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

Gabriella West:

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.

Originally posted on 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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Catch Time of Grace on Kindle Countdown This Weekend

Amazon offers a time-based promotional discount called the
Kindle Countdown, which I’ve never yet used for any of my books. I decided to enroll Time of Grace this Friday through Sunday (May 8-10), so the novel will be available for 99 cents rather than at its normal price of $2.99!

Time of Grace1Time of Grace, set in Ireland in 1915-16, tells the story of an English governess, Caroline Singleton, falling in love with a sultry Dublin housemaid, Grace Sheridan, at an Irish country house, Thornley Hall, while Ireland is still under British rule. Caroline slowly realizes that Grace is involved in illicit political activities, leading up to the uprising in Easter of 1916, which Caroline witnesses as a horrified observer while Grace takes part as a participant.

Next year will be the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising in Dublin, and I’m sure it will be a dramatic civic occasion.

The novel is a passionate and personal LGBT love story set in a time of political turmoil. The Fussy Librarian will feature Time of Grace in its Saturday newsletter, and I’ll be anxiously watching the countdown this weekend!

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Want to help prevent online bullying? Comment on Facebook

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.

Enjoy!

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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:

http://shannonyarbrough.com/2015/01/29/write-or-wrong-part-9-where-author-gabriella-west-feels-out-of-place/

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

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/spain/11477947/Don-Quixote-author-Miguel-de-Cervantes-tomb-found-in-Spain.html

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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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