by Adam Huddleston
Several weeks ago, I began a blog series on the Snowflake Method. I posted my progress on a story I was working on, and to tell you the truth, I just lost interest in the tale. It’s still there, resting on the back burners with the motley crew of other stories that have seeped from my brain, but I wanted to try out some new content. If you remember, step 1 is the tagline.
A baker must nurture his magical powers to close an extra-dimensional portal and save his kingdom.
What Did You See?
By Cait Collins
Test your powers of observation.
You are standing in line at the bank. Every teller is busy. Each teller has five or six people in his line. It’s nearly 5:00 P.M on Friday. The lobby is warmer than usual. The teller for your line is moving slowly. You’re getting impatient. Just when you start complaining about the sloppy service, the patron at the counter leaves. The teller’s face is pale and her hands are shaking. You place your deposit on the counter and put your palms flat on the polished wood counter top. She hesitates, and says “Excuse me. I’ll be right back.” A few minutes pass and the bank manager comes to the window. “I apologize for the inconvenience, but I need you to move to the window on your right.” Not so fast, I’ve been waiting for half an hour.” “Please cooperate. The bank’s just been robbed.”
The police arrive and begin questioning the customers. Put yourself in the shoes of the witnesses. Answer the following questions from the point of view of the following patrons: yourself, a harried young mother with three small children, and the teller.
What did you see?
Was the person in front of you male or female?
Height, build, hair color?
What was the suspect wearing?
Did you notice any jewelry, glasses?
Did you touch anything at the counter?
This really happened. I was the person standing in line and getting impatient because I was running late for my shift at the Disney Store. Not only did I give a statement to the police, the FBI interviewed me. I could give them the gender, height, hair color, clothing, glasses, yes, I had touched the counter top. The FBI agent showed me a picture of the suspect leaving the building. My description was accurate. It’s been nearly 15 years and I still remember the look on the teller’s face and remember her apology for walking away from me when I came up to her window. I can describe the teller and the suspect. And I remember that “I don’t believe this is happening feeling.
Writers must be observant. We must look around and really see the scene. Do you go to the mall and watch the people? A couple of hours after leaving the mall could you describe at least one person? What did you smell? What did you hear? Observing not only the place but also the sounds, scents, colors, and people allows us to recreate a similar scene in our stories. Observation empowers our work. Test yourself next time you’re out and about. Look around. What do you see?
A Few Quotes for Motivation
“I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.”
— Anne Frank
“And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”
― Sylvia Plath
“When your story is ready for rewrite, cut it to the bone. Get rid of every ounce of excess fat. This is going to hurt; revising a story down to the bare essentials is always a little like murdering children, but it must be done.”
— Stephen King
“People say, ‘What advice do you have for people who want to be writers?’ I say, they don’t really need advice, they know they want to be writers, and they’re gonna do it. Those people who know that they really want to do this and are cut out for it, they know it.”
— R.L. Stine
Over the Hill
by Adam Huddleston
I stand at the top of the hill. My forties stretch out before me. In the distance, I can see where the land rises to another hill, somewhat shorter than this one. I suppose its normal for a person to evaluate their life when they reach certain milestones. Tim McGraw sang about his future after turning thirty, though I have no idea if that song was written then or not.
1. Focus more on family. I feel that I do a pretty good job overall of spending time with my kids, but I could always do more. A little less tv watching and a few more piggyback rides will go a long way toward a closer bond.
2. Focus more on God. That bible on my shelf gets opened, but not nearly enough. I’m actually looking forward to starting a reading plan, more specifically, a comprehensive one that covers the entire scriptures.
3. Focus more on my health. A few years ago I had dropped about forty pounds and was feeling great. My self-esteem was higher and I could tie my shoes without getting winded! A visit to my doctor is in order, but even if that doesn’t happen soon, fewer late-night meals and soft drinks will surely help.
4. Focus more on writing. I recently moved all of my written works from my old laptop to my newer one. It’s actually quite exciting to see all my old friends in their new place and I’m looking forward to finishing some of those drafts.
By Cait Collins
I was looking for a Halloween sweater the other day and ran across an old autograph album. It was a gift from the youth group from our congregation when Dad was transferred to Maine in 1962. Autograph albums were the rage back in the 60’s.
The white cover with gold embossed images is worn with age, but the notes and signatures brought back so many memories. The ink and pencil words and drawings have not faded. As I read the messages I began to put faces with names. Sometimes the face escaped me, but I still found much that brought a smile, a raised eyebrow, and a few tears. The memories were good.
It’s strange that this book was found shortly after I received a note from my older sister who lives in Wichita Falls. She asked me what I thought about writing a memoir about growing up back in the 60’s. I called her and asked, “What would you say if I told you I have about nine chapters written?”
I think I surprised her.
The Creator of the Western Novel
Best known as the creator of western fiction, Own Wister was a “Pennsylvanian who sat down in South Carolina, and wrote a book about a Virginian who lived in Wyoming.” I happened upon a copy of his book, THE VIRGINIAN, in a used book store. The opening scene is fantastic, as we meet a rough, sometimes rude, man-of-few-words from Virginia. A “slim young giant” who earns a reputation as an accomplished horseman. The edgy descriptions and literary prose are different from what you might expect in a western, but an enjoyable read.
Born in Philedelphia, July 1860, Wister attended school in Europe, St. Paul’s School in Concord, and entered Harvard as a music student. He made many notable friends, the most famous being Theodore Roosevelt. They shared an enthusiasm for the West.
If was during the summer of 1885 that a doctor prescribed a trip out West for health reasons, both physically and psychologically. Between 1885-1900 Wister traveled 15 times to Wyoming. During that time he began his first of many journals, and also wrote hundreds of letters.
“I don’t wonder,” Wister wrote, “a man never comes back [East] after he has once been here for a few years.”
July 2, First Journal Entry.
In 1902 THE VIRGINIAN was published, dedicated to Theodore Roosevelt. Set in Wyoming between 1874 and 1890, Wister described it as “an expression of American faith” and stressed “rugged individualism”. By 1911 the First Edition had gone through thirty-four printings. In the era of paperbacks, sales reached millions. It has been adapted for the movie screen four times.
The Owen Wister papers are housed in the Library of Congress. The University of Wyoming has the Wister Journals, and Owen Wister letters can also be found in the Houghton Library at Harvard University.
Rainy Days and Mondays
By Cait Collins
Rain in the Texas Panhandle has two basic characteristics; too much or not enough. My sisters and I were driving home to Amarillo from Norman, Oklahoma a couple of weeks ago. Rain followed us the entire way. But when we finally made it to the south end of Amarillo that we encountered flooded streets. My sister’s new Jeep did okay with the high water, but the real problem was the drivers who refused to take precautions when driving through the flood. They seemed to speed up when they approached a flooded section and threw muddy water on to the cars beside them. I breathed a sigh of relief when we pulled up in front of my apartment.
The deluge continued Monday morning. I knew the areas that were often shut down when it rained so I planned to take an alternate route to work on Monday morning. Having been through heavy down-pours before, I packed extra shoes, a pair of slacks, and a towel. Juggling my dry clothes, my purse, and my briefcase, I braved the elements.
Rain continued, alternating between sprinkles and blinding down pours. I made it to the turn-off and turned right into a river fueled by the heavy rain and runoff. I was about half way to the office when I finally reached a wet but clear city street. The luck followed me to the
Office. Meandering my way from the car to the office door I escaped into the warm building My feet were soaked, my purse soaked, the wheels on my rolling briefcase made wet tracks in the carpet. Didn’t need my dry slacks, but the shoes and socks made the shivers go away. I had a good day at work. At the end of the day, I could look at my reports and see accomplishments. Not a bad day for a rainy day and a Monday.
This little story really has nothing to do with writing. It wasn’t a writing day. It was a vacation from the gloomy day. But maybe the real point is that we can find inspiration in the quiet of a rainy day and a Monday.
A Few Tips about School Visits
Like most parents, I have volunteered at the school to help with book fairs, teacher appreciations, band boosters, and fundraisers. I started writing when our sons were in elementary school. I had visions of volunteering at the book fair one day where my book would be sitting on the Scholastic cart. As you can guess, the publishing industry rarely coincides with an author’s big dreams.
