Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Finding Joy

 Hello, friends. It's been four months since I've written a blog post. I've never gone that long between posts before, but then, nothing about this year is usual.

Last week I put gas in my car for the first time since June. My usual hermit tendencies have only increased with Covid; sometimes days go by when I don't leave the farm. Happily, I like it here. 

In my family we have a phrase--how do we make this suck less? Because sometimes we all have to put up with things that well and truly suck. You can't make them enjoyable--but sometimes you can still add a bit of joy. So we got ice cream cones on our way out of the children's hospital. Borrowed a really good audiobook for the stultifying car ride. Played cards while waiting in a long line. Once my daughter and I got pedicures at an airport when a flight was (horrendously, with maddening consequences) delayed. 

In this pandemic, my husband is decorating the house for Christmas on a scale eclipsing his previous very impressive years. Yesterday he went to Lowe's for ornament hooks and a 6' hose (for me, for the pony paddock). He returned with ornament hooks, a 6' hose, 6 boxes of LED Christmas lights, 2 poinsettas and a rosemary tree. He spent most of the day making the house beautiful. Meanwhile my daughter, who's working at a library, has used interlibrary loan to borrow a six-volume very interesting series about dragons.

Lately on my list of things that are helpful: borrowing electronic versions of trashy novels from my local library; hot baths; a knitalong Advent calendar, where every day brings another small packet of yarn to add to a project. I know, it's only December 1. But I started it the day after Thanksgiving. When you are trying to create joy, you don't need to follow every rule.

What's working these days for you?

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Wizard Merlin

A week from today my new novel Fighting Words debuts. It's a tough story about a tough kid in a bad situation, how she's shielded and strengthened by her sister's love, and how she learns to thrive.

Originally my publisher planned to send me on tour, which would mean, among other things, repeatedly talking about my book to people who'd not had a chance to read it. For months I'd planned to end my presentation with a photo of Merlin, my daughter's horse. The tour's going to be entirely online now, and I may or may not be able to show photos, but, especially after this weekend, I want to talk about Merlin.

If this horse can overcome his past, there's hope for all of us.

We don't know how old Merlin is (by his teeth, somewhere between 10 and 15). We don't know what breed or breeds he is (he might be part Thoroughbred, but his pinto markings mean he can't be full; his size means he's likely part draft; other possibilities include Standardbred and Dutch; we call him an "American warmblood" as a joke). We don't have any idea where he was born. He could be a Canadian PMU foal--but since Canada has horse slaughterhouses we're not sure how he would have ended up in east Tennessee. He looks like something the Amish might breed, but he's sound, and the Amish don't send sound horses to slaughter.

What we know is that at some point he was sold for slaughter, somewhere. There are no longer horse slaughterhouses in the United States, which means that meat horses are shipped to either Mexico or Canada in enormous double-deck stock trailers holding up to 40 animals at a time. Merlin was in horrible physical shape, which turned out to be lucky, because haulers are fined if they show up at the plants with dead animals aboard. So when Merlin collapsed on the trailer, they stopped it, dragged his prone body out with ropes, and left him in a field to die.

I'm not making that up. I'm not exaggerating.

He didn't die. He lived in that field untouched for five years.

Then he had 30 days' training and then a woman rode him, mostly on trails, for a few years, and then she moved away and could only see him every few months or so. He lived on the side of a mountain in a big field with other horses.

My daughter was home for four weeks last summer between college classes. Her beloved horse Mickey had died and there was nothing for her to ride on our farm except my mare, whom I was riding. My daughter put the word out in our community that she was looking for a horse to work with for free for just those few weeks.

Enter Merlin.

It took her 45 minutes to get him down from his field. She'd take a few steps, he'd spook and run into her, she'd stop and back him. He'd take a few steps with her, spook and run into her, she'd stop and back him. All the way down the hill. He jumped straight onto our horse trailer, then panicked--we slammed the doors shut as fast as possible and started down the road. We threw him into one of our fields by himself overnight.

"He's pretty," my husband said. (He is.)

The next morning I sat down to write. My daughter headed out to the barn. She told me she was going to do some rope work with Merlin--teach him things from the ground before getting on his back. "Be careful," I said. "Wear your helmet, in case he kicks. If you need help, call."

Thirty minutes later my phone rang. My daughter said, "Could you please come out here?"

I headed out, expecting disaster. My daughter and Merlin were in our small sand ring. She flicked the rope at him, and he backed away from her, calmly, head down, ears pricked intently but the rest of his body relaxed. She signaled him to go left. He walked left. She asked him to swing his hips away from her. He did. She told him to go right. He went. She told him to trot. He trotted. She asked him to face her again. He did. She called him to her, and he walked forward, slowly, head down, licking his lips.

By this point I had tears running down my face. I said, "Who put this horse on a kill truck?" My daughter, wordless, shook her head.

That night my husband said, "We're keeping him." My daughter replied, "We are not." She would be gone most of the summer and then for her senior year of college, and after that probably grad school. "I do not need a horse," she said. My husband pointed out that we had plenty of room on the farm. My daughter said that the horse did not need to stand in our fields.

He knew very little. He didn't steer for beans. He couldn't balance himself enough to canter inside our arena. He appeared not to have a left lead canter at all. He didn't know much about jumps. He was afraid to walk into the barn, let alone into a stall, and he clearly worried all the time about monsters coming up behind him. He was so afraid of clippers that he full-out panicked when I clipped my mare in front of him. He'd never worn shoes and didn't like having his feet picked out.

He was astonished to be fed grain. In a bucket! Every day! Every day, a bucket! Eventually we moved the buckets into the barn, into a stall, and stalls became acceptable. And horse cookies! Cookies! Treats! He couldn't believe he was getting treats. He nosed my daughter's hands. He licked her arms. He came running when she called.

We only had four weeks, but we made the most of them. Two weeks in we took him and my mare to our coach, Cathy Wieschhoff, up in Lexington, Kentucky. Cathy'd sounded skeptical about Merlin on the phone. My daughter rode Merlin into Cathy's big covered arena, filled with bright show jumps, and Merlin trotted around calmly, interested and unafraid. Twenty minutes later Cathy said, "I agree with your dad. Buy him."

We did. My daughter went back to school. Sometimes I rode Merlin, sometimes he just hung out with my mare. Whenever my daughter came home Merlin whickered when he saw her. He liked me, and he was easy to be around, but I wasn't his person.

In March my daughter came home for spring break just as the pandemic shut the country down. She finished her senior thesis and coursework in her childhood bedroom. Merlin became her emotional anchor, riding him the bright spot in every day. She thought about what he needed to learn, then worked out how to teach him, step by step.

A week and a half ago she took him to his first competition. I already wrote about that. He had to stay in a strange stall and cope with golf carts and unfamiliar horses and good Lord dressage was inside a building, and that was the easy part. Our sport, eventing, is a riding triathlon--the third phase, cross country, involves the horse and rider setting out by themselves on a course the horse has never seen before. Even at the lowest levels it's a mile or so long, on uneven terrain, over solid jumps that can't fall down. Some horses love cross country. Horses who don't tend to refuse to do it at all.

There are a thousand ways to be eliminated in eventing. Your horse can jump the low fence around the dressage ring. Refuse to enter the ring. Refuse more than two show jumps. Refuse more than three cross-country jumps. Dump you into the water jump. Once you're done, you're done--you can't start the next phase. Often, finishing is victory.

When competitions resumed this summer, my daughter and I had picked out two, back to back, that we thought we could get to despite the virus: Virginia and River Glen. (From here out, showing looks to be shutting down again.) On Cathy's advice Katie took a chance, and moved Merlin up at River Glen to the first nationally recognized division. It was a substantially harder course than what he'd done just the week before.

He was so lovely. He took in the golf carts and commotion and strange stalls. He didn't spook in dressage. In show jumping he refused one fence when my daughter got discombobulated, but he jumped it willingly on the second try.

He understood the idea of going cross country. He stopped to take a look at the first fence--my daughter circled and he cleared it--and then he went on, up and down hills, across ditches, ramps and tables and cabins--a second refusal at the top of a hill, when he simply couldn't get his legs sorted in time to jump. Down the hill, brave and bold, through the water jump. And then my daughter was singing to him, "Three more, baby! Two more! Just one more, one more fence--you did it, Merlin! Good Boy! GOOD BOY!"

And then my daughter burst into tears.

Merlin strutted. Friends of mine standing near the finish told me they overheard another competitor say, "Have you heard that horse's story? Can you believe what he's done?"

My daughter fed him cookies, untacked him, rinsed him. They walked through the crowded stabling area back to his stall, entirely relaxed, his ears floppy, his head by her knee.

Even before this show I was going to show his photo on my book tour. I was going to say, Look at this horse's heart. He had reason to never trust another human ever. Instead he never stops trying.

If he can overcome the demons in his past, there is hope for us all.

He's done more than overcome. He thrives.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

In Virginia

My daughter and I went to a horse show last week. It was an odd thing to do, in this Covid time, and correspondingly it was an odd show--staggered mid-week instead of taking place on a weekend, temperature checks on entering the facility, competitors spread out in the barns, so that our aisle of 80 stalls held 10 horses, everyone wearing masks except while physically riding. I was pleased with all the precautions because they were the only reason I was willing to attend.

I've lost a lot this year. I haven't seen my extended family since September. I have a nephew I've never even met, and he already has a tooth. Since July Fourth I've been missing them more intensely, because that's when my family often gathers on our farm for a big weekend of fireworks, horse and tractor rides, baseball and water fights.  I know how incredibly lucky and privileged I am. My family's all healthy, we're all able to work, we're doing fine. But I have too many breathing problems not to be afraid of this virus. Also my husband sees 60 patients a day. He takes every precaution he can, but he's an ophthalmologist, which means he examines people with his face right up near theirs. He wears a mask, always, and so do his patients; he comes home and immediately puts his clothes in the wash, and showers. But he could catch Covid, and therefore so could I. I'm trying to both not catch it and not give to it anyone else, and so I'm not doing much. I don't hang out with friends or go to book club or yoga. I don't eat out. I order groceries delivered and I check out library books online and I pretty much stay away from everyone.

But we went to a horse show.

It was my daughter's horse Merlin's first show. Someday I'll tell Merlin's story; so far I haven't figured out how. He's a gelding of unknown breeding, age, or origin--we can trace him to the slaughterhouse trailer he collapsed on, but no farther. We didn't actually plan on buying my daughter another horse after her beloved Mickey died, but Merlin fell into our lives, and we're grateful. Training him has been for my daughter the brightest part of a difficult year. Before last week, the last time she'd been to a horse show had been fall of her senior year in high school, nearly 5 years ago--so taking Merlin, challenging him, being able to measure their progress--that was a big thing to her.

It was big for me to riding, too. This May my mare, Sarah, ripped her knee open on a drainpipe in our field. (I wrote a blog post about it, but never published it--my daughter declared it too gruesome.) At first it seemed to be healing quickly, but then her leg swelled and the wound reopened. She's healing, but we don't know how far she'll come.

A month ago, a friend of mine, Nicolette Merle-Smith, put a few of her horses up for lease, and one of them caught my eye. T Minus Three is a Thoroughbred former race horse, seventeen hands high, or 5'8" at the shoulder, four inches taller than me. Sounds like a terrible idea for me to rent a huge fast horse--but T's a gentle, honest soul, and I trusted him immediately. I've rented him until the end of September to ride while Sarah heals.

I know. The world's on fire, and I'm renting a horse.

He brings me joy.

Nearly four years ago, I took an easy fall off Sarah that resulted in a traumatic brain injury. (Yes, I was wearing a helmet.) Healing took a long time. At the same time The War That Saved My Life became a bestseller, and appeared on 46 state award lists, and suddenly I was speaking and travelling a lot more--both for business and for fun, because my husband and I love adventures. And so with one thing and another I hadn't ridden a cross-country course in four years.

So we were thrilled and anxious, my daughter and I. We drove to the Virginia Horse Center, in Lexington, VA, early on Thursday morning.

We've been there so many times. Our regional pony club rallies were held there, as well as some of the East Coast championships. We went to eventing camp there five summers in a row. The Virginia Horse Trials, spring and fall--once we went and stayed two nights in a hotel just to volunteer. I'm used to pulling into the place with a truck crammed with children and a trailer full of ponies; used to shepherding kids into the Sleep Inn and requesting extra towels and a roll-away bed. I'm used to two booths full of sleepy competitors at 6 am at the Waffle House, and our favorite waitress, April, pouring me coffee with cream when she sees me walk in the door.

We walked the cross-country course with the ghosts of our former horses and our former selves. There was the hill I learned to gallop down on Gully--the water where a former coach yelled, "What's the matter, Kim? Are you AFRAID?" and I was afraid, but I gritted my teeth and kicked, and Gully leaped forward and splashed the coach from head to toe, and we both roared with laughter. It felt so long ago, and so immediate and real.

This week my daughter's horse found courage and confidence, getting better and better across the three phases. T did beautifully too. He hasn't learned to gallop down hills yet--it's a specific skill--and he was a little concerned about the sheer number of fences (there were several courses set up, for different levels of competition), so we trotted the first half of the course. He was happy I understood his issues, and I was happy to be on a sweet calm horse who jumped everything I asked.

It wasn't an important show, but it felt important. It felt like a piece of me had been missing, and returned.

Trans Lives Matter.

Sometimes you learn something new about people, and it changes how you feel about them forever.
Back when I was in high school, I would have told you I didn't know any gay people. I did, of course, I just didn't know they were gay. At that time, and in that place, it was very difficult, if not unsafe, to be out as a gay person. I wish that weren't true, but it was.

When I was a freshman in college, a woman I was in the process of becoming friends with told me she was dating another woman. She started to cry as she told me, because she was afraid that admitting it would be the end of our friendship.

On one level I was shocked--an actual gay person! On another, much more important level, I didn't care. At all. I opened my mouth and the truth came out. You are who you've always been, and--I probably didn't say 'I love you,' which is what I'd say now, because I'm willing to go on record as loving more people now. I probably said something like, I'm glad we're friends.

As I recall, I didn't address the part where she thought I'd probably be homophobic. At that point in my life, I probably thought I'd be homophobic, too. But at least I was learning.

I don't know what it's like to be gay, or bisexual, or transgender. I've always been straight and cisgender. I've never had a gay, nonbinary, or trans person explain to me that, really, I probably was just confused--I was letting all those straight cis people influence me. All the gay and trans people I know have always accepted me for who I am. They've never tried to change me.

I will always do the same for them. I can't step inside their skin. I don't know how life is for them.

Which is why I'm so disappointed in J. K. Rowling. First she sends out ridiculous tweets mocking the phrase, "people who menstruate," used in an essay, because in her mind that should be changed to "women." Word choice can be important to writers, but I don't understand Rowling's insistence here. I'm a woman, and I haven't menstruated in several years. But whatever. People called her out, online, pointing out that trans people, like cis people, may or may not menstruate and that menstruation isn't a defining part of their gender identity. At which point, someone trying to be an ally would have a chance to say, "Whoops, sorry. I didn't think about that. I stand corrected." and move on. At that point it's all pretty small.

But Rowling followed up with more tweets expanding her original one, to make it clear she really is transphobic, and then she published a very long essay on her website defending her point of view, which is, as far as I can tell, that she has been a victim of sexual violence (which, though sad, has nothing to do with the topic), and that she feels people, particularly autistic people, are being tricked into calling themselves trans and that it's some sort of phase they'll grow out of, except that they might have their genitals mutilated first.

There's absolutely no evidence that anyone is being tricked into changing genders, or, especially, into having surgery. Very few trans people transition back. Regardless, Rowling's feelings here have no actual relevance to the lives of trans people, except, of course, for being deeply insulting. Rowling's essay also seems entirely unrelated to her tweets, except as a convoluted justification of her transphobia.

Here's what really gets me, though. Rowling understands that she has a platform. She had fourteen million twitter followers. She understands media; she knows what she's tweeting. She tweeted that IF trans people were experiencing discrimination, she'd march for their rights--and then she carefully wrote and posted a highly discriminatory essay. She should be marching in protest against herself, though I doubt we'll see that happen.

J. K. Rowling, I know more about you now. I'm so disappointed.

N and C and B and A and B and all the other trans and nonbinary people I know--and all of you I don't know--you don't need my validation any more than you need J. K. Rowling's. Continue to live your lives of honesty and valour. I see you. I love you.

Monday, June 1, 2020

Black lives matter.

Black lives matter.

Yesterday a POC writer friend of mine spoke out on social media about how angry she felt toward white writers who'd written books featuring black characters yet remained silent now.  I wrote Jefferson's Sons, so this included me.

I replied with this: I’ve given financial support to bond funds and POC, especially black authors, but I’ve done so privately. I’ve reposted and retweeted posts from black people. Right now I’m trying to keep my mouth shut and my mind, ears, and heart open. No one needs my narrative right now. Perhaps, though, I do need to affirm: BLACK LIVES MATTER.

The writer friend responded that she thought I did need to affirm it. That while I didn't need to center any story on myself, I needed to stand up for black people. So I put it up on her post, and on twitter, and I'm saying it here.

Black lives matter.

Do not come at me with All lives matter. 'All lives matter' is a way of silencing protest, of saying that these black people don't get to stand out, a way of implying that it's no worse, no harder, to be black in America than it is to be white, when patently that isn't true.

Do not tell me you don't see color. All that says is that you're so accustomed to your white privilege you don't see how your whiteness benefits you.

Black lives matter.

A white childhood friend of mine just posted the story of how, when she was in high school, she tried to pay for something at a store with a counterfeit bill. The clerk noticed and called police, who questioned my friend--now sobbing--then let her go, because they believed her when she said she didn't know the bill was fake and didn't know who'd passed it to her.

George Floyd was murdered for paying for something with a counterfeit bill.

I don't have any idea whether or not he knew it was counterfeit. I don't remotely care. 

Murdered. Over a counterfeit twenty.

Black lives matter.

I watched part of the video of his murder one time. I'll never watch it again. It was filmed by a 17-year-old black girl. Can you imagine being that child? Being that brave, doing something that awful? 

Black lives matter.

In many, perhaps most, of the protests taking place around the country, black people are protesting peacefully; the violence and looting come from white people. If it had been my husband who had a man kneel on his neck for nearly nine minutes, while he died, I might not be protesting peacefully. If it had been my son. I've never needed to worry about that. My family is white. It wouldn't happen to a white man in my country.

Black lives matter.

One of my relatives in the generation above mine said to me, the other day, "I realized I have no idea what it means to be a black man in this country."

Black lives matter.

Once when my children were small, both still in car seats, I was driving them home from school and blew right past another elementary school without slowing down. I was going 35 mph, not 80, but the speed limit there is 10, and there are always police supervising. I saw the blue lights flashing behind me and knew immediately what I'd done. I pulled to the side of the road. My children, frightened, began to cry. I reassured them that while I'd done something wrong, I wouldn't be arrested. I would be given a ticket and I'd have to pay a fine. "The worst thing that's going to happen," I said, "Is that Mrs. B--- [our neighbor] is going to drive past us in a minute, and honk and laugh and wave."

That's exactly what happened. That's all that happened. And I knew that's how it would be. There's a definition of white privilege, if you're still looking for one.

Black lives matter.

I have spent a few days where all I did online was retweet and repost statements made by my black friends. It's taken me a long time to learn that sometimes I need to shut up, listen, and learn, but I'm pretty sure the last few days have been one of those times. This morning a local friend, white, asked me if I wanted to join her white reading and accountability group--biweekly zoom meetings devoted to learning how to be actively anti-racist without requiring black people to do the work of teaching us right now. I'm all in. 

I've ordered books: Waking Up White, The Hidden Rules of Race, Choke Hold, The Color of Law. I've also ordered a trio of YA debut novels by black women that publish tomorrow: You Should See Me in a Crown, A Song Below Water, and A Song of Wraiths and Ruin. I looked them up; they all got terrific reviews, and sound fantastic.

I donated a bit of money to the bail funds of Chicago and Philadelphia, two cities important to my family. Cash bail is a social injustice--you can read about why--and protesters get held for bail as a way of discouraging them. I'm not protesting myself--I'm still protecting my fragile lungs in strict isolation--but this is my way of supporting those who do.

Black lives matter.

I hope that every white person reading this will take some concrete anti-racist action. I hope that every white person reading this will shut up, listen, and learn. And then do something.

Because black lives matter. The end.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Letter to a Beginning Writer

I received a letter from a seventeen-year-old writer interested in publishing books. She asked me some specific questions. I usually don't reply to reader mail in this sort of detail, but I got on a roll here, and then I thought that this might be useful to other writers at the start of their careers. So I reprinted it here, with some identifiers removed.

Dear Writer,

Being a writer and being published are really two separate things. Writing is a combination of craft and talent; anyone can do it, but not that many people learn to do it well, and learning to do it well takes a long time. Most people write for several years before they're published.

Being published means you've created a product for sale. As you already know, there are two ways, traditional and self-publishing. I don't know much about self-publishing. I started writing for publication, first in magazines, in 1987. The entire industry was different then. Self-publishing was much more limited and uncommon. I do know--this held true then and still does now, no matter what the self-publishing industry might tell you--very, very few self-published books earn back the money spent to produce them. As a self-published writer your income will be less than zero. You will pay money to create a book that in all probability won't sell. In many cases this doesn't matter to the writer, who has other reasons for choosing this path. But the only reliable way to have a career as a writer is to be paid for your work, and in nearly all cases, if you write books, as opposed to articles, that means traditional publishing. 

In traditional publishing many books also don't earn back the money spent to produce them, but the publisher bears the costs and takes the loss, not the author. The author still gets paid something. 

Most successful, published authors still have other jobs. Most don't earn enough from their writing to support themselves. There are exceptions, but it's probably important to understand this going in.

Honestly, career coaches and start-up companies aren't useful for traditional publishing. What is useful: learn the basic rules of the industry (easy to do: there are books about it) and write something a publishing company wants to sell. Writing something worthwhile is the hardest and most important part. 

Query Tracker probably isn't the way I'd find an agent, but, again, Query Tracker didn't exist when I started. I've had the same agent for the last twenty years. I just looked her up on Query Tracker, and she probably wouldn't stand out to you at all there, because her listing isn't prominent--but she's one of the best agents in the field, with an excellent reputation among publishers.  Whatever you do to find an agent, do NOT pay them to read your book or offer critiques. Real agents don't do that--but plenty of scammers do. Please understand that finding an agent can be almost as difficult as finding a publisher, because real agents only make money when they sell your manuscript.

You're seventeen--I wouldn't rush into publishing yet. I'd decide if becoming a writer was really important to me, and I'd work on that part. I'd write. I'd read, critically and copiously. I'd try to figure out why the books I liked were good--what about the technical aspects of them appealed to me. I'd get familiar with the Writer's Market 2020--you can find that at your library--and read Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird and Stephen King's On Writing. If you're interested in writing for children, I'd join the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, which I did at age 19. I'd search for a story worth telling, and I'd work hard to learn how to tell it. 

I had talent at your age. By the time I got to college I also had ambition. I earned rare As in my college writing intensives. I started being published in magazines. I wrote a novel-length manuscript before I graduated, and it earned me a job ghost writing for a popular series. I also worked as a research chemist for nearly five years, because no one was going to pay me enough to write full-time; when I quit that job, it was because my husband was finished with his schooling and making a salary, and we didn't need mine as much. It took nine years from the first time I submitted a manuscript to a publisher to when I had a book come out--and that book got five starred reviews, and earned out its advance, and won some awards, and still I only didn't have to have another job because my husband had a good one. Then I published 14 books in 10 years--still not earning a living wage--then I took four years to write Jefferson's Sons (which also got 5 starred reviews), which taught me enough about writing that my next book, The War That Saved My Life (which got 3 starred reviews--reviews aren't everything), won all sorts of things, became a #1 NYT bestseller, earned a bunch of money, and made me an overnight success--due to luck and timing and most of all perseverance and craft as well as skill.  I wrote six full drafts of TWTSML, and over 12 drafts of the first chapter alone. I had to learn to work that hard.

I tell you all this because I think that the hard work is the important part. It won't come from career coaches or any other external factors. It comes from you. Only you can decide if you're going to be a writer. If you want to be one, start writing and never stop.

My very best,

Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

"I'm Not A Racist"

"I'm not a racist. I did not mean to harm that man in any way."

Pro tip: when a white person starts out any statement with, "I'm not a racist," they either just got caught saying, or are about to say, something racist.

I'm sorry that this is true. 

No one wants to be called a racist, but not nearly enough white people are doing the work to not be racist--to be, in fact, anti-racist. 

The above quote comes from Amy Cooper, a white woman caught on camera by a black man, Christian Cooper (they're not related), making a false 911 call that he was threatening her. 

The facts undisputed by both sides:
--Amy Cooper and Christian Cooper were both in a part of Central Park called the Ramble.
--Amy Cooper was exercising her dog. Christian Cooper was looking for birds. He's a birder--a person who keeps track of which species of birds he sees.
--Dogs in the Ramble must be on a leash. Amy Cooper's dog was not. Christian Cooper asked her to put the dog back on its leash. She refused.

At some point in the dispute, Christian Cooper took out his phone and started videoing. Here's what happened next, according to CNN:

 The video begins with Amy Cooper pulling her dog by the collar and telling Christian Cooper to stop recording.
"Please don't come close to me," Christian Cooper says, as she approaches.
"Sir, I'm asking you to stop recording me," Amy Cooper says.
He asks her again not to come close. That's when Amy Cooper says she's going to call the police.
"I'm going to tell them there's an African American man threatening my life," she says.
"Please tell them whatever you like," Christian Cooper says.
The video shows Amy Cooper on her phone.
"There's a man, African American, he has a bicycle helmet," she says. "He is recording me and threatening me and my dog."
While she's on the phone, her dog appears to be straining and trying to get free while she tries to restrain it.
"I'm being threatened by a man in the Ramble," she continues in an audibly distraught voice . "Please send the cops immediately!"
The video ends with Christian Cooper saying "Thank You."
Please note her threat: 'I'm going to tell them there's an African-American man and he's threatening my life." There's no evidence whatsoever that Christian Cooper was threatening Amy Cooper. He stays at a distance; she approaches him. She's letting him know what she'll say to the cops if he doesn't do what she wants. If she were truly in danger, she wouldn't threaten to make the phone call--she'd make it immediately.
Please also note the intentional weaponization of the phrase African-American. Amy Cooper could have said large, frightening, scary-looking, crazy, unhinged, angry--any of a vast number of words to describe why she found a man threatening. She chose African-American. Not once but several times. 
Please note--you have to watch the video there in the link to do this--how her voice changes during the phone call. The first two statements she makes sound matter-of-fact. The last one switches to "audibly distraught" even though Amy Cooper is far away from Christian Cooper, he's not coming closer to her, and whatever threat she feels can not plausibly have increased. 
Black men die in situations like this. Amy Cooper deliberately endangered Christian Cooper's life because she didn't want to leash her dog. If that's not racist, what is?