Sailing into the sunset

At the start of this year, I received an amazing present from my brother-in-law, Stephen Greenfield. Even the box was astonishing! It was all papered in gold, and there was someone sitting on top of it…


And what was inside?

A ship!

And not just any ship, but an ancient Egyptian ship. Pharaoh’s ship. Ra’s ship.

Stephen designed and built it himself, right up to and including the scarab sail and the rigging that holds it aloft. And with a little help from my niece Ruth, he made sure that Ra and Khepri and Miu were on it!

There are so many gorgeous details. It must’ve taken hours just to paint the keel.

It’s one of the nicest presents I’ve ever gotten, and I thought Ra fans would enjoy seeing it, too.

Wishing you all a wonderful 2022!


Stuck at home because of Omicron? Looking for new things to watch and listen to? Have I got a list for you!

For a start, I’d be delighted to have you join me at either of these upcoming events: 

Wednesday, January 12, 2021 I was so happy to hear that The Woman All Spies Fear is a finalist for YALSA’s Excellence in Nonfiction Award, and I’m excited to be part of a free online conversation with the other four finalists about nonfiction, writing, research, and why history matters. Register here with the host, SLJ, to watch the 1.00 pm ET panel (or to receive a link to it afterward).

Sunday, January 16, 2021 Join me at 12:30 pm ET for an online talk about Elizebeth Smith Friedman, hosted by the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau Country. I’ll be sharing some insights into both her remarkable code-breaking career and her fascinating marriage to William Friedman, who is sometimes called the “Godfather of the NSA.” Register here

Over the past few months, I’ve also recorded interviews about codes, spies, and Elizebeth Smith Friedman with some wonderful hosts. If you’re looking for something to listen to while you wash the dishes or make dinner or walk the dog, you can find our conversations here: 

Author, Can I Ask You? with Joni B. Mitchell

Wine, Women & Words with Diana Giovinazzo Tierney and Michele Leivas

On the Record with Tom O’Connor (starting at 4 minutes in)

They’re all terrific interviewers, and the first two shows have plenty more episodes available! Definitely worth checking out if you’ve got cabin fever.

Drumroll, please…

At last I can share this piece of good news with you… THE WOMAN ALL SPIES FEAR has been optioned by a Hollywood producer! It was one wild day when I got that call, believe me.

Most books that get optioned never make it all the way to the silver screen, but it’s exciting news all the same. I’m thrilled that Southpaw admires Elizebeth Smith Friedman as much as I do, and that they care so much about getting her story right.

How we tell women’s stories

THE WOMAN ALL SPIES FEAR officially debuts today, and I’m grateful to the many people who helped me along the way: librarians, archivists, cryptology enthusiasts, early readers, publishers, friends, family, and all of you who have cheered me on. Above all, I’m grateful to the extraordinary code breaker at the heart of the book. Elizebeth Smith Friedman fought the Mob and helped defeat the Nazis, but for decades she was all but forgotten. That’s changing, and I’m glad to help put her in the spotlight.

(photo courtesy of the George C. Marshall Foundation, Lexington, VA)

Elizebeth was a woman of many secrets, and sometimes I had to become a code breaker myself to crack them. It was exciting to discover new material about her childhood, courtship, marriage, and career – as well as a missing year in her life.

She made me think hard about the way we tell women’s stories. It’s good that we are doing more to celebrate women’s achievements, but Elizebeth herself was wary of hero worship, and I think she had a point.

In our efforts to show that certain women were heroic, sometimes we focus almost exclusively on their strengths and successes. That can make their triumphs seem almost inevitable, a matter of superhuman qualities. But that doesn’t serve anyone well.

To judge from the archive that Elizebeth left behind, she wanted to share a more complex story about her life. She had a brilliant mind, and she was rich in love and courage, and her papers certainly have a lot to say about her victories—which were even greater than we knew. But her papers also reveal the cracks in her life, her doubts and disappointments and frustrations, and at times even her despair.

These darker moments are part of her story, just as the triumphant ones are, and talking about both is important. We all face our own hard times, and it strengthens us to know that others have, too.

Painting a complex portrait of a woman doesn’t make her any less remarkable. If anything, it makes her triumphs all the greater—and more real. In the end, creating myths about strong women doesn’t make us strong. What makes us strong is sharing the truth about our lives.

Online with The Woman All Spies Fear

It’s just a week till the The Woman All Spies Fear officially debuts, and my author copies are already here! Aren’t they stunning?!

I’m grateful to illustrator Karolis Strautniekas and designer Andrea Lau for their brilliant work on the book, and to all the people at Random House who have helped bring it into being.

