My name is Cliff Burns and I chose the path of “indie” writer after enduring more than two decades of stupidity and folly at the hands of editors, publishers and agents. I gritted my teeth and pounded my fists as my work was tampered with by inept, second rate minds, dolts offering all sorts of career advice that often amounted to selling out, prostituting my talent and imagination. Despite these obstacles I still managed to accumulate a body of work that drew readers from around the world and praise from authors like Kim Newman and Timothy Findley. My tales appeared in some pretty high profile anthologies, including The Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror, City Dreams and The 20 All-Time Best Science Fiction Stories. Both novellas from my book Righteous Blood were optioned for adaptation into films–“Kept” is currently in pre-production at Twisted Pictures/LightTower, slated for release sometime in 2009.
Creative control is my obsession. I have not the slightest interest in collaborating with editors and agents to make my work more commercial and palatable, watering down my vision, creating derivative, saccharine prose. I’ll say it again: I’d rather be a bum, living on the street, than a whore in a mansion.
Thanks to new technologies, writers can now bypass the gate-keepers of traditional publishing, the agents and editors who for too long have imposed their pathetic, brain-dead aesthetic on the reading public. This blog enables me to present my work without altering it any way to conform to some real or manufactured “niche” market; the internet allows me to disseminate my writing to a worldwide audience; podcasts help me promote it; print-on-demand will put actual published books in your hands. I can do this without any of the organs of corporate publishing or catering to the lackeys who serve that impersonal machine.
On this site you’ll find more than a quarter million (250,000) words of prose. That includes two full-length novels, numerous short stories, several volumes of prose poems and two complete poetry collections.
My writing frequently features the macabre and surreal; I once referred to my oeuvre as “Twilight Zone on acid stories” and I don’t think I’ve come up with a better description since. My influences range from Richard Matheson, Paul Auster, Jonathan Carroll to the sublimely weird visions of Terry Gilliam, Rene Magritte and Roman Polanski.
I labor long and hard on my efforts–in the case of my novel So Dark the Night that meant three years of writing and revising. Don’t confuse “indie” with “amateur”. I could have continued on the course that gained me scores of anthology appearances and professional publications…but I made the determination that to maintain that path would have meant on-going frustration from having to deal with those aforementioned gate-keepers, who were, in my view, butchering my writing and destroying my artistic spirit. I place enormous demands and expectations on my work and will not release anything that doesn’t have my complete confidence. The novels and various efforts on this site are of the highest literary quality, as good as (or better than) anything you’ll buy in a bookstore–that is my personal pledge to you. You might not like everything you read but I will never waste your time or insult your intelligence.
A quick overview of what you’ll find here on Beautiful Desolation:
The “Home” page features news and updates, as well as short essays and rants on subjects near and dear to my heart. That includes everything from the contemporary publishing scene, indie writing, the idiocy of National Novel Writing Month, etc. etc.
“About” gives some background and biographical information on yours truly; you’ll also find reviews of my various publications and a partial bibliography stretching back more than two decades.
“Bookstore” is where I offer some of my books and collections for sale–these are limited edition offerings and supplies are scarce. Most of my books sell out within months of being published and some have, to my delight, become collector’s items (with the inflated prices to prove it).
“Non-Fiction“–lots of book reviews and essays on literature and the writing life. You’ll also find pieces on film and music, two other great passions of mine.
“Novels“–should be your first stop. You can read and/or download two complete novels at no cost. So Dark the Night and Of the Night are supernatural thrillers, employing aspects of noir, mystery and horror. Terrific reads: I dare you to read the first ten pages of either and then try to quit. Good luck…
“Rarities” is a recent page I’ve added. This is where you’ll find out-of-print and older editions of my work, prose poems and verse. Also some of my monologues and the writing I’ve done for the stage. Material that hasn’t seen the light of day, in some cases, for more than fifteen years (if at all).
“Stories“–the best of my tales, some of them previously published, many of them composed after I started this blog. I no longer submit my work for publication so if you’re looking for fiction by Cliff Burns, this is the only venue where you’ll find it.
Tired of the same old crap, looking for writing that (to quote one review) is “a breath of fresh air”?
Beautiful Desolation is a site for those who treasure finely crafted prose and uncompromising and original visions. It is compelling evidence that there are authors out there who eschew (and revile) the contemporary publishing scene and are capable of producing ground-breaking, genre-bending and (above all else) entertaining literary endeavors.
And it’s a beacon of hope for those who feel, as I do, that writers and readers are poorly served by monolithic, impersonal, arrogant publishing houses that expend enormous efforts and revenues on mediocre “talents”, whose main claim to fame is that they are capable of delivering the exact same novel over and over again.
I offer you an alternative.
Come in, have a look around.
You’re in for a very pleasant surprise…
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!
My friend Robin found this. He has an unhealthy obsession with the movie adaptation of my novella “Kept”. He’s determined that I’m going to be famous…whether I like it or not. Robin has been keeping tabs on the Twisted Pictures/LightTower team that are producing “Kept”. This home page of theirs certainly makes it look like they’re taking the film very seriously.
Stay tuned for further developments…
When faced with the slightest possibility of success, it’s a cinch I’ll fuck things up. I literally can’t help it. It’s something innate, some errant strand of DNA they somehow missed when they were mapping the human genome.
