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?

Thursday, May 7, 2020

On Giving Tuesday, We Gave Thanks. And Books

Judging from the number of emails from various organizations I received asking me to donate, last Tuesday was Giving Tuesday.  At first I thought it was some sort of every-six-months thing, equidistant from the Giving Tuesday right after Thanksgiving, but come to find out it was a Coronavirus thing, because a lot of people need help right now.

My state, Tennessee, has opened back up, though I don't know why as we don't meet any of the suggested federal guidelines. I myself am still quarantining. Back at that start of this mess, in mid-March, I was still coughing hard from the damage wrought by my trip to India, which had ended six weeks previously. Please understand that this isn't really India's fault--no one else on our boat, including all the rest of the tourists and all the staff, got sick from the air pollution, except my husband, who's also asthmatic, and he did much better than me. I wore an N-99 mask most of the time in India, and even then was in really bad shape. I'm a lot better now--no coughing, and I'm exercising again--but the last damn thing I need is the Coronavirus.

So Tuesday, when I went to the post office, I wore my mask again. I had about 200 pounds of books boxed and ready to go out to our Appalachian Literacy Initiative teachers. I print the postage for them here at home, but since ALI ships media mail the post office won't pick it up at my house. (Sometimes I add a first-class package to the mix, and then they do. But also, my postal worker drives a small car, and making her haul 200 pounds of books from my porch to the road and then find room for them among her other mail is not nice.) So all I had to do was dump the boxes inside the post office, which isn't far from my house. Still it was an Outing--I really barely leave the farm these days. These particular books went to teachers in Tennessee, Kentucky, and North Carolina, who have all developed ways of getting them to their students.

I'm so grateful for those teachers. I'm even more grateful to the amazing people who've donated to Appalachian Literacy Initiative these last two years. Thank you, all of you. I stack these brand-new books into boxes and I ship them. The teachers deliver them. You all paid for them. Your work paid for them. I look at our donor list, and I'm astonished, really, that so many people believe in the value of the work we're doing. Students absolutely need access to books, no matter what their family's economic status. I know that to be true. You're giving them that access.

So Tuesday afternoon, when I'd cottoned onto this Giving Tuesday stuff, I thought about writing an appeal. But honestly, times are hard for a lot of people for a lot of reasons right now. We promise to always be good stewards of the money our donors entrust to us. But on Tuesday, sending out those books, and today, two days later, I really didn't feel like asking for more. I just wanted to say thank you.

Thank you. All of you. Somewhere, a child is reading because of you.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Hey, Mickey

Mickey was an off-the-track Thoroughbred; he raced four years and won over $46,000, which is both a lot and hardly anything in the weird world of racing. He was quite small, 15.1 hands, which translates to just over five foot at the shoulder. (Horses are always measured to the top of the shoulder as it's the highest fixed point in their anatomy.) His registered name was Modest Man, which cracked us the hell up, because a more immodest horse would have been hard to find. He knew he was spectacular. When he stopped racing he was bought and retrained for eventing by a teenager who worked for an international rider named Dorothy Crowell. She renamed him Hey Mickey, and rode him for several years, competing him up through preliminary level, which contrary to the name is the fourth of six levels. Problem was, he could only jump prelim cross country jumps if he came into them absolutely perfectly--they're big enough that they hit the limits of what he could jump, leaving no room for error. If he couldn't clear the jump, he refused to try, which was smart of him, but meant he wasn't really suited to his rider's goals. You could see it in his record--flawless cross-country rounds at every level until prelim, then a stop or two, then they'd bump him down a level and he'd be perfect, then back up and he'd have a stop. He just couldn't quite do prelim. 

He was a quirky little guy. He was high-strung and nervous and opinionated. He was also wholly brave and reliable. Katie's old horse, Pal (still with us at 33 years old!) had taken her to the first level of recognized eventing, but Pal was already elderly and was starting to lose soundness. A young friend of mine, barely out of her teens at the time--now herself an international level rider--took me aside and said, "Buy her a beginner novice/novice horse, NOT a training/prelim one." I already understood this, but it's worth repeating because so few people follow it--you want your kid on the horse he or she is ready for right at that time, not the horse they might be ready for sometime in the hypothetical future.

