Facing Your Fears

As the giant spider crawled across the floor, my legs involuntarily drew up under me on the bed while my arms crossed themselves to protect my vital organs from the monster. As much as I hated looking at the hairy thing, I couldn’t take my eyes away. My lungs pulled in a gulp of air and pushed out a piercing scream.

Is that fear? How about this . . .

I watched him open the door of the car and toss his bags into the backseat. His last words stung my face as if they had needles and stuck in the air. I couldn’t believe he would leave me like this, that the years we spent together were over and he now hated me. I had no idea what I would do without him. My tears ran openly as I screamed for him to come back.

Fear is a huge part of every plot, whether it’s very obvious, as in the case of a character running for their life from a monster, or whether it’s disguised with another emotion, such as anger. Even a romance story has an element of fear: fear of commitment, fear of intimacy, fear of losing someone.

If you take the fear and amplify it to a phobia, you have a nice big glowering obstacle for your character to overcome. There are hundreds of well-known phobias; it’s the unusual phobias that make a story interesting.

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

Nandy Ekle


Making Sense of the Senses


How does the loss of sight affect your hearing?

What color does an orange smell like?

How loud is an inner voice?

Can you describe how the wind feels?

What does sour taste like?

When I am writing, it’s easy to visualize what I want my characters to see and feel or even smell. However putting it down on paper so that the reader can clearly see them is a difficult task. For example, if I write, “He walked into the room and gazed at the beautiful painting hanging on the wall.” What does the reader see? What object is displayed in the painting? What colors make the painting beautiful? How is it framed?

This dilemma came to life for me when the main character of my novel, UNLAWFUL WORDS, suddenly goes blind. Writing what he saw with his eyes came to an abrupt halt. How do I write his experiences now?

A blindfold

Using a blindfold I spent several hours experiencing the darkness. Immediately I began to depend on my hearing, turning my head from side to side trying to capture all the sounds around me. My hands automatically reached forward hoping to feel something familiar and my feet slowed their steps to prevent stumbling. The objects once identified by sight now had to be described by feeling the texture, or the smell. These are the details that help the reader understand what the character is experiencing.

In your writing, use the basic senses such as taste, touch, hear, see, smell. Be careful not to give the reader sensory overload by giving a long string of description using all five sense on every situation, when generally the use of two or more different senses can tie the picture together for the reader.

Rory C. Keel


Making Retail Connections

By Natalie Bright

If you’ve self-published a book, it’s up to you to establish retail connections.

An author once told me that he’d only intended to write the book, and never wanted to be a book salesman. Now he’s traveling around with a car full of books. Welcome to the reality of today’s publishing world.  How are people going to read your book, if they don’t know it exists?

As the CEO of YOU, guess who is in charge of book promotion?

Make the Connection

While the internet offers a multitude of book promotion opportunities, for this particular post, I want to talk specifically about working with retail outlets and how to approach owners or managers.

On cold calls, approach them in a friendly, cooperative manner, introduce yourself and ask if they’d like to see your book. Most bookstore owners are always interested in talking to authors. Ask them if it’s a subject their customers might like. Information flyers and postcards work as well. When I receive inquiries in regards to my middle grade book, OIL PEOPLE, I offer to leave the store manager a preview copy. If it’s an inquiry by phone or email, I always offer to mail a preview copy. Be sure to include promo copies in your budget.

Store Owners Rule

Retail stores have to realize at least a 50% to 60% markup in the items they sell. They have a store front to operate which includes payroll, building utilities, and inventory expense.

DO NOT tell the storeowner the retail price. It’s their store, they set the price. Business owners are independent and territorial. If you tell them how to run their business, you’ll be out the door in a flash. Quote them the price you need, and you can suggest a retail price but ultimately the cost to customers is the store owners decision.

Setting the Price

If you self-publish, you have to leave a little wiggle room when setting your price. I hear this complaint all of the time and it is confusing to self-published writers. Authors quote the price printed on their book or the over-inflated price they paid for printing, expecting that’s the price they are due. Shop around and find the best possible printing deal in order to keep your price per book as low as possible. Hopefully, you’ll have room to make a few bucks, and the store comes out ahead as well.

