Category: thriller

Doing your Christmas shopping? Think indie!

You undoubtedly have a number of book-lovers on your Christmas list you need to buy for.

And it’s always a dilemma, isn’t it, trying to figure out what a book nerd would like. Let’s face it, everyone’s tastes are different and bibliophiles are a notoriously strange bunch.

But if you’re seeking something quirky, off the beaten track, a truly personal gift, have you given any thought to indie presses?

I can think of a number of excellent small publishers who could use your business.

There’s Angry Robot and Two Dollar Radio and if you’re looking for good Leftie tomes, check out books released by Verso or Haymarket.

And, ahem, may I also draw your attention to my little publishing concern, Black Dog Press.

You can peruse my Bookstore page for details on each of my titles—it’s a disparate catalog, featuring mystery, suspense, sci fi, horror…even an old style western.

All of my books are available for ordering through Barnes & Noble, Powell’s, Amazon…or your favourite independent bookstore.

Support indie artists!

book-catalog

“Test Subject” (short story)

Yesterday I was feeling completely listless and dull-witted. Couldn’t work up the energy to do much of anything.

Then I remembered a couple of photos Sherron sent me. Sometimes, in the morning light, our kitchen walls get these really cool shadows and patterns projected onto them; my visually-oriented wife noticed this pair and took some shots with her cell phone.

I called up the photos, placed them side-by-side on my computer screen, stared at them for about thirty seconds.

Then I grabbed my blue Hilroy exercise book…and started scribbling. No thought, no pre-planning, just went for it.

It’s an old trick…worked for the surrealists and, by God, it worked for me.

Here’s the story, accompanied by the images that inspired it:

* * * *

Shadow1

The Test Subject

ALL RIGHT, TERRY, YOU KNOW THE ROUTINE. WE NEED YOU TO TAKE US THROUGH WHAT YOU’RE EXPERIENCING AND DESCRIBE—

It’s hard…I don’t…there aren’t any…

COME ON, YOU HAVE TO DO BETTER THAN THAT. WE NEED SENSATIONS, COLORS. PAINT US A PICTURE.

(Laughter) You don’t…it isn’t like that. God, I wish I could explain, show you…but there’s no (indecipherable), no, ahhhh, common reference points.

ARE YOU DISORIENTED, DO YOU—

What? Did you say ‘distortion’? Everything’s distorted. It’s like…like…

GO ON.

…this kaleidoscope…constant movement…twisting and spiraling…

ARE YOU FEELING NAUSEOUS?

I feel—oh, Jesus! Jesus! Did you see that? It just…wow…this bolt of pure blue light…zipped right past me and it—I swear it smelled like cinnamon.

THAT’S WHAT WE WANT TO HEAR! YOU NEED TO DESCRIBE THE EFFECTS, HOW THIS THING MANIFESTS ITSELF. TERRY? TERRY, DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME?

I know. I see what you’re…but it’s really got on top of me and…and…it’s just too…and then everything just changes, like that! Did you see it? Like the whole universe suddenly switched polarities and—and flowed in the opposite direction. Whoa, trippy. And there’s something…I see something…

YES?

I dunno…a shape…presence…now it’s up there, by the ceiling, sort of floating…

POINT. SHOW US WHERE YOU MEAN.

There. It keeps shifting, flowing, like I said. I can’t quite…it blends in with these other blob things…they kind of swirl and mesh…yeah…swirl and mesh…mesh into a mess…

WHAT ELSE? DO YOU GET A SENSE OF ANY—

–someone turn up the heat? It’s freezing in here.

THE TEMPERATURE IS KEPT AT A CONSTANT 24 DEGREES CELSIUS.

I’m telling you—fuck! That time it zoomed right past me. This bright-colored blur…I could’ve reached out and—

TELL US WHAT IT LOOKED LIKE. GODDAMNIT, TERRY—

It’s made of light and…uhhh…wow! Oh, wow…there it is. Hovering, just in front of me. Holy shit, I think it’s looking at me—

EASY, TERRY, COME ON NOW. YOU’RE TRIPPING, REMEMBER? IT’S ALL IN YOUR HEAD. SO GET A GRIP—

It’s staring at me, man. Studying me. I’ve never…I’ve seen little green men before but…this thing knows

KNOWS? WHAT DO YOU—

–knows I’m here and it’s curious too. Wondering who I am, what I’m doing. This is its backyard and I’m trespassing on…

–ONLY AN HALLUCINATION—

Bullshit! Bullshit! There’s something in here and it isn’t just the fucking drug. It sees me. It sees me and I want out. Get me out of this! Somebody! I need to–

TERRY! TERRY!

Gimme the fucking antidote! I want to (indecipherable). This is fucked, this is totally—

AT THE REQUEST OF THE TEST SUBJECT WE ARE DISCONTINUING THE SESSION AND—

What the fuck are you? What do you want from me? Keep away from me—

IT’S OKAY, TERRY, WE’RE COMING IN. BOB AND ANGELA ARE RIGHT OUTSIDE AND THEY’LL—

Oh, Jesus, oh, Jesus– (Heavy breathing, panting)

WHAT’S—

It’s coming, it’s—ahhhhh…Christ, it’s got me…help me…it’s–(indecipherable).

(Shouts of alarm, a woman screams)

BOB? ANGIE? SECURITY! SECURITY! WE HAVE AN EMERGENCY SITUATION UP HERE AND WE NEED A COMPLETE LOCKDOWN, REPEAT—WHAT? WHO’S THAT? WHO’S THERE? IS SOMEONE OUT THERE? HELLO? HELLO?

(End transcript)

shadow2

Admonition

IMG_0060Don’t go there.

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.

Humanity lost.

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…

Fall flower

“Disloyal Son”–the proof

100_proof1167

As you can see, the proof of Disloyal Son arrived and, once it was approved, I placed a big order for friends, family and a small but rabid posse of readers/freaks who have followed my jagged career arc for many a year.

Good news, folks: the books should arrive in about ten days, if Lightning Source stays true to form. You can reserve your copy now…and, of course, I’m only happy to sign it for you.

Each book costs $19.00 (USA/Canada)—Shipping:  $12.00 (Canada); USA $9.00 (Surface) $11.00 (Airmail)

Happy days around Casa Burns. Disloyal Son is in the house…

“Disloyal Son”–Coming Soon!

Binder1The time has come, methinks, to talk about my next book.

I’m a superstitious sod, rarely discussing works-in-progress, except obliquely (even with my wife). If I jabber about a book or story too much, part of me believes I’ll somehow “jinx” things and said offering will wither and die on the vine. So I play things close to the vest, wait until the project has achieved a highly polished state before I finally heave a sigh of relief and officially announce that something new is on the way.

And so it is with my latest novel, Disloyal Son.

Subtitle: A False Memoir.

This one took my wife by surprise. I spoke of it only in generalities, alluding to some of the history and background my research was turning up. When I finally handed her a finished draft the end of June (2014), she had a vague notion that the book had something to do with my father, the fibs he told us, family stories and rumors we heard as children about the mysterious deaths of two of his brothers…

But I think it’s safe to say Sherron was shocked when she opened the manuscript and discovered…a mystery novel. It took her awhile to adjust her thinking; she expected something much more personal and intimate, along the lines of my radio play “The First Room” (broadcast on CBC Radio some years ago).

The problem with treating the book as a memoir is that at some point I would have to make an appearance—and, frankly, I can’t think of a less interesting person to incorporate into my work. (In that sense, I differ from many writers I can name but, soft, let us move on from that contentious point…)

Nope, it was my determination right from the beginning to approach my father’s shameless falsehoods, his brothers’ deaths, as a fiction writer would, solving those aforementioned ancient mysteries with the tools and techniques of a storyteller. The central character is an author about my age but he’s more of an alter ego than a stand-in; a doppelganger living a parallel life, a “might have been”.

The whole book is a gigantic “what if?”.

But it’s something else too…because there are little truths and facts scattered throughout, bits of family lore boymy mother and sisters will get but no one else will. Despite my efforts, there’s perhaps more of me in this book than I intended.

What Disloyal Son is really about is the toxic effect secrets and sins can have on a family, people generations removed from the actual events but still feeling the ripples. The novel is a work of fiction but I think many out there will understand that the themes it addresses have a great deal of relevance to those who live in the shadow of childhood trauma or whose lives have been damaged by a legacy of lies and deceit.

