A Most Astonishing Review: Thank You Stuart Mitchner and The Town Topics

Deep Down, It’s All About Writing — Martha McPhee’s Excellent Adventure

Stuart Mitchner

Click here to visit Cindy Sherman’s site

Martha McPhee’s new novel is not what it appears to be.

According to the jacket copy, Dear Money (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt $25) is a “Pygmalion tale of a novelist turned bond trader …. a raucous ride to the top of the income chain.” True enough, except that when a real-life bond trader came along and “propositioned” Martha McPhee in 2004 (“If you give me 18 months, I’ll turn you into a star trader.”), she behaved like a real-life writer. She saw a story in that proposition, explored the idea, researched it, and wrote a book that in its most inspired and accomplished pages has more to do with the joy of making literary art than it does with the art of making money….

Click here to read full review of Dear Money and to understand what Cindy Sherman has to do with it.

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Crazy Chicks

My mother came to Maine yesterday, arriving with her dog, her cat and 10 baby chicks.
Is she completely crazy?  “There was no one to take care of them at home.”  She smiled and added, “They sleep at night.”
My whole life I have tried to be normal, whatever that is.  But I have finally realized that I don’t stand a chance.

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Humiliation & Gratitude: June Notes From The Book Tour

June 2010, a magnificent month.

June 3: Dear Money was published — two very generous, wonderful friends came together to host a beautiful party for me and my novel, following a successful reading and Q&A at Barnes & Nobel. The friends are the talented editor Elisabeth Schmitz and the dazzling Maura McCormack.  The bond trader who helped me so enormously in the writing of this novel came to the party and helped close it down.

June 8: I went to Italy for ten days to start work on a new book of nonfiction (I’m letting the fiction field lie fallow for a spell).  The trip was made possible by my employer, Hofstra University.  They have supported me from the day I started working there, helping to fund excursions for L’America, Dear Money and now the new book.

June 20: just home from Italy I turned around and got on a plane to San Francisco, all the air travel making me feel like a character in Walter Kirn’s novel, Up In The Air. Another great friend, Debbie Stier (read this post to find out more about how brilliant she is), accompanied me along with her darling daughter Daisy. We rode bikes across the Golden Gate Bridge and lunched in Sausalito.

June 22: At The Booksmith on Haight Street: I discussed Dear Money with Janis Newman, the author of Mary, an historical novel about Mary Todd Lincoln.  She asked brilliant questions and chose a series of passages for me to read — all of it making me think about Dear Money in a new way. The audience, however, was slim and comprised mainly of Debbie’s wonderful colleagues and a friend of my grandmother’s.  I didn’t sell many books that evening and felt badly for putting out the bookstore when they arranged such a spectacular event.  I wrote to the owner of the bookstore, Praveen Madan, to thank him and apologize for the small turnout.  He wrote back:

“Hi Martha,

Thanks for your message and for giving us an opportunity to host you.

I don’t think you should feel bad about the turn out.  All of us did our best to promote the event.  And the value of the event has to take into account not just the people who showed and books sold that evening, but also the broad amount of publicity generated, word of mouth, and ongoing sales at the store before and after the event.   Our email newsletter alone reaches over 6,000 people and many of them would not have found out about your book if we hadn’t done this event together.  Plus we got a chance to meet and learn about your fascinating book and this knowledge will enable us to continue selling Dear Money in the store.”

All writers take note of his wisdom.  And Booksmith, owned together with his wife, Christin, is an intelligently curated store.

One more thing: one of Debbie’s colleagues wrote a blogpost about Dear Money and the evening, that stunned me with its clarity and perceptions.  The Wicked Witch of the Web (great name).

June 23: I flew to LA to be interviewed by Michael Silverblatt of KCRW’s Bookworm. I have been listening to his show for a while on the internet.  He is truly brilliant, extraordinarily perceptive.  I felt, listening to him speak about Dear Money, that he knew it better than I did.  The interview will air some time in August.  He was fun too with a terrific, wicked sense of humor.  That night I read at Book Soup which was very well attended because my baby sister, Deputy Mayor of Education for the City of Los Angeles, brought out her friends and wife’s family.  My brother drove up from San Diego and two friends from middle school (I haven’t seen them in at least 25 years) came long distances too.  At the end of the reading Deputy Mayor made certain everyone bought a copy of the book.

June 26: More generosity from the author of Devotion, Dani Shapiro, whose work I admire beyond measure. With her husband Michael Marin, she hosted a party at her lovely home in Connecticut.  The guest list included the who’s who of the Connecticut literati.  And she did all this simply because she admired Dear Money. Before the party, I gave a reading at another lovely, smart independent bookstore, The Hickory Stick Bookshop in Washington Depot, owned by the gracious Fran Kielty.  My friend Elisabeth Schmitz came to the reading with me, bless her (she’s already heard me read and hosted a party for me).  Our husbands stayed home to watch Ghana defeat the US.  The reading was painfully small.  But as I said to Fran, I have seen everything.  Well, except, a massive audience.  As it happened, a good friend from NYC stumbled into the bookstore just before I was to read.  She was with her 9 year old and a friend.  She was surprised to see me, asked what I was doing, hunted for her books, bought them and left as I read to Fran. She’d already been to my NYC reading.

Such is the life of the mid-list writer.  Across June, a flurry of reviews — exhilarating, one disappointing: the roller coaster.   But always I try to remember (when someone says something superficial or someone says something perceptive; when I read to 2 or 30) I am on a ride; I am fortunate; I am blessed with a career I love that takes me extraordinary places; I am blessed with friends and family who believe in me and who support me with their exquisite generosity.  For this reason I am able to live a creative life.

Now for July: the 8th at 6pm Labyrinth Bookstore in Princeton and on July 24 at 10.30AM I’m on a panel at The Berkshire Wordfest at The Mount, Edith Wharton’s home in Lenox, MA. My horoscope says that July will be a thrilling month for me professionally, though not without complication.

Hint: this picture is a metaphor!

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