Wednesday, June 20, 2018

My Actual Job

So I'm reading this enormous deadly research book.
On Saturday my husband and I were up at Linville, driving home from a morning visit to the farmer's market, talking to our son through the speakerphone in our car. (Bluetooth, whatever. I don't know how it works.) I moaned about the book.

My son said, "Isn't that your actual job?"

I said, "Yes. Yes, it is. This afternoon I will be hard at work on my actual job while your father goes off and plays golf."

My husband said, "She'll be hard at work for twenty-two and a half minutes. Then she'll curl up with the puppy and they'll both fall asleep."

I said, "Twenty-two minutes of very hard work!" but no one believed me.

The puppy is on my lap now. She's come to believe this is part of our morning program. I sit at the computer, doing my actual job, and she sits on my lap, doing hers. Which, for the record, is licking my feet.

Friday, June 15, 2018

A Rant About Privilege

I saw a political ad yesterday that really annoyed me.

OK, yeah, all political ads annoy me. All politics annoy me, more or less, and as I've said multiple multiple times I have no political home. I hate all the parties. I would call myself an Independent, but that seems to put me in the same group with Gary Johnson, who looks pretty in a well-made suit but could not name a single current foreign leader.

Still, this one was amazingly bad. It was pretty much the definition of Privilege used to claim that someone was not privileged. It's someone running for Governor of Tennessee. I didn't catch his name, but I'll look for it next time so I remember not to vote for him.

Starts out, "When I was eight years old, I went to work in a factory my father owned for one dollar an hour."

Let's unpack that.

By the time he was eight years old, his father owned a factory.

As the owner of the factory, his father felt able to flaunt child-labor laws and nominally "hire" his son. (Since 1916, no one under age 14 is allowed to work in any kind of non-agricultural job.) At 8 years old, the boy wasn't really working, or he was being put in harm's way. You'd better bet the other factory workers, who weren't the boss's son, were having to keep an eye on him. Joy.

One dollar an hour was minimum wage from 1952-1960, which is when I'm guessing this was. It was on par with what teenage workers would get.

Next sentence is something like, "I paid for college by operating an injection machine." (Photograph of factory floor.)


He went to college. So, beginning work at age 8 didn't disrupt his education, which means it was after school or in summertime.

Someone paid him enough while he was in high school, working at most nights/summers, that it covered his college tuition bill. So, probably not talking minimum wage.

Look, my husband went to work when he was young, first mowing the grass at the business his dad and grandpa owned, then working in the eyeglass lab as a teen. It was a skilled job and he worked hard; he didn't fool around, he put in the hours. But everyone else in the lab was a full-time long-term employee. The only reason there was room for him in the summertime is because he was the boss's son. It doesn't mean he didn't work. It means getting the job in the first place was for him a function of privilege.

Imagine some poor ill-dressed black teenager showing up at that factory, wanting to work part-time for enough money to pay his tuition. Not as likely he'd be hired, is it?

Then there was more blathering, followed by some kind of dreck about people who don't know how to work and live off welfare.

I know there are people in this country who don't know how to work, or, if they do know, don't care to exercise that knowledge. I know some people scam disability or anything else they can. I work in social justice a couple of hours a week and I am neither naive or stupid.

However. "Welfare" has not existed in this country for twenty years now. What we have are federal housing assistance, food assistance, Medicare, disability payments, and that's about it. There's something called Temporary Aid To Needy Families (TANF) which is a cash payment like the old type of welfare checks. A person is limited to five years lifetime or two years in a row, and I've never seen a monthly benefit of over 250 dollars.

Sometime soon I'll post another blog about starting from the bottom. What offended the hell out of me regarding that ad is that the man running seemed entirely oblivious to the fact that much of his life turned out so well because he started at the top.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Whose Idea Was This Puppy?

I haven't been writing much in the past few weeks, and it's making me insane. I get really cranky if I don't write on a regular basis--the months I suffered from major depression and couldn't write were incredibly scary for me on that basis alone. What if I could never write again?

Today my mental health is quite good, except for the transient crabbiness. I spent last week making new good friends with a couple we were hosting from Scotland. (Yes, we spent a complete week hosting total strangers, in our home, and it was a blast. It's not the first time we've done something like that. It's always ended well.) We were up in our mountain house, and just before the Sinclairs arrived I got a long editorial letter from my editor about my Egypt book, which was perfect--if you can, you need to let editorial letters marinate a few days. I mulled. I didn't write.

The editorial letter was comprehensive and fair. My husband, who had been very happy for me when I finished the draft and joyfully declared that it was a Book, was a little flabbergasted by the amount of work still left to do. There's a whole part of the setting that hasn't been adequately addressed, a few characters that drop out halfway through the book, some motivational issues--a lot of work. My husband said, "Are you okay?" and I said, "Oh, honey, I already knew most of that." The thing is, you can't--or at least, I can't--work on problems in a novel until you have a novel. Spend too much time perfecting the first chapter and you'll never get to the second chapter, much less the end.

Two things prevent me from diving headlong into the morass. One is that I now absolutely need to finish the 486-page 400-pound reference book I've been avoiding because it was written by someone who loves jargon and actively resents clarity. Yesterday I made it through 6 pages in 20 minutes before I fell asleep.

480 pages to go. It'll take me til Christmas.

The second thing is my darling puppy. She is a barrel of fun. She is fluffy and cute and opinionated and I love having a dog in the house again, but man, this morning she is wearing me out. Last night I went to sleep composing a blog post in my head (because even writing this blog post is much better than not writing at all) about the incredible beauty of my friend's little daughter frolicking with the puppy on our lawn. This morning I woke to the discovery that the puppy has been using a secluded spot under my floor loom as her own personal loo, and perhaps toilet-training hasn't been going as well as I thought.

I took her out, then put her in her crate while I cleaned up the mess and got dressed. And made coffee. She began to bark maniacally. I took her out. She grabbed the middle of her leash with her teeth and attempted to lead me. It's cute when it's not your puppy doing it. I put her back in. She barked. I took her back out. She shot me insolent looks, and lay down. I took her inside and put her in the puppy playpen. She pooped. Instantly. I grabbed her and took her out for the final dribbles.

Into the crate. Clean up the floor. Attempt to eat breakfast. Puppy throws tantrum in the crate. I don't care. I ignore her. She barks. I take her out. She tries to lead me.

I put her in my lap. She snuggles for a few paragraphs (the first two, above) then tries to bite my hands as I type. I put her back in the puppy playpen, now moved to my office, with a nice fresh chew bone. She barks maniacally. I ignore her--it's more puppy tantruming. Finally she goes quiet, and I turn to give her some attention now that she's not barking. She's just peed an enormous pee all over the wood floor and is sitting in it. Her expression says clearly, "I told you I needed to go out."

It's not even 9 am and we need a do-over around here. Happily I'm off for a walk at the weir dam, with my friend and her large dog. I'll take the puppy, and she can walk and walk and frolic and poop, and after that she'll be knackered, and I'll sit down with that damn reference book and more coffee so I can stay awake and learn everything I need to know. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Other Opportunities

I'm hanging out at my house in the mountains this week.

We bought this place 11 years ago. It's pretty high up one of the western North Carolina mountains, high enough that there usually aren't mosquitoes, and it's usually about 10 degrees cooler than it is in Bristol, only a 75-minute drive away. (It's about 20 degrees cooler than Charlotte, on average, which is why this community exists in the first place. It's been a resort area since well before the advent of air conditioning.) My allergies aren't as bad up here and between that and the coolness we leave windows open, which I never ever ever do at home. I love it.

The last few years we've not been able to spend nearly as much time here as we wanted. Some of that was just life and some of it was over-scheduling. We're working on changing what we can; yesterday evening, as we enjoyed a glass of wine on our back porch, surrounded by trees, a puppy sleeping in my lap, my husband said, "I want to be here more and I want to travel more. I'll just have to work less."

Meanwhile there are still some very hard things happening here. Still not my story, so I won't say more, but it feels dishonest to write an everything's-lovely post. Some things are lovely. Some things will always be lovely. Other things will always be devastating. Nothing can change that. Not ever.

Meanwhile my editor is supposed to call me TODAY to discuss the current iteration of what I'm still calling The Egypt Book (eventually it will have a title). I woke up thinking about the call, and the joy of knowing What Comes Next (answer: lots of work.). When Jess tells me she hopes to call me today, I think she means that she'll probably wake me up with her phone call because she was so eager to discuss my budding genius that she kissed her babies good-bye at 5 am and took the first subway into Manhattan so we could chat before anyone else in the building arrived. She means she'll try to get to the call today but it'll probably happen tomorrow, or Thursday, because I am not her only author and any book that won't be published by Fall 2019 at the earliest is way down on her priority chart than stuff that has to happen before lunch. Also while she loves me she's not getting up early for me.

Meanwhile a book I didn't anticipate as my next book is shoving itself to the forefront of my mind. I always have a mental queue of things I might write next. I would have said I had three or four other books in front of this one. But no. The storyline is spinning out, the characters are taking shape, even though I've not even remotely begun the research.

I did bring four or five books on the topic with me this week. I won't read them all--we'll have company all week, starting tonight, and we have lots of activities planned--but I'll make a dent. And then, as soon as I hear from Jess (in the next half hour, I hope) I'll be back in Egypt, with Howard Carter, King Tut, and Hussein.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

So I was Really Sick

We've had the puppy for two weeks now--her name is Cava--and I spent one of those weeks really sick. For some reason I was entirely in denial about how sick I was. I'm still not sure why.

It was food poisoning--campylobacter, as it turns out--which has an incubation of 3 to 7 days, so hard to say exactly where it came from. I started feeling bad Saturday night--eleven days ago--when, just after I went to bed, I came down with the worst chills of my life. Pretty soon I was huddled under five blankets, wearing a wool sweater and socks over my pajamas, shivering so hard my shoulder muscles ached afterward. That lasted a few hours. Then I spiked a fever that had me on top of all the blankets, wearing only a t-shirt, drenched in sweat.

My husband plied me with Tylenol, Advil, and Imodium--I needed that, too--and my symptoms abated for a few hours, only to return every time the meds started wearing off. I spent all Sunday asleep in my bed, alternating between chills and fever.

Monday I moved to the couch, which somehow seemed like improvement enough that I flat-out refused to go to the doctor. Even now I can't really say why. I didn't want to, and I didn't go. I should add that my husband is actually a doctor, and that he was saying, emphatically and often, that I needed to go to my own doctor. And I wouldn't do it. I didn't want to be sick.

Which as we all know has nothing to do with anything.

So. I had another really difficult night Monday night--three in a row, for those who are counting--and I woke up realizing that I really did need to go to the doctor. I'd eaten very little the day before and my gut was starting to feel heavy, turgid. I was wildly thirsty. I went downstairs and took a slug of Sprite and pain shot through my abdomen. Yikes.

So then I ended up in the emergency room, with my lovely patient husband trying not to grind his teeth over how annoying I'd been. Fortunately my daughter is home for a few weeks and she stepped in also--between the two of them they kept me company and helped me get proper care and took care of the horses and the new puppy. They were superstars.

I was not, even then. My husband left the ER for a few hours to see some urgent patients of his own and clear the rest of his schedule. When he returned, I told him hotly that some woman from "respiratory" had come in and told me they were scheduling me for breathing treatments, and that I'd told her it was all hogwash, I would just take my asthma inhalers the way I usually did.

My husband said, "Could you please start being a patient and quit being a pain in the ass?"

I have a feeling that as a doctor he's waited a very long time to say those words to somebody.

Anyhow I complained that I didn't need "Respiratory" and he said, "Your sat is 93," and I said, "WHAT?" because I know full well my blood oxygen saturation is supposed to be above 95, always. I said, "why is my sat 93?" and he said, "Because. You. Are. Sick." and I said that if the Respiratory woman had told me my sat was 93 I wouldn't have brushed her off. (It didn't matter. She came back and gave me a treatment as though I'd never tried to refuse it; I got them twice a day the whole time I was in the hospital, and my sat went back up.)

Anyway I ended up admitted to the hospital and I stayed there until Friday. We had to cancel a family golf trip, to our dismay. (I don't golf, but I love the place where we were going.) My son was able to come home instead of meet us at the golf place, so that was good. I had big bruises all over my arms from all the IVs and blood draws. I took naps all weekend and eased back into eating.

Yesterday my daughter was cleared to ride her horse again, after the knee surgery she had 10 weeks ago. We went out together on a long walk hack, through the wet high grass redolent  with the heavy smell of honeysuckle. It was fantastic.

I really am better now. I really was sick.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Puppies and Writing as a Real Job

I'm writing this with a sleeping puppy in my lap.

