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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The Letters of Shirley Jackson—a Preview!

book cover of The Letters of Shirley JacksonI’ve been busy reading the delightful, yet somewhat vexing Letters of Shirley Jackson (Random House, 672 pp., $14.99 on Kindle) and writing a long review of it!

Finding a home (irony alert, as Shirley was always focused on the physical and symbolic nature of her homes!) for the review has been difficult, but someone in the Binders group suggested The Internet Review of Books, which I’d never heard of. I looked it up, found that it does indeed exist, and successfully pitched the review. So when it appears there, I will link to it.

For a woman and a writer so temperamentally unlike me, I found myself getting rather attached to Shirley, rather interested in her. Since she was of my grandmothers’ generation (born 1916), I ended up seeing her through that lens: women who felt themselves to be “modern” when young but who ended up being throttled and thwarted by the culture around them, prematurely sidelined, stuck with husbands who were either weak or dominant (or both!).

It’s no coincidence, I fear, that when Shirley was the breadwinner in her marriage, earning enough from her novels and stories to support husband Stanley Edgar Hyman while he wrote his book (The Armed Vision, completely unread nowadays), the relationship flourished. But after rising to a peak in the early ’50s, when the couple felt economically stable for the first time, Shirley increasingly turned inward and became invisible to her husband, whose teaching (and romantic entanglements) at the local women’s college, Bennington, absorbed his time. The cruelty of the relationship is not uncommon even nowadays. Trapped between wealthy, superficial parents in California who had opposed her marriage and a claustrophobic, lonely life in Vermont, Shirley made the best of it.

Far from being a bore—a fear that she admits to in one of the bleakest letters, one that she addressed to her husband and left for posterity—Shirley seems like an immensely appealing woman who turned to crutches (food, drink, drugs) to cope that many people were using at the time… and still do. Her love of Morris Minor cars was one of the most charming and unexpected things I learned from the book. Riding in my Irish grandmother’s old black Morris Minor in the mid-1970s is a nostalgic childhood memory for me. I would have assumed those cars were never available in the U.S. Shirley somehow managed to buy a convertible!

I wrote about Shirley previously in my blog post The Downhill Slide, which to my surprise has become one of my most-read posts.

Update: My full review of The Letters of Shirley Jackson is scheduled to appear here on September 8. It’s up—check it out!!

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A Tenuous Time (Two Unexpected Losses)

Seems like a weird time we’re in right now. The delta variant is upon us, and even in San Francisco, cases are rising robustly. I continue to wear my mask and am relieved that so many of my fellow SFers are doing the same. I haven’t the slightest desire to go to a restaurant or bar, so I’m not tempted. It helps to be an introvert at times like these.

When I came to the city in 1988, the first person who befriended me in the Memoir class I was taking at SF State was a slender dark-haired young woman called Denise Minor, who had grown up in Idaho, and who was then a journalist writing mostly for the Noe Valley Voice. It turned out she lived nearby to me in the Inner Richmond. Denise was a dynamic woman who was majoring in Spanish. I never quite understood why she took a Creative Writing class—though I suppose it was her minor—but I’m lucky she did, because the next summer she started up a writing group and I was included. That writing group lasted through the ’90s and sustained me when I was working day jobs that dulled my creativity and sapped my energy.

But Denise left the city a few years later with her husband and two young sons. She headed off to UC Davis and then Chico, where she was an associate professor of Spanish linguistics. She died at the beginning of July of breast cancer, far too soon. Seeing a friend’s obituary on Facebook without being prepared for it has become a phenomenon that happens all too often. It’s hard to believe that this vibrant woman is gone, but my memories of the first year of our acquaintance, when we were closest, are with me still. How boring and unproductive my grad school years would have been without Denise and the circle of people around her. I’m grateful.

Here is her obit. She would have been proud of the way she is listed in the headline, though one word isn’t included anywhere in there that I would have used for her: feminist. However, it doesn’t surprise me to read that she was adored by her Latinx students, and mentored them. She was a natural mentor, always in movement, comfortable with change, spreading her energies far and wide into different communities. I still remember her zipping up 19th Avenue to S.F. State as she gave me a ride to class the first semester we knew each other, veering onto the median and laughing it off. I was shocked, but there was a confidence in her wildness.

And Denise’s 2017 book No Screaming Jelly Beans: Trying to Pursue a Career While Raising a Son with Autism, which I’ve just discovered, shows that she did write a memoir after all.

Another unexpected death hits home: an old friend of my ex’s whom I liked so much also, a man my own age who I met in my thirties and felt immediately accepted by. I could never say before that a friend my own age had died; I had that luxury. Patrick More was an athlete, an ardent cyclist, an Aries. He was a devoted husband and father to twins, who are now nineteen. How long was he ill? What type of cancer did he die of? We don’t know yet, and in this strange new world where deaths are not given the public weight that they used to be, we may never know. Much loved, gone far too soon. He worked at both Hewlett-Packard and Stanford for many years. He and his wife loved to travel and took long, adventurous trips to Europe.

I know these two feisty fire signs are both at peace now.


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Summer Odds n’ Ends

Summer’s a good time for bargains, and here are a few!

First of all, the audiobook of Connecting the Dots: My Midlife Journey with Adult ADHD is on sale for just $1.99 thru the end of June over at BN‘s Nook, Apple, and Google Play!

Turning to my lesbian historical novel Time of Grace, the ebook is currently for sale on Smashwords through July 1. (50 percent off, regularly $4.99.)

But what’s even more exciting is that it is also available in serial format on Radish! It has been quite an education to upload my book in mini-episodes there. So far, I have 22 episodes queued to release through July 4. (Readers get the first three episodes for free, then pay with “coins” to continue.) I will be continuing to add episodes till I finish sometime next month. I’m not sure what happens then, being a newbie author to Radish, but I hope people who use the app will continue to find it. If all goes well, I’d like to continue to add my backlist of LGBTQ fiction to Radish. Props to Radish for having an #OwnVoices shelf.

Finally, the Summer/Winter sale starts next month at Smashwords and continues all through July. This would be the link to check out my bargains starting July 1, of which there are many, including my latest novel, Once You Are Mine, for only $1.99…

Thanks for reading!

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Belated Bloomsday Musings

My interview has been wiped away by time (that’s OK), but I liked the little paragraph I wrote ten years ago on Bloomsday, so I decided to reblog it now. Today I was able to retweet a photo of James Joyce and Nora on their wedding day in 1931 (15 years after they met, with two children under their belt) and point out that Nora was wearing a cloche hat!

My friend Liz Adams, an artist who was born in England but is part Irish, and a resident of New Jersey for many years, wrote an interesting post on her blog Field and Fen about the significance of the day. She’s reading Ulysses on her Kindle. Apparently, it’s an annual ritual for her. She tells me she’s getting very close to the end… and thus has a treat ahead of her!

Gabriella West

Being interviewed is a scary thing. The folks at 1st Author Interviews made it totally easy for me to answer some questions about my writing process and my recently published novel The Leaving. I think they did a great job. Take a look:


To all fans of Irish writing and Joyce… Happy Bloomsday. I still remember reading Ulysses for the first time, sitting in tall grass in a hot back yard in Sacramento, playing hooky from random classes at Sacramento City College during a long summer before returning to start college in Ireland. When I finally got to rereading Ulysses in college a couple years later, it wasn’t as much fun, even though our class did have Prof. David Norris, a flamboyant gay man and enthusiastic Joycean, interpreting it for us. The first time really swept me away.

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Happy Pride 2021

Pride comes but once a year! This month we are emerging from a pandemic. It feels like we ought to be joyous and yet there is more anxiety in the air than joyousness, for the most part. (Although on June 1, when #PrideMonth started trending on Twitter, it felt great!)

To my dismay, I found out that a nice woman who particularly loved my lesbian historical novel set in Ireland, Time of Grace, and wrote to me about it a few years back, died of Covid last spring, along with her partner. She was a therapist in the Santa Cruz area and even a Facebook friend, but she slipped away without notice. This just seems incredibly wrong, somehow. I remembered that after our conversation I sent her a couple of signed copies of Time of Grace, and feel glad that I at least did that! I would not have discovered this had I not visited her page on her birthday, which just passed. A cousin of hers stopped by to let people know what had happened. There is no obituary, no trace of her on the internet. Her name was Ann Sisk.

On to happier matters. While I’m here, I wanted to mention a couple things in book news this month. First of all, the ebook version of Time of Grace is 50% off over at Smashwords for June, the only book sale I have going at the moment. (More to come in July with the Summer/Winter sale, of course.)

Connecting the DotsMeanwhile, Connecting the Dots: My Midlife Journey with Adult ADHD is on a monthlong promotion in audiobook format, so for the first time it is only $1.99 at three platforms: Google Play, Nook Audiobooks, and Apple Books! If you want to learn about women and inattentive ADD in a short audio, narrated by Daniela Acitelli, that only takes an hour… this is the time to do it!

It looks like we are fogged in here for the month of June in San Francisco. However, today the sun peeked out. Suddenly everything got a bit better!

Stay safe, everybody… and let’s hope we can ease back into “normal life” post-vaccines with a little more awareness. Perhaps we can even be nicer to each other.

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