Time of Grace Featured on BookBub

It’s time for another BookBub promotion! (This time during a pandemic…)

Time of Grace2BookBub will feature my lesbian historical novel Time of Grace, which will be available for 99 cents or its equivalent in the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and India via Amazon in ebook format, and also discounted on Apple Books, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Google Play. The promo officially starts Tuesday, July 28, but if you check your favorite platform, it may be on sale already!

I was reminded of Time of Grace when Red City Review announced it was closing recently. That Philly-based site gave the novel a rave review back in 2014, and even named Time of Grace its Book of the Month. I have never had such luck with another book—I think it happened to hit on the right reader there. (But it’s true that Time of Grace is quite a polished read, as it was edited by a trade press in Ireland prior to its initial paperback publication way back in 2001. In fact, if they had kept my original title, it would have been called The Time of Green…!)

I’ve subsequently revised it for ebook publication—and you can also now find the audiobook on Audible and Apple, narrated by P.J. Morgan!

Since Time of Grace was my first BookBub acceptance, back in February 2018, I’m thrilled that they have given it another whirl. Click here for links to the different ebook sites.

And here is the Red City Review write-up:

Time of Grace by Gabriella West

Best Book of the Month – February 2014

Set in early twentieth-century Ireland, Gabriella West crafts an exquisite and heart-wrenching tale in her debut novel ‘Time of Grace.’ The story follows Caroline, an English girl who is traveling to Ireland in the year 1916 to become a governess at Lady Wilcox’s household. Shy and reserved, Caroline takes the position because it is one of the few opportunities available for a woman like herself. At the estate, she quickly comes to know Grace, a beautiful young maid servant whose lust for life is both enticing and surprising to Caroline, who has never before been enthralled in such a way with another woman before. It isn’t long before their friendship blossoms into romance, a strict taboo not only because they are both women, but because they also come from separate social classes. Caroline cannot help herself from falling in love with Grace however, even as she watches her become impassioned with the idea of Ireland gaining its freedom. The novel builds itself up towards the Easter Rising, an important moment in Ireland’s history, which serves as the climax of the narrative, forcing the reader to wonder not only if Caroline and Grace will be able to continue their relationship, but if Ireland will be able to persevere as well.

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.

 

Posted in LGBT, News, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Smashwords Summer/Winter Sale

As Pride Month ends without the parades, and as the country (and world) reel from Covid, at least one noble annual tradition continues: the Smashwords Summer/Winter sale, which runs July 1-31, 2020.

Most of my ebooks are 50% off, and A Knight’s Tale: Kenilworth is free, with the follow-up, A Knight’s Tale: Montargis, priced at $2 (regularly $3.99!). These are m/m historical romances set in medieval England at the time of the Second Barons’ War. A reviewer called Book 1 “a crisp, incisive study of growing up and navigating the treacherous waters of love, sex, friendship, and jealousy.”

I hope you enjoy this monthlong sale, which is chock-full of bargains and a good way to try out the work of independent authors.

 

 

Posted in LGBT, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Knock On All the Doors

I don’t post enough literary advice/inspiration, but now that I am submitting pieces a bit more again, here is some brilliant advice about putting yourself out there, from a new writer connection on Twitter. It jumped out at me today. I’m not sure that I have found this to be true myself, but I know that my “knocking” has always been very erratic. And sporadic 🙂

one thing i’ve experienced with my baby career in writing is that the doors i thought would open with ease stayed firmly closed while those i didn’t knock on too hard (because i thought—these are not the doors to let me in) opened in welcome. knock on all the doors.

Naheed Patel, author of the debut novel The Lotus Eaters (2021)

You can find Naheed at @bookwalee.

Aside | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Country Shakes…

I found this on Twitter tonight. Rest in peace to George Floyd, and there is no question that we need change. We need the tide to turn, and I think it is.

Black Lives Matter. A new plaza has been born near the White House, thanks to the bold action of D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser:

EZyBS0HXgAAE6tr

 

Posted in News | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Moving On—Two Ex-Beatles’ Very Different Lives in the 1970s

I’ve been thinking a lot about the Beatles lately. Perhaps it’s because I started off the New Year by reading Mark Lewisohn’s masterful Tune In (2013), the first book in his proposed Beatles’ trilogy. It’s long and exhaustive, but you can feel him working up to something great. It covers their pre-Hamburg years, Hamburg, Stu’s death, and the arrival in their lives of Brian Epstein in late 1961, ending on a high note just as they got their deal with EMI.

Coincidentally, this week German photographer Astrid Kirchherr died at the age of 81. Lewisohn tweeted: Intelligent, inspirational, innovative, daring, artistic, awake, aware, beautiful, smart, loving and uplifting friend to many. Her gift to the Beatles was immeasurable. She had become an interior decorator, I discovered, and married a British drummer, the man who replaced Ringo in Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. She was born on May 20, 1938, a day before my own birthday. It seems fitting that Astrid, a powerful, independent woman with her own story, would be one of the last Beatles figures to survive. (Pete Best is another survivor, and he gave her a loving tribute.)

PaulI turned to Tom Doyle‘s book, Man on the Run: Paul McCartney in the 1970s (2014) without many preconceptions, but ended up loving it. It is an underrated book. I’ve come to appreciate and respect Paul McCartney more and more, and his odd eccentricities and quirks seem lovable here. I think the ’70s may have been Paul’s best time: he launched out on his own, devoted wife at his side, post-Beatles, almost as an “indie artist,” and ended the decade successful and “on top.” Then there was the rude awakening of John’s murder. And the 1980s seemed hard for him. Ironically, I only “knew” Paul McCartney in the ’80s, in the wake of Lennon’s traumatic end, and it was hard to get a fix on him then, especially since the literature on the Beatles was so superficial at the time. But this book helps enormously.

Although there is no fanfare about it, a careful reader will learn quite a lot about the Lennon-McCartney relationship. No one has covered Paul’s intense grief and anger after John’s death better than Doyle. His pain was almost comically misconstrued at the time. Now it all makes sense. One sees the glimmers of a much deeper story here, one that was cut short. Above all, and this is hard to put into words, it’s clear that Lennon and McCartney never stopped spurring each other on and emotionally reacting to each other, just as they had in the Beatles, but in a more cloaked and secretive way, while the press simply fixated on, and fed off, their animosity to each other.

I was left with a feeling of admiration for Paul, though. He kept trying to mend things with Lennon, and it seemed like by the end of the decade, he was getting somewhere. I think he had a vision of what he wanted (since he had had it before) and that makes what transpired all the more tragic. “I felt robbed,” he admits to Doyle, among other things.

As for Linda, I never doubted her strength, but the book confirms it. Her early promise to Paul, “I can make you a nice home,” seems quite poignant. She made huge sacrifices to keep her marriage strong, which included roughing it in Scotland with a depressed, self-medicating ex-Beatle, then going on the road with a band for ten years. But as an artist herself, though one with no need to hog the spotlight, she must have felt creatively fulfilled as well.

Doyle covers the decade of music carefully, throwing out insights and clues. I have only ever owned one Paul McCartney album, and that was Tug of War, from 1982, which I was mostly too young to understand at the time. Now I think I will buy Ram, and appreciate it all the more, knowing what lead up to it, and what came after.

One of the songs Doyle writes about is “Coming Up,” which became a huge solo hit for Paul the year that John died. John heard it in the spring of 1980 when he was driving with his assistant Fred Seaman and it challenged him to start writing again—even though he’d told Paul on the phone that all of that was over for him.

I had never heard “Coming Up,” so I listened to it. To my amazement, it seemed full of coded messages to Lennon. There was a covert promise in there that interested me. And it seemed obvious from all I knew of Lennon’s last years that he would not have been able to respond directly. He would have had to do it in a song as well.

220px-JohnLennon-albums-doublefantasy

The iconic cover of Double Fantasy (1980), an album John considered mediocre.

There’s only one song on Double Fantasy that fits the bill, and it’s “Starting Over.” Thinking back on that album—the first one I ever bought for myself!—the lyric that grabs my attention is the very deliberate line, “Let’s spread our wings and fly, my love… it’ll be just like starting over.” Would John have thrown the loaded word “wings” into a song about Yoko? The word “darling” jumps out as well, echoing Paul’s insanely intense “Oh! Darling,” from Abbey Road (1969), which screams futilely for attention. Anyway, Paul’s insistent lyric “Coming up like a flower” may well have been in John’s mind when he stood in the Bermuda botanical gardens and spied the freesia called Double Fantasy that he said gave him the title of the album. Sean was with him, but Yoko wasn’t—she had stayed behind in New York, leaving him free to write songs for the upcoming record and think about his future.

