Publication Day, Gratitude: The New Book Tour (3)

I am so grateful to Summer Smith, the HMH publicist.  Next week, June 3rd, is the publication date of Dear Money.  She’s booked me on the Leonard Lopate Show at noon (please listen) and that night I’ll be reading at Barnes & Nobel on Broadway at 82nd Street (please come).   Because of her hard work the book was mentioned as one of ten books to read in O Magazine; it was one of the five top summer beach reads in Coastal Living; it was reviewed in Martha Stewart’s Whole Living; it’s scheduled to appear in Elle and More; and reviews have been assigned at the Boston Globe, The New York Times, The San Francisco Chronicle; The Washington Post — these are the ones I know about.  Thank you, Summer Smith.


Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

The Novel Experiment, For Business Week

The Novel Experiment

Researching her book about a novelist-turned-trader, the author got a front-row seat at the financial meltdown

May 20, 2010

By Martha McPhee

I was propositioned by a Wall Street trader. Actually he was a manager of mortgage-backed-securities traders at a well-regarded investment bank. We were at a garden party in the country, and I noted that he had arrived in a chauffeured town car that waited for him. I knew he was a Wall Street type, and I was curious about what he did, and how he, by the look of the car sitting outside, made so much money. He generously explained the job of a mortgage-backed-securities trader and humbly suggested there was nothing to it. Traders were nothing more than used-car salesmen who understood supply and demand, he said. Anyone could do it. Instead of cars, they were selling mortgages, people’s puny mortgages bundled together into giant pools, then sold around the globe to insurance empires and pension funds, even foreign countries. This process, he said, had allowed interest rates to drop, making mortgages easier to get and providing a lot more people with the great American dream of homeownership.

I was fascinated. The idea of amassing the small debts of so many dreamers on a colossal scale—a scale bigger than the entire combined value of the U.S. stock markets, as it happened—and chopping them up and sending them around the world seemed like quite a plot. Swept up in my enthusiasm, he told me: “If you give me 18 months, I’ll turn you into a trader.” This was 2004.

Click here to read the rest of the Business Week piece.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

The Extraordinary Debbie Stier: The New Book Tour (2)

Martha (18) and Debbie (17)

Friends, generosity, fun — the New Book Tour: Part 2.

(Part 1)

With this post I skip ahead a bit — jumping over New York City and a research trip to Italy and most of June.  I can’t resist because it’s all about Debbie Stier.  Where to begin with the magnificent and generous and smart and beautiful Debbie Stier?  When we were 16?  (Read to the end and you’ll find out about that.)  I’ll start instead with the book tour: On June 22nd we’ll be in San Francisco for a reading I’ll do at The Booksmith, arranged by Debbie.  “You’re going to San Francisco for your book,” she announced one day, in that way of hers that bubbles with good ideas.  “And I’m coming.”  A few days later she had one of The Booksmith’s owners, Praveen Madan, on a conference call for a “brainstorming session” to figure out how to make a successful reading.  Lots of ideas ricocheted across the telephone wire, then a date was set, tickets bought, a hotel booked.   We’re staying at The Huntington Hotel and Spa (note the word SPA) and we’ll be there for three days, filled in with visits to other bookstores, shopping, eating, sightseeing.   Debbie likes to say, “This will be the Sex In The City leg of your tour.”   (Thanks be we’re not taking a train.)

Every time I have published a novel, Debbie has been behind the scenes pushing the boulder up the hill, cheering me on and reaching out to every contact she has, on my behalf.  For a long while she was a publicist — never at my publishing house.  No matter.  One quite impressive example of her help was with Gorgeous Lies, my second novel.  Through her passion for the book and through her connections she got the book to Terry Gross of Fresh Air, and kept following up until I was booked on the show.  She went with me to the studios for the interview, and when, after, I was trembling with stage fright, she took me for a celebratory glass of wine.  She has sent my novels to tastemakers, to bookstore owners, magazine editors and newspaper reviewers, bloggers.  She’s connected me with the people at Vook and Dailylit and Get Glue — just to name a few  Her ideas are boundless and she, very unlike me, is a stunning optimist.  In January, she decided we needed to have cocktail parties once a month to get to know the most interesting people in social media.  Who came?  The list is too long — another post — but I’d end up reading about the guests in the paper, the impressive things they were doing, funding twitter and tumblr, reporting on it all.  Debbie looks to the future and has no time for the past or for being held back.

Debbie is now Senior Vice President, Editor-at-Large & Dir. Of Digital Marketing at Harpercollins.  Her personal mission is to help bring book publishing into the 21st Century by effectively using social media.  Her authors include the bestselling author of Crush It, Gary Vaynerchuk, Melanie Notkin (The Savvy Auntie), Baratunde Thurston.

With Dear Money, she started helping me about a year ago when I first told her I was going to build a website.  “Very important,” she confirmed, along with a whole lot of other stuff that went in one ear and out the other — all having to do with social media: twitter and tumblr and flickr and facebook — words that were still foreign to me, in fact at that point more foreign than Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and No Docs and 2/28s and negative convexity and LIBOR and subprime and all the information I’d learned about mortgage-backed securities while researching Dear Money.  I sent her a draft of the site.  I was quite thrilled with it.  At the crack of dawn, she called.  (Debbie is not a morning person.)  “I couldn’t sleep last night, Martha.  I’ve been impatient to call.  You can’t use that.  It’s so 2.0.  It’s not going to work.  It’s beautiful but it’s boring.”  I was crushed.  And I didn’t understand what she meant.  “It’s five years ago.  Sites aren’t like that anymore.”  She explained that sites had to by dynamic and not static.  Mine was static.  She told me I’d need to update frequently.  “It will be like your own magazine in which you include everything you love and that interests you.  You have so much to work with: your big, eccentric family, all their books, your books, their art, your love of food and cooking and traveling.”  I followed her instructions.  I got on facebook and twitter and goodreads and started my “dynamic” website.  And though I resisted and thought I couldn’t possibly do it, and though I’m not as active as some, it has been a lot of fun.  All authors can learn from her tips and I bet she’ll be kind enough to do a Q&A with me here and spell out those tips.  Another future post.

Now back to when we were teenagers in Princeton.  She lived on Lover’s Lane which always seemed appropriate to me because of her passion.  She played tennis beautifully and also piano.  She has one younger brother.  Her family, in comparison to mine, seemed uncomplicated and more ordinary in a spell-binding way.  When my nine siblings and I were hiking in Haiti, they (the cozy four) were skiing in Aspen.  She was very popular and she was my friend.  She came to the beach with us; she stayed for days at our farm; we did naughty things together that I can’t mention here (another tip of hers: don’t write anything on your blog that you wouldn’t want on the cover of the New York Times).  A story she loves to tell about us (which I don’t remember as well as she does) was that I hired her to assist me in a job I had catering a dinner party.  I’d made an enormous lasagne (we were about 16 and 17 years old) and she’d had a few sips of wine.  Carrying the lasagne (homemade noodles and all) from the kitchen to the diningroom, she dropped it.  SPLASH!!  Has she been making up for the spilled lasagne all these years?  I don’t have many friends that reach back as far as Debbie.  I am very fortunate.  I am blessed.  I will hang onto her, cherish her forever.  San Francisco here we come…

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Friends, Generosity, Fun: The New Book Tour (1)

I sent my father a copy of my new novel, Dear Money, and he wrote me a letter that made me think hard about one significant fact: I have never been able to enjoy the publication of one of my books.  In his note, he urged, commanded rather, that this time around I do.  As it happened, the letter arrived when I was wallowing in a bit of that dread: exposure, fear, self-doubt.  And though it took a day for his message to sink in, it did.  I stopped to think about how this time around is different.  In the 4 years since I published my last novel, the publishing industry has transformed and is in the midst of a massive sea change.  One of the side effects is that writers like me (mid-list, literary) are essentially in charge of our own promotion. Daunting though it is, a beautiful consequence is that friends and sisters have reached out to support me and to help me to celebrate, and create a small tour of readings that should, above all else, be fun.  This makes it much easier to do as my father has instructed: “…to savor an accomplishment that floats above all else.”


Christina Ball, the host of my first celebration, was my roommate freshman year in college.  I will never forget the first time I met her.  She came into our dorm room with her brother, two sisters, elegant parents, and her aged grandmother (who, by the way, all these years later, is into her 100s and still going strong).  She assessed the room, took one look at a brass lamp that I had brought, and that had been my grandfather’s when he went off to college, and said to her mother that that lamp would have to go. Christina is hosting a launch reading and discussion at her beautiful Speak! Language Center in Charlottesville, VA on May 27: A Rich Hour.  And if no one comes, we’ll drink all the wine ourselves.  She was the subject of a piece I wrote for More Magazine a year or two ago: Unforgotten Italy.

While this new model for a tour is still in front of me, and it’s success in terms of FUN remains to be seen, here’s a reminder of the old book tour version: Book Tour

More friends and sisters, more stories, more readings, other cities — too much for one post — coming soon.  Events.


Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Booklist Makes Me Really Smile

Issue: April 15, 2010
Dear Money.
Advanced Review
McPhee, Martha (Author) Jun 2010. 352 p. Houghton, hardcover, $25.00. (9780151011650).
With four moderately successful novels under her belt, India Palmer knows better than to pin her hopes for financial independence on the publication of her fifth. Unlike her husband, avant-garde sculptor Theodor Larson, who truly believes in art-for-art’s-sake, India has no illusions that her writing will ever be able to support her insatiable catalog of wants and her family’s interminable list of needs. So when Wall Street tycoon Win Johns swoops into her life like an Armani-clad avenging angel with promises to turn her into a bond-trading whiz kid, India accepts his challenge without so much as a backward glance. Has she willingly allowed herself to become Galatea to Win’s Pygmalion or unwittingly sold her soul to the devil? Although no one can profess to comprehend the complexities of the current economic quagmire, McPhee dishes its jargon with all the aplomb of someone who TiVos CNBC. Delivering virulent social satire with a velvet, humanitarian touch, McPhee’s timely send-up deftly parodies the fallout from misplaced priorities.
— Carol Haggas

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

One Goes Broke In A Thousand Small Ways

One goes broke in a thousand small ways: birthday presents, the ticket of admission to those fancy birthday parties; house presents; ballet classes, lessons in general; theater subscriptions, for us and for the children; dinners out with the mothers, with the parents who want to get to know you better; fundraisers, (God forbid you don’t have your name on the donor list); contributions; dinner parties; out-of-network doctors for my asthmatic daughter, the pulmonologist, the allergist, well-childcare not covered, the dentist; bills—electricity, cable, telephone; clothes for the kids, uniforms; taxis, when too tired to take the bus; haircuts even for Theodor, the girls, myself (Do you really need one, I’d find myself thinking); movie theater tickets and the requisite popcorn and soda—all of it adding up constantly in my mind, a spinning calculator, accumulating numbers with astonishing (and frightening) speed. 

From Dear Money 

With taxes approaching and the constant onslaught of bills, I’m thinking my character, India Palmer, is much smarter than I.  And I’m jealous.  She actually took the Wall Street tycoon up on his proposition and went off and became a bond trader.   Now she’s having a grand old time while I’m still struggling to pay the bills.

Watch the Dear Money book trailer: Let’s Blow It All

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Made My Day

KIRKUS REVIEWS (starred, up-front essay)
March 1, 2010
By Martha McPhee

Nearly everybody who reads—newspapers, magazines and websites, in addition to fiction—recognizes the plight of the midlist novelist. Not the brand-name superstar, whose annual connect-the-dots release invariably shoots to the top of the bestseller list. Not the highly touted newcomer, whose debut captures the fancy of so many critics, with raves spawning a flurry of other raves, a consensus that will likely curdle with the sophomore effort. Not even the literary trophy novelist, whose renown far exceeds any recent commercial success, but whose prestige adds luster to the publisher’s catalog.

No, the classic midlister is no household name, except in the households of some book reviewers, and perhaps in those of the few others who avidly monitor book reviews. Such a readership might represent a cult fandom and guarantee sales in the low thousands. Enough that some imprint, though maybe not the same one, will publish the author’s next novel, without expectations on anyone’s part that it will fare much better.

Martha McPhee’s fourth novel wouldn’t be so funny if it didn’t ring so true. As the narrator of Dear Money, India Palmer has published four novels, none of which has sold more than 5,000 copies, and has written a fifth, which she had “come to hope…would be the winning ticket in the literary lottery where art met commerce.”

Though it would be a mistake to reduce India to an authorial stand-in, the delicious irony of McPhee’s novel is that it deserves to be her own lottery winner, the breakout book that attracts a popular readership exceeding those drawn by the critical notices and prize nominations for her earlier work. Yet her novel recognizes what a daunting challenge this is, how the publishing industry and celebrity culture make it easier for a tabula rasa newcomer to achieve such attention than for an author who has already established a track record.

Finding herself “consumed by want,” India suffers even more because she and her artist husband have become close friends with a wealthier couple who can easily afford the standard of living to which the novelist guiltily aspires. Their expansive social circle encompasses a playboy financier who tempts India into something like an affair, only one where the lust is for money.

McPhee has a lot of fun with a couple of archetypes—a Pygmalion transformation of the novelist into a financial high roller and a “city mouse/country mouse” exchange of ambitions—but what makes this novel work so well is that India continues to engage the reader’s empathy, even affection, as she forsakes literary high-mindedness for filthy lucre. The novel reflects just how much of an industry publishing is, and how success in financial speculation involves crafting a compelling narrative.

Upping the metafictional ante is the question of whether India’s bond-trading experiences will inspire her to write another novel—maybe even one as culturally subversive as McPhee’s.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

$$$Classic Novels About Money$$$


Dear Money, my new novel, has, as the title suggests, a lot to do with money.  I became interested in the topic as extreme wealth rose all around me in the heady days of mortgage-backed securities.  Money is a glorious and dirty topic and, it seems, everyone has something to say about it.  While writing the novel I looked to the Victorians for fun and inspiration, among others.  They were obsessed with money and used it as a lens through which to see the hypocrisy and foolishness of their society.  I tell my students that a writer writes and a writer reads.  These are the novels I was reading, all brilliant on money. 

The Bronte Sisters — to borrow from my sister, Jenny: “The Bronte sisters tackle the problem of money, what it does to you if you have it, what it does to you if you don’t.”

The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope.   I especially love the aging, matronly novelist, struggling with her desire for success and her income.  Her desperation. 

The Eustace Diamonds by Anthony Trollope 

Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray 

The Financier by Theodore Dreiser 

The Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton 

The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton 

The Great Gatsby.  Fitzgerald’s obsession with money lead to so much of his best writing.  (I borrowed the title Dear Money from him.  He discarded it.  “Where Do Titles Come From?” 

The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe.   (When I asked the bond trader who helped teach me about his world to recommend books, the first was Bonfire.  The others were Market Wizards: Interviews With Top Traders and Frank J. Fabrozzi’s The Handbook of Mortgage-Backed Securities — heavy lifting, definitely not a novel.) 

In my reading and thinking, I was most interested in the female characters of Lily Bart, Undine Spragg, Scarlett O’Hara (though I didn’t re-read Gone With The Wind), Becky Sharp.  I often wondered who those women would be today.  How would they have acted had they found themselves in the 21st Century? 

Novels about money that I haven’t yet read but want to read: 

New Grub Street by George Gissing which Jenny loved.  She says, “It is entirely about the terrible compromises a writer must make for the love of money.”  

Money by Martin Amis 

And now there are two new novels, published right now, for my list: 

The Privileges by Jonathan Dee 

Union Atlantic by Adam Haslett 

Please add to the list.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine