I’ve met some smart, funny, terrific people, thanks to “Beautiful Desolation”, and it’s always a particular thrill to read a comment or receive an e-mail from one of you. Writing is a lonely business and those missives, brief as they are, remind me why I keep putting pen to paper, year after year after year. And let’s have a rousing cheer for the internet, without which none of this would be possible. I mean, jeez, from halfway around the world you can wave or send regards or blow a kiss…or a raspberry (whatever floats your boat).
I spent perhaps an unhealthy amount of time trying to come up with ways to say “thanks” for your support and patronage for the past three years. There are a good number of you who take great pains to keep in touch and pass the word to other folks out there who are fed up with the tepid fare offered by traditional publishing sources: the books and magazines we buy and yawn our way through.
For the past six months or so the e-Reader crowd have been coming by in droves. Welcome, welcome. Dive right in and enjoy my stories, poems and radio dramas. There are dozens of offerings on this site, hundreds of thousands of words. Works that will astonish, amaze or, at least, entertain. And it’s all FREE. Download it, peruse it on your Kindles and iPads and Sonys (what the hell, a book is a book) and God bless ya.
I have to say there are certain, ah, special circumstances that give this anniversary more significance.
The impending release of my novel So Dark the Night is a super-big deal around Casa Burns. The cover nears completion and then it’s a case of loading the book onto Lightning Source’s template, crossing our fingers…and zipping it off. Looks like a late-April release. Will give you a peek at the cover soon–it’s a beauty. Wait’ll you see it, kids, it’ll knock your socks off. Christ, I love this book. It’s the best thing I’ve ever written and I’m practically vibrating in anticipation.
2010 marks my 25th year as a professional writer. That’s a helluva long time, a helluva lot of words on paper. Too many to ponder without suffering some kind of brain seizure. So we’ve got the third anniversary of the blog, my silver anniversary as an author and a new book coming out. That’s gotta call for something a little something extra, a bonus item or two…
How about an hour of free music? This is music I recorded with my iMac’s Garageband software. Space tunes, all instrumentals, totally trippy and out there. Some of my friends have downloaded these oddities on to their iPods or their computer hard drives. Go for it. Knock yourselves out. And above all else, enjoy the music. With my compliments and thanks.
I call my project Soundtrack For a Science Fiction Film Never Made and if you’d like to give it a listen, pop over to my “Audio” page, scroll down, past the spoken word section and you’re sure to find it.
Ah, but I’m not done.
I also want to unveil my new blog, Cinema Arrete. After literature, film is my great passion and for ages I’ve wanted a site where I could talk about some of my favorites and steer people toward flicks that aren’t on prominent display at their neighborhood movie store. I think that with places like YouTube now renting movies, there might be an increased demand and a wider assortment of movies to choose from–after all, cyberspace is like an endless virtual store and titles are always in stock. It might be the perfect time to re-introduce film fans to the work of auteurs like Henri-Georges Clouzot and Carl Theodor Dreyer.
But it’s not just a one-way street. I want cinephiles to steer me toward works and creative individuals that I’ve missed or neglected for some reason. I want to re-watch classic movies, research them and write essays based on my impressions and speculations. Sometimes I’ll re-examine a work and discover I’ve been dead wrong and will be forced to backtrack. The downside of being an honest critic is that you have to learn to like the taste of crow.
My refusal to bestow any respect on CGI fests like “Avatar” and the latest comic book adaptation will enrage those of you who (shudder) go to movies purely for fun, for the eye candy and escapist fluff. Sorry, if that’s the sum total of your aesthetic, Cinema Arete likely isn’t for you.
Pop over, give it a look-see and let me know what you think.
Okay, that’s enough for now. I’m feeling kind of misty-eyed at the moment and it might be that extra shot or two of scotch I’ve had. Or it could be an indication of emotions lurking closer to the surface than usual as I ponder this blog and what it has meant for my writing. Most importantly, it’s given me access to you, o wise and discerning readers, a venue to display my odd wares.
Thanks so much for spending some of your precious time here. Visiting and browsing this…repository of my poor words.
An idea will occur to me and all at once I’ll see the story with such perfect clarity that writing it down is a mere formality, almost a matter of taking dictation. “Daughter” was like that. “Also Starring”. “RSVP”. A couple of others. Not many. It doesn’t happen nearly often enough for my liking but when it does, I’m almost sickeningly grateful. Practically grovelling.
Because usually it’s the opposite. A tale like “In Dreams. Awake” for instance, was a monster. You can read it by clicking on the Stories tab (above) and if you do, it’s almost certain you’ll ask yourself: “What’s he going on about?” The story in question is not some post-modernist mind-bender, the kind of dense, inscrutable, erudite text beloved by college professors and potheads; nope, it’s a relatively straightforward narrative, with few bells and whistles. My problem was that I hated the tone of the story, the narrator seemed so cold and remote. I did draft after draft of that sonofabitch, trying to make the protagonist more sympathetic and likable. But the story resisted me, my Muse digging in her heels, insisting I put aside my misgivings and follow orders. Finally, I had to give in and the story is what it is. A fine tale but I have a hard time even looking at it because that rotten bastard was so difficult, each word, each syllable a struggle.
But that was nothing compared to what happened this summer.
I’ve told you a little about it. I spotted the Esquire fiction contest–they provide the titles, participants write the stories–and, as a writing exercise, I wrote on each of the themes they posted. And I described my astonishment when the stories turned out to be linked, sharing the same central character. Believe me when I assure you that I had no intention of writing four stories based around this Conrad Dahl fella.
And I certainly had no idea this quartet would take up my entire summer. That wasn’t the plan. I was supposed to be working on revisions of my next novel. But something happened on the way to that place, my Muse making it clear that these stories were to be given top priority and finished at all costs.
They cost me a lot all right.
None of them was easy. Not one. And writing these pieces seemed to awaken something in me–or perhaps unleash it is a better word. The process of writing left me emotionally, physically and spiritually exhausted, like nothing I’ve experienced since completing my novel So Dark the Night.
I’ve talked about emotional truths re: my radio play “The First Room”. All the facts are made up but the mood, the feeling of the piece is accurate.
I think that’s what happened here. Conrad Dahl is not me. Not in any way, shape or form. None of the events depicted in the stories involving the Dahl character have any relation to real life incidents and my family is/was nothing like this. But…the feeling…the atmosphere…
Something put the whammy into me.
And now I’m passing it on to you. How kind of me, hmm?
I think you’ll quickly discover what I’m talking about.
The four stories below are decidedly mainstream, no vestiges of genre fiction…yet there are aspects here that are as horrifying and intense as anything springing from the pens of the thriller writers who love to keep us all on edge. Sometimes you might be tempted to avert your eyes, cluck your tongue in disapproval. Don’t.
Read on. Explore and discover this character as he grows and develops, follow him from the ages of 9-20 and see how the closing pages of the last story are almost inevitable, directly attributable to the events that have preceded it.
I present the tales in chronological order for those who prefer the linear approach but, really, they can be read independently of each other and should be viewed as stand alone stories.
Feel free to drop a comment below once you’ve read them and had a chance to think about Conrad and his decidedly dysfunctional family.
I welcome your feedback and thoughtful responses…
These are interesting times.
Book store sales are dropping, Borders on the verge of collapse, while places like Amazon report an impressive rise in their stats. Fewer people are reading books but there’s been a modest increase (3%) of those reading “literary” offerings. Newspapers are in decline, advertising revenues dwindling; to a great extent, folks now get their news, sports and entertainment info from on-line sources.
Despite their daunting price tags, more and more people are using devices like the Kindle and the Sony e-Reader or related palm-sized gadgets. And employing said gadgets to avail themselves of books presented in electronic formats, downloading and reading them in growing numbers.
I’m an old fashioned lad, a real throwback when it comes to all this technology–miles behind digital sages like Mike Cane, who have seen the future and are showing the rest of us dummies what lies ahead.
But I’m learning. I’ve posted two of my novels and numerous short stories on this site and, frankly, I’ve been astonished by the amount of people who have downloaded them–some of them are reading my fiction and essays on their computer screens, even printing them up to peruse at their leisure. But I’m also noticing a growing number who are coming over from various e-book sites and forums, places like this and this…
Frankly, I couldn’t care less how you read something I’ve written, what format you choose.
Coming up in March, some folks are celebrating the new reality in publishing by sponsoring “Read an E-Book Week” and I’m only too happy to throw my weight behind this event.
Thanks to this blog and the ability it gives me to electronically publish my work, I’ve been able to bypass the gate-keepers of publishing, editors and agents with one eye on the fickle marketplace and the other on their bank accounts. They’re no longer interested in identifying the “best” writers, merely the ones that hold out the most hope of selling the most books and earning them (agents, editors) more money. And that, of course, means producing empty-headed commercial fiction, copycat books and the latest “poor me” memoir.
But, re: the sales figures above, their record of late hasn’t been too impressive. The reading public has largely ignored the authors they herald, the derivative works they champion.
It’s time for a new paradigm and e-books are part of the solution. They put power and control back into the hands of writers, allowing them to publish their work without editorial interference or an unhealthy obsession with what’s perceived to be popular.
Authors can now create their own “buzz” and attract readers from around the world to their work. Others have debated the merits of offering material free, but I have found it has worked wonders for me, raising my profile to hitherto unheard of heights. Tens of thousands of folks from around the world have visited this blog and many, many of them have taken the opportunity to read and enjoy the material I offer.
Hats off to the folks behind “Read an E-Book Week”. I congratulate them for their foresight and the vision they have of a future where authors are granted paramount importance and corporate publishing is, increasingly, marginalized, rendered superfluous, perhaps even obsolete.
That day isn’t far off. And when it finally arrives, it won’t be cause for mourning or despair. On the contrary–and I’ll be one of the liberated, independent artists dancing a victory jig on their graves…