I have a new story published by decomP magazinE today. And this one really is a new one in that it was written this year. That said, I had the original idea decades ago - well over twenty years - after having read Bradbury's "The Crowd." From what I remember, for those who haven't read it (and you should - all Bradbury is worth reading), "The Crowd" is basically a story based on the premise that every crowd you see - gathered outside opening sales, gawping at roadworks, jostling around accidents - is actually the same crowd, an amorphous blob of people that appears and disappears depending on there being a need for a crowd. (Or at least that's how I remember it. As I say, it's probably been 25 years since I read it).
Anyway, when I read that story I couldn't help but think of, "What would the story be like from their point of view?" Hence an idea that for many years lay in my ideas file as "A Day in the Life of the Man in the Street" until such point as I realised that flash fiction was the perfect form for many of my ideas that couldn't really support a longer story. The actor angle came from reading a flash piece a few months ago that all the writers and editors that I follow on Twitter were lauding. It was rather good and was a first person actor tale thus inspiring the actor angle, which I thought worked rather well as a narrative framing device.
That said, I think the Twilight Zone-esque elements of the original story got somewhat lost in this shorter piece and I think it could actually support a longer story of 5,000 - 10,000 words. So while I am happy with this piece as it stands (and I'm certainly happy with where it's been published - decomP is very well-retrospected and has many of the stories that it published be nominated for prizes and awards, including the prestigious Pushcart Prize - I still don't consider this idea done quite yet.....
decomP also has the rather nice feature of also having the authors read their pieces as audio files. So you too can now get the full experience that the dozen or so audience members at the Worcester Speakeasy 2018 LitFest Special had when they heard me read this a couple of months ago! ;)
Just got back from doing a tiny 3 minute slot at "Worcester Speakeasy" tonight where I read my most recently published flash story, "Authorsoft tm", which appeared in Ellipsis Issue Three. At only 300 words it fit pretty well into the 3 minute time slot I had and thankfully it seemed to go down well with the audience, which is always good.
It was also an interesting evening as "Speakeasy" has moved to a new venue which has a nice outside stage area. As far as I know, this was the first "Speakeasy" to ever be held outside and it had a really relaxed atmosphere as a result.
I'm looking forward to expanding out beyond Worcester to events in other towns and cities in the months to come.
Ellipsis' collection, Three is available today from their website and will, eventually, be available to purchase from Amazon. It features my story "Authorsoft tm". This is another ooooolllllldddd story - maybe 15 - 20 years old - written in a period when I was still looking for my own voice but had been enormously influenced by Baudelaire's prose poems. So I ended up writing a load of short-short stories (which I called prose-poems, like Baudelaire's, as at the time the flash form didn't really exist) which featured my usual vision and ideas albeit written in a tone of voice that was very heavily influenced - overly so, in fact - by Baudelaire.
I liked most of the ideas, however, even if at the time I recognised the writing style was derivative and not "honest." Thus, most of the "prose-poems" that were written in this period languished on floppy disks then memory sticks and then finally the cloud until recently. Some ("The Chaotic Butterfly," "A Fresh Perspective," "The Friend We Made"), now that I have my own authorial voice and I feel (somewhat!) more in control of the form (which now has a name - flash fiction!) have been totally re-written and subsequently published, while others, like "HumourChip tm" and "Authorsoft tm" just needed a bit of tweaking, editing and polishing.
So anyway, enjoy "Authorsoft tm" (and other excellent flash pieces) in Ellipsis' new collection Three, available from here.
Also, on a somewhat related point, here is the companion piece to "Authorsoft tm", "Poetsoft tm". Now bear in mind that I am not a poet when reading this although from a conceptual point of view I think that actually works better for this piece in terms of its subject matter. I do think this was actually published in some poetry pamphlet at some point almost 20 years ago, but it was such a small scale photocopied thing, I really can't remember its name.
"I really love you, and I think your body's
I type onto the
Direct from a
index and simple colour display,
cursor on the poet
heard of this guy,
But let's look
at his style,
Put the cursor
And access the
love you and i think your bodys great".
What? Is that all?
Don't tell me that that's it.
Oh no, I think
I've been ripped off.
Trust me to buy
on. The sixth Lord Byron,
There's a name
The manual says
he's a romantic,
So let's give
him a go.
