Fiction & Novels

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Novel Excerpts & Short Stories Available for FREE downloading:

I’m happy to offer readers the opportunity to sample some of my work: short stories, novel excerpts, poetry, essays.

Most of that material can be found over at Scribd, all of it free for reading and downloading.

But I’ve also posted some of my favourites here, just keep scrolling down.

This is your chance to see for yourself if the boy has a major league fastball. Some of these short stories and prose works have been previously published in books and anthologies that are out of print or next to impossible to find. Others appear here for the first time, available nowhere else in the real or virtual universe. You’ll find quite a diverse mix of material: slipstream, sci fi and even, gasp, a fair amount of mainstream fiction.

That’s part of my problem (if you want to call it that): my writing doesn’t fit comfortably into any niche. I draw hope and inspiration from people like Paul Auster, Steve Erickson, Jonathan Carroll, Nicholas Christopher, Cormac McCarthy and Jonathan Lethem, authors unafraid to cross boundaries, refusing to be limited or constrained by genre conventions. I consider myself a literary writer and anthology appearances with the likes of Graham Swift, A.S. Byatt, Umberto Eco and Louis De Bernieres shows my fiction holds up well with the best authors anywhere.

These selections represent three decades of putting pen to paper. Read on

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In late 2014 I reissued my first short story collection, Sex & Other Acts of the Imagination, originally published back in 1990, with a new Introduction, story notes and cover art by yours truly. This is the book that really got things rolling for me, garnering critical praise and drawing the attention of folks like Timothy Findley. There are nineteen stories in all, chilling fare for fans of psychological suspense, dark fantasy and horror. Here’s a sampling of some of the tales:

The Strange Music

The Cattletruck

Teenage Wasteland

* * * * *

Still not enough? Here’s more of my short fiction, new stuff and old: 

“Among the Invisibles” A day in the life of Little Po, a street urchin scratching out a meager existence in an unnamed urban war zone. A product of automatic writing, my pen moving across the page with no advance planning or preparation. A tale from the perspective of someone barely clinging to existence, his fate all but determined from the moment of his birth.

Click here for free download of Among the Invisibles

“Daughter

In my opinion, this is my best short story. It originally appeared in Crimewave IV (UK) and was aired on CBC Radio.  One of the most terrifying tales you’re ever likely to read…and yet there are no vampires, zombies or werewolves in evidence.  These monsters wear human faces.  Read on:

daughter.pdf

“Finding Charlotte” features two characters from my supernatural thriller So Dark the Night. It’s a Christmas, story, shweetheart, a case from the early days of the Cassandra Zinnea/Evgeny Nightstalk partnership. A missing girl, two distraught parents…but there’s more to this affair than first meets the eye…

Finding Charlotte

“Bedeviled” was written in April, 2010.  Inspired by real-life crimes committed by people who were clearly delusional…as well as the Roland Topor novel (adapted into a brilliant 1977 film by Roman Polanski), THE TENANT.   A scary and, I think, authentic depiction of a human being whose brain operates differently from ours’…but that doesn’t make him a monster.  Click on the link and you’ll find out what I mean:

Bedeviled

“Death Threats” I admit it, I love this story.  Non-genre, just a straight ahead work of literary fiction.  A real melancholy feel to this one, with a conclusion that will break your heart.  Download it…and enjoy.

Death Threats

“New World Man”–selected by Jonathan Gates (Goldmann Publishing) as one of the 20 All-Time Best Science Fiction Stories.  Well, anyway, it’s a good tale and a cautionary look at a near future world.  I call it “the last cyberpunk story” and once you finish it, I think you’ll know why.  The story is also a big tip o’ the hat to one of my literary heroes, Philip K. Dick.  This one is for you, Phil…

Click here to for your free download of “NewWorldMan

“Also Starring” leads off my Reality Machine collection and earned that coveted position because…well, because it’s a terrific fucking short story.  Film buffs will love it and fans of the surreal and macabre will recognize its twisted appeal.  “Also Starring” appeared in a number of major anthologies, including The Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror and City Dreams.

