In Memoriam: Anja Niedringhaus (1965—2014)

Originally posted on LightBox:

Afghanistan, with its stark landscapes, indigo skies and diverse population, has always been a photojournalists’ dream assignment. Ever since the sandaled mujahidin first used their rocket propelled grenades against the invading Soviet army, photographers have been infected with the country’s eerie beauty, sucked back time and again as the story cycled through civil war, the Taliban era, the American war and finally a fragile peace capped by presidential elections that promised at least a glimmer of stability.

And no one has covered that story as well as German photographer Anja Niedringhaus, a dedicated correspondent who lost her life on April 4 covering preparations for those elections, when she and her Associated Press colleague Kathy Gannon were shot by a uniformed Afghan police officer in Khost Province. “In Afghanistan of all places. It is just so tragic that this would have happened to her there,” says an old friend and fellow photojournalist Moises Saman. “She was just really committed to that country in particular. You could see it in the sensitivity of her work, her understanding of that country.”

Afghanistan Photographer Killed

Peter Dejong—AP

Gannon, 60, has undergone surgery…

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Time of Grace awarded Best Book of the Month by Red City Review!

Red City Review is a newish online professional literary book review. They gave Time of Grace a 5-star review last month, and I was very pleased. But the icing on the cake was when I was informed a few days ago that Time of Grace was chosen as the Best Book of the Month for February 2014!

Here’s an excerpt from the review:

This novel is both moving and thought provoking, as the narrative succeeds at placing a story about a same-sex relationship in the distant past during a turbulent time in history with relative ease. Caroline and Grace are both fully imagined and realized characters upon the page that any reader will be able to relate with, as their desires and passions are described in such rich detail. West has a great ability of weaving in historical facts into her story, placing her characters right in the thick of a real life event. The juxtaposition across gender roles, class status, and sexuality causes nice boundaries for the conflicts that occur throughout the story. The novel balances the facts, fiction and romantic elements in a superb fashion. Although the book is relatively short, coming in at just around 260 pages, it is full of tantalizing plot lines and moments that will stay with the reader for a long time to come.

My thanks to the anonymous reviewer. Needless to say, I’m not associated with RCR in any way. I don’t often enter contests, and I can count the number of awards I’ve gotten on one hand. Since one of the criteria of the award was that the book stays “within the reader’s mind after the pages are done turning,” I’m thrilled that Time of Grace had that kind of impact.


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Paradise with Power Cuts: How to Be a Digital Nomad

Writer and editor Jennifer Barclay took a huge leap of faith when she left her London publishing job to move to the small Greek island of Tilos, where she basks in the natural beauty of her surroundings and still continues to work as a freelance editor. I’m fascinated by people who make big life changes in order to follow their bliss yet remain grounded in the real world as well. Read on for more of Barclay’s story…

Paradise with Power Cuts: How to Be a Digital Nomad

Jennifer Barclay, author of Falling in Honey: How a Tiny Greek Island Stole My Heart

I’m delighted to be hosted by Gabriella West, to talk about how I came to live as a digital nomad; particularly because Gabriella, like me, divides her time between publishing her own work as a writer, and helping other authors as an editor. The give and take of that creative process is very inspiring.

For me, having worked for a literary agency in Canada then for an independent publishing house in England gave me the skills I need to be a digital nomad today – to work from home as an editor, writer and agent from a tiny Greek island.

Jen's Tilos office...

Jen’s Tilos office…

I looked out of my window earlier, over the whitewashed roof of the little Byzantine chapel, down to the lush valley and the rugged hills, and I smiled and thought: ‘Nope, not sick of that view yet!’ Amid the glories of blue skies and empty beaches and rugged mountains, every day I count my blessings: having more time to myself, to do my writing and go for long walks, a far cry from the routine of an office.

The job I left was in many ways a dream job: editorial director at a book publisher. I had good colleagues and I got to commission and edit all sorts of non-fiction.

One evening I went to see Sarah Outen launch her memoir of rowing solo across the Indian Ocean. I looked around a room full of people who had done extraordinary things, following their passion – skied across Antarctica, cycled through Africa, paraglided over the Himalayas – and as I watched Sarah standing barefoot on a chair to read to the audience, I realised I had more than a little in common with these folks.

I’d become bored with doing the same thing year after year. Sitting at my desk one day, emailing associates in various parts of the globe or colleagues in the next office, I thought, ‘I could be doing much of my job from anywhere.’ Apart from the meetings, there was no reason for me to be physically there. I decided to put it to the test, and spend two weeks working from a Greek island – a tiny place called Tilos that I’d fallen in love with the year before. I was thrilled when friends offered to rent me a simple apartment next door to the bakery, a few minutes’ walk from the sea, with a huge, sunny terrace and wireless Internet.

That, more or less, is where my book Falling in Honey: How a Tiny Greek Island Stole My Heart begins. (OK, there was another little blip in my life that made me take the plunge too: the guy who changed his mind about wanting a future with me. Ah yes. Well, I guess for that bit you’re going to have to read the book…)

I arrived on a sunny, peaceful day in May, the sea a glittering blue. The wireless Internet wasn’t working yet, so I sat in a café in the shady square and sipped iced coffee with a cat curled beside me. Old men gossiped at the other end of the square, and the fishermen sold the day’s catch. Little did they know I was dealing with emails from agents and publishers, editing books, reviewing book covers and manuscripts, even solving a dispute between a couple of colleagues…

SignEvery day I took a long lunch break: a long swim, half an hour in the sun and I was ready for whatever the afternoon threw at me. In the early evening, I shut down the computer and went for a walk around the bay, picked some herbs to add to my dinner, ending up back on the terrace with a glass of wine and a book. It was perfect, even better than I’d hoped.

But could I make it work long-term?

I’d have to downsize my job and get used to a lower income, but I’d be cutting my costs, too. With the extra free time I’d be able to write more.

My decision to take the plunge came as book publishing was facing big changes, and many editorial staff were being let go. This meant working at home as a freelancer suddenly became normal. On the other hand, it meant there were freelance editors everywhere you looked. But I had my contacts and experience; I’d have to rely on them, along with my interest in doing more business online and my enthusiasm for working with authors, and hope for the best.

So I moved to a little house in the middle of nowhere on the wild little island, with a view of the sea and the hills from the kitchen where I set up my office. Ants crawled across my computer screen and birds flew into the house, and goats grazed in the field outside.

I soon noticed that paradise comes with occasional power cuts. Winter brings extreme rainstorms with lightning that will burn out a modem in seconds if you’re not quick enough to unplug everything. Sometimes, my office simply has to close down for an hour or two. I keep the laptop charged and loaded with work.

But it’s a small price to pay. I have the freedom to work whenever I want, wherever I want. I feel very lucky.

Jennifer Barclay is the author of Falling in Honey: How a Tiny Greek Island Stole My Heart (Sourcebooks).

Thanks to Jennifer Barclay for letting me feature her inspiring story here! I encourage readers to pick up her book Falling in Honey: the peacefulness and wild beauty of Tilos are evoked so well in her memoir. It is rare to read about a woman falling in love with a place rather than a person, but perhaps this is the truest and most healing kind of love.

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Read an Ebook Update and Announcing a Guest Post

Read an Ebook Week ended on Saturday night. Lots of copies of Time of Grace flew off the virtual shelves at Smashwords during the weeklong promo, and on the very last day three copies of Connecting the Dots sold at the same time, presumably to one person. I was pretty happy with that.

Falling in Honey

‘Falling in Honey’ has just been published by Sourcebooks.

Tomorrow, in a first for this blog, an author will be doing a guest post! Jennifer Barclay lives and freelances on the small Greek island of Tilos, writes a blog called Octopus in my Ouzo, and has just released her wonderful memoir, Falling in Honey: How a Tiny Greek Island Stole My Heart (Sourcebooks). (I requested it as an ARC from NetGalley last winter and was thrilled to be asked by the publisher to be a part of her blog tour.)

So, tomorrow, look out for Jen’s post: “Paradise with Power Cuts: How to Be a Digital Nomad.”

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Read an Ebook Week Starts Today

I’m participating in Read an Ebook Week 2014 over at Smashwords. The skinny: in this annual event, running from March 2 through 8, thousands of ebooks are free or discounted. It’s kind of like the cyber equivalent of a library sale…

Time of GraceConnecting the Dots, my memoir about being diagnosed with ADHD in midlife,  is 50 percent off (use code REW50 to get the discount)—while Time of Grace is free!

The books can be found on my Smashwords profile page here. Just make sure to enter the coupon code that Smashwords supplies at checkout. All ebook formats are available, and the promotion lasts only through Saturday, March 8.

And this year, I must make sure to browse for some books myself!

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Please, Mr. Postette

The East Bay Express ran an interesting story last month about a Berkeley (or Oakland) man who leaves colorful Post-it notes—expressing various positive sentiments—all over town (on bikes, bus windows, cafe tables).

The man prefers to remain anonymous; the article calls him Mr. Postette. And he’s doing it for the best of reasons:

Mr. Postette said he started to leave inspirational notes mainly because he needed to be inspired. “At one point, I was feeling really unmotivated and uninspired to do anything at all, so I wrote a bunch of quotes down on Post-It Notes and put them up on my wall, in my room. I took those down, and started putting them around town.” He uses different color notes for different themes. “The past is usually green. Change is blue. Hope is yellow. A lot of them are yellow because I like yellow. Sometimes I’ll assign a secondary color. Pink is a secondary color for hope.”


From the Postette Facebook page–click to enlarge pic

I love the fact that his notes are color-coded and cleverly phrased. I particularly like: “I ruin everything—Expectation.” Or “I can’t stop—Time.”

The reporter asks about his motivations:

Although the notes absorb his attention, Mr. Postette said he doesn’t really know why he continues to do them. He doesn’t think of himself as an artist. “They’re a distraction for me,” he said. “It keeps me doing something good, as opposed to doing something else.”

Some of his friends and family have suggested that he try to make money off of the concept, but the idea doesn’t interest him. “I don’t think I want to make money off of it,” he said. “It’s good, anonymous, and money is — I just have this issue with money. I don’t like it. I feel like making money off of this would taint it in some way.

Clearly, Mr. Postette’s mental health is improved by his project, as well as the mood of those he comes in contact with. We really need him in San Francisco!

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Review: Don’t Go There by Kate Genet

Scarcity” was the first work I ever read by Kate Genet. It turns out she’s taken this short story and turned it into a full-length novel. And it’s a wonderful, compelling read.

ImageIn Don’t Go There (Kindle, $4.99), Genet excels in painting a picture of tough, guarded Teresa, a mid-twenties artist who spends her days hiding out in her shabby rural house in New Zealand, doing dog portraits.

Enter Scarcity, a local 17-year-old skinny blonde girl, who knows Teresa’s the only other lesbian in town. But what does she want, and how can Teresa get rid of this bothersome teenager?

The combination of chatty Scarcity and curmudgeonly Teresa seems a bit comical at first. It hardly seems likely that these quirky characters could get together.

But Genet draws deep here, and slowly the reader is drawn into the women’s faltering but steady steps toward intimacy. Scarcity (renamed Fliss by Teresa) is revealed to be a lovely, strong, innocent person who wants to be initiated and is vulnerable enough to reach out for a relationship. Teresa faces her own tendencies toward sex addiction and infidelity, and deals with her guilt over her behavior in a past relationship.

The book is quite darkly explicit in parts. There are terrible scenes of physical abuse, which I wondered if Fliss could even survive. And there are several sex scenes that take place outside of the main love story, where Teresa indulges herself, though they aren’t gratuitous. In this way, “Don’t Go There” is quite unorthodox and provocative. As another reviewer pointed out, there is also an amazing dog, whose protectiveness towards Fliss is a relief when we feel like Teresa is not paying enough attention to the girl because of her defensive walls…

Not at all rushed, this novel draws to an extremely satisfying conclusion.

What I didn’t add in my posted Amazon review is that because Fliss has never been with a woman, there is a real sense of significance in Fliss and Teresa’s coming together. Genet captures so well the seriousness of being sexual, and vulnerable, with someone for the first time when you are an adolescent.

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Doge’s Daughter Goes Free

ImageJust wanted to let folks know that my erotic short The Doge’s Daughter is free on Kindle today and tomorrow (thru Wednesday 2/19).

Pick it up if you haven’t already!

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Bad Dreams…

The quality of our lives has an interesting rhythm. We strive to make our lives better, lighter, and then at certain times we feel haunted and pulled down by darkness.