"O radiant love shining 'pon dusky flesh
Of beauty that
ne'er will fade."
Yes, yes, this
is what I want,
This is bound
to get me laid!
But I'm a
sensitive Millennial man,
so let's try
(for a woman's point of view).
After all, even
if it's rubbish
I can always
make it new.
"In darkness blood milky-weeps from cracked and
I've had a new story published today by The Ginger Collect. 'Humour-Chip tm' is actually quite an old story - possibly over 10 years!- but it's only taken so long to be published as I hadn't really tried getting it published anywhere. Until my recent rash of flash fiction publications, I didn't really know what to do with it. In many ways it was flash fiction before I knew what flash fiction was. It was also a weird mix of slightly speculative and vaguely humorous but with a melancholy tone, which again made it a hard piece to put forth. But in the last few months I edited it down slightly and I also performed it live (and it seemed to go down well) so I felt a lot more confident in finally trying to get it out in the world.
I'll be reading at Worcester Speakeasy tomorrow, Thursday 14th June. I'll be performing a new piece, "The Man on the Street" and an old favourite, "The Lexical Guide to the Bulldog Breed." Come along if you can!
New flash piece published in Trembling With Fear. I had to change the names of some of the celebrities (for legal reasons, apparently) which I think has a slightly negative impact on the story. However, I think it still works.
Pop over to Trembling With Fear for a read. I'm also hoping this and/or "The Last English Speaker" will be appearing in The Horror Tree anthology when that comes out later in the year. We shall see.....
Just a quick update. I've just had a flash piece accepted by Horror Sleaze Trash. Don't even ask me where this one came from, it just sort of bubbled up fully formed (or fully malformed?). It was probably just me thinking about a load of experiments that I thought would be interesting to do but which "the liberal pinkos" would probably think were "unethical" or something..... ;) Anyway, no real point to this story as such - just a disturbing, and hopefully funny, scene in time with one of my favourite recurring characters, Dr Kokoschka, a man whose circumstances are now so reduced that he is performing his quackery and insane research in a former industrial unit in Tipton.
Starting the New year with an acceptance from Bizarro Centralis a pretty nice way to get it going. The piece they have taken, "The Creative Game" is also quite unique in that it was written specifically for a theme, something I don't usually do and have never done before. This was for a reading at Worcester's 42 night and the theme, if I remember correctly, was "The most dangerous game." Now I did also write another short piece with that title for performance (posted on this blog around Halloween). That was very dissimilar to what I usually write in that it was pretty much a straightforward ghost story. "The Creative Game" however, is much more in my usual area, inspired by Burroughs' cut-up literary technique and (I think) Tristin Tzara's Surrealistic games to inspire surrealistic writing but, as with most of my stories, then pushed to the nth degree. However, as I say, this one was quite unusual in that rather than just writing up my big, long list of ideas, I had to sit down with a theme in mind and think, "Hmmmm, what can I do there?" Not my favourite way of working but it was nice for a change and, when you're talking about flash fiction, it was hardly massively time consuming, either.
A new flash piece, "The Last English Speaker" has just been published by Horror Tree. Probably the nearest I've got to writing a horror story but it shows I've been teaching English too long when the Big Bad isn't a psycho or an evil spirit but is the English language. The editors apparently hope to put out a print anthology at some point and if they do I'm fairly hopeful that "English Speaker" will be included as apparently both editors liked it a lot. Please go and read it here.
"Nanny Knows Best" has just been published in Issue 22 of The Wild Word magazine, their 'Future' issue. "Nanny Knows Best" is the first story to appear in my upcoming second collection, State of the Nation, and it was originally conceived as a framing story for it. (I did a similar thing with the Ugly Stories for Beautiful People, when I used "BobandJane" as a top-and-tail to the entire collection. I've always liked that device, going way back to when I first read various Bradbury anthologies such as The Illustrated Man, so I was keen to duplicate that, if I could, and I've been lucky enough to manage that twice now).
So anyway, please visit The Wild Word and I hope you enjoy "Nanny Knows Best."