Retail owners are in business to make a profit. If business owners’ efforts aren’t going to generate dollars to pay for the cost of staying open, it’s not worth having your book take up valuable shelf space.

The key, I think, is being able to offer a low price to retail outlets and being able to negotiate a price without being too pushy.

Consider ALL Possibilities

Major chain bookstores may not be an option to self-published authors for many reasons which are beyond your control. Are there specialty shops in your area? What about possible connections through family and friends?

Think about cross-selling. If you have a book of poetry, why not approach a lingerie shop? If you have a children’s book about horses, drop by a saddle and tack store or the local feed store. Stop stressing over things you can’t control and consider all of the possibilities, and keep writing!

Natalie Bright


On Becoming a Senior Citizen

I dreaded turning fifty, but three weeks prior to my birthday, I met a talented writer whose praise for my writing erased all my depression. As my sixtieth birthday approached, I realized I looked forward to the day. No depression this time, no doubts about aging. Instead I looked forward to another decade. You see the older I get, the less I fear. I have my successes and my failures and celebrate both. I care less about what others think and put more emphasis on what I’ve come to know to be right and honorable. There’s less drama in my life. And I get senior citizens’ discounts.

I remember the first time I saw snow and my first snow storm. I met an English gentleman, had my first and only high tea. I experienced a stormy ferry ride from Nova Scotia to Newfoundland, and I sailed a windjammer, hauling canvas and taking the wheel. I recall my father taking us to a regatta, seeing the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in their bright red uniforms patrolling the grounds. I’ve felt the mists of Niagara Falls on my face, gone snorkeling, watched dolphins play. I was privileged to be elected as a delegate to the state convention and assist in the election process. I was the first female video tape operator in Amarillo, Texas. I saw the development of an industry from back and white television to color to digital to high definition. Alan Shepherd blasted into space, John Glen orbited the earth, and man walked on the moon. I saw John Kennedy six weeks before his death. I remember the Civil Rights Movement and the tension following the shooting of Martin Luther King, Jr. The Secret Service finger printed me so that I could join the local press corps for President Gerald Ford’s visit to Amarillo. Computers were huge main frames with data was printed on punch cards. Now home computers, internet, and wireless printers are the norm. I stood in line at the bank while the man at the window robbed the teller. I am a member of Delta Psi Omega, a national honorary acting fraternity.

I have loved and lost, and lived to love again. I stood at my mother’s and my husband’s bedsides and watched them lose their battles against disease. Friends have died. Children were born. My faith waivered and was restored.

I don’t mean to sound like a braggart. The truth is we all have experiences that are unique as well as universal. Our experiences shape our lives and add richness to them. And it’s these experiences that can lend depth and color to our characters and stories. As writers, we should never fear to draw on our own experiences to bring added dimension to our work. It’s easier to write about standing at a gravesite when you’ve been there. How can you write about love if you’ve never experienced it? It can be done, but authentic emotions tell the story best. Use what you have witnessed, experienced and felt as you craft your stories. Your work will be better for it.

Cait Collins



A Thousand Words

In the back of one of my closets is a green plastic tub full of the images of memories. There are pictures of my wedding, the births of my children and grandchildren. There are family photos, Christmas photos and birthday photos. I look in the tub and see reminders of children sleeping, playing, fighting, performing and posing. I also find reminders of places where we took those children, and when they left my house. And sometimes I find a face I don’t remember in my green tub.

One really fascinating place to find inspiration for writing is pictures, paintings, photos and mementos. Each little scrap of paper, ticket stub, greeting card or lock of hair brings up the memory of an incident.

Have you ever seen an old photo that brings memories and feelings to your mind and the story behind them begs to be told?  Did you ever come across a scrap of paper with what appears to be a coded message that you know you wrote but will never remember why or what it means? And who is the nameless person smiling at you in the photo begging for your attention?