But what future would he have had? We know how it ended on December 8, 1980, of course. A book that tries to show where John’s head was at in the last couple years of his life paints a grim picture of a man who wasn’t going anywhere. The ominously titled Nowhere Man: The Final Days of John Lennon (Kindle edition, 2015) by Robert Rosen is nothing like the careful, nuanced journalism of Tom Doyle. Rosen was a New York pal of Fred Seaman’s and had clearly listened avidly to Seaman’s tales of his boss over the years, as well as smoking John’s Thai weed, as he boasts on more than one occasion. To his shock, Seaman arrived at his place with John’s diaries a few months after the murder and asked Rosen to transcribe them. They would work on a book about John together, Seaman said, tell the full story. Yoko fired Fred shortly after. Then at the beginning of 1982 Seaman changed his mind and seized the diaries and Rosen’s transcriptions while he was away on vacation. Or so goes the murky story. But Rosen was sufficiently irked and obsessed to write a book based on what he had gleaned from the diaries and Fred’s descriptions of working for the couple. Nobody would publish said book for a very long time. (Yoko, meanwhile, sued Fred for grand larceny and got the diaries back.)

This was a dismaying read. People have said that it’s not harsh on Yoko. I think it’s very damning. The suffocating life that the Lennons were leading in the Dakota Building, surrounded by hired enablers who stole from them, is a complete turn-off. They literally had a psychic on retainer, a man whom Yoko called up at all hours and whom John dubbed “the big O.” I liked the numerology chapter best, as it showed, albeit in a weird way, that John was thinking about the people nearest and dearest to him and their places in his life. But could he have possibly answered Paul’s call, boxed in as he was by Yoko? Reading Nowhere Man, it’s clear that he couldn’t. (Nor does Rosen see John and Paul’s relationship in those years as anything but an intense rivalry.)

“Their lives had become an endless shopping spree,” Rosen writes of John and Yoko. “Yet no amount of money was ever enough for the Lennons, because they were bound together by a gnawing emptiness that money could never fill. The root of John’s pain was his father’s desertion when he was five years old and his mother’s death when he was 17—experiences so traumatic he’d never fully recovered. Once he had believed that unlimited doses of money and fame would stop the pain. By the time he had discovered that money and fame actually exacerbated it, leaving him addicted to more money and more fame, he was too far gone to ever be helped.”

In damning lines, Rosen writes about the attention-starved couple taking out full-page newspaper ads in May 1979 to publicize their “Love Letter to the People”:

They weren’t lying. The Myth of John and Yoko was real, but only in brief, ecstatic flashes. And those flashes had been growing progressively more infrequent. Like moments of a dream, when they ended, it was as if they’d never happened. Only when John wrote about them did the moments become real to him. Words were reality, and John’s reality was boredom and pain punctuated by microseconds of ecstasy. Buried alive in a high-rent purgatory of superstition and fear, he often wondered if something good was ever going to happen to him again, or if it was just going to go on like this till the day he died. John and Yoko shared a mutual dread of the world learning how bad it had become for them.

This effectively destroys the myth of John and Yoko’s supposedly happy, gender-equal marriage; but then, one wonders, what’s left of the legacy? The songs, I suppose… Lennon does not come off as innocent, more as a man who needed to be led by the nose by someone—first Paul, then Yoko. (Now it becomes clearer why he reacted so violently to the cover of Ram.) Perhaps his dominant aunt Mimi, his only effective parent, left her mark in this way.

Rosen‘s drive to get his unauthorized story out is both admirable and a bit dubious. Still, I’m glad I read it. The contrast between Paul’s “healthy” post-Beatles life with Linda and John’s “crazy” life with Yoko was quite painful. As a vulnerable adolescent, someone who wore the iconic badge of John and Yoko kissing on her jacket, I couldn’t have borne to know the truth.

Posted in creativity and its discontents, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Coronavirus Dispatch #3: It’s Surreal

I’m going to keep these short, as none of us have a lot of bandwidth these days.

But yes, it’s surreal. We have gone over 20,00 deaths in the U.S. as of today. In a few days, it will be 50K, most likely. And then, California is supposed to peak in May. I also keep an eye on Ireland, where I still have some family members. There are still fewer deaths there than in California, which makes sense, given the population difference…

download

Hart Island, a Potter’s Field

So, a bad week. Some time during the week images of Hart Island came out on Twitter, taken by a photojournalist. These are drone images of mass burials on a scary-looking little island off The Bronx with what looks like a huge Victorian-era building on it. The city is burying 25 bodies a day, seven days a week now. This triggers all of our ancestral memories of plague, famine, the Holocaust, mass graves, I imagine. In New York. In 2020. I must admit, I looked at the pictures with a dread I hadn’t felt in a long time, a piercing pain. I don’t know anyone in New York City right now, but hear news of ambulance sirens on the streets of Brooklyn all day long. And of course we’ve lost people that we shouldn’t have had to lose: Terrence McNally. Hal Willner. Brave health professionals. Ordinary people who died before their time.

While we twiddle our thumbs waiting for our stimulus checks, I enjoyed reading this brilliant, thought-provoking piece by Julio Vincent Gambuto on Medium.

An excerpt:

And so the onslaught is coming. Get ready, my friends. What is about to be unleashed on American society will be the greatest campaign ever created to get you to feel normal again. It will come from brands, it will come from government, it will even come from each other, and it will come from the left and from the right. We will do anything, spend anything, believe anything, just so we can take away how horribly uncomfortable all of this feels. And on top of that, just to turn the screw that much more, will be the one effort that’s even greater: the all-out blitz to make you believe you never saw what you saw. The air wasn’t really cleaner; those images were fake. The hospitals weren’t really a war zone; those stories were hyperbole. The numbers were not that high; the press is lying. You didn’t see people in masks standing in the rain risking their lives to vote. Not in America. You didn’t see the leader of the free world push an unproven miracle drug like a late-night infomercial salesman. That was a crisis update. You didn’t see homeless people dead on the street. You didn’t see inequality. You didn’t see indifference. You didn’t see utter failure of leadership and systems.

But you did. You are not crazy, my friends. And so we are about to be gaslit in a truly unprecedented way. It starts with a check for $1,200 (Don’t say I never gave you anything) and then it will be so big that it will be bigly. And it will be a one-two punch from both big business and the big White House — inextricably intertwined now more than ever and being led by, as our luck would have it, a Marketer in Chief. Business and government are about to band together to knock us unconscious again. It will be funded like no other operation in our lifetimes. It will be fast. It will be furious. And it will be overwhelming. The Great American Return to Normal is coming.

From one citizen to another, I beg of you: Take a deep breath, ignore the deafening noise, and think deeply about what you want to put back into your life. This is our chance to define a new version of normal, a rare and truly sacred (yes, sacred) opportunity to get rid of the bullshit and to only bring back what works for us, what makes our lives richer, what makes our kids happier, what makes us truly proud.

 

Posted in News, Personal | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Coronavirus Dispatch #2: Andrew Cuomo Is Awesome

It helps to watch New York Governor Andrew Cuomo‘s measured, eloquent press conferences in the mornings. I watch them on CNN; I think MSNBC carries them as well.

Here he is today, asked about what he would tell people who are afraid and anxious at the moment (i.e., all of us):

Sure, it is a terrible feeling, and a frightening feeling. For everyone. No one has been here before. “I’m out of work, I don’t have a paycheck, I can’t leave the house, the house has the family in it, or I’m all alone…” This is going to help form a new generation. And it will transform who we are, and how we think. But you’re not alone. You’re not alone. Nobody’s alone. We are all in the same situation.

The number of U.S. deaths is over 1,000 now. Worldwide, cases top 500,000.

Aside | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Coronavirus Dispatch #1

Here’s how it started, at least the official story, from a site called CIDRAP (Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy) that I just happened upon today on the web:

coronavirus_illustration

The virus. It’s not usually portrayed in green, is it?

“As suspected, a novel coronavirus has been identified in some patients who are part of a cluster of unexplained pneumonia cases in Wuhan, China, according to unnamed sources familiar with the investigation who are cited in a Wall Street Journal (WSJ) story today.

