Category: writing life

“Mutant Thoughts (I)”

This is intended to be a semi-regular column devoted to my various enthusiasms, pet peeves and the strange notions that all-too-frequently bedevil me. Not intended for folks with delicate sensibilities or soft brains. Read on.

  • Recently received a note from an Italian digital musician wishing to use images from one of my strange, short films to accompany a piece of music he’s been composing. Why not?
  • Things like that happen every so often. Like the two academics (one from Hong Kong, the other the Netherlands) who contacted me seeking permission to include some of my photos on the “cut-up” method for presentation at separate conferences. Happy to oblige…always in the hope that exposure in different venues will help draw attention to my literary work (well, a fella can dream, can’t he).
  • Some good, smart discussions on Twitter lately regarding books, writing process, films, politics, etc. (Shout out to Shaun Hamill, Steve Savile, Geoff Andrew, among others.) The trolls seem to have gone into hiding for the time being, leaving room for rational discourse. A refreshing development.
  • How do my fellow progressives feel about the first month of Joe Biden’s presidency? Anyone who was expecting massive policy changes, a sudden lurch to the Left, an administration to rival FDR’s is either soft in the head or has only just awakened after a fifty-year coma. “Meet the new Boss/Same as the old Boss.”
  • Go out today and either buy or borrow a good book. Just this once treat your frontal lobes and higher brain functions with the respect they deserve. Enough with the empty-headed, escapist fare. Remember: you are what you read.
  • The fact that Justin Trudeau and his cabinet declined to join the rest of their parliamentary colleagues in a motion condemning the treatment of the Uyghur people at the hands of the Chinese shows just how morally bankrupt and hypocritical the Liberal Party of Canada has become. An absolutely disgraceful display.
  • We’ve signed up for a three-month tryout of the MUBI movie-streaming service. Great selection of cinema from around the world…but the goddamn thing keeps freezing and buffering, even during a 15-minute short film. I’ve contacted them and they’ve reached out, trying to effect a fix but so far, no good. And if they don’t solve the problem soon, hasta la vista MUBI!
  • Is it just me? It seems like my fingernails and toe nails are growing at an accelerated rate during this extended lockdown. Please apprise if something similar is happening to you.
  • Sherron keeps trying to get me to explore the wonders and benefits of kimchi…but I still recoil from the stuff. It looks like the material that gets caught in our kitchen drain; it may be a miracle food for some, but my rising gorge says otherwise.
  • Back to the Big City (Saskatoon) soon to check the state of my new hip. Hopefully will have a bit of extra time for a side trip to Peryton Books and, later, some tasty ethnic cuisine before heading back on the road.
  • Making excellent progress on what will be my next Black Dog Press release, Notebooks: 2010-2020. Printed up a draft and will give it to Sherron for proofing in about a week-ten days. And then final tinkering and polishing. Still anticipating an early May release date (perhaps even sooner, but don’t you dare quote me on that).
  • Listening to a couple of newish Bob Mould CDs in my office the past few days. Ol’ Bob still rocks, the spirit of Husker Du lives on!
  • These days half the time when the landline in our house rings it’s either a “robocall” or a scammer. This is what our society has been reduced to.
  • One Twitter post in particular caught my eye the other day. A high school student was seeking advice on how to publish their book. Excuse me? Isn’t this a case of putting the cart before the horse? How about learning the rudiments of grammar and syntax first, gaining a basic understanding of language or, like, paying your fucking dues? We don’t need more books published, we need to identify and weed out the absolute shit that’s already being churned out at an accelerating pace. Most of it produced/excreted by sub-literate tits with no notion of just how terrible they really are. Sorry, kid, you won’t be getting any help from me.
  • I’ll close this first installment with an appropriate quote from Aldous Huxley: “If most of us remain ignorant of ourselves, it is because self-knowledge is painful and we prefer the pleasures of illusion.” Yep, that about sums it up. See you next time!
Photo: Sherron Burns

…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.

 

Coming soon from Black Dog Press

A post that is looooonng overdue.

But, as I’ve said before, if I’m not blogging I’m undoubtedly at work on some project that is utterly consuming me.

In this case, it’s actually three projects.

I should explain.

Last year I was supposed to release a collection of short stories with urban settings called Electric Castles. But that one sort of got over-taken and set aside when I wrote and released an e-book of topical and controversial non-fiction material titled Mouth: Rants and Routines.

