Yet another anthology featuring one of my flash pieces - which I had previously completely forgotten about - has come out. Trembling With Fear: Year 2 is now available on Amazon, and it features my flash piece "Celebdaq" which was originally published on the Horror Tree/Trembling With Fear website back in 2018.
This one was a fairly simple idea based on celebrity adding value to objects and people being willing to pay the prices demanded for those objects. The idea of people bidding on celebrity body fluids, toe-nails, hair clippings and so on is not new (and I believe is already "a thing" in this world), but I liked the idea of pushing that further towards celebrity tissues and bodily organs. It was then just a small step to conceive of a specialist market place for such transactions (the title of which I got from a short-lived late 90s celebrity news show which I remember was always quite good fun) before then pushing the desired celebrity attributes from the bodily to the more abstract.
This piece also ties in with a longer story called "Shooting Stars" which was published in Suspense Unimagined last year. In that, the final body Babs comes across, the one that revives her fortunes (that of Pete Doherty), is the first celebrity the protagonist of "Shooting Stars" kills, at the beginning of that particular tale. As with the Ugly Stories for Beautiful People, many of the stories in State of the Nation will be inter-connected in some way or another (beyond just basic themes).
Horror Sleaze Trash's latest anthology is now available on Amazon and it features my flash piece "And From the Heads of Babes" that was originally published on their web-site last year. Featuring my favourite deranged medic, Dr Kokoschka, it's one of those stories that was just a collection of ideas (mainly psychological experiments that I thought it would be interesting to do even though they are obviously entirely unethical) but which somehow still manages to hang together as a cohesive whole. It also means Kokoschka will feature in two very different publications this year - this collection which, as the title suggests is a degenerate collection of dark, sleazy, trash fiction but also in the upcoming Fiction International anthology which is very much an academic journal interested in formal literary innovation that has published the likes of William Burroughs in the past.
It seems somehow fitting that good ol' Dr Kokoschka is equally at home in both.
Just had a new flash piece published by Trembling with Fear. I particularly like the little intro they gave it, especially bearing in mind I have never really seen myself as either a traditional genre writer or mainstream literary writer, either. "First up is Teach Control as a Foreign Language by James Burr. This is not strictly a horror story in the traditional sense. Instead it focuses on the delusions of Gavin who thinks he can teach ‘his language’ to the rest of society and by indoctrinating or programming them with his words, gain control; words are powerful, after all … aren’t they? It is the ending which incorporates an element of horror – of wasted years and futility – turning the story into a tragedy and which in turn is a great change to the usual tropes which pass through our doors. So remember, when trying to come up with an idea for TWF, that horror can be quiet, delusional, tragic or a state of existence. It can be so many things beyond the more traditional fare and in many ways, so much darker." Anyway, hope you enjoy it at the Horror Tree website (here). This should also be published in next years's end of year "Trembling With Fear" print anthology.
I'm very pleased to have a 2000 word prose-poem accepted by Fiction International, the literary journal of San Diego State University that focuses on formal innovation in literature, non-literature, indeterminate prose and visual arts/imagery. The piece in question, 'If Janus Had Two Faces, Then Why Can't I?' is, as I say, a prose-poem that was influenced both by some of Ballard's work in The Atrocity Exhibition and early Modernist poetry.
Stylistically, it is worlds away from my usual work but many of my usual areas of interest - shaping and changing of the body, the mutability of flesh, the striving for beauty through artificial means, are all present and correct.
The piece will be published in the Fiction International 52 anthology entitled Body, which should be available on Amazon at some point later on in the year.
If I get a chance, I will post a reference sheet for the various references in 'Janus' (if I can remember them!). It does however also feature the very first appearance of my favourite deranged medic, Dr Kokoshka, who was of course initially named after the Expressionist artist Oskar Kokoshka, writer of an Expressionist play entitled, Murderer, The Hope of Women and whose perverted, fetid presence has made itself felt across a number of my stories since this piece including 'BobandJane,' 'It' and 'And From the Heads of Babes.' The subject of the piece - the striving for beauty through any means, no matter how extreme, and at any cost, no matter how demanding, meant that the naming of a scalpel-wielding surgeon after the creator of such a piece of work seemed somehow apt.
