A lot of people in Davis are going to be talking this spring about "Topping From Below" (St. Martins, $23), the very successful first novel by a woman named Laura Reese.
If the name sounds familiar, it might be because her father, Howard Reese, was the Davis city manager for nearly 20 years before his retirement in 1984.
Indeed, Laura Reese set her novel in Davis and managed to mention "the Howard Reese bike path" west of town at one point in her narrative. She also mentions the Paragon, City Hall, F Street and other locations in and around Davis.
Laura says her father has not read the book yet.
" But I think my Dad will like it," she said.
The book involves the mysterious death of a young woman named Franny Tibbs. At the time of her death, Franny was involved with a music professor at UC Davis, a man with a sexual appetite for sado-masochism. Franny's older sister, Nora, a Sacramento Bee reporter on sabbatical, decides to investigate her sister's death and becomes involved with M, the professor. I'm not going to give away the ending. But, I will warn readers that some passages in the book are graphic.
"I'm not glamorizing S/M," said Reese.
"I'm just showing Nora as someone who responds on a primal level. It's a very moral book."
"Topping" will be available in local bookstores at the end of the month (May) or the beginning of June. Its first printing ran to 100,000 copies and was selected as a Literary Guild alternate. Foreign rights have been sold to Japan and Great Britain.
Movie rights have been sold to Hollywood Films -- amusing, says Reese, since Hollywood Films is owned by Disney and "Topping" is not exactly family fare.
Reese is taking her success in stride. In fact, she was downright happy when her agent told her she was not going to be on The Today Show. "Apparently, Bryant Gumbel read and enjoyed the book but decided it wasn't right for his audience," Reese said.
"I was vastly relieved," she said. Reese doesn't plan on doing any public readings but she's willing to sign copies of her book.
"I'm not a New York publicity type person," she said. She was appalled when a photography team from Entertainment Weekly came to her South Davis home last week-to take her photo.
"It took seven hours to complete the shoot," she said. Still, she is completely happy describing herself as a full-time writer.
"My biggest thrill was when my editor told me he didn't consider that I was a one-shot deal," she said. And this means she doesn't have to go back to restaurant work.
Reese graduated from Davis High School and UCDavis. She received her bachelor's degree in English in 1974. She also worked at the Daily Democrat for two years.
"I had every intention of going to graduate school at UCLA," she said. But first she wanted to pay off what she felt was a burdensome debt from student loans -- about $3,000. So, she began working at an A&W restaurant in Ventura County and ended up buying the place. "You know how life gets in the way," she laughed. She then owned an International House of Pancakes in San Bernardino. "But the whole time I never got away from the idea of writing," she said.
She came back to Northern California in 1985 with the idea of traveling, writing and taking more writing classes before returning to the restaurant business. At Sac State she meet professor, Mary Mackey, who encouraged her and turned her on to an agent. "I feel so fortunate" said Reese." I know it's just as hard to get an agent as it is to get a book published."
Then, just before Reese had to give up writing and return to the restaurant biz, her novel sold. "I thank God every day,"She said.
Sadly, Reese's success is shadowed by the recent death of her mother. Jane Reese of Davis died a month ago.
"I'm sorry that she never read my book," said Reese. "She wanted to be a writer once."
Reese has dedicated the book to her parents, her two brothers and two sisters.
And now she's hard at work on her second novel.