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

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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.

A new year & a new cover

Happy New Year, everyone! May it be better than the last one. It’s been a long time since I was so happy to finish off a calendar and move on to the next.

I’ve been lying low with a lupus flare for the last several weeks, but I’m slowly getting better, and today I have something fun to share — the cover for my next book, THE WOMAN ALL SPIES FEAR, out in October from Random House!

The Woman All Spies Fear

The artist is Karolis Strautniekas, whose done some fabulous work in the NYT and the New Yorker, among other places. Often authors don’t have any control over covers, so I was delighted to have some input into this one, and I couldn’t be happier with the final result.

Here’s the book description:

In the summer of 1916, a young English major sets out to solve a mystery about Shakespeare. It involves a rare book, a strange millionaire, and the secret world of codes and ciphers. Within a year, she has transformed herself into one of America’s top code breakers — and that is only the beginning of her brilliant career.            

During World War I, Elizebeth Smith Friedman cracked thousands of messages and trained Army officers in cryptology. In the 1920s, she foiled the plans of mobsters and confronted them in court. By the late 1930s, she was one of the most famous code breakers in the world. In World War II, she hunted Nazi spies.

A woman of many secrets, she was later pushed into the shadows. To discover her full story, you must delve deep, the way a code breaker would, searching for the truth that lies just out of sight. This biography tells the riveting tale of an overlooked American heroine — a real-life adventure, mystery, and love story.

The book can be pre-ordered now on Amazon, and it will soon show up on bookshop.org, too. If you do pre-order it, you have my undying gratitude!

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