Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Best Books of 2008

I’ve read a lot of books this year, but I can’t say I have been overwhelmed with bounty. I have enjoyed many books, but I actually found it hard to find 10 that I really liked. The following is a list of my favorite books of the year, categorized by fiction and non-fiction. Not all of these are new releases:


American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld – A great read that gave me an appreciation for Laura Bush.

An Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett – This is almost a novella that recounts what happens when Queen Elizabeth of England unexpectedly visits a bookmobile, selects a book, and discovers a passion for reading. Hint: her world and that of the people she rules changes.

Any Human Heart by William Boyd – This is an “autobiography” of an Englishman in the 20th century, written in journal form.

Mary by Janis Cooke Newman – a novel about the life of Mary Todd Lincoln. I couldn’t put this book down, even though Lincoln had a very depressing life.

The Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Clayton – This is a book about female friendship and writing. Who could ask for more?


Desperate Passage by Ethan Rarick – Drawing on new archeological evidence and letters, Rarick recounts the story of the Donner Party as its members make their way from the east coast to California. Rarick brings the times and people to life in a compelling narrative.

Lucia: A Venetian Life in the Age of Napolean by Andrea di Robilant – I am a big fan of this author, and not because we share the same literary agent. Di Robilant has written two non fiction books about Italy that draw on a series of letters written by his ancestors in the 18th and 19th centuries. They provide a fascinating glimpse of Europe and the upper classes.

I asked Cindy Snow, who works at A Great Good Place for Books in Oakland, for a list of her favorite books. Here is her reply.

Hi, Frances--Well, here it is. I look back on the year in books, and although there were many that I liked I can't say that I was absolutely knocked down by any. I found pieces of what I liked in many, true, insightful characters, wonderful description, a great plot which leaves me feeling emotionally moved and the books' ability to intrude on my thoughts and captivate me for days, leaving me without wanting to start a new book.

That being said, I really enjoyed the following books (not in order of any kind). Plus, I am sure that I am forgetting a few, especially those from the beginning of the year!

Unaccustomed Earth by Jumpa Lahiri

Deaf Sentence by David Lodge

Loving Frank by Nancy Horan

An American WifeCurtis Sittenfeld

The Likeness by Tanya French

When Will there Be Good News? By Kate Atkinson

The Guernesey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Anne Shaffer and Annie Barrows

The English Major by Jim Harrison

City of Thieves by David Benioff

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson and Reg Keelan

The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff

Hurry Down Sunshine by Michael Greenberg

The Corpse Walker by Liao Yiwu

Nancy Chirinos, another friend and avid reader, has this list:

In the Wake--Pers Petterson. I like his spare style and the exotic world of Norway.
Out Stealing Horses-Per Petterson--loved it. Beautiful writing, beautiful story
Olive Kittredge--Elizabeth Strout--loved it. Stories linked by characters and town
The Year of Magical Thinking--Joan Didion--I avoided reading it for a long time as I thought it would be too sad, but it was so well written, I loved it.
Can You Forgive Her? Anthony Trollop--my favorite Trollop so far. Social rather than political. I like Trollop because he's so dense, I can escape. I like classics when I want more involved language.
Dreams From My Father--Barack Obama--a must read, I believe
Great Expectations--Charles Dickens, what is there to say?
Mister Pip--Lloyd James--a good companion book to Great Expectations, a teacher telling the story of Great Expectations to a class of children in violent Haiti
Exit Ghost--Phillip Roth, because I love Phillip Roth

Monday, December 22, 2008

Ten Things I am Thankful for Concerning Towers of Gold

1) That my cousin Warren Hellman and I will be on Michael Krasny’s Forum on KQED on Tuesday Dec. 23 at 10 a.m. Listen in to hear an original song on Isaias Hellman performed by Warren and his band, the Wronglers. I have listened to Krasny’s show for years and have always dreamed of being on it.

2) For all the people who came to my readings – it was great to see so many friends and to meet so many new people.

3) For all the relatives I have met through the publication of this book

4) For getting the chance, via radio, to talk to people in Montana, Florida, New Jersey, New York, Los Angeles, and elsewhere

5) That I am on the San Francisco Chronicle Bestseller list for a third week

6) That the San Francisco Chronicle named Towers of Gold a notable Bay Area book of 2008.

