To the Extreme

Outtakes 120


To the Extreme

by Cait Collins

I have a lot of respect for my doctor, but I hate taking medications. Medicines and I often do not get along. So whenever the doc suggests a course of treatment, I start researching a holistic approach. I visited one of our local health food stores recently to gather information to discuss with my doctor. I’d had dealings with the folks in this store in the past, so I was really surprised when I encountered the Health Food Maniac.

“I can help you but you have to be willing to change your diet.”

“What do you mean by change my diet?”

She handed me a sheet of paper. Both sides were covered with lists of food to avoid. There was a small section of approved foods. No more junk food, which meant anything she considered unfit for human consumption. The list continued. Soft drinks, chewing gum, cookies, throat lozenges, milk, processed cheese, breath mints, oranges, grapefruit, soup, pasta, white flour, white rice, margarine, corn, and Cool Whip were banned substances.

While I was recovering from the shock of fasting for the remainder of my days, she began she began a campaign of it’s your fault. “So you work 80 hours a week. You don’t have time to cook healthy food.”  “It’s your choice, but if you want to get better…” “You’ll need to take this.” She began to place boxes and bottles on the counter.

I tried to make sense of this nonsense. Where was the sweet, compassionate gentleman I worked with before? I picked up the sheet and left the store. Wow, what a witch. I don’t respond well to the “my way or the highway” mentality.

My disgust turned to an idea. The health food nut would make a great character in a novel. I saw so many possibilities. She is so obsessed with her causes she alienates her family and friends. Or she gets careless in her pursuit of her desires and destroys the lives of her neighbors. Or she could be the comic relief character.

Extreme characters can be fun.  They can be annoying or terrifying. But they are interesting and they are remembered. Think about some of the way-out folks you’ve met and how their obsessive traits can be written to add sizzle to a story? The people we encounter on a daily basis can be a fantastic tool in our writing arsenals. Do some people watching, write mini character sketches. Keep a file of these wacky folks and use them judiciously. There’s really something special about extreme characters.

After School

Outtakes 174

After School

by Cait Collins


Recently I spent a day cleaning out the closet in my study. I knew there were a number of boxes of supplies I used for teaching younger kids, but I was surprised to see all the craft naterials and project books I’d purchased over the years. Since I no longer teach the early childhood groups, I decided to box everything up and find a group that could use the supplies. A teacher friend told me they have an after school program for the kids, but there was no real budget for materials. She said they would be thrilled to have arts and crafts supplies.

I started thinking about all the education programs that go either under-funded or unfunded. Is there a place for us in enhancing the teaching of our kids? Of course we can help by donating craft supplies and small notebooks for journaling, but what about giving our time? Would the schools welcome writers coming in and helping students with homework, or writing projects? Maybe those who illustrate children’s books could assist with art projects.

I do believe we all have a place in educating our kids. It doesn’t have to be a big event. It could be something as simple as sitting with a child who is struggling with reading and helping him to improve his skills. Maybe it’s teaching colors or numbers. Perhaps it’s just allowing a child to have one-on-one time with a mentor. Why not check with your local school district administration and find out what opportunities are available? Helping one child improve his skills is worth the effort. That child might one day write the great American novel, or become a great teacher. It begins with a telephone call.

Time Travel

Time Travel

 By Rory C. Keel


Intergalactic warp drives, transporter stations or a portal in a time continuum that can teleport us back to the future. The desire to travel through time is largely based on the desire to see the future and to know where life is going; or return to the past, perhaps to change the course of life, or simply for a sentimental remembrance of days past.

In writing there are two basic ways to travel through time: vertical and horizontal. Within each of these, several vehicles can be used to accomplish movement through time.

Vertical Time

Vertical time is thought of as climbing a ladder. While in a particular moment of time in the story — flashbacks, flash-forwards, grabbers, bookends and brackets — move the reader up or down in that moment of time. Think of it this way, the reader doesn’t move forward in time but has a deeper understanding with the knowledge gained.

Horizontal Time

Horizontal time is the movement of the story in a linear direction. It differs from vertical in that the moment or events actually move forward in time.