I'm very pleased with this acceptance and can't wait to see the finished journal.
Another fun night at Worcester Speakeasy tonight. Some great poetry from Wesley Rolston (who has superb delivery and stage presence) and Staffordshire Poetry Laureate Emily Galvin, whose poems on mental health and unrequited love were very powerful with some really striking imagery and word-play.
I performed "Teach Control as a Foreign Language" which was accepted for publication by Trembling With Fear last night. My next reading may be at 42 at Drummonds, Worcester in a few weeks and I think I actually have a story idea which may be on theme. Of course, whether or not I have the time to get round to actually writing it is another matter....
Very pleased to have my first story acceptance of 2019! Trembling With Fear have just accepted my flash piece, "Teach Control as a Foreign Language." I had the idea for this one back in the mid 90s when I was living in Barcelona and teaching English as a Foreign Language and it has lain in the "Burr Ideas File" pretty much since then. Basically, it occurred to me that we think through language and by teaching English, you are essentially teaching people new words with which to think. You can also subtly alter how people think and experience the world. For example, the Spanish word "mujer" means both "wife" and "woman" and that says a lot about the Spanish way of thinking. After all, groups of guys nudging each other saying, "Look at that wife over there!" says more about traditional Spanish culture than a 10,000 word essay on "The Macho Patriarchy" or whatever. So by introducing the concept of women being capable of being women and, potentially, NOT wives, does in some way alter how the world can be perceived simply through the use of language.
Similarly, there is the fact that Spanish is quite limited in terms of vocabulary compared to English. While I'm sure it has many variations on the word "red", from what I knew at the time it had nowhere near the nuance of English which has "crimson", "scarlet", "vermilion" "ruby", "cherry" and so on. In this way, language can atter the experience of reality and how one expresses their experience of it (perhaps partly because English is a hodge-podge of multiple languages in itself, something I explored in a horror setting in another flash piece published by Trembling With Fear, "The Last English Speaker"). From this idea, it was only one small step to think that one could use language to actually alter how people think and ultimately, how they behave. Hence, "Teach Control as a Foreign Language."
It was always more of a stoned idea than a fully formed concept so I knew there wasn't a 10,000 word story in it. But once I started adapting some of these ideas into flash fiction, I knew this was one that could certainly carry a 1000 word flash story.
On a different topic, I will be reading "Marks on a Page", originally published in the Wired anthology, at Worcester Speakeasy tonight at Wayland's Yard, Worcester at 7:30pm. Maybe see you there!
Just had an acceptance from an anthology with one of the weirder submission criteria I have ever come across - exactly 42 words with a 42 character title (including spaces).
I sent two submissions, both of which didn't have 42 character titles (I missed that stipulation but have since changed the title on the accepted story to satisfy it). However, just for the fun of it, here is the submission that was not accepted (with its original title). I may turn it into a standard flash story of sub-1000 words at some point.
THE CEREBRAL VACATION
He thought the cerebral vacation in his girlfriend's head would be a refreshing break in point of view. But when he saw himself filtered through her eyes he was first surprised, then ashamed, to see he was a caricature, ridiculous and absurd.
The 42 Stories anthology will apparently be available from Amazon at some point in 2019.
Just received my copies of Suspense Unimagined which features my 5000 word short story "Shooting Stars." I originally wrote "Shooting Stars" maybe 15 years or so ago (I do tend to sit on my stories for many years; partly out of being too busy to work on them and partly because I'm a big believer in polishing and editing stories, and I think this works best once you've pretty much forgotten them so you can approach them with a fresh pair of eyes).
I can't really remember the origins of the story but I think it was one of those instances where I read a story somewhere else and the story went nowhere near where I thought it would go based on its premise, so I ended up writing the story I thought I would read. I had been reading Alexei Sayle's Barcelona Plates collection, so it could have been "The Minister for Death" although I can't remember anything about the story other than it featured a pensioner who was a contract killer.
