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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The Amazing Life of Daniel Defoe

Gabriella West:

A fascinating piece about Daniel Defoe…who was actually pilloried at one point in his long and tumultuous life. Just reading the list of his pen names gives a great sense of the man. I’d like to read “Journal of the Plague Year” and “The Storm.” (Sadly, I’ve never found his fiction compelling.)

Originally posted on Interesting Literature:

Daniel Defoe has been called the father of the English novel. But what is less well known is the fascinating life he led. It involved more than one brush with death, destructive fires, outbreaks of plague, and many encounters with the authorities. He found himself before the law, in the pillory, with his house falling down around him, with his entire neighbourhood laid waste. His work as a journalist was groundbreaking (no pun intended on his house falling down). And his countless pen names are absurd, hilarious, and revealing.

Imagine a world without Daniel Defoe. To start with, the novel as we know it would be … well, would not be as we know it, without Defoe’s input and influence. Journalism, too, might have been different, if it hadn’t been for Defoe’s pioneering work in that field. But what’s remarkable is that Defoe did exist, and survived – on several…

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November Book Promotions

Its Not You, Its MeNovember seems like a good month for a promotion, so with that in mind my recently published memoir It’s Not You, It’s Me will be free for three days starting tomorrow. (Nov. 10–12) And just so it won’t be lonely, my LGBT historical novel Time of Grace will be available for 99 cents on all platforms for a limited time.

New site PeopleReads will be featuring It’s Not You, It’s Me in their freebie spotlight on Nov. 12!

This perceptive 5-star Amazon review expresses exactly what I wanted to achieve with “It’s Not You, It’s Me”:

“It’s Not You, It’s Me” follows the raw, exciting, and painful trajectory of a “wrong” relationship. We’ve all been there.

West slowly and deliberately lets us walk with her down this path, knowing things will end poorly but hoping we are mistaken. All the allure and insecurities of a new relationship are present at the beginning of West’s relationship with Eileen. We nod our heads in agreement as West struggles with nagging doubt. But we second-guess with her as she wonders if it’s just the regular dance of two people revealing their true selves while the projections fall off.

West courageously exposes her own vulnerabilities as we see the synergy of two people who probably shouldn’t be together. It’s an energy that is hard to break and impossible to endure. Yet, as West demonstrates, the end, while painful, has the potential to bring more knowledge of self and more commitment to follow one’s own path. Well done.

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Ebola…Now a Global Crisis

Nasty, isn't it?

Nasty, isn’t it?

I’ve been following the course of the Ebola outbreak with increasing dread. The Ebola virus was discovered in 1976 but never spread outside remote African villages till the latest outbreak in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia, where the disease is taking a devastating toll right now.

I found this recent interview with one of the scientists who first discovered Ebola back in the ’70s. It’s definitely worth a close read. Fascinating detail: they named the virus after a river near the remote village in Zaire where the first outbreak took place.

Clearly, despite reassuring statements by the CDC, we are not ready for Ebola here in the West, either. Just look at the shabby way the poor nurse’s aide, Teresa Ramos, has been treated in Spain…she had to practically beg for medical treatment and then found out she had Ebola though the media as she lay in her hospital bed. Not to mention her dog being euthanized, an action that seems gratuitously cruel. The case of the first US Ebola patient, Thomas Duncan, was also terribly mishandled. I’m not sure anything could have saved him, but he certainly didn’t get the superb treatment that Dr. Kent Brantly got.

More Ebola cases will crop up in the West, and more mistakes will continue to be made. That’s certain. But the best hope is to stem the outbreak in the African countries involved, which is why I will be making a donation of 3 percent of my editorial income to Medicins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) at the end of the month. It’s not much, but at least it’s something.

Update: Teresa Ramos’s condition is possibly improving, according to recent reports—but as of 10/12 one of the nurses treating Thomas Duncan in Dallas has been diagnosed with Ebola.

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Singing a Happy iTune

That Lonely Sinking Feeling - High ResTechnology is a funny thing. I’ve always been one to be way behind the curve, and although I have always used Macs at home for working and writing, they are never the fresh and new models but reliable old workhorses. I’ve never used an iPod, don’t own an iPhone. I finally broke down and bought a used iPad, which is the first generation (as far as I can tell), made when Steve Jobs was still alive.

iTunes has always been a bit of a mystery to me, too. I’ve used iTunes occasionally for music, but more often for playing mp3s of dictation files that I’m transcribing. Pretty boring, right? Yeah, but I always resent when the cultural dictum comes down from above: You have to consume your entertainment this way. This is the new and flashy way and everybody’s going to adopt it. Well, I usually don’t!

