This weekend, I completed final edits on my latest book, a collection of short stories titled Exceptions & Deceptions.
The title is derived from a quote by Francis Picabia: “The unknown is an exception, the known a deception”.
The collection features 19 stories, including a novella titled “Second Sight”, which is previously unpublished. It’s my first book of stories since The Reality Machine (1997) and, needless to say, I’m ecstatic to see these tales finally in print.
I’ve settled on a cover but I’ll keep it under my hat until our mate, Chris Kent, designs a mockup for us to post.
This is going to be a bee-you-tiful book.
Projected publication date of mid-June.
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By now you’ve probably heard the rotten news regarding the health of one of the literary greats, Iain Banks.
Fifty-nine years old.
…and suddenly all the little foibles and annoyances in my own life seem pretty feeble.
If you haven’t already, make sure you seek out and read one of his fine books. The Wasp Factory, maybe the best debut novel I’ve read, and two truly magnificent science fiction offerings, Consider Phlebas and Excession.
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: it’s an honor sharing a universe with the likes of Iain Banks.
His work is a tribute to the power of imagination, that very human capacity to envision and describe impossible worlds…and make the faraway and exotic come to life.
Thank you, Mr. Banks. For every word you’ve committed to paper, the dreams you’ve willingly shared.
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A wonderful surprise in my virtual mailbox this past week. Yury Sabinin, an industrious chap now residing on Canada’s west coast, has taken it upon himself to translate some of my better known works into Russian. It initially started as an exercise for a non-English speaking friend overseas but now Yury has completed a couple of translations, “Apocalypse Beach” and “Invisible Boy”, which I offer for free reading/download.
My gratitude to Yury for granting his permission to reproduce those translations here.
Just click on the links below:
I was one of the invited guests at the launch of the second installment of the Battlefords’ only homegrown arts magazine, Feed the Artist. I contributed a brief essay to this latest issue and was impressed by the quality of the work (prose and visuals) I found throughout. It’s quite gorgeous; make sure you check it out.
Congratulations to everyone involved with Feed the Artist, the editors and artists who worked so hard to bring a dedicated arts and culture publication to the citizens of this region.
Here’s what I said to the sixty or so people who assembled at Crandleberry’s to give the magazine a grand send-off.
Thanks to everyone who attended. It was a magical evening.
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I think it’s appropriate that we’re launching the new issue of “Feed the Artist” here, in a very public venue as opposed to a more formal setting. While there might be benefits to holding events in clean, well-lighted places, featuring all the latest bells and whistles, there’s also something cold and antiseptic and, let’s face it, increasingly corporate about these fancy-shmancy new galleries and performing arts centers.
Some of you either participated in or were witnesses to the “Tree” piece that was conceived and created around a locale in Battleford. The natural setting became an important element within the performance. I’m also thinking about the “Flash Mobs” that have broken out in this region of late, people congregating in public places and singing and dancing while startled spectators try to take everything in.
All of this is happening outside the rarefied air of institutions and brick and mortar facilities. Because art, after all, is portable, not confined to designated areas and “safe” zones. Why not utilize non-traditional locations to tell stories and highlight the rich history and culture of this region?
Time for artists to escape museums and galleries and theaters and bookstores and re-enter public spaces, remind the citizens of our communities that we have something to say about life, the universe…and the human condition. Something essential, something they need to know if they’re to stay sane in an increasingly frantic and chaotic world.
Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s “Populist Manifesto” addressed some of these points nearly forty years ago, so I’ll conclude by reading an excerpt from that work (what’s an arts gathering without a manifesto?).
Populist Manifesto (Excerpt)
Poets, come out of your closets, Open your windows, open your doors, You have been holed-up too long in your closed worlds. Come down, come down from your Russian Hills and Telegraph Hills, your Beacon Hills and your Chapel Hills, your Mount Analogues and Montparnasses, down from your foothills and mountains, out of your teepees and domes. The trees are still falling and we’ll to the woods no more. No time now for sitting in them As man burns down his own house to roast his pig No more chanting Hare Krishna while Rome burns. San Francisco’s burning, Mayakovsky’s Moscow’s burning the fossil-fuels of life. Night & the Horse approaches eating light, heat & power, and the clouds have trousers. No time now for the artist to hide above, beyond, behind the scenes, indifferent, paring his fingernails, refining himself out of existence. No time now for our little literary games, no time now for our paranoias & hypochondrias, no time now for fear & loathing, time now only for light & love.
-Lawrence Ferlinghetti (Copyright, 1974)
Work, work, work…more specifically, edit, edit edit, as I plug away on my next project, a compilation of the short stories I’ve written since 1997. Over 300 manuscript pages to go through but I’m making surprisingly speedy progress. A fascinating mix of stories, many of them “mainstream”, others veering further off-track. Not sure how readers will react to such a diverse selection of tales. Literary and genre fiction rubbing shoulders.
But I’ve also been toiling away at some new prose, including a 4,000 word tale I’ll be posting on this blog closer to Christmas, a special gift to readers and regular visitors. It’s already passed muster with Sherron, who found it a real treat. I’ll tell you more about it in December. Watch this space.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to get back to work. I’ve set myself a May 30th, 2013 deadline for this project, which would free me up for the summer. Able to take the time to weigh ideas, conceive new notions, scheme ambitious schemes.
Something to look forward to after all this grinding is done.
From his favorite hideaway, five storeys above the ground, Little Po is an inconspicuous witness to the chaos below.
There has been talk of trouble for weeks, soldiers and police regularly taking up stations on street corners, stopping and harassing people, making a nuisance of themselves. Intimidation is the norm with the ruling junta but this time, it seems, their tactics have only succeeded in making things worse.
Shouts and screams, the rattle of automatic weapons and crak-crak-crak of small arms fire. Smoke drifts over the neighbourhood, a grey, evil-smelling pall. There are makeshift barricades and men roaming about with home-made clubs and pop bottles filled with gasoline. The building shudders from a nearby explosion, a crump as a burning car bursts its seams, provoking whoops and cheers from the surrounding crowd.
Little Po is safe or, at least, safer than he would be down there, in the midst of the mob. Some women have joined in, adding their unmistakable shrieks to the din. Most of the men are intoxicated, swilling alcohol looted from a nearby store. They swagger about, brandishing crude weapons, their courage fortified by drink. The boy creeps back under the overhang created by ducting and ventilation works. Finds his tattered blanket and slips into an uneasy sleep, sucking his thumb for comfort when the tumult disturbs his slumber. This sooty rooftop, shared with none but the occasional stray cat and roosting pigeon, is a refuge, shelter from a dangerous and hostile world.
He wakes to dull morning light, the stench of burning rubber.
His hunger is an undiminishing ache, a twisting, voracious worm in his guts. He spends most days in a surreal netherworld; sick, confused and disoriented. Bumping into buildings or colliding with passersby, clutching at them for support and being swatted and cursed for his trouble. He begs, he steals and still only manages to scrape by.
As he descends via the rickety fire escape, he is aware that slowly but surely he’s losing the battle. Malnutrition is eating his frail body and soon he will be reduced to nothing. When someone reaches such a state, people say that person has “joined the invisibles”. One day, they’re simply gone, evaporating into the air, leaving nothing behind, not even an ounce of bone dust to bury or mourn over.
The first person he spots when he ventures out is Old Fania. Her pet monkey chatters on her shoulder and she makes a warding gesture at him. He gives the witch a wide berth. The monkey eyes him sullenly but is constrained by a short leash made of twine. The little beast has been known to inflict a painful and septic bite.
The streets and avenues have been transformed overnight. Rubble and debris are scattered carelessly, gutted buildings stripped of everything that can be carried or dragged away. He scours the ground for leftovers, something to eat or barter. But he’s competing with other scavengers who fiercely guard the meager leavings, growling and threatening him if he approaches. He is smaller and weak and therefore must go without. It is not that ordinary folk are unsympathetic or hard-hearted, it is merely that deprivation has become a way of life to the people in this part of the city. They have been herded together, marginalized, made to feel they must fend for themselves. Poor and increasingly desperate, they have lost any sense of shared or communal suffering.
