Spencer Stephens

Author of 'Church of Golf.' Also a student of nearly everything.

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Congratulations. You’ve Arrived.

same.same .cover .art  Congratulations. Youve Arrived.

Book Review. “Same Same” by Peter Mendelsund. Vintage Books, 2019.

It would take a daring and clever mind to convert the burning agony of a struggling, solitary writer into a provocative and amusing fantasy. Lucky for us, Peter Mendelsund has the goods. His novel, “Same Same,” is due out February 5.

Mendelsund’s protagonist, and perhaps his alter ego, Percy Frobisher, is an everyman who harbors the seeds of creativity and an urge to produce, perhaps to write. But life is a dullard’s ditch. A fellowship from ‘the Institute’ is dangled. He jumps. His existence becomes subsumed by the Institute and the expectation that he generate a creative project – any project. He can stay as long as he needs, can go in any direction. The Institute houses him, feeds him and assigns him a tea boy to help with his life’s labors, to free up his time.

The Institute is home to a cast of creatives that is flat-out weird – a hedonic psychometrician, a percussionist, moneymen who analyze derivatives of derivatives, a woman who covers herself in yarn. Is this art for art’s sake? Is it meaningful? 

Institute life is centered in a remote biodome, a spiritual retreat with tidy rooms, sustenance, daily structure and first-class recreational facilities, on what feels like a different planet, one with a wavy horizon, where buildings shift on a landscape of unirrigated rust. Massive dunes, pushed by wind, threaten to erase reality. Palm trees cast tarantula shadows. Inside the dome is green, lush, quiet – a place where minds can be remade. Inside, says Percy, soon after arriving: “I cease to belong to myself. … I feel unburdened of my materiality, uncoupled from the ground. I can think here.”

Happiness and productivity lack drama. So, of course, Percy dries up, a raisin in the sun. He agonizes, prone on his floor, overcome by narcosis. The essence of his project eludes definition. Percy procrastinates, refuses even to label his project. He imagines the atmosphere of a small town after a massacre. He might be dying inside.

Somehow, he manages to keep a damn fine journal; our view of the Institute is entirely through his eyes. His years there are shaped by the forces around him. The glass biodome, its condition, its effects and its place in his world – are in constant question. An Institute disciplinarian and handler, Miss Fairfax, embraces and spreads the gospel of things conventional: seminars offering tips and tricks, encouragement couched in Institute lingo. Percy befriends the resident cynic, a man for whom nothing matters. The Institute’s historian-guru offers words of wisdom – or are they the meaningless words of an idiot? Percy’s head keeps jerking in the direction of a Mysterious Woman who wanders into view, then disappears into ambiguity.  

In real life (“Irl,” Percy calls it), far outside of the biodome, in a town, is this novel’s namesake, the Same Same, a little shop. People go in with problems. They come out with solutions. Take in any item – stained, broken, incomplete – and it comes out better than new. The shop is an attractive resource, one the Institute declares taboo. The shop bears an uncanny resemblance to our reality and, sometimes, the things it turns out are imperfect, perhaps excessive. The shop might be a stand-in for beta readers, editors or crowd-sourced opinions on a writer’s early drafts, on the betterment that comes from receiving critical, outside analysis. It might represent the events that compose life, the essential moments from decades of experience that bring self-knowledge or wisdom, tens of thousands of days being sifted for bits that tell a story. The shop might represent the individual, having been improved by investing himself in creation. Or, it could have been contrived just so some writer could use it as the title of his book. Really, who’s to say?

Mendelsund’s tight tale might be called, Parable of the Novelist. Percy’s state of mind and the toll it takes are both known to many writers who work long daily hours, years on end. It is the insulated foil hat, the madman’s enclosure, that molds itself to your head when you want to craft the one thousand words that are your daily goal. It is the thing that makes you ignore loved ones pleading for attention, makes you tune out Irl.

Inside the foil hat is an oasis for one, a green place in life’s desert, divine loneliness. Unlike, say, musicians who can write and rehearse in groups, the writer usually runs solo, his life nearly empty of commiseration and team spirit. Every foil hat is distinct, can’t be duplicated – like a fingerprint or like the bacteria in a gut. Percy’s descriptions of the inside his foil hat – a state of ennui, tangled and blue – glow like burning coal. “Boredom,” he says, “is the exemplary state for fomenting a hyperawareness of time.”

Mr. Mendelsund’s background is evident in the text of Same Same. He was associate art director with Alfred A. Knopf and has doubtless inhaled a vast variety of books, allowed himself to be affected by them in order to conceive and generate appealing cover art. Percy’s journal, for example, calls on vocabulary plucked from hither and yon: Jewish mythology, taxonomy, Far East cosmetics, gardening, efficient text messaging, biology, modern dance, anatomy. I didn’t mind that I had to read this book with a dictionary in hand. With every exotic word, Percy became that much more mysterious.

Mendelsund’s extensive analysis of books and his interaction with authors and book editors have left him able to turn out elegant prose. The man knows what readers like. He is a living example of what extensive reading can do for a writer. The narrative is absorbing, insightful and compelling. It is the evocative story of man in search of meaning, a classic arrangement of life’s elements. And it is paced like a once-in-a-lifetime vacation to a foreign land: The flavors, smells and sights are many, as are opportunities for reflection, and you are left richer, more peaceful.

This book could only have been written by one who’s explored their foil hat, who’s withdrawn from life in pursuit of work that might end up being meaningful to no one but himself. No doubt, Mendelsund has worked closely with many authors who’ve done the same. He knows how the foil hat can be an imagined paradise, how it might lead one to lift his head and to discover, in shock, that he’s wandered, alone and without water, into an empty desert. Mendelsund has a message for those who’ve worn the foil hat, who have dared down the path that might lead to creation of something that pleases no one else: Congratulations. You have arrived.

How to Explain Creation of a Monster?

Book Review. Mrs Saville by Ted Morrissey. 2018 by Twelve Winters Press

Ever been awed and inspired by a writer who defined the beginning of a genre? Ever wondered what fed that writer’s imagination? Ted Morrissey certainly has. His newest effort, Mrs Saville, is an homage to Mary Shelley and Frankenstein. I am awed and inspired.

Literati are marking the two-hundredth anniversary of Frankenstein; Ms. Shelley and her book are the admired grandmothers of all science fiction. Before 1818, when Frankenstein was first published, there was no science fiction. No imagination had conceived of it. Only after Frankenstein could there have been H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, Kurt Vonnegut, Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov. Only then could there have been Buck Rogers, Captain James T. Kirk, Darth Vader, The Terminator. Continue reading

Bibliophiles Get a Little Rowdy

If you’ve written a book, the day will probably come when you attend a book festival, full of hope and glory, dragging along a box full of copies.  Like dozens of other aspiring authors, you figure you’ll come home in a few hours with a few sales to brag about. It turns out that you’re more likely to come home with some stories and a few new friends.

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Words of Greater Weight

If your mama says you look nice in your new suit you say ‘thanks’ and keep on going. You both know it’s a mama’s job to say such things. When the CEO of your biggest client stops you in the hall and says ‘Hey, that’s a really nice suit. Where’d you get it?’ you know that you’ve received a sincere compliment worth feeling good about.

Yes, some words carry greater weight than others.

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Kind Words

A few kind words or deeds can take you farther than a whole tank of gas.

A golf writer named Jeff Shelly, writing at Cybergolf.com (a blog produced in partnership with CBS Sports), recently described ‘Church of Golf’ as ‘an entertaining yarn’ and ‘a fun read.’ In the process, he made my day.

cybergolf.com

The editors at golf-fiction.com posted an excerpt of ‘Church of Golf’ after a review of the book to ensure it met their standards. It’s a nice sample of the book that anyone can read.

golf-fiction.com

A book fan from Croatia, Denis Vukosav, a ‘Top 100 Reviewer’ on Amazon.com posted a glowing review just a day ago. Denis works with a charitable organization in Croatia that promotes literacy and reading and that features wonderful information about Croatian writers on its website. I know they would be happy for any donations you might care to make.

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Finally, my lovely sister-in-law, Susan, has convinced the members of her book club in Charles County, Maryland, to read ‘Church of Golf’ and to discuss it at an upcoming meeting. Thank you, dear.

More to come soon, no doubt.

Getting More Attention

My grateful and sincere thanks to several nice folks who have posted reviews for ‘Church of Golf’ in recent weeks.

A golf blogger from Atlanta called C.O.G. “very engaging,”  and “very enlightened.” He said the book tells “a very cool story.”

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Since early December, eight more readers have posted reviews at Amazon.com, most of them five stars.

It’s nice getting good reviews. This is partly because most of us like having nice things said about our work. It’s also nice to think that somebody sat in a comfortable chair with ‘Church of Golf’ open on their lap, ignored their computer and their television and found entertainment and inspiration. That’s just so right there.

Getting Attention

My mama raised me up to know the value of modesty. Having that knowledge means that when I call attention to myself, I’m required to feel guilty. (Knowing the value of modesty and being modest are two entirely different things, it turns out.)

I’ve always admired folks who are naturally modest — or at least who seem to come by modesty naturally. Garrison Keillor, possibly the cleverest Minnesotan ever, seems to have that quality. And at the risk of sounding partisan, Colin Powell does too. They both seem like people who would make memorable and pleasant dinner companions. I doubt either of them spends time dropping names of celebrities or babbling excessively about their accomplishments.

But if you write a book and you want to find an audience, you can’t afford to be too modest. You have to call attention to yourself. You have to believe you have done something worth boasting about and then you start boasting, even if it goes against your sense of propriety. So the nice folks at  Saint Pete Press and I have coordinated an effort to boast. We have begun to contact numerous people who are prominent and have a public connection with golf. We’ve sent copies of the book to book editors at newspapers, golf writers, golf broadcasters and even celebrities who golf.

In the last week, Church of Golf and old Spencer have gotten some return on their investment in boastfulness. And the truth is, it doesn’t feel half bad. Getting public recognition and appreciation is kinda nice. A fellow could get used to it. Continue reading

It’s Here? Oh, How Lovely.

‘Church of Golf’ is available on Amazon, at long last. Please tell your friends and neighbors.

Amazon.com Link for Church of Golf

 

Patience Is Not My Virtue

When an important and long-hoped-for event doesn’t happen as quickly as you would like, you probably take a breath and go on to something else and say to yourself “All in good time.” You busy yourself with something else that’s important and take your mind off what you want but cannot yet have. You demonstrate maturity and evenness. You take satisfaction, knowing that you are setting a good example for those of tender years.

Me?  The Dark Angel of Impatience alights on my left shoulder and shrieks in my ear. I do not shoo her away because her feelings and my own are too much the same. I am left unable to concentrate. I snap at the people who love me. I pace. I channel surf aimlessly, as if I could find what I want being pitched in alluring tones by Fabio on the Home Boy Shopping Network. I hurl mustard-flavored invective at innocent drivers who slow me down on my commute to work. I threaten small and defenseless pets and make them pee on the carpet. I brood.

So it goes with ‘Church of Golf.’

October 15 once looked like a safe bet for the date on which the world could go to Amazon, click a button and expect to receive a hard copy of ‘Church of Golf’ via the U.S. Postal Service. The same date looked good for Kindle downloads. Not any more. Continue reading

Milestones and Merriment

In the last week, a couple of important milestones on the path to authordom have come and gone.  I approved the ‘marketing text’ — the blurb that appears on the back of the book that briefly describes the inside of the book — and the BISAC category (used by librarians and search engines to categorize and find books) for ‘Church of Golf.’ Also, the manuscript has been formatted so that it looks like a real book with chapter numbers, little squiggly things called ‘fleurons’ that divide sections; pages have been laid out with page numbers and the text has been put into the font and type size that will appear in the final.

One other happy milestone came and went: I told the publisher I was a little underwhelmed with the cover art that they had produced. It wasn’t bad. It just wasn’t all that good. I thought I was just venting. I didn’t expect that little old Spencer, not yet published or proven, would be able to have any influence. Two days later, I got an email with brand new cover art. I was blown away. It captures the precise feeling I had hoped it would. It features a lush photograph of a middle-aged dude getting ready to tee off on a golf course that is obviously tropical (possibly Hawaiian). He’s looking off into the distance (which the reader cannot see). The future of this particular golfer is something he’s very interested in and it’s a question mark. He gets to ponder his future while planted in a place as beautiful as any you could imagine.

Just perfect.

More to come soon, no doubt.

COG.cover.art.createspace.141003 cog.cover .art .alternative.141007 300x225 Milestones and Merriment

 

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