Why didn’t I tag along (you ask, impudently)?
Because my mind isn’t ready for a vacation right now. Matter of fact, for some reason summer is the time of year when my Muse really puts the pedal to the metal. A good number of my novels and best short stories were drafted during the months of June-August. Maybe a hormonal thing, who knows? So, while everyone else is outside, barbequing or going to the lake, renting a cottage, enjoying yourselves, you’ll find me in my sweltering 10′ X 12′ home office, my door open, the fan on high to make the environment livable as I toil away on some literary project.
This year is no exception. My western novel, The Last Hunt, devours much of my time. I’m supposed to be taking a break from it at the moment but I can’t help poking my nose in, doing more research, scribbling notes, conceiving questions for some of the historians who have generously offered to lend a hand with the scenes set in Yellowstone Park. They’ll provide me with historical background, period detail and invaluable advice and input (and God bless ’em). I’ll be visiting that region of Montana later this summer, doing some on the spot scouting and location hunting. It will be my first trip of any significance in a long time (I blush to say how long). This borderline agoraphobic workaholic is trembling at the notion of being away from my desk for any length of time but I am utterly convinced of the necessity of this trip. It will better establish the mood and setting of The Last Hunt and add some of the authenticity I think the present draft is lacking.
But I must confess I have another reason for remaining home. It isn’t often I get the house to myself for days at a stretch and on those rare occasions that I do…well, I like to take full advantage of it. I play loud music, from the time I get up to the wee hours of the morning. I keep the windows shut, the drapes drawn and for one or two days I let myself go. Stalk about in my bathrobe, unshaven, neglecting the laundry, neglecting to eat properly, neglecting to answer the phone or interact with the outside world.
It’s glorious and terrifying and, ultimately, beneficial.
I sit in my office, staring at my slippers while The Vandelles, A Place to Bury Strangers, The Replacements, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, etc. thunder from overhead speakers, loud enough to force me further back in my chair. Lately, I like my music hard and dirty, a la the Vandelles’ “Lovely Weather” (crank it up!).
Meanwhile, I’m doing a good deal of scribbling—journaling and spontaneous or “automatic” writing like the Surrealists used to champion. These writings represent Rorschach Tests and they give a pretty good idea of what’s on my mind, the preoccupations and fears dogging me. Plenty of speculations on the spiritual front—I keep that up, I’m liable to end up with a gazillion page Exegesis, similar to Philip K. Dick. And will likely be considered just as loony, should anyone happen to stumble across these errant, inexpert ramblings on God, the nature of reality and my own pitiful existence.
These writing exercises often trigger intervals of hellish introspection, long hours spent reviewing past sins and ruminating over the sorry state of my literary career, even after a quarter century of putting words on paper. The mental boo birds come out and I subject myself to a great deal of vitriol before the nattering voices either subside, wear themselves out or are chastened by a very Bugs Bunny-like snarl originating from the depths of my id:
I have trouble sleeping when my family’s away, find the nights hard to endure. I kill time by staying up and watching a double or triple header of movies. Guy flicks and guilty pleasures; science fiction and thrillers given precedence. This time around I’ve set aside flicks like “Michael Clayton”, “All the President’s Men”, “The Searchers”, “Shadow of the Vampire”, “The Bad Lieutenant”. Nothing too crazy, re: anything by Ken Russell or (shudder) “Eraserhead”.
And for reading material, Terence McKenna’s The Archaic Revival and Graham Hancock’s Supernatural. Far-fetched stuff? Pseudo-science? To me, what these lads propose is nowhere near as crazy as some of the notions held by billions of people of all faiths around the world. I am intrigued by what triggered that “monolith moment”, when our kind first opened their eyes to the possibility and mystery of the world and took a crucial evolutionary step, moving further away from their humble origins and toward a spectacular destiny. This transformation coincided with the earliest cave art and the enactment of burial rituals, a species awakening to the existence of other realms and principalities.