7) That Towers of Gold made the Marin Independent Journal bestseller list for two consecutive weeks. That really means that one of my favorite bookstores, Book Passage, is selling a lot of copies

8) That Towers of Gold has sold so well it is going into its second printing

9) That after 8 years of working on this book, it is out in the world.

10) That Isaias Hellman’s contribution to the creation of California will now be noted

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Going Right to the Heart of Hellman's Financial Empire

I am heading back down to Los Angeles, where I will give a talk this evening at Metropolis Books, a small independent bookstore in the heart of the city's downtown and banking districts.

I am really looking forward to this reading because the store sits next door to the building Isaias Hellman constructed in 1905 for his Farmers and Merchants Bank. It is also the site of his old homestead. He constructed a house here in 1877, one that was so far away from the center of Los Angeles that he gave an adjacent plot of land to a friend with the caveat he build a house, too. See, Hellman didn't want his wife, Esther, and son, Marco, to be lonely living so far away from everyone else.
The house Isaias Hellman built in 1877.

What the same intersection looked like in the early 20th century. The building on the corner is the Farmers and Merchants Bank. The L-shaped building wrapped around the bank is the Isaias W. Hellman Building, a large office building.

Hellman's brother Herman built this office building on Spring Street in downtown Los Angeles around 1903. It is known today as Banco Popular.

The current owners of the bank and office building (now converted to lofts) are going to give me a tour before my talk. They also own the popular Pete's Cafe across the street, where there is a delicious Hellman burger on the menu.

In advance of my arrival, the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles gave Towers of Gold a great review.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A Parody of Towers of Gold

In my book on my great-great grandfather, Isaias Hellman, I go on and on (and some say on) about his prescience in backing business partners who would go on to do great things for California. For example, Hellman formed partnerships with the founders of Lehman Brothers, with Harrison Gray Otis, who bought the LA Times, and with the men who jump-started California's oil industry.

A number of these businesses have failed or are about to fail in the wake of our country's economic collapse. This is causing a number of financial wizards to scour Towers of Gold to see the next business to collapse so they can do some short selling. (or so says my brother, Steven Dinkelspiel in this scathing critique)

Here's the news:

Associated Press....December 8, 2008...With the announcement today of bankruptcy filings for the Tribune Company, the media conglomerate purchased just twelve months ago by Chicago real estate tycoon Sam Zell for a then-record $8.2 billion dollars, investors on Wall Street have turned their attention to a recently published book about the early days of California’s financial history. “Towers of Gold”, author Frances Dinkelspiel’s first book, is an examination of the life of Isaias W. Hellman, the author’s ancestor who was one of California’s first bankers. Dinkelspiel describes Hellman as having a kind of “Midas touch”, with many of his financial involvements leading to success for some of California’s most storied businesses, including Wells Fargo Bank (WFC) and the oil fields of Southern California. But what strikes interested parties on Wall Street has not so much been the engaging story of Hellman’s triumphs, but rather how – since the book’s publication - the author’s choices of examples for these triumphs have proved to be a kind of dell knell for the cited businesses.

“When the book came out just after Lehman Brothers went under, we felt sorry for the author about the timing of it all.” said Robert Zemakism President of St. Martin’s Press, the publisher of “Towers of Gold.” “Dinkelspiel had trumpeted the association between Hellman and Meyer Lehman (who were brothers-in-law). However, by the time the book was available to readers, this relationship had a different historical context with the disappearance of Lehman Brothers from the roster of Wall Street investment banks. ”

It seemed nothing more than a quirk of circumstance when the law firm of Heller Ehrman – a century old San Francisco institution which had been founded by Hellman’s sons-in-law – abruptly announced its closure just days before “Towers of Gold” hit bookstores. And few attributed the plummeting price of crude oil to Dinkelspiel’s praise of Hellman’s involvement in that industry.

