Saturday, January 29, 2011

book dedication to a beloved editor, Ann Reit

Ann Reit at Scholastic, early years
Seventeen years ago, Ann Reit and I met via a long distance phone call. She was to be my editor at Scholastic for a new historical series called Dear America. Talk about opposites! I was a California beach girl and she a native New Yorker. Ann was so direct with her opinions—in her strong New York accent—frankly, she terrified me.

But we quickly became friends. We had a blast brainstorming The Winter of Red Snow, and fifteen subsequent novels. She was not sentimental about killing off one of my precious characters.
         “Get rid of him,” Ann said.
         “How?” I asked.
         “Have him fall off his horse.”
         “But he doesn’t have a horse.”
         “Kristi! Just give him a horse, make him go riding somewhere and have him fall off.”

June 1999 with Ann & my sons, Twin Towers in background
Of writer's block Ann said, "Forget about it. Just tell the story!" Our talks would veer from manuscripts, to politics and world events, to family. She loved remembering her mother and grandmother and their New York neighborhood of the 1920s. She always asked about my sons Greg and Cody, recalling details that showed how much she cared. Ann was Jewish and deeply spiritual. Often she started our conversations by saying, “Let’s talk about God.” And we would.

The last time I saw her was a few weeks before she passed away of cancer. We met at our favorite diner, Café 82 on New York's Upper West Side. The place was packed, but she forged through the crowd with her cane, to wait for the booth she wanted. Ann stood for thirty minutes, leaning on that cane until a gentleman finally finished his sandwich. As the table was being cleared, she said “Sit down Kristi, this one’s for us.”

I love this memory of Ann. She was feisty and protective. She took Flintstone vitamins and drank hot water without a teabag. I miss her terribly.

Meanwhile the sequel to Red Snow, Cannons at Dawn, will be published this May with her name on my dedication page. I had the good fortune of working with another wonderful editor on this project, Lisa Sandell.


Sunday, January 16, 2011

going to France with 30 teenagers & researching Eleanor of Aquitaine

La Cite, Medieval Fortified Town, Carcassone, Aude, Languedoc-Roussillon, France Photographic Poster Print by David Hughes, 9x12
La Cité Carcassonne, France
When Scholastic asked me to write about Eleanor of Aquitaine for Dear America's Royal Diary series I was thrilled. I couldn't wait to immerse myself in the Middle Ages and imagine what life may have been like for a 14-year-old aristocrat.

Eleanor: Crown Jewel of Aquitaine, France, 1136 (The Royal Diaries)It happened that my son's French class was going to Europe over Spring break and would be touring the Aquitaine countryside. Greg graciously insisted he wouldn't mind his mom tagging along, so off we went with a gaggle of high-schoolers. It was fun seeing history through their eyes and to wander through medieval castles like Carcassonne, where scenes from Braveheart and Robin Hood were filmed.

I learned a lot traveling with these students. It didn't seem far off to think their concerns and interests were similar to teenagers from eight centuries ago: friendship, parental love, curiosity about their future, yearnings for adventure and, of course, cool clothes. The girls loved to shop and, as it turns out, Eleanor loved her beautiful gowns.

On a subsequent trip to Paris, my 17-year old son Cody helped me find Eleanor's crystal vase in the Louvre [photo right]. It's exquisite, about 16" tall. Most of the gems are the size of my thumbnail, in an array of blues and violets, set into silver. It's said that Eleanor was fifteen and newly married to King Louis VII when she gave this to him. The Latin inscription on its base states that after she presented it to Louis, he gave it to Abbot Suger, who then donated it to the Abbey of Saint-Denis in Paris. It's believed to be the only surviving artifact from the royal couple. [This appears on p. 176 of the book.]

It was a blast writing Eleanor: Crown Jewel of Aquitaine. Would I travel again with teenagers? Heck, yeah!