Posts Tagged 'Ben Vendetta'

The Marrakech Cure

It was a week after the passing of a dear friend that an email alert popped up with a deal to Morocco round trip for $440. My husband and I had always talked about going, and in a spark of ‘why not because we could die tomorrow’ I decided I was going. I then texted my husband, “guess what, I just bought non-refundable tickets to Marrakech!”

Ten months later, and with two friends, we embarked on our first real vacation that wasn’t a ‘working trip’ after a crazy year of both my husband and I having surgeries a few months apart, his near death experience, and the resulting PTSD. I’ve traveled internationally all of my life, but this was great to go somewhere completely unfamiliar and where we knew no one.

We landed at sundown and stepping off the plane (old school down a flight of stairs onto the tarmac) in the heat at the edge of the Sahara, I knew this would be different, and just what we needed. We spent an unforgettable week with our dear friends in the heart of the Medina. My husband wrote half of his next novel on our riad balcony. Souks, palaces, gardens, hidden alleys, amazing mint tea, and a lazy coffee on any terrace we could find with the echoes of the call to prayer. Our raid, Dar Jaguar, was amazing I think partly because we were literally the only guests there. Every morning breakfast was served on the rooftop and we had one night where the chef made us dinner. We even had resident turtles in the courtyard, which for some reason I was very excited about.

There’s so many riads in the city and I’m glad I didn’t book anything at a fancy modern hotel. They are surrounded by walls and a bit outside the old city. I would almost compare the surrounding city to Palm Springs. Condo communities and golf courses are being built everywhere, and you need to go by car if not by scooter most places. I would never in a million years drive a car there — just crossing the street is tempting death.

A pilgrimage to Jardin Marjorelle was in order to pay tribute to Yves Saint Laurent; it was overrun by fashion bloggers I almost had to shove out of the way in narrow walkways. We missed the proper museum opening next door by five weeks but maybe one day we’ll go back. Yves’ partner, Pierre Bergé, whom he bought the property with, passed away one day later.

Of course, the cats who roam the city rooftops came to visit us every morning at breakfast, and this might have been the best reason of all to stay in the Medina. One in particular slept on a motorbike seat in our alley and really liked us so he followed our group into the riad next door all the way to the roof when we had wine. I had a habit of buying from shops that had a nice cat sleeping outside, but maybe that was because the owners will strong arm you in a charming way the second you notice the cat.

Our friends were able to buy the carpet they desired, and that was a whole Odyssey lemme tell ‘ya! I did get used to the wheeling and dealing culture and even had fun for a while, but by day 6 it was exhausting. I think at one point I never wanted to shop again, but that didn’t last. Sometimes you had to pick out what was cheap crap from China and what was real, but we mostly stayed around the perimeter of the souks and didn’t go into them. I don’t think I could have handled it. My friend and I had to physically fight off a henna women trying to make us sit, and those gals are strong! I learned to say a few phrases in Arabic and I must have said “no thanks” 80 times in one day. At one point on the way to the mountains I did get trapped by a clasped bracelet when a man came out of nowhere and handcuffed me with it; my husband was nowhere to be found because he narrowly escaped a cobra being put around his neck so he ran back to the car. I ended up getting 3 other silver bracelets for a steal from the cuffer because I carried little cash and was told a few times I “barter like a Berber” because — well, I’m kind of a bitch.

I’m still shocked at how other tourists from Europe dressed (we rarely saw Americans, we met, like 2) mainly the women. I tried to cover my shoulders at all times and my tattoos, but I think I saw more ass, tits, and skin in Marrakech than at any strip club. A lot of women didn’t get the memo when you wear a white caftan, you have to wear more than a thong under it! The men were going crazy, it was hilarious. It could get up to 107 degrees but I still covered up. I know it is really lax in Morocco but I just didn’t want to be the ugly American. But not to worry, the episode of AbFab when they go to Morocco played out in real life in front of us almost every day. People assumed my husband was a British rock star detoxing, but they still tried to get him hash, and one restaurateur tried to arrange a private car for us to get him to the flashy club he owned.

Now for the big news. We booked a tour to the Atlas mountains where we took tea with a Berber family, rode camels, and bartered hard for anything and everything. I never want to ride a camel again. Put it this way, horses are way more comfortable! It was the mountain hike that solidified for me that after years of work, I didn’t need my cane anymore. A cane I’d had since surgery seven years ago. I didn’t realize what we had signed up for (and we decided not to do the mule ride) but this was a lot more physical activity in very treacherous terrain! One wrong step and you go splat, or break a bone. I threw my cane out in the trash at the airport in Marrakech upon leaving. Between the hike and dodging scooters in narrow alleys daily, we’ll call it physical therapy Moroccan style! I’ll still need a cane if I wear heels and I still won’t ever be able to run again, but to not have to drag it around with me everywhere has been so freeing!

[As an aside, please, the next person who says “I didn’t recognized you without your cane” I’ll never speak to you again and I might trip you when you aren’t looking. Oh let’s be honest, women never say this to me, only men do. WTF is that about? It’s not funny. Don’t be a dickhead.]

I caught a cold on our last day and fought it off with mint tea, and Moroccan aspirin was pretty hardcore! I’ve kept some and now wish I had bought more to stock up on. It makes me wonder what other goodies the pharmacy had that are better than what I get in the US. We almost stocked up on spices but were afraid they would get dumped at customs with our day in Amsterdam or coming back to the US. Oh, did I mention I only packed half of a carry-on suitcase for this trip so I had room for all the stuff I bought? I literally left one side empty! I was away for about 10 days and survived. I was going to do a packing video again of ‘ how to pack for Africa with practically nothing’ but you can see I did something similar with my husband here.

Anyway, here’s just some of the stupid amount of photos I took. I might post video later, because I took a lot. We are planning on a trip to Tangier next year!

 

 

 

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Ben Vendetta + Jack Rabid: A Party in NYC

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For the first time in over 15 years I’ll be taking a Greyhound bus, overnight, to New York for my husband’s book party in Alphabet City. I rode that bus cross-country twice as a teenager and in college and there was no wifi back then; I think I can handle this trip. You wouldn’t believe the stupid pricing for flights out of Cleveland, unreal. And I really didn’t want to drive to then have to keep my car in Manhattan. Sometimes the practical side of me weighs these things, so I offset it with a decent hotel in midtown with a room that isn’t the size of a closet.

Anyway, if you are in the area please do come say hello and join the discussion that will be moderated by Jack Rabid of “The Big Takeover” magazine. He and Ben Vendetta will be discussing the novels, the legacy of ’80s indie rock, and the demise of ’90s Britpop. Did I mention this all takes place at a tiki/punk bar and we’re doing Elephant Stone giveaways? Yep!

Jack will also be providing the music selection. Notice I didn’t say curate.

Thursday, April 14th from 7 to 9pm

Otto’s Shrunken Head, 543 E. 14th Street NY, NY.

A Book Party in Dublin + A Lesson in Healthcare

We really didn’t want to come back, nine days in Dublin wasn’t enough. The book party and other press events my husband did went over really great. Even our new favorite Dublin chef and one of our cab drivers bought books on the spot! And for those that had missed the party, my husband even arranged to meet people for coffee to sign/sell them books. He’s all about customer service. We had some stressful issues going on during the trip like a medical emergency and having our money cut-off, but we still managed to have a lot of fun. I think it’s a good sign when you do things that aren’t at all in the vein of a vacation and still really like a city. The post office, the bank, the hospital. Adult stuff.

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Our last trip to Ireland was in 2011 and a lot of things have gotten better it seems. We stayed this time at Albany House which gave us an amazing suite, was in the middle of everything, and didn’t up-charge during the web conference going on like so many other hotels who now got in trouble for doing so. It was right across the street from a few nightclub which made people watching quite amazing! I’ve never seen girls in short skirts and no underwear crying so much and falling down. So much black mascara. We were told that was normal for a Tuesday night. But, speaking of the web conference, I saw lots of poor souls off to team building exercises and panels with matching shirts that say, “178% faster loading” or “Ask me how to auto-enhance your Adwords” Also, do people still use/buy banner ads?! Because that seems super 1999 to me.

While standing in St. Michan’s graveyard where Bram Stoker’s mother is buried, I had a conversation with a retired priest about burial practices in New Orleans, a conversation with an American priest who lived in Bejing and would see punk shows there, and listened to the amazing tour guide and crypt keeper go on a tear about how the Rock Hall in Cleveland sucks because Todd Rundgren isn’t in it. My husband touched the finger of an 800 year-old crusader mummy for good luck, and we got to see the burial and death mask of Wolfe Tone.

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I learned you should always look put together when leaving to go out in public, even to the record store, because you might run into “Lord Baelish” — he is a lot taller and handsome in person than I imagined. He looks so short on The Wire!

An American told me that Dublin sort of sucks because there is, “No culture. All people do is go to the pub, eat, and see gigs” and I’m like… this is a problem? This is all I’ve done for 20 years + art shows, across multiple US cities! Yes Dublin was sort of lacking in real art galleries, but there was plenty else to do it seemed. A couple of gigs at Whelan’s, I got a tattoo, Ben had a mini birthday party with cake at Dice Bar, and I probably would have done a lot more had it not been for some of my health issues that came up. There were other things I noticed this time around that I hadn’t on my last trip. The parents who discipline their children in public no matter how young; in the US they let them run wild while muttering “quit it”. The lack of sports jerseys worn by grown men — even at a pub during a huge match. The overall fashion is less casual and men’s suits actually fit them properly! No pajama bottoms or yoga pants in public, except in front of the needle exchange.

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A lot of a restaurants we steered toward were doing a bit of a New Orleans theme, though some may not have totally realized it. My new favorite place is Porndog, Catch 22 had blue cheese grits with their fish (omg), the cocktail speakeasy VCC was great, and I even found a coffee shop that is the Dublin equivalent of Hivolt in New Orleans! Honestly, I didn’t get to a lot of places on my list because our credit card got hacked on day 3 and we then just started eating takeaway and late night pizza or burgers. For the record Rick’s is like eating at In-N-Out in Los Angeles and that’s right up my alley.

The big experience for me was when I ended up needing to see a doctor and then had to go to the public hospital. Something had gone horribly wrong with my leg where fluid was starting collect in new places. Not only was there a clinic two blocks from me where I paid $60 to see someone within an hour, but he gave me a letter to take to St. James’s Hospital — where all my care was free. Now, you have to understand, I had gotten used to the bureaucratic and almost glossed over Soviet-like manner in which Cleveland Clinic conducts itself — especially in the ER. Not only did St. James’s not even ask for identification or a passport (they didn’t care), but I had intake, an assigned nurse, x-rays, and blood tests done and was out of there in less than 6 hours! They even give you soup and sandwiches while you wait. I actually would have been out of there in 4 hours had it not been for the blood testing taking a while. The front desk even called me a cab when I was done.

I ended up seeing my new favorite doctor again after my back went out — due to now needing the cane and it screwed me up — and was amazed I could just walk into a pharmacy and get codeine pain meds over the counter. Again, I am used to being carded for buying Sudafed (because you know, I might go make meth) and being carded for nail polish remover. This was like, “oh? your back went out and you are going on a long flight? Here! Would you like a glass of water to take one right now?” I mean, I couldn’t believe it. I had to scream at a nurse to prescribe me Xanax after kidney failure WHILE I WAS IN THE HOSPITAL and she had to get it approved in case I became an addict, so it’s amazing the difference in how all that is viewed. Then again, the U.S. is the only place where we see direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical commercials. It’s also a place where I DON’T get carded for buying bullets for 3 different types of guns. It’s funny because everyone in Ireland complains about their system and how much it sucks, but I have to tell you, it was more efficient than the supposed bestest place for medical care ever in the universe, and more to the point, it was free to a non-citizen like myself.

By the way, I’ve been back in the U.S. for a week and I am still waiting to see my surgeon! I had a nice argument with 3 different people there and his office; they wanted me to fax my documents from Dublin over to prove I wasn’t lying. And still, no one in this massive organization in this massive department is calling me back. I’ve been a patient there for over 5 years and I can’t get anyone to see me or schedule an x-ray until Christmas Eve. They actually told me to go to the ER if I was in such a hurry. I’m not kidding.

