Much to the dismay of guests gathered in the gracious home of Cissie Swig, no secrets were actually spilled at a book party Swig hosted to celebrate author Merla Zellerbach.
But there was great fun in speculating who’s who within Merla’s new fictional novel, Secrets in Time: San Francisco (Firefall Editions).
Now available at Books, Inc. and on order at Amazon, Secrets (sporting an elegant cover penned by famed fashion illustrator Gladys Perint Palmer) tells the tale of a storied San Francisco newspaper family and its loves, lives and passions. And, oh yes, secrets!
From which, after some 30 years of pounding the society beat, Merla certainly knows. But never tells.
This San Francisco native also understands how these blue-blooded minds work, having studied Psychology at Stanford University. Yet she ended up putting that knowledge to use as, GASP, an author and columnist-editor at old The San Francisco Chronicle and later, the Nob Hill Gazette.
“Merla is very gracious, very talented,” said her publisher (and author) Elihu Blotnick. “From her experience, she is very much at the center of this world.”
Blotnick was familiar with Merla’s previous books (Love in a Dark House, Wildes of Nob Hill, The Allergy Sourcebook), novels and non-fiction of a different variety.
“Did you know that Merla studied Psychology at Stanford?” asked Blotnick. “That’s why I encouraged her to finish writing Secrets because she has a handle on this world; she understands the thinking of this world. But she isn’t going to give away any secrets!”
When asked, Merla sticks to her statement that all characters contained within Secrets are composite portraits of local people. So we decided to check with Blotnick.
“If you are familiar with this world you should be able to identify a lot of the characters,” admitted Blotnick, laughing. “But Merla is very discreet. She’s disguised everyone.”
“There is a rule of thumb in publishing for this type of portrayal,” Blotnick continued. “If you write about someone in real life who is, say, short and fat then you make them tall and thin.”
Around town, Merla is regularly thumb-nailed, “A lady.” And, that, she certainly is. But that particular moniker also gives rise to images of lace handkerchiefs, flushed cheeks, dewy eyes and smelling salts.
Merla, actually, is a woman. A well-rounded dame. With a dash of sass, thrown in for good measure.
A woman who survived and thrived within the old, male-dominated Chronicle where, for 23 years, she wrote her column, My Fair City. Surrounded by a newsroom of hard-living men who, during holidays, were often stuck at their desks on deadline. So trays of drinks were gaily passed 'round the newsroom by scantily-clad Broadway striptease artistes.
To be honest? Some of the jokes, puns and emails I’ve received over the years from Merla have made me blush. She may look as dainty as a sparrow but she’ll have your back when the chips are down.
Addressing friends and fans at Cissie’s home on Monday, Merla did tell some tales. But only about herself.
“When I left The Chronicle, I told my editor I planned to work on a novel,” said Merla. “He responded, ‘Every journalist has a novel in him, which is an excellent place for it’.”
Recently while strolling through Books, Inc., Merla happened upon a man exactly in the aisle wherein resides her new book. Conveniently, he was in search of a novel to read.
“Normally, I would never do this. But I handed the man my book and proudly said, ‘Try this. I wrote it.’ He took it, looked it over for a few seconds. Then he said, ‘Nah, I never heard of you. And if an author’s unknown, I figure there’s gotta be a reason’.”
Taking questions after her talk, the first hand to shoot up belonged to Gladys Perint Palmer: “OK, who is who?”
“She’s disguised them, they’re composites,” responded Delia Ehrlich, with a devilish aside. “But we’ll see. Some of them are. But not all of them!”
Merla Zellerbach will read from her latest book, Secrets in Time: San Francisco at Books, Inc. in Opera Plaza on Feb. 12.
Check out Photos below.
SF Lyric Opera Artistic Director and Condutor Barnaby Palmer and his mom, fashion illustrator Gladys Perint Palmer
Diana Dalton (left) with Haig and Connie Mardikian
Publisher Elihu Blotnick (left) with Merla's daughter-in-law and son, Linda and Gary Zellerbach
Cynthia Schuman (left) and Jennifer Raiser
Glenn and Joan Vinson
Dick Goldman and Helen Hilton Raiser
Society photog Ray "Scotty" Morris and his gal, Heide Betz