The Blog

HOW I’M SPENDING MY AFTERLIFE now on sale for $0.99


Starting yesterday, you can pick up the Kindle or epub version of HOW I’M SPENDING MY AFTERLIFE for just ninety-nine cents. Or, if you are not in the US, for a comparable pittance.

This will continue for at least a week. But, since I’m not always in complete control over exactly when these price changes go into effect, I guarantee nothing beyond that. Nothing!

Get it at Amazon, or Barnes & Noble online, or Kobo, or Apple Books, or wherever else you generally buy these things—hope you dig it!

My 2018 in live music

2018 was, as they tend to be now, a … difficult year. Fortunately, I live in a city where we want for little when it comes to top-quality live music options. And since going to a show is one of the ways I like to forget about my (and the world’s) troubles, you better believe I saw a few.

Though the year is technically not over, and I do have tickets to one more show—Lee Fields & the Expressions at The Chapel, which is a New Year’s Eve show that will not end until 2019, and so I will include it in next year’s wrap-up—I nevertheless present you with a list of all the shows I saw in 2018, in descending order of awesomeness.

All venues are in either San Francisco or Berkeley unless otherwise indicated:

  1. X and Los Lobos (The Fillmore)
  2. Fleet Foxes (The Greek)
  3. Calexico (Great American Music Hall)
  4. Southern Culture on the Skids (Slim’s)
  5. Mipso (Freight & Salvage)
  6. Bombino (The Independent)
  7. Elvis Costello (The Masonic)
  8. George Clinton & P-Funk (The Independent)
  9. Yukon Blonde (Hotel Utah Saloon)
  10. Mipso (Lincoln Theatre, Raleigh NC)
  11. The Pretenders (The Masonic)
  12. Rodriguez (The Warfield)
  13. Robyn Hitchcock (Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival)
  14. Toots & the Maytalls (The Fillmore)

With the exception of the very last entry, this list wasn’t easy to put together. That’s because that Toots & the Maytalls show was the only actively bad show I saw all year. The gap between, say, #12 / #13 and #14 is pretty wide, because Rodriguez put on a very low-key but still highly engaging performance. In a different year, he would have ranked much higher. But unfortunately for him (and the Pretenders, for that matter), I caught a lot of great live music in 2018.

By contrast, the selection of best show of the year wasn’t nearly as easy. It was always between X / Los Lobos and Fleet Foxes, but the fact that X has long been one of my favorite bands AND they brought Los Lobos—a hugely fun band that is still more than capable of headlining on their own—along with them are the two factors that tipped the scales.

Still, that Fleet Foxes show was pretty incredible. Here is a short video clip I shot; my old iPhone SE had a shitty low-light camera so the image is terrible, but the sound is what’s important here anyway:

There is something about the simplicity and haunting honesty of their performance that just hit me square in the heart.

Seven of the bands on this list are acts I had seen before; in fact, it was my third time seeing both Elvis Costello and George Clinton & P-Funk, and my fourth seeing Robyn Hitchcock. Elvis was as solid as he always is, and he did a full three-hour set with no opening act; considering how he almost died (apparently) earlier in the year, that’s pretty impressive. George gets points for his outrageous stage show and for the fact that his classic cuts are still so strong, but his set itself wasn’t as tight as I would have preferred. Still, it was a much better performance than when I saw him at Stern Grove a couple years ago, in an outdoor amphitheater at two o’clock on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

I doubt I will be able to top this list next year, but you never know. The 2019 slate starts, as I mentioned above, with Lee Fields & the Expressions, and will also likely include Richard Thompson and Judas Priest (though not on the same night).

What standout shows—good or bad— did you see in 2018? Tell me about them in the comments!

Speaking of awards I haven’t won yet …

Earlier this week I found out my story “Fantastic Atlas” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize by Ascent, the journal where it appeared back in March of this year.

This, combined with the very favorable write-up my novel How I’m Spending My Afterlife received for the Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Contest (which it did not win, alas), has made for a very affirming and confidence-building week for me.

Of course, it is just a nomination. I haven’t actually won anything yet. And as John Fox points out in a pretty divisive blog post, a lot of people get these nominations every year. That’s because every small literary magazine is eligible to submit up to six pieces they published during the previous calendar year. There is, therefore, a school of thought that says the nomination itself is pretty meaningless unless it’s followed by a win, or at least a Special Mention, and that boasting about it is unseemly.

My take: Nah.

Nobody says we shouldn’t brag about getting our stories published. In fact, that’s just good self-promotion, and it’s pretty much required these days (hell, self-promotion is the reason I wrote this post in the first place). So why wouldn’t I be proud of it when an editor tells me that he thinks my story was one of the best things his journal published this year?

And I’m not the only one who feels this way, either.

So yes, I’m gonna brag about it, and I hope I win. I got a Pushcart nomination! Hooray! Go me! But even if I don’t win, it really is an honor just to be nominated.

I’ll definitely mention it when I start sending the short story collection out to agents and editors, though. Way up high in the query letter. They are gonna hear about it, boy howdy.

There’s more to life than winning awards, you know (though that’s probably pretty nice too)

Earlier this year, I entered How I’m Spending My Afterlife in the 26th Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards. The judge who read it had some nice things to say (I assume they would have told me if I’d won anything, and since they didn’t mention anything, I guess I probably didn’t, which is okay because I am getting plenty of validation from this critique, let me tell you):

HOW I’M SPENDING MY AFTERLIFE knocks it out of the park. Wonderfully produced, its colorful, evocative and clever cover is sure to draw many an eye and pocketbook. And readers will likely not be disappointed; Alton Carver is fully developed, appealing scoundrel who owns his mistakes but doesn’t quite know what to do with them and his wife (widow?) Nicole is equally misguided. The true victim of the piece is an innocent, daughter Clara who is portrayed realistically as well. Readers may recognize parts of themselves and others in these characters; motivation in and of itself to keep turning the pages.
But author Spencer Fleury pulls together other elements as well, including a plot that bubbles along at rapid pace and lots of humor. Alton makes no bones about his love for all things materialistic, such as parting ways with his beloved Porsche when he fakes his death. “…you either understand what I’m talking about or you don’t, and if you don’t I feel sorry for you.” While Nicole calls Davis, her ineffectual lover, “an idea hamster…coming up with ideas and never taking them anywhere, just…spinning his giant hamster wheel until the next one came along.” Such writing is reminiscent of Carl Hiaasen, another chronicler of all things Florida.
Although the book has some vagaries, such as exactly how much money is at stake, where it is located and what happens to it after events unfold and the exact nature of Alton’s initial crimes, these are not enough to detract from the an excellent escapist read. And like any good piece of writing, it’s reflective of society in general and imparts a solid moral lesson that allows readers to figure it out for themselves.
  • Structure, Organization, and Pacing: 5 (on a scale of 1 to 5)
  • Spelling, Punctuation, and Grammar: 4
  • Production Quality and Cover Design: 5
  • Plot and Story Appeal: 4
  • Character Appeal and Development: 5
  • Voice and Writing Style: 4
Thanks, contest judge! I’m glad you dug it.

Four More Years

Exactly four years ago today, after a three-and-a-half-day cross-country drive, I arrived in San Francisco for good.

My dreams of moving here had grown more and more powerful since 2007, when I first managed to visit, but I’d actually had it in my head that I wanted to live here since at least 1993, when during Coast Guard boot camp I requested an initial duty station anywhere in the Bay Area. (I got New Bedford, Massachusetts instead, which I hear has come a long way since then. But I digress.) I left Florida two days after the string of disappointments that were Election Day 2014 in the Sunshine State and Continue reading “Four More Years”