But with today’s announcement that the Tribune Company – the parent company of the Los Angeles Times - has filed for bankruptcy, investors are turning to “Towers of Gold” for more than an insight into the practices and personalities of California’s early experience in the banking industry. They are looking for hints about the next institution that may fail without notice. “It is uncanny how Dinkelspiel has managed to identify early those companies that are suffering the most in our current economy,” said Thomas Steyer, Managing Partner of Farrallon Capital, a hedge fund known for its risky and successful bets on companies headed for bankruptcy. “The book talked about how prescient Hellman was to lend money to Harrison Gray Otis, the founder of the Times, and less than thirty days after publication they file for bankruptcy. I plan to scour Dinkelspiel’s book for more ideas about investments that are sure to go south.”

In recent days, the impact of “Towers of Gold” has been felt throughout California. An unprecedented rash of foreclosures of Tahoe shoreline real estate has proved inexplicable and the announcement from the City of Seal Beach, California that it only has funds on hand to last through the end of the year has stunned local residents. In another ironic twist, the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival founded by Hellman’s great-grandson (and Dinkelspiel cousin) F. Warren Hellman announced that due to financial difficulties it was changing its name to “Occasionally, Sort of Bluegrass” and moving to an all-synthesized musical format. “I am going to kill my cousin,” announced Warren Hellman. “You can take my money, but don’t mess with my music,” he implored.

Dinkelspiel was unavailable for comment.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Back from New York, recuperating

Today is the first day in about three weeks that I can take a breather, relax, and reflect on all that has happened since Towers of Gold was released a little more than three weeks ago.

All I can say is: wow!

I never expected this response. I never expected to have so much fun. I never expected to be so tired.

A few highlights:

I went to A Great Good Place for Books in Oakland last night (Dec. 6) As soon as I walked in, Kathleen, the owner told me she had sold more than 30 copies of Towers of Gold just that day.

By 7:15 the store was so full it was standing room only. We had to delay the talk so people could buy books. It was a great crowd who knew a lot about California history.

In contrast, I spoke earlier in the day at the San Francisco Public Library. I think that talk set the record for the number of people it put to sleep.

On Sunday, the Chronicle named Towers of Gold a Literary Pick and called it a “superb biography.” Wow again.

In New York, I was a guest on the Joe Franklin radio show.

Joe Franklin is a show biz personality. He hosted one of the first TV talk shows, which ran on television for 40 years. He apparently has interviewed more than 300,000 people. He now has a daily radio show on Bloomberg Radio's "Lifestyles" segment.

For some reason, Franklin invited me to be on his radio show. I entered the studio to find a man in his 90s who was as charming and personable a person as I have ever met. He told me had had interviewed Charlie Chaplin, five presidents and now me! What a sweetheart.

Other observations:

Worst attended talk: SF State. There were six people in the room, including me. One was the professor who invited me, one was the book seller, leaving three members of the audience. Oh well. At least two bought books.

Best attended: At Rancho Los Alamitos in Long Beach, CA. There were about 110 people in the audience. I don’t think anyone fell asleep. This was a rancho that Isaias Hellman bought with partners in 1881. The people there really knew their history. This one was pure pleasure.

The one that made me most proud: The Huntington Library, hands down.

The most informative talk: At the California Historical Society. The wonderful staff of the North Baker Library went through my book and brought out documents I had cited. Those attending could see Hellman’s report card from Germany, letters to his wife and son, and much more.

The most jarring moment: Going from the glow of discovering I was on the San Francisco Chronicle best seller list to my agent’s office on Park Avenue in New York City. As soon as I walked in I realized that as well as my book was doing in California, no one was noticing it in New York. Not that my agent wasn’t enthusiastic. But I could tell.

I was also an Amazon addict for a while. The review of Towers of Gold came out in the Los Angeles Times on Saturday Nov. 29 and the San Francisco Chronicle review came out on Sunday Nov. 30. After that, (and before, if I am honest) I was addicted to Amazon, something that authors are warned against. I will share, though.

Sunday Nov. 16, in the morning, five days after Towers of Gold is released, with minimal press attention: Sales Rank: #9,108 in Books

Sunday Nov. 24th in the evening, after appearing on the Larry Mantle Show, an NPR show in Los Angeles: Sales Rank: #2,944 in Books

Nov. 30, in the morning, a day aftter the review in the LA Times Sales Rank: #2,166 in Books

Later that same day, after the SF Chronicle review: Sales Rank: #1,179 in Books

Around 5:24 pm eastern time: Sales Rank: #1,106 in Books

Around 10:10 pm eastern time: Sales Rank: #669 in Books

That's the highest i got, but I think it's pretty good.

It’s not over. I talk at Clayton Books on Tuesday and then at Metropolis Books in Los Angeles on Thursday.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Two great reviews are a wonderful birthday present

It is my birthday tomorrow, Nov. 30, and I just got two wonderful presents.

The San Francisco Chronicle reviews Towers of Gold and says it is "a marvelous resource, a dramatic slice of Western history and a splendid read."

Read Abby Pollack' review here.

The Los Angeles Times calls the book "impressively researched and engagingly written."

And Towers of Gold debuts at #3 on the San Francisco Chronicle best seller list on Nov. 30

Friday, November 28, 2008

Towers of Gold Makes the San Francisco Chronicle Best Seller List!

Thank y0u everyone for buying Towers of Gold. It has made the San Francisco Chronicle bestseller list.

If you are in New York, please come hear me talk at Congregation Shearith Israel at 7 pm on Tuesday Dec. 2. It's located at 8 West 70th Street.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Tidbits from the Road

Old Los Angeles

I just spent five days in Los Angeles and will be home for just 24 hours before leaving for New Jersey and New York.

I flew into the Burbank Airport around 9:30 on Thursday Nov. 20 and was met by Ken Wilson, who is known in the publishing business as a media escort. Ken’s task was to take me around to area bookstores, introduce me to store managers, and see if they would either display Towers of Gold more prominently or order more.

Ken clearly knows his stuff, for he was greeted warmly in almost every bookstore we entered. I came with an armful of books to give away, so Ken would always try to determine the name of the staff’s history buff. I would tell him or her about Isaias Hellman and give them a free book to read.

People in the bookstores got all excited about Hellman and the book since he played such an integral role in the development of Los Angeles. It was gratifying to see their eyes light up and realize that Towers of Gold could be a great holiday present, too.

One thing that struck me about Los Angeles was the dearth of independent bookstores. We visited Vroman’s in Pasadena and Book Soup, but all the other stores were either Borders or Barnes and Nobles. And they are everywhere. Clearly the bookstore business in Los Angeles is much different than the one in the Bay Area. If I just think about my neighborhood independent bookstores, I come up with Mrs. Dalloways, A Great Good Place for Books, Pendragon, a sci fi bookstore on Claremont, and Diesel Books. Those are all within a 5-10 minute car drive.

In the middle of the day, I stopped in at the Huntington Library, where I was the featured speaker for a brown bag lunch put on by Bill Deverell, who runs the Huntington – USC Institute for the Study of California and the West. This is a great place that is trying to bring together academics, journalists and independent historians to use primary documents to explore Western history. (Sound familiar?)

Anyway, this luncheon was really fun. Bill Deverell asked me a few questions and I just talked about Isaias Hellman. I really emphasized some of the stuff in my book that I feel is original research, such as Hellman’s influence on Henry Huntington, the man who built the Pacific Electric red cars and other trolley lines. Few other audiences would have been so interested in the arcane parts of the book, but this group had detailed questions.

On Friday, I taped an episode of the Connie Martinson Show. Connie is an LA institution, having produced a television show on books for decades. The taping was in the Topanga Canyon offices of Time Warner Cable (soon to close) and I had to drive through this moonscape-like environment to get there. Huge rocks, much like the ones at Joshua Tree, loomed up, surrounded by patches of burned earth. It was surreal. The show will be broadcast in December.

Friday night was the night I have been waiting for. I gave a presentation at the Huntington Library in San Marino. About 40 or 50 people came to my talk (not bad for a Friday night) and I think I entertained them with my photos of old Los Angeles and San Francisco. (For those of you who are curious, I wore my new Donna Karan suit.) I signed books and the Huntington sold out!

That was also the case Saturday morning when I gave a talk at Rancho Los Alamitos, once a 26,000 acre ranch owned by Hellman and the Bixby family. More than 100 people came to hear me, and the ranch sold out of the 50 books it had ordered. The audience members were history lovers, and so I really got to indulge in description of early LA and rancho life and the ways Hellman contributed to the region’s growth.

Are you tired yet? I was, yet I had a lot more to do. That evening my cousins hosted a book release party for me at their beautiful home in Brentwood. Lots of Hellman descendants came, people who did not actually know one another well. There was also a man whose family came from the same small town in Germany as Hellman. I also got to meet Kevin Roderick, who runs the fabulous, must-read blog LA Observed. (I must read it two or three times a day)

After a day of rest, I drove back to Pasadena, where I appeared on “Airtalk” with Larry Mantle. This is a very popular show on KPCC 89.3, and lots of book lovers apparently listen in. Mantle told his listeners that Towers of Gold “was a must read for any lover of Los Angeles history.” You can listen to our discussion here. With that ringing endorsement, I watched my Amazon standing go from #22,000 in books to #2,944. Radio is powerful.

Happy, but tired, I am back home, but just briefly. Thanks to everyone who came out to hear me and who bought books.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Talk Radio in Los Angeles

I will be on the Larry Mantle Show in Los Angeles this morning. If you are in the area, please call in and ask questions about Towers of Gold and Isaias Hellman. I will be on at 11:30 a.m. The call numbers are 89.3.

I will fill in details about my whirlwind stay in LA, which got extended, when I return to the Bay Area.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

LA Here I Come

I am on my way to Los Angeles to promote Towers of Gold. I am excited, as Isaias Hellman spent the first 30 years of his life in the United States in this small town. He came when it was more Mexican pueblo than American City and left when it was a bustling, about to be, metropolis.

I will be talking at the Huntington Library in San Marino on Friday Nov. 21 at 7:30 pm and Rancho Los Alamitos in Long Beach on Saturday around 10 am.

The blog LA Observed ran a nice post today about the publication of my book.

Susan Kitchens, another LA Blogger, gave Towers of Gold an amazing review.

I am guest-blogging at Jewcy this week.

Apparently Towers of Gold is now being shelved in the bestseller section of Books Inc, a 12-store independent book store chain in the Bay Area.

And my Amazon ranking reached here today:

#5,445 in Books (See Bestsellers in Books)

#1 in

Books > History > United States > State & Local > West

#1 in

Books > History > United States > State & Local > Pacific Northwest

#2 in

Books > History > United States > State & Local > California

Monday, November 17, 2008

Please Come Hear Me Read

I will be at Stacey's Books on Market Street in San Francisco at 12:30 on Tuesday Nov. 18.

I will be at the Mechanic's Institute on Post Street near Market at 6 pm on Tuesday Nov. 18. (I will give a power point presentation)

I will be at the California Historical Society at 6 pm on Wednesday Nov. 19 at 6 pm. This is where Hellman's documents are stored and the Historical Society is planning to display some of his original letters. There is also an amazing oil portrait of him from 1899 that will be on display.

Then I am off to LA. I will be at the Huntington Library in San Marino at 7:30 pm on Friday Nov. 21.

The next day I will be at Hellman's old rancho -- the one he acquired in 1881 -- at 10:30 am on Saturday Nov. 22. It's called Rancho Los Alamitos and it is located near Long Beach.

More details here.

Towers of Gold is doing really well considering it has been out for less than a week. After I appeared on John Rothmann's 1 am show on KGO 810 on Sunday, the book shot up ion Amazon. It has pretty much sat there since. Here were the rankings for Nov. 16: Sales Rank: #7,111 in Books (See Bestsellers in Books)

Popular in these categories: (What's this?)

#1 in

Books > History > United States > State & Local > Pacific Northwest

#2 in

Books > History > United States > State & Local > California

#2 in

Books > History > United States > State & Local > West

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Life on the Book Circuit

It’s been a whirlwind week of talking, talking, talking and signing for Towers of Gold.

It’s so strange to be finally doing this – selling my book – after dreaming about it for years.

By far the most fun is going to bookstores and venues to talk about the life of Isaias Hellman. Last night I went to Book Passage in Corte Madera and there were about 50 people in the audience. And I wasn’t even related to most of them!

Julia Flynn Siler, author of The House of Mondavi, and Katherine Ellison, author of The Mommy Brain, members of my writing group, North 24th, hosted a small reception after the talk with delicious cheeses and champagne. I floated through most of the evening, so I didn’t even need bubbly to feel good.

My challenge when presenting is to reduce all the amazing particulars about Isaias Hellman’s life to a few scintillating stories. I could go on and on (and who couldn’t, after researching someone’s life for almost a decade) so I have to remember to leave something for people to learn in the book.