Certainly the horribly untimely death of Philip Seymour Hoffman this weekend had—and still has—the feeling of a bad dream. He’d talked explicitly about his addiction problems, but was always seen as someone who had beaten them LONG ago. But no, it couldn’t be as simple as that. I think of his films and then I think of what his last weeks or his last day must have been like, and it all barely makes sense. On film he’s in control, a master of his art. The consummate professional. To think of him lying in a bathroom with a needle in his arm, in an apartment littered with bags of heroin, just has the quality of … a bad dream.

But he leaves behind a magnificent body of work. In fact, he was in so many films that I’ve only seen about half of them! I think I first saw him in Boogie Nights, where he seemed charmingly clueless and chubby and immature. Then, in Magnolia, a harsh and disturbing film, his male nurse character was incredibly strong and compassionate. I remember thinking then that he had an androgynous quality, a quality that transcended male or female.

In Talented Mr. Ripley he gelled for me. He played a character who ought to have been despicable, the snooty frat-boy chum of Jude Law, but he was so brilliantly alive and intelligent that you couldn’t imagine that death in the form of Matt Damon’s weak, chameleon-like Ripley could bring him down. I’ll always remember the scene on the boat where he mocks Ripley for peeking at Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow having sex in the cabin. Perhaps he enjoyed not playing the voyeuristic character for once!

He played it cold and disconnected, too, and his Truman in Capote was a disturbing mix of effeminate charm and cold calculation who ends up subtly betraying everyone, not just his longtime lover, but his childhood female friend too, and the murderous boys whose story he’s fixating on/exploiting. It’s a study in alienation. Yet the film was a magnificent success. He deserved the Oscar. I’m so glad he got one.

It is horrible to see someone that I admire, born in my year, go like that. But unlike Heath Ledger and Cory Monteith, who died young in what seem to have been accidental overdoses, I have the feeling that Hoffman was more ready to go. Certainly he would have known what he was risking, with so much heroin in his apartment. I don’t want to judge him for what he did; I don’t want to be angry at him. Public anger is almost beside the point. (His family gets to be angry. They should.) We also should not forget that Hoffman was the child of divorce and seems to have had barely any relationship with his father, growing up. It is terrible when people repeat the mistakes of the past, of the abandoning parent, but sometimes it seems only too likely that they will.

Let’s talk about his presence, though. Mick LaSalle, SF Chronicle film critic, wrote a beautiful and perceptive obituary for PSH, in which he said:

There are rare actors such as this – people that audiences want to look at, people audiences can’t help wanting to look at, even if they don’t quite know why.  In the case of Hoffman, his opacity was an odd gift – a quality present even in his throwaway performance, such as in “Hunger Games: Catching Fire.” With Hoffman, we never really knew what he was thinking – but we always understood that he was thinking, and that it was something interesting and mesmerizing and slightly out of reach.

The rest of the obituary can be read here. And rest in peace, Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Update: So this is probably the last image we will see of Philip Seymour Hoffman: an unnerving tintype (!) taken at the Sundance Film Festival, where he told a publisher who asked what he did, “I’m a heroin addict.” He was always honest.

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Blossoms in January

photo by Robyn CoxI love seeing flowering fruit trees every January; seems like it happens here ridiculously early, and I’m always surprised.

But we are officially in a drought in California. We’ve had no rain here at all for months.

The governor has declared a state of emergency, and it remains to be seen what effect this will have on the public (after all, most of the water in California goes to agriculture, lawns and golf courses, that kind of thing).

So these dry, oddly warm, balmy days in Northern California (imagine T-shirts in January—I’m wearing one right now: it happens to be the Obama shirt that I no longer like to wear in public!), I think people are feeling an underlying fear. Fear of the unknown, of what might be around the corner, climate-wise.

Mark Morford said it better than I could in his latest column for SFGate, “Fine Weather for Creepy Melancholia.” He was at the beach sunbathing for his January birthday…

The rest of the country is freezing, of course. And I am grateful for this “nice weather,” this early spring which feels like summer, but still a little unnerved.

Another thing I am grateful for: being included on two vibrant new sites for lesbian authors and readers, Sapphica Books and! Read more about it on my News page.

How has this winter been for you?

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