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.



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.


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:



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.


Making the leap

True story: After I wrote and revised RA THE MIGHTY, I sat on it for six months before I sent it to my agent. Why?

Because I worried that if a publisher bought it, they’d want a sequel. And I was afraid I couldn’t be funny twice.

As I explained a while ago, I never saw humor as my strong point, at least not in writing. I was as surprised as could be when Ra and Khepri showed up on the page and started making me laugh. And that’s really how I thought of it – they they were the ones who made things funny. Not me.

Luckily, a good friend pushed me to send the book out.  She’d read the manuscript, and she knew it was ready. Her prompting made me realize two things:

  • I wasn’t going to get over my fear anytime soon.
  • I was just going to have to take the leap anyway.

At least, I had to leap if I wanted RA THE MIGHTY to find a home, and if I wanted to grow as a writer. And I did.It turned out Ra found a home fast. (Yay!) And yes, they wanted a sequel. (Cue a big attack of nerves!)

To ward off anxiety, I’d already scribbled down some ideas for more Ra mysteries, and it helped to know those were in my back pocket. But ideas are a long way from a book. And they don’t have much to do with voice, which was the wellspring for the humor in RA THE MIGHTY. In the end, I just had to make another leap—and hope that Ra and Khepri showed up again.

Thankfully, they did. And they made me laugh even harder this time, as they tackled THE GREAT TOMB ROBBERY.

I’m the kind of person who likes to have a plan for everything (and a back-up plan, and a back-up back-up plan). But I’ve finally realized that what I love about humor is that it doesn’t lend itself to planning. It requires me to leap. And even for an over-planner like me, it’s the very act of leaping that makes it so much fun.


The variety show – and a RA giveaway!

Variety is definitely the spice of this writer’s life. Today I’m digging into crocodile copyedits and researching a 1949 codebreaking crisis … and that’s not all! I’ve also been printing out documents, rehearsing a speech, pondering a research trip, sending out a couple tweets, replying to emails from my publisher, reading a book in my field, and renewing my SCBWI membership. And yes, I’ll be doing a little writing, too. 

My favorite days are the ones where I get to write and write and write. Next best are the days when I dive deep into research and discover something new, or when I get to talk to people about books and reading and the subjects I love best. But I’ve had to accept that writers have to do other things, too — including plenty of paperwork and email. I tell myself it’s a variety show.

On a completely different note, I have some fun news about a Ra giveaway. My lovely publisher and TeachingNet are offering a chance to win one of 10 packs of both Ra the Mighty books — SIGNED copies of RA #1 and ARCs of RA #2. The offer is open till October 31 to US residents and you can enter here.

Please enter if you’d like to win — and good luck! And if you know of anyone — especially a teacher or librarian or youth club — that could use some funny books for readers in 2nd through 5th grades, please pass the link on!

Spooky fun

Hip, hip, MEOW! Today I’m celebrating the book birthday of THE GREAT TOMB ROBBERY, the second Ra the Mighty mystery, with cake and cheers and maybe even some dancing in the kitchen. And after I eat my cake, I’ll be watching this book trailer, which is 59 seconds of madcap, spooky fun:


Huge thanks to Sarah Horne for the fabulous art, and to my husband for bringing it so ingeniously to life!

I also send my thanks to you, dear readers and dear friends. I’m more grateful than I can say for all your warm and funny comments, letters, photos, videos, and drawings. I hope you enjoy reading Ra and Khepri’s second adventure as much as I enjoyed writing it!


Insect heroes

I’m over at the fabulous Middle Grade Book Village website today, with a short and quirky post about insect heroes.

A funny topic, you say? Yes, but also deadly serious. The survival of the world rests on insects, and yet they’re often seen as a nuisance – or worse. So I think it’s time our kids saw them getting some starring roles in their books.

Cats and dogs get a lot of love in middle-grade fiction. I say it’s time to cheer for insect heroes, too!  And Khepri would agree.

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