Tribute to a Patriot

Tribute to a Patriot


There won’t be any promotion of my novel or cowboy talk this time. I would like to pay tribute to my cousin, Bryan Nichols.

I’m sure most everyone is familiar with the Chinook helicopter shot down recently in Afghanistan. Bryan was the pilot. The funeral overwhelmed me in so many ways. My heart aches for his wife Mary, his son Braydon, my uncle Douglas and aunt Cindy, and all the family. The military service was precision and included a fly over by two Chinooks at the gravesite. My wife and I were in total awe. The words spoken about Bryan by his fellow service men was high emotion. But let me tell you what had the most effect on Dianne and I.

We saw the worst, and the best of America. The worst? The Baptist loons from Topeka were there doing their protest. One woman’s sign read, “Thank God for dead soldiers.” When you see on television or hear about what they do, it makes you mad and disgusted. When it’s directed at one of your own, there is a completely different set of feelings.

Let me assure you, the good far out weighed the bad. I’ve never seen that many American flags in one day in my life. The American Legionnaires stood six feet apart and completely lined the street and grounds of the school where the service was held. They all held flags, the sincerity chiseled on their faces. They did the same thing at the cemetery and there had to be close to 500 of them. Several of them had come from Olathe Kansas the day before, attending a funeral for another soldier killed in the same incident. These men and women are all volunteer and not compensated. God bless them.

The most amazing thing of all that restored and validated all my pride and love for this great country, were the everyday citizens who lined the highways and city streets showing their support. It was forty miles to the cemetery, and people with flags were there for the entire route. The two small towns we passed through were ten people deep on both sides of the street. This was not organized or planned or promoted by any group. These folks, on their own, knew of the fallen local hero and took the time and effort to demonstrate their appreciation for Bryan’s service and his family’s sacrifice. I would have thanked every one of them personally if I could.

Please remember everyday what these fighting men and women are going through. They ain’t doing for the money. They do it for you and me and their country. The greatest country on earth.

Joe Nichols

Writer Appreciation

Reasons To Write

Why do I write? Is it because throngs of fans demand it, anticipating every word of my next masterpiece? Is it because I honestly expect to make millions of dollars on a bestseller, or desire to be famous? No.

This week I will share with you reason number 4 of why I write.


Reason #4 – Writing helps me appreciate other writers.                                              

Having put my hand to the mighty pen and wielded the awesome power of a fine writing instrument –well ok, I used a computer—I have come to appreciate other writers. While I have not read the writings of every author whose name is attached to a poem or printed on a glossy cover of a book, I can honestly say that I appreciate their work.

No matter the genre, the fact that they took the time to write down their thoughts and ideas is truly amazing.

Consider a few things it takes to succeed in writing:

The idea – Having an idea that draws someone into the writing, then takes that person through a meaningful journey and places him at the end, and having them enjoy the experience is a monumental task. Many of us wish we had an Idea.

Commitment of time – Alas, writing is not like a pyramid scheme, which claims to allow a person to make millions of dollars with only five minutes invested each week. No, writing takes time. Constantly learning the craft of writing, doing research on materials, then actually sitting and writing takes dedicated time.

Persistence – Many who start writing become discouraged through the process of continual critiques received and the re-writing which must be done during the process. Keep writing, use these things as learning tools and don’t give up, consider it as fine-tuning.

Yes, I appreciate other writers, both the famous and unknown, because they wrote.

Rory C. Keel

Walking Up a Poem

Walking Up a Poem

By Natalie Bright

At Frontiers in Writing 2011 conference in Amarillo, poet Donald Mace Williams spoke on Walking Up a Poem. He talked about how the physical activity of walking clears the brain and brings on the muse. “The brain is a tough editor,” he said.

One example he discussed is a poem by A.E. Houseman:

 Loveliest of trees, the cherry now

 Is hung with bloom along the bough,

And stands about the woodland ride

Wearing white for Eastertide.

How different would the line read with “cherry tree” rather than its singular form as “cherry”. Adding one word changes the flow and vision of the words. One letter can do the same; “hung with blooms” instead of “bloom”. Would you like it as well? Houseman allowed the rhythm and natural flow of words to dictate his work. Obviously he shut his inner editor off.

Another example we discussed is the poem “A Leaf Treader” by Robert Frost. The rhythm and the sound of the words in this poem imitates “treading” as we imagine Frost must have walked in the woods near his home, and then tackled the fallen leaves in his yard. There are numerous writings on his true meaning of this poem, however I like to take Frosts’ words at their face value; a gifted man walking and observing the changing seasons.

