Little victories

Things I can put in the win column this week:

1. My sophomores did a writing and peer-editing assignment using the End-of-Course exam rubric and a form I made for them. Their essays were solid, and their critiques were even better.

2. The child I am teaching to read has gained at least two grade levels since August. I intend to double that by May.

3. My journalism students are finally getting the hang of proofreading. I awarded bonus points to three kids today for making good catches — two for content issues (an incorrect name in a cutline and two jumps that didn’t match) and one for a design issue of the sort I’ve seen veteran copy editors overlook.

4. I came up with a project today that will — if it goes according to plan — resolve a conflict with a colleague, provide some multidisciplinary collaboration, and give a student a good shot at winning a statewide journalism award and several FFA competitions next year.

I’m tired and ready to spend a little quality time with my fictional banshees this weekend, but it’s been a good week.

Emily

A preview

Here, as promised, is an excerpt from the first draft of the prologue to my next novel. Enjoy.

Prologue
Nov. 1, 2005 ~ Coldwater, N.M.

Sierra watched the brown sugar disappear into the whiskey as Miss Shirley stirred it into the bottom of a feed-store mug. The coffee maker had just finished burbling, and as she pulled away the carafe, the machine released one final, defiant drop that hit the warming plate and evaporated with a hiss. Miss Shirley ignored it, pouring hot coffee into the mug and adding a splash of cream before setting it in front of Sierra and handing her a spoon.

“Give it a good stir and see how you like it,” she said.

Sierra stirred and tasted. “Eat your heart out, Bailey’s,” she said.

Miss Shirley laughed, stirring her own mug. “There are no shortcuts to Irish coffee,” she said. “Either you use good Irish whiskey and heavy cream, or you’re drinking hot chocolate.”

Something scraped against the side of the building, just under the kitchen window, and Sierra could hear the wind yowling across the llano, an unearthly sound that made her shiver in spite of the warm coffee. “How do you get used to that?” she wondered aloud.

Miss Shirley sat down across from Sierra.

“The Mexicans call her La Llorona,” she said. “The weeping woman. My ancestors knew her by other names. The Scottish called her bean nighe; the Irish knew her as bean sidhe — the banshee. She and I are old friends.” She looked at Sierra over her coffee. Her white hair framed her face, barely restrained by a set of silver-trimmed combs, and for a split-second, looking into her pale blue eyes, Sierra could have believed she was the banshee, an ancient Celtic spirit far from home, howling across the high desert and pining for the forests of Ireland.

Sierra was silent for a while, listening to the bean sidhe, meeting her doppelganger’s eyes and wondering just what she’d seen in her years at the Tumbleweed. Miss Shirley didn’t smile, exactly, but her crows’ feet deepened just slightly, and Sierra got the impression the older woman was amused by her quiet response.

“How does a nice Scottish-Irish girl with a command of Celtic folklore wind up running a motel in the middle of nowhere, New Mexico?” Sierra asked at last.

“I wondered when you’d ask something useful.” The crinkle around the corner of Miss Shirley’s mouth deepened to a wry smile. “It began, as so many things did, with the potato famine.”

She disappeared into a back room for a few minutes. Sierra sipped coffee, letting the whiskey warm her, and wondered whom the bean sidhe was pre-emptively mourning this evening. …

You’ll shoot your eye out, kid.

Spotted this evening as I was coming down First Street on my way home from the dojo. Dollhouse B&B has a bay window, and this Major Award was displayed prominently in it.

I am delighted to see that someone in town shares my fondness for A Christmas Story. I show the film to my sophomores every year as an intro to my narrative essay unit, as the flagpole scene is a near-perfect example of narrative structure.

Emily

Hi-dee-ho, here I go

It was missing a piece.
And it was not happy.
So it set off in search
of its missing piece.
And as it rolled
it sang this song—
“Oh I’m lookin’ for my missin’ piece
I’m lookin’ for my missin’ piece
Hi-dee-ho, here I go,
Lookin’ for my missin’ piece.”

— Shel Silverstein

Have you ever misplaced yourself and not even realized you were gone until parts of you started turning up unexpectedly?

That’s how I’ve felt over the past few months: I haven’t exactly been lookin’ for my missin’ pieces, but I keep running across them, and it’s a joy whenever I find one.

Last Easter, for the first time in nearly 20 years, I found myself singing Sandi Patty’s “Via Dolorosa” for church. It was very well-received, and it felt good to be there, singing a song I loved in front of an appreciative congregation. It felt as if I’d found a piece of myself that I didn’t even know was missing.

In early June, I volunteered to sing “It Is Well With My Soul.” I realized too late that I no longer had the backing track for it — which apparently had gone out of print — so I wound up working out how to accompany myself at the piano. I hadn’t played piano in front of anybody in at least 25 years, but it felt right. Another missing piece clicked into place.

This fall, somebody invited me to join the local community choir, which puts on a cantata every Christmas, and I found a missing piece in the soprano section.

A self-defense class started tonight at a dojo that opened downtown recently. I bowed in, stepped onto the mat, and plunged into a workout that probably wasn’t half as strenuous as it felt. The missing piece that I grappled and kicked and blocked back into my life tonight is woefully out of shape, and my legs are awfully sore, but I feel better right now than I have in years, and I don’t think it’s just the endorphins.

Emily

(Just Like) Starting Over Again

Ah, what the hell — let’s start the new year by pretending I’m going to update this blog on a regular basis.

As I mentioned last summer, I’ve been researching Celtic folklore for a project I’ve got brewing. This mostly involved trips down online rabbit-holes while I was recovering from surgery, but in early August, an acquaintance heard me mention my project and brought me a stack of books on the subject. Before I had a chance to dive into them, school started, bringing with it some unexpected challenges. It was a deeply rewarding semester, but also deeply demanding, and I didn’t get a hand free to start my research in earnest until Sunday.

Three days later, I’ve skimmed four books, read two cover to cover, and gotten about two-thirds of the way through Patricia Monaghan’s fascinating The Red-Haired Girl from the Bog, which I highly recommend.

The project that prompted all of this is another novel that is simultaneously a prequel and a sequel to Greetings from Coldwater.

Here’s what I can tell you at the moment:

It is set in Coldwater and includes several familiar faces: Sierra, Miss Shirley, Joey, Abuelito, the denizens of the liars’ table at Casa de Jesus, and at least one other character I’ll keep to myself for now.

While Greetings was magical realism, this new book crosses the line into unapologetic fantasy. The new characters include a pair of banshees: Morgan, a lonely, awkward seventh-grader, and Holly, the middle-aged school administrator who becomes her mentor. We’ll also meet Holly’s girlfriend, an acerbic banker who is wholly unbothered to find herself dating, as she puts it, “an incarnation of an ancient Celtic spirit most Americans either haven’t heard of or don’t believe really exists.”

The story is more plot-driven than Sierra’s last outing, and while my intent is for Morgan to be the primary protagonist, I have four very strong characters on my hands, so there’s no telling where this thing will end up by the time I wrangle it out of my head and onto paper. At this point, about all I can say with any degree of certainty is that it’ll pass the Bechdel test with flying colors.

If you’re nice to me, I might post a scene now and then. Stay tuned.

Emily

Sustainability on a shoestring