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

Nandy Ekle


Feeling Big

Why is confidence so fragile? How do we let one negative happening destroy our memory of all the times when we were successful? And when everything clicks together one time, all our confidence can return just as fast. One day you feel out matched by a sick chicken, the next day you’re sure you could knock King Kong down and stomp on him. I truly admire people who can level out the highs and lows to remain focused, and at peace.

Donnie Williams in TRAILS END has no belief in himself. Yet, his determination allows him to succeed at times. His self-worth soars in these moments, then crashes shortly after. As the story progresses and he matures, he figures out the important, and the insignificant aspects of life.

I think most of us struggle with our self-confidence often. I hope this novel will capture your interest and you can relate Donnie’s challenges to your own.

When you’re on top, stay humble. When you’re on the bottom, look back to your successes, then look up.

Thanks for reading and check in next Wednesday.

Joe Nichols




It’s amazing that so many people have a fear of flying. Several years ago, while on a plane from Saint Louis Missouri to Portland Oregon, I remember boarding and seeing a man who looked as pale as death. He took his seat across the aisle and immediately buckled the seat belt, grabbed the armrests and shook so violently I wondered if it was the engines or him shaking the plane. After sedating himself with a couple of adult beverages, he slept soundly to our destination.

While I have never been afraid to travel in an airplane, I have experienced a fear of flying. Realizing I would never pilot an F-16 fighter jet, I turned to the hobby of remote control airplanes.

After what my wife called “investing heavily” in a kit, I began to build my first R/C airplane. For days I trimmed every piece of wood with the skill of a surgeon to the exact specs. For weeks, I placed every drop of glue precisely in the correct spot, as to not change the balance of the plane. And after months of careful tune-ups on the engine and electronics, along with a few instructions from others to assure that my plane would soar with the eagles, fear took over.

What if it crashes? All that hard work and time will have been in vain.

On my first solo flight, I rolled the plane down the tarmac and lifted off. A feeling of accomplishment flooded over me as I made one pass, then another over the stands. Not wanting to run out of fuel and lose the plane, I made the approach to land. That day I witnessed the most horrific sight—in front of me laid splinters of wood, pieces of plastic and shards of metal. I crash-landed my plane.

In writing, there are moments when we are afraid to submit a piece of work, fearful of rejection. We work on a piece until it is perfect then, “WHAT IF” takes over. What if it’s rejected? What if it was a waste of time because no one likes it?

The good news is that my first plane did finally soar. I learned that my time wasn’t wasted at all. In all the hours of building I had learned how to repair the broken plane, and after adjusting the mistakes I made in the landing approach, confidence took control.

Yes, I have letters of rejection for my writing, however with repairs and a few adjustments, those same pieces have been published.

Don’t be afraid to fly!

Rory C. Keel



By Natalie Bright

Real life stories seem to be everywhere, from reality television to magazines covering genuine people overcoming life’s obstacles. When you recount your life or if you have ever talked to someone about their life experiences, things are remembered in segments or scenes. Creative nonfiction takes those scenes, fills in the background, and introduces the characters in a narrative form.

“Creative nonfiction is the fastest growing genre,” says Lee Gutkind, award winning author and professor at the University of Pittsburgh and speaker at Frontiers in Writing in Amarillo.* He sites proof as evidenced by the decrease of fiction in popular magazines.  “More and more publications have cut back straight fiction into stories based on real life experiences.” he says. “Five years ago the adventure nonfictions were popular. Today we are in the middle of an information explosion and readers want more serious topics such as science, technology, and economics.”

When crafting creative nonfiction, story must come first. The substance of the information is important, but the story has to come before the factual information. It is the people and the story that will hook the reader.  Gutkind stresses that the writer must find the true scene. It’s got to be real and true with accurate information.

Once the real life story is uncovered, the first three paragraphs formulate your hook. “Your beginning must be fast, soon, now, best and strongest,” he says. “Sixty percent of the readers are lost at this point.  Your goal is to engage the reader at the very beginning and keep them turning pages.”

Gutkind recommends crafting your creative nonfiction story around a frame and focus. The frame is the container or overall narrative structure of your story. Your narrative should be presented in an interesting and orderly manner, the simplest being the chronological beginning to end scenario.