To accomplish this, techniques such as stretching, condensing, leaps, bridges, foreshadowing, cliffhangers and suspense are used to move the reader forward.

When you write, incorporate these methods to make your story richer and move the reader through time.



            Head Games minus the Publishing Part


By N. Bright


It’s true that there are as many different writing processes and ways to craft a book as there are writers. However, based on what I’ve learned, all writers go through similar angst before they type THE END. Whether it’s your first book or 49th, I’m guessing you’ve probably experienced a few of these head games yourself.


  • You’re hit with an absolutely brilliant idea set in an amazing world. You are certain it will be a #1 NYT bestseller and a movie.
  • Realizing that you will never completely understand the time period, character profiles, theme, setting, plot—whatever it may be—to effectively write an entertaining story. Why are you torturing yourself?
  • First Draft. There is no possible way this can ever be a cohesive novel worthy of any reader. You should just watch television.
  • This isn’t that bad. Maybe your critique group will like it, and it might show promise after you tweak it based on their input.
  • Return to your life. The novel disappears under a stack of short stories waiting to be submitted and rough drafts of magazine articles.
  • Final Read. Outloud. To yourself. You discover it has some brilliant parts, but in your mind no one will ever read it. YOU like it and it’s done. Now what?
  • Spark…. See No. 1 above.


Happy NaNoWritMo everyone!


Learning How to Lose – Part Two

A Pinch of Rodeo

By Joe R. Nichols


Learning How to Lose – Part Two

The manner in which a loss comes to you, can make a huge difference in your mental health for the next twenty-four hours while dealing with the let down. As discussed in part one, when you perform at your best and take advantage of your opportunities, you have to be satisfied no matter the results. But, when the reason for failure is totally your fault, it’s much harder to accept.

Another example from the United States Team Roping Finals in OKC a few years later. My partner and I were seventh high call back. Less than one second separated the top six, and the number one team only had 1.3 seconds advantage over us. When it was our turn to rope, we had to be a 7.2 to take the lead. A respectable time, but very doable.

My mistake was made by concentrating on the 7.2 time, instead of making the run as fast as the steer we had drawn would allow. If we were nine seconds plus, we would have won a lot of money. If I would have focused on the fundamentals, instead of a specific time, we had a steer that we could have easily roped in under seven seconds.

I skipped a very basic step. The steer veered left slightly, and I let my horse run in straight behind him. I should never have let this happen in the first place, but once I recognized I was out of position, I thought I could pull off the shot anyway. After all, we had to be 7.2, I didn’t want to take the time to move my horse over and correct my position.

I missed. I split the horns with my loop, and it flipped off empty. First place paid $69,000, and we had a legitimate opportunity to sack it up. I mentally blew it. Nobody’s fault but mine. No excuses, nothing to do with luck or circumstance, just my bone headed, blanked out lack of focus. Not only did I let myself down, but there’s your partner to consider too. Also your friends and family that have all gathered to watch you and want to see you succeed. It feels like you disappointed the whole world.

This took me years to recover from, if I have ever yet to completely. Before this incident, I was always so confident in the short go rounds. Roping well enough to qualify for the finals, gave me an aggressive, positive attitude, and I always roped my best when the money was up. Fighting off doubt and the fear of failure, became a new process for me. It took a long time to overcome the hesitation and learn to be proactive again.

Do we all let our past mistakes and misjudgments effect our future performance? Yes, we do. It’s just human nature. The secret that everybody knows, therefore it is really no secret, is to not dwell on the past, and to learn from our mistakes. We have to keep competing and repeating the process until we succeed. That’s the hard part, but it’s also no secret.

Yes, I’m Going There


Yes, I’m Going There

By Nandy Ekle


Of course there are always at least two sides to everything. One rule I’ve heard is to branch out and try new things, to research and learn, let the imagination run. The other side of that rule is to write what you know.

I’ve thought about that for a while. I love to pretend I’m someone else and go through their adventures, even the most painful kind. I love to learn new facts and see how things work, what other places look and smell like. In short, I’m a person who enjoys new experiences.

But one day the thought occurred to me, who better to write about arachnophobia than a bona fide anrachnophobe? Who can describe the terror better than someone who breaks out in the proverbial cold sweat, someone whose muscles clench up and freeze when an eight-legged monster creeps across the floor? No one who has never suddenly realized their arms and legs have crawled back into their body will ever be able to accurately describe the way the air leaves the room and their eyes glue themselves to the creature as it runs to hide in a corner until you’re not looking so it can jump on your head and tangle in your hair, laying egg sacs in your skin . . .

Yes, well—now you see how writing what you know can be a definite advantage.

Congratulations. You have just received a post card from the muse.


Learning how to lose – Part 1

A Pinch of Rodeo
                                             By Joe R. Nichols
Learning how to lose – Part 1
It’s been said, “To learn how to win, you first have to learn how to lose.”
Wise words, but very hard to live by. We all want to succeed, and any set backs are easily perceived as failures. In sports, most chances for success are foiled by a lack of focus, yielding to a distraction, or simply not trusting yourself at the key moment. I plan to discuss all of these scenarios, but this particular story is one where the negative outcome was not influenced by performance. The execution was flawless, it was simply bad luck statistically.
I grew up competing in all rodeo events, but when I quit riding bucking horses, I devoted my efforts to team roping. It’s probably the most humbling event. When you consider you have the minds and personalities of two cowboys, two horses, and a steer whose purpose is to be uncooperative, it’s difficult to have a positive result. It’s also why it is so rewarding when it does come together in a fast clean run.
One of my best long time partners was Wayne Roberts from Elkhart, Kansas. Wayne wanted to win, and knew how to win. We won our share for several years, and we always enjoyed the competition regardless of the outcome. One year in Oklahoma City at the USTRC Finals, we had the opportunity to compete for a first place pay-off of $98000.00.
There were over 700 teams in the preliminary, and we made the top 30 cut to advanced to the finals. All teams in the finals began the four head competition equal. After three go-rounds, we came back to the final and fourth round in 17th position. The big money was paid out to the top twelve placing’s.
Our first three steers were tricky and hard running cattle. We made good runs on every one of them, and felt fortunate to be coming back in a fairly high call back. In the fourth go, we drew a small black steer that had wide flat horns, and also held his head low. Each of these characteristics increased the difficulty for me to catch him, much less catch quick.
It seemed as though we could do no wrong. We went after him aggressively, and had the fastest time of the round. When we rode out of the arena, we were sitting in the number one position. We retrieved our ropes from the stripping chute, and hurried up to the arena fence to watch the rest of the competition. Wayne reached to shake my hand and put his other hand on my shoulder. “I don’t know how this is going to turn out,” he said, “But right now, you and me are winning 98,000 dollars.” We both threw our heads back and laughed, living in the moment.
Now, we had no misconceptions about actually winning first and the top money, but there was a lot of money to be won. We were assured of a large pay-off. The next two teams missed, so with fourteen teams to go, and twelve monies paid, we sat back to see how rich we would become.
The historic statistics of an event of this skill level almost always resulted in fifty percent of the teams being disqualified with no-times. Also in our favor, we had posted a fast time. Even the teams that qualified would have to make a fast run to beat us.
I’ve never seen this happen before or since, but the next fourteen teams in a row all caught, penalty free, and all in fast enough times to beat our total time on four head. We didn’t win a dime. I still can’t believe it. You don’t wish bad luck on anybody, you don’t root for them to screw up or miss, you just know what the odds are and how these deals end up. When you roped to the best of your ability, overcame some bad draws, then put the pressure on your competition with a good run, and still wind up with nothing, it’s a shock.
We did win $2500 each for the fast time in the short-round, and normally that would be considered a great win, but we still felt a let down at the time.
Looking back, it is one of my fondest memories. I can still hear my dear old friend say, “We’re winning $98,000!”

Baby, It’s Cold Outside

Outtakes 173

Baby, It’s Cold Outside

By Cait Collins


Most folks in the United States joke about the local weather. In the Texas Panhandle we make comments like, “You don’t like the weather? Well, just wait five minutes and it’ll change.” Last night was a perfect example of Panhandle weather. It was a balmy 72 degrees when I walked into the grocery store. I walked out forty-five minutes later only to be confronted with 40–50 mile an hour winds an air temperature of 47 degrees. It went downhill from there. Hello winter.