Terrible things go on behind closed doors, many unpunished crimes, including assault, rape, even murder. Whispered about at family gatherings but, for the most part, swept under the carpet. Scarcely alluded to but not forgotten.

Time doesn’t heal all wounds and that’s why the narrator/central character of Disloyal Son is so determined, despite his family’s opposition, to deal with their dark past and uncover the truth about events that took place nearly four decades ago. His efforts lead him deeper and deeper, until he realizes there are actual skeletons in the family closet, the reality far grimmer than he imagined.

That’s all I’m prepared to say about the story line, at least for the moment—I really hate spoilers.

So…a “false memoir”.

First it was dark fantasy, horror, science fiction, poetry, mainstream literary, a tale set in the Old West…and now this. How the hell am I supposed to draw any kind of readership if I keep shedding skin like a fat snake? No wonder editors and agents shy away from me and even long time fans scratch their heads in confusion and dismay.

No apologies forthcoming from this end. Not a chance. Disloyal Son is a page-turner, a crime novel with the pacing of an Elmore Leonard yarn. Unputdownable. Featuring well-drawn characters, sudden twists and turns and a resolution you absolutely will not see coming. I can’t tell you how pleased I am with the way it turned out—talk about exceeding expectations.

Currently, Sherron is in the process of proofing the manuscript and we should be getting the cover and text files set by the first of April. May Day, 2015 is still our intended release date. I’ve done a couple of mockups for the cover design, which I’ll be passing on to my cover guy, the irreplaceable Chris Kent. And we’re welcoming aboard a new interior layout person, Jana Rade, who runs Impact Studios and comes with stellar recommendations. Hoping for a very smooth and glitch-free production this time around. C’mon, team!

I’ll be “leaking” the cover in mid-April and, meanwhile, devising a much more aggressive advertising and promotional campaign for Disloyal Son. Plugging my books has always been a problem for me—basically, once a book is done I seem to lose interest in it and the only thing I can think about is starting a NEW project, something to get the creative juices flowing again. But my writing deserves better than that and one of my resolutions this year was to devote more time and effort to raising my profile, letting people know I’ve got ten terrific books in print and that over the past thirty years as a professional author I have produced an intelligent and original body of work in a variety of genres. A literary therianthrope.

Watch for my latest offering, Disloyal Son, in a few short months.

It’s gonna rock your world.

Binder2

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)

“Suspect” (flash fiction)

dore2“The fuck is this?”

 

“That’s him. That’s our guy.”

 

“You kidding? You’re taking the piss, right?”

 

“Look, I’ve been up all night, you wanted to see what I got, this is it.”

 

“But what is it?”

 
“It’s a, waddaya call it, a screen capture.”

 

“A what?”

 

“Like they take a picture, a still frame. Enhanced all to fuck but that’s what they came up with. There’s your perp.”

 

“I still don’t get it. You’re saying that’s taken from the hallway camera—”

 

“Yeah. What you’re looking at is, like, a single fucking frame. That new guy, Panda or Pandra, whatever the fuck, he spotted it. And, man, how he managed it, I’ll never know.”

 

“So he’s zipping through the footage and something clicks and he goes back and slows everything down—”

 

“Right, exactly. And this thing is there for a flash, right outside the fucking door, and then it’s gone.”

 

“Time frame?”

 

“Fits.”

 

“Fuck that. Nothing fits. This is a locked door mystery and the two of us are hanging out to dry here. In less than an hour I gotta go upstairs, smile ever so nice and show them…what exactly? This? This fucking—”

 

“It’s all we got.”

 

“Nine of our best standing around with their thumbs up their arses while the guy we were supposed to be babysitting—“

 

“No one got in or out. You said so yourself.”

 

“No one but this guy. That’s what you’re telling me, right?”

 

”The question is, what are you going to tell them.”

 

“I’m not going to tell them anything. I’m just going to show them this. The best evidence we have.”

 

“And then?”

 

“Then? Then it doesn’t matter. Because it won’t be my problem any more…”

 

 

© Copyright, 2014  Cliff Burns (All Rights Reserved)