Category: summer reading

New short fiction–chilling summer reading

stain

I. The First Crime Scene

The suspect toes the ground resentfully, tight-lipped, shrugging in response to the Magistrate’s queries. Evincing probity and incomprehension, but also giving the impression of barely concealed insolence.

The man is a pitiful liar.

Again the Magistrate demands that the creature divulge the circumstances of his crime and reveal the location of the body. Corpus delicti. Yet despite Supreme Jurist’s obvious frustration and rising anger, the guilty party continues to fend off his remonstrations with hostile silence.

Obstinate brute!

And then, miracle of miracles, the accused mutters something, a curt, sly rejoinder, sotto voce, practically inaudible.

“REPEAT THAT!”

The wretched beast actually raises his eyes, no longer cowed and obeisant, meeting the Magistrate’s gaze directly. “I said, ‘am I my brother’s keeper?’”

The Magistrate is stunned. Everything abruptly freezes, a complete cessation of sound, movement extending across twelve dimensions and countless timelines; the equivalent of a collective, celestial gasp.

Oblivious to the dismay he’d wrought, Cain is washing his hands in a nearby stream, immersing them in the pure, clear water.

Frowning at the stubbornness of the stain.

II. The Last Crime Scene

ARU-2466/TLS-13 spots a glint of white at the base of the escarpment, near a recent slide or rock fall, descends to fifty feet, hovering.

It looks like…could it be…

Remains.

There are mandatory protocols to follow, the ARU unit knows this. Any evidence of the Ancestors must be recorded and transmitted, the site left undisturbed. After all, this is sacred ground.

But the drone lingers, awed by the scale of its discovery, observing at once that the skeleton, though well-preserved, shows indications of massive trauma. The legs shattered, spine and skull split and sundered. An accidental fall from the precipice above?

A series of rapid, almost instantaneous calculations. Answer: unlikely.

Like many of its counterparts, ARU-2466/TLS-13 is aware of the legends surrounding the End Days. The Ancestors, once a great species, reduced by war, famine, disease and deprivation. Squabbling over increasingly scarce resources, raiding and killing until they were all but extinct.

Could this be one of the last survivors? Isolated, forsaken, appalled by the poisonous wasteland its kind had made of the planet?

Remorseful, perhaps, capable of one final act of contrition, a form of ritual self-slaughter.

The evidence is persuasive but hardly definitive.

ARU-2466/TLS-13 drops a beacon, dipping its wings respectfully as it makes one final pass.

Others will investigate the site, draw their own conclusions.

The drone returns to its regular search pattern, a virtual grid superimposed over a bleak, exhausted terrain.

Continuing an eternal, seemingly fruitless search for signs of life.

End

© Copyright, 2015 Cliff Burns (All Rights Reserved)

Neglected Authors, Part II

A gratifying response to my last post, a couple of the writers I cited reaching out and offering words of thanks.

No problem, folks.

But I also took some stick for neglecting to include some other neglected authors on my list and for that let me say merely mea culpa.

Nobody’s perfect.

Here are some more names to ponder and, hopefully, seek out. These wordsmiths are/were absolute masters and deserve to be discovered (or rediscovered):

Wilton Barnhardt
Lydia Davis
Christopher Fowler
Craig Grant
Eric McCormack
Ted Mooney
James Morrow
Christopher Priest
Ishmael Reed
Iain Sinclair
Colson Whitehead

Past (Honorary) Members:

Kathy Acker
Antonin Artaud
Elizabeth Bishop
Thomas Disch
Ivan Doig
Martha Gelhorn
William Goyenne
Knut Hamsun
M. John Harrison
Lucius Shepard
Freya Stark

Compared to the junk currently being excreted by traditional publishing, these fine scribes are like brilliant flowers growing out of dung. Help save great works from obscurity and superb writers from the bottomless trash can of history.

Iris1

Plugging along

Tree:faceAnother lengthy interval between posts. Talk about inconstant. Talk about maddening. Talk about…busy.

You know that’s always the case. When I’m hard at work, the last thing I think about is composing another blog entry. Don’t get me wrong, you folks are great, love hanging out with you, but writing, the creative act…well, that’s my lifeblood. My raison d’être.

