Year of the Fire Monkey

year of the monkeySo, the upcoming Chinese New Year is the Year of the Fire Monkey. For those who don’t know, each year is named after a particular animal and falls only every 12 years.

Looking back on my Monkey years, I was still a baby in Santa Barbara in 1968; I remember 1980 in Ireland as relatively peaceful and prosperous, perhaps because my stepfather had stopped drinking for health reasons & my mother had quit working in order to ensure a healthy pregnancy (my brother was born in March 1981, so this worked!). Then, in 1992, I found an admin job at University of San Francisco which I stayed at for five years. For four of those years, I had a very tolerant, supportive boss. Stability again, if not prosperity! 2004 was a year that I decided to take off and work on my writing. I was in a serious relationship and that summer included a trip to Kauai, which I found absolutely beautiful and transforming. (I wrote about the trip in a personal essay called “Toward the Double Rainbow,” which is free on Barnes and Noble last I checked.)

Talking about free, my novel The Leaving has been free this month on Smashwords, BN, Apple, et al. I will probably let it run free through February, and try to get it price-matched on Amazon (always a challenge!). It will always be special to me because it’s the first novel I ever finished, and it’s the one that delves most realistically into my life in Ireland as an adolescent. It’s been called “deeply felt and expertly crafted,” but as another reviewer pointed out, “no sweetener [is] added.”

New book! I have started writing the sequel to my LGBT romance Elsie Street, which was published last September on Amazon and in December on all platforms. The follow-up will be entitled The Pull of Yesterday. It will be longer than Book One and is sprinkled with more experiences for the MC, Dave, whose world is widening to include multiple overlapping relationships which he must navigate with care. A trip back to Boston for a family emergency gives him new insights into his identity and presents him with a difficult decision. 

I’ve taken to heart the precept that Nat Russo talks about of writing the first draft just for myself. Since I only ever do a couple of drafts, I am expecting this book to perhaps only please me! Other books I’ve written have gained more attention down the line (Time of Grace, for example). But it’s never a guarantee. My job is to make the writing as good and fresh as possible.

If you’d like to be notified when my next book is available, please sign up for my low-volume mailing list, located at the News tab on this site. (When I get enough names I’ll experiment with a MailChimp newsletter: see, Year of the Monkey again! :))

And of course, RIP to David Bowie, Alan Rickman, and Glenn Frey. These were sad losses of intensely creative people.

 

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Predicted Golden Globe Winners

'Carol' is based on the early Patricia Highsmith novel 'The Price of Salt.'

‘Carol’ is based on the early Patricia Highsmith novel ‘The Price of Salt.’

Posts like this make me actually want to go and see movies! I’m looking forward to “Spotlight,” “Carol,” and “The Danish Girl.”

L.R. Albright

Best Picture – Drama

  1. Spotlight
  2. Carol
  3. Mad Max: Fury Road
  4. Room
  5. The Revenant

It seems that Spotlight is the front-runner this season, though in my eyes, it’s a weak one. It’s possible that any of the nominees could overtake Spotlight for the win, in spite of the critical success it’s received. 

Best Picture – Comedy or Musical 

  1. The Big Short
  2. The Martian
  3. Joy
  4. Trainwreck
  5. Spy

I think it’s going to be a close race between The Martian and The Big Short but The Big Short has way too much buzz right now, plus like Spotlight, it has the “importance” factor going for it as well. 

Best Director

  1. Todd Haynes, Carol 
  2. George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road
  3. Tom McCarthy, Spotlight
  4. Ridley Scott, The Martian
  5. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, The Revenant

Any of the top three have a realistic shot of winning, though I predict a Best Picture/ Best Director split since it appears that they’ve become…

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New Year; A Look Back at Reading

A Little LIfe

‘A Little Life’ affected many readers in 2015

Well, it’s January 1, and last year was so busy with both writing and editing work that I didn’t get to tend to this blog as much as I should have. So here’s a little recap.

Thinking back to the two best books of 2015 for me, I read both of them in ebook format—I read very, very few print books last year and didn’t tend to finish them. So that is a big shift for me. I still like being surrounded by books and have a hard time letting them go, but I’ve entirely stopped going to the library and bookstores, habits that I’ve had for most of my life. I suspect I’m not the only one.

