Just a Quick Note

To say Happy Fall!

The birds were out on the backyard tree this morning as if they knew the season has changed, which they do, of course! Warblers, finches, a junco, and a hummingbird.

I will be back soon to post a personal essay that I wrote last year but has never found a home. It seems like a good idea to put it on the blog. 2021 was all about getting through the pandemic, while this year has brought other, unexpected health challenges for me, as I know it has for many people.

Back soon!

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Roll up, roll up…

For the Smashwords Summer/Winter Sale, which is an annual monthlong event that spans the whole month of July.

banner announcing sale

You can purchase ebooks in mobi or epub, or read on the online reader. The first book in my medieval Knight’s Tale trilogy, A Knight’s Tale: Kenilworth, will be FREE, and books 2 and 3 will be 25% off. So it’s a pretty good deal!

Can’t wait? A Knight’s Tale: Kenilworth is currently 99 cents on Smashwords only.

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I finished a trilogy!

There is an especially good feeling about writing the third book in a trilogy. Confession: I’ve only done it once before, with my Elsie Street series.

But a few days ago, I finished up the third book in the Knight’s Tale series. It is called The Knight’s Return, and it begins in April of 1275.

The novel ultimately takes Will and Stephen, young Eleanor, and Amaury de Montfort from their peaceful refuge in France to a ship bound for England, where fate catches up with them in the Bristol Channel (then called the Severn Sea).

Instead of a peaceful homecoming, Will and Stephen must instead navigate court life at Windsor Castle, where they are essentially prisoners. (In real life, Eleanor de Montfort was held at Windsor for three years before she was allowed to marry her Welsh prince, Llywelyn, and go on to her own short, tragic future.)

The novel takes Will into what was then considered middle age. He is thirty-six when the book ends, in 1282, and The Knight’s Return has more bisexual content than the previous novels as well. Will is also forced to fight in Edward I’s Welsh war of 1277, an embittering and eye-opening experience for him.

However, I’m glad to say that Will does take Wilecok‘s advice to “trust Stephen… in the end.”

You can find The Knight’s Return ($3.99) on Amazon and Google Play now, and on Apple, Kobo, and Barnes & Noble as well.

This recent 5-star review on Amazon really hits home:

The Knight’s Return is a thoroughly compelling story that rings with emotional truth and historical accuracy. I can’t imagine a more perfect conclusion for this outstanding series.

Ten years have passed. Simon is dead, and Will, Stephen, the aging Lady Eleanor and Wilecock are living in Montargis, in France. Young Eleanor, the great-granddaughter of Eleanor of Aquitaine, is now 17 and on the verge of womanhood. Suddenly, Stephen announces he is leaving to study as an apothecary in Italy, even as both Lady Eleanor and Wilecok take a turn for the worse. Will is left feeling isolated but also confused as he realizes he’s attracted to young Eleanor. But soon Will, Stephen, and Eleanor will all need to contend with historical forces changing their lives as well as personal loss as they leave the safety of Montargis while a new English King plots against a rebellious Wales.

It’s interesting to have read this and Alex di Campi’s The Scottish Boy within a few week’s of each other. Di Campi’s book occurs during the period right after when West’s “The Knight’s Tale” books take place. West’s series deals with the Bishop’s War and the English war against the Welsh, while Di Campi’s book deals with the English war against the Scots. Both authors have done their historical research, though Di Campi’s writing puts story and characters first and history second. West’s books feel much more embedded in history, and it’s a delight to encounter 13th century words and facts in her writing, from the details she provides about locations and conflicts to her inclusion of things such as fewterers (keepers of dogs), leather tankards and Lady Day in her narrative.

The author is a careful, keen observer of inner life, of our emotional worlds and how our emotional wiring is vastly different from one person to the next. In this third novel, Will and Stephen have been emotionally and physically involved with one another nearly twenty years. While their love for each other has been a constant, it’s also ebbed and flowed, taking on different shapes and textures as they’ve grown as individuals and been forced to respond to the greater tides of history. Both have explored relationships with others, men and women, and have experienced their sexual attraction to each turn from passionate to perfunctory. Yet their bond, a deep, intimate connection regardless of however else it can be described, persists.