The next essential part of your article or book is the focus, or overall theme. What is the primary point that ties the elements of your story together? Another way to determine the focus is to ask yourself why you are writing this particular story. As the author, what do you want to say about this topic? The focus will also help you to determine which facts are essential to the story and to identify details that may need to be excluded.

One cannot forget an important building block of the creative nonfiction story which is the story itself, or the facts. Gutkind explains, “The story determines the research the writer must do.”

As you work on the ending, always keep your overall story structure in mind or frame. “Guide your reader’s to what it is you want them to believe but use evidence,” explains Gutkind. He says don’t worry about endings, as the perfect ending may only come after completion of the entire book.  “Lead the reader through your story. Don’t tell people what they want to know until you’re ready to dispense with them.”

Natalie Bright

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 For more information, The Art of Creative Nonfiction by Lee Gutkind

*Frontiers in Writing is a summer writing program sponsored by Panhandle Professional Writers. Mark your calendar and join us in Amarillo, June 29-30, 2012!


I Never Knew

When we packed up Mom’s belongings, my sisters and I did not take time to read through all the papers in her cedar chest. We looked for the necessary documents and dumped the rest in a box. I started sorting the files one winter afternoon. Mom kept every transfer order, citation, and shipping inventory from Dad’s service career beginning in 1939 when he entered the Civilian Conservation Corps to his retirement from the Air Force in 1969. I learned things about my father.  He served in two branches of the military; the Army Air Corps in World War II and then was recalled to the newly formed Air Force during the Korean War. He was an expert marksman. His fitness reports indicated he was respected by his peers and his superiors.

I enjoyed these revelations. They brought me closer to my dad, but I treasure his green notebook. You see, I met my grandfather that day. Frank Brown died in 1941; six years before my parents married and ten years prior to my birth. But when I read Dad’s handwritten stories, I met a wise, simple man who loved his family. I also learned where Dad got some of his homespun declarations like, “You will finish high school even if I have to take you to class and bounce you on my knee.”  I’m thankful we have this notebook.

Journaling and maintaining family records might seem frivolous, but they have a purpose. For example, they validate history. Think back to your history classes. How many times was a journal or set of letters cited to verify the facts surrounding an event? Mrs. Dickinson’s writings detailed the battle of the Alamo. Letters from the American West to families back East told of the hardships involved in settling the frontier. Homemakers’ recipes spoke of canning vegetables and making jams and jellies to feed the family during the winter months. These personal glimpses of history are priceless as they involve the common man and not just the historically famous names.

While I don’t believe it necessary to record putting the carrots in the Crockpot, I do suggest recording special events for posterity. I wish I had listened when my parents and grandparents spoke of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl days. I further wish I had recorded the stories. My nieces and nephews will never hear about the events from the viewpoint of a family member. There is nothing to pass on to them so that they will know their great-grand parents and great, great-grandparents contributions to history. My father was wiser than I. After all, I got to meet my grandfather seventy years after he died.

Cait Collins



Garage Saling

Second hand stores, pawn shops, garage sales. These are great places to find a good bargain, if you’re willing to hunt and haggle. If you know what you’re looking for and how much money you want to spend, these kinds of places can pull you in and keep you busy searching for treasures all day.

But saving money is not the only treasure at a “Used” store. When you walk in the door, what’s the first thing you notice? If it’s a store front shop, you probably see racks and racks of clothing, shelves of old dishes, boxes and bins of toys and books, maybe furniture, bedding, and even electronics. If it’s a garage sale, there are card tables and home-made racks and shelves lining a driveway or yard.

But look closer. Gently handle the set of china plates and what do you see? Maybe you see the chip or crack on the edge. Or maybe it’s the fact that the set is not complete. But do you see the age? Can you sense the previous owner, the housewife who was widowed after sixty years of marriage?

How about those child size jeans? They look a little frayed in the knee and feel thin in the seat. Do they remind you of a little boy who learned to ride his bicycle while wearing them?

And the stuffed animal loved ragged by the little girl who took it to the hospital when she had her tonsils removed?

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

Nandy Ekle