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.”

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

shop Dogs and Someone Else’s Story

Yesterday I left home weighted down by a story not my own. I’m on my final week of school visits for the year, and while I love talking to students this particular week is hard on me, mostly because of things that are not my story to tell but make me feel I should be at home.

I flew to Nashville and went to Parnassus Books, which is honestly one of the places other than my home that I feel most at home in the world. It’s a fantastic bookstore, exemplary in nearly every way, but it’s also the first bookstore where I can just barge into the back office and be greeted with, “Yay! You’re back!” My husband didn’t quite understand why I went straight to the bookstore from the airport yesterday, instead of checking into my hotel or shopping or something. But I needed to discuss that evening’s presentation, with excellent authors and friends Linda Williams Jackson and Andrew Maraniss. I need to scout the ARCs. (Snagged a copy of Naomi Novik’s latest!) I needed to look at all the books. I needed to discuss the partnership between Parnassus and the Appalachian Literacy Initiative. And, most crucially for my mood yesterday, I needed to commune with the shop dogs.

I’ve been without a dog since January. It’s been difficult; one of the negative side effects to over-packing my spring schedule (though not the only one) is that there has not been a good time to get a new dog. In fairness to said hypothetical dog, I would need to be in its life for more than five days without leaving for a week. .But the Shop Dogs of Parnassus are always good for a cuddle.

Sadly, that was all I got. The dogs on duty were Frankie and Bear. Frankie is lovely, polite, understands her role as a shop dog and graciously permits me to cuddle her all I wish. But it doesn’t
move her. She has people, and I’m not one of them.

Bear is elderly and stiff. He patrols the shop with dignity. One does not take liberties with Bear. He would permit it, but one would sense the imposition.

I’d really been hoping for Lewis, the hyper enthusiastic floof who’s perfected giving complete strangers full body hugs. Or Mary Todd Lincoln, the long-haired dachshund with dignity to match her name, with whom I have an affectionate long-standing relationship. Or Sparky. Sparky just seems to really like me.

At any rate, I had a lovely evening, with dogs and friends, children and writers. This morning I’ve got a late call at the hotel, so I woke, breakfasted, worked out, got dressed, got ready to go,  sat down and wrote this blog. Next I’ll put on the earrings my girlfriends Tracy, Meg, and Diane gave me, put on my “love mercy” necklace, and go out to brave the world. Xoxo xoxo