Fall News

Almost Halloween… and I plan to go get my hair cut and colored tomorrow for the first time in a year, which is even scarier! I hope everyone is hanging in there. This election is nearly over. Everyone wants it to be quick. But will it? Sadly, probably not.

Writing news: I am writing a new book! The tentative title is Once You Are Mine and the theme is an MM pandemic love story set in Northern California. I am not sure when it will be out. My original plan was November 30, but I may try to submit it to an LGBT-friendly press to see if they like it. I have loved the freedom of being indie, so I’m rather torn about this. We shall see!

Special deal: You can find A Knight’s Tale: Kenilworth for 99 cents (reg: $2.99) over at Smashwords for the next month. The Smashwords home page is looking rather fun at the moment. Check it out.

What’s next on the blog? A review of an amazing biography: Douglas Botting’s towering life of eccentric, conflicted queer naturalist Gavin Maxwell, first published in 1993 but now available on Kindle. I have read nothing by Maxwell—although Ring of Bright Water was on the family bookshelves growing up—but now I want to read it all.

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Big Fires Everywhere…

map“Extremely dense & tall smoke plumes from numerous large wildfires, some of which have been generating nocturnal pyrocumulonimbus clouds (fire thunderstorms), are almost completely blocking out the sun across some portions of Northern California this morning.” –Climate Scientist Daniel Swain on Twitter (@Weather_West)

So, I woke up to an eerie orange glow outside at 9:30 in the morning. The room looked dark. My first impulse was to laugh at the absurdity of it all. Our toilet also chose this moment to clog up and take hours to fix, so there was the apocalypse and then there was the short-term practical crisis to attend to. I wonder what parents are saying to their kids today.

The whole Bay Area has been impacted. And yesterday I traced the line of fires on an Air Now.gov map all the way from California through Oregon and Washington up to British Columbia.

We are in deep shit, folks! It’s notable that no one knows what to do. Gavin Newsom’s response yesterday was to shoulder cheerfully on. (He changed his tune later in the week and was photographed amid the devastation, saying, “We’re in a climate damn emergency!”)

We shall see what happens. After thirty years in the States, I didn’t expect to end up a climate refugee, but in the end, we all will be, and California is always ahead of the rest. So, here we are.

The air is still breathable. It’s full of fine ash and not great, but it’s not technically unhealthy or hazardous at this point. Small mercies.

UPDATE 9/12: We are now stuck firmly in the scarlet-red of unhealthy air quality (177 as of this writing). Here’s an article from the SF Chronicle showing pics of San Francisco under the orange glow.

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The Grace of Letting Things End by Mary Sharratt

I met the novelist Mary Sharratt in the Bay Area in 2000, if I recall right; we were in a small writing group together which had become more of a “women’s group,” for better or worse. Skilled at adapting to wherever she lives, Mary has had quite an odyssey over the years, as this personal essay on the Feminism and Religion blog describes. I never imagined she and her husband would leave England because of Brexit—but it makes total sense. As she writes, a lesson that’s been personally hard for me: “A special grace comes from knowing when things have reached their end—some things *must* end so something new can be born.”

Ms. Boo, aka Queen Boudicca, in the heart of Pendle Witch Country.

Though I was born and raised in Minnesota, I have wandered the world as an expat writer nearly my entire adult life, living in Belgium, Austria, and Germany, before moving to Pendle Witch country in northern England in 2002. I fell in love with the beautiful, rugged moorland, haunted by its history of the Pendle Witches, who cast their everlasting spell on the land. This was the landscape that inspired my 2010 novel,Daughters of the Witching Hill, which casts the Pendle Witches in their historical context as cunning women and healers. Indeed I was inspired enough to write seven out of my eight published novels in Lancashire. The mythic name for that part of Northern England is Brigantia–simultaneously the name of the Celtic Goddess of the land, the tribe of people who made their home there…

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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.

 

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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.

 

 

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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.

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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:

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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.

Coda: I just stumbled on Michael Bleicher’s interesting review of Rosen’s friend Fred Seaman’s book The Last Days of John Lennon on HeyDullblog.com. “Seaman, John’s personal assistant for the last two or so years [of his life], depicts a rock star in his late thirties who may as well be in his late eighties for the way in which his happiness seems to be confined to rare moments when he reminisces about something he did in his early twenties.” Read the review here. The comments that follow make worthwhile, even addictive, reading as well.

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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…

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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.

 

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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.

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