Mickey didn't suit many kids, and he'd been for sale for over a year, but when we started looking, online, he popped up over and over again. I'd go to some horses-for-sale site, enter my basic criteria (already evented, not a pony, middle-aged, middle-priced) and start scrolling through candidates. "Oh, here's one that looks good," I'd say to my daughter. "Oh wait--it's still Mickey." Mickey, Mickey, Mickey. The universe was clearly trying to tell us something. 

It happens that one of my trainers, Cathy Wieschhoff, lives fairly near and is a longtime friend of Dorothy Crowell. Cathy gave me Dorothy's number, and I asked Dorothy, mom-to-mom, about the horse. Dorothy said that if her own daughter wanted to event she'd buy Mickey for her. We went and tried him, and he was calm and happy and rideable. With his owner he could move under saddle quite well; with my daughter, who didn't have the same level of skill at the time, he poked his nose out and trotted happy and loose. He vetted sound. We bought him.

Then my daughter had a great big adjustment, going from a phlegmatic square elderly Quarterhorse to a lively nippy Thoroughbred. We'd planned, however, on a long period of transition--we bought him in the fall knowing she wouldn't compete him until late spring. She had time to learn to quit kicking him in mid-air over every jump, which had been necessary if you wanted Pal to land cantering, but caused Mickey to leap into a gallop. She learned that if he was tense he sometimes needed less control, not more; she learned to let him blow off steam with a nice gallop around a field. She also learned when to say, "Mickey, it just sucks to be you," and cheerfully ignore the temper-tantrums caused, say, by a new martingale.  

Right from the start they understood each other. Very early in his time with us, he was on the crossties in our barn when I walked through with a long piece of hose. Mickey spooked. My daughter pressed her palms against him. "It's not a snake," she said.

Mickey said, "That is too a snake."

My daughter: "Relax. Shh. It's not a snake."

Mickey: "Snake, snake, SNAKE!"

My daughter (still talking out loud, still with her palms on his shoulder): I'm right here. You're okay. You're safe.

Mickey (calming somewhat): okay. Okay. But it's still a snake.

My daughter: Not a snake.

Mickey: long exhale. Leans his head briefly against my daughter's.

My daughter: Mom? Move the snake.

Sometimes at competitions he would get so worked up, inside his stall, that steam would roll off his sweating body. But when Katie rode him into the start box he was perfectly calm. At their first event he was clearly delighted to be competing again, and he bopped around cross country like a Thewell pony. At the second event, he remembered that he used to run prelim, where the speeds are much higher, and he burst out of the box like he was jet-fueled. In the center of the vast field I laughed so hard I could barely watch. "I could still steer him," my daughter said later, "and I knew he would jump everything." However, a low levels, cross country courses have speed limits--for safety's sake riders are fined for going too fast. After a few fences my daughter realized they were going Mach Six. She sat up and trotted an enormous circle. Then they resumed jumping. Mickey picked up speed again, so my daughter added a second huge trot circle. She trotted the last two fences, and trotted the hill going home (after the last fence you're not allowed to go slower than a trot, to prevent riders from avoid speed faults by standing still), and missed getting speed faults by one second. It was a pony club event, and Muffin Pantaze, one of of the technical directors, followed her over the finish line in a golf cart and chewed her out for the next fifteen minutes. When I caught up to them I was still laughing. 

She learned control. They were best-conditioned and highest-placed in several of our local rallies. They were fourth in their division at the pony club national championship. Before my daughter went to college they competed up to training level. They never had a cross-country fault in all their years together.

Mickey died unexpectedly between Thanksgiving and Christmas of my daughter's junior year. He was the same age as my daughter, so getting older for a horse, but still lively in every sense of the word. When my daughter left for college we could have sold him--but I knew it would be hard to find a kid that matched his personality. He'd been wonderful for my child, and I owed him, so I told him he was home. He still is; we buried him beside my daughter's first pony. She rides a new horse now. Sometimes we both find ourselves saying, to the new guy, "Hey, Micks, knock it off." Then we tear up a little. Then we smile.

