Brad Spurgeon's Blog

A world of music, auto racing, travel, literature, chess, wining, dining and other crazy thoughts….

A Not-Book-Review: Wayne Standley’s Novella, “The Man Who Looked Like Me”

April 29, 2014
bradspurgeon

Wayne Standley

Wayne Standley

For my second “Not-Book-Review” I did not premeditate that I would write about the book that a friend gave me a few months ago and that I only got around to reading now. I did not imagine that it would be so much fun, so light, so captivating and so genuine. But when I discovered all that, I decided that I HAD to write about it on this blog – especially because I’ve mentioned its author so often here in the past as a musician: Wayne Standley. The book he wrote is called “The Man Who Looked Like Me.” So check out my “Not-Book-Review” of Wayne’s book. Then see if you can find a copy for yourself to read!!!!

As a reminder: This “Not-Book-Review” is a type of article specific to this blog that the first one of which was my talk about the book of another musician, Neil Young – and his “Waging Heavy Peace”. The idea behind the column is that because it is a blog, and because I believe in Ernest Hemingway’s dictum about writers not criticizing other writers in print as reviewers – “You cannot run with the hare and hunt with the hounds,” he said – but because I love to read good books and talk about them, the idea is that I am not going to place myself on a critical pedestal and dictate what is righteous or not about a book I read. I am not going to recommend it as a piece of literature or a consumer product. I am not going to fulfill the role of the book reviewer whatsoever. This blog is my space, Brad’s world. So what I will do when I feel compelled, will be to write about books I am reading or have read or feel compelled to write about for any other reason – my “Not-Book-Review.” Something people can read, and should read, only as a reflection of how I felt about the book – not a recommendation that they should or should not read it.

So, again, here is my Not-Book-Review of “The Man Who Looked Like Me” by Wayne Standley.

Flash Visit to la Tireuse, Flash Post and a Related Flash New Blog

January 22, 2014
bradspurgeon

PARIS – For various reasons, I did not get to leave the apartment last night until very late in the evening. I decided nevertheless to head over to the closest open mic, La Tireuse, to see if there was a chance to play, even in a flash, last-minute visit.

As it turned out, it was a fairly quiet – yet comfy – night at the Tireuse. I only had the chance to catch the last moment of one performer before I was beckoned to take to the mic myself! This I did with some reluctance, having not even warmed up, tuned my guitar or sung a single time yesterday. As it turned out, the crowd was so warm that I felt egged on to leap into the songs and get out in one piece. It went well, I was told afterwards – of course, I had a little help from Cat Stevens, as I sang two of his songs, and my own “When You’re Gone Away.”

The night ended with Wayne Standley playing on guitar along with Ollie, the MC, playing lead. That was very cool. After that I then learned of two personal projects from these fine musicians, as Wayne gave me a copy of a cowboy novel he wrote, and Ollie told me about a new blog he has just started.

I immediately returned home and looked at the blog, and found something I know I will return to again and again. Ollie has called it “L’Albatros,” and it is a very cool blog that gives thumbnail descriptions and a representative video of obscure or long-forgotten bands in the history of pop music. The ones up there right now range from the Canadian group Bachmann Turner Overdrive, to Jim Croce, Harry Nilsson and Fred Neil. But Ollie clarified to me that a lot of the groups would be well known to me, and to their specific audiences, but less known or completely unknown to the French – the language in which the blog is written. (Gordon Lightfoot and Steely Dan seem good examples of that.) But this looks like a real winner of a blog, and I’ll be returning.

I started reading Wayne’s book this morning, and found a new voice – in the written word, that is, because it sounds very much like the Wayne I know singing….

An “Imperfectionist” Inspired Rant on Paper Manuscript Submissions in the Electronic World

November 1, 2013
bradspurgeon

Paper vs. Electronic Submissions

Paper vs. Electronic Submissions

ABU DHABI – A change in subject away from music for the moment: I’ve been reading the novel “The Imperfectionists” over the last few days, my first eBook on my first iPad (mini). I’m behind the times on both the iPad and the eBook. I’ll admit it. I’m not behind the times on computers in general, since my first computer was an Osborne portable, bought in 1982, and everything I have written, thought or imagined since 1982 is contained on a hard disk or two – in addition to the original floppies, other disks, CDs, DVDs and memory sticks since then invented.

But as I read this electronic book by a former colleague of mine at the former International Herald Tribune, I began thinking of discussions he and I had before he sold his book about seeking literary agents, and that led me to thinking again about my task this winter, where I’ll be sending out two of my manuscripts, for consideration by agents and publishers (or three manuscripts if you count the French translation of the novel I’ll be sending – (the other book is my open mic memoir)).

