Monday, October 31, 2016

The Smallest World

Sometimes the craziest things happen.

For example, last week I got asked to do a Skype visit with the International School of Ulaanbaatar. That's in Mongolia.

In Mongolia schoolchildren are reading something I wrote.

(Of course I'm going to Skype with them. Although if they wanted to pay for me to visit them, I'd be up for that too.)

Then Saturday an even cooler thing happened.

Years ago, when my husband was a medical resident, my son was a baby, and we lived in Indianapolis, I had a friend named Jane. Jane and her husband were physicians from New Zealand; they lived in Indianapolis for two years while Jane's husband did a fellowship in pediatric endocrinology. Jane was a radiologist, but INS screwed up and gave the work permit to their 12-month-old son Richard, so Jane had way more time on her hands in America than she expected, which worked out happily for me.  I taught Jane the American traditions of iced tea and chicken salad; she taught me proper scones and to always twirl a teapot three times before pouring. Our sons were each other's first friends. Twenty years ago today they went trick-or-treating in matching Puff the Magic Dragon costumes that Jane and I made from felt, sequins, and hooded sweatshirts we bought at the dollar store.

Jane and her family left Indianapolis to return to New Zealand the same weekend that I and my family left to move to Tennessee. We both had baby girls.  We both tried to stay in touch--it sounds odd, but  it wasn't really possible to email New Zealand back then. I blame myself for not communicating better; she blames herself. At any rate, twenty years passed, even though I can remember days spent with Jane as though they were yesterday. (Standing on a New York City subway platform eating apple strudel with bare hands. We went to New York for a weekend, just the two of us, right before we moved away. I went into a fancy chocolate store and asked for free samples and we got some and Jane nearly died. We spent hours on Ellis Island.)

Anyhow. Jane's son came home from the bookstore last Friday with several books--a John Grisham, a Robert Balducci, and The War That Saved My Life. He didn't know I'd written i--had no idea his mother knew me--until Jane saw my name on the cover.

 My book in the hands of an old dear friend. In New Zealand. As far away as Ulaanbaatar.

We live in the coolest world.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Orange is the New Grey

I'm having my barn thoroughly repainted and repaired, dicey boards fixed, the whole bit. Yesterday when I went there, early in the morning, one of the work crew asked if I could move the horse that was standing next to the Dutch doors on the pasture side. "I'm going to start power-washing that side," he said.

The horse in question was Pal, our 29-year-old Quarterhorse; my mare Sarah was in the same field, father down and out of sight. I yelled, "SARAH!" which startled the workman--should have given him warning--and Sarah came galloping up, eyes bright. Sarah can be annoying in a hundred different ways, but she always looks happy to see me.

I moved Pal and Sarah into the small field behind the barn. We call it the pony paddock, but it's really a sacrifice lot, which is to say a plot of land so small that the horses will completely destroy the grass and make it look like heck. On the other hand, they've got room to move and they can't eat so much that they make themselves sick. Gully and Hot Wheels are very, very good at overeating, and the grass this time of year is super-sweet, so they were already in the pony paddock.

Pal was happy enough to move, because he's always happy enough. Sarah was DELIGHTED, because Hot Wheels, our red pony, is her special friend. She loves being around him; she moves him, she shares her hay with him, and she just generally enjoys his company. For a long time I felt rather sorry for Hot Wheels, being on the receiving end of so much affection, but gradually I could see that it was not unrequited. Hot Wheels also likes Sarah.

I went off and did my things, which mostly consisted of brooding about the fact that it was Wednesday, and my editor had promised to get back to me about my book on Wednesday, and she hadn't yet--maybe I'd better check my email again--and in late afternoon went out to feed the horses and check on the work and take the garbage down to the curb. The workmen had made big strides on the barn, repainting the repaired front, powerwashing the side, and replacing the section of wood fence between the two fields. It's next to the water pump, and the water troughs, one for the big field and one for the pony paddock, sit on both sides of it.

"Thanks," I said, pointing to the fence. "Sarah keeps knocking the top boards down. Whichever field she's in, she wants to drink out of the water in the other."

"That the big grey horse?" the man asked. I nodded. "Man," he said, "that horse is crazy. She got her feet in the water trough and was splashing and kicking."

I sighed. "She does that. It's why I've got the trough in the big field up on blocks, so she can't get her feet in it. The other horses don't like drinking muddy water."

"I tried to run her off," the workman said, "but she just ignored me. She got herself as wet as she possibly could, and then she laid down in that orange dirt and rolled."

Of course she did. "Sarah!" I yelled. She yanked her head up from the far corner of the paddock and came flying toward me, streaked with orange clay, her friend the red pony at her heels. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Understanding Our Differences

One of the very great joys of my recent trip to Boston was seeing old friends, some that I hadn't seen in years. I loved it. From the first words they said, I remembered why we were friends--remembered why I was drawn to them in the first place. I could be fully honest with them in a way that's sometimes not easy for me, and I relished it. I felt full and thankful.

I also had a lovely evening at an event sponsored by Understanding Our Differences, a group dedicated to increasing awareness and communication between disabled and non-disabled schoolchildren. I got to try a Brailler, which is essentially a Braille typewriter--it's not easy, there are only 6 buttons, but you have to push up to four simultaneously. I got to try to button a shirt one-handed using a button puller. But I also got to speak: I was, in fact, the main show. My book TWTSML won the Schneider Family Book Award for disability representation (actually I co-won with Lynda Mullaly Hunt's Fish In A Tree--and she was UOD's speaker last year) this year, though I've never known precisely why, because my main character has two disabilities, one physical, and one mental. She was born with a clubfoot that went untreated (clubfoot should be a birth defect but not a disability) and she's been abused to the point of suffering from PTSD.

I have chronic PTSD myself, and I tend to think of Ada's problems as more mental than physical, though the physical issues are what most people concentrate on. I also think we don't talk nearly enough about mental health issues, especially in children. As I told the UOD crowd, the second-highest cause of death in children ages 10 to 14 is suicide. We need to be aware of that; we need to work like hell to lower in. We need to pay attention to children who are suffering. They're not necessarily just shy. They won't necessarily grow out of it.

Yesterday I got a heartfelt email from a young reader. The child wanted to know, essentially, if I had suffered too. If it was okay to be inspired by my character, if I was telling the truth because I knew it fundamentally. If I was trustworthy. Because if I was, then maybe the message of hope in my book could be trusted too.

Absolutely, I said. Absolutely to all of that.

This is why we write: to know we are not alone.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

On the Plus Side

I have so many things I should be doing right now.

--reading the book I've been asked to blurb
--reading the books I've been assigned to review
--reading the many, many books nominated for the Golden Kite award (I'm judging)
--reading the many, many books I've assigned myself for the Egypt book (turns out there's a lot to know!)
--reading my library books before they're overdue

Anyone notice a theme? But then it continues:

--re-reading my book club book as I'm hosting book club tonight (Salt to the Sea, by Ruta Sepetys.)
--clearing the living room of book piles, as I'm hosting book club tonight
--cleaning the bathroom and making a schmancy dessert, as I'm hosting book club tonight

And then:
--riding my horse, who is lonely
--doing the barn chores
--doing any of several projects awaiting me at the barn (moving the pony club kits to storage, cleaning tack, resetting the jumps in the field, moving the portable xc jump back to the lower field, doing something about that sand ring, getting the bot fly eggs off Pal, etc etc)

Or back at the house:
--the whole entire mess that is my bedroom closet
--the whole entire mess that is my office
--the whole entire mess that is the refrigerator

Or on the creative side:
--the Christmas projects
--the Christmas gifts bought in Boston, that are all currently stuffed in the bedroom closet, but need to be taken out, sorted, organized, and properly hidden
--the knittng
--the weaving
--the laundry (just threw that in to see if you were paying attention. It's not creative. It does need doing.)


On the plus side
this is writing, so it counts.

Monday, October 17, 2016

In Which I get a Little Upgrade

By the time I met Luis, I was feeling pretty cranky.

Luis, age approximately 25, hairstyle man bun, sat behind the Avis counter at Boston Logan airport. It was Sunday, late afternoon--yesterday, though it seems longer ago than that. I'd had four hours' sleep between the end of the pathetic Notre Dame/Stanford football game and getting up to drive to Midway airport, and I didn't use them well. Then I flew to Detroit, said goodbye to my darling daughter much faster than I'd planned (I'd already said goodbye to darling husband and darling son). Then, inexplicably, I forgot to eat lunch, so that by the time I landed in Boston, retrieved my luggage, navigated the complex overcrowded shuttle to the rental station and encountered Luis, I  was in a crummy mood.

"We got you down for a mid-size," Luis said. "You want something bigger than that?"

I said,"No."

Luis said, "You wanna drive a Mustang?"


"You wanna drive an SUV?"


Luis sighed. "You WANNA drive a Toyota Corolla?"

"Look," I said. "I'm going to be driving in Boston. Last time I was driving here it didn't go well. I want something as small as possible." (Though the instant I said that, I realized I last drove in Boston thirty years ago, when I didn't have glasses, depth perception, a map, or a GPS. And I was driving a full-size van. So maybe things are different now.)

Luis got on the phone with someone and discussed cars for a few minutes. He said things like, "Nah, man, that's what she wants," and then he hung up and said to me, "They're trying to find you a Corolla.  He's gonna call me back." Then he said, "You want the insurance coverage?"


"You want to prepay for gas?"


"You want to rent a GPS?"

"No." (I'd brought one with me.)

Luis fiddled with his phone. I fiddled with mine. Minutes passed. I said, "Look, this is ridiculous. Do you have a car for me or not? I never had to wait for a car before. And I know all that made me sound like a princess, but I'm hungry."

Luis said, "Why don't you just take the Mustang?"

I said, "Isn't that some kind of fancy sports car? The last thing I need is to drive a shift."

"No, no," Luis said. "It's fully automatic. It's just a little upgrade. For free."

"Okay," I said.

"What color you want?"

Was he kidding me? "Luis, I don't care."

I schlepped my bags out to the lot and there it was, a shiny, unbelievably flashy, cherry-red sports car.  Mine. I started to laugh. Never in life have I driven such a thing. I drove it up to the checkout guy, squealing the brakes just a little.

"Man," the guy said, "the only thing better than a lovely young woman such as yourself driving a lovely car like this one is if you were going to take it to the beach."

"I AM going to take it to the beach," I said. "On Tuesday. I'm driving to the beach with my friend, and she's a nun."

"Nuns on the beach!" The man said.

I peeled out of the lot and wheedled my way through downtown Boston. The previous occupant of the car had left the radio set on the classical music channel, so I lowered the windows, cranked the volume, and blared Handel's Water Music so loud it made the windshield vibrate. And it was fine.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Outside the Dursleys' House

I thought I'd write about something else today. I had in mind a funny post about how I totally screwed up dinner last night: how, even though I'm a good cook, the meatloaf was inexplicably far too salty and the cauliflower still tasted like cauliflower despite my schmancy sauce, and I even screwed up the sliced apples, for Heaven's sake--but the stories keep coming in, and my heart is breaking.

One friend asked on Facebook for women to comment if they'd been groped in public by strangers. In 57 minutes she got 25 positive responses.

"All that ever happened to me was that someone stuck a hand up my skirt on the subway."

I think about all the work I've done to make sure my children grow up strong and safe. I taught my son to be respectful and honest and kind. I taught my daughter to be respectful and honest and kind, too--and I taught her to defend herself, be loud, and carry a pocketknife. I kid you not.

When we were in the Dominican Republic last year, my husband stepped into the airport restroom and my daughter and I were immediately surrounded by men trying to sell us cab rides that we didn't need. They weren't intimidating, but they were persistent, despite my repeated insistence that we did not need their help. There were getting to be more of them, not less. Then my daughter drew herself up, squared her shoulders, and roared something in Spanish, and the men absolutely melted away. And I thought, good. And yet what's to stop some creep from sticking a hand up her skirt? I hope she'll roar at him, embarrass the shit out of him right there on the train.

But mostly I hope it never happens.

A friend wrote to me that she feels like she grew up in the Dursley's house. You know, like Harry Potter. Not so much stuffed into a room beneath the stairs, but abused in a way no one ever saw. To the Dursleys' neighbors, it was the Dursleys' who were normal, and decent, and good, and Harry Potter was the kid with all the problems. The truth was the other way around.

One More Ting:

I don't care who you vote for, you can still be my friend and I hope I can still be yours. I mean it. I may disagree--at this point I probably disagree with everyone somewhere--but this election in particular is a hot mess and anyway, we're all mostly doing the best we can. Just vote. That part's important.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Time for This to End

The stories come at me from all directions.

The girl who is tortured throughout middle school by boys offering to show her their genitals, every day, day after day. When she gets upset the school punishes her. Eventually her parents switch to homeschooling.

The writer who posts a photograph of a bouquet of flowers on Facebook, as a comfort. She says she knows that so many women have had it worse than she has. All that's happened to her is that an elderly neighbor grabbed her and forcibly French-kissed her in their apartment's elevator.

The elderly woman who bursts into tears as I fill out a paper for her at Faith in Action. She went to school, she said, but what her daddy did to her in the night was so upsetting that her mind was always blank. She didn't know how to make it un-blank. She didn't learn to read.

The six-year-old who wandered away from her family at the mall, was taken out to the parking lot by a stranger and raped, then went back inside and found her family again--and they never noticed she'd been missing.

The rapist given three months' probation. The rapist let off because the 12-year-old victim must have been asking for it.

The girls told that it's their job to keep boys from hurt them.

Every single one of us who was afraid to tell.

It happens over and over and over.

It's time for this to end.

If you want to, tell me your story. Or put it on Facebook. Or tell one person who's safe. Talk about how wrong it was. Talk about how it made you feel. Talk about how it wasn't your fault. Believe that. Talk about how you're going to get loud and aggressive, and make noise and be strong for yourself and your daughters and their daughters, so that someday this shit will end.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Debating that Debate

"I was going to vote for Trump," my esteemed colleague said, "until he said he grabbed women's pussies. You can't do that."

Recently I've noticed with a hint of amusement that friends I have who are planning to vote for Hillary Clinton assume that of course I am as well, and friends I have who are planning to vote for Donald Trump--well, until Saturday, I'm not sure I have friends still planning to vote for Trump--assumed that of course I was too.

Right now all bets are off. I'm having a terrible time here. I believe it is my civic duty, my duty and my obligation, to cast my vote, if only in honor of all those denied the right to vote throughout history, who fought that I should be able to do so. And I am completely repulsed by both choices.

I've never liked politics or politicians. I've said often that my last whole-hearted endorsement went to Theodore Roosevelt, perhaps the last truly ethical person to occupy the Presidency.

I am socially liberal and financially conservative. I believe passionately that we need a social safety net--I care very much about the marginalized in our world--and I hate big government and can assure you I pay plenty in taxes. So there's never been a political home for me.

But now: Hillary Clinton has done horrible things in Haiti, a country I care about. Her Foundation seems incredibly corrupt; her deleted emails and her lifelong pattern of dishonesty really bother me.

And yet Trump. For awhile I thought maybe, for the sake of the Supreme Court nominees and my general feeling on the role of government. But I'm a sexual assault survivor. After what Trump said in those recordings, I can't possibly vote for him.

I'd like to throw them both out in the desert and start again. Can't we have a do-over every century or so? Barring that, looks like I'll be voting for the pothead Libertarian who doesn't know the capital of Syria. Either him or Ken Bone.

Friday, October 7, 2016


I'm hanging out at the Baltimore airport. I got here very early this morning, because I didn't know how far I really was from the airport, or what Baltimore morning traffic is like, or how well this Uber thing was going to work out (splendidly; we live in an age of marvels) and I'd been warned that BWI airport security could be awful, and it wasn't, but all that just means I had a nice chance to sit with coffee and the paper, and now to get out my iPad and write this, and it occurs to me, I'm really happy.

I'm on my way to Raleigh, where I'll spend the weekend with good friends and be able to be with my husband and both my lovely children. I spent yesterday talking to interesting, engaged schoolchildren and then having dinner with a fellow writer and new friend, and then I went to bed really early, because extroverting wears me out, and I slept well.

I'm wearing my favorite hand-knit socks and my new favorite sweatshirt. I'm even comfortable, for heaven's sake.

Last night my new friend, who's name I'm not going to give because I don't know her well enough yet to know if she'd like that, described the process of writing one of her books as "pulling wet Kleenex through a coin slot," and that's one of the best descriptions of painful writing I've ever heard. I'll remember it forever.

Also we went to a French bistro and shared a perfectly roast chicken, and that was just the most amazing food. And the night before I had a fabulous crab cake the size of a softball, and I love crab cakes. From a culinary standpoint Baltimore is the bomb.

Also I'm feeling completely wildly happy with the new book I'm working on . The Egypt book. Yes, I know, I've discussed it forever. I've written a dozen pages half a dozen times. But it wasn't coming out right, and, worse, it was actually coming out wrong. And now I've had time enough to think it through, and it's going to be good. It's going to be a ton of work and it'll probably take a long time, and it'll be a hot mess at several points, but it's going to be good.

I am actually entirely happy right now.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Louie is Four!

Today is my beautiful nephew Louie's fourth birthday. This morning my Facebook page popped up a memory from two years ago, which was not only Louie's 2nd birthday, but the day I met his brother Fred for the first time. It's a great memory but an awkward-ass photo--proof that, unreasonable as it seems, my selfie game has actually improved with time--and it might frighten Louie if I re-posted it now, so I won't. But I wish him all the best, all my love. I just attempted a FaceTime (let no one say that Uncle Kim isn't up to all the modern technologies) but Fred didn't answer, probably because his Momma's already at work. I was running errand and driving to the airport in the best window of time between waking up my sister too early to say Happy Birthday to Louie, and catching my sister before she left. I'll try later today.

I'm on my way to Baltimore to speak at a school, and then do a public reading at the Ivy Bookstore, tomorrow at 4 pm. If you're in the neighborhood, drop by. I'd love to meet you. Friday I'm continuing on to where the hurricane is, obstensibly to watch a football game that they're threatening to reschedule, due to the weather, although that's probably better than playing in a hurricane. Whichever it is I'll be spending the weekend with family and friends, and that's lovely.  I'll be with my children, who I miss very much.

Happy Birthday, dearest Louie. You make our family brighter every day; you've been a blessing for four whole years.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Learning to Say No

A few minutes after the Newbery Honor for The War That Saved My Life was announced, I got a kind congratulatory email from a quite well-known children's author, who had herself won a Newbery Honor.

I emailed back. "Thank you. What do I do now?"

She emailed back. "Buy a fancy dress and learn to say no."

Buying the fancy dress was a saga for the ages. I hope I win some big award again so I can wear it some more. I love that dress.

Learning to say no was harder. A lot more opportunities came my way once TWTSML won all the things, and hung out on the NYT bestseller list (#9 on the paperback list next week, thank you very much!) and is getting translated into different languages, none of which had happened for my books before. I love these opportunities. I've had a blast speaking at conferences and schools, and I love the enthusiasm for my books, and I love meeting readers and writers. I've got some events coming up that I am hugely looking forward to.


I'm a writer first, and I need to preserve my writing time. So I'm taking a step back from my speaking schedule. If you're a school, and you'd like me to visit, I'll be opening my 2017-2018 school year schedule in April, 2017. I'll accept a limited number of engagements at that time.

I'm continuing my policy of  a limited number of free 15-minute Q&A Skype visits to student groups who've read The War That Saved My Life or Jefferson's Sons. I still have a few slots left in March, April, and May. I'll open the calendar for the 2017-2018 school year in April, 2017.

I'm no longer going to be doing longer paid Skype visits.

And now, back to writing! I keep circling what I call my Egypt book--I've been threatening to write it for years. The time is now!