Category Archives: Writing

Spring catch-up

It’s been–yikes!–half a year since I posted anything, so here’s a quick catch-up, starting with a photo from last week’s visit to one of my favorite places in Portland, the Japanese Garden. The garden has a number of cherry trees, which were in beautiful bloom, but only one Weeping Cherry, this venerable and well-cared-for specimen. It once stood on private property and was slated for destruction, but it was moved to the Japanese Garden, where it continues to flourish. We should all be so lucky.

One adventure of recent months was a week-long trip to Costa Rica with a friend in February. We stayed in a rental bungalow on a hillside above Bijagua de Upala in the north-central highlands, about a 90-minute drive from Liberia. It’s close to Tenorio Volcano National Park, where we had a memorable hike. Another highlight was a three-hour private boat tour of the Cano Negro wetlands reserve, where we saw a great variety of birds and many splendid reptiles: caiman, basilisks, iguanas. Also some tiny bats roosting in crevices in the bark of a tree. Although the roads to Cano Negro are pretty bad and call for slow and careful driving, it’s well worth the effort to see this distinctive piece of Costa Rica’s ecology. Alas, I did not see a tapir on this trip–although my friend may have glimpsed one–but we did see two varieties each of wild sloths and monkeys, and a glorious abundance of bird life, including this Yellow-Fronted Toucan, photographed from our bungalow balcony, who just wouldn’t come any closer.

On the writing front, I’ve just had my first look at the layout and illustration sketches for the MG adaptation I wrote of David Barrie’s wonderful natural-history book Supernavigators. When the adaptation comes out from Tra Publishing, it’s going to be gorgeous. And soon I’ll be diving into the revising and polishing phase of my MG adaptation of Loren Grush’s The Six, about our first six women astronauts.

A total solar eclipse will cross much of North America next week. I’d thought about driving to south-central Texas–the closest point at which I could intersect the path of totality–but I’ve dropped the idea. Much as I would love experiencing another eclipse, I had a perfect one an hour from home in 2017. I decided I didn’t want to drive for 30 hours, park myself by the side of a dusty road (along with who knows how many other drivers), and hope that the 50-50 weather would let the eclipse be seen. All respect to the eclipse chasers who manage to see as many as possible, but I’m happy with the one total eclipse I’ve seen in my life.

Finally, a few of my favorite recent reads: The Silver Wind and The Rift by Nina Allan, both of which bring an oblique and ambiguous touch to science-fictional themes; Haruki Murakami’s Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, a weird and compelling novel that to me suggested elements both of the same author’s later novel 1Q84 and the unsettling 2004 Japanese horror film Marebito; and Gone: A Search for What Remains of the World’s Extinct Creatures, by naturalist Michael Blencowe, whose account of his travels to see the preserved relics of creatures such as the Great Auk, Steller’s Sea Cow, and (of course) the Dodo, includes fascinating details about the animals, their discoverers and exploiters, and the author’s own feelings about the natural world and what we are making of it.

Eighteen days by the sea

I had the great good fortune to spend much of October 2023 in a solo retreat at the beach house of some generous friends. Located on the Oregon coast south of Newport, the house is a five-minute walk up the cliff from this glorious beach.

I wasn’t entirely alone.

Xanthe the Speckled Menace was excellent company. Here she shows her arboreal nature on one of the beach house’s many ledges and windowsills, which she immediately saw as a jumping and perching paradise. She did not care for the beach–perhaps because of the big loud wet thing adjacent to it–but she enjoyed leash walks in the yard around the house, grumbling at the gulls and jays.

The beach house has neither cell coverage nor wifi. The former was available on the beach or a few hundred yards down the street, the latter at the library in Newport, a ten-minute drive away. It was both liberating and frustrating to be out of the instant communication (and diversion) to which many of us are accustomed. I did some writing, some outlining, and some reading. The latter mostly consisted of books that had lingered too long in the “Unread” category on my Kindle, among which were a number of pretty good books, only one real dud, and one darkly Shining Trapezohedron of a gem, Scott R. Jones’s Stonefish.

I’ve always wanted to have a quiet, extended time next to the ocean. For eighteen days and seventeen nights I had the sound of it in my ears. I saw it every time I looked out the front windows, and I walked along it for an hour or so at least once each day. What a gift.

Space history and spiny lobsters

This year fall, my favorite time of year, coincides with the start of what I know will be one of my all-time favorite writing projects.

I’ve loved space ever since I was a kid lying in our front yard at night, gazing up at the Milky Way. My parents patiently listened to me chatter about the solar system and bought my first telescope when I was about eleven. I went on to become a reader and, for a time, a teacher of science fiction. I never dreamed of becoming an astronaut, but I followed the flights of cosmonauts and astronauts with much interest–especially those of the first Russian and American women in space. That’s why I’m beyond thrilled to be adapting Loren Grush’s fine new book The Six, about the first half-dozen American woman astronauts, into a shorter version for middle-grade readers.

The Six covers the women’s early lives, how they became interested in and eventually joined the US space program, and what each of them contributed. It also makes painfully clear the obstacles that women had to overcome to take their place in space exploration. I look forward to spending autumn working with this absorbing book and sharing these women’s stories with young readers. The adaptation will be published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster.

But wait, there’s more! I also had the privilege this year of adapting David Barrie’s 2019 book Supernavigators, a fascinating look at how we have learned what we know about animals’ remarkable feats of navigation. The illustrated adaptation for young readers will be issued by Tra Publishing. I’m especially happy to have included the amazing journeys of spiny lobsters, who trundle for great distances, head to tail in long lines, over unfailingly straight paths across the dark sea floor. The clever experiments of the researchers who investigated these and other animal navigators are as surprising and entertaining as the animals’ journeys themselves.

New nonfiction on the way

I can’t announce the details quite yet, but I’m delighted to have a new nonfiction adaptation in the works. It will be an illustrated book for kids 8 to 12 years old on a fascinating topic in animal behavior. The original book is wonderful, well researched and entertaining; it will be fun as well as challenging to adapt it for a younger audience.

We’re number one!

And by “we” I mean historian Howard Zinn, scholar and educator Ed Morales, and, to a much lesser extent, me.

The late Howard Zinn published the indispensable A People’s History of the United States in 1980 and updated it in 2003. A few years after that, with Howard’s encouragement and support, I had the great honor and pleasure of adapting the book for young readers. The Young People’s History of the United States was published in 2007 and has remained in print ever since. It’s deeply gratifying to know how many young people it has introduced to Howard’s important work.

Earlier this month, Seven Stories Press released a new edition of the Young People’s History. The text was updated to reflect the language we now use when talking about various groups within the American population. Ed Morales contributed two new sections that greatly expand coverage of the histories and roles of Latino immigrants and their descendants in the United States. Finally, I added new material on Asian American activism and on today’s young activists and their causes.

Helping to make Zinn’s work accessible to young readers has been an extraordinary privilege. I’m delighted to see this new edition of the Young People’s History already making a mark. I’m even more excited to report that a Spanish-language version of it will be published later this year.