This time, yes, there’s been creativity, a new short story…but, in all honesty, I’ve been devoting most of my time and energy to promoting Disloyal Son. With the hundreds, thousands of books being released every month, how do I draw attention to a solid, literate novel that anybody with two neurons to rub together will love? How do I compete with shapeshifter erotica and zombie porn and glorified fan fiction? Well, first of all, I send out review copies. Lots of review copies. To the major newspapers, mystery magazines, selected bookstores. Along with promo material and fliers that we agonize over, striving to come up with the most enticing wording. Again, trying to separate this book from the herd. The dung pile.

Good God, there are a lot of terrible books out there. Not just “self-published” either. The traditional publishers apparently believe the vast majority of contemporary readers (especially women) have the I.Q. of brain-damaged marsupials. If you’re looking for a quality book to read this summer, good luck. The trads no longer have any interest in cultivating authors, helping them find their voice and develop as artists. They’re staffed by corporate drones who merely seek “product”, mass market releases—swiftly excreted, endlessly repeated. Passionless, derivative, facile, inept.

And then something like Disloyal Son comes along. cover,jpeg

You want to know the difference between my approach to writing, as opposed to just about everyone else’s? I care. I respect language, the traditions and legacy of literature. I treasure a well-constructed sentence and expend enormous efforts honing and shaping my work. I’m a freak when it comes to editing—meticulous to the point of, well, insanity. While many of my colleagues seem content with one or two drafts, getting their slop out as soon as possible, I drag out the process of creation to the extent that completing a short story takes weeks and a novel like So Dark the Night required over three years before I was finally satisfied and released it. And that was working on it full time, every single day.

Writing is not a craft to me, it’s an art. There’s a difference. A big difference. Most scribblers can’t make that leap. I can. Every single one of my books is intelligent, challenging, innovative; none conform to expectations or fall back on formula. I try to get that across to readers, reviewers but it’s hard. They see that Black Dog Press is my imprint and right away start thinking “this is more self-published crap”. Dismissing me out of hand. Never giving me a fair shot.

I defy anyone to read the first 5-10 pages of one of my books, choose whichever you like, and then stop. By that point it will no longer be a question of the origins of the book, the circumstances of its publication—you’ll be too caught up in a great read. Of that, I am 100% certain.

Reviewers have written about the element of surprise in my books and stories and I think that’s key. When you’re reading one of my tales you have no idea how it’s going to end or what’s coming next. I love pulling the rug out from under you, leaving you in a whimpering heap. Never saw that coming, did you?

That quality is very much in evidence in Disloyal Son. It’s a mystery, within a mystery (and then some). The truth revealed in bleeding layers. If you give it a chance, it will be the best book you read this summer, maybe this year. And I don’t need to buy a four-star Kirkus review in order to know that.

“Disloyal Son” (the cover)

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Well, here it is.

My tenth full-length book.

We “leaked” the cover to Facebook earlier this evening so why not post it here?

What do you think? Is Disloyal Son Chris Kent’s best cover design yet?

The release date has been moved up to mid-April.

Coming soon…

(Click on book image to see enlarged view.)

In transition…

night:hotelAs previously reported, I’ve completed the final polish of my next Black Dog Press release, a short story collection called Sex & Other Acts of the Imagination.

In the week since I’ve wrapped up work on Sex, I’ve been in kind of a “transition” phase, as I prepare for another edit of my novel-in-progress.

I couldn’t just dive back into the novel after spending several weeks tinkering with a batch of really dark, harrowing short stories—I needed a break, a way to ease into it.

I go through these periods every so often and it’s during these times that I create some of the strange short films and ambient musical pieces that you’ll find under my Films/Music” tab. It’s also when I’ll retreat to my cold, damp basement and slap some acrylic paint on canvas for a few days. Experimenting. Playing.

And I’m prone to sudden attacks of poetry, as well.

Which is what happened this time around.

For the past 7-10 days there’s been a lot of scribbling going on around here and much of it centers around a suite of stanzas I’ve put together under the title “Sixteen Rites of Deconditioning”.

To explain:

For at least fifteen years I’ve kept a couple of notebooks devoted to…I’m not sure what you’d call it. Automatic writing? Free associations? Visions?