Mebbe Bill Hicks is right and a certain humble fungus, naturally occurring, is responsible. I guess we’d need a time machine to find out for sure. Intriguing thought, though…
I suppose when all is said and done, my time alone is therapeutic, cathartic. I miss out on a chance to hang out with good folks, do some boating and fishing in some of the most gorgeous scenery this country has to offer. But the soul-searching, self-Inquisition and psychic ass-kicking blows off steam, relieves the accumulated pressures that accompany the creative life. In my solitude, I can confront my demons and it’s a no-holds-barred, no quarter given bloodbath. It’s not pleasant but it is necessary. All part of the ongoing struggle to define myself as an artist, to better delineate the precepts and ideals I live by, requiring me to identify aspects within me that are working against those higher purposes and undermining my essential faith in the worthiness of my endeavors. Demons, indeed, with hideous countenances, avid, savage expressions and appetites. They are the worst parts of me and during the next few days I shall brawl, joust and treat with them, in the end probably settling for another draw, a few more months of relative peace on the emotional/spiritual front.
You say that’s not much of a bargain but, then, clearly your demons aren’t nearly as unreasonable, their intentions not as deliberately malign.
For that, count yourself lucky.
You are very fortunate indeed.
Photos by Sherron Burns
I’ve been working, what else?
Plowing my way through Of the Night, polishing a bit here, snipping a word or two there, prepping the manuscript to send off to the printer by the first week of October. Which means I’ll have achieved my goal and published two books this year. I thought it was important to do something, well, special to mark my 25th anniversary as a pro writer and getting my two “Ilium” novels out to readers and fans in the same calendar year seemed like just the thing to do. It’s been crazy hectic, frustrating and maddening…but it looks like we’re going to manage it.
Of the Night is a far shorter novel than So Dark the Night—I like to call So Dark my “A” movie and Of the Night my “B” picture. One is a bigger, bolder project, the other smaller and more modest. But I love ’em both and you will too. We’ll be using Adrian Donoghue’s cover art for Of the Night and Chris Kent (as far as I know) will be designing the look of the book once again. We’ll have it out in time for Christmas and the novel will likely retail in the $10-11 region. There will be further progress reports so keep checking in periodically for more details.
Wild summer here in Saskatchewan, the weather verging on freaky. Rain, rain, rain. We have an old house and a basement with a stone foundation so I’ve had a fan running constantly downstairs because of the damp seeping in from outside, the surrounding soil saturated. I have several hundred books down there, my boys have a TV and their XBox set up so they can have their own little space. Must work to keep the area habitable, no killer mould growing in the walls, etc. The lousy weather has made it abundantly clear the roof tiles and eaves need replacing, the trees trimming back (again); yikes, when I think about the pending expense, it makes me wanna cry.
Ah, well, we’ll get by. Somehow. We always do. Just when I think we’re going under, some respite arrives in the nick of time. But there are some periods, nerve-stretching intervals, when things look pretty bleak and occasionally I am brought face-to-face with the very real risks and terrors that accompany life as a full-time independent writer and publisher. I’m 46…is life ever going to get easier, will there be some kind of reward waiting at the end of the rainbow? Or just a tarnished piss pot?
“Theirs not to reason why…” and all that. Thanks, Alfie, but all those guys died, as I recall.
Hasn’t been much time to kick back and indulge in my other passions: films and reading. Watched a few cool flicks like Samuel Fuller’s “Shock Corridor” and “Pickup on South Street”, two Herzog efforts (“Grizzly Man” and “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans”) and Robert Bresson’s “Pickpocket” but not too many more. And I haven’t yet gotten around to reviewing those few movies I have watched for my film blog. Sigh.
As for reading, I’ve just finished Michael Palin’s Diaries (1969-79) and I’ve completed almost all of Denton Welch’s books, marveling at what a magnificent writer he was (no wonder William Burroughs revered him). Presently absorbed by Charles Simic’s The Monster Loves His Labyrinth, which is composed of entries from his writer’s notebook(s). Wonderful, wonderful stuff. If you haven’t read any Simic, rush out and find some.
Lots of music playing while I work—some ambient stations I found on ITunes, as well as albums like The Brian Jonestown Massacre’s “Who Killed Sergeant Pepper”, the definitive Joy Division compilation, “Heart & Soul”; old favorites like Interpol and Elbow and Black Rebel Motorcycle are always on hand to get me revved up. Soundtracks (“The Thin Red Line” and “The Fountain”) to give me mood music to write to.
That’s enough for now. I have to get back to, y’know, editing. Of the Night awaits my full attention.
In the meantime, why not take a few minutes to browse through this site, check out some of the stories, essays, excerpts, spoken word and music I’ve posted here over the past 3+ years? All of it FREE to read and download. Honest. No strings attached.