The reality is I finally have several children’s books out, but both boys are too old to read them. Our youngest is a high school senior this year, and I continue to volunteer as a parent at the local schools, but work in a slightly different capacity. I’ve changed my focus to writing and reading. This year I’m offering a free power point workshop on writing to the schools in our district. Even more fun, is the added bonus of having the star of one of my books, a rescue horse named Flash and his trainer, participate in some of the events as well.
We’ve got six programs under our belt now. Here are a few things to consider about book promotion on a local level.
- Reach out.
Clubs, organizations, and schools are desperate for programs by authors. With fees in the $1000 and up range for most nationally known bestselling authors, school budgets can only afford these type speakers every three to five years.
Reach out to everyone you know and find contact addresses online. Does your local library have events that you can participate in? Send school and public librarians a postcard or flyer and make it easy for them to contact you. Be flexible and work with their schedule. Herding 700 kids in and out of the library takes some skills, but it is doable. I try to make myself available on a one-to-one basis as well. Be friendly and approachable for teachers and kids. At the end of the day, you’ll be exhausted and inspired.
- Shine and Sparkle
Kick some booty on the very first gig. Wow them and give them more than they expected. Develop a powerful, informative presentation that enhances the school curriculum. Word will spread.
- Be Open to Criticism.
I have tweaked my program several times based on feedback from librarians, teachers and principals. I always ask the librarians three main questions at every school visit, “What are your kids reading? Did I connect with your kids? How can this be better?”
I learn something from the students as well. In the first part of my program, we go through a series of slides about everything that writers write. According to a very attentive third grader, guess what I had left out; graphic novels. These are hugely popular with kids today. Based on questions, I also added pics of my workspace and of my co-worker, Kitty, our cat.
- Kids Are Visual
Use lots of pictures of young people in your power point. Kids today are very visual. Everything is photos, movies, video games, YouTube, and pics of their friends on snapchat. Your presentation must have relatable pictures. There is not one image of any adults in my 30-minute presentation.
- Kids love FREE things
Send a bookmark home which includes your book covers, website, Instagram tag and ordering information. Include the name of your local book store that carries your books. They may not purchase a book on the day of your author visit, but believe me, kids will remember you. They will point you out to a parent at the grocery store. Have books in your car.
What’s popular with the kids in our school district, you might be wondering? Interestingly, every elementary school has been different. Graphic novels, particularly ones about real historical events, wouldn’t stay on the shelf. The school last week loves horror and scary stories, so the GooseBumps series is always checked out. The school this week is reading mostly Big Foot and alien stories, even the girls. Who knew, right? Harry Potter holds no interest for this upcoming group of elementary aged readers. And girls have turned their backs on typical “girlie” type stories like the Barbie series which used to be very popular.
The interesting point that I have learned is that kids talk about their favorite books, just like adults do, and you’ll see those patterns from the books they check out. Two friends will read a book, and they tell their friends, and they tell others, and so on. BUZZ and word of mouth still works.
Start locally. With a little effort, you can make your book the BUZZ of the schools in your area.
Natalie Bright is the author of the nonfiction Rescue Animal series, easy readers featuring two rescue horses, Flash and Taz. Her Trouble in Texas series is a wild west adventure for middle grades set in the Texas frontier. She also writes women’s fiction. To see pictures of author events, go to Instagram.com @natsgrams Nataliebright.com
OUR TIME ON ROUTE 66
Five unique short stories and novellas set on historic Route 66 in Texas:
- A gripping story of family betrayal, deep despair, and a young girl’s courageous triumph. MAGGIE’S BETRAYAL by Natalie Bright
- A young soldier leaves his new bride for war sharing their life through letters in this heartfelt story. WAITING by Rory C. Keel
- A down-on-his luck cowboy sees opportunity in a young widow’s neglected ranch in 1944 Texas. SUDDEN TURNS by Joe Nichols
- A Cherokee Chief predicts Mora O’Hara’s future as she travels The Mother Road seeking closure after a career related tragedy. SHOWDOWN AT U-DROP INN by Cait Collins
- Raylen Dickey learns the difference between her friends, lovers, and enemies. FEAR OF HEIGHTS by Nandy Ekle
Five authors tell five different stories, through five different time periods, and all crossing the same place—the Tower Station and U-drop Inn.
Read it now!