Throughout the trilogy, Will has found himself torn and divided in his desires, his passions, and his loyalties, and in The Knight’s Return he finds himself at the crossroads of desiring both Stephen and two of the women in his life. Moreover, he finds himself the object of desire for an older, significantly more powerful man. In these relations, despite being so often torn between others, we’re reminded that he sees being a man as something essential, the sine qua non of which is that a man is never penetrated or receptive. Will seems haunted in this last book, though he’s unsure exactly by what and seems to experience it as a lack, as something missing in his life. It’s as if he’s lived his life catching glimpses of himself and his manhood in a mirror, first in relation to this person and then in relation to another, but what does he look like on his own? His old friend Wilecock seems to be the closest model he has for seeing himself, but he’s still looking for a sense of solidity on his own terms as the world, the old Countess, Wilecock, and even Stephen all become unstable and fleeting.

So, while the genre this series fits into might be magic realism given Stephen’s ability to see the future, the author, Gabriella West, is a gritty psychological realist. She seems to imbue Will with a kind of latent idealism, and he measures himself against vaguely grasped gender and emotional ideals – and, in his estimation, he often comes up wanting. Stephen is a stoic, resigned to enduring futures which he can see but rarely influence. More than once in the series, he finds himself having to risk giving Will up in the hope that his visions will play out in a way that brings Will back to him. He also rides a fine line between manipulating Will and honoring his freedom of choice.

Another author might have given Will or Stephen a more solid psychology, say, by giving one of them an unwavering loyalty or sense of direction or a boundless faith, to ease the troubled waters that West stirs up in these emotionally honest, memorable and beautiful novels. While that might make for a more feel-good story, it would also make these books less compelling, less authentic in mood, tone, and the reality of inner life. An actor friend of mine, who is also a former National Storyteller of the Year, has often said that what he does is “living or responding honestly to imagined circumstances.” Will and Stephen’s story is vibrant and memorable, living inside me as a treasured experience, precisely because West is that paradox we hold dear as a literary aesthetic: an honest storyteller.”

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Read an Ebook Week Starts Tonight

Starting at a minute past midnight tonight, the annual tradition continues at Smashwords of taking a week to celebrate ebooks with deep discounts…

Find my sales here! Best value is my Irish historical, Time of Grace, only .99 for the week!

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Ukraine in Crisis—Time’s Running Out

Did you know the national animal of Ukraine is the common nightingale?

I have been riveted and appalled by the invasion of Ukraine by its neighbor Russia. What’s more, I actually know someone reporting on the ground over there, a reporter for the Christian Science Monitor… The bravery of the people and of President Zelenskyy is astounding. It is such a tragic situation.

My own grandparents were appalled when Russian troops marched into Prague in 1968 during the Prague Spring. They lived their lives as refugees in exile, never able to return to Czechoslovakia after the Second World War and the “Iron Curtain,” and I always knew them as “Oma” and “Opa.” However, since I had moved to Ireland as a young child, and my parents subsequently divorced, I never got to speak to my grandmother about her past before her death in 1976.

So I do have some Eastern European blood, about 13% according to Ancestry… My grandfather’s family actually came from Slovakia, which is even closer to Ukraine.

Whether it’s in the blood or not, I’m sickened by injustice and bullying. And I know how long oppressive regimes can last.

I had never really heard a nightingale’s song before. Here it is. I hope you enjoy it. (And while beautiful, it is actually quite fierce!)

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A New Indie Juggernaut?

Just got the news today that Smashwords is being acquired by Draft 2 Digital. This is really earth-shaking news for anyone who has been a part of the “wide” independent author scene. For those people who don’t publish direct to platforms like Apple, Kobo, Barnes & Noble (and there are various reasons not to!), one has had to choose either Smashwords (the first ebook distributor, which started in 2008) or its competitor D2D, based out of Oklahoma City, quite slick with templates and layouts and so on, but less friendly to erotica authors. Smashwords has its own store, obviously quite attractive to D2D. Smashwords CEO Mark Coker is joining the board of D2D and will be part of senior management. So, all’s well that ends well? Nobody’s quite sure, but here is a link to the extensive PR announcement and here is the pertinent section that describes a live Q&A taking place tomorrow, Wednesday, Feb. 9!

Draft2Digital will broadcast a live Q&A session for authors and publishers on Wednesday, February 9th, at Noon Central [10am Pacific], with Kris Austin and Mark Coker, moderated by Kevin Tumlinson, Draft2Digital’s VP of Marketing & PR. Kris and Mark will share additional insight about their plans to support the indie publishing community and welcome questions from the audience.

Visit https://D2DLive.com for links and launch time, and to attend live on either Facebook or YouTube. The live broadcast will be recorded for future inclusion in the Draft2Digital podcast, Self Publishing Insiders, and will be available as a blog post at Draft2Digital.com/blog.

Never underestimate the Year of the Tiger! While initially wary, I find it all very interesting and do think there’s a certain logic to these two companies joining forces. So we will see. While Smashwords has been a rock for me since 2011, I knew going in to indie publishing that I would have to roll with the punches. At least many of the awesome features of Smashwords will stay: author interviews, coupons, and so on. And while I’m at it, my latest MM romance Once You Are Mine is 55% off through Feb. 16 🙂

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Review: Putting the Rabbit in the Hat by Brian Cox

The young Brian Cox was a well-known U.K. theatre actor in the 1960s and ’70s.

What a life Brian Cox has had. The weird zaniness of some of his memoir, Putting the Rabbit in the Hat (Grand Central Publishing, 2022, $14.99 on Kindle), is amplified by the fact that the “Editorial Reviews” section on the book’s description page is currently filled with info about the notable scientist Brian Cox! (Will the publisher even notice? God knows.)

There’s a lot to smile at here, with some frowns. First off, I reflected halfway through the book that Brian must have given the legal department at his publisher a lot of headaches. Some of the material in here is not flattering, to say the least. On the other hand, actors are known to have messy lives. For all of his judgments on others, freely cast around, Cox has had a messy life too. He admits it, but there must be many sordid episodes that he prefers not to dwell on that he fills with garrulous chatter.

One of the things I picked up immediately is that the memoir has a “dictated to” quality. It rambles and circles back, again and again. The most formative thing for Cox was his birth, first of all, which nearly killed his mother. She was forty and had already had four children and several miscarriages before he was born, in 1946, so Cox was the youngest of the family, and indulged. But his fairly placid childhood in Dundee, Scotland, was over pretty quickly after his beloved father died when he was eight and his mother spiraled into mental illness. The family then lurched into poverty. Cox makes us care about his tight-knit family background and his difficult early life. (His love of American movies also shines through.) He seems to have dealt somewhat, now, with his abandonment issues, but he married young in the late 1960s and unfortunately made his wife Caroline, another actor, pay for his childhood traumas. He touches often on his guilt about the way he treated his first wife, with many affairs, but then moves on quickly to another funny story.

A phrase that came to mind as I was reading this long book was “high-octane bitchery.” Cox probably doesn’t think of himself as a bitchy, judgmental guy, but the theatre world is all about that, and some of the stories and put-downs have a bitter edge. Cox hated working for Peter Hall at the prestigious National Theatre in London, for example, and describes one harrowing rehearsal scene where an elderly actor is strung up on stage above the other actors while they spray blood onto his crotch, amid much taunting and laughter. This goes on for *an hour.* Cox wanted to show how messed up and disorganized the National Theatre was during the 1980s, and he does, but he ends up having little good to say about any theatre he worked in, except Dundee Rep, his first, where he started as a fifteen-year-old jack of all trades. He describes the theatre scene in the U.K. as “feudal.” It clearly is, but Cox’s break to Hollywood at the age of fifty also seems a bit mercenary. He doesn’t care, clearly, and has left the theatre world behind to some extent, which is probably why he’s a lot more cautious in what he says about Hollywood. (He’s currently in a very successful HBO show, as most people know.) I did feel badly for him when he reflected that he got $10,000 for his mid-’80s role as Hannibal Lecktor in Manhunter while Anthony Hopkins later got $1 million for The Silence of the Lambs. The understandable resentment came through loud and clear.

Basically, I had mixed feelings about the book. You can’t help but enjoy it, and Cox puts some meat in there about the craft of acting which is actually very interesting… A vein of melancholy runs through the book, which saves it from being silly, maudlin stuff. But boy, does Cox have a chip on his shoulder! I’ve had a bit of a crush on actors all my life, and reading this feels like it has cured me. (I also felt sad that while Cox clearly likes women, the anecdotes about the female actors he’s encountered are much more perfunctory than the male actors.) Even his attitude to “Me Too” stuff is odd: while Harvey Weinstein made his flesh creep, he seems blasé about Woody Allen and Bryan Singer, perhaps because they both helped his career.

While he’s been happily married for twenty years, Cox is at the age where he can’t really write about his relationship with much romantic conviction or intensity, though he tries. Mostly, he seems apologetic about how he failed women as he single-mindedly pursued his career. So the book ends on a bit of a whimper. It must have been cathartic for him to write (or dictate!), and it was mostly very enjoyable to read, but the “rabbit” that gets produced is a bit moth-eaten and damaged…

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Happy New Year!

It’s past time to say it!

Dry and chilly here now, but it’s been a very wet winter in San Francisco. We are all playing the Omicron lottery at the moment. I managed somehow to get a home test, so if any symptoms flare up, I can give it a go. Seems alarming that the US health system is in such an absolute shambles.

I have been busy submitting to literary journals and have so far been incurring the dreaded R word… Rejection. Recently I got rejected for turning in a personal essay that was too long. It happened with dizzying speed, and I must say it was a shock. There’s a first time for everything! Submittable seems both a very efficient method to do the submitting thing—rejections seem less personal—but not a magic bullet. I’ve also discovered that some journals start begging for money once they have you on their mailing list, even if you currently have a piece under consideration. It’s very strange for someone who remembers what the old way of doing it was. That would never have happened. But I digress.

Meanwhile, you can find some of my work at fiction app Radish. Elsie Street is available to read for free. The Pull of Yesterday (bisexual romance) is uploading in episodes right now as Elsie Street, Season 2. Time of Grace (lesbian historical romance) is available in full to purchase for coins. Radish has an Own Voices shelf and is LGBTQ-friendly.

This is what the cover of Time of Grace looks like on Radish!

There are probably many other things to talk about, including the somber anniversary of January 6, which just passed. Climate change is more frightening than ever (with Boulder’s wildfires being a terrifying example). We’ve also lost good people like Harry Reid, Sidney Poitier, and, of course, the beloved Betty White…

Anyway, 2021 is a year that I’m glad to see the back of! This year, every week seems to bring a new challenge and different set of circumstances.

Stay safe, everybody…

PS. I started the new year with a review of artist Ai Weiwei‘s memoir over at The Internet Review of Books.

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Smashwords End of Year Sale Expands!

The 5th Annual Smashwords End of Year Sale is longer this year: it runs December 17-January 1.

I decided to keep it simple this time. The first two books in my medieval Knight’s Tale series will be on sale for 50% and 25% off:

A Knight’s Tale: Kenilworthhttps://www.smashwords.com/books/view/755497

A Knight’s Tale: Montargishttps://www.smashwords.com/books/view/799012

And Book 3, The Knight’s Return, is available for pre-order on all platforms! Here is a description.

And for those who love contemporary LGBT romance, Once You Are Mine is on sale through Dec. 31, only at Smashwords.

Please enjoy the holiday season. For the country (and the world), it has been a challenging year with many twists and turns. And also at the personal level, it’s been hard. I think we are all feeling more vulnerable to “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” (thank you, Shakespeare). Happy Holidays.

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Fall Bargains and Musings

I wanted to let folks know that a couple of my books are on sale now at Smashwords. You can get Once You Are Mine for 25% off; The Pull of Yesterday, book 2 in the Elsie Street trilogy is 50% off through Oct. 28. Elsie Street book 1 is free everywhere, and now episodes are becoming available on Radish too. (This is the cover photo that I used for the novel on Radish. I rather like it! Thanks to Casey Horner at Unsplash for his evocative image of the padlocked heart.)

Anyway, I’m thrilled to share that I was able to get another BookBub featured deal this year. This will be for A Knight’s Tale: Kenilworth, my M/M romance set in medieval England—officially happening on November 2, but pick up the title on Amazon, Apple, Kobo, Google Play, and Barnes & Noble at 99 cents any time now, and for at least another week after that date. Update: I have just listed book 3 in the series, The Knight’s Return, as a pre-order on Amazon and the other sites!

It’s been a year of strange and disturbing news, including two deaths from cancer in my little community of friends and connections, which I wrote about earlier. And now another very old friend has been diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer. When my own mother was diagnosed, I never knew what “type” she had; it was too far gone and had metastasized to her liver by the time I found out about it. That was almost twenty years ago.

Of course, it’s something I worry about. I often think of the Donne quotation: Ask not for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. Well, it hasn’t quite yet, but the tolling of the bell certainly seems closer. And so I will end on this note of mortality, which seems appropriate for the season… but wish everybody a good Halloween. At least Covid cases are leveling off—for now. (Just heard the news of Colin Powell’s death—this really isn’t stopping, is it?)

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