Hey Mickey. You were so, so fine.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Baby Yo-don't

My sister is expecting her fourth child very soon--she has a c-section planned for April 13th. It's a little colossally nerve-wracking to be having a baby right now, not to mention being very strictly quarantined, and trying to work from home, alongside your already-working-from-home husband, your suddenly-homeschooling first-grader, and your five- and two-year olds. It's a lot of chaos. The happy bits are that 1) my sister's in-laws live right down the street from them, and have also strictly quarantined, so they can jump in to take some of the kids (AND visit the new baby, which makes the rest of us, who are so much farther away and not supposed to travel, nor would we still be under strict enough quarantine to be near the newborn if we did, jealous) and 2) my sister deals with chaos enormously well.

She made a onesie for the baby that says, "I was born during a pandemic."

I made the baby a lovely crocheted baby blanket that's five ombre shades of cyclamen. The yarn is this gorgeous washable merino, soft and warm, which I was saving a special project. My husband suggested that before sending the New Baby something quite so sensationally pink, I wait to see if my sister had a boy or a girl (she doesn't know). He thought I should make a different colored blanket if it was a boy.

I mailed it. If she has a boy, that'll be four boys. If a pink blanket actually tamps down some of the testosterone in her house it would probably be a good thing.

Anyway, I immediately looked for something else to knit for her. I went on Ravelry, and found the best--oh, the best--little Baby Yoda sweater pattern. My sister's family are huge Star Wars fans. I consulted my extensive yarn stash, and found bulky (the right weight) yarn in exactly the right colors, left over from Christmas stockings I knit years ago.

I set about knitting. First I made a cunning little green hood, appropriately slouchy. Kitchener-stitched the top seam, and usually I struggle with Kitchener stitch (I know, I KNOW,  it's not that difficult. We all have our weaknesses) but it came out perfect. Next I made a Right Ear and a Left Ear, to be eventually sewn to the sides of the hood. They, too, were perfect, and they made me laugh.

That was it for the green yarn. I started in on the main body of the sweater. Got to the armpits, set that aside, and made two sleeves, also to the armpits. Then I knit the sleeves onto the body of the sweater, and that's when everything fell apart.

First, I screwed up the sleeve placement, but that's an easy, though annoying (can't you count to fifteen, Kim?) fix. No, the real problem came next, when I picked up the remains of the skein of yarn for the body, and realized that lo, it was almost gone.

I set the little not-finished sweater down. I read through the rest of the pattern. I looked at the shoulder shaping and the neckband and the number of rows still left to knit. If I'd wanted to get fancy I could have weighed the remaining yarn, and the partially-finished sweater, and done some math and figured out exactly how much yarn I had left, but it didn't really matter because the non-mathematical answer was: not enough. Not even close. Not even maybe-you-can-knit-the-neckband-out-of-the-green-yarn close.

I went back to my stash and rummaged through it looking for more of the yarn I knew I didn't have, because I remembered buying it in the first place, and making those Christmas stockings, and I knew there weren't extra whole skeins lying around. I found a different yarn in the same color, lightweight (but maybe I could double it) and oh so much softer. I contemplated a sweater that went along in bulky, hairy, somewhat scratchy wool until just after the armpits, when it switched to softer, lighter, finer stuff. I thought, well, it would be good that the neckband was softer. A neckband of that other stuff would really be irritating to a sweet little baby.

Then I realized that I was making an entire sweater for a sweet new petal-skinned baby out of yarn that I, a confirmed wool lover, would find intolerably scratchy even if worn over a long-sleeved shirt.

I thought, well, my sister could bundle the baby way up. Several layers and the baby would probably be fine. Except, of course, that it would be so hot it would be miserable. Plus it was pretty stupid to imagine a newborn wearing a cap beneath a hood, so that the hood wouldn't scratch its little head.

