At a Time Like This, It’s Important to Read About a Muslim-Jewish Friendship like Theirs.

Motke & MohammedAfter the hate-shooting in San Diego, California, in which Lori Gilbert Kaye was killed on April 27, I’m re-posting my article from The Times of Israel about these two 83-year-old friends, one Muslim and one Jewish, who still meet every Monday morning at a coffee shop in the Western Galilee.

It’s important to remind ourselves that there are people who respect one another’s beliefs and rise above religious differences. People who practice tolerance and acceptance.

Their friendship is also a reminder of the daily reality within Israel, where people live in peace and relative harmony. In spite of everything that goes on around us.

May Lori Gilbert Kaye’s act of bravery – she stood up to save the rabbi – continue to inspire us and give us the courage we need to act in these difficult times.

 

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In Israel: Signs of Hope, Signs of War


At the same time that I was writing about Christian, Druze, Jewish, and Muslim women getting together in the mixed city of Akko, Israel on November 15, 2019 for a “Fridays with Women” event,  I was also writing about the dire lack of bomb shelters and protected rooms in kindergartens, nursing homes, clinics, and schools here in the Western Galilee, where I live, along the northern border of Israel and Lebanon. Two realities happening simultaneously.

The above photo is of Nafisa Shtawey, left, and Naama Burstein at the Friday Women Event in Akko.

The message for me is to hold onto the slightest glimmer of hope no matter what is going on around me. Here are the two articles, one in Lilith Magazine (see the blog post on the bottom left) and the other in the Jerusalem Post.

For more information on the exciting things that are happening in Akko, see my article about an educators’ kibbutz in the heart of the city here.

Happy Thanksgiving. Let’s count our blessings.

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Big Up Yourself: It’s About Time You Like Being You

BigUpYourselfCoverBig Up Yourself: It’s About Time You Like Being You gives you the easiest, smartest, and fastest tools to help you big up yourself. What does that mean? To like who you are. Right here and right now. You’ll learn about your four primary elements and how to take care of them in a simple, new way, for ten minutes each day. That is all it takes to learn how to big up yourself.
You’ll learn important rules to pull you along. How to dream big but to start small. How to go by the 99% Rule, (Even if you’re 99% right, you are a better person for apologizing about that 1% wrong). How to thank the people who annoy you (they’re your best teachers, you know). And how to discover who you are instead of waiting for the world to discover you.
“You can travel all over the world but you will never find someone who deserves your love as much as you do.” There is no truer statement yet you might not know where to begin. If you commit to devoting ten minutes of your day to nurturing your four elements, you will discover a new inner peace and strength. That is self-care, and it grows into self-love. You will also discover that if you approach life as a series of spiritual lessons, you will reach understanding and acceptance during difficult moments. Then you can transform pain into wisdom, fear into trust, and self-doubt into inner power. All this for only $2.99! You can order it here and here.

Life is too short to waste it feeling like you’re not good enough. Time to BIG UP YOURSELF. Enjoy what you’ve got.

 

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The New President and My Old Marching Shoes

Hello, everyone, in case you were wondering where I was, I have been busy revising my latest novel. I want to stay focused but don’t think I’ve forgotten about you, my faithful reader. Meanwhile, I wrote the following for The Huffington Post which I wanted to share.   http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ent…/5880bed6e4b0fb40bf6c46f7…
THE NEW PRESIDENT…AND MY OLD MARCHING SHOES
Diana at march.jpg

I went to my first protest march when I was twelve. It was 1969, and I walked down Great Neck’s main street in favor of a proposal to bus children from a low-income area to Great Neck schools. Wearing plaid bell bottoms, I carried my own handwritten sign, “They won’t hurt you, why should you hurt them? Give them a chance, too!” (There were even smiley faces in the letter O’s.)

As demonstrators march for and against President-Elect Donald Trump, I’m reminded of all the marches I’ve attended since that first protest. Moreover, I value demonstrations which don’t incite hatred or violence because they are hallmarks of a healthy democracy.

My mother, a first-generation American, instilled in me the belief that if I thought something was wrong, it was my obligation to speak out against it. In between long drags on her cigarette, she shared the Jewish adage: if you save one life, you save an entire world. Her interpretation? With your one life, try to do something.

She didn’t mind when I skipped school to attend demonstrations. To her, engaging in political activism was the best kind of education. I traveled to New York City to protest the Vietnam War, and also ventured to Washington D.C. for demonstrations in favor of women’s reproductive rights.

When I was in my mid-twenties, I attended a reproductive rights rally in New York. It was about the time that I’d become more religiously observant, so I carried a clothes hanger (to represent what women sometimes used for illegal abortions) and another handwritten sign reading, “Orthodox Jews for the Right to Choose.” A woman approached me, saying she wanted to join my organization; I admitted that I’d just started it and I was the only one in it. Afterwards, I went home on the subway. It was crowded and I squeezed my way out the car. I now apologize to that passenger, whoever she is, who discovered that I accidentally left my hanger hanging off her sweater.

Before the Iron Curtain fell, I marched at the United Nations on behalf of Jews trying to leave the Soviet Union. In 2000, when I was living in Westhampton, I again marched in Washington, D.C., this time in the first Million Mom March. My friend, Liz Liggon, and I took the Long Island Railroad into New York City and from there to the nation’s capital. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Liz, who is African-American, I felt a sense of strength and unity.

Sometimes, I admit, I’ve been misguided. At Cornell in the late Seventies, I joined Iranian students in their protest against the Shah of Iran. Then history unfolded. I am painfully aware that those students returned to an extremist Iran, where the revolution turned against them.

During the Israel-Lebanese War in 1982, I attended an anti-war protest in front of the Israeli Embassy in New York. A decade later, I found myself living in a small beach village in northern Israel, only twelve miles from the Israel-Lebanon border. I came to understand that certainty comes easier when you’re not living in the war zone.

Making my home in northern Israel, I am involved with a peace group — Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Druze women — and last October, we went to the Women Wage Peace March, on the Israel-Jordanian border. We walked along a snaking dirt path under a cloudless sky to reach a holy place near the Dead Sea, one of the lowest points on earth. It’s a baptismal site for Christians, with an Arabic name, Qasr al-Yahud, or the Jews’ palace, making it a convergence of all three faiths. Thousands of women gathered that day: Palestinian women in galabiyahs and hejabs walked arm and arm with Israeli Jewish women in tank tops and shorts, demanding that our leaders reach a peace agreement. Nobel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee, who helped end the Liberian civil war, told us, “History will write this day.”

I hope so. Yet even if all the protests I’ve attended have not made a difference in the world, they have made a difference in me. How lucky I am to be able to publicly voice my opinion. Even when I disagree with other demonstrators, I still respect their right to be heard. That is a priceless gift of freedom. This is something I learned when I was twelve and this is how I’ve lived my life.

I just turned sixty and I’m still wearing my marching shoes.
In the photo is Jennifer Charm, Robert Raynor and I am holding the sign.
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Leah Kaminsky, Author of The Waiting Room, on the Past and Future

leah-kaminskyI’m delighted to welcome Leah Kaminsky, author of the debut novel THE WAITING ROOM (Harper Perennial 2016). Although this story is set in Haifa, Israel, during 2001, the story straddles three continents and a time span of seventy years. It took Kaminsky ten years to write the novel and she told me, “every word and sentence has been a labour of love, rewritten countless times” until she was satisfied she could do no better. For Kaminsky, “the craft of writing is of the utmost importance.”

Here is Leah Kaminsky’s guest post on stumbling onto the past, and what we take into the future:

“Recently, while visiting Berkeley for the first time as part of my North American book tour, I passed an old stamp shop. A handwritten note told potential customers to knock loudly, so I did. After a minute or so, a tall man with a shock of grey hair shuffled towards the door, which creaked as it opened. He gruffly told me he was busy dispatching some orders and left me alone to wonder around the store. I was instantly transported back to my childhood, dizzy with the thousands of stamps from around the globe staring down at me, pinned to the walls like zoological specimens in a museum. I watched the owner as he lovingly affixed a collage of stamps to the front of a package he was preparing to ship. We started chatted about my old passion for stamp collecting, a hobby that is rapidly becoming part of a lost world. I became quite teary, as if I had entered a lush forest on the verge of extinction.

