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.
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.
You are the tumult my life requires
out-witting dull routine, monkey-wrenching the works
keeping us ageless despite the slow accumulation of years
possessed by wonder, intimations of a higher power
concealed in the metronomic regularity
of the tides that stranded us here
I think tonight I’ll be selfish,
refusing to disclose the shameful
extent of my passion, withholding
from you those sentiments I
normally share in this context
like a box of buttered popcorn,
except at the moment I find I’m
lonelier than usual, than I should
be, feeling the need to hoard
everything we are, keeping us
all to myself.
© Cliff Burns (All Rights Reserved)
(Click on image to enlarge)
For ordering info, visit my Bookstore.
Why, it’s the cover art for the next release from Black Dog Press, my New & Selected Poems. Our pal Chris Kent concocted it in a fit of creativity that would’ve made Chip Kidd swoon. I was quite vague in my directions to Chris this time around. I wanted a minimalist cover, two blocks of color, no blurbs, no jacket copy beyond the title and author’s name. The colors couldn’t be garish but nothing neutral either (that must have been a head-scratcher). I supplied him with a photo taken in one of my jaunts and asked if it could somehow be incorporated.
Chris managed to decipher my thoroughly unhelpful suggestions and produce a cover that is dignified, restrained and gorgeous.
Another winner from the big man. Did he do a killer job or what?
I’ll have the interior (text) files off to my pal Daniel at Scribe Freelance in the next twenty-four hours…so I think it’s safe to say that New & Selected Poems will make its appearance somewhere around mid-July.
I have decided that, at least for the time being, my poetry collection will be offered in print form only. You heard right: no Kindle or e-book. To me, my book is an artifact, a throwback to another time when, to paraphrase Samuel Johnson, “the chief glory of every people arose from its authors”, an epoch when the printed word wasn’t used as a sanitary napkin by the likes of E.L. James and Stephenie Meyer.
If authors are no longer held in high esteem, then poets have fallen even farther. A great art form reduced to doggerel, greeting card sentiments and self-indulgent incontinence. Poetry used to be the conscience of civilization; now it is nothing more than tuneless Muzak.
My poetry comes from a special place and demands a lot from me, taking a personal toll while pushing me to my limits as a writer, insisting on exactly the right word, a certain, precise cadence. There’s no room for error in verse, each and every beat must be accounted for and a tin ear is quickly exposed. Courage is mandatory, a willingness to work without a net. It has a special status in my heart and soul and deserves special treatment.
There are something like 100 poems in this volume—that’s drawn from over 25 years of work. My selection process has been ruthless and, as a result, I think New & Selected Poems features my very best work, a roster of poems that are personal, shrapnel sharp and utterly merciless.
Make sure you browse the sample on my Scribd page…and if you like what you see, you’ll be able to order your personal copy next month. Watch for updates.
It will be available through this site (if you’re looking for signed copies), Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Powell’s…all the usual suspects.
Coming soon…and I’m as excited as an expectant father can be. Pacing ruts in the carpet, eying the clock, constantly patting my breast pocket, making sure the cigars are still there…
A flurry of activity around here, finishing projects and scheming new ones and, meanwhile, trying not to over-do it on the work front. That means maintaining a regular regimen of stretching, getting out of the house at least once every day for a walkabout, even if it’s only to the library and back. That also means reading more and trying to familiarize myself with this notion of “relaxing”. Re-lax?
I’ve been devouring lots of memoirs of late, a genre I usually wouldn’t touch with a fully charged cattle prod. But I’m not talking about the recent crop o’ crap—whining, self-indulgent wankfests—I’m referring to stellar efforts by Bernard Cooper and Frederick Exley. Exley’s A Fan’s Notes is an amazingly accomplished and courageous book. Two titles by Daniel Pinchbeck have also impressed, Breaking Open the Head and 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl. I find his ideas and conjectures far more lucid and comprehensible than the late Terence McKenna’s; I predict Monsieur Pinchbeck is gonna be a star. He’ll alter more than a few consciousnesses before he’s through…
I’ve been bringing in lots of hard to find books via interlibrary loans…but, unfortunately, I’ve acquired a rather formidable stack, all of which must be read within a finite, prescribed time limit. No pissing about. Brilliant stuff like Graham Robb’s Parisians, Colson Whitehead’s Sag Harbor, The Great War and Modern Memory (Paul Fussell), The Good Soldier Svejk (Jaroslav Hasek) and an anthology of modern German poetry edited by Michael Hamburger. And more on the way…
Ah, but don’t think I’ve been devoting myself entirely to leisure. Surely you know me better than that.
