Don’t start thinking about the last pass you made through the new release section of ___________ (fill in the blank with your favourite box store).
Shelves of books by the likes of Tess Gerritsen, Harlan Coben, James Patterson.
Tepid mysteries and formulaic thrillers. No music to the prose, no originality, nothing to recommend them except their elementary school reading level. Forgettable and digestible; like fast food, only not nearly as good for you.
Comparisons are inevitable but you can’t start placing the intelligent, literate work you do alongside such mindless pap. That way lies madness. It will only inspire a blind, incoherent fury toward the “average reader”, which, these days, appears to be a euphemism for “hideously in-bred moron with the reasoning capacity of a plasmodial slimeworm” (see? it’s started already!).
A couple hundred thousand books published every year, God knows how many cable channels, the internet, social networking, “sexting”…it’s pretty hard for anyone to get noticed these days, at least for the right reasons. Behave badly, on the other hand, and the whole world seems to lap it up. Check out the latest wardrobe malfunction or celebrity meltdown; share it, like it, plug another quarter into some asshole’s ad revenue stream.
After all, it’s essential to keep up with the latest trends, highlighted by hashtags like #Kardashianweightgain or #femaleViagra. Absorbing the world in 140-character bites, possessing the attention span of a Jack Russell terrier.
Let’s face it, you’re not the kind of author who appeals to that sort. No media stroking or flame wars for you, right? You’d rather folks discover your work on their own, rather than hawking it about like an old style newspaper vendor. Or a whore. You’d like to believe there are still smart readers out there, looking for original, daring fiction. Looking for you.
But you’re fifty years old now, heading into the autumn of your life. You’ve got ten solid books to your credit, given everything you’ve got to Literature…and part of you is starting to seriously wonder about those discerning, thoughtful readers. If they really exist, why aren’t more of them finding you and singing your praises? Spreading the word. Providing for your retirement.
Maybe they don’t exist. Deep breath. Maybe the internet and connectivity has rewired brains to the extent that light entertainment and diversions are all people can handle these days. Dark, depressing visions like yours are out—bring on the mind candy! It explains the proliferation of rom-coms and the continued existence of “talents” like E.L. James, Jennifer Anniston and James Cameron.
Suddenly, it’s become clear to me. It’s the day after the zombie apocalypse.
Cripes, what a depressing post.
I warned you not to go there, didn’t I? And I’ll bet it’ll take a lot more than a Marx Brothers flick or a few old Looney Tunes cartoons to shake you out of it this time…
No, it only seems that long since my last post.
And you know I haven’t been idle. Nossir, not this author.
Besides, judging by the surge in subscribers of late, apparently I don’t need to post regularly. All these new people signing up to my blog and I’ve hardly said a word since Christmas…d’you folks realize the mixed messages you’re sending?
I’ve been in heavy duty editing mode since mid-December, really bearing down on this new novel of mine. Definitely making encouraging progress but refusing to let up until my perfectionism and obsessive-compulsiveness cry “uncle!”.
Just about ready to talk in more detail about this latest project, which has been assigned an official release date, May 1, 2015. Gimme a couple more weeks and I’ll be answering some of the queries regarding the book friends and readers have been zipping my way almost from the moment I announced its existence.
I will tell you it’s yet another departure for me, a “genre” I haven’t tackled before. I like to keep my readers on their toes, doncha know.
During my thirty year career I’ve written science fiction, fantasy, horror, mainstream/literary, western/cowboy, poetry, radio drama, music lyrics…what’s left? You’ll find out in a few weeks.
A fun time over the Christmas holidays–our little family reunited and this hundred year old house literally rocking on its foundations. Made out like a bandit, in terms of Christmas gifts. My tastes are extremely weird and varied, I’m very hard to please but, somehow, folks around me manage. I doff my hat to them. My favorite book I received was Victor Serge’s Memoirs of a Revolutionary–fantastic tome, I “Tweeted” a number of quotes, gems of wisdom and experience. Imagine hoisting a few tall, cold ones with a posse that included Serge, Walter Benjamin, Karl Kraus and, say, Albert Camus. That would make for some memorable bon mots, methinks. And maybe a fistfight or three (Kraus was a notorious prick).
I managed to read 107 books in 2014 (the second year in a row I cracked a hundred). My favorite books in terms of fiction were David Gilbert’s & Sons, as well as a couple of short story collections, Aliens in the Prime of Their Lives (Brad Watson) and Emerald Light in the Air by the great Donald Antrim. My colleague Corey Redekop asked a number of authors to compile their reading lists for 2014 and here’s my contribution.
