Tag Archives: Nonfiction

Double whammy

Been too busy (and when not busy, crashing) to post for a while. Last week I was overwhelmed. My mom was here from Saturday night to Friday night, and at the same time I was striving mightily to finish a book. (More on the latter later.)

Despite the fact that I was swamped with work, I was glad to see Mom. This is a good time of year for her to visit Portland–she now lives in Florida and has become used to hot weather, so September here is cool enough to be a nice break for her, but not so cool as to make her  complain of the cold. We had wonderful meals at my friend Fred’s house and at Wildwood, and rather more ordinary ones here at our place. One good day was a drive out through the Gorge and up the Hood River Valley. Mom enjoyed the sunshine and scenery, I enjoyed the not writing, and Zach enjoyed the immense box of freshly picked pears (about six varieties) he scored at a fruit stand.

The real hit of the visit, though, was Xerxes. He came into our lives around this time last year, just after her visit ended, so last week was her introduction to him. She was much smitten. Our household had a dog and a cat when I was growing up, and we all loved them very much, and my parents dutifully cared for them after my brother and I moved away–and after those two dear animals were gone (they died long long ago), both my parents firmly quashed any suggestion that they might consider getting a new pet. Who would want to go through that trouble again? they would say.

As it turns out, now my mom might. She had such a good time with Xerxes–beaming whenever he sat on her lap, walking him in the garden on his leash, playing with him with his jingle ball and other toys, and generally fussing over him almost as much as we do–that I finally asked her if she would like to have a cat in Florida. (She has friends and activities, but when she’s at home alone, she’s lonely.) Her response was that if she could get one as pretty and lovable as Xx, she would. Well . . . he is peerless, but Zach and I have offered to help her find a cat when we go down for our Christmas visit. Her neighbors on both sides have cats and trade  catsitting when they travel, so she’d be all hooked up. (On the downside, full disclosure: She did say that if Xerxes were her cat, she’d name him Patches.)

Here she is with Xx in our back yard, between the house and the woods. He is lying on the oregano, a favorite lounging spot when we take him out:

At about 4 pm today I finally finished the second book in the Forensics series and emailed the ms. to my editor. It ran several thousand words over spec; I hope the designer can give me a little stretch in the layout, but if necessary I will cut one section. This book was much  fun to write. The topic was forensics in historical research, so I got to talk about royal assassinations, battlefield archaeology, the Vinland Map, and more.

To my regret, I had to leave out some topics I had planned to cover. Space did not permit me, for example, to discuss the recent forensic archaeology performed at a campsite associated with a certain notorious episode in pioneer history. And I had the perfect title for that section, too: “The Donner Party’s Dinner Parties.” Wah.

Bracing for the hate mail

Good news today from my favorite publisher. A series proposal I’d submitted a couple of months ago is going to contract.

The project: A four-volume series called The Human Family, bringing together the most current scientific thinking about human evolution, from before the australopithecines to the dispersal of modern humans from Africa. Yippee! I love this topic and will truly enjoy writing this series.

Did I mention it’s for kids? Yep, the target audience, as for most of my books, will be middle schoolers. There’ll be sidebars and wacky facts galore, but basically it will be Darwin’s Big Idea–and all the changes rung on it by subsequent generations of evolutionary scientists–applied to people. If that doesn’t get me some hate mail, I don’t know what will. I speak from experience, as I still get the occasional rancorous email or letter from a fundamentalist or creationist about a kids’ biography of Darwin that Oxford University Press published a decade ago! Y’know what? I’m just glad that book is still on the library shelves, getting read and pissing people off

Swedes, foam, and forensics

Zach’s and my new bed was delivered Friday. We got a TempurPedic mattress, and I can tell you that those Swedes know a thing or two about viscose foam. Best sleep ever. I think there’s a TV ad that shows someone putting a glass of red wine on one of these mattresses, and then jumping up and down, and the wine doesn’t spill. We haven’t tried it, but I’ll bet it would work. Zach claims that he hasn’t felt me moving around at night since we started sleeping on the new bed, and I’m a very restless sleeper whose thrashings and rollings have been waking him for years. (He’s a thrasher, too, but I sleep through anything.) It also helps that we jumped from a queen to a king. Now there’s heaps of room for us and Xerxes, too!

On other fronts, yesterday I finally finished writing the book that I was burbling optimistically about finishing last Thursday.  I’m spending today responding to my editor’s notes on a ms. I turned in earlier in the year–a kids’ book on Watergate.  How enchanting it was, while writing that one, to relive that glorious episode! But I’m pleased with the way the ms. turned out, and the notes from my editor and the outside reviewer (a political historian) are very minor, which is a good sign.

Then I’ll be finishing up next book in the series on Forensics for kids. This one has been fun: historical research, using modern forensic techniques to investigate old mysteries (who killed King Tut? was Napoleon murdered? and so on) and episodes in history (the Salem witch trials, battlefield archaeology, etc.). Thanks, CSI and all your millions of clones, for making forensics sexy enough to sell this series.