The speaker for this workshop is a poet in his own right. Modernizing the Old English epic poem, Beowulf, Williams did a contemporary version set in Texas’ Palo Duro Canyon, and most of this verse arrived clear and complete while walking. He explains that entire sections would come to him, which he wrote down as soon as he got to pen and paper. I’m inspired by how he signed my copy of this lengthy undertaking “To Natalie, With Writerly Sympathy and Best Wishes”. I leave you with an excerpt from Donald Mace Williams’ poem Wolfe:

 At night sometimes a cowboy sang

Briefly to a guitar’s soft twang

While others talked, wrote letters home,

Or stared into brown-bottle foam.

Wolfe has been used in university level classes as required reading. Donald Mace Williams is a former newspaper writer, editor, and college English instructor. His work is available at the Buffalo Bookstore in Canyon, Texas or online at

Natalie Bright



I’m fortunate to have four of my five sisters living here in Amarillo. Once the repairs were completed, they came over to help me move the furniture into place and make the place a home. Sister #5 has a flair for interior decorating and she’s not shy about letting you know she doesn’t like your ideas. I spent time drawing room layouts to scale just to make sure everything would fit and she didn’t like it. When I left the living room, Number 5 rearranged a section to her taste. Then she started on my office.

Now don’t get me wrong. I appreciate her efforts. I’m not the best designer, and she has good ideas. I’d even admit I like her placements better, but I don’t want to give her a big head. Still, she could have asked about moving the television and chair instead of greeting my return with the finished product. Honestly, the room looks great, so I will overlook the ambush.

As writers, we need to be open to a different perspective on our work. Face it we are too close to the piece to always be objective. “My mother loves it,” is not a critique. Mother loves you and will gush over your story. You need unbiased reader or a critique group. I’m have both. My reader is honest but fair, and I have the best critique group around. These folks allow me the chance to step back and take a critical look at my project. Have I left out vital information? Does the current scene contradict a previous scene? Are my characters always acting appropriately? Often they are correct in their assessments, but they are never cruel and always willing to discuss their suggestions. We do not always agree, but I have fresh ideas and the opportunity to accept or reject their viewpoints. They respect me and my talent, and in turn, I respect them.

Not all readers or critique groups are good. Unfortunately, some writers are more focused on “rip it apart” instead of “can we help make it better”. Look for writers with personalities compatible with yours. You want and need support and advice, not slash and burn. Remember, you are not married to your group. If it’s not working out, you can and should walk. Do not give up on finding the individual or team to help you be your very best. Better to receive criticism from people who care about you and your manuscript than be ambushed by an agent or editor.

Cait Collins

Echoes of the Day


 Echoes of the Day

“I saw her again today.” You hear this uttered between friends.  You’re not part of the conversation, but the phrase works its way into your ears as if it was aimed there. The rest of the day you walk around repeating it over and over. You have no idea who “she” is or when the last time “she” was seen. But the words echo through your imagination until you develop some sort of picture and story.

Sometimes just a simple phrase will catch your attention and stay bouncing around your brain. You listen to it whisper inside your head over and over and marvel at the sounds and meanings of the words.  You consider all the different things it could have meant. Eventually you realize that there are as many stories as there are meanings of the phrase.

As writers, our job is to find the story that best fits the meaning of the day’s magic phrase.  When such a story is discovered, use the provocative phrase as your starting sentence and watch the rest of the story appear on your page.

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

Nandy Ekle

“Put feet to your dreams.”

“Put feet to your dreams.” –Jodi Thomas

by Sharon Stevens

I took my first creative writing class at Amarillo College in 1993 with the encouragement of a friend, Connie Hirsch. The class was taught by Jodi Thomas and DeWanna Pace, not only teachers but authors in their own right. I was surrounded by every conceivable genre known to man…or woman…or beast as the case may be. One gentleman was a Civil War buff, one lady historical romance. There was a man who was writing a book on the murder of his daughter by her husband, but also wrote the most moving stories of his family during their time in a hospital ICU. You could tell there were some serious writers as well as those who wanted only to publish the great American novel bypassing the work it took to get there, obviously impatient with the entire process.

I didn’t fit into any niche. My passion was not to write a novel or publish a book. I just wanted to set down simple family stories into a tangible medium to preserve from my generation to the next.