Movies I’ve enjoyed over the last couple of weeks: “Locke” (starring Tom Hardy) and “Her” with Joaquin Phoenix. The former was especially good–Hardy carries the film single-handedly, a virtuoso performance.
Music? Mark Lanegan, The Stooges, Wall of Voodoo, The Swans, Jacqueline Du Pre, Gene Autry…the usual mixed bag.
But I’ve taxed your patience long enough.
Before I go, I want to thank the folks who’ve purchased copies of my latest collection, Sex & Other Acts of the Imagination. The brisk sales have surprised me and I’ll likely have to put in a supplementary order to my printer before too long.
Keep those messages and questions coming (firstname.lastname@example.org) and watch this space for more exciting news in the days to come.
Well, y’know…as I believe I’ve mentioned a few times, I’m a lousy self-promoter. I’m really bad at plugging this site and shilling my books. Daily blog entries, comments on other sites, utilizing social networks, joining on-line forums and groups, indulging in high profile flame wars, appearing at every convention, doing all the right things to draw attention to yourself…not for me. The problem, of course, is time.
I write every day. Every. Single. Day. Get up, usually around 7:30, and the first thing I do is cross the hall to my office and turn on the computer. Within ten minutes, I’m holding a really strong, well-sugared coffee and doing a quick scan of my emails, checking the overnight news. The past year or two, the good ol’ BBC has been my primary reality filter. Love their radio comedies and dramas too. Michael Hordern and Richard Briers as “Jeeves and Wooster”. Sublime.
From quite early in the morning until, often, after supper, I’m tapping away, composing or editing, and I do it about 360 days of the year (the rest, I’m either sick, dead or it’s Christmas). I’m only fully alive, fully realized when I’m hard at work on a project, all of my senses engaged. And so, as soon as I finish one book, I abandon it and move on to the next, my mind already seeking fresh material, a new intellectual or aesthetic puzzle to solve.
It’s almost machine-like, as if I’m programmed to sketch and shape words, to the detriment of almost everything else. Sometimes I’ve sacrificed valuable, irreplaceable time with my family in order to stay glued to my desk. That’s a shameful admission but also an unflinching depiction of my devotion to my work.
And I’ve been doing it, basically, since 1985, the year I turned “professional”. Over 25 years of toiling, day by day, to improve at my craft, sharpen my skills, be the best writer I can possibly be. Innovative and original and daring.
That’s why I’m so hard on wannabes and ridiculous enterprises like National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Art is a serious, full-time business. It is a calling on the spiritual level, a voice in the absolute inner silence of your soul that insists, regardless of the circumstances, that you must pick up a pen or sit before a keyboard, marshal your tangled, chaotic thoughts and…create. And you do that not just for a month, not until you reach some artificially imposed plateau, but every single day until you are dead.
Tomorrow I’ll finish the second draft of my new novel. At this point it hovers around 200 pages and 50,000 words.
That’s what I’ve been working on, without pause, since August 3rd.
My so-called life.
Did manage to see a good movie at the Broadway Theater in Saskatoon. You’ll find my review of “Blancanieves” over at my film blog.
The last couple of nights, Sherron and Sam set up a backyard movie theater, projecting films on the side of our house. “The Artist” was smashing, earning an ovation at its conclusion, and last night it was “Amelie”. Dunno if there are going to be too many more showings. The temperature dips awful quickly after dark in these parts around this time of year.
It’s been a beautiful, warm autumn. The colors in our river valley would entrance Van Gogh (and our clear, starry nights can’t be beat). Feeling inspired, enlivened by a clarity of purpose, the certainty I am working on a project worthy of my efforts, a book that challenges and scares me a little. That frisson I experience when I sit down and open the file, stare at the screen, wondering if I can find it within me today to summon the courage and faith required to be the best writer I can be.
And then, gradually, sensing the spell begin to take hold…
It’s Thanksgiving for our American cousins—it strikes me that late November is a weird time to be giving thanks, especially if you happen to live above the Mason-Dixon Line and your kids have already built a congregation of snowmen in your front yard.
And, frankly, I don’t need the excuse of a national holiday to carve up a turkey and then subsist for the next week on turkey leftovers, turkey sandwiches and, finally, turkey soup (sorry, I just drooled all over my keyboard). Turkey, mashed potatoes and corn on the cob, with pumpkin pie for dessert. If I somehow manage to gain admission through the Pearly Gates I fully expect that to be the first meal St. Peter and his horde of super-efficient seraphim waiters place in front of me.
* * * * *
Yes, indeed, busy times here at Burns Central: Sherron seems to have been on the road since her first day back at work in September. Driving hither and yon throughout her massive, far-flung school division, giving workshops and presentations. She’s seen more of this area of the province than this homebody ever will.