I’ve gone back to work on editing the stories in Electric Castles...but I’ve also been assembling a collection of new poetry as well as making additions to Notebook, a compilation of thoughts, reflections and meditations I’ve been gathering for nearly ten years.

The order of publication is:  Electric Castles in June-July, 2020, Notebook in 2021 and the poetry collection in 2022 (I have a tentative title for that one, just not willing to share it yet).

Putting the finishing touches on Electric Castles has been time consuming and intense (my approach to editing obsessive and exhausting), especially the last tale in the book, a 50-page, 12,000+ word novelette. Still pondering a cover and hoping to nail that down soon. A couple of possibilities, including some of my own visual efforts.

* * * *

I realized recently that it’s now been a decade since I rebooted my Black Dog Press imprint. It sort of went into hiatus after the release of The Reality Machine in 1997. PS Publishing (U.K.) published my book Righteous Blood in 2002 and I retained some hope that finally I would be able to find presses out there that would provide a venue for my writing.

That turned out to be wishful thinking and by 2008, I’d had enough. I wrote up a venomous press release and sent it out to a couple of writing forums, announcing I was tired of playing the game, submitting work and waiting sometimes YEARS for editors/publishers to grace me with a response. Fuck that and fuck them. Basta!

Shortly thereafter, I started this blog and began posting big chunks of material, short stories and novel excerpts that thousands of people read and downloaded.

But I still wanted print versions of my books and that meant familiarizing myself with POD (print on demand) technology (and terminology) and in 2010, I published my first Black Dog Press offering in 13 years, my occult thriller So Dark the Night.

I was back, with a vengeance. Since then, I’ve produced a dozen titles, doing my best to satisfy my small but vocal cadre of readers.

The indie world is the place for me and I have permanently (I think) set aside any notion of commercial success or mainstream acceptance.

I hope those of you who are familiar with my oeuvre will continue to support this eccentric venture of mine and that new readers will drop in and discover an author who defies expectations and subverts preconceptions, creating wholly original and provocative titles for those who love challenging, literate books, short stories or poetry.

Welcome to Black Dog Press.

Pull up a chair, make yourself at home.

There’s a lot to see here and we’ve got all the time in the world.

Tourist: An Epithet

In the past several weeks I’ve had conversations during which I made disparaging remarks about tourists.

“I hate ’em,” I snarled, “they are lower order creatures, on par with ambulatory trilobites.”

Words to that effect.

But on one occasion, I was reminded that during the summer of 2016 my wife and I spent an entire month overseas, visiting three countries and soaking up the atmosphere like parched sponges. Didn’t that make me, ahem, a tourist?

Immediately after the accusation was leveled at me I became angry, defensive, denying the charge vehemently.

See, my notion of tourism is that it’s a necessary evil, like gut bacteria or liberal politicians. Yes, it can greatly benefit the economy of a nation but, in so doing, it also exacts a certain psychic toll. I mean, there were some parts of Prague that reminded me of Disneyland (and that is not a good thing).

For myself, rather than tourist, I prefer the term “visitor” or perhaps even “guest”.

Let me illustrate what I think is the difference between a visitor to a foreign country and a tourist with this analogy:

After a perfunctory knock, a stranger enters your home, basically brushing past you as he marches over to the table, seats himself and waits to be served. He doesn’t look right or left, doesn’t check out the pictures on the walls, the arrangement of the furniture; there’s no small talk, this person just wants to be fed.

And so you bring forth the courses you’ve spent all day preparing, but the food is unpleasant and exotic to the stranger, who loudly bemoans the lack of familiar favorites. The water tastes funny too and they can’t understand your weird accent.

Then, finally, the stranger glances at his watch, bolting abruptly because they have another dinner appointment further down the road (hopefully boasting better fare than this sorry joint). No real human contact, no effort made to immerse themselves in their surroundings and engage with their host. Only interested in stuffing their fat faces as quickly as possible and then moving on to the next trough.

See what I mean?

I personally think it’s quite easy to make distinctions between feelthy touristas and those who are genuinely interested in their chosen destination, doing their research, learning a few words of the language ahead of time, apprising themselves of some of the historical and cultural features specific to the region in question.

Further:

Visitors have bucket lists, tourists have checklists.

A visitor will seek out a nondescript street corner once glimpsed in an obscure “B” movie; a tourist goes on inclusive, all-you-can-eat-and-drink junkets, spending hours trying to tan their pasty bodies on a private beach, the only locals in evidence the ones employed as service personnel.

Tourists patronize expat bars and seek out others of their kind; visitors deftly avoid anyone reeking of their home country and venture far afield to escape their idiotic compatriots.

Visitors seek experience, interaction; tourists are after visuals, placing themselves front and center in every picture they take, “selfies” amid the ruins, egos the size of the Parthenon.

A tourist never gets deliberately lost or risks chance encounters.

A tourist is rarely pleasantly surprised or jolted by insight.

A tourist secretly despises the countries they visit and can’t wait to get back home and pretend otherwise.

A visitor gamely struggles with the native dialect; tourists insist on talking their own lingo in A VERY LOUD VOICE.

To a tourist, any place worth seeing has to look like it belongs on a postcard.

A tourist says “cool”, meaning worthy of yet another picture, and “quaint” when they mean old and useless.

A tourist can enter a thousand-year-old church and completely ignore the gorgeous, stained glass windows, hand-carved pulpit and ancient aura, instead fixating on a middle-aged nun praying near the back who’s a dead ringer for their aunt Gladys.

A visitor never completely shakes off the places they explore and inhabit; a tourist takes nothing from the sites and monuments they see and leaves nothing of themselves behind.

A visitor is respectful, tolerant, gracious; a tourist vain, easily bored, rude, suspicious  and disdainful.

A visitor departs with regret, a tourist with relief.

Visitors smile, tourists grimace.

Visitors say “thank you”, tourists begrudge even a modest tip.

Visitors try and fit in, tourists don’t bother.

Visitors are pilgrims, tourists consumers.

 

“Stupid People: A Case for Eugenics?” (For Liam)

In my latest book, Mouth: Rants and Routines, there’s a particularly virulent diatribe against idiots. You know, people with the minds of boll weevils and the imagination of stone outcroppings.

I am not tolerant when it comes to morons; in point of fact, I eat them alive.

I floated my mini-essay “Stupid People: A Case for Eugenics” among family and a few selected friends, and my oldest son Liam identified it as a particular favorite. He requested a recorded version and I have acquiesced.

I also recorded several other pieces that same day, added some incidental music and posted them on my Bandcamp page. You’ll find quite a bit of my work there, both readings and ambient, spacey music. All of it free for listening and downloading. Be my guest.

If you haven’t already, I urge you to download the complete ebook of Mouth: Rants and Routines—it’s available dirt cheap in both major ebook formats—and, once you read it, please leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads or Librarything or…wherever. I can’t emphasize how important a good review is for an unheralded book by the weirdo, cult writer from western Canada.

Here’s “Stupid People”, on MP3. Anybody else out there have similar problems putting up with the dummies in their life? Tell us all about it…

Live! From our living room!

What a night.

I confess to feeling nervous—how would people, even enlightened, progressive types, react to my rants on subjects that would strike many as too close to home?

As the clock wound down and the reading date we’d chosen inched closer and closer, I felt my nerves twanging like guitar strings. On the day in question, I set up chairs in our living room, cleaned the house from top to bottom and wondered if I’d be a few friends shyer once the evening was over.

My latest book, Mouth: Rants and Routines, is a no-holds-barred attack on political correctness and its dim-witted minions, except this time, the criticism is coming from the far Left. This will be considered unconscionable by some, a betrayal of my roots.

Bullshit.

PC and its accompanying trendy social causes have diverted the attention of progressives and advanced the agenda of people only interested in narrow, single issues, rather than trying to build a giant tent that would encompass all those who struggle in the crushing grip of capitalism, men, women and children who lack food and health and shelter security. I’m talking about folks working two or three part-time jobs in a precarious economic climate; single mothers, people living on fixed incomes that amount to no incomes at all, once the rent and bills are paid.

And then there is the existential threat presented by climate change: while some of us fuss about, wondering where we fit on the sexual spectrum or fret over what bathroom is most appropriate or which personal pronoun to use when referring to ourselves, half the world is burning.

Mouth is a bitter pill to swallow, no question, and will offend a lot of individuals who like to wear their beliefs on their sleeves, visible to everyone, a display of righteousness and piety and sanctimoniousness that would make a medieval Pope blush.

As my Introduction to the book warns:

“If you’re a wishy-washy liberal, someone who sits on the fence until their ass is black and blue, this probably isn’t the book for you. Likewise if you recently enrolled in a Gender Studies program and/or believe that one day, God willing, Caitlyn Jenner will win a Nobel Prize for…something. If you frequently use the words ‘men’ and ‘rape culture’ in the same sentence, if you self-identify according to a particular animal clan, or consider your pets surrogate children, well, there’s the door, please use it.”

The folks in attendance that night were surprisingly receptive to my heresy and in the recording we made you’ll hear lots of laughter and noises of agreement. I was thrilled and very, very relieved.

I know I’ll take some stick for daring poke at some Lefty/liberal causes that many people hold as sacred, inviolable, untouchable. But I also know there is a strong undercurrent among political progressives and contrarians who agree with me and cheer my decision to slay these sacred cows with as much invective and sarcasm as I possibly can.

Here’s a link to that reading, recorded in our home earlier this week. I have quite a bit of spoken word material and ambient music posted over at Bandcamp, all of it available for free listening and downloading. Please, tuck in.

I welcome your responses, whether you agree with me or not.

We need to have this discussion. The Left has no hope of defeating the entrenched interests opposing us unless we act in a unified, cohesive manner, refusing to allow ourselves to be hijacked by special interest groups and a tiny, vocal minority who eschew Big Ticket issues (income inequality, poverty, hunger) in favor of identity, gender politics, etc.

Stop the atomization and division and come together in one massive plurality of those who demand fairness and equality for ALL.

It really is our only hope of slowing down or, at least, humanizing the capitalist juggernaut bearing down on us, the horrible future it portends.

  • Special thanks to my pal, Laird Brittin, who bravely agreed to open the evening with some of his new, original songs. He set the tone early, warmed up the crowd and, oh, yeah, played a helluva set. A true and valued friend…

Blog Post #496: Automatic Crap Dispensers

My wife sent me a picture she took while waiting in Edmonton International Airport.

At first I couldn’t believe my eyes. Then I was hit with a wave of nausea…a short story machine? Tales pumped out of a dispenser like junk food?

Dear God.

Sherron, bless her heart, anticipated my reaction and printed up a number of stories to bring home for my examination. Without exception, the offerings were inept, tuneless, unoriginal, poorly executed, childish. There was no professional vetting in terms of quality and it showed. Apparently the company in question, ShortEdition, has over 80,000 stories, of varying genres and length, for potential readers to choose from. Based on the examples I scanned, you’d get more aesthetic satisfaction reading the back of a cereal box or instructions for using a pay toilet.

Awful, awful stuff, printed on thin tape for speedy consumption, as disposable and forgettable as most of the other crap we produce these days.

And the horrible thing is that we’re living in an absolute golden era in terms of the short story format. Geniuses like Jim Shepard and George Saunders are gracing us with tales that can move us deeply, while maintaining the highest literary standards. Daring, innovative prose that shatters preconceptions and offers entirely new perspectives of the world around us.

This ridiculous gadget is yet another example of the dumbing down of society, offering blatant mediocrities and tone-deaf amateurs a platform to exercise their egos. It is junk food for the post-literate, the mental equivalent of fucking Pez.

Anyone who pays for this service is a moron, anyone who enjoys the “writing” needs to stop wearing their hats so tight.

How about spending your money on real authors, men and women who devote an enormous amount of time and effort ensuring their prose is as tight and polished as it can be? Masters of the printed word.

They deserve your support, whereas the ShortEdition wannabes warrant only a snort of derision and a sad shake of the head.

 

“Algebra of Inequality”: Listen to the audio versions

Below you’ll find a 4-5 minute audio clip I created around some poems from my latest Black Dog Press release, The Algebra of Inequality.

I added some background music tracks for dramatic effect and I think this performance is an excellent teaser for the book.

If you want to hear audio renditions of more poems from the collection, recorded back in 2016 at the ancient amphitheater of Epidaurus, go to my “Other Media” page and scroll down a bit; you’ll find it.

This blog is approaching its 500th post and, of course, I have something special planned to mark the occasion.

Watch this space.

Five hundred posts, eleven years of maintaining Beautiful Desolation…that’s a lot of time (and words and music and rants).

Couldn’t do it without you, folks, your support, your public responses and private messages.

Enjoy this snippet—there’s much, much more to come: