Tag Archives: Work in progress

A Seed Is Planted

NOTE: This is part of the new novel I am writing. I am posting it here as a diversion for readers who may be living under shelter-in-place policies while the world waits for the coronavirus pandemic to pass. For an explanation of this project, please click here.

A Seed Is Planted
April 1948 ~ Kavanaugh’s Pub, St. Louis

Shirley dropped her books on a table in the corner of the storeroom and tied her apron around her waist.

“Shirley, is that you?” Her mother’s voice floated in from the kitchen.

“Yes. Sorry I’m late. Billy Collins stole my homework and told me I couldn’t have it back until I gave him a kiss,” she said, peering into the cloudy, speckled mirror that hung above the table as she tried, mostly unsuccessfully, to smooth her hair. She’d inherited her mother’s unruly Scottish curls, and they didn’t respond well to the St. Louis humidity that rose from the Mississippi River and settled over the city as soon as the weather warmed up. Continue reading A Seed Is Planted

Prologue, Part 2

NOTE: To read the first part of this prologue, please click here. This is part of the new novel I am writing. I am posting it here as a diversion for readers who may be living under shelter-in-place policies while the world waits for the coronavirus pandemic to pass. For an explanation of this project, please click here.

Prologue, Part 2
Nov. 1, 2005 ~ Tumbleweed Motel, Coldwater, N.M.

… “This was my great-great grandfather,” Miss Shirley said, opening a leather-bound photo album. She laid it in front of Sierra and pointed to a faded tintype under a sheet of yellowed, brittle cellophane. A bearded man with pale eyes stared out from the photograph. “His parents starved to death, and he came close. Stowed away on a ship headed for New York in 1847. As the story goes, he met Great-Great-Grandma in 1848. He was Protestant; she was Catholic. Her parents thought he was trouble and forbade her to have anything to do with him. You can’t tell an Irish girl anything, so they eloped, he got himself a job working for the railroad, and they headed west. Spent a few years in Chicago.” She turned a page and pointed out another portrait. Continue reading Prologue, Part 2


In 1967, Leo Lionni published a children’s picture book called Frederick, in which a nest of field mice prepares for the winter. While the other mice gather food, one mouse, Frederick, collects supplies of his own: sunshine, color, words. In the depths of winter, when the food is running out and the sky is cold and gray, Frederick uses his stores to lift everybody else’s spirits.

We read Frederick recently in my children’s-lit class. I thought of the title character today as I was listening to a press conference in which the governor outlined the new restrictions she was putting into effect to try to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Here in New Mexico, the usual entertainment options are becoming scarce as bars, restaurants, schools, malls, and movie theaters close and social gatherings are limited to 10 people.

Wherever you are, you’re probably under some restrictions, too.

I don’t have a stockpile of toilet paper or hand sanitizer to share with you. But — like Frederick — I can offer you my words.

A couple of months ago, I posted part of the prologue to a novel I am writing. I’d intended to post a few more samples, but I got busy and didn’t have time.

Beginning tomorrow, I will start posting sections of my new novel for you to enjoy. Please understand that they are very rough, as this is very much a work in progress, and what you see here may bear little resemblance to whatever finds its way into the finished book. But I think it’s pretty engaging, and at this moment of international crisis, a diversion might be the best thing I can offer the world.

See you tomorrow in Coldwater.


A preview

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

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. …