.

Thanks, as always, for dropping by and hanging out awhile.

Voyeur

2012 (or “Screw the Mayans, Where Are They Now?”)

Abject apologies for being such an inconstant correspondent.  It’s the holiday season, after all, and between celebrating Christmas, visiting relatives, supping and socializing with friends, there’s been rather a lot on my plate.

My preparations for the new year took up two entire days—I have this annual ritual, y’see, cleaning my office from top to bottom, rearranging things, paring it down, etc. etc.  I also take time to outline my anticipated schedule for the coming year and draw up a list of resolutions.

With regards to the former, well, schedules are made to be broken.  I thought I had 2011 figured out…until a western novel called The Last Hunt announced itself in February and proceeded to hijack the entire year.  To be clear:  as I wrote out my preview for 2011 on or around December 31, 2010, I had no idea that in the very near future I’d be taking a crack at a western.  My Muse can be quite perverse. Don’t get me wrong, I love westerns but I’ve never envisioned writing one.  Never even fantasized about it.  “Wouldn’t it be cool…”  Nope.

As for my resolutions, I generally do try.  Most of them I’ll keep to myself but one thing I’d dearly love to work on is enjoying myself more, having more fun with the entire process of writing.  Does it always have to be so freakin’ stressful and fraught?  Is there a way of easing up without damaging the power and integrity of my work?

Last year I made the pledge to read more, took on the “100 Book Challenge” and managed to make it (105 was my final tally, thank you very much).  In 2012, I want to keep up that momentum but this year I was to concentrate on BIG books, fat, smart books crammed with great writing and daunting ideas and notions.  I’ve already put a few aside:  William Vollmann’s Europe Central, Jonathan Littell’s The Kindly Ones, Blake Bailey’s biography of John Cheever, The History of Christianity by Diarmaid MacCullough and Edith Grossman’s translation of Don Quixote.  Also want to re-read some of my fave Thomas Pynchon books: it’s been a long time and they’re bound to have fresh revelations for me.

Listening to a lot of music in early 2012, tunes by the likes of Brian Jonestown Massacre and A Place to Bury Strangers.  Not much in terms of movies so far, though I’m thrilled to announce we’ve already bought our tickets for this year’s “Silence is Golden” event. The 1924 version of “Thief of Baghdad”, projected onto a big screen, accompanied by a live orchestra.  The cinephile within is swooning

Sherron, bless her heart, bought me another book case on December 30th so for the next two or three days I moved books around, expanding my Film and History/War shelves, organizing and pondering.  It was fantastic.  I know, it’s ludicrous, isn’t it?  I am such a nerd. But in the Information Era, where computers and gadgets entice us with their tricks and shiny buttons, it’s nice to reconnect with my library.  I’ve spent my entire adult life assembling a pretty decent collection of tomes and I love having them available, on display, rather than stored in our ancient stone basement, vulnerable to all of the environmental hazards to which paper is prone.

Software comes and goes but my books remain—faithful, accessible, relics of other, less hectic, times.  I have all the novels and short stories Philip K. Dick published during his lifetime.  I possess every golden word the great James Crumley committed to paper.  The covers a bit tattered, the spines showing wear and tear.  A substantial proportion of my books are used, remaindered; cast-offs and rejects.  But they occupy places of honor on my shelves.  Most of the authors dead, many of them all but forgotten.  Preserved in my odd collection, my assorted odds and ends and incunabula. All of it reflecting the weird, far-ranging tastes and interests in its curator.  Eclectic, if you’re being kind, though a true adept might discern much, much more…

Taking the pledge: a resolution to read more books

Where does time fly?  Over two weeks since my last post and, in that interval, I’ve been occupying myself with hours of scribbling.  Filling dozens of notebook pages…unfortunately, very little of this material will ever make it to publication.  Lots of meditations, strange aphorisms, gleanings from the subconscious.  Here’s one example:

“How many failures turn out to be posthumous geniuses?  Not very many, as it happens, the proportion disappointingly low.”

What does that mean?  A subconscious dig from my wily Muse, a nugget of wisdom…or mere prattle?  And there’s pages and pages of the stuff, much of it spiritually oriented.  Many of the entries make for uncomfortable reading, nakedly honest and personal.  What should I do with these raw ramblings?  This is material not intended for public consumption…but at the same time some of it packs undeniable power.  Save it for the archives, hope someone will find it interesting or insightful.  Bury it deep, amid old tax receipts and early drafts of stories.

The end of the year is always a time for reflection for me; I settle into introspective fugues where I consider the past 365 days and look with anticipation (and trepidation) to the year ahead.  What have I accomplished? Where do I go from here?  Point me to the next mountain to climb…

A few things have become clearer to me during this time—the first is that I’d like to make the act, the process of writing more fun, not bear down so hard, subjecting my system to so much abuse and stress.  I’m obsessive-compulsive by temperament, a perfectionist in every aspect of my life.  Everything has to be done just right or I go ballistic.  No half-measures, no band-aid solutions, no excuses for failure.  That’s the kind of cat I am.

But that has to change.  I’m older and my body is starting to manifest some of the punishment it has absorbed over the years.  My fingers, neck and shoulders.  My back—Christ, my back.  The mental and spiritual damage has been even more substantial, but I won’t get into that.  A different approach is required…and I’m not exactly the best person when it comes to new approaches (see:  aforementioned obsessive compulsiveness).  Maybe voice recognition software is part of the answer, I dunno.  I recently bought myself a better office chair, adjusted the height of the monitor so it’s more ergonomically placed, added padding under the keyboard—that will, hopefully, allay some of the physical symptoms.  But in terms of approaching my vocation/obsession from a healthier psychic perspective, well, that requires an effort of a whole other magnitude.

I need to write in order to feel settled, sane.  But how can I make writing more of a pleasure, less of a chore?  I’ve devoted a lot of thought to that over the past while and I think I’ve come up with a few answers, partial solutions.  Some of it involves very personal mini-epiphanies that presented themselves to me, insights that are, frankly, too private to share.  They relate to my spiritual beliefs, the ridiculous expectations I place on myself.  The pain that causes.  It’s also about deriving a sense of accomplishment from some of the fine writing my pen has produced over the past quarter century.  I don’t have to keep trying so hard to prove my worth, establish my artistic credentials.  The work speaks for itself.  Stories like “Invisible Boy”, “Daughter” and “Bedevilled”; the novellas and prose poems.  And, of course, my two novels.

Just write.  Write without a sense of self-consciousness; write from instinct, letting the words flow unimpeded from their original source.

It’s all about the words.  The right one in the right place.  Over and over again, sentence by sentence, until something precious and timeless has been created.  The masters of language show us how it’s done.  They showed me.  It was reading that made me want to compose stories of my own, tales no one else has told.  I read voraciously, learned my craft at the feet of giants.  Books were entertainment and professional development all at once.

But something’s happened over the past decade.  I’ve read less and less.  In the past few years I think I averaged between 60-65 books a year and that’s a pathetic number for someone who fancies himself some kinda hotshot author.  I’m talking about books read for my own enjoyment, stuff not related to research or my work.

So one of the other changes I’m making for the new year is that I’m resolving to read more.

I’m taking my own, personal “100 Book Challenge”.  I want to recommit to the printed word in a big way.  It means switching off, tuning out.  “Off the grid” days, spent hunkered in my rocker recliner, reading a novel or collection of stories.

Because I have no doubt all the hours I’ve spent reading on-line, scanning news articles and items of interest, has screwed up my concentration.  I find it hard to focus on a book for more than ten pages at a time without needing to get up, make some tea, stack the dishwasher…and then come back for another crack.  Ditto movies.  How many times has Sherron complained because I’m pausing a film to go to the john or grab myself a drink?  Okay, part of that has to do with a pea-sized bladder but I also think all that time in cyberspace has had a deleterious effect on my attention span.

I read an article in the Manchester Guardian that talked about similar matters so I know I’m not alone in this feeling.  The piece quotes me old chum John Miedema, who is a noted proponent of the “slow reading” movement and I found myself nodding along at various points.  And then a chap in my LibraryThing group posted a lecture by Susan Greenfield in which she talks about learning and brain plasticity.  Fascinating stuff.  Ms. Greenfield makes a distinction between the information one finds on-line and “in-depth knowledge” that can only be gained from reading a book.  I hope folks out there are apprising themselves as to some of the new theories that are emerging relating to how computers are fundamentally changing the way we think.  I think the evidence is absolutely compelling and parents, in particular, must be educated re: how all those hours playing video games and “World of Warcraft” are rewiring their kids’ brains.

Years ago, when we were still living in Iqaluit (on Baffin Island), I gave a presentation on books and reading to an audience of about twelve people.  I remember becoming quite emotional as I spoke about how books had literally saved my life.  I believed then—and believe to this day—that was not mere hyperbole.  My childhood was hardly idyllic and my love of reading gave me, at once, an escape from worldly travails and spurred and fired my imagination.

I want to recapture that, the allure and beauty of the printed word.  The thoughts and visions reading inspire in me.

A hundred books in one year?  Can I manage it?  Will my hellish work ethic fight tooth and nail with my desire to settle into an armchair with some Jim Shepard stories or the latest David Mitchell effort?  I’ll let you know via periodic blog posts how I’m doing.  My progress (or lack of same).  I won’t cite every damn book I’m reading but I’ll drop in the occasional review (maybe even resuscitate my “Burning Moonlight” column, you never know).   God knows, I’ve got enough good books lying around, gathering dust.  I search them out, I buy them…but can’t seem to free up the time to actually, y’know, read the f***ing things.  Pathetic.

But no more.  I’m turning over a new leaf.  2011 will involve a serious reboot.  I’ve made my resolutions and I firmly intend to keep them.  Ease back on the throttle.  Stop trying to impress.  Create for the sheer love of creating.  Rediscover the joy and wonder of my craft through reading the best contemporary authors and the finest of past masters.  Work to improve myself through a process that doesn’t involve self-flagellation.

I wrote in a blog entry a couple of years ago that after more than two decades as a professional author I finally felt like the apprenticeship period was over.

But, I amend, that doesn’t mean I’ll ever be too old to go back to school.

The Curmudgeon Who Loved Christmas

imagesI know, it’s ridiculous.

I am, by a significantly large margin, the most cynical person I know.  At times, I border on misanthropy.  Show me a miracle and I’m sure to be the one who runs over and yanks back the curtain, revealing an elaborate projection system and its red-faced operator.

My philosophical role models are Hunter S. Thompson and Johnny Swift–heavy on the satire, please, and spare no one the whip hand.  When it comes to contempt for our species, I make Stalin and Mao look like a couple of octogenarian nuns.  It’s time to own up to it:  humankind is a failed experiment, rinse out the petri dish and start again.

petri

Except…around mid-December my normally un-sunny demeanor undergoes a marked change.  Having kids has something to do with it but, when I think back about it, I’ve always loved Christmas.  The closer it gets to the 25th, the more excited and tingly I get.  This reaction is completely unconscious and involuntary but, regardless,  I offer no defense for the shameful sentimentality that overcomes me every December.  True confession:  if I could, I’d spend the last two weeks of every calendar year walking around, giving money to orphans and kissing old ladies on top of their wispy, age-spotted pates.

The origins of this revolting affliction are not known to me. I have hesitated to share it with you lest I provoke the ire and scorn of my fellow curmudgeons.  We aren’t exactly known as a tolerant, open-minded bunch.

kidtvI can remember very clearly, the recollection dating back over 35 years now, sitting in my pajamas and listening to an announcement on the local news that Santa’s sleigh had been picked up on radar and he was definitely on his way

images2My fondest childhood Christmas memory was when I was nine (ten?).  I contracted a mild form of hepatitis and missed two months of school.  As an added bonus, I cleaned up at Christmas time:  a couple of Hardy Boys books and one of those electronic football games, which ended up maddening me because most of the magnetized players spun in slow, futile circles on the vibrating field.  My one regret was that my specialized diet meant I couldn’t have any chocolate.  Watching my sisters stuff themselves just about killed me.

As I’ve gotten older, the holiday season became an opportunity to sit back and assess the year; tote up the amount of work accomplished and berate myself for everything left undone.

new-yearDuring that week between Boxing Day and the New Year there’s always a strong sense of something impending.  Maybe 2009 with be the year.  Just like 2008 was supposed to be.  And 2007, come to think of it.  Oh, well…

Anticipation.  Expectation.  Something is coming.  Something important.

Waiting.  Waiting.  Sam Beckett made a whole career out of it.

The curmudgeon in me curls up his lip when the Hallowe’en decorations come down and the Christmas displays start going up.  People have staff Christmas parties starting in mid-November.  And the Santa Claus Parade often takes place a month before the fact–as a kid I often wondered how the Old Man could take time off during the busiest part of the year to haul himself up on to a float and wave inanely for two hours.

grinchChristmas specials on TV start the first week of December.  It’s the old favorites that still appeal.  “Charlie Brown Christmas” and the animated “Grinch”, with Boris Karloff narrating.  Alastair Sim in “The Christmas Carol” (although, in a pinch, the Muppet version will do).

We’re big fans of the “Wind in the Willows” series too so that one will likely resurface during the holidays.  Anyone who has ever seen me trying to assemble something or figure out printed instructions quickly recognizes that I am the very spitting image of Toad.  And my friend Dan is undoubtedly a Badger…

I haven’t seen either “Wall-E” or “Finding Nemo” so I’ve promised my family I’ll sit down and watch those two with them; I miss out on too much, sequestered away upstairs in my office.  All the movies Sherron and my boys have sat through without me…

Dope.

We’re not a family who believe in big, extravagant presents.  It’s just not us.  Small, heartfelt gifts…combined with great food, friends dropping by, the chance to spend lots of time together, no school, no work, no obligations or duties.

advent2Sprawled on the couch or draped across the big arm chair, engrossed in a new book.  My boys are teenagers now so, admittedly, there isn’t the same sort of excitement present as there was when they were little gaffers. Up until a few years ago, the house would rattle with their excitement as the big day drew ever nearer.  A friend used to buy them an advent calendar and after breakfast the boys would get the calendar down and pull open the little hinged hatch to retrieve their allotted square of chocolate.  It became part of our ritual, like scones on Christmas morning (we tried champagne and orange juice once but I ended up passing out at 11:00 a.m.).

Well, we’re all older…but we still enjoy sharing time and space with each other.  We laugh a lot and if I was a betting man I’d say this old house will be fairly ringing with mirth in the next couple of weeks.  And if this cold snap ever breaks, we’ll get a game or two of shinny in and go for long walks, gawk at the gorgeous river valley, pristine in the sharp, white light of winter.

It’s hard for even a confirmed curmudgeon to maintain an appropriate air of disdain when he is perpetually surrounded by good cheer, a loving family and devoted friends.  The barbed remarks and wisecracks stick in my throat, refuse to budge.

There will be other opportunities to prick balloons, pontificate gloom and doom.  This is a chance to give thanks for the blessings and good fortune that sustain me even during my darkest moments.

images1We’ve had enough despair.  Now let us sing songs of thanks and praise for what has been bestowed upon us and be all the more grateful and deferential, knowing it can’t possibly last.

Cue Linus

2007: The Year in Review

calendarjpeg.jpg

It’s an annual ritual, dating back more than two decades.

Right after Christmas I sit down and take stock of the past year, assaying it in terms of the quality and quantity of work I’ve composed, what I feel I accomplished and where I fell short. This assessment is rarely kind: I can be awfully hard on myself. On that point, I’m not alone:

“It is now sixteen years since my first book was published and about twenty-one years since I started publishing articles in magazines…There has literally been not one day in which I did not feel that I was idling, that I was behind with the current job, and that my total output was miserably small. Even at the periods when I was working ten hours a day on a book, or turning out four or five articles a week, I have never been able to get away from this neurotic feeling.”

orwelljpeg.jpgGeorge Orwell wrote those words in a notebook he kept during the last year of his life. His heroic work ethic unquestionably contributed to his early demise; this fact is not lost on me. You can literally write yourself to death.

Cheery thought, innit?

But I’m not going to let my neuroses get in the way of celebrating a productive and creative year. Not me. No, sirree. I mean, I should be pleased with what I accomplished and a fair summary of 2007 would probably go something like this:

It was, to my mind, a year of retrenchment and learning. Retrenchment in that I finished a couple of longstanding projects and, re: the latter, thanks to my blog I got a real education as to the scope and limits of technology and came to a clearer understanding of the possibilities inherent in cyberspace.

I get the sense that during this past year I was tooling up, doing my utmost to marshal and focus my skills, honing them to razor sharpness.

Preparing for things to come…

The high points:

  • In the early part of 2007 I completed final edits on Voiceworks. It’s a thin volume (71 pages), made up of 50 or 60 of my favorite monologues and short, spoken word pieces. The material is drawn from the past twenty years and includes offerings like “Cranes” and “A.I.” and a number of monologues from The Break (my one-act play).
  • I finally put the finishing touches on my Redbook poetry collection (so named because of the red notebook I scribble the first drafts into). Sherron helped me paste it onto the background I wanted and it looks great. This one took a mere decade to whittle and pare into shape.
  • Revised two older stories, fleshing them out and coming up with luvly new versions of “Adult Children” and “Matriarchy”. I especially treasure the latter and was pleased when CBC Radio producer Kelley Jo Burke picked it up for broadcast on “Gallery” (air date: October 27, 2007).
  • Sewed up the movie deal for “Kept”, acting as my own agent and going through about twenty drafts of the contract with the increasingly frustrated producers and screenwriter. Used the Writers Guild of America’s model contract to help me restrict the option period, secure compensation for sequels and remakes, protect literary rights, etc. A time-consuming, frustrating, annoying, nerve-wracking process but it got done and now we’ll see what happens.

  • I revised a few of the short stories from my venerable (1990) short story collection Sex & Other Acts of the Imagination. It gave me the chance to tighten up the prose and fix the last line of “The Cattletruck”, which never seemed right to me. The new versions are leaner, tighter, superior to the originals. Worth the weeks of murderous edits.

  • In March, I finally heeded Sherron’s prompting and allowed her set up this blog. Beautiful Desolation. One of the smartest decisions I ever made. Started out as an experiment, a lark. And then it grew and grew as I added rants, commentaries, reviews, loaded on stories that hadn’t seen the light of day for years, an excerpt from the best unpublished novel kicking around (So Dark the Night). Presently, we find ourselves victims of our own success. Far more hits than we expected, people expecting new content on a regular basis—sheesh. So we’ve expanded the site and intend to utilize new publish on demand and podcasting technologies to…well, there are big plans afoot and we’ll leave it there. Stay tuned.

  • But the absolute best thing to happen (writing-wise) in 2007 was undoubtedly finally summoning up the nerve to commence work on a longer effort, my novella “Of the Night”. Took every ounce of courage and willpower I had to stick with it but I did (thank you, Creator). You’ll be hearing more about this one in the months to come. Sherron loved the draft I gave her just before Christmas and I see big things ahead for this 160-page, 40,000 word beauty.

* * * * * *

filesjpeg.jpgWhen I actually list what I’ve done in the past 365 days, at first blush it seems like a pretty significant amount of work. What do you expect, I write every day, often failing to pace myself, working overtime to the detriment of my fingers, shoulders and back (to say nothing of my mental state).

But when I stack myself up against some of the truly prolific writers out there, I’m a time-waster, a lazy, itinerant asshole. Look at the sheer amount of titles folks like L.E. Modesitt, Kevin Anderson, Timothy Zahn or Robert Jordan can thrash out. These guys have bibliographies that would choke a fucking stegosaurus. How do they do it? I’m not talking about the quality of the work, I mean how can they physically produce that amount of prose, year after year? How can they put out so many pages a day when I can manage only a fraction of that while maintaining a schedule that sucks my strength down to the last dregs? How? How? How?

“What we write with difficulty is written with more care, engraves itself more deeply…”

-Joseph Joubert

Well, all right, granted, there’s that. The guys I just mentioned aren’t exactly literary stylists, straining to compose brilliant sentences, so lyrical they practically serenade you from the page. They’re hacks and their readers have minimum expectations when it comes to their work.

vollmannjpeg.jpgBut what about authors like Anthony Burgess, Joyce Carol Oates and William T. Vollmann? They produce(d) a flood of pages every year and, for the most part, have secured their literary reputations and earned the highest awards in the land. Hugo, Balzac, Stendhal, Dumas pere et fils—huge canons, literary immortals.

Fuckers.

It baffles me. Are they that much smarter, more efficient, better focussed than I am? While I struggle and grope for words, does the prose flow from their hands, whole chapters emerging fully formed, committed to the page with hardly a correction? Didn’t I read somewhere that Kevin Anderson dictates most of his books into a tape recorder and has them transcribed later?