Both my sons are deeply involved in their individual obsessions, namely, submission wrestling and film-making. Sam and his creative partner Sean hope to have a short movie ready to enter in the “Youth” component of the Yorkton Film Festival and are collaborating on a script. I accompanied Liam to his twice-a-week wrestling session last night and my 48 year old body recoiled and quaked when I saw how those young lads (and one lass) were bending and twisting each other, their bodies impossibly elastic. I was one of those seriously inept, uncoordinated kids who couldn’t even stand on his head so watching my athletic oldest son going through the paces with grace and strength fills me with immeasurable pleasure…and pride.
Meanwhile, I continue to labor away on my western novel, The Last Hunt. Two consecutive weeks of 12 hour days, grinding and polishing, adding in some of the research material I gathered during my Montana sojourn this summer. Still insisting that I will release the novel in late March (2012), come hell or high water. But it ain’t been easy and my body is feeling the effects of the strain.
You’d think after 25+ years I would have learned how to pace myself, manage my time and energy more effectively. Er, no. Instead, I completely immerse myself in a project for prolonged intervals, work myself into a state of exhaustion and then, literally when my body-mind-spirit can take no more, I pronounce the story/novel finished…and collapse. At that point, I usually come down with a nasty virus which lays me out for a week (complete with cold sores, intestinal problems…ah, fun).
How does that gibe with your methods?
And then I read a comment by self-publishing’s latest superstar, Amanda Hocking. Yes, she of a million Kindle sales. She states, without an ounce of self-consciousness, that she writes her juvenile vampire novels in about 2-4 weeks. That’s right, all you fuckheads who were stupid enough to download her awful tripe, a month (usually less) to write a novel. And some of you “writers” out there actually hold her up as an example of a successful author, someone you’d like to emulate. Message to you wannabe assholes: I spit in your face. You disgust me. May your fingers rot off your hands and your putrid brains liquify in your paper-thin skulls. Leprosy and ALS are too good for you. I loathe you and what you and your ilk are doing to literature. You are nothing more than ambulatory turds.
But I won’t cede the field to you, do you hear me? I refuse to allow your excremental scribbling to carry the day. To my last, dying breath I will be composing literate, intelligent, innovative fiction, even if only six people on the planet read it. I will follow the lead of the Masters, write in defiance of all the trends and market niches, write despite the Amanda Hockings of the world and the offal they disgorge. Hocking will be nonexistent in a very short time, her moment in the sun is almost up—let her have her money, it will keep her warm as she wallows on literature’s scrap heap, where all the non-talented hacks end up.
I’ll trust posterity and put my faith in the notion that as long as humankind exists, there will be discerning readers and that, eventually, my work will find the audience it deserves (even if I’m long gone).
I’d rather work for nothing than be stinkin’ rich and unable to look at myself in the mirror.
Which begs the question: what price do you put on your soul?
“B.C.” comic strip by Johnny Hart
Some of you have been around since the beginning (God bless you), while others have been late arrivals (we left you a few beers in the fridge, but be sure to leave the last one for your host). In those four years, this site has been visited by tens of thousands of folks, over a thousand of whom have seen fit to leave comments, the vast majority of which have been smart, sharp and thought-provoking.
Thank you, one and all.
About a year ago, I added a feature to Beautiful Desolation, namely a “ClustrMap”, which shows where on the planet my visitors call home—every single time I look at that darn thing, found on the lower right side of my menu, I have to smile. Man, isn’t technology something? It allows people from every part of the world to reach out to one another, make contact with another human being, regardless of political, cultural and geographic divisions. People drop in from as far away as the United Arab Emirates, even the supposedly walled off Islamic Republic of Iran. I can’t tell you how much that moves and thrills me. God knows what they think of this place once they find it but the important thing is they can find it and, perhaps, discover a community of folks with whom they have more in common then they ever imagined.
Freaks of the world, unite!
I am honored to be one of those freaks, a mutant, a rebel and non-conformist, an indie, an artist, a—a—an errant penguin.
I’d better explain that last part.
Awhile back, I watched Werner Herzog’s documentary “Encounters at the End of the World”. It’s filmed in Antarctica, a hostile and brutal region of the world which, understandably, offers up a range of features and fauna found no where else on the planet. It also tends to draw people who are quite unusual and Herzog introduces us to a number of them, including some who would definitely fall into the category of “freaks”.
But what I found most fascinating about the film is when Herzog explains the phenomenon of the “rogue penguin”. Every so often, a penguin leaves the regular nesting area and heads off into the interior of the continent. There’s no water, no food and eventually the penguin will just run out of gas, lie down and expire. There aren’t any theories, nothing that explains the bizarre behavior of these creatures and here’s the strange part:
Initially, when humans came upon one of these rogue penguins waddling along inland, miles from where it should be, they would scoop the critter up and take them back to the other penguins, congratulating themselves for a job well done.
Only one problem: the penguin would immediately turn around and start right back, retracing its tiny footsteps and damn the torpedoes. People in Antarctica are now instructed to leave the determined creatures alone, let them go, even knowing it’s to their certain death. Defying nature, defying logic, stubbornly persisting in behavior that is, apparently, purposeless and self-destructive.
I relate to those crazy little fuckers. I empathize with whatever quirk in their mindset that draws them away from the herd mentality and compels them to strike out on their own, regardless of the consequences.
Frankly, I think it’s a perfect, though admittedly weird, metaphor for my writing career. While it might be more safe and comfortable to behave like everyone else, compose work indistinguishable from a host of other authors, there’s some kind of kink in my personality or brain chemistry that simply won’t countenance it. I won’t be controlled or managed or “handled”. I refuse to create material that tries to conform to the marketplace or caters to fashion. I do not submit to the judgments of editors and agents and couldn’t care less if my books become bestsellers or earn so much as a dime. I won’t prostitute my talent by writing “franchise” novels, based on someone else’s conception. You do that, fellow scribbler, and, to quote the great Bill Hicks, you’re off the artistic roll call. Forever. End of story. You’re another fuckin’ corporate shill. Everything you say is suspect, everything that comes out of your mouth is like a turd falling into my drink.
So sayeth Saint Bill.
I am an errant penguin, tottering off to my doom. I am that freak who for, whatever the reason, can’t help veering off the beaten track, saying unpopular things, creating work that no one has seen before. Don’t bother trying to reform or cure me, there’s no hope of that happening. Just let me continue on an odd, meandering path that will, eventually, peter out, my body surrendering to the elements, dropping in my tracks, eyes still on a far horizon I know I’ll never reach.
* * * * * *
Lots more ahead in the months to come. Soon I’ll be making an announcement re: my next book projects and I think you’ll be surprised—hope it’s a pleasant surprise but, regardless, let’s just say this errant penguin won’t be dissuaded from his course. You can follow me or not; that’s up to you.
Thanks for coming by and keep those comments and suggestions coming. It’s a pleasure conversing with folks of your intelligence and perceptiveness. All I’ve ever wanted is an insightful, literate readership. And, boy, you folks definitely fit the bill.
Thank you, thank you, thank you.
I’ll close off this special anniversary post with a few of the poems I read at last night’s “Open Mike” at our local library.
It feels like the end of something
a dead zone spreading outward
from some remote Pacific atoll
I remember when the weather was normal
and the bees weren’t dying
and you could see the stars
Since when did the natural become un-natural
the grass eating holes in our shoes?
And who will feed all the hungry mouths,
if you take sick and wither away?
Remember, thou art mortal
as doomed as a spring flower.
Shine brightly in your scant time
a dazzle of colors until you are plucked.
in miniature rooms
furniture built to scale
stiff, painted figures
coiffed hair, handmade clothes
placed with faces averted
subdued for the sake of the kids
a scandal in smallville
plastic lawyers on their way
The 20th century is a skull
gleaming in a dry creekbed.
Emaciated goats graze nearby
while, high overhead,
the sun sets fire to the sky.
No sound but the wind,
the awful inescapable wind.
“Darkness, take my hand”
Here come the shadows
here they come
watch them come
here they come
here they come
© Copyright, 2011 Cliff Burns (All Rights Reserved)
I’ve been working, what else?
Plowing my way through Of the Night, polishing a bit here, snipping a word or two there, prepping the manuscript to send off to the printer by the first week of October. Which means I’ll have achieved my goal and published two books this year. I thought it was important to do something, well, special to mark my 25th anniversary as a pro writer and getting my two “Ilium” novels out to readers and fans in the same calendar year seemed like just the thing to do. It’s been crazy hectic, frustrating and maddening…but it looks like we’re going to manage it.
Of the Night is a far shorter novel than So Dark the Night—I like to call So Dark my “A” movie and Of the Night my “B” picture. One is a bigger, bolder project, the other smaller and more modest. But I love ’em both and you will too. We’ll be using Adrian Donoghue’s cover art for Of the Night and Chris Kent (as far as I know) will be designing the look of the book once again. We’ll have it out in time for Christmas and the novel will likely retail in the $10-11 region. There will be further progress reports so keep checking in periodically for more details.