C’mon, whaddaya say? You wanna hang out for awhile?
Great, make yourself at home.
If you need me, I’ll be upstairs, first door on the left…
Equilibrium and tranquility have been restored to my life, the pleasant, assuring illusion of balance and order.
All hail the return of my Yamaha GX-500 mini component stereo! This office has been as quiet as an Amish disco for the past month, owing to a malfunction involving my usually reliable Yamaha unit. We took it in to Saskatoon and Chris, a service guy at Audio Warehouse, had a look at it but his initial prognosis was grim.
Sure enough, when he called me at home later in the week, the news wasn’t good. The required part wasn’t available, the system no longer in production (it was nine years old, after all), Chris gave me the part number and I spent one entire morning on-line, trying to track something down. Finally came across a place in New York that was selling exactly what I needed, a traverse deck for a Yamaha GX-500. But in the midst of finalizing the sale, we ran into a slight snag: the company didn’t ship to Canada.
Now, there was no freakin’ way I was giving up on that part, not when I had it in my claw-like grasp. Then I remembered my pal Mark in southern California and gave the operator his address, charging every thing to my VISA. They ship the part to Mark, he ships it to me. Might take a little while longer but at least I’ll have the part and my troubles will be over. Music, that universal language, will once again play on…
Ah. Or so I thought. The part shows up, I get it into Chris at Audio Warehouse…the deck still won’t work. At that point I utter one or two unpleasant words, growls of frustration more than anything else. Chris promises to do what he can but I can tell he isn’t holding out much hope.
What the hell, I decide, go for broke. When I get home, I compose a two page letter to Yamaha Canada and fax it to their head office in Toronto. I suppose at that point I could’ve gritted my teeth and bought a new system but part of me resisted that kind of thinking. It’s this weird culture we live in, where everything is disposable and replaceable and upgradeable. Where getting something fixed costs so much you might as well buy it new. Call it my curmudgeonly streak. My wife says it’s just that I’m cheap.
I didn’t expect a response to my letter but at that point I had gone more than two weeks without music in my office and wasn’t thinking too clearly. I was astonished when I received a call from a very personable fellow from Yamaha h.q. (yo, Matt!), who said he’d do what he could to help effect repairs on my unit. No promises, just an (apparently) sincere promise to try.
I guess somebody at Yamaha called Chris and they were able to dig up a crucial part that finally cleared up the bug…and now my beloved Yamaha unit is back where it belongs, blaring out a cut from the latest in Dylan’s “bootleg” series.
Special citations of merit and resounding huzzahs to Chris (Audio Warehouse), Mark Miller, Matt and the folks at Yamaha Canada for providing exemplary service and/or lending a helping hand. Thanks, folks!
Having music again has inspired a fresh outburst of creativity, granting me the state of mind necessary to leave Earth Prime, contemplate and create vast, new universes of my own. It’s remarkable the effect music has on me, my work; it accompanies every word, every comma I commit to paper.
So what’s on the turntable these days? Turntable? Jesus, when was the last time I had one of those? Really dating myself, aren’t I? Turntable…
Okay, okay, what on the playlist then, what’s on heavy rotation here at Radio Free Albemuth circa the end of November, 2008:
M83: Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts. Shoegazer music? Ambient? Dunno what you call it but it sure is fuckin’ great to work to.
The Clash: Just about everything in their discography. London Calling still resonates across the years.
Jesus & Mary Chain: before BRMC there were the naughty-not-nice Reid Brothers. Psychocandy and The Sound of Speed have been making my walls rattle. Sometimes I wonder how this old house stands the strain.
Two Cow Garage: ordered one of their disks after reading about them on PopMatters.com. One of those whims that turns out to be serendipitous. Three is a delight and let me draw your attention to one track in particular, “Should’ve California”. What do you call it? Southern rock? Alt country? How about: great fuckin’ music…
Metallica: Ride the Lightning and their latest, Rick Rubin-produced effort, Death Magnetic, which at least sports some decent licks. But the lads have a long way to go before they recapture the power and greatness of those first four or five albums. Not sure they have it in them any more.
Explosions in the Sky: currently my favorite music to write to. All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone and The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place are melodic, epic, suggestive, multi-layered and thoroughly evocative.
