Watch out for the crocodiles!

Hooray! The third Ra the Mighty mystery is published today! Ra’s still taking in the big news, but on top of his head Khepri is dancing for joy.

A shout-out to my niece Ruth Greenfield,
who made this wonderful Ra model for me.
It’s based on Sarah Horne’s amazing illustrations.

To celebrate THE CROCODILE CAPER’s debut, Ra and I are taking over my publisher’s Instagram at @holidayhousebks for the day. We’ll be sharing writing tips, behind-the-scenes insights, and Ra-inspired fun. Please check us out — and keep an eye out for crocodiles!

I am a complete Instagram novice, so this week has been quite a learning curve. I’d be delighted to connect with any of you who are over there. I’m @amybutlergreenfield.

In THE CROCODILE CAPER, Ra and the other Great Detectives take a voyage down the Nile, where danger lurks. Here’s the official description:

Ra the Mighty is Pharaoh’s Cat, Lord of the Powerful Paw. He is NOT Ra the Royal Babysitter. How’s a cat supposed to fit in all his snacks and naps when his charges keep getting into mischief?

Ra’s new job only gets harder on a voyage up the Nile, leading to a fearsome palace where crocodiles swarm the waters. Then Pharaoh’s son disappears. Has he run away? Has he been eaten by crocodiles? Has he been kidnapped, or worse? Ra and his fellow Great Detectives, Khepri and Miu, set out to discover the truth, but the palace is home to many secrets. Can the Great Detectives unravel the mystery, find the missing boy–and make it out alive?

Ra and I are excited that his latest adventure is a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection

Huge thanks to Sarah Horne for her glorious illustrations, and to all the lovely people who cheered me on as I wrote the book, including fellow blogger Tracy Abell, who gave it a great early read and critique.

Ra and I are now going to go have a celebratory snack.

63 seconds to make you smile

Leaping lizards! Or maybe I should say… cavorting crocodiles! THE CROCODILE CAPER, Ra the Mighty’s third mystery, comes out in two weeks, and today I get to share the book trailer with you.

It’s sixty-three seconds of pure fun, starring Egypt’s only cat and beetle detective duo! (And a few crocodiles.)

The genius behind the animation is my husband, working with the brilliant book illustrations by Sarah Horne. Didn’t they do amazing work?!

The book comes out on November 10, but you can pre-order it now from any bookstore (including your local indie) or ask your library to order it. I’d be thrilled if you did!

Talking about color secrets at the Spy Museum

I rarely stray far from home these days, but this Wednesday, October 14th, I’m going to be giving a talk at the International Spy Museum in Washington, DC. An online talk, that is! I’ll be sharing the secret history of cochineal (and its connection with espionage), and Catherine McKinley, author of Indigo (a terrific book!), will be covering the blue side of the spectrum.

The talk is at noon Eastern Time — that’s 5 pm GMT — and it’s free, as long as you register in advance. Grab your lunch — or a cup of tea — and come join us! 

Secret History of History- Color Wars

What I’ve been up to

It was the Summer of Lockdown here at Chez Greenfield. And it looks like it’s going to be the Autumn of Lockdown, too. Technically, we’re still allowed to gather in groups of up to six, but if you have a wonky immune system, as I do, it seems wiser to stick close to home.

Here’s what I’ve been doing to keep myself from climbing the walls:

Walks.  Lots of them. Mostly through local fields. I thought I knew this area pretty well before, but I truly had a lot to learn. Now I know where the skylarks sing, and where to find the best damsons and sloes, and where the wild orchids grow. I’ve even learned where the rabbits play tag at dawn.

Reading.  War & Peace is one of those books I always said I’d read when I had more time. And then lockdown rolled around, and it was time to put up or shut up. So I buckled down and read at least 15 pages a day, and I’m glad I did, because it was terrific. I even liked the parts where Tolstoy bangs on about the nature of history. I know they bore lots of other readers, but I’m always up for a good discussion about history and how we tell it.

Now I’m reading Kelly McCaughrain’s Flying Lessons for Flightless Birds. Also terrific, in a completely different way. It’s graceful and raw and funny, with impeccable timing. (And there’s even some history in it, too—about trapeze artists and circuses and the Flying Wallendas.)

Writing. Early on, I went over proofs for RA #3, The Crocodile Caper, which comes out in November. But otherwise it was all Elizebeth, all the time. Elizebeth being the subject of my next book, The Woman All Spies Fear. Elizebeth Smith Friedman was a brilliant code breaker who solved mysteries, fought gangsters, and helped win two world wars—while also raising a family, fighting for women’s rights, and dealing with the duplicity of J. Edgar Hoover. Talk about a trail blazer! Writing about her life been a wonderful ride, and I’m glad it’s not quite over yet. I’m now doing photo research for the book and waiting for copyedits to come through.

Going gray: It’s been nearly a year since I last saw a hairdresser, and it dawned on me a while ago that it could be another year till I see one again. So I’ve been letting my hair do whatever it wants to do. And that’s meant letting it go gray.

Years ago, when those silver threads started showing up, people told me that I should do something about it. You don’t want to go gray at your age, they said. I took their advice, and I know they meant it well. But lockdown gave me the time and space to rethink this. And you know what? I like those silver streaks. So I cut everything back, and this is me now:

Chalk it up as another lockdown discovery.

 

O-RA-gami

What do you do when it’s spring break and you’re stuck in quarantine? If you’re my daughter, you devise a way to make an origami Ra.

To surprise me, she made a whole army of cats.

Origami-Army

It’s an origami army!

Aren’t they sweet?!

If you want to make one of your own, she and her dad have a guide and a gif that will lead you through it, step by step:

O-RA-GAMI

 

I think Ra would be pleased, don’t you?

Life is what happens when you’re making other plans…

This morning I was supposed to wake up in NYC, where I was going to visit dear friends and tape an interview for an American Experience documentary. That life feels so far away now that I can barely believe it was ever supposed to be mine.

Instead I’m spending hours trying to source food and basic necessities. I’ve inventoried everything we have, and I’m acutely aware of just how we are using each day. We’re managing, but I’m having to be careful and inventive. I’m trying to support local businesses. I’m giving thanks for our milkman.

I’m helping my daughter work out how to connect with her friends. I’m reading letters and posts from my own friends, which make me laugh and sometimes cry. I’m walking round and round my garden, scrubbing out last year’s pots, and admiring the Lenten roses, and plotting where to sow seeds later on. I’m washing my hands over and over again… and then washing them once more.

And I’m thinking again and again of all the people I treasure, all the people who are vulnerable to this, and all the people who are on the front lines.

You are all in my heart.

A Lenten rose in the garden this morning

 

A welcome surprise

It’s been deadline city here this month, and mostly I’ve been happy with that. I  love being completely immersed in writing. This month, however, I hit a big bump. Just as I reached the final lap for SECRETS & SPIES (due this month to my editor!), the page proofs for RA #3 came in.

Proofs are never one of my favorite stages, and I had absolutely no energy left for dealing with these. I was in danger — as an old French acquaintance of mine used to say — of “losing my quiet.”

In short, my friends, I hit a wall.

Luckily, my wonderful niece Ruth came to my rescue. She had a surprise for me, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Underneath the bulky packing, here is what I found:

It’s a life-sized Ra! And Ruth made him all by herself. Just look at those wire whiskers. And Khepri is there, too — made so that he can twirl around on the top of Ra’s head.

Aren’t they amazing?!

Of course, what’s truly amazing is my niece. Ruth has always been a gifted artist, and now she works in a sculpture studio that makes props for some very famous places. I’d love to see her go into business for herself someday!

 

I took dozens of photos, then buckled down to those page proofs, with Ra standing guard over the work.  I smiled every time I looked up and saw him.

Now that the proofs are in, he has pride of place on a favorite bookshelf — the perfect place for a book cat.

 

Writing in dark and light

I am so deep in writing these days that sometimes I hardly look up for hours. But light is precious this time of year, so to keep myself from living in the dark, most days I go for a walk at dawn, when I see the sun rise. It was so foggy this morning that I thought I would miss it. But then there it was, more spectacular that ever.

Writing is a lot like this, I find. Things get foggy, and I start to think I’ve missed my moment. But if I just keep going, then eventually the sun comes up. Maybe not when or where I expected it to, but it’s there, and it transforms the whole landscape.

 

Traveling an old road, talking about cochineal

Sixteen years ago I traveled down to southern Mexico to do research for A Perfect Red. It was a miraculous trip in many ways, not least because I met up with Eric Mindling, a local guide with a powerful love of the people, cultures, and art of Oaxaca. Exploring cochineal byways with him was one of the best adventures of my life.

Last month, Eric talked me into a reunion of sorts, an internet conversation that had me traveling over those old roads again with him. He taped it, so if you’d like to travel along with us, you can listen in here. We talk about cochineal, history, and what it’s like to research and write a story that traverses more than 500 years of history.

As Eric says, bear in mind that the conversation took place across 6,000 terrestrial miles (and who knows how many more in cyberspace). The sound quality isn’t all we would wish it to be, but we’re happy to have you along for the ride.

I’ll just finish by saying that Eric is an artist himself, and I’ve been delighted to see his own work take off.  You can see his stunning photos here, where you’ll also find links to his books. His TED talk — Sagebrush, Tumbleweed, and Very Slow Fashion — is a masterpiece. If you’ve ever thought of traveling to southern Mexico, I highly recommend checking out the tours he runs through Traditions Mexico.