Category: Reading

…but, baby, it’s cold outside

A solid week of windchills in excess of forty below.

So, I’ve been hunkered down, editing my Notebooks, prepping for a May release of what will be my fifteenth book.

Fifteen books, not one of them a dog, all of them written out of love for the printed word, rather than for the purpose of fulfilling a contract or meeting some hairy-palmed editor’s neolithic expectations. Let’s see you top that, all you hacks and wannabes.

The editing process is always incredibly intense for me, driving myself nuts finding the exact right word (and, as Don DeLillo insists, “the right sounding word”). 

At the same time I am still not back to 100% from my hip replacement surgery so can’t stay seated for the prolonged periods of time I’m accustomed to—gotta get up frequently to stretch, move about, which, of course, interrupts my train of thought and then it takes me awhile to re-focus on the manuscript. I’m having trouble adapting to the new regime but that’s the reality I have to deal with now, no use bitching about it.

When I’m not editing, I’m reading and some of the excellent books I’ve finished since the beginning of the year include N.K. Jemsin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson, The Cold Millions (Jess Walter), The Great Glass Sea (Josh Weil) and Jane Mayer’s Dark Money, a stunning exposé of how wealthy special interest groups are undermining democracy.

Movies with Sherron to unwind after a hard day of polishing my book: last night it was “Hud”, a classic starring Paul Newman; other favorites are David Fincher’s “Mank” (best movie of the year so far), Michael Haneke’s “Code Unknown” and the Coen Brothers’ “True Grit”.

I tend to devote the first part of the morning to catching up on Twitter, checking out the headlines and snorting with laughter as I read other writers’ self-congratulatory posts about their latest zombie novel or slasher offering. Sometimes I can’t help firing a comment their way and am always amazed by the sheer vitriol of their replies. The moment you bring up literary standards to these arseholes they completely lose their shit. Their reactions always serve as a reminder that genre people tend to have the smallest brains and thinnest skin.

But once I’ve had my fun it’s back to the business at hand.

Giving myself a deadline/release date is always an effective way of directing my nose to the grindstone. Otherwise I’d drag the process out past the point of sanity.

As I wrote in the introduction to the Notebooks, I have absolutely no idea why anyone would have even the slightest interest in the thoughts and reflections of a cult author with a tiny readership and a marked propensity for misanthropy. 

Nonetheless, come May Notebooks: 2010-2020 will be released into the world and we will just have to wait and see how it’s received.

I’ll probably be posting some teasers in the coming weeks so I hope you’ll pop in for a look.

Have to say, I love having another title in the publishing pipeline. 

It’s not for all tastes but, then again, that pretty well sums up my entire body of work, don’t you think?

After 30+ years, why would I change my approach now?

Photo courtesy Ashley Johnson

Man, Reassembling

It’s been six weeks since my left hip replacement, time for a status report.

I am able to do this because I can finally sit for extended periods without getting too sore, something that has only been possible for the past 14-21 days. Which, of course, plays hell with my writing routine; I’m used to being sedentary for many long hours but that may well be a thing of the past. Also might have to invest in a standing desk at some point—hey, Hemingway used to write standing up so maybe it will be all right.

The first few days after surgery were the toughest. Thanks to the blessings of good health I had never spent a single night in a hospital and so being immobilized, reliant on others for my basic needs, took some adjusting. The surgery itself went without a hitch. I was given a spinal, which meant I was partially conscious during the procedure, listening as the surgical team bored out the hip socket to better fit the new titanium ball they were installing or tapping in some component, the force of the impact shaking my body on the table. I was lucid enough that at one point I asked to see the original ball and they brought it over, showing me how it was pitted by arthritis.

“Good riddance, you sonofabitch,” I murmured, a remark that drew chuckles from some of those present.  

Post-op, pain management became very important. The night of my surgery, after the spinal anesthetic wore off, the nursing staff plied me with Dilaudid, Tylenol and some sort of nerve pill to take most of the edge off. On a scale of 1-10, my discomfort level probably peaked at 7 (I think I have a pretty high pain threshold). Each day afterward got better—by Thursday (day after surgery) I was able to sit on the end of my bed, standing briefly, and by Friday the physio people were wheeling me down to their little gym to teach me how to climb stairs, get in and out of the shower, etc.

Have to say, the worst aspect of the whole experience was getting fitted for a catheter. I was told that, ahem, older gentlemen tend to have a bit more trouble restoring their waterworks after a spinal and often a catheter is required. I get that…but it took three separate staff members to perform the procedure, which was no fun at all. My privates aren’t used to being manhandled by strangers. I was delighted when that sucker was finally removed…although the first time I went to relieve myself, it felt like I was pissing napalm.

My incision healed up very quickly, no complications with infection or draining. Once I was back home, I was contacted by our local hospital physio department and every week went in for a consultation and exercises to restore the damaged muscles. I was meticulous about doing said exercises and made speedy progress.

At the moment, I am only using a cane (see: below and note the Bruin colors on the knitted sock my wife had made for me) for trips out of the house and the new hip seems to be performing up to expectations.

The bad news is, the other hip also requires replacement, so I’ll have to go through this again in another six months.

At least I’ll know what to expect. Osteo-arthritis runs in our family, unfortunately, a genetic predisposition I would gladly do without. My hands and lower back are also afflicted, which doesn’t bode well for my sunset years.

But I’m grateful to be back on my pins again, on the mend and looking forward to a more active, pain-free future.

Many thanks to Dr. Anthony King, his surgical team and the nursing and support staff at Saskatoon’s City Hospital for their first-rate care. Hopefully I’ll be renewing acquaintance with them this summer, getting the right side dealt with, and then enjoying my new-found mobility, playing with the grandkids and feeling like, quite literally, a new man.

Cheers.

 

Best Books Read in 2020: The Roundup

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

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

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

Fiction:

PROCESSED CHEESE by Stephen Wright

YELLOW EARTH by John Sayles

VANISHED BIRDS by Simon Jimenez

RED PILL by Hari Kunzru

STATION ELEVEN by Emily St. John Mandel

AMERICAN WAR by Omar El Akkad

AUSTERLITZ by W.G. Sebald

RULE OF CAPTURE by Christopher Brown

METROPOLIS by Philip Kerr

PLAINSONG by Kent Haruf

GROWING THINGS (Stories) by Paul Tremblay

A CHILDREN’S BIBLE by Lydia Millet

Honorable Mention:

PROVIDENCE by Max Barry

THE ASSAULT by Harry Mulisch

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

THE GLASS HOTEL by Emily St. John Mandel

RABBIT FACTORY by Larry Brown

Non-Fiction:

HITLER: ASCENT (1889-1939) by Volker Ulrich

POETRY FROM THE FUTURE by Srecko Horvat

SAPIENS: A BRIEF HISTORY OF HUMANKIND by Yuval Noah Harari

ON TYRANNY by Timothy Snyder

THE UNWOMANLY FACE OF WAR by Svetlana Alexievich

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

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

CHURCHILL AND ORWELL by Thomas E. Ricks

THATCHER STOLE MY TROUSERS by Alexei Sayle

Honorable Mention:

SONGLINES by Bruce Chatwin

ROAD TO LITTLE DRIBBLING by Bill Bryson

HOW THE SCOTS INVENTED THE MODERN WORLD by Arthur Herman

“Electric Castles”—Cover Art

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

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

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

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

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

Support indie publishers and booksellers!

ELECTRIC CASTLES: The Road to Publication

Final edits and proofing completed, my short story collection Electric Castles: A Book of Urban Legends is currently being prepped for publication.

Once the manuscript was corrected and perfected to my satisfaction—three months overdue but that’s par for the course—I immediately logged in to my Upwork account and posted a job listing for someone to handle the interior design and formatting for the book.

It’s always a tricky process working with someone outside my creative bubble but because of the complexities associated with using Lightning Source as a printing service, interior/text layout is not a job for amateurs and bumblers. The Lightning Source templates are very unforgiving and inflexible and the slightest glitch will get your formatted file tossed from the system. And there you are, back at the drawing board.

I’ve always had good fortune with Upwork: you post a job description and graphic designers from around the world bid on it. I tend to use people who have a lot of experience, especially with Lightning Source/Ingram Sparks. Communication is essential so folks must be very fluent in English (not too mention tolerant of my perfectionism).

Electric Castles is the 14th book to be released through my Black Dog Press imprint and other than my first book (So Dark the Night), I’ve always had someone else handle the formatting of the interior text. We tried it ourselves with So Dark and the experience was so miserable and difficult, I swore I’d never do it again.

Once again our old pal Chris Kent will be handling the cover design. I found the perfect image purely by accident and secured the rights from the artist in question, a London-based chap, Gabriele Marras.

I’ll be “leaking” a sneak peek at the cover in a couple of weeks and you’ll understand why I’m so pleased to have stumbled across Gabriele’s work.

I know I can count on Chris to deliver another beautiful looking book—he hasn’t failed us yet.

Random Thoughts

As I made my last pass through the manuscript, scrupulously checking every last comma, I couldn’t help thinking it’s a good thing I publish my own work and therefore not beholden to anyone else or subject to their taste.

The stories in this collection are amazingly diverse, veering from crime fiction to dark fantasy to mainstream literary. How that would go over with an outside editor/publisher, I don’t know. The only thing these tales have in common is that each features an urban setting of one kind or another. That’s it.

There’s always a dialogue between my inner publisher and inner author and sometimes the exchanges can get mighty ugly. I mean, Jesus, my last three books were: a volume of poetry (The Algebra of Inequality), a non-fiction book of satirical tirades against the minions of political correctness (Mouth: Rants & Routines) and, now, a collection of short stories.

All pretty much guaranteed to sell poorly, none of them featuring the kind of crowd-pleasing tripe the vast majority of readers seem to prefer.

My inner publisher wonders why I don’t come up with something more commercial and the author inside me tartly insists that the point is to release good work, not popular fluff. The publisher’s response to that point of view is too vitriolic to reproduce here.

I don’t tend to write cheery tales with happy endings. I don’t utilize common tropes or adhere to accepted formulas. Not my bag. There are plenty of other writers out there who are only too delighted to play that game and I leave you to them.

I feel more at home in the dark…a familiarity I assure you I’ve earned.

And finally…

I get a bit, ah, strange when I’ve reached this phase in the publishing process: a book in the pipeline, a few weeks from publication. I exhibit symptoms of agoraphobia, part of me believing if I venture too far from home something untoward might happen to me and I’ll never live to see the book in question published. It’s a hard feeling to shake; I fully recognize this mindset is not rational or defensible, but it is, nonetheless, persuasive and insidious.

So you’ll pardon me if I reluctantly decline your dinner invitation, offering a rain check with no date filled in.

I’m this close to releasing a brand, new book.

It’s a heady time for me and nothing will distract me from getting it into my readers’ hands.

Back to work…