Wild summer here in Saskatchewan, the weather verging on freaky. Rain, rain, rain. We have an old house and a basement with a stone foundation so I’ve had a fan running constantly downstairs because of the damp seeping in from outside, the surrounding soil saturated. I have several hundred books down there, my boys have a TV and their XBox set up so they can have their own little space. Must work to keep the area habitable, no killer mould growing in the walls, etc. The lousy weather has made it abundantly clear the roof tiles and eaves need replacing, the trees trimming back (again); yikes, when I think about the pending expense, it makes me wanna cry.
Ah, well, we’ll get by. Somehow. We always do. Just when I think we’re going under, some respite arrives in the nick of time. But there are some periods, nerve-stretching intervals, when things look pretty bleak and occasionally I am brought face-to-face with the very real risks and terrors that accompany life as a full-time independent writer and publisher. I’m 46…is life ever going to get easier, will there be some kind of reward waiting at the end of the rainbow? Or just a tarnished piss pot?
“Theirs not to reason why…” and all that. Thanks, Alfie, but all those guys died, as I recall.
Hasn’t been much time to kick back and indulge in my other passions: films and reading. Watched a few cool flicks like Samuel Fuller’s “Shock Corridor” and “Pickup on South Street”, two Herzog efforts (“Grizzly Man” and “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans”) and Robert Bresson’s “Pickpocket” but not too many more. And I haven’t yet gotten around to reviewing those few movies I have watched for my film blog. Sigh.
As for reading, I’ve just finished Michael Palin’s Diaries (1969-79) and I’ve completed almost all of Denton Welch’s books, marveling at what a magnificent writer he was (no wonder William Burroughs revered him). Presently absorbed by Charles Simic’s The Monster Loves His Labyrinth, which is composed of entries from his writer’s notebook(s). Wonderful, wonderful stuff. If you haven’t read any Simic, rush out and find some.
Lots of music playing while I work—some ambient stations I found on ITunes, as well as albums like The Brian Jonestown Massacre’s “Who Killed Sergeant Pepper”, the definitive Joy Division compilation, “Heart & Soul”; old favorites like Interpol and Elbow and Black Rebel Motorcycle are always on hand to get me revved up. Soundtracks (“The Thin Red Line” and “The Fountain”) to give me mood music to write to.
That’s enough for now. I have to get back to, y’know, editing. Of the Night awaits my full attention.
In the meantime, why not take a few minutes to browse through this site, check out some of the stories, essays, excerpts, spoken word and music I’ve posted here over the past 3+ years? All of it FREE to read and download. Honest. No strings attached.
C’mon, whaddaya say? You wanna hang out for awhile?
Great, make yourself at home.
If you need me, I’ll be upstairs, first door on the left…
So Dark the Night is now available and ready to be added to your bookshelves. Maybe you’ll take Stefan Dziemianowicz’s advice and slot me in between Jorge Luis Borges and William S. Burroughs. I think that would make a very nice fit, frankly.
There are a number of ordering options open to you. You can purchase my novel through Amazon.com and a number of affiliates there or you can pick up the e-book OR you can buy the Kindle version. However, if you’d like signed, personally inscribed copies, I’m afraid zipping your orders my way is the only way to manage it. If that’s your choice, click on this link and it will take you to my bookstore where you’ll find So Dark the Night and several of my other titles (though most of them are available in very limited quantities).
You’ll find all the necessary info there, including shipping rates.
What can I tell you, folks?
If you’re looking for a fast-paced, exciting read, a thriller in every sense of the word, So Dark the Night is for you.
Imagine a combination of “The X Files”, H.P. Lovecraft and Raymond Chandler and you’ll get at least some idea of what I’m talking about. It’s the perfect “summer reading” adventure, featuring the most likable and endearing tandem of sleuths since Holmes and Watson. Plus the book will scare the living crap out of you.
What more could you ask for?
So…check out So Dark the Night, buy it, request it from your local bookstore (tell them it’s distributed by Ingram and, likely, Baker and Taylor) or your public library. Spread the word, tell your friends, Facebook about it, text each other your favorite quotes…or just kick back and indulge yourself with a powerful, literate offering, “a spook show that delivers everything it promises”.
And, needless to say, drop me a line here or at email@example.com with your thoughts and impressions.
I guess you can tell: I…am…pumped. Who wouldn’t be? This book cost me 3+ years of my life and now that I’ve got it in my hands, I can honestly tell you it was worth every moment I devoted to it.
But don’t take my word for it: pick up a copy and see for yourself. Or, if you like, here’s an excerpt you can browse, a sneak peak at the best supernatural thriller since Linda Blair puked pea soup all over Max von Sydow: