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?


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