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The S.B. Questionnaire: Leslie Dinaberg

Leslie Dinaberg above Leadbetter Beach. (November 14, 2019) | Credit: Paul Wellman

“I love to write and to work,” admits Leslie Dinaberg with an infectious laugh. “I love fooling around with commas.”  

Leslie is a well-respected writer and editor who’s covered our city for more than 20 years. She was the longtime managing editor of Santa Barbara Seasons and has written for the South Coast BeaconSanta Barbara Daily Sound, and Noozhawk.com, among others.  

Since Santa Barbara Seasons shut down operations in April 2019, Leslie has been juggling a lot of different projects. She is the editor of Touring and Tasting, a national wine magazine based in Santa Barbara, and works on the Santa Barbara Visitors Magazine

“I’m a better editor when I’m writing all the time and vice versa,” she explains. “It’s really fun. I’ve worked with hundreds of writers as an editor. I work differently. I’m a lot more sensitive to what they’re trying to accomplish. I try to hire good people and let them do what they do well.”

Recently, Leslie started writing for the Santa Barbara Independent for the first time, handling the behemoth “Best of Santa Barbara®” issue in its entirety with relative ease. “It was a lot of work,” she confesses over lunch. “But once I got it down to a system, it was a lot of fun.”   

She then reported and wrote the “Schools of Thought” education guide, which was published in November, and also penned the annual Gift Guide, which comes out in next week’s paper. She’s also got a few more Indy projects in the works as well, and is enjoying the collaboration. “People that work at the Indy have been there for a long time, and they’re so invested in Santa Barbara,” she says.  

“When I was young, I wanted to be a journalist,” recalls Leslie, who was born in Fresno, where her father was a football coach. They moved to Santa Barbara midway through her kindergarten year, after falling in love with the town when her dad coached a summer camp at Westmont. “I have these fond memories of the triple-decker bunk beds,” she says. Her dad began coaching football at SBCC, where he remained as a coach and athletic director until retiring after more than three decades of service.  

She then attended Washington, Adams, and Harding schools, and was editor of the newspaper while at San Marcos High. After time at SBCC, she transferred to UCLA, where her parents had gone. 

“It was always the school I wanted to go to,” she says. “Originally, I went there for journalism, but eventually got a degree in sociology and a minor in English. I didn’t have a great experience in journalism school.” She graduated in 1986.  

The next year, she returned to Santa Barbara when her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer.  “I worked at Raytheon in the finance department,” she says. “It was fun. There were a lot of people my age.”

She met her husband, Zak Koblucher, while attending the wedding of a mutual childhood friend. Though born in Santa Barbara, Zak was living in Los Angeles and making a living as a screenwriter. In 1989, she moved to L.A. and got a job at Entertainment Design International, a subsidiary of Mitsubishi that focuses on theme parks. She ghost-wrote for the company while pursuing screenwriting as well.    

In 1999, after their son, Koss, was born, Leslie and Zak decided to move back to Santa Barbara. “We’d always thought when we had a child that we’d come back,” she says. “It was a good move.” Today, Zak works at Agilent Technologies in Carpinteria.

In 2000, she got back into journalism, working for a brand-new magazine called SAM, which stood for Sales, Advertisement, and Marketing. She was hired as an associate editor, but was quickly promoted to managing editor.  “I’ve always loved magazines,” she says.    

Next came a managing editor position at Hispanic Business Magazine and then, in 2008, she started working for Santa Barbara Seasons, serving as managing editor from 2010 to 2019. “I thought that was the job I was going to have until I retired,” she exhales. In the meantime, Leslie wrote three nonfiction children’s books and is the co-author of Hometown Santa Barbara, a guide to her hometown.  

“Santa Barbara has always felt safe, but not teeny teeny,” she explains. “It also keeps me in check. I’ve always loved the beach and the beauty of the place. Santa Barbara is a community of people who want to help each other. It’s hard for us to imagine doing what we do if it weren’t for all the family and friends we have here.”

Leslie Dinaberg answers the Proust Questionnaire.

What is your motto?

“Quit trying to get all your ducks in a row and walk with what you have.” I’m not sure where it originated, but it kind of goes with the Buckaroo Banzai philosophy of, “No matter where you go, there you are.” I know it’s a cliche, but you’ve got to play with the hand you’re dealt, and I really believe that your mindset makes all the difference. 

What is your current state of mind?

Cautiously optimistic. I really do feel confident that my son’s generation will do a much better job of taking care of the planet — and each other — than we have.

Which historical figure do you most identify with?

Strangely enough, this is not something that I’ve ever put a lot of thought into. I’m a huge fan of Jane Austen, I’ve visited her museum in Bath, and read all of her books multiple times, so I guess I’d say Jane Austen. In another life, I would have loved to have been a Jane Austen scholar and study how her storylines have been repeated in books and movies and popular culture over and over. 

What do you like most about your job?

It’s never boring and I love the variety.  One day I’m running around SBCC’s automotive technology lab, and that night I’m at a dreamy chef’s collaboration dinner at the Coral Casino. Then, the next morning I’m in my sweats at my computer, editing a manuscript, on my second cup of coffee, and geeking out over commas and split infinitives. 

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

My idea of perfect happiness is that moment when you’ve been laughing so hard that your sides ache a little and you have tears in your eyes. I’m lucky to have a husband who makes me laugh every day (although not always till my sides ache).

What is your greatest fear?

That something awful will happen to my son. It’s not at the top of my mind all the time, but it’s been there in the background from the moment he was born.

Who do you most admire?

That’s a tough one because I admire so many people for so many different reasons. Here are a few: my mom for her amazing spirit and ability to bounce back from so many different health challenges; my husband, Zak, for his humor, intellect, and unstoppable self-confidence; my friend Laura for her resilience and incredibly generous, well thought out philanthropy; my dad for his great sense of humor and relentless persistence in pursuing whatever he sets his mind to; my friend Andrea for her ability to always be utterly comfortable with herself, no matter what the situation. Whenever I’m feeling shy, I try to channel my inner Andrea — and I’ve been doing this since I was about 12!

What is your greatest extravagance?

Pedicures and good wine. Art supplies — I love to make stuff and if I find beads or a pen that I like, I must have them in every color! I don’t want to sound too booze-y, but I only drink top shelf spirits if I can help it.

What is the quality you most like in people?

Kindness, intelligence, and a good sense of humor. 

What is the quality you most dislike in people?

People who focus most of their attention on themselves rather than outward. 

What do you most value in friends?

Love, loyalty, laughter. I’ve been very, very fortunate to have many wonderful friends over the years, most of whom are still very much in my life.

What is your most marked characteristic?

I’d like for it to be compassion and kindness. 

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

Well, today I’m writing about wine, so it’s a challenge to find synonyms for “breathtaking views,” “fruit forward,” and “family-run.” I’m also horrified to play back my interview recordings and hear how many times I use the word  “like” to mean absolutely nothing.

Which talent would you most like to have?

I’d love to be able to sing. I can carry a tune in the shower but that’s about it. One of these days I really want to take singing lessons. 

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

I have a tendency to catastrophize things in my head. If I’m worried about something I tend to go to the worst case scenario right away, which isn’t the healthiest.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Having raised an amazing son. Also having legitimately great relationships with my family and extended family. We don’t just love each other — we really like each other — and I know that everyone isn’t lucky enough to have that in their lives. 

Where would you most like to live?

Santa Barbara — although maybe in a slightly bigger, slightly cleaner house. 

What is your most treasured possession?

I’m not really a possession kind of girl. I’d much rather have experiences than more stuff. I guess my wedding/engagement ring would be my most treasured possession. I’d certainly be sad if I lost it.

Who makes you laugh the most?

Honestly, I think it’s myself. In my head, I’m quite hilarious. But my husband, Zak, is a very close second.

On what occasion do you lie?

The closer I am to someone, the harder it is to keep my opinion to myself, but I will sometimes lie (or keep my mouth shut) to spare someone’s feelings. 

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