I feel the same whenever I wonder around antique shops, or stumble across old haberdashery stores that are still lovingly kept open by their elderly owners after several decades in business. In THE WAITING ROOM, I have written an entire chapter set inside an old shoemaker’s cave in downtown Haifa:

‘The shoemaker’s workshop lies hidden at the edge of the shuk, down a crooked laneway that reeks of cat piss. The metal door rests slightly ajar and a bell tinkles as Dina pushes it open. She enters a dimly lit cave in the wall, its interior redolent of a tiny shtetl in Europe, pungent with leather and blacking.’

The old shoemaker fascinates her, and she is drawn into his workshop like Alice into Wonderland:

Dina could stare at the shoemaker all day. With his knobbly white knuckles and brown leather apron that hugs his rotund belly, he looks like a character that stepped straight out of a fairytale.’

But he also carries wisdom along with his expertise:

‘He is busy gluing the sole of an old boot. On a shelf behind him, a small fan pivots to-and-fro, blowing wafts of glue into Dina’s face. She places her broken shoe onto the workbench.

“One shoe does not walk alone,” he says in a quiet steady, voice, without looking up at her.’

These elderly craftsmen, whose lives have been dedicated to refining their ancient skills, are on the verge of disappearing – and along with them the magical world of my own childhood will vanish. Their stories are a portal to another time and place, where good craftsmanship and integrity were deeply valued and respected, so different to the disposable consumer culture of today, with its emphasis on cheap mass-manufacturing. My father was a tailor and I vividly remember the care he took in fussing over each client’s measurement, jotting down secret numbers in a sacred notebook he kept hidden in his shirt pocket. He drafted bespoke patterns, which he laid out on the finest material, carefully cutting pieces he would later sew together by hand.

The stamp collector I met in Berkeley, the shoemaker in THE WAITING ROOM and my diminutive father in his tailor’s workshop, are my connection to both the beauty and the hardships of the past. THE WAITING ROOM warns us that if we don’t bear witness to history and what we have inherited from the past, we are more likely to hurtle blindly into a tenuous and shaky future.”

Thank you, Leah Kaminsky.

THE WAITING ROOM is available wherever books are sold, including this link:

https://m.harpercollins.com/9780062490476/the-waiting-room

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Shimon Peres: Never Give Up Hope.

peres-2I wrote to the Former Israeli President Shimon Peres–who died Wednesday at the age of 93 and whose funeral was attended by seventy world leaders on Friday morning–when he was a member of the Knesset, the Israeli Parliment, in 2004. I told him how I still hoped for peace despite everything  going on around us in Israel. Peres wrote me the above letter. A while later, I wrote him again, asking how he was able to hold onto his hope and optimism when the future of the world seemed so bleak. He replied:

peres-1In the book, The Start-Up Nation by Saul Singer, Peres is quoted more than anyone else.

“They called me a dreamer,” Peres said in July as he laid the cornerstone for the Israeli Innovation Center, which will be part of the Peres Peace House in Tel Aviv-Jaffa. “But today, when I look at Israel, we all can see clearly that the greater the dream, the more spectacular the results.”

I have his words in my head whenever I’m faced with a difficult goal. “If hope and optimism were to be replaced by despair and pessimism, the goals would never be attained.”

May the memory of Shimon Peres’ energy and enthusiasm for life continue to inspire us.

“Let us adopt the road to peace and innovation, which will always be better than war and terror,” he said. “…I have one small request – Israel is a dream that came true. Permit me to continue to dream.”

 

 

 

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Five Things to Do While Waiting to Hear from a Literary Agent about Your Book

So, the new novel is done! I sent it to my literary agent, Steven Chudney, who has sent it on to different editors at various publishing houses. Now comes the waiting, waiting, waiting time. From the high excitement (and a few tears) after finishing the book to the very anti-climactic time waiting to hear if it will be accepted. It’s like sitting in the waiting room at Port Authority Bus Terminal waiting for a bus that might never show up. It’s that much fun.

So here are some things we can do while waiting to hear from literary agents.

1. Ignore what editors say about your unpublished novel. Ignore the reasons they give for rejecting your book. I got an email from a friend who also has her first novel making the rounds at publishing houses. She already got a rejection letter from one editor who told her it was too sad. Er…um…Romeo and Juliet? I would not touch the manuscript to please an editor until one of them says she wants to work with me, and then I would change it.

2.  Find something else to write. I know it’s hard for me to concentrate right now (or “write now”) while I’m waiting but the work is…the work. I got to the point before I dug in and rewrote A Remarkable Kindness for the eighteenth time that I had to make a decision. I was going to write whether it got published or not. I would write for the joy of writing—the other stuff is nice but it’s the fluff. The substance is the actual work. I had to decide to write because I love writing and keep doing it. I thought of Emily Dickinson who wrote poems that nobody ever liked when she was alive—but she did her art.

3. Remember all those stories about writers who got rejected a hundred times. Chicken Soup for the Soul and The Help come to mind. Everyone knows those stories.

4. Remind yourself what matters. I always had ideas of what would happen once I published my novel. I thought there would be a dramatic change. Then my novel was published and nothing really happened. I went on several book tours (nothing glamorous or exciting about sitting on those shiny bedspread covers in a motel room in a strange city), I met some great people (hello to you and you and you!), had several people say they loved my book (thank you!) and then I went home and went back to my desk to work.

5. Ask, what’s the goal? The goal of life isn’t to be a best-selling author. Look at Hemingway who shot himself. (Well, alcoholism does lead to a depressing death or suicide eventually, anyway.) The goal is to be at peace with ourselves. Nothing outside myself can give me that inner happiness. I might get a temporary boost by work successes but it is only temporary. I might get a temporary letdown from rejections or bad reviews but that, too, passes.

We have to keep doing the inner work. Nothing else can fill us up. Not glittery prizes, not TV appearances, not sparkly reviews.

To my friend waiting to hear about her book, and to everyone else who is waiting for an answer, remember this: the goal is to accept and love ourselves as we are, right here, right now. And that’s an inside job. We have to keep telling ourselves that we are wonderful. Don’t say, “Well, we’re not really such-and-such,” or, “This isn’t a big deal.” It is a gigantic deal.

We don’t have to do anything spectacular to feel like a hero. All we have to do is live our lives as best as we can. We can stand somewhere and think about where we’ve been and where we are now and the journey we’ve traveled to get here. Then we can try to live our best chapter today.

Post-script, Emily Dickinson agreed with Thomas Higginson, “If fame belonged to me, I could not escape her — if she did not, the longest day would pass me on the chase.”

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Tools for Tuesday: Terrific Tools for Your Toolbox

In a funk? Remember the story of the baby chick. (Read on.)

No matter what we face today, there’s always a solution. We might not get the answer immediately but it will come.

“Whatever God has blessed you with, take it with a grateful hand.” – Horace

Circumstances don’t make us who we are: they reveal who we can be.

Sometimes we blame other people, hoping they’ll change, but if we stop looking at them (what we think is the problem) and focus on ourselves, we will move toward what we want (the solution).

Speaking of which, we don’t have to fall into the pattern of explaining ourselves. Keep this wisdom to ourselves. We can make a decision and do what we need to do without apologizing, justifying or trying to explain our position.

Be happy with what we’ve done and not unhappy with what we haven’t done yet (How’s that for piling on all those negatives to make a positive?!?)

You grew up. Sometimes it was hard. And painful. You sometimes want to slip back into being a quivering lump in the corner. But now you know what you are doing and you can pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and get out of the corner.

What am I doing with what I have? Instead of focusing on what we think others have, instead of bemoaning all we can’t do, we can try to do the best we can with the talents we’ve been given.

Today I can be grateful all I’ve been given. My life is probably not perfect and I probably haven’t achieved every goal I hoped I would have by now, but I can try to be at peace with myself, which is the most important task in my life.

I read a great story about a woman who had baby chicks. She thought she would help some of the baby chicks with their hatching so she peeled back some of the egg shell to get the chicks out. But she soon realized that the chicks she “helped” were the very ones that didn’t survive. They need to peck and pull and struggle: that was part of the lesson. We can’t forget that the struggle is part of the lesson.

 

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Who is Rich?

My friend, Lily, just got engaged. Mazel tov, mazel tov, the sound of breaking glass is not far behind. (For those who don’t know, under the chuppah, or wedding canopy, the groom steps on a glass at the end of the ceremony to recall the destruction of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem in 70 C.E.)

Lily, who should have been happy, instead was disappointed. Her fiancé had dressed up in a tuxedo and got down on one knee and bought her cards expressing his love. But it just wasn’t what she had imagined would happen and it was all sort of anti-climactic.

When I worked at National Lampoon, I once wrote an article called, “Fantasy vs. Reality Sex.” In one column was what I thought would happen; in the other column was what actually happened. Fantasy: “He has a well-trimmed mustache.” Reality: “He has long hairs sticking out of his nostrils.”

Isn’t it often like this? I often think how I’m going to feel if only this or that happens. And then the thing happens but it’s not what I wanted.

After I wrote The Mom Who Took Off On Her Motorcycle, I went up to meet my ex-literary agent in her fancy office in New York City. I thought it would be so exciting to meet her and have her tell me what a fabulous book I wrote. I got there and her assistant spoke to me for a while and then the agent walked in and said, “Oh, so you’re the one who wrote the motorcycle book.” She spoke to me for a few minutes, and then returned to her inner office.

And that was it.

I still need to remind myself that those very things that I think will make me happy, that will fill me up, that will bring me peace and joy won’t do the job.It’s the other things, the daily things. Taking care of myself each day. Taking care of myself physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally. The other things are important, of course, but I find that sometimes if I set myself up with huge expectations, disappointments can’t be far behind.

This is what it is. This is what I’ve got. I want to try to appreciate what I have right here, right now. So now I come to the answer to the headline, Who is rich? That’s what a rabbi who called himself Ben Zoma asks in the Talmud. The one who is happy with what he has. So congratulations to Lily and may her days be filled with joy!

PS. For those of you who were wondering why I disappeared…I’m in the midst of finishing my next novel and I have to get back to work…

 

 

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Frances Dinkelspiel: Do A Lot of Writing. Practice, Practice, Practice.

In my series of interviews with writers, I have been fortunate to talk to a wide variety of writers, including Molly Antopol, Anita Diamant, Dara Horn, Tatiana de Rosnay and many others.

Frances Dinkelspiel

Frances Dinkelspiel

Today’s interview is with Frances Dinkelspiel, author of Towers of GoldHow One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California and Tangled Vines: Greed, Murder, Obsession and an Arsonist in the Vineyards of California. Welcome, Frances!

Diana Bletter: Towers of Gold is not only a personal history about your great-great-grandfather but also a book that covers so many fascinating topics from banking to Zionism, including information about finances, anti-Semitism and even the San Francisco earthquake. One of my editors once said that being a journalist means becoming an instant expert on a wide variety of subjects in a short amount of time.” Can you talk about that? Since you wrote the book, have you learned new information? With Americans’ interest in genealogy and family history, it is interesting that you hadn’t heard that much about Isaias Hellman. Can you talk a bit about stumbling onto this story, and how the work might have changed your view of your family and your own identity?

Frances Dinkelspiel: Your editor was correct in suggesting that being a journalist means becoming an instant expert in a wide variety of subjects. But writing a nonfiction book means becoming an expert on one subject or digging deeply into just a few topics. In Towers of Gold, I had to learn a tremendous amount about a few things, including Jewish life in Bavaria before 1860, how the frontier of California was transformed into a modern economy, the role Jews played in the development of California, banking, and details about my great-great grandfather, Isaias Hellman.  The latter was the hardest since I had to piece together the chronology of his life and business dealings through letters, bills, business papers, photographs, and newspaper articles. The process took about eight years. I had a lot to learn and I also had to teach myself to write narrative, not journalism in the inverted pyramid style.

I had known about my great-great grandfather, mostly that he had come from Germany and had something to do with Wells Fargo Bank. I actually stumbled upon his amazing story. I was writing personal essays and decided I should weave some family history into them. I knew Hellman’s papers were at the California Historical Society. I thought I would spend an afternoon there and get some good tidbits for my personal pieces. Then the archivist told me there were 40 boxes of Hellman papers. I opened the first folder in the first to find his report card from the 1840s! And then a letter from his brother. I didn’t even know he had a brother. Other boxes held letters signed by people I had learned about in school, such as Collis Huntington, one of the builders of the transcontinental railroad, Mayer Lehman, the founder of Lehman Brothers, and Levi Strauss, whose jeans are still famous today. I was immediately hooked.

The best part about writing Towers of Gold was discovering how many Hellman connections there are in the U.S. and meeting many of them. The Hellmanns (the name had two nns in Germany) were a big clan in Reckendorf and most of them emigrated to the U.S. or England. They had to since Germany classified them as less than citizens and opportunities were limited. It was fun to connect with descendants of all those people. I now feel part of a large tribe.

I was also amazed to discover how successful Hellman became. He was the head of Wells Fargo Bank at the time of his death and in the early part of the 20th century he sat on the board of or served as president of 17 banks. He controlled $100 million. Yet he arrived in the U.S. in 1859 with practically nothing. That success is a testament to his business smarts and incredible luck as California was in midst of a great economic transformation.

Diana Bletter: Moving on to your newest book, Tangled Vines: Greed, Murder, Obsession and an Arsonist in the Vineyards of California. (I love your titles.) After writing Towers of Gold, how long did it take you to find this subject? Some writers say their second book is more of a struggle than the first; what do you think?

Frances Dinkelspiel: Towers of Gold was published in October 2008. In the fall of 2009, I wrote a story for the New York Times about an upcoming trial of a man accused of setting an fire that destroyed 4.5 million bottles of fine California wine worth about $250 million. While writing the story I remembered that my cousin had sent some port made by Hellman in 1875 to the wine warehouse that burned. It was at that point that I thought I might have another book idea, one that explored this heinous crime and also looked at the growth of the California wine industry, which is huge.

Diana Bletter: Tell us a bit about you managed to write two best-selling, award-winning books while managing Berkeleyside, a news site that you co-founded. How does your work at Berkeleyside influence your book writing?

Frances Dinkelspiel: I wrote Towers of Gold before I co-founded Berkeleyside. The difficulty in writing that book was combining work with raising two young children. Tangled Vines was different. It was hard to juggle what were essentially two full-time jobs. But my Berkeleyside partners were great. They never grumbled when I said I had to take off a few weeks to dedicate to writing. And since I was writing so many daily news articles for Berkeleyside, my writing wasn’t “rusty,” so I was efficient.

Diana Bletter: What are you working on now?

Frances Dinkelspiel: Not sure. One idea involves oil and power and another family connection. But it will be a non-fiction book. 

Diana Bletter: You went to Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. In the age of blogging, would you still encourage new writers to go to graduate school? You also worked on a small newspaper after graduating. Do you still encourage new writers to do this? Is there any suggestion about writing that you’d like to share with new writers?

Frances Dinkelspiel: In many ways this is a fabulous time to be a journalist and go to journalism school. Blogging, in my opinion, is on the wane, but there are hundreds of news and lifestyle websites looking for good stories and articles. Nowadays, journalists need to know how to shoot and edit video, do podcasts, take photos and crunch data. Journalism schools are teaching reporters those skills and graduates are getting jobs. To hone those skills it’s great to go to a place that lets you do a lot of writing so you practice, practice, practice. If you start as a clerk for the New York Times the chances of getting that practice are smaller than if you start at a smaller newspaper or a website.

Journalism is different than narrative or essay writing, however. The best thing I did to become a better writer was join a writers’ group. North 24th, our group, has been meeting for about 12 years. We critique one another’s work and help make it better. I trust those women completely.

Diana Bletter: Finally, my blog deals with how we can make each day part of the best chapter of our life. What do you do to take care of yourself each day, not only as a writer but as a person?

Frances Dinkelspiel: I like to spend part of each day reading as I find it rejuvenates me. I am the kind of person who carries a book everywhere she goes so I can dip into it while waiting in line. Of course, I can also use my iPhone now for that. I also like to hike in the hills around my Berkeley home. And eat well. Living in the Bay Area, it’s easy to eat well.

Thank you, Frances. Readers, check out Tangled Vines and Towers of Gold at your favorite indie bookshop or online. And keep reading — and writing.

 

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