A new flash piece has been published by Reflex Fiction. I have since revised it (300 words was a bit limiting and I think I cut a bit too much out of it for it to get there - I actually wanted there to be more doubt about whether she had actually undergone a Kafka-esque bout of unexpected invisibility or whether the story was just a metaphor - sadly, I think that was lost in this published version) but they seemed to like the super-short version, so who am I to argue?
Wired, the anthology that contains "Marks on a Page" and my Worcester Flash Fiction prize shortlisted piece, "MWC ISO IRL" is being launched at the home of the 42 spoken word group, The Swan With Two Nicks, in Worcester next Sunday 12th November. I, amongst many others, will be reading at least one piece, so come along. It's normally a pretty good turn out for these launches, so it should be fun.
"Burr's stories are hard to categorize, as they're not strictly horror or fantasy per se. However, all are imbued with a dark flood of macabre images that continue to disturb and haunt long after reading. The stories carry a core psychological reality (even the more surreal), layered with pathos and fatalism wrapped in punkish sensibilities. Each narrative in Ugly Stories feels like a complete and nuanced world inhabited by isolated souls walking a dark, lonely road.As difficult and uncomfortable as it is to see ourselves sometimes in the darker aspects and recesses of art and literature, we are somehow compelled to stare into that abyss. Burr's collection just happens to make it all worth the pain."
Read this review in full at THE HARROW.Garvan Giltinan, The Harrow
"This is a collection of short stories that steadfastly refuses to be shoehorned into any genre niche, though those who enjoy horror will assuredly find much of what they like within its pages. If you pinned me down and asked for a writer James Burr is similar to, my answer would be Russell Hoban, though even that may be stretching a point, with perhaps a hint of the early Vonnegut. These stories are not ugly, though they often touch on aspects of life that are, and you don't need to have model girl/boy looks to read them, just an open mind and a willingness to embrace a young writer whose work is that little bit off the wall, but refreshingly so."Peter Tennant, Peter Tennant's Case Notes, BLACK STATIC.
Burr is not merely a "new" voice, he is a fresh voice – a different and disturbing voice - and one deserving of your attention. His work is not easily categorized, which may, or may not, be a good thing. There are certainly horrific elements to Mr. Burr's fiction, but also what can be more readily described as "dark fantasy" and even, perhaps "Bizarro" fiction. .....There is also a dry, sardonic, and often satirical humor running through much of the stories in the book. The stories in this collection worked, for me, because they were not merely "different," but because they truly were disturbing to me, as a reader, and many of the stories stayed with me long after I'd finished reading it. Be forewarned - these stories ....... require, perhaps, a bit more effort on the part of a reader; but those looking for something a bit different and challenging, will be handsomely rewarded. This book is highly recommended.
Read this review in full at HorrorworldNorm Rubenstein, HORRORWORLD
"Ugly Stories for Beautiful People feels like a book in its own little world. I don't mean to suggest that its stories never joined the party – a glance at the list of previous publication credits will reveal that they did – but there is a certain sense that this book stands to one side, that it's doing its own thing, as it were. The collection begins and ends with a story called BobandJane and its postscript, about a couple who are so very much in love (Burr's prose conveys this superbly) that, yes, they don't perceive reality as it is – and, at the very end, their bubble may just be starting to burst. Not just a neat story, it serves as a summation of the whole book, a book which covers a range of human emotion, precarious relationships and equally precarious realities (and there may not be much difference between the two); and whose intriguing constituent parts form a complete, intriguing entity."
"This reviewer has read countless collections of fiction, in many genres, many eras. That being said, Ugly Stories has got to be one of the oddest. That could be a negative, yet in this case, Burr's strong imagination and plaintive, yet very effective prose manages to pull it off. Odd, unique, very cool, and extremely readable, this collection is recommended for anyone looking for something different - or for one of us who isn't one of the beautiful people!"
Read this review in full at Hellnotes.David Simms, HELLNOTES
"It's always a pleasure to find an anthology that's well written and unique and that strikes a chord long after turning the final page. Ugly Stories For Beautiful People is just such a collection.These loosely linked stories begin with Bob and Jane, A Fable in Two Distinct Parts, about a couple whose adoration for each other is all-consuming. Foetal Attraction is deftly narrated by a pregnancy kit that wants nothing more than to deliver the happy news of impending motherhood to its rather unsavory owner. In The Dada Relationship Police, a man discovers that a shadowy group seems to know every aspect of his life and his relationships. In The Byronic Man, a man must decide how far he'll go to make himself attractive to the opposite sex. Burr takes a satirical look at what could happen when humans' proclivity for pretentiousness suddenly runs amok in It. And in the "postscript" story, Bob and Jane make a final disconcerting discovery…From the darkly twisted, to humorous to stories filled with illuminating social commentary, Burr's innovative speculative fiction is an insightful, and sometimes disturbing exploration of the human psyche. Read Ugly Stories For Beautiful People in its entirety for its full effect -- James Burr's work exemplifies what a well crafted short story is all about." Rating -- 3 out of 3 books
"Burr brings to life an almost zoological variety of characters, a sweeping menagerie of insipid drug dens, high art soirees, faltering romances, madness, and the ever-present reggae. Burr convincingly weaves together the various societal strata of London and Barcelona from beggar to bureaucrat, acid-head to activist, and brings them to life to co-exist side by side in the same heartbroken, disillusioned universe.Ultimately, Burr's view alternates between the sentimental bitterness of failed romance and a sweeping image of modern life in all its sickness and beauty. Burr's writing, like his characters and his world, fluctuates from the simple to the complex, from the vulgar to the sublime. It is as if Burr cannot decide whether he wants to indict society or glamorize it.And because that's the point, Ugly Stories for Beautiful People is worth a read."
These stories offer a wry sideways look at modern life and culture, twisting and turning the quirks of everyday life into something recognisable and yet entirely odd - like a caricature, perhaps. There are common themes: is what we call reality really real? How can our own minds fool us? Can simple statements and thoughts help use see the true reality from within our mindless everyday haze? There is also an obsession with relationships - and specifically what happens when they come to an end.....Ugly Stories for Beautiful People is a good collection of entertaining speculative fiction, which I would recommend without reservation. "
The most interesting thing about James Burr's stories, in my mind, is the use he makes of urban fantasy. In Burr's stories, the mundane creates the fantastical. When a real-life issue is loaded enough, when the mundane pressure grows and grows, then reality will twist and expand, and the impossible will occur. What Burr really pulls off well, then, is resonance. His stories are powerful because they are about pain, conflict, and emotions, and he tries to pick the ones that will be so powerful the reader will believe they are strong enough to warp reality. The impossible happens because the characters desperately want it to—and so Burr grants their wish. The bleak, depressing nature of these stories shows us full well how much confidence Burr places in humanity's desperate desires."
Ziv Wities, THE FIX
"Burr's short stories defy categorization. The stories vary in length and range in type from a tale told from the point of view of a pregnancy stick to the story of two people who are so in love with each other that they literally become one. The format of the book is also unusual. It has no table of contents, and the stories just sort of flow into each other. If there is a theme to the collection, it is about how the characters' perceptions prevent them from seeing the reality around them. Burr is a talented storyteller with an impressive imagination. His stories will be appreciated by readers of horror, bizarro fiction, and those who just like good writing. Recommended."
"The majority of the book is brilliantly written, with the basis for many of the stories involving relationships between wives/husbands, boyfriends/girlfriends, people/drugs, that range from the perverse (BOBANDJANE) to the bittersweet (Ménage Á Beaucoup). My personal favourite is probably ‘Life Is What You Make It’, involving as it does a woman dealing with grief in such a bizarre way that she’s fundamentally altered the structure of reality. [...] It might not be too bold to say the world needs more writers with fresh and weird ideas, and James Burr falls firmly into that camp."
"This collection could just as easily have been called Ugly Stories For Unsettling Contented People, for to enter the world of James Burr is to step into a region where reality is fluid and to be happy, or at least settled, is to be in incomplete possession of the facts. Once you enter, reality fractures in surprising and innocuous places. It was the shortest tales which for me had the greatest impact -- the delusions and, ultimately, kindness revealed in Mutton Pie; the pace and linguistic inventiveness of The Byronic Man; and best of all from this collection, It, which is a gem of a story, at once hilarious and horrific, a story which leaves you envying the author its premise while admiring the perfect balance with which that premise is developed. The best test of such a collection is the success with which the author inveigles you into their world. In this case, I finished the book in the food court of a shopping mall, put it down, looked around me, and waited for the cracks to show. "