But according to the forecast, the temps will hover around -6 or -8 for most of the coming week. Balmy weather, compared to what we’ve been enduring up ’til now. Frankly, I always feel better once the first of March rolls around—I can practically hear the crocuses stirring, even under four feet of packed snow.
A flurry of e-mails and communications after my last post and I guess I should have known better. Even by alluding to my novel-in-progress I was opening a can of worms. Now everybody wants to know details about the plot, genre, etc.
Now, you folks ought to know me better than that. I know some writers talk about their on-going projects, post excerpts, furnish plot details and teasers, seeking feedback from fans and readers.
How not Cliff.
Kids, not even my wife knows more than the absolute bare bones of my current project. I keep my books, stories, poems under wraps until I’m ready to release them to the world. I want her to be surprised, amazed at my audacity (or, just as likely, dubious of my sanity). I seek no editorial input until a project is very near completion…then I’ll pass it on to Sherron and let her pick at it for errors, oversights or continuity problems. As much as I respect my small cadre of dedicated readers, they have no say in any aspect of my work…nor will I make adjustments to a book or story with the aim of pleasing them (or anyone). I don’t write “Choose Your Own Adventure” books, y’know?
Here’s what I will tell you:
My novel is tentatively titled Based on a True Story and it will clock in at around 220 pages (60,000 words). About the same length as my western, The Last Hunt. Genre? Mainstream, crime fiction (of sorts), an old mystery coming to the surface. No fantastic elements whatsoever.
Let’s see, what other questions have people been asking…
Is it a personal project?
Huh? All of my work employs my odd, personal take on things. And while much of it might contain incidents from life, very little of my writing is strictly autobiographical. Characters and situations entirely the product of my fertile and perverse imagination. You wanna write about yourself? Start a fucking diary…
Is it another case for Zinnea & Nightstalk?
Will there eventually be another Zinnea and-–
Yes. When it’s time and I clear some of the other stuff off my desk.
Other projects? Like what? Can you give me an example?
Aha. Good for you. Not a chance.
Why do you take so long to release your books?
Because I want to get them right.
Why are each of your books so different?
I don’t want to get stuck in a rut. Look, my own tastes are wide-ranging and eclectic and I want to see that reflected in my literary efforts. I disdain writers who author the same book over and over again or explore the same universe in a ridiculously long and convoluted series, milking their invented world for all it’s worth. That’s why I’m not pounding out one Zinnea & Nightstalk mystery after another, even though, God knows, that would delight many people out there. I’m not a hack, I’m a creative artist who wants to challenge himself, push the limits of a very finite and modest-sized talent. That’s the way I’ve approached literature for the past thirty (30) years and I don’t see that changing any time soon.
Is this latest book cinematic like the others? Your stuff always seems like it could easily be adapted into movies.
Hmm. Yes, definitely. I see what you mean. And a number of my efforts have been optioned…but it never seems to go anywhere. Last month a film-maker contacted me about one of my novellas and it ended badly. I wrote about it over on my RedRoom blog. It isn’t pretty. Hope it serves as an object lesson to other writers out there who might be going through the same thing. Stand up for yourself and remember: until you sign that contract, you hold all the power. Do your homework and work your ass off to get the best possible deal. Don’t get screwed because you’re humble, shy and/or dislike confrontation. People like that get eaten alive.
That’s it for now. Still have a full day of editing ahead of me. Should be finished this latest run-through (draft #3) in the next three or four days. Then some time off (it’s been 32 days straight of 10-12 hour writing sessions), do some background reading and research and then…on to draft #4.
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!