Tag Archives: Writing

I hope to God it’s good.

“Finished this day — and I hope to God it’s good.”
— John Steinbeck, upon completing The Grapes of Wrath

It’s not likely to be as good as Steinbeck, but I have just finished the second draft of my sequel to Greetings from Coldwater. Surprisingly, it bears a closer resemblance to the draft I posted here this spring than Greetings from Coldwater’s second draft bore to its first. This probably has something to do with the fact that I was working from an outline and actually had an idea of where I was going this time.

I’m still not completely happy with the last chapter, but the rest of it feels solid, and a friend from church who very much enjoyed Greetings and the first draft of this still-untitled prequel/sequel has agreed to give it an edit. I’m looking forward to his feedback.

It’s been a ride. I know more about Celtic mythology now than I ever imagined I’d need or want to know four years ago, when Miss Shirley began bugging me in earnest for a prequel, or even seven months ago, when I sat down with a stack of real books and a Kindle full of ebooks and began taking notes. If my interior monologue is worth a damn, I owe Beverly Cleary a beer. If my fantasy elements are worth a damn, I owe J.K. Rowling and the late Rudolfo Anaya a beer. If the dialogue is worth a damn, I owe Quentin Tarantino a beer. And if the book reaches its final form before Oxford University’s COVID-19 vaccine goes into mass production, I probably owe the notorious M.L.G. (New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham) a beer. That shelter-in-place order lit a fire under me and gave me a nice block of time without a lot of distractions to get this project to this point much faster than I would have otherwise.

As the Dead once said: “What a long, strange trip it’s been.”

Emily

School’s Out

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.

School’s Out
5 p.m. May 23, 2019 ~ Coldwater High School, Coldwater, N.M.

Holly watched the last vehicle pull out of the parking lot. Her work was far from finished — it would never be finished; not until she retired, at least, and that was still a good decade away — but the year was finally over, and she could quit worrying over day-to-day crises and focus on getting ahead of the paperwork that had been trying to drown her since August.

She sank into the aging office chair behind her desk and massaged her temples, wincing. She’d been battling a sinus headache for a month, ever since the upperclassmen had decided to hold their own after-prom at the abandoned church near Cuervo and three of them hadn’t made it back alive. Continue reading School’s Out

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. …

(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

Sunday Self-Care: Unplug

I promised myself I’d unplug from social media after the election, because the campaign had me so tense, it literally made my face hurt, and there’s a limit to how much valerian tea I’m willing to drink in the name of sanity.

Then the election turned out to be such a trainwreck that I couldn’t stop looking at it, and I spent several days bouncing insensitive jerks from my life and commiserating with like-minded people who are as concerned about their black, Latino, Muslim, Jewish, LGBTQ, and other non-cishet-male-WASP friends as I am.

On Friday, I unplugged for several hours while we spent the afternoon and evening in Southern Illinois, listening to Leonard Cohen on the car stereo, wandering through the Rainmaker garden in Makanda, sampling hyperlocal food and drinks at Scratch, driving along the Strip in Carbondale, and hanging out in my parents’ living room, where Dad offered some consolation in the form of references to long-ago presidents who’d risen above their questionable personal histories to become competent leaders.

On Saturday, I slept in late, spent time with the dogs, did a little housecleaning, and composed a handwritten note to Hillary Clinton, who I am fairly sure feels quite a bit worse than I do this week. I prefabbed a couple of blog entries. I played “Imagine” on the piano. I tuned my guitars and played folk-revival covers until my fingers were numb. I had a bowl of green-chile cheese grits for dinner. And then I lit a piece of charcoal, laid a pinon chip on top, and spent the balance of the evening with Miss Shirley in Coldwater, where she poured me a strong cup of Irish coffee, shook her head at my stress, and set me to work transcribing her story to take my mind off things as the wind wailed across Sangre Mesa.

I may not bother logging into social media again for a good long while. It’s peaceful here at the Tumbleweed, and I’d much rather sit here at Miss Shirley’s kitchen table, gazing into her otherworldly eyes and listening to her spellbinding stories, than waste my time fussing over a world I can’t control at all.

Emily

Shameless self-promotion

bookfront

Remember a few months ago, when I told y’all I’d published a novel? I’ll be signing copies from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday at Annie Laurie’s Antiques, 536 Broadway in Cape Girardeau, as part of Cape’s monthly First Friday with the Arts promotion.

If you’ll be in the area, stop by and see me — and be sure to bring extra money for shiny objects, because Laurie always has plenty of them. (Remember that cool ’70s dining set I posted a few weeks ago? I bought that from her.) Make sure to check out the other downtown businesses, too — all the fun little shops and galleries stay open late for First Friday, and Minglewood Brewery usually taps a firkin of some interesting new brew they’re trying out.

I’ll have copies of both Greetings from Coldwater and Route 66 for Kids on hand Friday. If you’ve already read the novel and just want to come in and ask questions about it, I’m game to answer them (if I know the answers; Shirley is just about as enigmatic to me as she is to you), and if you wanted to get a jump on your Christmas shopping, this would be a good way to do it. If you don’t know anybody who wants a book, you probably know somebody who’d like something from Annie Laurie’s or its sister shop across the street, the Indie House, which is sort of an incubator for several artsy little businesses.

Bonus: I think Laurie is planning to have a food truck outside, so you can grab dinner while you’re there, and if you don’t see something you like, you can always cruise a few blocks to find good Cajun, great pizza, or amazing wings. Come visit us!

Emily

My novel is out!

So this happened:

bookfront

bookback

Can we just talk about how excited I am to have this in my hands at last? I’ve been working on this book for five years, not counting the 19 years I spent before that with the main character in my head, trying to figure out what to do with her.

It’s available to order now. Click here for the Kindle version; click here to order it in paperback.

Is it any good? I think it is, but I’m hardly an objective critic. I wrote a novel I wanted to read, set in a town where I’d like to live and populated with people I’d like to meet. It’s hard to be objective about something you’ve been working on for years, but I’ll put it this way: The writing process being what it is, by my most conservative estimate, I’d say I’ve read most of this novel at least two dozen times, and yet I still enjoy reading it, and every time I do, I still find something that feels new — some detail I’d forgotten I wrote, or some flourish that resonates differently now than it did the last time I looked at it. When I sat down with the printed proof a couple of nights ago to look for printing issues and any other little concerns I might have missed, I thought, “I’m really looking forward to reading this just for the fun of it.”

If I can edit a book 24 times and still look forward to reading it just for the sheer enjoyment of the finished product, I feel fairly safe in assuming the average reader will enjoy reading it at least once or twice.

I feel light this afternoon. And free. And at the same time, a little lost. I don’t remember what it’s like to wake up without Sierra in my head, demanding to be written. She’s been part of my consciousness since 1991. But finishing her story has silenced the irrational but persistent fear in the back of my mind: What if I die before I finish my novel? It’s a relief to know I don’t have to worry about that any more, but it’s also a little strange to be finished with what I always assumed was my life’s work. I’m only 40. What now? I’ve got other projects going, of course — I’ve always got projects going, and plenty of them — but nothing as all-consuming as this book.

What will rise to take its place? I’m waiting to see. It’s strange to swap a bucket list for a blank sheet of paper and a couple of Pinterest boards, but it’s kind of exciting, too.

Emily

 

I’ve been busy.

Yes, I’ve subjected this blog to a shameful degree of neglect this summer. Here’s what I’ve been working on:

That’s right, kids. I’m about an eyelash away from being ready to publish Greetings from Coldwater. I’m anticipating a fall release on the Kindle version and — God willing — a paperback edition in time for Christmas. I shot the trailer above on and around Route 66 in New Mexico last spring, and I’ve been dinking with the novel ever since we got back.

frontcoldwatercover

When I started this project, I swore I wouldn’t self-publish, but the publishing industry has changed so much since then that self-publishing now requires less financial risk and far less annoyance than shopping a manuscript. I can go through Amazon to self-publish electronic and paperback editions without spending a dime. All I’m out is time — and less of it than I’d spend writing queries and copying manuscripts and standing in line at the post office to send them to people who may not bother reading them anyway. A big publishing house could probably sell more copies, but I don’t have the patience to read a thousand rejection slips before I find the right publisher. If some big-deal publisher reads it and likes it, we’ll talk.

I’ve spent most of the past 24 hours formatting the manuscript to Amazon’s specs, designing a cover, reskinning TumbleweedMotel.com, printing a proof, and uploading the trailer to YouTube.

I’ve also been busy drawing illustrations for the past couple of weeks:

 

freedsgarageweb

swinneysweb

graveweb

milagromirrorweb

tumbleweedweb

fridgeweb

shrineweb

jackrabbitweb

signsweb

casadejesusweb

Watch this space. I’ll keep you posted on the process and all the stuff I learn as I go.

 

Emily