I have not one but two major projects nearing completion. You heard right.
It’s always bothered me that much of my early work (pre-1997) is out of print. There were a number of limited edition chapbooks produced during that interval (That First, Wound-Bearing Layer and Genuinely Inspired Primitive), poetry (violins in the void)…and none of it is available any more. Sold out. A cursory check on-line tells me that a few enterprising souls are offering these hard-to-find editions at a pretty steep price.
So I’ve spent the last couple of months assembling, culling and editing two short volumes, clocking in at around 115 pages each.
The first, which should be out in mid-July, is New & Selected Poems (1984-2011). Over 25 years of my best verse brought together in one nice, compact tome. These poems are personal and revealing, condensed almost to the point of combustion…I love them but they scare me. I think the short Afterword I’ve provided at the end of the book explains why.
The other volume is a compilation of my short prose pieces and monologues. I’m calling it Stromata and the material it covers dates back to 1992. Stromata will be available the end of August.
The two books are intended to be companion volumes and their design will reflect that. You’ll see what I mean—I’ll upload the covers once our pal Chris Kent has put something together.
Both books will retail around $12 and, no, before you ask, no advance orders. Nothing until I have the first shipment from Lightning Source sitting in my front hallway.
Looking forward to an exciting summer…although I wish this mix of sun and rain we’ve had so far would be replaced by two weeks of hot, dry weather. A real Saskatchewan summer. Ah, well, it’s still early days. Other than the horrendous mosquitoes, last summer was just about perfect. Here’s hoping for lots sun, fun and reading in the months ahead.
See you at the lake.
Remember to bring a good book.
Here are ten poems, excerpted from New & Selected Poems, just posted on my Scribd page. Click on the link and go have a look…
My wife and niece (hey, Brittany!) insisted it was time for me to do more “social networking” (ack! ack!) and I’ve conceded only to the extent of agreeing that they could start a Facebook page dedicated to my work.
If you’re into that sort of thing, here’s a link to the page in question (you’ll also find it on my blogroll).
I’m not the administrator of record, so I’ll be passing along photos, links, updates and rants to my wife, who is much more in tune with what’s going on in cyberspace. Apparently, when it comes to Facebooking (to quote Shakespeare) “brevity is the soul of wit” and I’m to keep my eruptions as short and to the point as possible.
Ah, well, I’ll do my best to be as concise as I am intemperate.
The main thing is not to be boring.
And, I promise, that will never be the case as long as you’re hanging out with me…
The scariest people are the ones inside you.
Extrinsic evil is a myth, the product of media hype.
Invented crime figures conceal the identities of the real perpetrators:
members of the Chamber of Commerce
Upstanding in the community, invulnerable by common consent.
© Copyright, 2012 Cliff Burns (All Rights Reserved)
The other day my wife told me that I still don’t understand how to properly use tools like Twitter and Facebook to network with like-minded folks, in the process publicizing my writing to an ever-widening circle of “friends”.
“How many people are you following? How many blogs?”
And I ruefully had to admit that the number was pretty paltry.
“You see? How do you expect to promote yourself or make more people want to read your books?”
She’s right, of course. On every single count. And I know at first glance it seems like I’m breaking a cardinal rule and not showing proper consideration for men and women who, like me, are trying to communicate the joys and sorrows inherent in the human condition. The experience of being alive, from a variety of perspectives (language, culture and geography be damned).
My problem is time.
I’m a full-time writer. That’s what I do, seven days a week. Seven-thirty in the morning I pour my first cup of coffee, walk upstairs to my home office and check the e-mails that have accumulated overnight. Part of my routine. By then, both my sons are stirring, getting themselves dressed, ready for school. My wife usually leaves for her job around 8:00, my lads head out about 8:40 and I’m alone in the house until mid-afternoon.
Once I finish e-mails, glance at the news, post a couple of things on LibraryThing, I fire on some music and settle down to serious business. There’s always a project on the go, work “in the pipeline”. For the past decade it’s been longer efforts, novels and novellas, and they require enormous concentration, a complete immersion in the worlds they’re portraying.
I’m at it all day, breaking for a (very) quick lunch, maybe run some errands, toss in one or two loads of laundry, satisfy myself that the bathrooms aren’t too septic. Can’t have the people from the Center for Disease Control inspecting us again, imposing another quarantine…
Sometimes Sherron’s job takes her far afield and I have to figure out something for supper (my shepherd’s pie is particularly well-regarded). I catch up with what’s happening with my sons, find out how they’re doing at school, make sure we’re all on the same page. They’re both teenagers and their lives are a whole lot more complicated these days.
After supper, it’s back to the office, finish up for the day, wind things down, answer pressing e-mails, maybe listen to some comedy on BBC4 to help decompress. By then, it might be 8:30 or 9:00 p.m. Shut off the computer, go downstairs, spend some time with my family, watch a movie or TV show (we only have 1 1/2 channels so we usually have to rent boxed sets or borrow them from chums).
And then it’s bedtime.
With that kind of schedule, there isn’t much of a chance to devote even half an hour to keeping up with all the Tweets and updates and latest poop that my various
friends acquaintances might have posted during the course of the day. I’m a writer, but I’m also a full-time dad and husband and my workaholic nature combined with my family obligations just doesn’t leave much wiggle room.
So…cutting to the chase: I’m very sorry if I’m not following your blog or making an effort to reach out more through various forums and social networks. I hope you’ll understand the constraints I’m operating under and realize there are priorities…and only a finite number of hours in the day. If it’s any consolation, I recently cancelled my weekly “StumbleUpon” recommendations because I never had time to glance at them and usually just deleted the message.
Writers write. That’s what I do. That’s basically all I do. No weekends off, no holidays. The wages are lousy, the rewards few. I’m my own boss but can’t conceive of a harsher taskmaster. No relief, no respite.
It’s not much of a life, I’ll warrant you, but it’s the only one I’ve got.
I guess I’d better get used to it.
“Who am I? A stranger here and always…”
William S. Burroughs, Rub Out the Word (Collected Letters 1959-74)
…and so, what the heck, two more recent poems:
The Human Genome Project
They decoded us, then
trademarked the parts.
In green, tended tanks,
suspended in nourishing brine.
Eyes, ears. Kidneys. Small, bobbing cocks:
replacements for factory fittings
ersatz and not nearly as smart.
By Order of the President
Find the reagent
break the spell
There’s still an outside chance
in your secret lab
Pls. advise on yr. progress
time is over and out.
© 2011 Cliff Burns (All Rights Reserved)
A good day of work yesterday:
I think I nailed down the final version re: the jacket copy for Of the Night. That’s one of the great things about being an indie writer and publisher, I have complete control over every aspect of my book, from the title and cover art to the selection of layout, fonts, even the composition of promo copy. Some authors may not want the responsibility, the expenditure of time and effort, but I sure as hell do. I have final say over the content and how it’s presented to readers. I love it.
I’d decided to add an Afterword to Of the Night but for some days had been stymied as to what I wanted to say. Yesterday the dam broke and the Afterword came in a rush. Spent most of the day editing and cleaning it up and last night, just before bed, read it to my wife and sons. They had some suggestions for revisions, small corrections, but for the most part they loved it. So I’ll be adding the short essay to the end of the manuscript in the next day or two.
The book itself is close to completion, really just little niggling things that need to be touched up and smoothed over. 98% of it is finished, in the can, and I pronounce myself delighted with the end result. Of the Night is a stand-alone effort but it’s set in the Great Lake city of Ilium, just like So Dark the Night, so it’s a short and sturdy companion piece to that longer tome. It is not a sequel; it features a new cast of characters and an entirely different storyline. Perhaps not as ambitious or immediately endearing as its predecessor, but Of the Night possesses a special charm of its own and readers are going to fall in love with it. Take my word for it.
And since I mentioned So Dark the Night, let me say that it’s doing quite well, sales-wise, though it seems to be selling better in the e-book and Kindle editions than as a physical book. The times they are a-changing. The new technologies (e-readers et all) leave me cold and, candidly, I’ll keep buying books until the last forest is felled and converted to pulp. Sorry, but it’s the truth. When you buy my book, the actual “dead tree edition”, you can hold it in your hands, ogle that gorgeous cover, feel the rasp of the pages with your fingertips.
Sorry, techno geeks, your gadgets just can’t compete with that sensation.
But I’ve said my piece, given you an update so I’ll leave it there. Gadgets/technology (pro and con) is a discussion for another time, another place.
The important thing for you to know is that Of the Night is on schedule and it looks very much like I’ll meet my self-imposed deadline and will be holding a proof of the book in my arthritic hands by my 47th birthday (end of October). A short time later, it will be ready for ordering and reading.
Thrilling times ahead.
Watch this space…