Please help us welcome author Edmond Manning today, on his tour for the latest book in the Lost and Founds series, King John.
Enjoy Edmond’s guest post, then be sure to click on the Rafflecopter widget below for the chance to win an e-copy of the book.
What Is Burning Man?
When readers ask about the recently-published fourth book in my series, The Lost and Founds, one of the very first questions anyone ever asks is, “What’s the setting?” Readers who have explored the previous three books know the setting is a significant character. Quite intentionally, the setting is a mirror to the man being kinged. He in turn, represents what is beautiful and unique about that particular location.
“What’s the setting?” is a good question to ask.
When asked about King John, the fourth book, my reply is, “Burning Man.”
The next question I’m asked is, “What’s Burning Man?”
Another good question.
What the hell is Burning Man?
The eye-rolling, New-Age-Hippie bullshit answer is, “It’s anything you want it to be.”
Perhaps the best place to begin answering the question is with logistics.
Burning Man is an annual festival held on public lands in the Nevada desert—specifically, the Black Rock Desert, which is roughly 150 miles outside Reno. Physically, the nearest town is sixteen miles away. No town. No hotels. No drinking fountains. The festival takes place on a playa, which is a desert basin for runoff water during flash floods. It’s essentially a lake bed with no water. There’s no cactuses, no rock formations, no wildlife.
Although the roots of Burning Man stretch back earlier than 1990, that year was pivotal, because that’s the first year the small group sponsoring the festival decided to bring the strange adventure to this Nevada playa. They camped in the desert, wore formal costumes during Happy Hour, sipped cocktails, and constructed a forty-foot effigy of a wooden man. After a long weekend of partying and turning themselves into Living Art, they burned The Man to the ground.
Burning Man is a party in the desert.
Burning Man is an exercise in radical self-reliance.
Burning Man is about pushing artistic limits, and creating a dialog about humanity, the stars, this precious life we waste in cubicles or in front of the television.
Also, it’s an opportunity to get completely wasted and blow shit up.
The first few times Burning Man was explained to me, I didn’t get it. I kept asking, “Yes, but why? Why would anyone go there and do this?”
The answer was a crazy grin and the words, “Why not?”
My narrator, Vin Vanbly, attempted to answer the question “What is Burning Man.” In the passage below, he describes what he sees looking over the vast city that now forms on the playa for one week each year. The action takes place in 2002, when 33,000 people showed up to answer the question, what is Burning Man?
I observe a thousand dusty campsites and two thousand more behind them, all impacted by the same swirling singular wind, sweeping in from the barren playa far behind me. I watch it crash against the nearest tents, unstoppable as it curls into open nylon flaps and RV doors. Dust settles on food and drinks, shoulders and shoes. From this vantage point, I inspect Black Rock City, the temporary metropolis rising from the dead earth each year—a city erected with engineering precision for a festival idealizing chaos.
That’s Burning Man for you, the unlikely attraction of polar opposites. Abundance amidst the scarcest, deadliest landscape known to man. Chaos brings life. Burning equals renewal. And naked, joyful hope arises every year from people who have almost given up on the outside world.
These are my people, those who live on the fringe. Those who don’t always have a home, a job, a place in the world. Of course these days, the Burning Man tribe includes wealthy trust-fund partiers, middle-class adventurers, and bored tech guys trying to get laid. Everything changed mid-90s, when the Silicon Valley dot-commer adopted Burning Man as a networking opportunity. But, shalom, they must be made to feel welcome. Radical acceptance. This makeshift city—its rich kids, freaks and paupers—is still the closest thing I know to a home.
After spending months researching Burning Man in books, first-hand accounts, pictures, and documentaries, I think the best answer to the question—what is Burning Man?—is, it depends. For some, the torture of a week in the desert makes Burning Man a hell-on-earth to which they’d never return. For others, it’s a break from all things civilized, an exploration of art and meaning, a temporary city of like-minded thinkers. For others, it’s drug and party central.
Again, Vin tries to capture the rawness of the experience, the duality of powerful light and darkness. He describes one of the last nights at Burning Man, witnessing the forty-foot effigy about to burn and the fire dancers who worship at its base.
The firebugs rush into the center, a furious mob, occupying the giant semi-circle before The Man. Fifty of them I’d guess, maybe sixty, all swinging poles with fire dancing on both ends. These spinners move in synchronicity, shoving their poles out, then spinning them over their heads, and for the few seconds their hands are out of contact with the circles of fire, I remember how dangerous all of this is, the fire, the desert, the thousands gathered here, singing, howling, dancing, and grinding.
Looking around, I am surrounded by thousands, in glitter, feathers, and transparent silks, people in various stages of nudity and neon, costumes and non-costumes, and what they all share—what we all share—is the dust. We’ve slept, eaten, and played here for a week, and we are all acutely layered in dust, in grit, in grunginess. We sweat together. We wear the planet’s dust together. This is what binds us, not our uniqueness, or our giftedness. No one can escape our commonality—dust. It’s who we are. Where we’re going. If we’re lucky, we get enough dust on us to feel as though we’ve truly lived.
I am always grateful no one gives speeches or offers explanation for what Burning Man means, or what it should mean, or what it means to the organizers, and so forth. So much better to apply our own meaning, our own experience. To stop filtering through someone else’s reality and find our own.
This is Burning Man’s gift, really. This geographic space outside reality, this moment in time, where raw ideas get birthed into existence. With radical self-reliance and radical acceptance, anything we imagine can be true. Some fashion the world through metal sculpture. Some create a pirate ship on the back of a school bus. The serpent men imagined a hell where people are used, use each other, and the only victor is the least manipulated. They created that reality.
Who are the serpent men referenced in the final paragraph? Well…you’ll just have to find out, won’t you? Not everyone at Burning Man is full of the milk of human kindness. In fact, during King John, a small cabal of unsavory characters are determined to make trouble. They succeed.
Which is why Burning Man—with its hint of real danger, and the promise of radical acceptance and radical authenticity—is like no other place on earth.
Blurb: English attorney Alistair Robertson can’t quite believe an astonishing tale of kingship and transformation he hears at Burning Man, the annual counter-culture art festival in the Black Rock desert. Who are the Found Kings? Is “being kinged” as magical as it sounds?
Determined to find the mysterious garage mechanic named Vin who helps men “remember who they were always meant to be,” Alistair catches his quarry amid the extravagant sculptures, fire worshipers, mutant cars, and lavish costumes. After searching for three years, he’ll finally get to ask the question burning inside him: “Will you king me?”
Wandering together through the desert, Vin Vanbly and Alistair explore Burning Man’s gifting culture and exotic traditions, where they meet the best and worst of their fellow burners. Alistair’s overconfidence in Vin’s manipulative power collides with Vin’s obsessive need to save a sixteen-year-old runaway from a nightmarish fate, and the two men spiral in uncontrollable, explosive directions.
In this fourth adventure of The Lost and Founds, beneath the sweltering summer sun and the six billion midnight stars, one truth emerges, searing itself on their hearts: in the desert, everything burns.
About the Author: Edmond Manning is the author of the romance series, The Lost and Founds. The books in this series include King Perry, King Mai (a 2014 Lambda Literary finalist), The Butterfly King, and King John. King John takes place at Burning Man.
King John Blog Tour: