An Elegant Woman: Pull Quote 5

Two sisters: one beautiful, the other not. Little girls, five and three years old, they wore red velvet Christmas dresses and rabbit furs, waiting on the platform with their mother and her violin, for the train that would take them from Ohio to Billings—“Magic City,” as it was called, because it blossomed overnight.

From my novel, An Elegant Woman, coming, June 2. Help a friend, help a bookstore — pre-order today. Buying options HERE. Thank you.

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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Charlottesville, The Results Are In: Book Tour (1)

Christina and Martha at Speak!

My best friend, Christina Ball, hosted the first event for Dear Money at her Speak Language Center in Charlottesville, Virginia.  It was a delightful, intimate evening at her lovely school.  Out of the woodwork came Avery Chenoweth, the older brother of a good friend, Matthew, from pre-school.  Avery is a writer and a swing dancer with a beautiful sense of humor.  Mary Alice, the best friend of my mother’s in the third grade, came with her sister — a complete surprise.  I felt celebrated and thoroughly loved.

Another wonderful surprise was a stranger, a flight attendant for American.  Her name is Claudia and she had the most gorgeous free, spirit.  I would LOVE to write a magazine piece about her, following her as she hopscotches across the globe — a fly on the wall of the planes she works.  And yet another surprise was a woman named Kristin who has written a nonfiction book on the Bible.  She found out about the discussion from my website. That’s a first.  So in the end, we didn’t have to drink all the wine alone.

I will always be grateful to Christina for supporting me and my work.  Her school is a magnificent place that brings language and travel experience to the people of Charlottesville and beyond.  I wrote about her for More Magazine two years ago.  On Friday, Christina arranged with the Charlottesville Writer House for me to discuss the research I did for Dear Money.  That was filled with interesting people who asked terrific questions about how I learned all about the mortgage-backed securities market.  The group included one economist who had worked for the FEC in NYC at the height of the bubble.  It also included Kristin from the night before.  Bless her.  I wish New York City had a Writer House like the one run by Rachel Unkefer. The group is a nonprofit that creates a space for writers to work and take classes, and also to hear other writers speak and read.

When all the work was done, Christina and I had a delicious lunch at Orzo Kitchen and Wine Bar (yes, we indulged in a mid-day glass of Gavi) and then went shopping at our favorite store, Marshall’s, but didn’t find anything.  It was a gorgeous trip.  I took the train: $58!  You can’t beat that for a journey that’s over 6 hours, to a spot that is stunning and filled with charm and great food and wonderful people who love to read.

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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.


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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…

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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.


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