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Gabriella West:

This thoughtful and compassionate piece by TED’s social media editor, Nadia Goodman, deserves a read. I remember at the time of the original scandal thinking that Monica Lewinsky’s life would never be the same again. And, it turns out, it wasn’t. As someone who was bullied for years in school myself, I particularly appreciate Goodman’s message here of proactively showing what is, and is not, acceptable on message boards so that “the tone does change. Together, we have the power to protect the most vulnerable among us.”

Originally posted on ideas.ted.com:

As TED’s social media editor, I have seen a lot of nasty comments. I’ve seen grown men and women deride a 14-year-old girl for her choice of dress. I’ve seen them say they’re revolted by a beautiful transgender woman. On every talk about race, I’ve seen a slew of racist comments. But none have ever been as bad as the comments we got when we published Monica Lewinsky’s TED Talk, The Price of Shame. At least at first.

When Monica spoke at TED2015, held in March in Vancouver, the audience in the room received her with warmth and generosity of spirit. Many who’d had reservations were swayed by her talk. We saw this kind, vulnerable, strong woman who wanted to be heard — a woman who knew what was at stake for the victims of public shaming and who deeply hoped to get her message right. For someone scarred…

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Review: A Long Way from Paris

ParisWith the arrival of spring comes thoughts of greenery, young animals, travel, and so on. Not long ago, I happened to stumble on a memoir by an unfamiliar writer, E.C. Murray, called A Long Way from Paris and loaded it on my Kindle. Here’s my review:

This memoir of Elizabeth Corcoran’s time of goatherding in the Languedoc region of rural France was mostly a delight to read. It’s 1980, and the author is an offbeat, inexperienced young American woman reeling from a relationship with an alcoholic boyfriend. She stumbles into the goatherding job through a relative who lives in the country. Knowing nothing about animals, knowing very little French even, she immerses herself in the flow of life there.

The family she’s living with are quite neurotic and strange, though one senses throughout that Elizabeth’s perceptions are a little off-kilter, too. I was particularly struck by her relationship with the mother of the household, Camilla, and how Camilla effortlessly keeps her secrets while this young American is observing her every day, trying to peek beneath the veil. (Elizabeth’s goatherding partner is a young Australian guy who picks up more of what’s going on in the house but is far less interested in the emotional subtexts. His constant refrain when she tries to engage him in conversation about their host family is “I could care less.”)

Ultimately, it’s quite poignant. Relationships are intense yet don’t go as planned; Elizabeth grows stronger physically and emotionally but there is still a sense of sadness as we put the book down, especially as we find out what happened to two of the male characters she’s written about in depth. I particularly enjoyed the descriptions of living in this bare-bones household, constantly at the mercy of the weather, and yet enjoying exquisite gourmet meals and wine (so French!).

I’m afraid that the book had sloppy copyediting, though. I particularly cringed at “au pere” for “au pair” and had a hard time turning off my proofer’s eye throughout. The writing was strong, but it’s a shame the book didn’t go through one more editorial pass. (This is a general problem with small presses nowadays, I’ve noticed.)

Ultimately, A Long Way from Paris is a great coming-of-age read, as we get to immerse ourself in the ups and downs of Elizabeth’s daily life with the slow intimacy of a diary. I wanted to know more about her French family and what was really going on during that time she spent with them, but the barrier of language and culture is enough to keep those secrets buried forever.

Note: A Long Way from Paris (http://www.amazon.com/Long-Way-Paris-E-C-Murray-ebook/dp/B00QO2FM2Y/ref=cm_rdp_product) is currently available for $7.99, though prices change frequently.

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Read an Ebook Week at Smashwords

Find "The Captain and Claire" under gay and lesbian fiction.

Find “The Captain and Claire” under gay and lesbian fiction.

Once again, Smashwords is holding their annual Read an Ebook Week promotion (March 1–7). I always find out about this at the very last moment and put a few of my books into the pile. This time, Time of Grace is 50% off (and my ADHD memoir Connecting the Dots is also 50% off).

“The Captain and Claire,” my historical erotic romance short, is free. My latest memoir, It’s Not You, It’s Me is free as well :) You can locate all my books here :

And here’s the main RAEW page, where you can search for whatever category you desire:

Read an Ebook Week 2015 

Have fun!