My mind reels at the thought. If I did the same thing, the best I would likely manage would be a few constipated groans and a string of scatological profanities. And that’s on a good day…

I know it’s ridiculous to draw parallels between my career and that of other authors—everyone is unique, each of us a prisoner of psychology, circumstance and other factors harder to label and categorize. But the whole physical aspect fascinates me—I completed a good draft of my novella in about 3 1/2 months. I worked on that novel from the first week of September until Christmas, taking only 2 days off for Thanksgiving. 160 pages. Some of these fantasy fucks can excrete the equivalent over a long weekend. Knock out a novelization in a month or six weeks to help pay the rent….

(Long, drawn out sigh.)

despairjpeg.jpgI said I wouldn’t do this, didn’t I? Promised I was going to concentrate on the positive and not get bogged down in self-loathing.

But you knew me better than that…

I know…I’ll close off my last posting of 2007 by listing the things I’m grateful for, the people who remind me life is worth living and some of the stuff that redeems my boring and uneventful existence:

God. Yup, I’m serious. I am inspired and sustained and strengthened by the knowledge that my life, my work is serving the aims of a conscious, enigmatic Creator, an entity encompassing every square nanometer of our universe and a similar proportion of the other 10 dimensions currently thought to exist. So there.

Family. Couldn’t do it without you. Sher, boys, thanks for everything.

Friends. The people who care for me despite my long silences and busy schedule, who stick around despite my inattentiveness, who persist in believing in me against all evidence to the contrary.

Writing. Obvious, huh? But writing isn’t only about putting words on paper; it’s also prayer. It’s when I feel closest to my Creator—often, when my talent and resolve falter, something takes control and gets me back on track again. How many times have a looked up from a paragraph in wonder, not remembering having composed it? Those are the moments I live and pine for…

hardyjpeg.jpgBooks. I’ve repeatedly insisted the printed word saved my life and I mean it. God bless you Arthur Conan Doyle and Philip K. Dick and L. Frank Baum and William S. Burroughs and Cormac McCarthy and Homer and Franklyn W. Dixon…

Music. Soothes this savage beast like nothing else. Electronica, soundtracks, alternative, metal…and Glen Campbell singing “Wichita Lineman”.

Movies. Not as many as the old days, just not enough time. But doing my best to see some of the classics I’ve missed, discovering for myself the genius and vision of artists like F.W. Murnau, Tati, Georges Henri Clouzot and Val Lewton…

Sports. Every Saturday night (from September to June) finds me in front of the TV set, watching the nationally broadcast hockey game (a rite going back about, oh, 40 years or so). Whenever I can, I try to squeeze a few quarters of a CFL football game in between marathon revision sessions. I’m a frustrated athlete, if I died and could be reborn as anyone, it would be Joe Montana, two minutes left in the game, the ’Niners on our own ten yard line…

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Radio. Old tyme radio dramas, CBC documentaries and features, BBC World Service…the possibilities nearly endless since we started piping in high speed internet. Radio Moscow anyone? NPR…

Art. Blame Sherron for this one too—every so often words fail me and only a visual image will suffice. Collage, acrylic paint, short films…over the past few years I’ve dabbled in just about everything. Sher’s a great teacher in that she does the best she can despite her student’s ineptitude.

Canada. I really do live in the best country in the world. I bag about the stupid cultural bureaucrats and the mediocrity I see all around me…but, cripes, I’m free to speak my mind, there’s nobody strapping a bomb to his ass and hopping on a bus behind me, nobody telling me what to think or say…my home and native land. I despair for it sometimes but I wouldn’t trade citizenship with anyone, anywhere.

You. Didn’t think I’d leave that out, did you? If you’re a repeat visitor or if this is the first time you’ve popped by—don’t matter, I’m grateful to you for seeking me out. The amount of “hits” this year surprised me and convinced me that there’s a potential audience out there, smart folk with an appreciation for good writing, good company and who appreciate (or, at least, tolerate) a certain amount of hyperbole and/or satire. Hang around because there’s more good stuff coming in 2008. A change in format, lots of new material including—

Sorry, I’m getting ahead of myself again. But I’m really excited about what the next year will bring. I have a strong hunch 2008 is gonna be a good one.

And I sincerely hope it’s the same for you.

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