So I have not yet been able to read my own books on Apple. They’re just there. Maybe that will change soon, because as Mark Coker of Smashwords informed us, iOS 8 is now going to come with an iTunes app built in.  Now, what that will look like, I’m not sure. I don’t have any new devices! But because I know I do have some iTunes readers out there, I set two ebooks free for the foreseeable future. My Dorothy Richardson study is free, as is my short memoir That Lonely, Sinking Feeling: A Memoir of Love, Friendship and Letting Go.

Meanwhile, my latest queer memoir, It’s Not You, It’s Me, is released tomorrow on Kindle! It is part of the Kindle Unlimited program, so it’s free for KU subscribers. I was pleased to see that the Australian Amazon store placed it in their lesbian studies category, along with provocative titles like Shiri Eisner’s Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution, which I am looking forward to reading.

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Now on Pre-order: It’s Not You, It’s Me

My new memoir is released on September 21.

My new memoir is released on September 21.

Just a note to say that my 14,000 -word memoir, “It’s Not You, It’s Me,” is on pre-order right now at Amazon and will be released September 21!

I wrote this memoir about two years after a devastating breakup with a female ex, trying to make sense of it, really. Now, 16 years after the breakup, I’ve gotten past my initial strong emotions and, as I revised it, have been able to paint a truer picture, I hope, of what “really happened” between me and my ex. It’s also a story of San Francisco in the ’90s and how transient relationships can be in this city, especially in the queer community.

I’m glad, then, that I waited this long to publish it, and that Amazon allows me a venue to do so.

Here’s a little taster below:

A long time ago, I joined an LGBT running club—as a walker. That’s how this story begins.

September 1995. The first time I met Eileen I was standing beside my car in Golden Gate Park, ready to go off to the women’s brunch. My friend Suzanne and I had just finished walking around Stow Lake, as part of the San Francisco gay and lesbian running club FrontRunners, which met at the lake on Saturdays. But we were just walkers. While the male and female runners took off across the park en masse, Suzanne and I and sometimes a couple of other “unfit” women got to amble at a gentle pace for an hour around the pretty, luridly green lake, past clusters of ducks and the always-surprising sight of turtles lying out in the sun on wooden stumps.

Suzanne was tall, with clipped hair, glasses, and a baby face, while I at age 28 was shorter, plump, and voluptuous, my dark hair medium-length and messy. Out of shape as I was, I did not receive much beyond surface friendliness from the jockish, lean women there. Yet I was tolerated and for that I was grateful, for I had never known what it was like to be accepted. I had not fit in at school, or at college, and now in the lesbian community, it seemed, I was also a misfit. The party line at the club, though, was that everyone was welcome—gay, lesbian, bi, transgender, all sizes, and all races. I had not yet really begun to question the rhetoric.

We were setting off to the weekly post-exercise brunch at a local cafe in the Inner Sunset when one of the club officers asked if I could give Eileen a ride; she was new in town. It seems unlikely, looking back, that she would have asked me herself. A tall, pale, compact-looking girl with a mass of thick brown hair got into the back of my car. She looked wholesome and Midwestern, my type, and in fact she told us she was from Nebraska, an Irish-American Catholic no less.

“I’m from Ireland myself,” I told her. “I’ve been here since ’88.”

“Oh really,” she said. “Do you miss it?”

“No,” I answered. “I didn’t really like growing up there. I always felt like a fish out of water. I was glad to leave.”

She seemed to enjoy my candor. Much later she told me that that was what she first liked about me, the fact that I wasn’t crazy about Ireland. It seemed a strange thing to pick up on. What I found appealing in her, oddly enough, was her shyness. She seemed a little tentative, still new and green to the ways of the city. A little remote, a little sad. I even wrote about it in my diary that night, that I’d met a new girl, liked her, that she’d seemed shy and sweet. She reminded me physically of women I’d known in Ireland—pale, repressed, angular in face, self-possessed. A twinge of familiarity had passed through me when I’d seen her. But it seemed like she hadn’t felt the same sense of recognition.

It wasn’t the beginning of anything. Not at all. The next time I remember seeing Eileen at the club, maybe a couple of months later, I got quite a shock. A skinny woman in bright-blue Lycra running shorts brushed past me, her mop of hair cut short and curly. Giving me a goofy grin, she said loudly, “Hi, Gabriella!” This offhand brashness annoyed me. I stared at her in astonishment, something contemptuous probably flashing in my eyes. I didn’t respond.

Without thinking about it, I wrote her off. She’d gone over to the other side. But what did that mean? The girl I’d thought was an introvert was in fact an extrovert. She was an officer of the running club now. Everyone liked her, she was endearing, and she was friends with the “in” crowd. She passed out of my world, no longer a potential friend. For about a year, we barely spoke. She was never rude to me, just simply kept me at arm’s length.

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Why you should or should not self-publish your book…

Gabriella West:

Author Shannon Yarbrough, who’s been both self- and traditionally published, shares some heartfelt thoughts on the self-publishing scene.

Originally posted on The Lone Writer: Shannon Yarbrough:

Years ago there was a time when self-publishing was new and exciting for me. And before that, yeah, there was a time when I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. Way back when, like most, I learned from the web. I searched blogs and sites for the best advice. I took notes. I blogged about it myself. Asked questions on other blogs. Bought books about self-publishing. Eventually, and after three self-published books, I felt comfortable enough in giving advice to other newbies and sharing my experience. I started a blog called The LL Book Review which was devoted to helping indie authors and reviewing them. I had a team of almost ten bloggers by the time our five year run was over.

Today, when it comes to the subject, I admit I’m out of touch. I feel like I’ve been out of high school for a few years…

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Review: Getting Rooted in New Zealand

The delightful cover of 'Getting Rooted in New Zealand.'

The delightful cover of ‘Getting Rooted in New Zealand.’

This has been such a heavy month. We lost Robin Williams, there was a sizeable earthquake in Napa that had many of us waking at 3.20am wondering if it was “the big one,” and it doesn’t look good for Joan Rivers at the moment. So I decided to post a review of a book that I normally wouldn’t have read.

Jamie Baywood’s ebook popped up for me as a Fussy Librarian selection, and I decided to take a chance on it. It was the right book at the right time, the humorous memoir of an American woman working as a clueless temp in New Zealand.

Baywood is a 26-year-old Petaluma, CA, native who impulsively moves to New Zealand when her job at a Whole Foods-like grocery store folds. She signs up as a temp worker in NZ (I had no idea that Americans can legally work there, so thanks for that, Jamie!). She gets a succession of grotty flats and works in a number of lousy temp positions, the last one being for a screaming boss called Selma Shark. By then she’s met a nice divorced Scottish guy working as a gardener whose father has somehow been knighted (don’t ask, she never explains).

The memoir is told in diary form. While I laughed at Jamie’s descriptions, it was hard not to laugh AT her sometimes. She is very good at picking up body language and speech and telling it even if it embarrasses her. For example, here is a famous theatre director’s reaction to her: “He smiles and looks at me closely, as if examining me with his green eyes that seem to go right through me. I can’t tell if he is amused or horrified; there seems to be a mix of attraction and repulsion chemistry coming from him. Sometimes he stares so closely that I think he’s about to kiss me; other times he looks as if he wants to put duct tape over my mouth.”

Jamie just doesn’t seem to know how she is coming across—as a crass and rude American. There are many WTF episodes in the book where I scratched my head and thought, “Did she really say that??” It doesn’t always go over well with coworkers. One strange example is where she jokes that one young straight male coworker has given another a hand job, causing horrified stares and silence from the people she’s trying to win over. There’s no self-awareness, though. None whatsoever.

Jamie initially makes a big deal of trying to be single for a year after numerous crappy relationships, so it’s rather depressing to see her running right back into a codependent relationship at the end of her time in NZ. And because her beloved is European and she’s American, she gets to marry him so they can stay together…! Again, the stunned reaction from people around the couple is not the reaction you would WANT to ideally get when you announce you’re getting married. By the end of the book, when she announces, “I came to this country for an adventure, not to cry in a cubicle,” the reader gets an idea of the arrogance behind her wide-eyed charm.

But I’d still recommend it!

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‘Dorothy Richardson: A Close Reading’ Is Free Through Monday

A Close Reading 2My short literary study of modernist writer Dorothy Richardson came out as an ebook in May, and I’m happy to announce that it is free (regularly $2.99) on Amazon Kindle through Monday, August 11, just in time for grad students and professors (or anyone interested in modernist women writers or literary criticism) to snap it up…

Dorothy Richardson: A Close Reading now has a stylish new cover by the talented Jes Richardson (no relation, I assume!) of Coverbistro design. I think it nicely evokes the period.

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