The riot last night followed days of demonstrations, spontaneous protests against the inhuman living conditions. There have been scores of deaths, nervous soldiers shooting into crowds, protesters beaten and dragged away by security forces.
And finally the world press has taken notice. Reporters flood in and, congruently, the economy goes into a tailspin as investment money dries up, foreign nationals leaving in droves. It is a familiar, sad story in this region of the world.
Little Po drinks from a puddle and forages from a dumpster behind a restaurant. He is covered in rat bites and festering sores that won’t heal. He knows that his situation is increasingly desperate but there is nothing to be done about it. As he clambers out of the stinking bin, the back door of the restaurant bangs open and an employee toting a five gallon pail of grease and slops spots him. They regard each other for a long moment and Little Po finally slinks away, what little food he has found clutched in his fist.
There are rumours that local businesses have hired a squad of off-duty cops and given them the job of ridding the city of riff-raff. Some kids were gunned down as they sat on the steps of a church. A church. In the last two weeks, several dozen street urchins have been either killed or spirited off in dark vans, never to be seen again.
Later that morning, Little Po is walking through a park and spots Fish and the Silent One. Fish has fresh bruises on his face, rolled for pocket change. And the thing is, everyone knows Fish has absolutely nothing worth stealing. He tells the joke that he’s so poor, someone once cut him open and stole his heart. And he’ll show you the long, zippered scar to prove it. The Silent One glowers behind him, a menacing presence. His head is squashed, misshapen. He can’t speak but his dangerous mien says don’t fuck with me, brother.
Little Po falls in alongside them and they head off to the mission together, stand in line for a bowl of watery soup. Supposedly there is a piece of chicken in there somewhere. Either donations are down or the priests have been dipping into the collection plate again. Little Po deftly palms an extra slice of bread, the maneuver escaping the sharp-eyed Brother’s notice.
When they finish, they hang out in the graveyard for awhile. Fish produces three precious cigarettes but smoking only makes Little Po queasy so he puts his away until later. Soon afterward a cranky old caretaker shows up and chases them away.
Fish says he wants to stop by Ven’s place, that he’s heard something and Ven Ficus is the one to go to if you have information to trade. Depending on his mood, he’ll either reward you generously or snap his fingers and have you turned in to a human pretzel. But Taft, Ven’s imposing gatekeeper, says his bossman isn’t in today and hints that it’s in their best interest to fuck off. Now.
Fish is disappointed but vows to come back later. Taft goes back inside and they hear him say something to the other hoods. Mocking laughter follows the trio down the street.
As they walk, Fish has to keep stopping to retch. Every time he does, he groans. He says something feels broken inside. Little Po and the Silent One exchange grim looks. Who knows when the free clinic will open again. The French doctors who ran it were declared persona non grata and given forty-eight hours to clear out. No one has replaced them. Word is the junta was embarrassed to have foreigners tending to the needs of the poor. This past winter Little Po caught a bug that made him cough until his ribs ached. He truly believed he was going to die. His lungs still feel tender, especially on cool days.
In the early afternoon he parts company with the others, waving as he angles away.
Despite the soup he is still famished, light-headed. He thinks about the slice of bread in his pocket, the one he is saving. Little Po takes out the bread, raises it to his mouth and bites off a piece. This is the way it is. You are hungry and when you have food, you eat.
Later he will curse his greed. This, too, is the way of things.
But for Little Po, time has shrunk, contracted, the future no longer measured in years, months, weeks, but days, perhaps hours. His skin is transparent, his arms and legs thin, meatless. His joints ache; pain and hunger and despair are constant companions. The world around him is losing definition, leaking away at the edges.
Soon he will join the invisibles. It is almost certain. He knows this. Maybe even tonight, on his rooftop haven, under the high, eternal stars. He wonders what it will be like to be dead. His undernourished imagination has a hard time grasping the notion. The priests speak of heaven and hell during the sermons that are mandatory with the free meals they dispense. In the afterlife our sins are remembered and judged. The worthy are rewarded and the evil ones consigned to an all-consuming fire where they burn forever and ever, a-men.
Little Po steers a course toward the only home he has, occasionally stumbling, nearly falling. Traffic rolls heedlessly by. The soldier on the corner stares past him, through him. A few moments later, Little Po looks for his shadow and can’t find it.
Perhaps it is only the angle and intensity of the sun. He moves on, seemingly lighter than air, no longer able to feel the hard, unforgiving ground beneath his feet.
© Copyright, 2009 Cliff Burns (All Rights Reserved)
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“Among the Invisibles” was written the last time I entered a short story competition.
It didn’t even make it past the initial round of readers.
You understand now why I rarely enter these stupid contests?
To read more of my tales (and some novel excerpts), go to my Fiction & Novels page.
Once back at my place she plays it coy scuttling under the couch until I menace her with a can of Raid using it to steer her toward the bedroom antennae twitching in excitement crawling up the edge of my bedspread chittering as I run my fingers along her polished carapace stroking her thorax her withered ornamental wings fluttering mandibles dug into my pillow in insectile ecstasy while I prepare to mount her probing for anything resembling a vagina wondering if she uses protection and if not if the pupa will look anything like me.
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I’m not going back to you. I’m gone. I’m outta here. You won’t find me. It’ll be like we never met. Just another face in the crowd. On a forgotten street. In a strange country. One of the disappeared. Yeah. Lost in time and space. I wasn’t born in the first place. Back to the womb. Stillborn. No. Aborted. A puddle of pink flesh. Gristle and blood. Dumped in an incinerator. Reduced to ash. Floating in the troposphere. Burned by the sun. Ultraviolet radiation. A cancer on your body.
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These are two of my favorite short prose pieces, excerpted from my recently released volume Stromata: Prose Works (1992-2011).
For ordering information, please go here.
Photo credit: Sherron Burns
(Click on image to enlarge)
For ordering info, visit my Bookstore.
Yes, only a matter of days until the official launch of my new novel, The Last Hunt.
If you’re in the neighborhood, here’s a link to the library home page with all the info you need.
Hope to see you there.
We’ve sent off the text and cover files to Lightning Source and don’t expect any problems with the setup. Expect to have the proof of The Last Hunt in around ten days and once it passes muster, the book will be on sale and officially available to readers in whatever format they choose. You can get signed copies from me (sorry, the shipping rates are getting rather dear) or order one from your favorite bookseller.
Once I was resigned to writing a western of all things, I made it my goal to concoct a good one, a tale worthy of a genre that has spawned superb authors like Allan LeMay, Richard S. Wheeler, Larry McMurtry, Elmer Kelton and Elmore Leonard and presented us with cinema classics like “Ride the High Country”, “Hombre” and “The Wild Bunch”. I don’t have the required background or understanding of the period and history and had to rely on people like my father-in-law, Ken Harman, and historian Lee Whittlesey to help me better envision 1880’s America. I pronounce myself absolutely chuffed with the end result of a year of research and writing (sometimes simultaneously)—The Last Hunt should satisfy western fans but I’m also hoping it will draw in folks who like a tall tale that’s well told, regardless of where or when it’s set.
Okay, I’ll quit yapping. There are other things I should be doing, including some initial promo stuff, preparing for the official launch, spreading the word…
You’ll help, won’t you? Facebook about The Last Hunt, tell your friends about this loopy Canuck writer who veers from supernatural thrillers to Old West gunfighter stories. Send them a link to this site. Warn them some of my stuff might blow their mind. Call me an “indie writer”. Tell them it’s not as scary as it sounds…
To read an excerpt from Cliff Burns’ latest novel, The Last Hunt, click here:
And here it is, as promised, an early peek at the cover art for my western novel The Last Hunt, due out in mid-March.
Special thanks to Bobby Rockwell and the Rockwell Museum of Western Art for allowing me to use William Robinson Leigh’s original painting and to Chris Kent for a superlative job on the design.
The Last Hunt.