Click here for your free download of “AlsoStarring

In Dreams, Awake“–another one from my Reality Machine collection and as the jacket copy on this one read: “The end of the world finally happens…but everyone sleeps right through it“.  Couldn’t have said it any better than that.

Click here for your free download of  InDreams

“Matriarchy” is, to put it simply, the best short story I’ve written in a long while. A mainstream offering of grieving, loss…and revenge. From the summer of 2007. Enjoy…

matriarchy.pdf 

“Adult Children”, another mainstream story, deals with Herman, an essentially decent man, who is forced to act as a kind of surrogate parent for his mentally ill mother. I love this modest, little tale and I hope you will too.

Adult Children

“Surrealist World”

An homage to Andre Breton and the gang. On Spec published this one.

surreal1.pdf

“Printed Matter”

Dedicated to my friend Mark Ziesing, bookseller extraordinaire.

printed.pdf

eyes“Eyes in the Sky” has an intriguing premise:  what if the atom bomb was a bust, the Space Age never happened and both superpowers had to find other, less conventional methods of keeping track of each other?  A daring and spooky alternate history, a possible past that might have been.  Below, you’ll find an excerpt of the 10,000 word novelette…if you’d like to read the tale in its entirety, you’ll have to seek it out on Amazon, I’m afraid.  Or pick up a copy of my next short story collection, which should be out December, 2012.  (That is, if the Mayan calendar has it wrong…)

“Eyes in the Sky” excerpt

or buy the entire novelette from Amazon

“Partners”

Dedicated to my friend, Stacey Shannon.

partners.pdf

“Strays”

I don’t have exact figures but I’m almost certain “Strays” is my most-rejected story of all time. It wasonspec.jpeg written as an homage to my hero Cormac McCarthy, taking the piss out of the old boy. This is a Western, of sorts, and a satire. Peter Watts, fine fellow and superb writer, gives a very funny account of the reception “Strays” received when it was submitted to ON SPEC magazine and the origins of the Cliff Burns Memorial Veto Bomb. I’ve provided a link to his site–so have a look and then come back and read the story to see what all the fuss was about.

Peter Watts’ blog

strays.pdf

 

Drama & Radio Plays

“The Break:  10 The Hard Way”—ten dramatic monologues on the theme of breaking up.  Written a number of years back; performed at the Refinery Theatre in Saskatoon with Josh Beaudry starring.  Portions were also aired on CBC Radio’s “Sound XChange”, produced by Kelley Jo Burke.

Click here for your free PDF copy of  The Break

And…here’s the extended version of my radio play “The First Room”, which aired nationally on CBC Radio’s OutFront program a few years ago. A highly personal look at “one writer’s beginnings” (with apologies to Eudora Welty).

Intense, confessional, cathartic…and I hope this short drama will offer some insights into why I write like I do…and a quick glance behind the Wizard’s concealing curtain.

Click here for your free PDF copy of  First Room

Poetry & Prose Poems

That First, Wound-Bearing Layer

While suffering through a lengthy writer’s block, I came across the surrealist notion of “automatic writing”, just putting your pen to paper without pre-planning, bypassing the critical part of the mind and plugging directly into the un/subconscious. What happened next was astonishing and somewhat unnerving.  Words, sentences, stanzas erupted out of nowhere.  This chapbook was originally published by a tiny Canadian press (Greensleeve Editions) back in 1992. I’ve done a few touchups but this version is almost identical to the original.  Take a look:

Click here to get your free PDF copy…Wound-Bearing Layer

primitiveGenuinely Inspired Primitive

Originally published by a small U.S. press in 1993.  The title is derived from a review I read that used just those words to describe Neil Young’s guitar playing technique.  Zang!  Perfect!  The prose bits in Primitive tend to be longer than those in Wound-Bearing Layer, still highly personal, intense, surreal.  Short, sharp shocks. There’s humor but it’s dark–have to admit reading these two early chapbooks is troubling, even for their author. At times, it’s hard not to avert my eyes.  There’s a lot of me in these prose poems and often I don’t like what I see.  Some of these offerings are twenty years old now so, obviously, I’m not the same person.  But I’m still prone to some of the fears and insecurities so starkly presented here. I regret that this format doesn’t allow me to reprint the collage-style illustrations Sherron created for the book.  But at least you’ll have a reproduction of her original cover. Working with her is always a delight; she’s artful and intuitive, the best possible collaborator you could ask for.

Click here to get your free PDF copy…Primitive

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

I’m not a great poet or even a good one…but I’m pretty good and that will have to suffice. Apocalyptic, filled with dread and fury and yearning, my poetry is the most personal of all my writings. I rarely submit it for publication and when I do, the responses I receive range from indifference to bafflement. The editor of one major Canadian litmag wrote that “while the writing is very good, I didn’t understand your poetry”. Yet another reason why I think most editors and publishers should be fed, feet-first, into a wood-chipper.

violins in the void is my first poetry collection, originally published through my Black Dog Press imprint back in 1996.  I limited the print run to 200 and was astonished at how quickly copies were snapped up. Ten years worth of verse, distilled down to about seventy pages. The concluding section features some of my favorite prose poems. Most of these works were composed while we were living on Baffin Island, in the Canadian Arctic.  I was a new father, living in one of the ugliest, most barren locales imaginable.  The mood was bleak…and it shows.

Click here to get your free PDF copy…Violins in the Void

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24 comments

  1. Donna DesRoches

    Great blog! In such a short time… I like the look, the name and the way you have designed your pages. I love the ‘Spleen’ section… and the tag ‘opinions and rants’. Already there is a wealth of material and I look forward to a reading frenzy.

  2. El Condor

    Reposting (the sinister AI does not want to receive my comments.)
    Last week I plucked up the courage to read ‘Strays’ and found myself highly entertained and laughing out loud in parts. (i am keeping my comments carefully vague to avoid spoiling the story). Truly there is little here to offend even the most meagre of literary minds, so the On Spec incident (and the story’s multitudinous rejections) is boggling. In fact I thought Cliff took it easy on the palpitative weak hearts of editors, in order to fashion a Satire that works and is publishable. [Editors! look up ‘satire’ in the dictionary. and even if the story is read as ‘straight’ it is inoffensive since there is obvious sympathy with the herd… come on now.]
    Warning: while the Peter Watts blog is a hilarious and redemptive account (for the memorial creation) of the trials and tribulations of “Strays” and Cliff, be forewarned that it does contain a spoiler to the story…
    I humbly suggest directing readers to the story first, then the Watts blog; though admittedly Watts’ tale does pique the curiosity. Or else advise us that there is a spoiler. In either case this does not detract from enjoying the story and i hope “Strays” gets its day in print (if not already? any updates?).

  3. Andre van der Merwe

    “Strays”, to this un-well-read reader stands on its own feet very in the company of vague memories of O Henry, Somerset Maugham and Checkhov from my short-story-reading heyday 30 years ago, and even appears to reside in that universal transcendent no-man’s land of timeless “shocking” satire occuipied by movies like “The Cook, the Thief, his Wife and her Lover” and some offerings of Sam Peckinpah and Quentin Tarantino, to my mind.

    The story frightens me because it lays bare my own likenesses to some of its least likeable characters. They become archetypes of my own deep brokenness and rot , by the end of the story.

    Come on, guys! Give me a break!

    And yes, this is great art because it is transcendent and universal and true.

  4. Michael Kelly

    Cliff,

    Greetings from a fellow Canuck. Nice to see you online. I fondly remember your tale “Cattletruck.” I’ll check out the rest of the tales here once I’ve a free moment.

    Take care.

    -Mike

  5. Heather S. Ingemar

    Hello Cliff,

    Thank you for taking the time to comment on my blog. I responded to your post (it ended up rather lengthy, otherwise I’d have posted it here! Hehe) on the page.

    Thanks again.
    All the best,
    Heather S. Ingemar

  6. Brandon Berntson

    Cliff:

    Can’t find for some reason where I posted before. Sometimes, I do go blind. Just finished Invisible Boy. Like it quite it a bit. Each story makes me want me to come back. I really liked this one. I wanted to kill Sal. I hated her for the way she was treating Jeff, and I wanted to strangle her, then the end came, and bam! Once again, a great ending. Eerie, creepy, perfect. Love it. Good read.
    Brandon
    http://www.bloodredtales.com

  7. 1979semifinalist

    Cliff:

    read a couple of your stories (Daughter and Adult Children). very nice. i particularly enjoyed Daughter. really well done. i’ll have to come back when i’m not supposed to be working and read the rest.

    it’s frustrating to read on your site the rejection for your pieces. this is a world i am fairly new to and i already kind of despise it, however, hearing that it happens to everyone, and to many good pieces many times before acceptance comes is at least some small comfort. good luck to you.

    kelly

  8. birgit

    Cliff, Adult Children was a most enjoyable read. Goddammit I’d love to read a whole book of these stories. It’s great that you have a place to “publish” your work for all of us to read but a bleedin’ shame its not bound and standing on the shelf. Keep ’em coming.

    Laird

  9. Margo Lukas

    Just read your excerpt from “So Dark the Night”. I liked it from the start. Not too many stories that compare a character to Max Schreck. From the comments sounds like “Daughter” should be my next read.

    Best wishes for you and your writing.
    ~Margo

  10. Michele

    Thanks for taking the time to comment on my blog.

    I just read a portion of “Daughter” and “Adult Children”. Wow. Both grabbed me in the first few lines. Can’t wait till after-work-thirty when I can read the rest.

    A new fan from Texas, Michele Bernard

  11. Bianco Jade

    Hi, I just popped over to take a gander at your blog, it’s so nice to finally meet another writer. I can’t wait to start reading your novel series posting thingy. The excerpt was indeed compelling. Thanks for stopping by my blog and leaving a comment.

    Bianco Jade

  12. dfrucci

    Thanks for the comment about the Harper’s article. by the way, you’ve got a fair share of stories! I’m going to start reading them,

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  15. auroramorealist

    Hi, Cliff,
    Thanks for visiting my pages. I just read “Daughter” and OMG. That ending was so emotionally intense, I can’t get it out of my head now! I want to look for her, find her myself now but I have to get some other things done before the sun sets. Definitely adding you to favorites so I can visit again when I have more time. Thank you for sharing your work with us :)

  16. Cliff Burns

    “Daughter”. Boy, I love that story.

    That one arrived out of the blue and fully formed. Only took three or four drafts to nail it down (a miracle, as far as I’m concerned). That happens so rarely for me but I knew I had something with “Daughter”. My body was tingling as I scrawled out the first draft. Could barely keep up with the flow of words, arriving without pause or interruption. Definitely the result of a collaboration with a higher power.

    So pleased that you liked it, honored that you stopped by.

  17. Lena Konakhina

    Hello Cliff,
    Read Russian translation of your Invisible Boy, made by Yury Sabinin.
    Want to say that this is a really talented, vivid and impressive job of translation. Yury conveyed the tonality of your narration very well, trying to reproduce the feeling of it, listening more to his inner tuning fork to gauge how it should sound in Russian, trying to retain Ray’s manner to express himself, rather than just looking for the best linguistic equivalent to your text in another language. And despite a couple of tiny imperfections, I can say – this is a very good Russian version of your story.
    Thank you, Cliff. Thank you, Yury. This is a treat read.
    Lena

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