The two books that jumped out at me as being amazingly memorable in 2015 were Oliver Sacks‘s autobiography On the Move, which I reviewed here (http://gabriellawest.net/2015/06/29/review-on-the-move-a-life-by-oliver-sacks/), and Hanya Yanagihara‘s novel A Little Life (Doubleday; $14.99, Kindle). Both were long, satisfying reads, even on the Kindle; both were so good that I didn’t want them to end.

After finishing A Little Life last fall, I came to the conclusion that this was the great American novel! This amused me, because several famous male writers, particularly Norman Mailer, used to publicly agonize over hitting that rather unattainable target. But Yanagihara, this female Asian-American New Yorker, seems to have written a book that struck a chord with the reading public (just read the impassioned reviews on Amazon!) and that gracefully navigated topics such as life, love, fame, sex, and death, not to mention gender and class. However, where the book turns radical is that it’s an unrelenting look at sexual abuse and the after-effects of trauma on one character, Jude. And not in a clinical way: we are in Jude’s head, suffering along with him, for the entire book. This provoked empathy and sadness, as well as extreme frustration and discomfort for some readers.

Here’s my review:

This was a long book that started out as a paean to friendship (four struggling young professionals—Willem, an actor; Jude, a lawyer; JB, an artist; and Malcom, an architect—in NYC and their apparently unshakable bonds) and ended up being, to my mind, a story that suggests that the main character, Jude, has been so brutally damaged that only a perfect, devoted love will save him. Which he gets for a while. It takes a long time for Willem and Jude to transition from friendship to love, but it is definitely the carrot that draws the reader through this difficult book.

I was impressed that the cover image is a photograph by Peter Hujar called “Orgasmic Man.” That made me trust Yanagihara right there, that she is coming from a place where she understands art and queer history. (The image at first glance seems to be of a man wincing in pain, but in fact, of course, he’s in what is supposed to be a moment of bliss.)

While the book isn’t very outwardly “political,” in fact is set in a cleverly nondescript present over the course of thirty years, the details of Jude’s sexual abuse as an abandoned, exploited kid and subsequent anguish/low self-esteem/cutting are piercing and true. Another irony that’s slowly revealed: he isn’t able to enjoy sex and he never does, even with the one person he adores. He cuts himself frequently and is unable to open up about his past. The last part of the book is tragic because the one person whom he’s revealed himself to has died and he simply can’t open up to anyone else, even long-standing friends and mentors.

The book takes Jude on an arc from self-possessed young lawyer to lonely, suicidal guy, to the happy years with Willem where he is as “together” as he’s going to be, and then, after the dreadful loss, he falls apart and becomes childllike and feral, slowly disappearing. But by then I had experienced so much of his past that I understand his ultimate decision very well.

I’m sure there are people who rely on their friends to get by after wretched pasts. But this engrossing novel does jibe with my own experience that being loved, at a deeper level of intimacy, is necessary for survival. I liked the progressive attitude towards sexuality in this book, the sophisticated understanding of sexual fluidity. But I do think A Little Life has a fairly traditional message at heart.

Yanagihara has said that she tried to make the novel as generous as possible in the sense that the reader can really feel intimacy with the characters. She has succeeded marvellously in this. I read it over two days and felt pulled immediately into the characters’ world. It was a little hard to transition back to my world!

A book like this doesn’t come along every day.

(I gave it five stars.)

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Elsie Street Goes Wide

Hope everyone had a happy Thanksgiving. I’m battling toothache, which is, um, what happens when you neglect your teeth for a long time… :(

71tE6kkxQsLIndie authors call it “going wide” when you release your book outside the KDP Select platform. I’m happy to announce that my latest novel, Elsie Street—a contemporary gay romance set in San Francisco—is going wide on Tuesday, December 15! It’s on pre-order right now; you can read a sample at Smashwords here (http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/595096). The book is available for preorder on iTunes and Barnes & Noble, and I will be releasing it on Kobo and All Romance eBooks (https://www.allromanceebooks.com/product-elsiestreet-1940503-149.html) in December as well.