Connie had told me that the first night they used a writing exercise about coming across a single shoe and telling its story. The wonderful thing about Jodi and DeWanna’s class is that you never had to read aloud if you didn’t want to. You could just listen to the other stories and share if you wished.

I never wished. I agonized over my story again and again. I knew what it entailed and where the characters were led. I understood the dynamics and shared the pain and the joy involved with my lost shoe. But I never could finish. There was something so painful in the memories that led up to the shoe being lost. These weren’t ugly memories per se, and there was love involved within the family so it wasn’t a pure loss. But for some reason my thoughts made me cry and tugged at my heart. Maybe because I knew the ending ended with sweetness, or that I knew it would never end that way, could never end that way, should never end that way.

I have written so many stories since that first night of class, wonderful, joyous celebrations of community and heritage. Surrounded by family and friends my heart has been full as I witnessed kindness and care, but also ugliness and stupidity with bullies and charlatans galore. I have seen true acts of faith and patriotism coupled with treason and discrimination, all in one day. Each and every one has found a place in the thoughts I put down on paper.

Over all I have taken three separate creative writing classes from Jodi. I joined the Panhandle Professional Writers, attended several Frontiers in Writing Conferences, submitted articles for publication, some published, most not, and was one of the co-founders of the Jodi Thomas Fan Club with friends Connie Hirsch and Natalie Bright. I shared “Sowing Jodi” with Claudia Wilson as she and her husband traveled around the country as park host, and visited local libraries to celebrate the books of Jodi. I wish I could list all the others who have crossed my path on my writing travels, but it would be endless.

I also can’t tell you how wonderful it is to celebrate the journey of Phyllis Miranda and Linda Broday as they come into their own right with their “Give Me A Texan” anthologies along with Jodi and DeWanna. At the recent book signing for the launch of their latest anthology, “Give Me A Texas Outlaw” at Barnes and Nobles in Amarillo, DeWanna shared with me that August would be celebrating thirty years since she and Jodi took their very first creative writing class together at Amarillo College. As I watched Linda, Phyllis, Jodi and DeWanna sign book after book and visit with fan after fan I was overwhelmed. Never once, not once in all the times I have known these wonderful ladies have they been unkind, or impatient. They have answered questions, shared tips and celebrated the success of every writer who crosses their path.

I may never finish the story of the lost shoe. Jodi and DeWanna understand. But you can bet if I do complete the memory they will be the first to give kudo’s.

My shoe was lost by the side of the road. It was real, it was tangible and it was there, and will remain there until I am ready to go back, pick it up, and place it among my heirlooms to treasure. After all its only one shoe. I realize now that Jodi and DeWanna share the other.

Congratulations on their journey!  Sharon Stevens

Writing Improves Your Skills

Reasons to Write

Why do I write? Is it because throngs of fans demand it, anticipating every word of my next masterpiece? Is it because I honestly expect to make millions of dollars on a bestseller, or desire to be famous? No.

This week I will share with you reason number 3, of why I write.

 Reason #3 – Writing improves your skills.

“Practice makes perfect!” I knew there had to be a reason the teacher made me write my spelling words three times each in grade school. There were a few other lessons I learned while writing words multiple times on the chalkboard, but I will spare you from my youthful indiscretions. Yes, the more a person writes the more they learn and the better they become at the craft. Even those who have a level of natural ability will continue to show improvement with every word.

Use of Tools

There are a few basic tools that you will need to help you get started.

  1. A Thesaurus and a Dictionary will help to insure the proper meaning and usage of words, improving your vocabulary.
  2. The Chicago Manual of Style, or Strunk and White Elements of Style, will aid in punctuation and sentence structure. Over time you will notice a marked improvement in your writing.
  3. Use Encyclopedias found online or at your local library, to research your project. It will naturally results in an increased knowledge of that subject and improve your reading comprehension.
  4. A computer with a word processor program, and certainly, pen and paper are still terrific to use for jotting things down.
  5. Find a comfortable writing place.
  6. Then start with an Idea and write it down.

How do I know these points are true? I’ve come along way since the first grade, A-B-C-D-E-F-G . . .

Rory C. Keel

Researching the West

Researching the West

By Natalie Bright

Tucked away on a little side street in San Angelo, Texas, a quaint bookstore is filled with hard to find books, the majority of which are westerns.

