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.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

That Minefield Called Writing you write a book, it’s like you enter a vast, dark universe. There are no markers to guide you. You just fumble along, stringing sentences and paragraphs together, hoping they make sense. From the beginning, you try and create order but you know you are only fooling yourself. You really are just hanging on by your fingernails.

Finally, after months of blindness, a light appears. You realize that a phrase rings true, a description evokes a particular time or place. Emboldened with these small successes, you march forward, slightly more confident. With time, and numerous revisions, the tentative confidence grows until the structure and tone of your book becomes clear. Then you really start to write.

At least this is what happened to me. I started out writing Towers of Gold completely unsure of what I was doing, or even what I wanted to do. It took dozens of false starts, revisions, and critiques by friends, to help me shape the book. In my case, the process took eight years.

All of this is a long way of saying I got a very nice review of my book from a Los Angeles woman, Lorraine Millings Weston. She writes the blog, Jew Wishes. Almost every day Weston reviews a book with a Jewish theme or one that is written by a Jewish author. Her output is amazing and her insights perceptive.

Lorraine contacted me a month or so ago to ask for a review copy of Towers of Gold. As a blogger myself, I was inclined to send her a book, even though galleys were in short supply and most of them were headed to critics at papers and magazines. But I sent one to Lorraine and today she posted a review. It is so nice it makes me blush. Here are a few highlights”

“Towers of Gold” is a stunning book, and a biography filled and flowing with so much history. It is impressive and brilliant on so many levels. Frances Dinkelspiel is to be commended for her efforts in bringing Hellman’s life, the story of a Jewish immigrant, to the forefront. Her contribution in bringing the history of California, and Hellman’s biography to all of us is her personal tribute to her great-great grandfather, Isaias Hellman. “Towers of Gold” belongs on every bookshelf in schools, colleges, universities and personal libraries. It is an incredible, historical resource and reference for California studies and Jewish studies. It is a book of inspiration, depicting the power and strength of one man’s determination and dreams to change the face of not only California, but America.”

An author cannot ask for more than to connect with a reader in such a deep and fulfilling way.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Our New First Family

And he reads interesting books, too ......

Saturday, November 01, 2008

The World of Jewish Book Fairs was cold and foggy on Thursday as I left my house in Berkeley to drive to the Jewish Community Center in Walnut Creek. I was scheduled to give a talk on my book, Towers of Gold, to those who had gathered at the center for the Contra Costa Jewish Book and Arts Festival. But I wanted to get there earlier to hear Joan Bieder speak about her book, The Jews of Singapore. And when I entered the lecture hall – a bit late – the lights were dimmed and a group of about 40 people were intently watching a slide show of Jewish life in Singapore.

The keen interest in the speaker (seemed) to continue when I gave a talk about Isaias Hellman and the ways he used his financial acumen to help transform California. People listening to my speech appeared quite fascinated by details of the state’s growth and how Los Angeles only had around 4,400 people in 1860, Hellman’s early years in banking and his rise to the top of Wells Fargo Bank. And when I finished, quite a number came to buy my book.

This is the Jewish book fair circuit, one of the best-attended, yet least-known ways, for authors to connect with audiences. In Jewish community centers and synagogues around the country this month, hundreds of authors will talk to thousands of readers about their books. And the topics range from humorous to serious. In just a 24-hour period at the Walnut Creek JCC, visitors could hear Sharon Waxman talk about stolen antiquities and learn about the life of an elite Israeli commando, as well as about Hellman and the Jews of Singapore.

The idea of having November become Jewish Book Month was the brainchild of the Jewish Book Council, a group founded in 1925. It’s subsidiary the Jewish Book Network, now helps coordinate 70 book fairs around the country featuring 160 authors. It’s a $3 million industry and the major way for those with Jewish-themed books to reach a targeted audience.

It shouldn’t be such a surprise, since Jews are often called “People of the Book.”

I will be appearing Sunday Nov. 2 at Bookfest at the San Francisco Jewish Community Center. I will be talking at 5:15 p.m. about California moguls with Fred Basten, who has written a biography of Max Factor. (Both our books are about Jewish men who grew old. Guess what he has on his cover? A glamorous woman! I guess she is made up in Max Factor makeup. It’s a clever way to sell a book.)

There are lots of other authors appearing as well, including David Grossman, Amy Bloom, Lore Segal, John Rothmann, Marie Brenner, and more.