Muse: fans of Radiohead will find much to like here. I found the self-titled 2003 disk in a discount bin; a stroke of pure good fortune. Looking forward to nabbing Black Holes & Revelations in the near future.
Interpol: Yeah, I know I’ve raved about these guys before but I think I have pretty much everything they’ve released and, no shit, this is one of the best bands kicking around these days. Grab anything you can by Interpol, they’re as good as it gets.
Grandaddy: eccentric, unique, too good to last. They released a few albums, could never seem to break through and finally called it quits. Too bad; their disks are, each one of them, original, funny, wise and personal.
Other music that has been serenading my ears of late: The Eels (Shootenanny), The Brian Jonestown Massacre (BraveryRepetitionAndNoise), Jimmy Eat World (Chase This Light), Air (Pocket Symphony), Mogwai, Modest Mouse…
Crazy, eclectic shit, as always.
And…coming up December 1st, music of the live and in person kind. Driving in to Saskatoon with Laird to see Nine Inch Nails at the Credit Union Centre. Whoo hoo! We’re talking about an evening of fine entertainment. Every time I think about it, I get a surge of anticipation—hopefully Trent will be in fine fettle.
Playing a lot of NIN stuff lately too, natch. Really grooving to With Teeth. And there are two fantastic instrumental cuts on The Slip (“Corona Radiata” & “The Four of Us Are Dying”) that I’ve played any number of times. Beautiful stuff, hardly the sort of tunes one would associate with “Mr. Self Destruct”. The Slip was released through Reznor’s on-line label; it is the kind of fine, unclassifiable music eschewed by corporate types. Cutting his ties with record companies, becoming an independent musician, has made T.R. a more well-rounded and far-reaching artist. The Slip is an exceptional piece of work.
Sounds fucking great coming out of those cherrywood Yamaha speakers too. I’m grinning again. I can’t help it. I can barely hear myself think with Dylan’s raunchy live version of “Cocaine Blues” thundering away overhead.
And so now back to work: researching, jotting down lots of notes, photocopying, gradually immersing myself in the warped world of my new novel. But it all starts with music, a soundtrack that precedes what is to come. The overture. To set the mood and “open wide the mind’s cage-door” (Keats)…
No argument. The hours I was putting in, working for weeks on end without a break, shut away in my office, tapping and scribbling like a maniac, was incredibly stupid and detrimental to my health. I was definitely feeling the strain by the time I wrapped up rewrites on Of the Night. Lots of shoulder and back pain but also a sense of being artistically and spiritually drained. The tank right on “E”.
The only problem is, what does an anal retentive obsessive compulsive workaholic do when he has time off?
Answer: he doesn’t take time off.
Oh, I know it’s ridiculous, completely irresponsible but I can’t stop myself. I promised Sherron, swore high and low that I would start thinking of my health first. I’m forty-five years old in October and my family has a long history of heart disease. Not a lot of 90-year olds on either side, if ya know what I mean. It’s time to start devoting more thought to maintaining a healthier lifestyle, a better mindset.
Stress is a killer and I’ve got it bad. Always trying so fucking hard to meet the high standards and expectations I place on myself, pushing myself to get better, improve as a craftsman and artist. I don’t want to write like everybody else, I want my own, unique take on reality, unfiltered and with the bark on. No compromises, no pandering…no exceptions.
My promise to Sherron was honestly made but I think it will be hard to observe “in the breech”, as it were. Habit draws me to my office first thing every morning. It’s directly across from our bedroom and as soon as I’m awake and mobile, I wander in, check out the state of my desk, shuffle papers about…or just stand in the middle of the room, revving up for the day.
I’ve tried to take it easy but over the last couple of weeks I’ve reorganized my office, caught up on paperwork, starting planning my next major project and spent long hours on-line, promoting this blog and flogging my novels So Dark the Night and Of the Night to whoever might be interested. I’ve sent notices to horror sites, science fiction sites, occult sites, paranormal romance sites—if I’ve missed anybody, I dunno who it might be.
And I’ve also somehow managed to find the time to write a twenty minute radio play, “The First Room”. Very intense and personal. Kelley Jo Burke, producer at CBC Radio, dubbed it “Portrait of the Artist as an Abused Young Man” and I think she’s bang on.
What’s wrong with me, why can’t I take a week, a solid week and do nothing more than lounge about in my bathrobe, watching old Bunuel movies and reading fat science fiction tomes?