The great thing about the cold weather is I have the perfect excuse to sit by the fire and read. It maybe my imagination, but the world seems quieter when it’s cold. It’s as if a sleep has descended, the imagination opens, and I can really get into the story. And there are some fantastic stories out there.

If you’re look for a good read, here are some suggestions.

Killing Patton, Killing Lincoln, Killing Kennedy                    Bill O’Riley

The Heroes of Olympus series (great for adults and kids)     Rick Riordan

Virtue Falls                                                                             Christina Dodd

The Cousins O’Dwyer Trilogy                                              Nora Roberts

Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn                                       Mark Twain

The Longmire Series                                                               Craig Johnson

Son of No One                                                                        Sherrilyn Kenyon

Revival                                                                                    Stephen King


And if you feel guilty about taking a break from your writing, just remember reading is part of a writer’s job. How can we be good writers if we’re not good readers?

Happy reading.

Fast Track to Being a Writer

Fast Track to Being a Writer

By Rory C. Keel

Does the sound of being a writer intrigue you? Have you ever expressed the desire to write, only to be told, “You can’t write.”

Perhaps deep down inside you have a gnawing interest, an unquenchable desire, but you keep telling yourself, “I could never be a writer.”

The first definition of a writer is n. One who writes,” American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition

The way to be a writer is to write. Start by writing about yourself or describe an object on your desk. What senses such as taste, touch, sight and sounds describe your perfect vacation getaway destination?

When you write, you become a writer. What are you waiting for? Grab a pen and sheet of paper or start typing on the computer keyboard. Be a WRITER!

Co-Authoring: A Successful Venture

Co-Authoring: A Successful Venture

By N. Bright


My writing critique group, WordsmithSix, hosted another get-together in our home town. We heard from Lubbock co-authors Barbara Brannon and Kay Ellington about their new series, The Paragraph Ranch.

The story began with a place, somewhere west of Abilene, Texas, where Kay lived as a child. With the place alive in Kay’s brain, the vibrant personalities of the people soon fell into place. The working partnership with Barbara Brannon began as a writer and editor. Before long, it became evident that together they brought different strengths to the project. One was good at plot and imagery, the other brought structure to the events that made up their story. Their goal was to create a series that would be literary as well as marketable writing. Here’s a few of their tidbits of advice on co-authoring and book promotion:

Story Craft

  1. Work to create a title and cover that successfully conveys the concept of your story. This will form the brand for your social media pages.
  2. Whether the location of your story is real or imagined, have a clear concept of the time and that place.
  3. Your story is all about what your character desires: who wants something badly (protag) and who is in opposition to them achieving that goal (antag).
  4. Reading is so very important for writers. Reading will elevate your own language and writing.

Business of Publishing

  1. There are many, many small independent publishers who can edit and curate your novels. They don’t offer advances, but they may offer a higher royalty than through traditional publishing.
  2. In today’s publishing environment, print and eBooks work cohesively together.
  3. Print books can generate the buzz for your eBooks.
  4. Consider all kinds of events, not just bookstore signings. Look for book fairs, grand openings, and other community events that reflect a theme that matches and enhances the promotion of your novel.
  5. Get those reviews on Amazon to generate the algotithms that will take your book to the next level.
  6. Facebook is a 70% penetration in every market.
  7. When posting on Facebook or tweeting, only 1 of every 4 posts should be about your book. Promote other authors, or post about things of interest to your target market readers.
  8. Consider every form of social media. The back of their business card lists eight different social media outlets—great idea!
  9. On Twitter, since their book is set in Texas, they follow every independent bookstore in Texas and every public library in Texas. Utilize twitter as a professional networking tool.
  10. Have a specific theme or goal in mind for your blog. For their blog, The Working Writer, they want to be known as West Texas writer central; a resource blog for every event related to writing where writers can come to find out information.

Thanks again, Kay and Barbara for your advice and conversation!