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…
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…
* * * *
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…