CoffeeBreakConfidentialIt’s Katherine, writing from Timbuktu — which is, incidentally, not that far away . . . at least when you have military aircraft capable of reaching Mach 3 at your disposal.

As a spy, a lot of my time is spent gathering information from assets, preferably face-to-face. After all, technology can be hacked so easily. I should know; I do it all the time.

If you don’t want to break into your asset’s house/mansion/hideout (which most people tend to regard as rude), then meeting up with an asset can involve a bit of legwork. You have to leave an encrypted message at a dead drop, change your route at least three times on the way to the meeting location, do a couple of bug sweeps once you get there, and have a flawless exit strategy in case things go south.

One Big Family

One Big Family

It would be much easier if my contacts could just come to me. Unfortunately, the security at headquarters can be a bit too effective at times. Anyone with a lower clearance level than me is jettisoned from the building before they can reach my desk. Top-notch security makes for a very quiet office.

This is why it was such a thrill to have asset author and poet laureate Marc Harshman here at headquarters. (Don’t ask me what kind of clearance he has. Even I’m not allowed to know.) He came all the way from West Virginia (which may or may not be a sizeable distance from the undisclosed location of our offices) to provide us with information about his forthcoming book One Big Family and his life as a writer. And of course, Ahna and I were only too happy to get the intel and share it with our viewers.

As further evidence of our highly operative security system: several parts of the video were redacted when we uploaded it to the internet. Luckily, Ahna and I are trained for this sort of thing. She was able to recover some of the footage, and I used my eidetic memory to fill in the rest. What follows is the missing information from Marc’s official report.

Is there something about being a writer, children’s book author, poet laureate, etc. that people would find surprising?

People may be surprised that I came from such a humble background. My father was a farmer, and we didn’t have much at all. I didn’t realize how little we had as a boy growing up. I was shielded from it. I don’t think we realize that sometimes, that when you’re poor, you’re not necessarily aware that you’re poor. . . . My parents were so devoted to both raising my brother and I and providing a good education that I never saw these things. Despite growing up in fairly straitened circumstances, I was really blessed with parents that were devoted to reading.

If you could invite five writers, dead or alive, to your house for dinner, who would you invite?

Well, because of our humorous dinner conversation, I would invite Thomas Hardy — the right Thomas Hardy from Dorset this time.

[Note from the dossier: Ahna and I ate lunch with Marc before the interview; during the meal, he told a very funny anecdote about searching for the Hardy Monument while on a family vacation to Dorset. Only upon finally finding the monument did he discover that it wasn’t built in honor of the author Thomas Hardy (whose books include Far from the Madding Crowd and Tess of the d’Urbervilles) but rather Vice Admiral Sir Thomas Hardy, who was a commander at the Battle of Trafalgar.]

I think it might be fun to have somebody as brilliant and quirky as Virginia Woolf at the table. Let’s see, who else? George Mackay Brown, an Orkney poet, not gone very long. David Jones, the great Welsh poet and artist. I would love to meet David Jones. And a lesser known American poet named Lorine Niedecker. I’d love to have met the woman; she wrote spare verse, much like William Carlos Williams — as I recall, they had corresponded — and she was a terrific writer.

A special thanks to Marc, who remains one of our finest assets. Now if you’ll excuse me, these ancient manuscripts aren’t going to preserve themselves.

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About Coffee Break Confidential:

This monthly column is where EBYR editorial assistant/vlogger/superspy Katherine Gibson divulges extra information from Coffee Break with EBYR that would otherwise be kept off the record. She’s researching topics related to children’s literature, posting her findings — and taking down some powerful militarized governments in the process. Just kidding about that last one. (Or are we?)