Then I happened to be walking down my own hallway, and noticed the framed newborn photograph of my sister's second son--wearing a Yoda sweater. In short, she already has one.

That was the nail in the knitterly coffin. My scratchy half-finished sweater is now destined for the frog pond, which is what knitters say when they plan to frog something, which is what knitters say when they're going to rip-it, rip-it. The yarn will return to the stash, and maybe I'll use it for another Christmas stocking or something else that won't be worn against the most delicate possible skin.

Sorry, sis. In the meantime, I'll get busy on something else.

P.S. He's here. He's perfect.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Weird Stuff for Weird Times

So here we are in the Weird Times. It's hard and scary and none of us knows how long it will last. I've been writing cheerful animal blog posts in part because I have so many of them--low-hanging fruit, from a writerly perspective--and also because they're my equivalent of cute puppy videos. I'm a word person, I don't do much with pictures.

A lot of my author friends are doing videos right now of themselves reading their books, or talking to students, and I appreciate them but I don't plan to emulate them. I'm a much, much better speaker in person than in front of a camera. I don't like being in videos. I had to record a few yesterday at my publisher's behest, and my daughter and I knew to put the dog on my lap for them, because if I'm not touching a dog or a horse (or possibly other animals--these are the only two I've tried) my upper lip becomes paralyzed and I look into the video camera in the manner of the condemned facing their executioners.

And I'm actually quite good at school visits, or speeches. So I don't think releasing a lot of hopelessly bad videos of myself is in my best interests so far as attracting (or at least not repelling) future work.

That said, I want to do something. So, when I received not one, but three emails this morning from a young reader who also helpfully included the email addresses of two friends, so that I could reply to all of them, I wrote the following. And then I thought, why not, let's share. Here are some weird things off the top of my head. Please tell me weird things off the top of yours.

Dear P, J, and R,

I'm really happy that you all love my books. Thanks, P, for writing, and for including your friends. Since we're all stuck together apart, because of this quarantine, I thought I'd send you some things about me you probably won't find on my blog.

One: I have ridden an ostrich. It's the Weird Face I pull out whenever anyone wants a Weird Fact about me, but it's also true, and it was hilarious.

Ostriches are really just 300-pound chickens. Their brains are smaller than their eyeballs, and it shows. You don't really "ride" an ostrich so much as you hang on by the wingpits while the ostrich careens wherever it chooses, until you slide off the back of it because you're laughing so hard.

That was in South Africa, one of my favorite places on earth. I've traveled a lot. Ireland, South Africa, and Paris are places I could happily live. (Though probably not full time in Paris. I'm not really a city person. But I'd love it for a month or two, or maybe even three. I love walking in Paris, just wandering and wandering. Sometimes when I'm there I walk 20 miles in a day, not to get places, just to walk.)

OK, that leads me to Two (I'm kind of making this up as I go): underneath Paris are miles and miles of caverns. Paris is built on top of limestone, and most of the city buildings, especially the old ones, are built of rock quarried from beneath them. Imagine Paris as a city with a hidden basement. There are places where you can go down and explore, and some people have parties down there. I've never been to a party, but I have been to the only part that's open to the public--that's the catacombs, and it's extremely weird. In the eighteenth century Paris's cemeteries were getting far too full, so they dug up all the old bones and put them into a section of these underground rooms, and you walk and walk through them. My family thought it was strange that I even wanted to go--they didn't--well, it is--but I found it interesting.

Three. I'm working on a book right now that involves World War II, a famous French castle called Chenonceau, Jewish children fleeing Nazis, and the ghost of Catherine de Medici. I've never written a ghost before, and it's fun. This isn't my next book--that's called Fighting Words, it comes out in August--but I hope it will be the one after that. (Things don't always go as planned.)

If you're planning your own homeschooling right now, I think you should look up Ireland, South Africa, and France on a globe. Then look up the Paris catacombs, Chenonceau, and Catherine de Medici online. That'd knock out geography and history in one go. If you want further reading, investigate the history of apartheid in South Africa, and the heroism of a man named Nelson Mandela. 

That's good for my end. What should I know about you?