I feel like I’ve been trapped from moving on and leaving to go to another city because of my health issues and the fact that I was supposedly in the city with the best care. My husband has talked about leaving the U.S. for a long time, and now, it was proved to us that I would actually be ok going anywhere. In the meantime, I have decided at the end of the year I am leaving Cleveland Clinic. My surgeon retires soon, his son will probably not be part of the organization, and frankly I’ve been told many times over to defect and become a patient at the other major hospital system here in town. I don’t care how great your art collection is, or how many new glass buildings or meditation gardens you build on the campus, all while laying off and re-hiring your administrative staff. I can’t get anyone on the phone quickly when things go wrong, because they are to busy vetting my health insurance information. When I spend 40 minutes (yes, I timed it) and get to the point of tears when trying to schedule after care for cancer-related issues that have been a major problem for 5+ years? It’s time to leave.

 

New Video: Heartworm by Ben Vendetta

Not only did we get a new website for Elephant Stone but I made a little promo video for the upcoming release of Heartworm written by my husband, Ben Vendetta.

It’s about a guy working in the music industry during the thick of the Britpop scene. His wife runs off to join a cult, but he’s sort of okay with it — until she gets into trouble. There is a parallel story weaved throughout about the Dublin band, Whipping Boy, whose album “Heartworm” plays a role. Looking at an October 15th release date and will be available in print and ebook in the US and UK. In the meantime you can read his other novel, Wivenhoe Park.

 

Art, Books, Drinks, and the Desert: L.A. Recap

My husband and I went out to L.A. again for the book party for “Wivenhoe Park“. We had some time to go to Palm Springs and Joshua Tree as well. I’m a little late on posting photos but I got sick in the desert, and still am! How I could go from -7 winter weather in the midwest to 74 degrees in Palm Springs and get ill is beyond me.

Random things I remember:

Ian Astbury in sweatpants waddling past me and thus ruining all illusions I’d held from my teen years. Driving a Dodge Charger through the desert and up steep hills. Lots of music gigs and time spent in Echo Park. Getting drunk at The Dresden Room and going to Jack in the Box for late night food (basically not much has changed in 11 years for me). Amazing Mai Tai drinks at Bootlegger Tiki. The Autry Museum with my friend Charity who was like a personal guide. So many cocktails — so many. The Juxtapoz Magazine 20th Anniversary show, which I liked, but — I was a tad disappointed in because of glaring omissions and odd inclusions that to me didn’t reflect the actual history or issues I have read since 1994. I didn’t make it to the John Currin show, but the Laura Krifka one more than made up for it; I think she is exceeding him if not on the same level! Record shopping in Highland Park. Drunk girls in West Hollywood crying in a restaurant bathroom about boys who hasn’t texted them. A $1,000 omelet on the menu at my hotel (it had caviar on it). Visiting shops in Joshua Tree opened by Ohioans. Smash Mouth being promoted on the marquee outside one of the casino resorts. Leaving my iPhone in a coffee shop for over an hour to find it had been untouched! Nights by the fire pit, lots of friends and parties and dogs and wine. Oh, and traffic! More and more every time I go back to visit I swear! I mean…Jeeeeez. And that means a special thanks to those of you who drove in from SF and the OC for Ben’s book party and other shenanigans, because my God that traffic is just unreal!

As much as I debate about it, I think this trip really squashed any question I had about moving back to Los Angeles. Just can’t do it. Things have changed (yet haven’t) and unless I devoted myself to the desert, the eastside, or had the money to purchase a house, it just stressed me out so much being there and all the memories of why I left came flooding back. I think the reason I went to so many art and music gigs when I lived there was to make it worth the stress and general anxiety I felt. The weather never made it worth it for me. So, I think I’ll stick to visits. I like being a tourist.

Make with the clicky for descriptions….

Motivational Talk: Stop Being A Whiny Baby

If you ever wanted hear me blab about the music industry, art, Joan Crawford, my awesome husband, and why after everything I’ve been through medically I just suck it up (despite a cat sitting on my catheter bag), well then, you are in luck! I was invited to co-host on motivational talk show LoLoKnows earlier this week. Fair warning, I swear a lot! I guess you could say my version of motivational talk is to tell people to stop acting like a whiny twat and just deal. Otherwise, you are wasting your own time.

Want to know more about the painting series we are talking about? Grab a copy of this baby and get their bios as well…

Ephemeral Antidotes: Arabella Proffer

Ephemeral Antidotes: Arabella Proffer

A 2012 catalogue of paintings dealing with faith and medical history. Fictitious portraits, and their stories, written by artist Arabella Proffer.

Find out more on MagCloud

Speaking of this series, I saw my primary care doctor for the first time in a while — just for a cold — and he mentioned seeing this exhibit in Cleveland by accident. He did full on hand flail EW jestures as he said, “it was interesting….so did you sell any of those?” When I told him I have almost sold it out and the first pieces to go were on skin diseases, he said, “yuck! eeeeeeewwwww”. Then, he proceeded to look deep into my blood clogged nose. I’m so confused right now. I guess this is why he never became a surgeon?

Book Tour Recap: Dixie-Narco edition

It’s been a while since I got back from my husband’s book tour, but a lot of photos later I am finally updating about it. Needless to say it was a blast and it timed well with our 13th wedding anniversary. Got to see a lot of old friends and made some new ones, too.

We did 7 dates in total. Of course, everyone at first thought Ben was also a musician or that we were also in a band. Anytime we saw bands who were clearly on tour at a rest stop, they looked us up and down trying to figure out who we were and our deal was. Every stop on the tour went well except for Birmingham, AL thanks to tornadoes (which being from Michigan I would say they were weak). At the same time I can’t call that night a total dud, because one woman came out just to see Ben, buy some books, and get a photo with him! We ended up at a dive — who weren’t afraid of the storms enough to close — where a man asked me if I wanted to smoke pot with him out of a toilet paper cardboard tube, outside in the rain, near an underpass. He was not happy I said no to this offer. In the end, the lights did go out in the dive, all except the jukebox which was on a Thin Lizzy kick, and we did not complain about that one bit.

Charlotte was a great time as always, and it turned into a karaoke Odessey of sorts by the end of the night. I had some video footage of Ben doing 24 Hour Party People at Snug Harbor, but I deleted it to spare him the embarrassment. Bryan Pierce who runs the karaoke at Snug did a great job of picking songs to go with Ben’s book. He had just tried out for “The Voice” and judging by what I saw, he should make it onto the show no problem! Benji Hughes also came out that night, and he bought Ben’s book as well!

The real start of the whole trip was my brother’s wedding in Chapel Hill. And why yes, my husband and I DID shut down the reception slow-dancing to AC/DC if you must know. We figured a while back that we may as well extend it into a book tour if we were going to be driving anyway; the West Virginia stretch being the most painful. But, driving in the South is a lot more pleasant than any other routes I have taken, and aren’t half as boring. Of course the desert is the best, but I take what I can. After years of traveling cross-country on multiple occasions, I also ate at a Waffle House for the first time ever, in S. Carolina. It wasn’t bad, actually. The only weird thing was people were allowed to smoke in there, and it was so…damn friendly. I’ve learned since that the company is owned by the Ritz-Carlton and this may be part of their success as a chain? If you are wondering, no, I didn’t get a waffle but I did try the hash browns.

Next we went on to Meridian, MS which of course I can’t ever talk about without referencing “Hell on Wheels” and the main character doing his whole “ever been to Meridian?” thing. We were treated like royalty thanks to our friend Bill who owns not only several cemeteries and a flower shop, but did a full-on “Bar Rescue” on a place called the Brickhouse that had 64 regional beers on tap. The bar in it’s previous incarnation was a haven fro bro’s and had a reputation for roofing girls. Not anymore! In fact there was a running joke how the Brickhouse was the werewolf bar and the place across the street was the vampire bar (yes forgive the “True Blood” reference) and thus clear lines had been drawn. Despite the clear sections of poverty mixed with a slight college town feel, Meridian had an almost desolate downtown that looked ripe for a comeback. We hope it will rise the way the rest of the South has been doing.