I’ve already started doing some research on agents and publishers, and as I read – joyously – this delightful fiction by Tom Rachman, and thought about how it mattered not one iota whether I read it in an electronic book format or in a hardback or paperback, I began thinking all the various thoughts of paper vs. electronic media. And then I settled on this particular aspect of the “debate”:

How is it, that “traditional” book publishers can charge us 8.99 euros or more for an electronic book that costs them absolutely nothing to produce and distribute in billions of copies, when they charge the same amount – in some instances – for the same book in its paper version, which costs them something in paper, printing and distribution, and yet – here’s the real bit that I’m aiming at – a majority of the best publishers and many of the best literary agents STILL require that authors send their manuscripts to them by snail mail post in printed format?!?! (If they accept submissions at all.)

How Can Publishers and Literary Agents Still Ask for Paper “Manuscript” Submissions?

In other words, while they charge 8.99 euros for an electronic copy that costs them nothing to produce (and I don’t want to hear about the editing staff, etc.), and they expect a reader to be just as happy with reading it in electronic format or printed format, they themselves insist that a poor author pay for printer ink – a fortune – paper to print the manuscript – not a fortune, but it still costs something – and then postage – a fortune?!?

my first computer: 1982

my first computer: 1982


All of which means, the author is probably spending as much or more than 8.99 each time he or she sends out his or her manuscript to a publisher or agent, who will not look at it otherwise, but who, if they like it, will then charge readers the same amount to read it, and take the lion’s share of the profits. I don’t get it. The newspaper industry long, long ago modernized to the point where an electronic story submission is the only kind they really want. (There is a passage in “The Imperfectionists” about an old freelance journalist who is stuck in his ways, and poor, (because he gets no more work) who still faxes his stories to the newspaper, causing a huge headache to the staff each time they have to re-type it into the system.) And yet so much of the publishing industry, that battles to keep its corner of the electronic market and rights, still refuses the electronic submission of what will eventually come out as an electronic product.

The Wonderful, Deceptive Simplicity of ‘The Imperfectionists’ by Tom Rachman

I really would like to have an explanation on this strange, dinosaur leftover from another era. Part of me thinks that because the industry is more bombarded than ever before with manuscripts from potential authors, and because it is easier than ever for authors to make submissions of unpolished or hair-brained books, the editors and agents seek a kind of natural selection process on the basis that the more serious writers will take the time to print out and mail a manuscript, rather than shoot one off on a whim via email.

If that is the case, I don't buy it. A great manuscript will rise to the surface of the slush pile eventually, whether it be electronic or printed out, and the crappy electronic submission is a lot easier and less time consuming and polluting to deal with than the crappy printed manuscript. And the excuse that an editor or agent would really like to sit down in a chair and read a paper version of the novel rather than read an electronic version is really no longer valid, is it? When they are selling us "air" for 8.99 euros or much more….

By the way, it was taking me forever to get around to going to a bookstore to buy a paper copy of Rachman’s novel (or any other English book in Paris), which I had been hearing about for so long from friends and strangers. And I had no real excuse (except Paris), especially since I felt it practically an obligation for me to read a former colleague’s novel, especially one all about the newspaper world, the expat newspaper world that we both worked in. So it was with my new iPad mini in hand that I decided to rectify that situation, and I’m just loving the book!

The Imperfectionists

The Imperfectionists

Rachman has a real way with language, and the characters and situations are extremely memorable. The stories really flow. It is written with a simplicity that is hard to achieve. (As I think Pete Seeger once said, perhaps comparing Dylan and Hank Williams: “Anyone can be complicated, it takes a genius to be simple.” (Although Dylan is a complicated genius in my opinion, and in the opinion of most.)) Of course, I’m not finished the book yet, so perhaps I’ll lose interest…but I doubt it. And if I do, well, it only cost 8.99 after all, and I won’t have to put it on my shelf to collect dust. Of course, I might have to eliminate it from many more places, as it has been migrating from my iPad to my iPhone and maybe soon to my MacBook Pro, if they let me….

Enough rambling rant! If anyone has an answer to my question about how publishers and agents can be committed to electronic books but not electronic submissions, please let me know!

From My Archives: Internet Hieroglyphics in La Repubblica in Italian

August 6, 2013
bradspurgeon

hieroglyphicsPARIS – Another day of no music at the open mics for me as I work on my books and documentary film intensively this August break. Somehow, I was reminded of a story I wrote and published in the newspaper where I worked in February 1996. The story could go almost go into my rejected stories category, as one of the top editors of the time tried to stop the opinion page editor from publishing the story, saying that it was old news and that everyone in the world knew this stuff anyway. The story was about smileys on the Internet, and the premise of the story was – humorously said – that the latest high technology of the day – the Internet – had brought back letter writing, and above all, had sent the world back into prehistoric times as we suddenly reverted to using a modern form of hieroglyphics – the smiley.

My op-ed page editor who wanted to run the story defended the writing approach and style, and the story appeared. And again, while the all-knowing other, critical, editor said it was useless information that we all knew, the story was good enough to attract the attention of the Repubblica, one of Italy’s major newspapers, and within days of its appearance in my paper, it appeared in the Repubblica, on its op-ed page, translated into Italian. I’m putting that Italian translation on this site, along with the original English version of my Internet smileys story from 1996, which was not exactly years into the phenomenon in the popular mind. So here, too, is my first bit of Italian on this site….

World’s Most Prolific – and Perhaps Compulsive – Writers

July 30, 2013
bradspurgeon

Isaac Asimov

Isaac Asimov

PARIS – Back in Paris for the next few weeks now, I did not do any open mics last night as I was flying back from Budapest. So today, nothing to report on the open mic scene in the clouds…. But that makes this a good moment to add another story from my archives to my collection of blog stories, as opposed to posts.

This time, I have selected a story about the world’s most prolific authors of books that could go into the blog stories as opposed to posts category, but it could also fit well into the Brad’s Rejected Stories area, since it was rejected at least 12 times, including from my own newspaper where I worked, before it got picked up and published at the Los Angeles Times in their Sunday Book Review as the lead essay at the bottom of the page.

It was an over-the-transom submission, I did not even have an editor’s name to address it to. Sometimes these things happen, if you get the right story to the right person at the right time. In fact, the story was spotted by the fill-in book editor of the time, Kenneth Turan, who that same year, 1991, became the Los Angeles Times’ film critic, a job he still does today. In 1993 he became the director for the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes.

I wrote this story about the world’s most prolific book writers by querying all the writers I could find who had written and published hundreds of books – like Isaac Asimov and Barbara Cartland. Most of those I queried kindly responded. Needless to say, I was glad not to let them down when I came through with publication after all the rejections….

A Bit More Crime Writing… Ancient Interview With Jean-Bernard Pouy

July 16, 2013
bradspurgeon

Jean-Bernard Pouy

Jean-Bernard Pouy

PARIS – If I performed an interview in 1996 that I have just re-read and found fabulous and fascinating and super-cool, then I cannot be blamed for being boastful if I say that it is fabulous and fascinating and super-cool. After all, I wrote it in 1996 – which is to say, 17 years ago – and therefore, any such reaction and announcement CANNOT be considered boasting. Before I turn full-circle again on such a pronouncement, I think I just want to say that the interview in question was the one I did with Jean-Bernard Pouy, a French crime writer, as I researched my story for The Armchair Detective on French crime writing.

So as part of my blog articles as opposed to posts section, I have decided that the next installment is the Ancient Interview with Jean-Bernard Pouy, following the Ancient Interview With Maurice G. Dantec. In fact, Pouy is not just a crime writer – today he is still around, at 67 – but he was also a key element of the new wave of French crime writers in the early to mid-1990s as he helped spawn the careers of both Dantec, and another of the major writers, Tonino Benacquista, both of whom were former high school students of Pouy’s in a Paris suburb….

If you want to make any sense of that, read the old ancient interview with Pouy….

A Trip of a Day, Through Life in a Way, in Paris on a Bastille Fête Weekend

July 14, 2013
bradspurgeon

Kenna and Cox

Kenna and Cox

PARIS – Ultimately, my Saturday in Paris yesterday was a very personal thing, but in another way, it belongs entirely on this blog as it started with some themes recently expressed here, and it ended with a surprise musical interlude of the kind I love.

I was thinking of driving off to Deauville for the day, as there was sun and heat and it really isn’t that far. In then end, I decided to go to the Musée d’Orsay and profit by the sun and heat of Paris. But on the way there, I decided to go to the amazing crime writing library, the Bilipo that is behind the fire station on the rue du Cardinal Lemoine in the 5th Arrondissement that I wrote about on the blog the other day. I wanted to check out the mystery magazines and maybe see if there were any of the people I knew there.

So I went to the Bilipo, thumbed the pages of the mystery magazines from England, France and the U.S. and then I spoke to Catherine Chauchard, the longtime director of the library. It turned out that we shared a passion for the band Moriarty, and ended up talking as much about music as crime literature.

