Image by Liam Burns
Another long hiatus and, what can I tell you, I might’ve been AWOL from this blog, but I’ve been up to my naughty bits in new writing.
I’m talking about over one hundred and twenty (120) pages of prose since June and my next poetry collection, The Definition of Melancholy (publication date May, 2022), now boasts over ninety (90) poems, and still going strong.
Not only has my blogging suffered during this creative binge, but I’ve also been doing damn little reading (no way I’ll reach my goal of 100 books this year).
Had to go ahead and reorder additional copies of my Notebooks 2010 – 2020 from my printer; many, many thanks to the folks who’ve picked up a copy and seem to love that odd, wee tome. It has done surprisingly well and I couldn’t be happier with its reception.
So on the professional front I guess you can say that all is well.
On the personal front, well, the recent surge in COVID cases in the province pushed back elective surgeries for months so I’m probably not looking at the second hip replacement until Spring, 2022. Just gonna have to tough it out ’til then. I’m doing all right, managed to keep up with the yard work this summer and can still limp around on my errands. A lot of folks are in worse shape than me and I can only empathize with what they’re going through as we wait for the surgical wards to come back on line.
I intend to spend the Fall & Winter getting down as many words on paper as I possibly can. Once they carve into my hip I’ll have to focus on pain management and rehab, which can tend to play hell with your creativity. Must try to read more, as well, my to-be-read pile has attained almost K2-like dimensions. New Colson Whitehead and Jim Shepard books out…and that fat history of the Ottoman Empire has been staring me down for the past week.
Have also been feeling the urge to descend to my basement lab and slap some paint on canvases, see how much more damage I can do to the legacy of visual art. And maybe it’s time I hauled my MIDI keyboard upstairs, produced an hour or so of noise and mayhem to unleash on unsuspecting listeners on BandCamp.
Watched Rose Glass’s “St. Maud” with Sherron last week and (shudder), boy, that finale is just…well…it’s…it’s…
You have to see if for yourself.
But, be warned: it’ll take an awful big bite out of you.
Looking forward to seeing “Dune” at our local theater as a birthday treat, but going in with pretty low expectations. I’m usually underwhelmed by Denis Villeneuve’s films. Nice to look at but they don’t move me emotionally. But “Dune”…shit…that’s half art, half spectacle. Gotta see it BIG.
Enough for now. I close with an image of an oak leaf from our back yard.
This. This is how I’m feeling these days.
One of my regular readers/visitors dropped me a note awhile back asking why I, a self-proclaimed “indie”, allowed advertising on my blog. There was an unspoken query: do you make income off these ads, hmmm?
Well, I’ve taken steps to alleviate all concerns. Yesterday, when I re-upped my annual WordPress membership, I also paid an extra $30 to block advertising. Enough is enough.
By the way, I absolutely did not receive any stipend for the ads, nor do I have any idea as to their content (I shudder to think).
Welcome to the new, commercial-free “Beautiful Desolation”.
Enjoy your stay, there’s lots to see.
And no admission fee…
I’ve put together a short roster of the best of the best of these queries and my responses (though, in some cases I’ve pared the original question down and added more detail to my replies).
Here are the top ten:
What’s the difference between calling yourself a “self-publisher” and an “independent author”?
In a word, talent. Oh, and professional credentials. Oh, and the seriousness with which you approach your craft.
Before I started my own imprint back in 1990, I’d already received a Canada Council grant and published a good number of tales in various venues around the world. I toiled every day on my writing and though the money was almost nonexistent, I didn’t care, it was all about becoming the best writer I could possibly be. I was focused, obsessed with my work. I created Black Dog Press because I detected a dearth of vision and intelligence among the editors I was dealing with and since I’m the kind of guy who doesn’t take rejection lying down, I decided to empower myself, rather than accept the verdict of dingbats.
Most self-publishers, however, are hobbyists, part-timers, dolts with little knowledge of what entails good writing, they merely want to see their name on a book, regardless if it’s any good. They don’t labor over their work, endlessly polishing and editing, growing and developing as artists. Such notions are beneath them. Some have the decency to confine themselves to giving copies of their amateurish efforts to friends and family and I have no bone to pick with them. It’s the morons who’ve written a memoir about their so-called interesting life or a spin-off novel lifted from some popular franchise and are deluded enough to believe they are “real” writers that raise my ire.
Why are you such an asshole?
Yes, I’ve received a number of communications along these lines, usually from the aforementioned amateurs and wannabes. They demand that I take their vampire porn or zombie splatter or “poor me” memoirs seriously and resent the notion of applying professional standards (y’know, like spelling, syntax, grammar) to their abominable tripe.