This week I have been at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, the Dunsmuir Hellman Historic Estate, the MCDS Book Fair, the Helen Diller Preschool Book Fair at Books Inc, and Book Passage. Today I will be at Mrs. Dalloway’s in Berkeley and tonight at 1 am I will be on John Rothmann’s talk show on KGO 810. (Did I mention that I was sort of tired)

Towers of Gold has been getting some print and web notice as well.

The East Bay Express wrote a nice article.

I wrote about Hellman for the Wells Fargo bank blog, Guided by History

Susan Kitchens praised the book and pointed out how it explains a lot of landmarks in Los Angeles

Luke Ford, a Los Angeles blogger, wrote a review and did an interview.

California Authors, a website that highlights California literature, poetry and non-fiction, is doing a give-away contest for Towers of Gold.

Michelle Richmond pointed out the timeliness of Towers of Gold

I wrote a blog post about how I got into writing for Meg Waite Clayton’s wonderful blog 1st Book: Stories of How Writers Get Started.

Whew. I am tired now. Back to bed.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Publication Day!

Today is the day I have been waiting for the last eight years. Today is the day that Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California is officially published. Did the heavens sing to me this morning? Did stardust drop around my head as I woke up? Frankly, no. It was just another typical morning in my home in Berkeley – rush, rush, rush.

Except. Except. Last night some dear friends dropped off a bouquet of flowers. The phone rang this morning with well wishes from friends around the country. And I got a spate of congratulations on Facebook.

It has been kind of funny to be so obsessed about my small corner of the universe these past few weeks when our world is going through monumental changes. Barack Obama is our new president. The U.S. economy continues its free fall.

Yet, in this world of publishing, an obsession with your own project is what it takes to sell a book. I am but a blip in the world of books, so it is mainly up to me to get the word out about Towers of Gold. And this aspect of book publishing is a full-time job. I’ve been blogging and commenting and Facebooking and writing editorials and setting up readings and interviews – basically saying yes to anything that comes my way. I am very curious to see what impact, if any, the activity will have.

I spoke Monday night at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism on a panel about Jewish Identity. The other panelists were Lisa Alcalay Klug, who has written the “Heebster Handbook” called Cool Jew and Yoav Potash, who is making a documentary about an Orthodox Jewish lawyer who is trying to get a battered woman released from her life sentence in prison. Professor Joan Bieder, the author of The Jews of Singapore, moderated the panel. There was a great turnout and lots of probing questions.

On Wednesday, Nov. 12, it will be like old home week. I will be talking at The Dunsmuir Hellman Historic Estate in Oakland, the Hellman family’s summer home. (see photo below) In keeping with the gracious feel of the Victorian-era mansion, the estate will hold a tea at 3 pm, followed by a talk I will show some great photos of the place in its prime.

I will be at Book Passage in Corte Madera at 7 p.m. on Friday Nov. 14; Mrs. Dalloways in Berkeley at 4 pm on Sat. Nov. 15; and Copperfield Books in Healdsburg on Sunday Nov. 16 at 1:30.

And I will be on John Rothmann’s radio show on KGO 810 at 1 a.m. on Sunday Nov. 16. It’s a call in show, so call with questions (if you are awake; I better tell my teenager about this because she will be awake for sure) The number is 415 808-0810.

More event information here.

I just want to take this opportunity to thank everyone for helping me to get to this point: my family, my wonderful writing group North 25th, all the historians, archivists and librarians, and friends who were just generally supportive. Thank you.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

What to Wear for a Book Tour?

My book, Towers of Gold, officially goes on sale November 11, and amid all the worry about reviews, publicity, and speaking engagements, I have been obsessed by an equally important question: what do I wear for my book tour?

Now, I am a pants and sweater kind of gal who occasionally puts on slightly nicer pants and sweaters when I am going out. But for a book tour, I must project a more authoritative image, a vision of a serious researcher/scholar, someone who knows her stuff.

I will be talking at all sorts of kinds of places: academic institutions such as the Huntington Library and the California Historical Society, and less formal (but probably more upscale) events like the books fairs at Marin Country Day School in Corte Madera and the Helen Diller Preschool Book Fair in Laurel Village, smack dab in tony Pacific Heights.

What outfit can scale all those heights?

My search began this summer when I was five pounds lighter. (A mistake, I know, but I was convinced I would keep up the pace of my exercise schedule.) A few years ago I bought a pair of Billy Blue jeans at a store in Santa Cruz and they have been my favorite pants ever since. They are not easy to find, so when I stumbled upon another pair in a store in Healdsburg in August, I pounced. On the recommendation of the sales clerk, I bought a size 8 instead of 10. (I can still squeeze into them but believe me, sitting for any length of time is not comfortable)

But jeans, even nice ones, won’t do for most appearances. So a few weeks ago I headed off to Bloomingdales in San Francisco. Contrary to its reputation, Bloomingdales can be affordable if you know how to work the system. The store holds sales every few weeks and it further entices Bloomingdale credit card holders by offering “insiders” an additional 15% discount. If you hunt, you can find clothes at 50% off.

I gave myself plenty of time to look, for there is nothing more aggravating than a sense of pressure while shopping. I am usually good for two hours, and then I get overwhelmed by the glare of the lights, the pulsating music, and the crowds. But in those initial two hours, watch out! I am a woman on a mission and I am determined to work my way from floor to floor.

That day was incredibly satisfying. I found a Donna Karan black business suit greatly reduced. The jacket, originally priced at $450, was on sale for $150. The pants I got for about $100. Not bad for a formal outfit – and perfect for standing behind a podium. Then it was off to Nordstrom’s for some shoes to wear with THE PERFECT SUIT. I found a pair of wedge pumps by a brand I had never heard of, Me Too. These $88 shoes are incredibly comfortable (and are on sale now, darn it!)

But color, I needed color, to offset that somber and serious look. My days of splurging were over so I headed to the Gap, where I bought this orange ruffled sweater. My purchase coincided with a spate of cold weather in the Bay Area, so I have already been wearing the sweater non-stop.

So now I am outfitted, but will my sharp look help sell any books? It’s too early to know, so I have decided that I may have to regard Towers of Gold as a loss leader. (kind of like those discounted cartons of orange juice that you buy at Safeway) The book will lure people in, setting the stage for future endeavors.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Bay Area Literary Tidbits

The disappearance of Nina Reisner in the winter of 2006 captivated the Bay Area, as immediate suspicion fell on her brilliant, eccentric computer geek husband Hans Reisner. Nina’s body was never discovered, but Oakland prosecutors charged him anyway with her murder. His behavior at the trial was erratic and disturbing and he finally confessed that he had killed his beautiful Russian-born wife. He then led authorities to her body, which he had hidden in the East Bay hills.

San Francisco Chronicle reporter Henry Lee covered the case, and even live-blogged the trial. Lee has now sold a book on the pair’s tumultuous relationship. Here is the report from Publisher’s Marketplace:

San Francisco Chronicle reporter Henry Lee's THE BEAUTY AND THE GEEK, the story of the Linux programmer accused of making his ex-wife disappear who was eventually convicted of her murder without the body being found until a last-minute change of heart led to a surprise ending, to Tom Colgan at Berkley, in a nice deal, by Jeff Gerecke at Gina Maccoby Literary Agency (World English).

Another Chronicle reporter, Steve Winn, has also sold a book:

San Francisco Chronicle staff writer Steven Winn's COME BACK, COMO: The Runaway Mutt Who Ran Off with My Heart, the tender and humorous story of his uncommonly rich experience with a scraggly, man-hating dog from a local animal shelter who was bent on breaking his sanity, his bankbook, and his heart -- based on a popular ten-part series in the Chronicle, to Lisa Sharkey and Nancy Miller, for Collins, in a pre-empt, by Amy Rennert at Amy Rennert Agency (world).

Zoe Carter, a Berkeley writer, has sold a memoir about her dying mother’s explicit plan to kill herself, and how that decision enmeshed and changed her family:

Zoe Carter's IMPERFECT ENDINGS, about a family coming to terms with their mother's plan to commit suicide after a long illness, to Amanda Murray at Simon & Schuster, by Sharon Skettini at Sterling Lord Literistic.

Christina Meldrum’s debut novel Madapple, , has been selected as one of Amazon’s top books of the year.