Back in 2003, PS Publishing, Peter Crowther’s fine British press, released my book Righteous Blood. Righteous Blood is composed of two novellas, tales very different from each other but both continuing my exploration of the nature and source of contemporary evil. It’s a particular bug bear of mine. Like most of my work, the novellas are very visual and cinematic and they attracted some interest from folks who wanted to adapt them into movies. Good news, you would think. But was I doing cartwheels when I signed the option agreements, was I swaggering around like Al Capone on February 15th, 1929?
I hate the movies being made today. They’re dumb, unsubtle and tasteless. Directors have the aesthetic sensibilities of Koko the gorilla and screenwriters are more influenced by video games and TV than literature and consider the Star Wars movies to be the epitome of cinematic excellence.
That said, the chap writing the screenplay based on “Living With the Foley’s” is a nice lad and professes to be a fan of my work. He’s been trying to put together some kind of a production deal but these things take time. This past year his agent contacted me, wanting an extension for three years and promising some dough, not much but enough to buy winter tires and ease some of our credit card load.
I barely gave him the time of day. I was involved with a new project and didn’t want to expend the effort required to look at contracts or talk money. Wasn’t that interested, to be honest. I’m like that—I never look back at old projects; that’s yesterday’s news as far as I’m concerned. The agent got very frustrated with me. When he called a second and third time I still hadn’t read the contract and seemed eager to be rid of him. The whole thing grew quite tiresome and after blowing him off a number of times, I finally signed the contract just to be done with it. My total lack of enthusiasm made me look like a complete asshole. Made no friends there and I’m not expecting an gold-embossed invite to the film’s grand opening, should it ever come to that point (I doubt it will).
It was worse with my second novella, “Kept”. The guy who secured rights for “Kept” talked the talk, claiming he’d written a great script (I still haven’t seen it) and that a major production company was chomping at the bit. When the time came to re-up or let the option slide, the guy was late. Months late. I was busy but I noted the slip in passing. He finally did get his extension but then things got weird. My original contract stipulated that I would retain most rights, including literary, and I was to be paid a percentage, based on the final budget. About four months ago, Mr. X had his Hollywood lawyer call me and offer a new contract, one that would pay me a flat fee and, on top of that, scoop up all rights, including (according to my reading) those aforementioned literary rights. I was pissed. This was utter bullshit. I cursed and fulminated, used the kind of foul language one might hear in the locker room of a football team on the wrong end of a lopsided score. Very ugly. Then I quadrupled my monetary demands. Lots of spluttering on the other end of the phone.
“You can’t do that!” the lawyer, who claimed to be an ‘artist-friendly’ kind of guy, barked.
“I’ll see. I’m sure we can get you back your literary rights.”
“You’d better. But the deal stays the same.” I named my inflated figure again.
“They won’t do it,” he groaned.
“Then fuck them and fuck their mothers,” I snapped.
And that was that.
There hasn’t been any further contact from those folks and I don’t expect there will be. I could’ve pulled back from the brink, negotiated…but something wouldn’t let me. A nasty little voice that I’ve come to know very well over the years…
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Because there have been other lapses in tact. I’ve lost out on anthology appearances because I wouldn’t allow editors to make the smallest changes. Rebuffed them in the crudest language imaginable, insulted their intelligence, slapped them silly when a simple “No” would have sufficed. Turned off influential people with that whole “my way or the highway” routine. Producers, editors, publishers… how many of them have read James Joyce or Samuel Beckett, how many require a spell-checker to write a grocery list? These people are fuckheads and I refuse to lie down with pigs and–
Jee-zus. I guess what it comes down to is I’m a control freak. No one has the brains and talent to touch my work except me. It’s a dumb, stubborn, ridiculous attitude, suicidal as far as my career goes but (you can’t see me but I just shrugged helplessly). I’d apologize but it would be like apologizing for being six feet tall and having long, skinny feet and a devastating right hook. It’s just who I am.
Besides, real men don’t compromise.
“Great will be your glory if you do not lower the nature that is within you.” That’s from Pericles, the Athenian soldier and statesman.
When Xerxes, the Persian king, sent an emissary to Thermopylae, demanding that Leonidas and his fellow Spartans lay down their weapons, Leonidas famously replied: “Come and get them.”
Another of my many sins: I carry grudges for a long time. If you’ve fucked me over and we run into each other even twenty years from now, watch out. I’ll tear your head off if I get half a chance. Try to steal credit for one of my stories, bad-mouth me and I catch wind of it, I’ll eat your living heart like a fucking Aztec.
I come from a long line of thugs and bully boys, Scots brought to Northern Ireland by Cromwell to slaughter Catholics. And we were bloody good at it too.
With that kind of lineage, I’ll likely end up broke, hump-backed, unknown, living in a stinking, tarpaper shack.
But above the rough entrance of my hovel will be the stanza from the Edwin Arlington Robinson poem I’ve had posted over my office door for as long as I can remember:
“The shame I win for singing is all mine,
The gold I miss for dreaming is all yours.”
Postscript: This is a shorter, nastier version of my essay “Solace of Fortitude“, which can be found in the Non-Fiction section of this blog. Mea culpa, mea maxime culpa…