To them, there’s no difference between great writing and garbage, since such standards are arbitrary and unfair (usually they have trouble with big words like “arbitrary”, but I digress). As I’ve written previously, I have nothing against aspiring writers, beginners, folks who genuinely care about the printed word and want to create the best work they can. It’s the ones who foolishly believe their 10-book vampire series (released as super cheap/free e-books to inflate their “sales”) is imbued with true genius that I take exception to…and vilify accordingly. They read shit, they watch shit, they write shit. I dismiss (and diss) them out of hand. They are part-time turd-peddlers and pretenders and they deserve nothing but contempt. And I give it to them…in spades.
How much money do you make?
Seriously? Dude, you think I’m gonna open my bank records to you? Let’s just say that if you got into writing (or any art) for the money, you’re a fucking prostitute, and I mean the kind of gutter trash that solicits around public toilets and drops to their knees at the slightest indication of praise or approval.
I doubt I’ll ever become rich from my writing but a number of my favorite writers lived and died in poverty and anonymity, yet their body of work out-lives them and most of their popular contemporaries. I’m in this for the long haul and will trust posterity to determine my stature as an artist. I’ve stated on numerous occasions that I’d rather have a million readers than a million dollars and anyone who knows me is well aware that I’m not joking or resorting to hyperbole. I’m an author’s author…and it’s unlikely that the fuckwits who read Fifty Shades of Grey will have much affinity for my work.
No regrets there.
You’ve been called an “elitist”–do you agree?
Yup. No question. I place high standards on my work, set the bar higher and higher with each new effort. I don’t confine myself to formula and refuse to cater to anyone’s expectations. Sales figures (see above) are irrelevant, the most important thing is releasing a work that is a celebration of the best in literature, a novel, poem or short story that pushes me to the limits of my abilities and sometimes beyond.
I write with intelligence and insight and I demand that from every film, book or artwork I see. I don’t waste my time on “popcorn movies”, mind candy or escapist entertainment. I feed my spirit and get inspired by innovative, original work.
Are you a horror writer? A fantasy or science fiction writer? How do you categorize yourself?
Well, I don’t. Not really. I utilize some of the devices and tropes from all three of the genres you mentioned but only to further the aims of my storylines. I suppose you could also call me a fabulist or surrealist…but I think any niches or slots are distinctly unhelpful when it comes to work as singular and unusual as mine.
I’m a literary writer, that’s the way I perceive myself. As for the rest…
I really think you’d like my writing. Can I send some of my stuff your way to critique?
No. Absolutely not. It’s not my role to be your editor or ego booster. Real writers write and that’s that. A thousand rejections and the opinions of others should have absolutely no effect on you if you’re truly devoted to the calling. Nabokov talked about “writing in defiance of all the world’s muteness” and that’s advice you should take to heart. Write and write and write. If you need feedback, there are plenty of opportunities for that through local writing groups and guilds and God knows how many on-line venues where up and coming writers gather to talk turkey and swap story samples. But leave the pros alone. We have our own schedules, deadlines and pressing projects. Don’t annoy us with your self-centered, egotistical lobbying.
You seem to genuinely hate traditional publishing and your harsh language must have drawn their attention. Don’t you worry about ruining your chances of becoming a truly famous writer?
Yes, I’ve heard through the grapevine that some of my remarks have made poobahs in publishing extremely cranky with me. How dare I question their intelligence, their professionalism, their psychopathology and their integrity? But, see, I’ve dealt with these bird-brains (editors, agents, publishers) for over twenty years and as I wrote in a recent post on RedRoom, I despise the vast majority of them. I hope I run into a few of the biggest arseholes before my arthritic hands wreck my chances of punching their fucking lights out. A substantial proportion of the people who decide what books get published are too stupid to be trusted with sharp objects and should be, if there was any justice in the world, employed as assistant managers of a fast food restaurant, a job more befitting their low intelligence quotient and lousy inter-personal skills.
As for being famous…it just isn’t a priority. Obviously.
I want to become an independent author too–how do I get started?
First of all, I wish you’d take a long, hard look at your work and decide, as objectively as possible, if you have anything to contribute to literature. Is your writing really that unique and unprecedented? Is it even literate? Have you spent years learning the craft of editing, ruthlessly paring and polishing your poetry/prose until it shines? There are quite enough bad, self-published books out there, why contribute to the dung pile?
But, really, if you’re determined, there are sites you can go to for advice (a couple are on my blog roll). A good ol’ Google search under “independent writing and publishing” will probably take you somewhere helpful. It’s a long, arduous process and the learning curve can be steep. And once your book is published, then you’re faced with marketing and distribution—and good luck getting your self-published offering into most book stores. I still find it a chore and I’ve been at it a long time.
Why are you so jealous of writers more successful than you (i.e. Amanda Hocking, Stephenie Meyer, E.L. James)?
Jealous of…? Er, no, I’m not jealous of rich writers or sub-literate authors who manage to score a book deal. Literary whores with the skill set of a Grade Eight diarist and the aesthetics of a village idiot. Personally, I’m envious of scribes whose talent leaves me gasping like a fish washed up on some sandy shore. I’m referring to giants like Thomas Pynchon, James Crumley, Don DeLillo, Annie Dillard—artists of the highest caliber, whose books will stand the test of time. I labor in the shadow of greatness. Daunting? You betcha. But it’s a challenge I accept every time I enter my home office, sit at my desk and commence another day of work. I crave to be an author of stature. And that has nothing to do with the size of my bank account.
I sense you’re a lonely, bitter, isolated man. Is that an accurate representation?
I’m still chuckling over this one. I don’t think the correspondent in question was trying to be offensive or “trolling”, merely curious and so my response was quite tolerant (for me).
I’ve been a loner all my life and require little in the way of companionship. I belong to no professional writing organizations, nor do I seek out other authors to befriend or chat up. I’ve been happily married for over 20 years and have two teenage sons. Between my work and my family, there’s little time left over for leisure or company. It’s just never been a priority to me. I have a small, intimate circle of friends who are fiercely loyal and who have been around me long enough to inspire my affection and trust. They understand my hectic schedule and introspective lifestyle and place no demands on me. But they also know I’m the kind of guy who’d walk through a wall of fire for a loved one and would defend a pal to my dying breath. It’s the Scotch/Irish in me, I suppose. The rage, the violence…and the passion I bring to every aspect of my life. Those who know and love me respect that and tolerate the long silences that are part and parcel of my calling.
As for everyone else…who cares what they think or believe? They don’t know me and I don’t spare a moment for their views and opinions.
* * * * *
Thanks for the questions and feedback. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Always pleased to hear from you…
I think the title of this post pretty much sums it up.
I sing praises of December
Waster of life and limb!
Calling crows announce
the death toll overnight:
That which walks a frozen land,
passed by and left its mark.
When they put it like that
you can sort of see what they’re saying
and know something ain’t right.
muddying the water
casting heedless stones.
A bloodless coup, flawlessly executed—
save for a shriek from the machinery,
something living caught in the works.
Waking one day to discover,
tomorrow has arrived at last.
No time for procrastination,
the wolf is at the door.
Start with the weakest among you,
knowing they won’t be missed.
Count the seconds,
down to seconds,
until it is done.
The air they breathe, the food they eat,
so many hungry mouths…
For the sake of your children’s children,
necessity absolves you of blame.
Only recall we were each complicit,
feeding and tending the flames.
Count the seconds,
down to seconds,
until it is done.
© Copyright, 2011 Cliff Burns (All Rights Reserved)
Some of you have been around since the beginning (God bless you), while others have been late arrivals (we left you a few beers in the fridge, but be sure to leave the last one for your host). In those four years, this site has been visited by tens of thousands of folks, over a thousand of whom have seen fit to leave comments, the vast majority of which have been smart, sharp and thought-provoking.
Thank you, one and all.
About a year ago, I added a feature to Beautiful Desolation, namely a “ClustrMap”, which shows where on the planet my visitors call home—every single time I look at that darn thing, found on the lower right side of my menu, I have to smile. Man, isn’t technology something? It allows people from every part of the world to reach out to one another, make contact with another human being, regardless of political, cultural and geographic divisions. People drop in from as far away as the United Arab Emirates, even the supposedly walled off Islamic Republic of Iran. I can’t tell you how much that moves and thrills me. God knows what they think of this place once they find it but the important thing is they can find it and, perhaps, discover a community of folks with whom they have more in common then they ever imagined.
Freaks of the world, unite!
I am honored to be one of those freaks, a mutant, a rebel and non-conformist, an indie, an artist, a—a—an errant penguin.
I’d better explain that last part.
Awhile back, I watched Werner Herzog’s documentary “Encounters at the End of the World”. It’s filmed in Antarctica, a hostile and brutal region of the world which, understandably, offers up a range of features and fauna found no where else on the planet. It also tends to draw people who are quite unusual and Herzog introduces us to a number of them, including some who would definitely fall into the category of “freaks”.
But what I found most fascinating about the film is when Herzog explains the phenomenon of the “rogue penguin”. Every so often, a penguin leaves the regular nesting area and heads off into the interior of the continent. There’s no water, no food and eventually the penguin will just run out of gas, lie down and expire. There aren’t any theories, nothing that explains the bizarre behavior of these creatures and here’s the strange part:
Initially, when humans came upon one of these rogue penguins waddling along inland, miles from where it should be, they would scoop the critter up and take them back to the other penguins, congratulating themselves for a job well done.
Only one problem: the penguin would immediately turn around and start right back, retracing its tiny footsteps and damn the torpedoes. People in Antarctica are now instructed to leave the determined creatures alone, let them go, even knowing it’s to their certain death. Defying nature, defying logic, stubbornly persisting in behavior that is, apparently, purposeless and self-destructive.
I relate to those crazy little fuckers. I empathize with whatever quirk in their mindset that draws them away from the herd mentality and compels them to strike out on their own, regardless of the consequences.
Frankly, I think it’s a perfect, though admittedly weird, metaphor for my writing career. While it might be more safe and comfortable to behave like everyone else, compose work indistinguishable from a host of other authors, there’s some kind of kink in my personality or brain chemistry that simply won’t countenance it. I won’t be controlled or managed or “handled”. I refuse to create material that tries to conform to the marketplace or caters to fashion. I do not submit to the judgments of editors and agents and couldn’t care less if my books become bestsellers or earn so much as a dime. I won’t prostitute my talent by writing “franchise” novels, based on someone else’s conception. You do that, fellow scribbler, and, to quote the great Bill Hicks, you’re off the artistic roll call. Forever. End of story. You’re another fuckin’ corporate shill. Everything you say is suspect, everything that comes out of your mouth is like a turd falling into my drink.
So sayeth Saint Bill.
I am an errant penguin, tottering off to my doom. I am that freak who for, whatever the reason, can’t help veering off the beaten track, saying unpopular things, creating work that no one has seen before. Don’t bother trying to reform or cure me, there’s no hope of that happening. Just let me continue on an odd, meandering path that will, eventually, peter out, my body surrendering to the elements, dropping in my tracks, eyes still on a far horizon I know I’ll never reach.
* * * * * *
Lots more ahead in the months to come. Soon I’ll be making an announcement re: my next book projects and I think you’ll be surprised—hope it’s a pleasant surprise but, regardless, let’s just say this errant penguin won’t be dissuaded from his course. You can follow me or not; that’s up to you.
Thanks for coming by and keep those comments and suggestions coming. It’s a pleasure conversing with folks of your intelligence and perceptiveness. All I’ve ever wanted is an insightful, literate readership. And, boy, you folks definitely fit the bill.
Thank you, thank you, thank you.
I’ll close off this special anniversary post with a few of the poems I read at last night’s “Open Mike” at our local library.
It feels like the end of something
a dead zone spreading outward
from some remote Pacific atoll
I remember when the weather was normal
and the bees weren’t dying
and you could see the stars
Since when did the natural become un-natural
the grass eating holes in our shoes?
And who will feed all the hungry mouths,
if you take sick and wither away?
Remember, thou art mortal
as doomed as a spring flower.
Shine brightly in your scant time
a dazzle of colors until you are plucked.
in miniature rooms
furniture built to scale
stiff, painted figures
coiffed hair, handmade clothes
placed with faces averted
subdued for the sake of the kids
a scandal in smallville
plastic lawyers on their way
The 20th century is a skull
gleaming in a dry creekbed.
Emaciated goats graze nearby
while, high overhead,
the sun sets fire to the sky.
No sound but the wind,
the awful inescapable wind.
“Darkness, take my hand”
Here come the shadows
here they come
watch them come
here they come
here they come
© Copyright, 2011 Cliff Burns (All Rights Reserved)
You’ll find it by looking to the right hand side, under the “Stories” widget. Just click on “Audio” and you’ll discover a large selection of my stories, poems, commentaries, even an excerpt from my novel So Dark the Night. All available for free listening and downloading onto whatever device (iPod or cell phone) you currently favour. Many of these pieces are accompanied by music, which provides dramatic highlights, a soundtrack that is either pleasing or provocative (or both).
The most recent offering is a six-minute chat about “indie” writing I recorded because I’ve received a host of questions, both here and in various forums where I hang out. People want to know what it means to be an independent writer…and I want to do what I can to dispel this notion that one goes the indie/self-publishing route because your work can’t cut it with traditional publishers. Hey, kids, I chose to go my own way because after 20+ years of dealing with inept, sociopathic, moronic editors, I’d had enough. New technologies like blogs, podcasts and print-on-demand put more control into authors’ hands, a situation I welcome with open arms.
For the record, here’s what I said–
–and after giving it a listen, I hope you’ll have a clearer understanding of what I’m trying to accomplish with this blog. And please check out the rest of my audio releases, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the production values and the power and intensity of the work.
Theatre of and for the mind…