David Fredrickson, author of Life on All Fours, a wonderful novel about a man and his dog living in the aftermath of the AIDS epidemic in San Francisco, wrote in his 5-star Amazon review: “This is a well-crafted San Francisco story with interesting characters who are flawed, conflicted, sexy and sweet. This book is believable, yet moves us into a romantic space where the unbelievable is also possible. Ms. West takes us on a journey where the pangs of love are still palpable, even for those jaded by love’s misfortunes. Well done.” 

Finally, happy World AIDS Day. I was around for the first World AIDS Day in 1988 (I had just come to the States a few months earlier) and I’m pleased to see how this date has become more socially accepted and meaningful every year. Apparently, 2 million adolescents are living with AIDS worldwide. There is still a long way to go. But hope is on the horizon—doctors are now talking about a cure by 2020!

 
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Black Mass: A Review

There was a time when I was obsessed with movies, going to the cinema about three times a week. This love of mine has mellowed over the years to the point where I just see a film on Demand now and then, and rarely in the cinema. But I enjoy a film review and decided to reblog this one, since I’ve seen the trailer several times and Johnny Depp looks so startling!

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Elsie Street by Gabriella West: A Book Review

My friend and fellow writer Shannon Yarbrough posted a glowing review of my new novel Elsie Street on his blog today. I thought I’d share! The book can be found only on Amazon right now (and is free for Kindle Unlimited subscribers), but I look forward to making it more widely available in the future, including a print edition.

The Lone Writer: Shannon Yarbrough

71tE6kkxQsLThere’s always an intriguing story and interesting characters to look forward to when reading something new from Gabriella West. Her latest, Elsie Street, is no different. I pre-ordered it and enjoyed reading it over the long Labor Day weekend. In it we meet Dave, a young Bostonian who is now enjoying California with his girlfriend Janine.

But when Dave loses his bar tending job, his entire world changes. Luckily, Janine helps get him a job as a security guard at a local museum. There, Dave meets a young man named Aaron and his sexual identity is reawakened, stemming from a brief affair he had with his college roommate long ago. What follows is the tensions that sexuality often causes when we are young and figuring out our place in this world, often riddled with guilt while figuring out what our true heart desires.

West embraces location. You’ll find yourself loving…

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New Book on Preorder: Elsie Street

ElsiethumbnailI have a new book coming out in September! It’s called Elsie Street and it’s a contemporary MM romance set in San Francisco.

This is my third book, and although I have lived in S.F. since 1988, it’s the first book to be published (though I have several on the back burner) that is set in the city and which deals with the sort of pressing issues that people who live here face. On the one hand, it’s a wonderfully tolerant place with great natural beauty; on the other, it’s a struggle to survive here and can be numbing and exhausting and soul-sucking.

Elsie Street falls under the genre of dysfunctional romance, though I didn’t know there was such a genre until I went looking on the Web! It’s also the first book I’ve written where I have the characters using cell phones, texting, Facebook… all the methods by which we connect nowadays and sometimes distance ourself from our actions, as well. One of the main characters even works at Twitter.

Here is the book description:

Boston native Dave Madden has just been fired from a dead-end bartending job in San Francisco. His long-suffering girlfriend helps him get a job at a nearby art museum as a guard. But what Dave finds there will challenge his whole sense of identity. For despite a fling with a college roommate that ended too soon for his liking, he considers himself straight. 

When Dave encounters woozy young Aaron Andersen at a work event–openly gay, with a house of his own in SF’s hip Bernal Heights neighborhood–he at first sees the 24-year-old techie as a harmless nerd and offers to drive him home. But Aaron soon has a seductive hold on Dave, and as the men’s lives become more intertwined, Dave finds himself falling into an unexpected and passionate relationship, one that will require all his loyalty and commitment, and his faith in love. 

Both men are damaged characters, and Dave wants to be a good influence on Aaron. But can their new life together on Elsie Street really work out?

Elsie Street is on preorder right now and will be released on September 5.

Also: Interested in joining my mailing list for news about upcoming releases and promotions? You can do so here!

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The end is near (of the novel, not the world)

Reblogging from Ilana DeBare’s blog, Midlife Bat Mitzvah. Ilana is a writer whom I met in a writing workshop several years ago and her posts are so funny, revealing, and honest. This one in particular illustrates the painful lows and highs of being a writer, so I thought I would share it.