As scientists and health officials wait for official statements and more confirmation details, some virologists say they’re not surprised to see another human emergence of coronavirus, a species that is becoming a bigger player on the world stage. The new discovery comes in the wake of the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) outbreak in 2003 and the first human detection of MERS-CoV (Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus) in 2012.”

That was from January 8, 2020. It seems surreal now, like reading the opening chapter of And the Band Played On, a great classic of my youth that charted the course of the AIDS epidemic.

So, somehow we’re in the middle of a global pandemic.

I’m having a lot of thoughts about it, now that we in the Bay Area have all been ordered to shelter in place for two weeks (perhaps more). I’ll try to put some of them down in a linear fashion.

Nature Is Healing: I sat out in the sun in the little back yard today. If I closed my eyes and listened, I could hear the hum of the bees, because our little yard is covered with fruit trees growing wildly. The white blossoms will be gone soon, but the birds and bees love them. I looked out the kitchen window and into the eyes of a sparrow this morning. The biggest tree is at window-height and seems to always want to come in at our window every spring. Usually it makes things difficult because of allergies, but the tree is so obviously a sustainer and we are dealing with worse things than allergies.

How Bad Is This? Nobody knows. It’s probable that many of us are carriers—have already had a mild version of the virus. There should be no stigma about this, because we haven’t been allowed to get tested due to the incompetence of the administration. I may have had a mild case of the virus recently. I count myself very lucky, because I got through it with a mild sore throat, a spiky little fever, not even a cough, but a huge drop in energy. And some fear. My body certainly felt like it was battling something new, and I rushed around the house wanting to disinfect things. But we only have a tiny bit of rubbing alcohol left, thanks to shortages and hoarding. It was a horrible feeling at the time, but in retrospect, if I had it, I’m fortunate, and I want to try to get one of the retroactive tests for antibodies that they tell us are out there in the pipeline…

In Times of Trouble: CNN is a lifeline. I recommend watching the Global Coronavirus Town Halls if you can. There’s one tonight. Anderson Cooper, my favorite anchor on there, said gravely a few days ago, after a hectic show that mixed election news and virus news, “We are on the cusp of great change.” Isn’t that the truth?

Watching Numbers: As of today, we have over 10,000 infections in the U.S., 237,000 worldwide. A site that brings me comfort is this one, started by a high schooler in Washington State, Avi Schiffman: https://ncov2019.live/data. I hope this guy goes on to great things.

I can only hope this will bring us together. I fear the economic devastation that must come. I can deal with the stress in my own life because I’ve been living with financial uncertainty for a long time. But what I think most of us find hard to envisage and bear is to see so many of the things we have loved wiped out: favorite businesses closing, the streets emptied, our loved ones dying far from us. I don’t feel like I am in a good situation to cope with any of this. But then, who is? And sometimes I feel fine; things seem almost normal. Other times, I shake free from my denial. But I fear, looking ahead and going by other countries’ experience, that the next six weeks will be the worst.

I don’t go through this completely alone. I live with my ex, Laura, in a small house in San Francisco that her mother bought long ago and rented out to strangers for many years, and at our best we’re able to support each other through bad times. (In fact, I feel terrible for the elderly folks I know who live alone.) And I am an introvert, so this “social distancing” is something that I practice even at normal times, I’m afraid… But the forced aloneness, the rules, are quite a new thing. The fear, the uncertainty. The sadness and rage that we have an incompetent narcissistic bumbler at the helm during a time of crisis. When we could have had a competent and caring woman.

And people will die in large numbers, unpredictably. I’m not one to see that and be unaffected by it.

I’m grateful for: Gavin Newsom, our governor. The press, asking challenging questions of Trump at his inane briefings, the women reporters especially, their bravery in the face of his evasive bluster. A friend who lost her elderly mother recently and yet thought about me enough to send me an unexpected gift of money. Women’s strength and compassion, even though we are hampered by so many things. Men’s more impersonal protectiveness and innate decency, even though we have no social safety net in this society. Joe Biden, for sounding presidential and giving me hope that someone is out there making plans for the next administration. An old friend in Spain for comparing notes with me via little audio files even as she goes into lockdown. Another friend in Portland whom I talk to every week for an hour, an hour that flies by because our experiences and lives are so similar. To me this is a quiet testament that love endures and transforms, since both of them have known me for decades, though there have been long spaces of lack of contact, too.