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The Year of the Sheep Starts Today…

Its Not You, Its Meyear of the sheepDid you know that Chinese New Year starts today? It’s  the Year of the Sheep (also called ram, or goat). Happens to be my own astrological sign, as well. I like it that creative, sensitive, and not-particularly-good-with-money people have their own sign in the Chinese zodiac :)

I won’t miss the Year of the Horse, which took away a number of our most colorful and beloved figures. Joan Rivers, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Williams, Bob Simon, and, most recently, the ebullient New York Times journalist David Carr, who was only 58.

Literary news: I wanted to mention a number of specials that I’m running on Smashwords. My first novel, The Leaving, is now available on a “reader sets the price” basis. I published it in May of 2011—it was the first ebook I ever uploaded. Novelist Kate Genet called it “a brilliant and beautiful book.” See http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/63117.

Made it through Valentine’s Day and feeling blue about relationships? Now available through the end of the month for free on Smashwords and the other non-Amazon platforms is my latest memoir, “It’s Not You, It’s Me.” If/when Amazon price-matches, it will be free there too. Find it here: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/501771.


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This Writing Life: Two Opinion Pieces

Turns out Cervantes ended up a pauper.

Turns out Cervantes ended up a pauper.

I was listening to the radio in the kitchen the other day, and the NPR announcer was talking about the search for the bones of the great Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quixote.

Cervantes is very famous now, of course, but the reason why they were searching for him, the announcer went on, is because he died a pauper and was buried in an unmarked grave.

I stood at the stove and laughed at the absurdity of it: that this famous writer, thought by some to be the father of the novel, died a pauper and was buried in an unmarked grave.

But are writers today doing any better? The writing life has grown to be economically unviable, and a recent piece in Salon.com (http://bit.ly/1zyGUlV) underlines this. Ann Bauer writes about being financially “sponsored” by her husband and the difference this makes in terms of energy and time to write. She has seen both sides, since she struggled in the past with work, raising kids, and a divorce. Needless to say, she barely wrote anything at that time in her life.

Bauer’s bigger point, which is hard to hear, is that most writers who are successful today have family money, connections, or are subsidized by their spouses. I can’t dispute Bauer’s point, although some indie writers seem to have a slightly easier go of it. Read the comments for some fascinating stories.

What is the importance of home for a writer? Besides facing money issues, writers often feel adrift in their surroundings. I wrote a guest post over on Shannon Yarbrough’s blog called “The Dislocated Writer.” It addresses some of the problems of living in an expensive, changed city that I no longer feel connected to, a place where I once felt very much at home.

Check it out:


UPDATE: Cervantes’ bones (or bone fragments, all that is left of him and his wife) have been found under a Madrid convent: 


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Write or Wrong Part 7: Melinda Clayton can breathe just fine, thank you…

Gabriella West:

It’s been such a quiet January, so I wanted to kick things off here by reblogging one of the Write or Wrong posts on writer Shannon Yarbrough’s site. Write or Wrong is an excellent series where contemporary writers speak candidly about their writing process. My own guest post in this series is scheduled for this coming Thursday! (And it won’t be about process because for some silly reason I can’t write about that…)

Originally posted on The Lone Writer: Shannon Yarbrough:

I’m honored to have author Melinda Clayton as the guest blogger today! She is one of my favorite authors! No, seriously! She really is. I would like to note that Melinda and I have never met face to face. Several years ago I was in Robin Tidwell’s bookstore. She handed me Melinda’s first book and told me I should read it. I gave a big fat frowny face based on the book’s cover alone. It was a brown cover with a dulcimer and a moonshine jug on it that was out of focus. Robin turned the book over and pointed to the back and said, “Trust me.”

I read the description and immediately thought, “This is what this book is about!?”  I bought it, started reading it, couldn’t put it down, and have since read almost all of Melinda’s other books and will continue to read anything she puts out…

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2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,200 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 37 trips to carry that many people.

Views are up from last year. Thanks, readers!

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Here’s how Seth Rogen and James Franco responded to today’s release of ‘The Interview’

Gabriella West:

Sony gave everybody a belated Merry Christmas by releasing ‘The Interview’ to a couple hundred independent theaters and widely online. Now hopefully Comcast will step up to the plate as well. They should.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

Originally posted on BGR:

That’s right, ladies and gentlemen… it’s a Christmas miracle. After Sony Pictures Entertainment announced last week that it was cancelling the theatrical release of “The Interview” after hackers threatened Sony employees and moviegoers, the company had a change of heart. On Tuesday, Sony confirmed that the movie would get a limited theatrical release on Christmas Day. And then on Wednesday, Sony ended up releasing The Interview online for rental and purchase.

Now, the film’s stars Seth Rogen and James Franco have responded to the movie’s release (warning, NSFW).

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You Can’t See The Interview, But I Did

Gabriella West:

Just bizarre! Since the new James Franco-Seth Rogen movie The Interview has been CANCELED—which I find outrageous—due to North Korea’s breathing down the neck of the studio, Sony, here is at least a review of the movie from “Time.” What a crazy year it’s been…

Originally posted on TIME:

A decade ago, when Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s Team America: World Police made mock of Kim Jung Il, the North Korean regime didn’t threaten retaliation — maybe because Kim, like all the other people in the movie, was portrayed as a marionette.

The Democratic People’s Republic, under Il’s son Kim Jong Un, apparently had a more severe reaction to The Interview, in which two American TV journalists (James Franco and Seth Rogen) are charged by the CIA with killing the dictator while they’re in North Korea to interview him. Someone who took issue with this scenario hacked the computers of Sony Pictures, spilling internal gossip and downloading five Sony movies, including four yet to be released. As Stephen Colbert proclaimed on Monday night, the perpetrator “has to be North Korea. The only other person with that capability is a 12-year-old with BitTorrent.”

Hollywood’s escalating tension about cyber-terrorism…

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Review: The Goldfinch

Donna Tartt's third novel got critics and readers talking.

Donna Tartt’s third novel got critics and readers talking.

Ah, The Goldfinch

This has to be one of the books I waited the longest to read. Got it on my Kindle when it first came out, was a bit put off by the hype, started plowing into the initial museum-explosion section (where 13-year-old New Yorker Theo Decker is trapped in the Met after a bombing that kills his beloved mother and takes off with the titular painting), found myself very bored, found the writing pretentious. Stopped reading, dismayed.

And then I went back recently, picked it up again and found, to my surprise… that once Theo moved in with his school chum Andy and the wealthy Barbour family, the writing perked up, the book gripped me, and I swept through the rest of it as fast as I could. I was particularly taken by the Las Vegas section where Theo is dragged off to live by his scoundrel of a father, who gambles for a living, and takes up with a young Ukrainian/Australian, Boris, who is even more rootless and unparented than Theo himself. Theo and Boris take lots of drugs, steal for kicks, they experiment sexually… Donna Tartt’s writing here is superb, showing the boy’s world opening up rather than shutting down.

But back in claustrophobic New York, torn away from Boris by his father’s timely, or untimely, death, depending on how you look at it, Theo hits a bit of a slump that seems like it will last the rest of the novel. Still taking plenty of prescription drugs, he ends up as a salesman of antiques in Greenwich Village, some of them fakes, while his virtuous partner Hobie, a reassuring father figure, restores antiques in the back of the shop.

Unlike many of the reviewers on Amazon, who loved the first, “arty” section of the book, and hated the philosophical, open-ended ending and the scenes in Amsterdam, I found that Tartt exploded her own pretensions by driving a bus through her own literary novel. Theo’s carefully constructed world “explodes” again at the end, and we’re led to believe that at least he is taking his life in his hands…somewhat. (Mostly by not killing himself, ironically.) But what would have really pleased me would have been a recontinuation of the relationship with Boris. These are two characters who seem to want to be together, no matter how much their author wants to dub them as straight, on different tracks, etc.

To sum up, I’m very glad I read The Goldfinch! It’s a nineteenth-century novel at heart; it luxuriates in its own length. Theo’s “bad” friend Boris ends up giving him closure on the biggest wound of his life outside of his mother’s death, his ownership of the famous painting, which has become a terrible burden. Once he realizes that he hasn’t even had the painting in his possession for years—a delicious twist that Tartt pulls off well—Theo’s life begins to change.

And for a book that says over and over again that people can’t change, Tartt does offer a little smidgen of hope for Theo. But it IS a long, dark and sad book, no doubt. Those who have suffered loss and who have PTSD (and Tartt does not shy away from labeling Theo this way) will understand and appreciate the bleakness. Theo’s female love interests are flimsy and brittle. Without the tragicomic character of Boris to the rescue, then, this book would have been a terrible slog. Luckily, Tartt allows that relationship to become central, and, to my mind, it saves the novel.

The Goldfinch is still available on Kindle for a very reasonable $6.99. though I wouldn’t mind also owning a copy of the physical book now.

For more information about how critics are divided on The Goldfinch’s literary merit, I found a Vanity Fair article here (followed by thought-provoking comments).


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