Midlife Bat Mitzvah

I’ve been working on the first draft of a new novel for slightly more than a year. Progress has been in small steps punctuated by constant breaks: My halftime job at Golden Gate Audubon gives me the rest of the week to write, but the paying work often creeps over into the unpaid work and then there are all the other interruptions of family, holidays, life.

This week, though, I’ve reached the last chapter.

Audubon work was relatively contained in June so I got on a roll. I saw the end of the book ahead of me, a long straightaway after winding through mountains. I was writing a lot! I became unusually spacey, caught up in imagined conversations between my characters while driving or taking my spin class or buying groceries. I was so distracted that I locked my keys in the car at the gym last week.

locked-out Evil…

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Review: On the Move, A Life by Oliver Sacks

When I first got acquainted with the neurologist Oliver Sacks and his work, it was through Awakenings, both the book and the movie. I was a young woman then and Oliver Sacks was someone to look up to. He also seemed like a distant, avuncular academic figure.

But readers are in for a shock here. First, Oliver Sacks comes out as gay (in a nondefensive way, but this must have cost him some angst, considering he has been in the closet all his professional life). Second, and even more shocking to me, actually, he comes out as a former weightlifter and motorcycle fanatic!

A strapping young Oliver Sacks on his bike.

A strapping young Oliver Sacks on his bike.

The best parts of the book explore his self-destructive youth in the late 1950s, where he emigrated to the US, began residency training, first in San Francisco and then at UCLA, and very quickly became addicted to amphetamines.

The memoir gets even more interesting as he shows how he kicked the amphetamine addiction and began to slowly explore writing as a “metier,” faced with opposition and sabotage from bosses and colleagues in New York, where he had moved, and even, eventually, his publisher.

Sacks is a lovable man, but a few revealing passages show how difficult he could be, and how he didn’t play the game at crucial points in his career. He forged his own path, meaning that for years he was not associated with any hospital and roved around visiting patients on a consultant basis. This must have been very painful for Sacks, who put so much of himself into his work that he was celibate for 35 years.

His family background as the youngest son of two Jewish doctors is explored in depth, including his relationship with his schizophrenic brother, Michael. Sacks admits that his youthful decision to leave London was partly caused by his oppressive relationship with Michael, just a couple of years older, who could be difficult and violent when not medicated and who lived at home until their parents died. As with many other complex relationships portrayed in the book, Sacks does not try to make himself look good in the reader’s eyes. His high-powered mother denounced his homosexuality early on, but he says in a revealing insight after her death that she was the person he felt the closest to in his life.

One of my favorite stories in the book is the one of Sacks confronting a raging bull on a Norwegian mountain trail. He lived to tell the tale, just about (though enduring the trauma of a broken leg and having to drag himself down the mountain for hours), and the whole episode became the basis for his book A Leg to Stand On, where he explores the disturbing post-surgery complication of his injured leg appearing alien to him and initially not responsive to rehab. The way he blithely ignored the sign warning that there was a bull on the mountain and then came face to face with this enormous creature, who expanded in front of his horrified eyes to grotesque proportions, is symbolic of Sacks’s whole life. It seems that he constantly courted death in one form or another and lived to tell the tale. On the Move, in fact, reveals many incidents of self-sabotage, accidents, and failures, which are surprising given Sacks’s aura of success…but serve as an important and poignant reminder that great success in one arena does not guarantee “an easy ride” in life.

That this memoir is published just as Oliver Sacks is facing his own “final battle” with cancer gives it an exquisite urgency. We meet him, the real man, just as he takes his leave… But at least we get to meet him.

One of the best books of the year, for me.

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KQED Forum Does an Hour on Self-Publishing

Michael Krasny, who hosts the Bay Area radio show Forum on KQED, did an hour on the changing world of self-publishing this week. I stumbled on to it a couple days later and was glad to be able to catch up via the audio archive. His guests were Mark Coker of Smashwords, Laura Fraser of SheBooks, and Ted Weinstein, literary agent. While nothing earth-shattering was said, the show was an interesting overview of how far self-publishing has come over the last few years, while noting its limitations as well.

Check out the show via the link below:

http://www.kqed.org/a/forum/R201505191000

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