When I’m in a certain mindset I feel a compulsion to scrawl words, disjointed sentences, dream sequences, snippets of verse. The spell only lasts a few hours, a day at the most, but I’m often surprised by what these sessions produce. Recently I decided to go through both notebooks and write down certain key words or lines or themes that stood out. Once I assembled a roster of these bits, I began to shape them, dividing them up, juxtaposing certain parts, creating fascinating fusions, collisions and cross-fertilizations.

I was delighted with the end result and just posted “Sixteen Rites of Deconditioning” on my Scribd page–I encourage you to zip over there and cast you eyes over a mind-blowing poem, by far the longest and most complex I’ve written to date.

I welcome your comments and reactions—the poem is certainly subject to a variety of interpretations and I’m interested by how people experience “Sixteen Rites”, if it strikes any familiar chords.

Am I plugged in to the zeitgeist…or spending far too much time alone in my office?

Let me know what you think.

splatter

 

 

Shelves and shelves of…poetry

Poetry1I wanted a dedicated space for the fine volumes of poetry I’ve managed to accumulate over the course of my reading life.

Books of poetry have been scattered around various locations of the house but now, thanks to Sherron, we have a charming little bookcase that’s perfect for highlighting our collection. She happened to spot a garage sale on the way home from work and couldn’t believe her luck when she spied this little beauty. Four shelves and solidly constructed.

Poetry has taken on increased significance in my life over the past five or ten years. I’ve developed the patience and maturity required for verse and have a real appreciation for authors who have the vision, concision and mental discipline to execute truly great poetry.

I have numerous volumes by my current favorites—Paul Celan, Arthur Rimbaud, Ted Kooser, W.S. Merwin, Billy Collins—and offerings by lesser known poets like Naomi Shihab Nye and Carolyn Forsche. A cool, eclectic mix of new and old, with a few oddities thrown in to keep things interesting.

I’ve heard it said most people are only interested in poetry for use in weddings or funerals and that’s unfortunate, an indication of how badly poetry is taught in school. Dissected for its component parts like a frog, rather than appreciated for its beauty and, with the very best poetry, universality. Most readers are afraid of poetry, intimidated by it—poetry is “difficult”, “elitist”, “frustrating”.

I wonder how much of Ted Kooser’s work they’ve read. The simplicity and clarity of his language might surprise them. I advise them to pick up a copy of his Pulitzer Prize-winning collection Delights and Shadows (Copper Canyon Press; 2004), encounter a writer who doesn’t hide behind opacity or cloak his ideas and themes in haughty esoterica.

Time to rediscover the joy of reading well-crafted, superbly conceived poetry.

Believe me, there’s a lot of it about.

Seek and ye shall find!

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A morbid turn: four flash fictions

Dore1

Reprisal

 

An intimacy only death allows.

Forced into close alignment to conserve space.

A press of upturned faces.

Rows and rows, near a field of spring wheat.

Bright sunlight, a perfect cloudless day.

In defiance of this latest atrocity.

 * * *

 

Dore3

The Last Room

Is someone there?

Why don’t you come nearer?

Step into the light…

I can barely see you.

There’s so little time.

Please, show yourself.

I don’t want to be alone.

Approach, stranger:

Take pity on my penitent soul.

* * *

stadium2

Chase Scene

—careening down a narrow path, bucking and weaving through the forest, in headlong flight.

“Hurry! It’s catching up with us!”

Realizing my mistake when the trees around us begin to glow, giving off a vivid, blue light.

The ground vibrating, feeling it through the floorboard beneath my feet.

Oh, Christ!  Oh, Jesus, help me—”

The light coruscating, fierce, accompanied by a blaze of heat, the exterior of our vehicle starting to blister and smoke…

* * *

stadium1Sheep

Reporting as ordered, funneled in with the rest.

Hemmed and jostled, barely able to move.

Exhausted and compliant.

A clipped, officious voice from the loudspeaker, appealing for calm.

Distant shouting, the news spreading in visible ripples through our midst.

The gates are closing

 

 

© Copyright, 2014  Cliff Burns (All Rights Reserved)