Well…like Graham Green I am afflicted by boredom. Bedevilled is more like it. He claimed it sometimes reduced him to suicidal thoughts and I can empathize. My brain can’t stand being idle. Even when I’m watching movies I keep a notepad close at hand so I can scribble down good lines or salient plot points, often writing up a short review of the film later on. Why? To what purpose? Because I must analyze, dissect, critically assess. Same with books. I’m on my third book journal, hundreds of reviews no one will ever read. I take great pains with my critiques, have developed a strict rating system…again, why?
Because unlike Sherlock Holmes I don’t have a 7% solution of cocaine to ease me through fallow periods. There’s only my work. It is my purpose, the reason I was put here on earth; it is an essential, irreducible part of my identity:
“Most of us develop and mature primarily through interaction with others. Our passage through life is defined by our roles relative to others; as child, adolescent, spouse, parent and grandparent. The artist or philosopher is able to mature primarily on his own. His passage through life is defined by the changing nature and increasing maturity of his work, rather than by his relations with others.”
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Thanks to one and all for reading and/or downloading my novels over the past few months. I’m encouraged by the number of people popping in, a steady growth in visits as word spreads throughout cyberspace.
This blog has been a godsend to yers truly and has finally granted me the direct connection to readers I’ve been seeking for ages. Back in 1990 I self-published my first book, Sex & Other Acts of the Imagination. It was the product of desperation, a Hail Mary pass that somehow resulted in a game-winning score. The print run sold out in less than five months and the book went on to garner good reviews and excellent word of mouth. Readers loved it and cling tenaciously to their copies—just try to find one available for sale anywhere. It is well-nigh impossible to lay your hands on a copy (believe me, I’ve looked on behalf of friends and a treasured relative who lost hers in a house fire).
The success of Sex convinced my that my future lay outside of corporate publishing and marketing and nothing I’ve experienced in the nearly two decades that have elapsed since has convinced me otherwise. Thanks to the internet, I now have the ability to get my work out there and anyone, regardless of their physical location, has access to it. I’ve got readers in the Philipines, India, Vietnam, Australia…
That still takes my breath away.
The indie musicians showed me the way. I watched people like Ani Defranco seize control of their careers and message and I was inspired…if somewhat slow off the take. Writers, as a rule, are a lot more conservative and stodgy than their colleagues in other disciplines. I don’t know how many aspiring scribblers have responded to postings I’ve made on LibraryThing forums and elsewhere, pooh-poohing the notion of publishing their work on-line because they need the reassurance of an actual physical book, it gives them some kind of affirmation or some fucking thing. This past week we were in Saskatoon shopping for back-to-school stuff and we stopped by a gaming place my kids like to frequent. Its shelves are overflowing with Forgotten Realms books and all kinds of novelizations based on Dungeons and Dragons and what have you. The most dreadful, awful, amateurish tripe you can imagine.
Those are real books: does the fact that they exist as “dead tree editions” give those writers, as execrable as they are, more credibility than me? Are hacks like Margaret Weis, T.H. Lain and D.J. Heinrich superior to me because TSR et all churn out their shite by the truckload to gamers with the reading skills and mental age of an elementary school child?
I dunno, what do you think…
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* We’re still working on the podcast of excerpts from So Dark the Night. Figuring out the technology has been a real learning experience for Sherron. I won’t go near the stuff, I’d fly into a rage and boot the computer desk across the room. We’ve tried loading it on iTunes a couple of times but apparently we need an RSS feed and…aaaaaugghh!
* This summer I have gone to a spa and endured a massage at the hands of someone other than my wife. I know. I’m having a hard time believing it myself. What next? Crystals? Scientology? Membership in Opus Dei?
* No news re: the movie version of my novel “Kept”. I’ve heard rumbles of a summer/fall, 2009 release but that’s only speculation. Stay tuned.
* Lots of good music playing lately…until the much-beloved Yamaha stereo in my office conked out. I’ve been bopping through the latter part of summer with Bob Mould’s “Body of Song” album, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s “Baby 81”, Interpol’s “Antics”, Elbow’s “Leaders of the Free World”…as well as Trent Reznor’s double ambient album and a wonderful instrumental disk titled “The Last Drive-In” by Jo Gabriel. Fantastic to write to—thanks for sending it, Jo, and get well soon!