Elizebeth Friedman was a brilliant women who fought gangsters, the Mob, and Nazi spies – only to find herself pushed into history’s shadows. I’ll be talking about her remarkable life (and sharing photos!) at a couple of online events this month, and I’d be delighted to have you join me:

Wednesday, 20 October 2021, at 1pm EDT: I’ll be giving a free online Cyber Chat for middle and high school students, via the National Cryptologic Foundation’s online classroom

Wednesday, 27 October 2021, at 12 noon EDT: I’ll be talking about the hidden life of Elizebeth Smith Friedman (and sharing lots of wonderful photos!) in a free online talk hosted by the International Spy Museum

Both events are free, but they require you to pre-register. I’ll be doing some radio and podcast interviews as well, and I’ll be a guest on Write Space with Kirby Larson, talking about writing, history, and The Woman All Spies Fear. I’ll post more details about those events later. It’s a busy few weeks, but I’m glad to have the chance to shine a light on this extraordinary woman and her hidden life.

[Edited 22 Oct 21 to update dates and links!]

Born on this day

Exactly 129 years ago today, on August 26, 1892, Elizebeth Smith Friedman was born on an Indiana farm, the ninth child in her family. Small and frail, she didn’t have an easy start in life, but she rose to become one of the world’s great codebreakers.

I’ve spent years researching her life, and what a ride it’s been! I can’t wait to share it with you when THE WOMAN ALL SPIES FEAR comes out in October.

In the meantime: Happy birthday, Elizebeth! Here is one of my favorite photos of her, taken around 1916, when she got her start in codebreaking.

(Photo courtesy of the George C. Marshall Foundation in Lexington, VA.)

Triple the fun

I’m celebrating summer by giving away a set of all three RA THE MIGHTY mysteries to a US reader! As you can see, this cat thinks they’re terrific.

If you need more encouragement, Booklist says they’re “perfect for young gumshoes,” Kirkus calls them “hilarious,” and the Junior Library Guild says they’re Gold Standard Selections. It’s a paperback set, ideal for kids 7 to 10 and cat lovers of all ages. Just add a comment here to enter. (Or you can find this post on Twitter or FB or IG, & enter there.) But hurry! I’ll close the giveaway on Saturday 7 Aug at 11pm PT.

Update (8/8): Thank you to everyone who entered! There were almost a hundred of you. The winner is Destiny Lawyer, who has been a reading teacher for 21 years. I’m delighted to be sending these books to her young readers. Happy International Cat Day!

Writer’s mailbox

One of the perks of being of writer is that you get such great mail. This week I heard from Ra the Mighty fans Gabrielle and Anders, who sent me a wonderful photo of their own cat, Rocket, posing as Ra. (They tell me they sometimes refer to him as “Ra-Cat” now.)

It was Anders who had the idea of dressing Rocket up as Ra. The costume included a jeweled collar made of tinfoil, and Rocket posed with all the grace of a true Pharaoh’s Cat.

Isn’t he terrific?!

Thank you, Gabrielle and Anders, for sending me the photo and giving me permission to share it here! It’s on my list of all-time favorite fan mail.

Behind the scenes


For ten months now, I’ve been mostly locked down at home. It’s a drag, but it’s the smart thing to do if you’re high risk like me. When I can, I walk in local fields. My excursions are rare, and usually involve clinics and hospitals.

The one glorious exception is my trip last August to a TV studio. I went there to film an interview for an American Experience documentary about Elizebeth Smith Friedman, the amazing real-life female code breaker who is the subject of my next book, The Woman All Spies Fear.

Covid had wrecked our original plans to film in NYC in March, so I figured the documentary would go on without me. But I hadn’t reckoned on the determination of the producer and director, who found a way forward. At a time when local Covid levels were very low, they found an Oxfordshire studio that does work for the BBC and that was taking good precautions. They told me I’d be the only guest in the studio that day, with only a small camera crew at a distance, so I decided to take the risk.

It was a bizarre and wonderful experience. The film crew was terrific, and they’d rigged up a zoom link with the US-based team. That way, the director could interview me as if she were in the studio herself. It worked like a dream…

…except for the wasps.

While the camera was rolling, I was stung not once, but TWICE, by wasps that had found their way into the studio. I got out my Epipen but luckily didn’t need it — though I did need the two packs of frozen mixed veggies the film crew offered me from the freezer. After the second sting, the crew decided to wrap the lower half of me in a black velvet theater curtain, then stand guard over me (at 6 feet, with masks) to swat away anything that buzzed. And that’s how I did the interview, which went on for over six hours. It was quite a day.

If you’re in the US, you can see the film on PBS on Monday night — the first American Experience episode of 2021! It’s called The Codebreaker. I’m just a small part of it, but I think it will be GREAT! Catch it if you can.