Onward then was New Orleans (duh!) where we got to meet up with many of our friends, some who flew in to meet us, others who had been there, and some who had just moved to the city. Ben’s book event was at Bailey Smith and Greg Dulli’s, R Bar, which had made up a special cocktail menu just for us. Three Sheets to the Kevin Sheilds was an absinthe base, and the Swervedriver was Ben’s favorite which was mezcal based. If you are into shoegaze music, you get why these were so exciting to us. Sure, Ben was the “opener” for the crawfish boil but that is still better than opening for a puppet show — not to mention he got free crawfish! Terrible street side vegan burritos; brunch at The Columns; nuns at an art show; drinks in the 9th; a brunch fight club I may or may not have joined; poolside at the W hotel; record shopping between Desire Street and Piety Street (that must be a punchline to something); and all the usual we seem to get up to when we visit are just some of what I can remember. This was also my first time driving in New Orleans and I’m happy to say it wasn’t nearly as hard as I thought it would be. Sure we missed JazzFest and NoizeFest, but I was a little sad we missed AzzFest. Only after driving past the Hi-Ho Lounge as the girls lined-up for that event were we a bit sad we didn’t go after all. Next time perhaps?

Onward to Nashville! I had never been and we met up with an old friend of mine from high school who showed us around. We were staying a bit out at Opryland, which is a bizarre site that seems a bit like the Trinity Broadcast Network campus mixed with Graceland or Six Flags. The good thing was the free shuttles and the fact that cabs can be found everywhere as means to encourage tourists to go downtown and beyond. The bookstore Howlin’ Books was amazing and also part of the infamous Grimey’s record store. A music town it is for sure, not that I expected less. We toured the Johnny Cash Museum which is small but somehow perfect. We also went to Jack White’s Third Man Records which was nice enough but gave me a creepy Scientology vibe! It didn’t help that the women on staff all had the same red color and hair style to go with their uniforms (yellow and black is his new white and red, btw). I never got around to buying some cowboy boots, but we’ve been invited back to the bookstore for the next tour, so I’m sure I’ll find something when the time comes.

A typical Tuesday night at Robert’s in Nashville, even my husband got up to dance for a moment. I was surprised not only how crazy it was on a Tuesday on all of Broadway, but also the fact that at 3am we had cabs lined up to take us back to the hotel! We met some interesting rockabilly guys from Germany who were on a tour through Vegas, Memphis, and Nashville, so of course we shut Robert’s down with them. But I tell you, that’s the last time I let a couple a Germans buy the beers late at a honkey tonk; my head was pounding fierce the next day.

The last stop was in Cincinnati where we got to hang out with dear old friends. I feel dumb I didn’t get a picture of us all. The DJ for the event played all the great old and new shoegaze-inspired bands, and I think I had one too many bourbon and ginger ales! I liked that the venue had a medical theme going on as well. Someone who my husband hadn’t seen in 30 years even came out to buy a book. Crazy.

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The Rake’s End in Cincinnati.

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The Verve print at our host’s home.

At the distillery for the liquor we got each other drunk on the weekend we got together, 14 years ago that week. Romance!

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If you are thinking of doing a book tour I would suggest to make it coincide with a vacation you had already planned, or other trips you feel you could tie it in with. I have heard from some very well-known authors and very not well-known authors about how your experience and the sales can be all over the map. For instance, the Meridian, Mississippi date was the most sales because a book club was meeting and librarians came; I expected that date to be the dud — not Birmingham. I’ve also noticed people just really don’t dig book signings the way they do rock shows or even art shows. It just isn’t exciting. We did our best to make it about rock ‘n’ roll and have raffle prizes and drink specials in the non-bookstore venues, and I think those went way better. So, unless you are a best-selling author or a cult hero, I’d look at your book tour as a vacation. We were lucky in that we knew people in each city who helped us decide on venues and all of that — especially cities we didn’t know well. It is much like being a touring band: get a thick skin and if a city is a dud, you go back next time anyway! Every book store and venue treated us well, so there is no reason not to.

Also be prepared for crummy amounts of press no matter how far in advance you do it. Calendar listings are fine, but the fact I sent out review copies of the novel that were requested and I got no results was annoying. This was to both to every arts & culture events blog I could find (most did at least post a listing), as well as print media to the literature editors and the music editors. Then again, one bookstore owner told me that when a rock critic starts to write fiction — let alone gets it published — those who are also music writers or rock critics get resentful and won’t write about it or promote it because that’s what they aspire to do. A musician writing a book seems to be no problem, but music writers writing a novel apparently isn’t welcomed by certain journalists. Hmmm.

Whatever the case, it was nice to hear people had read it in one sitting or gotten copies for their friends. As a rule men tend to not read novels as much as women do, and it was funny to hear over and over again, “no you have to read this, I know you don’t like books but you’ll actually like this one!