The owner of Cactus Bookstore was a personal friend of the great western author, Elmer Kelton. The store features an extensive collection of Kelton from used trade paperbacks to pricey autographed first editions. I asked him if Kelton had ever written a how-to book on writing. He said, “No, but I have this.” He handed me a cassette tape, 90 minutes, featuring two of Kelton’s keynotes from 1989. Marked down half-price, I grabbed it, and what a treasure. While it’s short on specific technique, it’s long on wonderful stories and quotes from the people who crossed his path. Kelton also shares his personal favorite western novels, and includes insightful background on creating unique characters.

I already own one of his recommendations: the most realistic account he knows of for a cattle drive, THE LOG OF A COWBOY by Andy Adams. Published in 1903 by University of Nebraska Press, I found this well-worn book at a used book store in the Dallas area.

For an entertaining read, it’s a little dry, however historians and writers will love it. Written in first person narrative by a young man who moved from Georgia to Texas after the Civil War, the specific details are invaluable. For example, here’s an excerpt about a sale which took place between Mexican vaqueros on a March day at the Rio Grande.

Here he explains the important count after the herd was transferred across the water. The cows were strung out between four mounted counters; a Mexican corporal, a US Custom House gov’t man, the drive foreman, and a drive hand. “…the American used a tally string tied to the pommel of his saddle, on which were ten knots, keeping count by slipping a knot on each even hundred, while the Mexican used ten small pebbles, shifting a pebble from one hand to the other on hundreds.” The story continues with two men agreeing on the same number of 3105 head, one man came one under and another came one over. The deal was sealed that night over dinner in Brownsville.

I’ll be blogging more about my prized Elmer Kelton tape. Thanks for following Wordsmith Six blog!

Rest in Peace Harry Potter

Rest in Peace Harry Potter

 An era has ended. The final installment of the Harry Potter series hit the theaters making even bigger mega bucks for the franchise. That’s fine as I enjoyed every movie. With HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE, a ten year journey began for my nephews and me. One was seven and the other twelve when the movie came out. I bought the tickets and the boys bought the snacks. This was our tradition for each movie.

My eyes misted as we left the theater following the DEATHLY HALLOWS Part II.  My nephews are now college students and fine young men. Watching the guys grow up fascinated me. One year they were kids with wide-eyed wonder and dreams.  Now they are fine, talented young men setting goals and focusing on the future. I’m honored to have had these special moments with them.

Just as my nephews grew up, so must our characters grow and change. When the story opens, the protagonist faces a problem. As the tale progresses we learn what he is willing to do to solve the issue. How disappointing it would be to finish a novel or leave the theater knowing the protagonist never learned anything from his hardships and life journey. In the end he is the same self-centered, weak individual we met at the beginning. What a waste of time, money and effort. Chances are you would never again invest in that author or screenwriter’s work.

Writers also face growing pains. The first short story or manuscript may be rough, but we send it out hoping our efforts will attract the attention of an agent or editor. Too often we are met with scathing rejections or at the very least polite form letters. The true writer does not quit. He keeps on producing work, honing the skills necessary to achieve the ultimate goal of publication. Then there are the writers who refuse to listen to critiques and continue making the same mistakes. They stagnate and die without ever realizing the goal.

My advice to all writers is simple; take advantage of opportunities to learn more about the craft of writing. Enroll in writing courses at a local college. Find a writers group and get involved in the meetings and activities. Attend writers’ conferences. Practice the art of networking. Accept one very hard fact; you may never have your work on the shelves in a bookstore or see your name on a movie screen. Even if this is your reality, the journey is worth the effort.

Cait Collins

The Moon

Postcards From the Muse

The Moon

You’re riding in the car late at night.  The sky looks like black velvet with tiny rhinestones dotted around the darker inkblots of clouds.  You admire the dark shapes the clouds make and notice a bright sliver working its way out from under the edge of the blackest splotch in the sky.  The moon struggles for attention.

As you watch the contest, you notice that as the cloud moves at just the right angle, the illusion of a frowning brow is created over the face of the moon morphing it into a giant eye watching the earth below.  You can’t take your eyes away.  A fuzzy line of fog forms around the silver disk morphing the illusion further.  You suddenly feel certain that a being observes and takes notes of the night life on the planet.

Who or what does this eye belong to?  Does it spy on a crime taking place?  Has a lover’s tryst caught its attention?  And why does it choose to appear angry?  What story can you find here?

Congratulations.  You have just received a postcard from the muse.

Nandy Ekle