One thing that was certainly the case was that, even though this wasn't the usual kind of collection I read, it did really resonate with me at the time and I very much enjoyed Sayle's sneery narrative voice in many of the stories. I'd used a similar type of narrative voice in "Foetal Attractions", "It" and "BobandJane" and not only did I like it but I also found it very easy to write in and, as I had recently written several stories with a more traditional narrative voice, I felt it was time to do another where I could sneer away to my heart's content. Like all those stories, this one too came out quickly and virtually fully-formed (as easy as I find that voice, I try not to use it too much as I am aware it can wear the reader down).
I can't remember where the initial idea of s celebrity serial killer came from, but the title came from the Vic and Bob quiz show, (".... Welcome to Shooting Stars / Welcome whoever you are / The guests have been greeted / The stars are now seated / So come along and let's start Shooting Stars!") and the intent was to use the story to satirise contemporary attitudes towards celebrity, attitudes which have become even more bizarre with Instagram models and Love Island competitors and so on getting their mugs into the national Press. Throw in the thwarted (and clearly terrible!) novelist aspect and the "creative" deaths angle and bingo! There you have it.
This one did the rounds of lots of anthologies and magazines and even though I always liked it, it never quite got accepted. Several places said they liked it and one or two said they would like to use it but they felt uncomfortable about the use of real celebrities' names. But it finally got accepted by Suspense Unimagined and I am very happy with that. It's a really nice looking product that has clearly been put together with care.
A particularly good night at the Worcester Speakeasy last night with, as always, a great flash story from Roz Leavens and some powerful poetry from Daniel Burton and Wesley Rolston. I gather Wesley is relatively new to the Spoken Word scene but his delivery and stage presence is superb. However, they got my name wrong on the flyer (yet again!) despite putting "Burr" in huge letters at the end of the email asking for a slot. Still, I'll let it slide since they call me a "master of deep, dark works from the flash fiction master." I guess that makes me a super-master, or something. (*blushes*).
I read "BobandJane" from the Ugly Stories, one that while on the longer side (7 mins in its most edited form) usually goes down well. It was a weird one, though - the audience was split so around half of them were in their 60s and 70s and half were in their 20s to 40s. I noticed that in the spots where there are usually big laughs, there were just two or three of the younger people laughing, but not the almost comedy-set laughs it usually gets. And when I finished, instead of the usual polite but hearty applause you get at these things, there was a few moment's silence before people started applauding. At first I thought it had actually bombed, but then I realised as people actually cheered (!) and started applauding that it had been an almost stunned silence. The poet who came on after me was all, "Well, how do I follow that?" and I had 5 or 6 people come up to me afterwards saying how much they enjoyed it and how they thought it would go down well in some of the more raucous spoken word events in Brum. But despite the very positive response I got from the younger half, I got the feeling the older group were confused or disappointed or wanted to hear more conventional fare.
Still, I enjoy Speakeasy and will undoubtedly do a few nights there next year. But now it is really time I start branching out into Birmingham and the Permission to Speak night in Stourbridge.
So, another reading done with the good folks at "Worcester Speakeasy." When booking my slot I rather stupidly forgot to give my pen-name so was listed under my real one, but the MC, Suz Winspear, knows me and announced me as "Burr", so it was all good.
I only had 6 minutes so I performed "The Chaotic Butterfly" and "Genuine Photo" (which was originally published in A Cache of Flashesin 2016). Both seemed to go down well, although one audience member did seem confused and said he had no idea what I was on about. So, success!
I'm also hoping to attend Stourbridge's spoken Word event, Permission to Speak, at Claptrap the Venue next month, although that will mainly be as an audience member and just to get the lay of the land and to see if it's the sort of night where I would go down well. Hopefully, that will mean expanding out beyond Worcester. Then there is also a night in Wolverhampton and several nights in Birmingham I want to check out.
Who would have thought I'd get so into performing when I hate public speaking so much and my idea of Hell is being an actor on stage? Then again, being able to read and not having to rely on my blown short-term memory is, of course, an advantage.
"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. "