Finally, I hope this epidemic can be a trigger for societal change. For too long I’ve watched as the rich got richer and everything crumbled. Everything that I came to this country for. We’ve had unbridled capitalism, and it is killing us. I hope the alienation that so many of us have felt from each other for so long (which is partially societally encouraged, let’s face it) can be wiped away, though this may only be temporary. Yes, people are selfish and short-sighted, and the people who care about others tend to suffer a lot. I watch other people suffering, though, and I think, hmm, well, I understand. It’s the people who don’t appear to suffer or look out for others that I really wonder about.

Thanks for reading these jottings, and feel free to leave a comment on how you’re doing! I’m interested in everyone’s experiences.

Update: The entire population of the State of California (barring essential service workers) is now ordered to shelter in place! That’s 40 million of us.

Posted in Health, News, Personal, San Francisco | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Read an Ebook Week Sale at Smashwords

ebookweek 3 - e-reader on beachIt always creeps up on us! Here are some details about the annual Read an Ebook Week sale at Smashwords.com:

“How the Program Works:

At one minute past midnight Pacific time on March 1, the special Smashwords Read an Ebook Week catalog goes live on the Smashwords home page.  Readers can browse the catalog and search by coupon code levels and categories.  After 11:59pm Pacific time on March 7, 2020, the catalog disappears.

The coupon codes are exclusive to Smashwords and will not affect prices at other retailers.

There’s no need to remember coupon codes.  Readers will receive the discount automatically by adding your book to their cart.”

What this means for my books is that ALL my novels are on sale for either 50% or 75% off! Just scroll down on the Profile page link to see the bargains, starting March 1. Or click the nifty purple cat image on my site from last year, which links to my Smashwords profile page as well.

 

Posted in News, Self-publishing, Writing | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Between Heaven and Hell by David Talbot

talbotBetween Heaven and Hell: The Story of My Stroke (Chronicle Prism, 176 pp, $22.95, January 2020)

David Talbot—journalist, popular historian, longtime San Francisco resident, and author of Season of the Witch—has written a surprisingly vulnerable, intimate, often funny and engaging memoir which chronicles the November 2017 stroke that has left him physically devastated yet feeling, at times, oddly peaceful and carefree. As he writes at the end of the book with a nod to the cover art by William Blake, the ordeal left him “ravaged and reborn, all at once.”

For most of his life, Talbot was an S.F. insider and Type-A striver, who founded the online news and culture magazine Salon.com in 1995 and served as editor-in-chief for ten years despite intense financial pressures. (A quick check of the Salon site now is uninspiring, sadly.) His books have covered dangerous political terrain with elegant depth: Robert Kennedy obsesses about the truth behind his brother’s assassination in Brothers (2007); The Devil’s Chessboard (2015) took on the frightening abuses of power of the C.I.A. during the Cold War. His most popular book, Season of the Witch (2012), grappled with the dark, violent side of San Francisco in the late 1960s through the early 1980s, as well as the sexy, progressive cultural movements that flourished here.

Talbot has a gift for capturing the zeitgeist. And so, in this memoir, he somehow pulls his experience outside of himself. While keeping his feet on the earth, as in the cover art, he reaches for meaning. The first part of the book is full of medical details: what happened on the day of the stroke; how he eventually got to the E.R. at a local hospital, St. Luke’s (walking in, a mistake); how he missed the critical three-hour window to recover quickly; how he was transferred to Davies Medical Center’s stroke ward and began a long process of rehabilitation. What could be indulgent and deeply depressing, a plodding chronicle of loss, becomes something else.

He has had two career identities, and both nearly killed him. He writes amusingly and harrowingly of an apparent heart attack at Salon in 1998, which turned out to be a panic attack that struck, perhaps not coincidentally, when the co-founder of Adobe, John Warnock, was visiting the building for an important meeting and had reached the lobby. Anxious about his main investor seeing him being taken out of the office on a stretcher, he insisted on staggering down the back stairs before being bundled into an ambulance. The money came through; the site was saved, and Talbot, whose mother died of a stroke at sixty, was told he should take it easy. But of course, he didn’t.

And then there was Hollywood. The son of actor Lyle Talbot, he writes about attending a series of ultimately frustrating meetings in a fruitless quest to get his book on Allen Dulles and the CIA turned into a TV drama. There was a long meeting shortly before his stroke where he felt his head was going to explode from the pressure of trying to “sell” his story. He writes honestly of wanting to be financially saved by Hollywood. It’s a common fantasy, and Hollywood seems to thrive on bringing people close and dashing the cup from their lips. “Of course, Hollywood mythology and reality are two different things,” Talbot concludes darkly. “The business behind the screen can be the most sleazy and brutal that American has to offer. Words don’t mean anything—the more praise I would hear about my books, the more I knew they didn’t have a chance.”

Word, as they say. But Talbot’s stroke effectively ended his Hollywood aspirations. He had to learn to live again, in a more introspective fashion, aided by his wife and two grown sons, and initially helped by a GoFundMe page started by a family friend. With a wonky left eye, dark glasses, a cane, and a staggering gait, Talbot doesn’t feel like his old self and understands he will never regain that self. But there is something more, and this is what I loved most about the book. Talbot’s brave self-awareness about his twilight existence in the sterile, noisy S.F. of today helped me take stock of my own life:

I now live in a ghost world, and not everyone who was once close to me wants to venture into this shadowy place to hang out with me. Some people are clearly spooked. I remind them of their own frailty and mortality. I get it; it’s understandable. But it confirms my spectral status to me.

…The truth is, I want to keep living at half-speed, in my secure, bubble world, with those to whom I can feel effortlessly close. No, I don’t just want to—I need to.

But there’s joy here. More sensitive to musical beats, Talbot breaks out into impromptu dances while clothes-shopping with his wife and sister (he shares a playlist at the end of the book, charmingly). A year after the stroke he and wife Camille take off to Carmel to escape the terribly polluted air during the wildfires with their dog, Brando. Talbot writes amusingly of this surreal episode, where they, along with a bunch of other exhausted refugees from the city, stay in Doris Day’s pet-friendly inn and watch the dogs caper on the beach. A woman with a blind dog chats with them. “The woman told Camille that her small dog was blind but she liked to bring him to dog-friendly beaches so he could smell and hear his fellow canines as they barked and splashed in the surf. She said it made him happy. I could relate—I’m now nearly half blind too, and crazy canine carnivals like the one spinning out of control on the beach made me laugh out loud like a kid.”

When they return to the city “the air still smelled like a dying campfire,” but soon there is rain. And so it goes in this book and in life, where the good is juxtaposed with the bad, and the painful with the happy. Talbot’s sons are now doing well (his son Joe directed a movie and you can feel his pride in that); ultimately, he has decided to stay in San Francisco, which takes a special kind of courage and commitment. For a city that gives a lot, it also takes a lot, and you can feel a conversation going on throughout the book between Talbot and the place he once felt so comfortable. Out walking, he now feels like roadkill, he admits. Coming home from the hospital, he is alienated: “The city was shrill and mechanical; a flock of construction cranes hovered monstrously in the skyline. I couldn’t make sense of all the loud disorder. There was no warm embrace from me from the city that still had my heart.”

But then he is asked to speak at a Jane Kim rally as she runs for mayor in 2018. Plucking up his courage, he addresses a crowd of young people from a seated position in a rowdy space South of Market, begging their patience because talking is still a work in progress. The young techies quieten down, and “San Francisco inspired a passionate eloquence in me.” There is still something to fight for here, in his view. And I can attest that on Facebook (where the early draft of this book started, ironically), Talbot is a charming, open presence, willing to share his historical knowledge.

As I read Between Heaven and Hell, I reflected to my astonishment that I am only fifteen years younger than Talbot, born the year his family moved to San Francisco. I see him now as something of a peer, though that seems presumptuous. But we are all searching for meaning and purpose in this life, going through many of the same things in our different circumstances. The memoir made me feel more connected and, perhaps, more hopeful. I hope Between Heaven and Hell won’t be Talbot’s last book, but if so, it is a beautiful and generous swan song.

 

 

 

Posted in creativity and its discontents, Health, Reviews, San Francisco, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment