Interview with Gabriella West

What motivated you to become an indie author?
I was stuck in my writing career. I had a book traditionally published in 2002, but the press declined the next novel I offered them. I had a novel sitting in a folder on my computer that I thought would NEVER get published, but I thought it deserved to because it had gotten so much positive attention years earlier, when I was going through the Creative Writing program at San Francisco State. So I read about Mark Coker and Smashwords in 2011 on SFGate, the online news site for the SF Chronicle. I thought.... hmm.

Something about the way Mark Coker talked about the process made sense to me. So I took the leap and published my novel "The Leaving" in May of 2011. I published it on Kindle a few months later. And then things took off for me when I started publishing shorts on both platforms.
How has Smashwords contributed to your success?
Starting with Smashwords was a good choice for me. I got a bit sucked in by Amazon's platform when I started making quite a bit of money there (it didn't last, though!). I find that I have to carefully navigate through Amazon's constant changes, some of which don't seem to have indie authors' interests at heart. Smashwords is more like a fair parent, who says "this is what I will do for you" and then delivers.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
Ah... good question. I love when I can get into a "flow" state when I write. It usually happens with fiction, and the pleasure is so strong that I can easily write 5,000-plus words during a writing session. But the downside of that is that I don't do it often. I only do it when I am very strongly pulled to do it. And all the writing advice out there tells you not to do that.

I also love it when someone tells me that they "get" what I write, they find it powerful, or they were affected or helped by it in some way.
What do your fans mean to you?
The people who sincerely enjoy my work mean a lot to me. I am thrilled to get a good review from someone I don't know at all. Probably the most delightful fan experience so far was a young woman who took a photo of herself with my novel "Time of Grace," which is about two young women falling in love in 1916 Ireland. I had sent her a signed copy of the book, and it was a lovely way to thank me.

But I think I would have to be way more famous (which, frankly, I feel ambivalent about) to have a lot of "fan" experiences. Since I write a fairly eclectic body of work, I know that not everything I do will have broad appeal.

I've also noticed that my fans tend to come from smaller towns, or out of the way places. I really like that.
Who are your favorite authors?
I always go back to two English writers, Virginia Woolf and E.M. Forster. They both had a great impact on me.

I also love Iris Murdoch's novels, particularly "The Bell," "The Sandcastle," "The Sea, the Sea."

I was hooked on Anne Rice's books for a number of years. I remember requesting "Interview with the Vampire" in my college library in the late '80s because it wasn't available in Irish bookstores (those were the days when you had to hand the librarian a paper slip!). Anne Rice seems like the godmother of a lot of writing that's become mainstream today.

In terms of contemporary writers, I'm always reading and sampling. Jane Devin's memoir "Elephant Girl" was an amazingly powerful read recently. I follow Kate Genet's work. I thoroughly enjoyed Shannon Yarbrough's novel "Are You Sitting Down?" I'm reading more on Kindle now, so I get to be more experimental and try things out. A travel book by David Downie, "Paris to the Pyrenees," impressed me a lot. And I shouldn't forget Kate Atkinson. Her work is so powerful and subtle and audacious, right on the tragicomic edge.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
If it's a sunny day, it helps :) No, seriously, I find that despite life's many difficulties, I really love life in a way that I didn't ten years ago. It really seems worth it to hang around and see what's around the corner...
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
I enjoy cooking, hanging out in the garden on a sunny day, catching up with the news. I do spend a fair amount of time on Twitter :)
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in Ireland in the '70s and '80s (after being born in Southern California and living there for two years). I have to say, it influenced my writing in a big way. First of all, I was soaking in the way everybody around me spoke (which seemed a little foreign). And later on, I loved British television in particular, where there were a lot of serious dramas. I seemed to spend a lot of my life there listening, especially as I was an introverted child, and an only child for nine years.

If my writing seems a bit "formal," I think it's because of the English/Irish influence. I suppose that environment formed my mental state to a large degree, although when I was there I craved to live in a more open and progressive culture. But lately I've found that the openness of American culture has its downside--I mean the violence and instability that I notice every day. The lack of community bothers me.

There were some good things about growing up in Ireland. I sat in front of the fire reading on winter nights; we didn't even have central heating till I was 13! In some ways it was an almost Victorian childhood, with all that goes along with that.
When did you first start writing?
I started early, writing "books" in my teens in hardbound notebooks, but my first real piece was a downbeat autobiographical piece called "Gypsy," which I wrote when I was 21, a few months after I moved to the United States from Ireland. I think I connected to my voice then. The funny thing is, "Gypsy" has never been properly published...

I attempted one novel that I put aside and then I started working on "The Leaving" when I was about 22, and that novel took years to write.

Then in the mid-’90s I started being published in anthologies from queer publishers like Cleis Press and Alyson, which felt like a big thumbs-up to me as a writer. It was very exciting.
Describe your desk
My desk is an absolute mass of clutter! My monitor sits in the middle, a modem and phone to the side. On the other side is a cup for pens, then some miscellaneous papers kept in place by a paperweight. I have a weekly planner right in front of me and a daybook to the side. My mouse sits on a lovely mousepad that looks like a Persian carpet (www.MouseRug.com). I keep my stapler and some coasters nearby, as well as Post-its. Within arm's reach, sitting on top of my Mac tower currently, are a Webster's dictionary and the Chicago Manual of Style...

It could all be so much more efficient and streamlined. But there you go...

On the wall just above my desk I've hung a number of colorful images. One of them is a calligraphic piece by Thich Nhat Hanh. It's a circle and within it he's written: "Breathe. You are Online."

I think the images are to remind me that there's life outside my desk, outside my computer screen.
What's the story behind your latest book?
My latest book is called "Connecting the Dots: My Midlife Journey with Adult AD/HD." It's about my belated discovery in my forties that I have inattentive ADD, and the steps I took to get evaluated and treated. I also uncover a family history of the condition (I believe both my parents had it!) and I look back at my childhood in 1970s Dublin to see clues for the disorder.

Women tend to be diagnosed much later in life because when estrogen levels drop, symptoms get worse. Also, girls with ADHD are much less hyperactive than boys; their ADHD manifests as a mental restlessness or dreaminess.

I hope it's a useful book for people on their own journey to finding answers. It's a disorder that affects every aspect of life: work, relationships, self-identity. I'd love to write more about ADHD in future in greater depth.
What do you read for pleasure?
I read a lot of M/M romance, which is a delicious genre that didn't use to be as widely available as it is now. My most recent find along those lines is Harper Fox's "Brothers of the Wild North Sea," set in 7th-century Northumberland amidst monasteries and Viking raids.

I like nonfiction a lot too, particularly biographies and self-help books.
What book marketing techniques have been most effective for you?
I struggle with that one. I have been able to build up a following on Twitter (my handle is @gabriellawest) and I share my blog posts on Facebook and Twitter. But I am not a great marketer. And like most indie authors, I think it takes up too much time...

I do think that making certain titles in my catalog free has helped me, particularly on Barnes & Noble and Apple. I also found a good, solid designer early on who does premade covers—shoutout to Dawn at Bookgraphics.net—though I haven't used her for everything. But I used her for my first erotic short, "The Doge's Daughter." From that I have to conclude: Men's bare chests on covers sell books :) It's important to realize that subtle covers don't really work when it comes to ebooks.
What's your day job?
I copyedit/proofread for independent authors at Edit for Indies: http://editforindies.com. My tagline is "Polished, accurate editing with a fast turnaround." Here's a recent post I did for National Proofreading Day: http://editforindies.com/2014/03/08/its-national-proofreading-day/.
What are you working on next?
"It's Not You, It's Me" is a long personal essay (or short memoir, depending on how you look at it), based on the experience of a very painful breakup I had with another female writer in the late '90s. It's available on Amazon now!
Published 2014-09-22.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

It's Not You, It's Me
By
Pre-release—available January 3, 2015. Price: $3.99 USD. Words: 14,110. Language: English. Category: Nonfiction » Biography » Autobiographies & Memoirs
A close friendship between two struggling women writers evolves into a passionate love affair. What could go wrong? Well, pretty much everything... San Francisco in the mid-to-late 1990s and two women are trying to build a successful lesbian relationship. But issues of self-image, love, sexuality, and intimacy somehow seem to push them apart just as much as bring them closer.
Connecting the Dots: My Midlife Journey with Adult AD/HD
By
Price: $3.99 USD. Words: 8,480. Language: English. Published: December 28, 2013. Category: Nonfiction » Health, wellbeing, & medicine » Mental health
Most of us have heard of ADHD, so why is it so common for women not to be diagnosed until they are in midlife? Novelist Gabriella West is refreshingly candid about her journey towards a diagnosis of ADHD, which started a few years ago when she encouraged her partner to get a diagnosis. She uncovers a family history of the disorder, looking back at her own mother's life in Ireland in the 1970s.
Time of Grace
By
Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 69,580. Language: English. Published: October 12, 2013. Category: Fiction » Gay & lesbian fiction » Lesbian
Shy young Caroline has come from England to Ireland in 1915 to work as a governess at Thornley Hall. But beautiful housemaid Grace, with her fierce dedication to Ireland's freedom, opens Caroline's eyes to new erotic worlds. As their friendship blossoms into passionate romance, Caroline finds a happiness she's never known. But will Grace's commitment to the upcoming Rising jeopardize their love?
That Lonely, Sinking Feeling: A Memoir of Love, Friendship, and Letting Go
By
Price: Free! Words: 3,270. Language: English. Published: June 15, 2013. Category: Nonfiction » Biography » Personal memoir
San Francisco, mid-1990s. In this poignant short personal memoir, Gabriella West goes back to her twenties to explore a confusing friendship with a married couple that started promisingly, but became a painful and obsessive love. Readers who have found themselves lost in destructive and addictive relationships will find it compelling reading.
The Captain and Claire
By
Price: $1.49 USD. Words: 5,970. Language: English. Published: March 4, 2013. Category: Fiction » Romance » Historical
New York, 1930. Bubbly young blonde Betsy Parker is left a widow at only 25, after her older banker husband commits suicide in the aftermath of the Wall Street Crash of 1929. Her family has sent her off on a voyage to England by ocean liner to recover. Innocent and curious to explore, Betsy attracts the attention of both the ship's captain and an experienced and exotic English artist, Claire.
10 Frightening New Facts About Sugar
By
Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 1,790. Language: English. Published: February 14, 2013. Category: Nonfiction » Cooking, Food, Wine, Spirits » Health & Healing / Diabetic & Sugar-Free
Want to know more about the toxic, destructive effects of sugar on your body? This special report presents the latest, cutting-edge info in 10 bulleted points. We now know that sugar is linked to obesity and diabetes, but there's more: Did you know that sugar has a pro-inflammatory effect on the body's cellular level, which causes aging--and perhaps Alzheimers, down the line?
Toward the Double Rainbow: An Hawaii Travel Tale
By
Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 2,990. Language: English. Published: December 2, 2012. Category: Nonfiction » Travel » By region
In this compelling short travel memoir, the author and her partner, Selena, travel to Kauai, Hawaii's garden island, in their first trip as a couple, staying at a new age-y women's guesthouse. The couple struggle with anger, misunderstandings, and a ghostly presence in the guesthouse that terrifies Selena. Will their trip to Hawaii end up tearing them apart?
Is ADHD Caused by Diet? The Food Dye Problem
By
Price: $1.99 USD. Words: 1,510. Language: English. Published: November 10, 2012. Category: Nonfiction » Psychology » ADHD
Could our food actually be the main cause of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)? Did you know that the amount of allowable food dyes in our diet has increased FIVE times between 1955 and 2007? Food dyes have now been officially linked to hyperactivity in children with learning disabilities, but so far the FDA has not acted to warn consumers about their toxic effects.
The Truth About Jack and Ray
By
Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 7,950. Language: English. Published: June 8, 2011. Category: Fiction » Literature » Literary
English professor Jack, an embittered older man in 1990s San Francisco, has a vivid flashback to his turbulent, secret love affair in North Beach in the early 1950s with tormented young artist Ray, who cares only about ambition and his art. An intense, gripping story about a doomed relationship that changes the course of a man's entire life.
The Leaving: A Novel
By
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 85,520. Language: English. Published: May 30, 2011. Category: Fiction » Gay & lesbian fiction » Lesbian
Cathy is a conflicted teenager living in 1980s Dublin. She soon discovers that her charming older brother Stevie, who's gay, is falling in love with her classmate Ron, the one boy she likes. Cathy struggles with school, her dysfunctional family, coming to terms with her growing love for her best friend Jeanette, and leaving Ireland. The novel is a realistic look at adolescence and first love.