From there I went off towards the Seine and ended up stopping for a salad in the park of the St. Julien le Pauvre church next to the oldest tree in Paris, planted in 1602. This, of course, was right next to Shakespeare and Company, and I decided I must buy a copy of the New York Review of Books. So I went there and started entering this great bookshop only to find a hand and a voice preventing our passage: “Sorry, there is a line up of people here and you’ll have to wait in line before entering.” I turned to see this lineup of around 10 or so people, and I looked in the store to try to see what people were lining up for, and I couldn’t figure it out, so I asked.

“There are currently too many people in the shop, so you have to wait in line until your turn,” was the response.

Huh? I looked in the shop and found that it had fewer people in it than many times I had visited, and fewer than many stores. Clearly, though, the guy at the door did not seem to be wanting to get into a discussion of what this new policy was all about, and the last thing on earth I wanted to do was to wait in line as if I was visiting one of the seven wonders of the world, when in fact I had freely entered the bookshop for 30 years…. So I told the guy I wasn’t going to wait and I went off to the Abbey Bookshop, even if they don’t carry the New York Review of Books. Despite the even more cramped quarters of the Abbey, I’d never been told to wait in line….

So I went to the Abbey, which of course, I spoke about in two recent posts here. The place was buzzing along with business, and rather than being told to wait in a lineup to get into the mausoleum, Brian Spence, the owner, greeted us by saying immediately, “Oh, just in time for a cup of coffee with maple sirup!” So I had a cup of coffee with maple sirup and I explored the bookshop, descending into the cave which Brian referred to as the scene of the crime – in reference to my short story. And while I did not buy an NYRB at Shakespeare and Company, I did decide to ask Brian for some book recommendations, and I left with three (A Steinbeck, a Patrick Leigh Fermor and Paul Auster)…. Now does this not show how effective good customer treatment is in business?!

I moved on to eat a meal at a Thailand restaurant, the Lao Lane Xang. The food was great. Oh, and on the way to the restaurant, I don’t want to forget to mention, I explored some wonderful parts of Paris, including the Chateau de la Reine Blanche, just off the Avenue des Gobelins…. What a city!!

I decided to make a very brief visit to The Quiet Man pub since it reminded me of a similar kind of jam in Montreal that I had attended, the one at Grumpy’s. Whereas Grumpy’s is all about bluegrass, the Quiet Man is all about Irish music…played by French people. They all sit around a table in the basement room every Saturday evening and play jigs and reels, with violins, concertinas, guitars, flutes, etc.

I stayed there for a half a pint of beer and then headed off to call it a night, oh, and perhaps catch some fireworks for a Bastille Day display, if there were to be any the night before the 14th…. On the walk away from there, however, I suddenly heard someone playing an acoustic guitar and singing, and I heard an accompanying violin, and I turned my head and looked right, into a pub called The Green Linnet. It was another Irish pub, and the man singing finished his song and saw me looking in and invited us in… I asked if it was an open mic, and he said, “No,” but the violinist indicated that maybe I wanted to play, and he asked, and as I was trying to figure out what to do, I noticed a man at the bar waving to me.

I suddenly realized that I had recognized the guy without it really clicking in my head: It was Chris Kenna, an amazing musician from Australia who lives in Paris and performs regularly in bars mostly in around the 11th Arrondissement. I had met him first when he was hosting an open mic in that area. Now he performs quite a bit with a violinist named Melissa Cox, as “Kenna and Cox,” and I suddenly realized this was the woman playing behind the mic with the other singer man (as I had in fact met her before too).

So I stopped for a beer here, and they invited me to go up and play some songs after their break. So I played three songs: “Mad World,” “Borderline” and in order to suit the place, I sang “Raggle Taggle Gypsies,” which I rarely do anywhere. I was fantastically fun to have this impromptu, unexpected moment, and I had a nice conversation with Chris and Melissa. Then Chris and Melissa took to the stage and played a few songs, Chris with his deep, raspy voice that seems tailor-made for the blues, and a few other styles too…. They sounded great together.

I left, and never did see any fireworks, but all in all, I realized, it was the ultimate day in the streets of Paris. How could it have been any better and with more unexpected moments and adventures!!! It felt like the greatest decision to wander about Paris rather than drive three hours to Deauville and three hours back, but I’d still have loved to stick my feet in the sea….

Oh, yes, and if you read this far, you might have also realized that I never did make it to the Musée d’Orsay, and in the end, that matters little. Perhaps all of life’s journey is kind of like this???

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