For real. Her name is Cava. She's a 10-week-old cavoodle, which is a cross between a miniature poodle and a Cavalier King Charles spaniel. She finds our house a little overwhelming, what with all the smells and textures and sounds (she's very sensitive to loud noises, dislikes my sneezing) but already seems willing and able to find comfort in my husband and me.

It feels so good to have a dog in the house again. I like this one in particular very much.

Yesterday I got an email from a school who'd expressed interest in an author visit. I'd written back with my parameters, including price. Now, I charge a lot for author visits. My novel The War That Saved My Life hit #1 on the NYT bestseller list, won a Newbery Honor, and has won eight state reader's choice awards so far. In other words, it's a critical success that appeals to children (those things don't always go hand-in-hand). I'm also good at presentations. I've done them for 20 years. And in the past two years I've had many more requests than I can accept. The amount I charge for school visits reflects all of that.

The school wrote back, asking if I'd accept 13% of the fee I'd quoted them.

I wanted to ask--I didn't, but I wanted to--Would you have asked a male author to reduce his fee that much? My gut feeling says no.

Writers in general don't talk about money as much as I think they should. Recently, in an effort to increase transparency, author Michelle Cusolito conducted a survey about author visits and pay. You can find the results here. I participated in the survey. What was most striking to me was the gender gap--that despite the fact that women outnumber men in children's publishing, men get more school visits, higher pay, and more book tours (that's when a publisher antes up the money to send you out for publicity) than female authors.

There's still something about being a female author of children's books that encourages people not to take you seriously as a professional. I'm counteracting that by taking myself seriously, as a professional. I don't devalue myself.

P.S. Just as I finished writing that, Cava woke up and started to whimper. I took her outside and told her to go potty. She did. In the GRASS. SCORE.

Friday, May 4, 2018

What a Wonderful Year

I type this sitting at a table inside the Atlanta airport, on my iPad, alongside a glass of white wine. Through a strange set of circumstances (a school visit schedule that ended at one, the instant availability of an Uber driver in Warrenton, VA, an extremely accommodating Delta airlines employee, and decent luck with the hellacious Dulles security line) I got ontology flight leaving at 3pm rather than 5:30 and am therefore scheduled to land at my Home airport at 8:15 instead of 11:30. I am grateful. I had a great day and an excellent week, but I am very glad to be headed home.

Today was my final school visit of the 2017-2018 academic year.  Between the book tour arranged by my publisher and events I arranged privately, I visited 39 schools this academic year. I gave presentations at 3 public libraries and many, many bookstores. I spoke at 5 major conferences. I have been gone nearly as much as I’ve been at home.

I have learned to pack for a week of presentations with only a carry-on bag. I have learned to adapt any presentation at any moment, including on a Friday afternoon when your “maximum 300” middle-school audience turns out to be 600 students seated on rickety enormous bleachers in a gym, whose windows can not be covered so no one can see the presentation slides (the microphone won’t work either). I’ve learned to stock less-than-3 oz sizes of all my favorite toiletries and also to check all small white tubes carefully, as the only thing worse than brushing your teeth with Benadryl is brushing them with Monostat.

I’ve learned to always set two alarms.

I’ve learned to hang onto the little cardboard envelope they stick your hotel key into, because it has your room number written on it, and after six hotels in six days you won’t clearly remember what city you’re in, much less what room number.

I’ve met hundreds of excellent educators and thousands of wonderful students. I love the people I write stories for. I think of the child who told me, forthrightly, that she was in foster care, so she understood how Ada felt. I think of the boy staring at me this morning, concentrating so hard my entire presentation, asking a very thoughtful question, and how afterward his teacher said she’d never seen him engaged before. I think of the children who draw pictures of ponies and who hoped Mam would get bombed and who loved Ada every bit as much as I do. I think of the eighth-grader in a small conservative town, who got up the courage to ask flat out, “Is Susan gay?” I think of his classmates, who cheered when I answered, “Yes.”

I think of the students from that group who came up to me after my presentation to thank me for writing about a loving gay parental figure, because they had loving gay parents. I think of the little girl who stood up and said into a microphone, “I have dyslexia. Are you saying I could really be a writer?” And I think of the way her face lit with joy when I answered, “of course you can, if you have a story to tell.”

I think of the unknown child who drew a sign on a piece of lined notebook paper, ripped it out, and taped it on the wall of his or her school library, right next to the place where I’d stand. “Kimberly Brubaker Bradley,” it read, “welcome home.”