Outtakes #13


By the time this Outtake is posted, I will have participated in my company’s annual Halloween costume contest. My team decided to change our theme from 80’s prom to Death. As I understand things, the Grim Reaper, a vampire-bitten 80’s prom queen, the vampire that bit her, a shotgun toting cowgirl, and the big, bad wolf will make appearances. Dr. Death (that’s me) will hand out lethal prescriptions. It’s all in good fun and gives us a break from the everyday stress of the job.

Saturday evening I’ll park my car on the church parking lot, open the trunk and distribute candy to the children from our congregation and the surrounding neighborhood. The holiday has always been enjoyable. I love seeing the kids in their costumes, and hearing the chant of “Trick or Treat”. I’ll remember my father’s ghost stories, groups of kids going from house to house accepting home-baked cookies and candy apples. We had such a great time. It’s a shame Halloween has taken on more sinister aspects over the years.

While I enjoy Halloween, I find I’m not the biggest fan of horror stories. I had nightmares after reading Edgar Allan Poe’s The Telltale Heart. Stephen King terrifies me. And we’ll not talk about Dean Koontz. I sat through NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD with my face hidden. I consider PSYCHO one of the top horror flicks of all times. It’s scary without being gory. While I try to avoid the genre, I appreciate the talent required to craft a true tale of terror. I marvel at the ability to write scenes that make me toss the book across the room or hide it in a box. I guess I rather have my heart race over a gorgeous guy than a ghoul.

While horror fans drool over the latest terrifying book or movie release, I will tune into tamer fare. Maybe I’ll reach for James Patterson’s Women’s Murder Club series, or watch the campy remake of  THE MUMMY. I can get a jolt but forego the nightmare. And now if you will excuse me, IT’S THE GREAT PUMPKIN, CHARLIE BROWN is about to start.

Cait Collins

Message From Mundania


Message From Mundania

Life, moving slowly, as if the same day repeats over and over and brings to mind a phrase from the days of Flower Children: What a drag.

You get up in the morning, rub your eyes, wash your hair and drink your coffee. You go to your jobs or classes, work a while, eat your lunch, work a while, go back home. You eat supper or dinner—whatever you like to call it—turn on the TV and settle for the night. And it all starts over the next day.

But what we forget are the little adventures we have every day, you know, the little things that are different about a day. The postage machine hijacks the fax machine, the client forgot to send in the payment, or a black plastic bag scoots across the highway and reminds you of an alligator coming after your car. Once, just breaking the promise to myself that I would not eat my favorite snack that day brought a very nice story.

When something happens just the teeniest bit out of the ordinary, whether it’s frustrating or hilarious, you can write an entire story centered on this event. Let your imagination ponder and study it. Then add in some exaggeration to what you already know about the event. You’ll soon find that your ho-hum life is full of story-worthy adventures and “boring” will be for people like detectives and spies.

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

Nandy Ekle



by Sharon Stevens

A couple of years ago I attended an estate sale at the home of D.A. and Muriel Shirley and their daughter, Louise. Dr. Shirley was a professor and Vice President at WTAMU, a distinguished and handsome man, truly treasured as an educator.

I walked away that day with a broken down Radio Flyer wagon, bits of tattered quilt scraps, a box of Literary Digest magazines, a rusted liberty bell wind chime, AND, last but not least, a framed letter thanking Louise for her contribution to the restoration of the Statue of Liberty in 1983 on the occasion of her one hundred anniversary.

October 28, 2011 marks the 125th anniversary of the dedication of this wonderful monument as a beacon and lighthouse to everyone in the world. To celebrate they will be installing webcams in Lady Liberty’s torch. Afterwards they will close down the statue itself to remodel the inside, leaving the grounds open for visitors to still enjoy the experience.

I have always kept the letter to Louise as a memory and reminder of the simple contributions of those around us. Louise lived a very private life. She must have treasured and protected bits and pieces of these moments of recognition. With further research I am sure I could find copies of her correspondence, but there doesn’t need to be. I would much rather imagine a letter attached describing her family, the college, the community, or maybe even the lineage of the Shirley name. There also may have been notes about her passion for snow skiing and the Swiss Alps or the mountains of Utah as a ski instructor for the teams. No doubt her letter contained a check written on a local bank, further evidence of a strong and giving community.

No one knows the trail her contribution followed in renewing the statue. Louise Shirley gave and she gave to a cause she believed in that had to have been close to her heart, never expecting kudos or compensation, celebrating freedom, community and family.

Anyone can write to the Statue of Liberty Ellis Island Centennial Commission and receive a report of the actual amount given. On the letter it is written that the value “has been officially recorded and your name entered on a permanent Register of Contributors to be displayed at the museum of the rebuilt Statue of Liberty. Port of New York, United States of America.

I would like to imagine it was used to refurbish her tarnished garments, or to polish the broken chains of freedom encircling her feet, or could have been in restoring the copper sheen ravaged by the weather as well as the passage of time.

In May 1997 our daughter along with the Canyon and Randall High School choir students traveled to New York. They sang at St. Patricks Cathedral and The Star Spangled Banner at Shea Stadium for New York Mets game. The students and their sponsors saw “Beauty and the Beast” on Broadway, shopped at FAO Schwartz, and even got to ride the subway. What a lifetime experience!

One of the highlights of this was the visit to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Our thoughtful daughter even researched the name of her great grandfather and purchased a historical document listing the heritage of his family crest. At the time we didn’t know that our daughter and all the kids and sponsors would witness a gleaming Statue of Liberty because of a simple donation. Millions of dollars were raised by thousands upon thousands of patriotic men, women and children who shared in their own way for the restoration of a purpose, a dream, a freedom.

It was only until the estate sale fifteen years later that I recognized the significance of the connection between a framed correspondence in Canyon Texas and a choir trip a thousand miles away.

The last line of the Proclamation states, “The Statue of Liberty will be saved, restored, and preserved so that future generations throughout the world will see the symbol of Liberty’s light burning brightly.”

As a writer I never take for granted a simple tangible object and its significance. I treasure how it is linked to the heart and soul of someone that shares a common heritage, a precious memory. And I believe that if I hold onto it long enough the treasure will be revealed. I just know this because Lady Liberty holds her torch high so as not to cast a shadow as I follow my path.

And on another note, I cannot leave this blog without remembering Lois Rice who passed away this week. Lois touched my life in so many ways, as a businesswoman, the Mayor and just a kind human being. I hope when she and Louise look down from Heaven above they will be pleased with what they have left behind.

Sharon Stevens

The Value of Monetary Objects

TRAILS END – The Novel

The Value of Monetary Objects

Our society puts a lot of emphasis on status demonstrated by our possessions. Although our priorities in life should really focus elsewhere, some items can have a profound meaning and importance to us. Having family heirlooms being one example.

I believe the most significant gift a person can give you, is something that means a lot to them. An item that you know how important it is to that individual, yet they want you to have it. This shows to me their true feelings about you.

In chapter ten, Robert Jarrett gives Donnie his old bronc saddle. A Gold Seal Hamley saddle that is rare and valuable, and also the only saddle Robert rode in his rodeo career. Although he doesn’t allow it to be seen, Robert takes great satisfaction in passing down this possession to the eager young boy.

What do you have ownership of that means the world to you because of who gave it to you?

I have my grandpa’s hammer. He was a carpenter and I think of him every time I pick it up.

I have quilts from both my grandmothers. I see them working on them when I look at their detail and beauty.

My Dad carved a bull’s head out of a block of wood when he was twelve years old. The spurs provided by an old rooster makes the horns. No amount of money could make me part with it.

A man that I looked up to as a kid and still do to this day, has the most fascinating collection of rodeo pictures of him competing in the 1950’s. When I asked to make copies of a couple of them, he gave me the originals.

Can you imagine the emotion Donnie Williams experienced when given that saddle? It’s just part of the story of a lost boy’s journey.


Joe Nichols

Basics to Entering a Writing Contest

Basics to Entering a Writing Contest

 Writing contests can offer great benefits to a writer, however they can also be intimidating. To help you wade through the process, let’s look at some of the basics of entering a Writing Contest.

1. Choose the right contest – Do the research to find the best contest for your writing. Contest entry fees can vary greatly from free to extremely high. The rewards can be just as varied from a simple recognition and critique of your writing, to rewards of money prizes and publication. Beware of contests that require you to purchase the published work of your “Winning” writing. More information can be found in my article Writing Contest Benefits.

2. Choose the correct Genre – To avoid poor critiques or placement, choose the correct genre for your work. While some pieces may cross over into another classification, you will have better results if you focus your writing to one specific genre.

3. Follow Submission Guidelines – When entering a contest pay close attention to the submission guidelines. These rules may vary greatly with different organizations and contests. Be diligent to have the correct word count while using the proper page format, font, and cover page identification requirements. Don’t expect contest officials to overlook the rules just for you, it’s their contest and it’s their rules.

4. Pay attention to Postage – If you are sending an entry by mail it will require the correct postage, so does the return of your entry. Read carefully any instructions regarding postage and the return mailing requirements of your entry or prizes. If you are using metered mail, postage from a meter or computer, understand that it expires on the date stamped. If you stamp the return envelope with the current date, and the contest results are not given for several months, postage may be expired and could result in your entry not being returned.

By following these few steps, entering a writing contest can be fun and successful!

Rory C. Keel

The Discipline to Write

The Discipline to Write

By Natalie Bright

The recent WT Cornette Library’s fall luncheon featured New York Times Bestselling author Jodi Thomas. She talked about her new Harmony Series, which will include seven books set in Harmony, Texas. As usual, the cast of characters become more like old friends than fiction. Her stories continue to garner major awards. As the WTAMU Writer-in-Residence, Jodi is lucky to be able to work at two of her life’s passions; writing and teaching.

“Here, I can teach kids the discipline to write when you’re sick, to write when your personal life is not so great. Despite all of the stuff going on you write. These kids have the imagination and the skills; what they have to learn is the discipline.” she told us.

A Writer’s Discipline

Jodi is the prefect example of a truly disciplined author. I remember meeting her for lunch several years back after we had both suffered accidents. I shared the details of how I had fallen and sprained my ankle, which involved lots of Tylenol and a high tech stabilizing boot with special insoles. Forget about writing. It was all I could do to make it to my office.

Writing Through the Pain

Jodi shared details about her nasty fall, which happened around the same time. Her broken elbow required surgery and physical therapy. We met for lunch just after the torture of a therapy session, and with pain reflecting on her drawn face, she said “If I can write 20 pages a day, I’ll finish the book and meet my deadline.  I think I can talk the doctors into leaving off the cast, which will allow me the movement of my wrist. I can prop my arm on a pillow and still type.”

I rushed home to rest my throbbing, swollen ankle. My friend and bestselling author Jodi Thomas, hurried to her office to finish what became her 31st book.


As I think back on that lunch, the true meaning of a disciplined and successful author has new meaning for me. The deadline, the characters, the story, and the words filling a blank page mean everything to her. As a fan, I’m thrilled with Jodi Thomas’ work ethic and commitment.

As a disciplined writer, I fall way short.

Natalie Bright



 Have you ever wondered what kids are thinking? Why they do what they do? I have because I’m blessed with many nieces and nephews who give me grins and giggles. Take my two-year-old nephew, Ethan, for example. From the time he was able to hold on to a quarter, my sister and brother-in-law taught Ethan the importance of giving to God. Every Sunday, Ethan would clutch his quarter and wait for the collection plate to be passed. One Sunday morning, he saw the men coming down the aisle with the collection plates. He jumped out of Paw-Paw’s lap and ran toward the ushers. The closest man bent down to allow Ethan to drop his money into the plate. He turned to find his grandfather coming to get him. Beaming, the little cherub raised his arms to be picked up. Aha. I knew what was going on in Ethan’s mind. God loves a cheerful giver.

I teach the little ones in Sunday School. My kids are between four months and two years in age. (Yes, you can teach these children.) One of our main themes is God loves us and gives us good things. Ethan was one of my regular students.  One Sunday morning, the collection plate came to Ethan. Not only did he put his money in the plate, he also tossed in his ratty rubber alligator. A flush crept up Dean’s neck as he grabbed the toy. I leaned forward, “How sweet,” I whispered, “Ethan gave God something he loves.”

Of course I can’t read minds, but the explanations were obvious to me. The reality is Ethan had a motive, a reason for his actions. And so must our characters have motives for the things they do. In my current novel HOW DO YOU LIKE ME NOW, Kate Walker returns to her home town in response to a phone call from the town doctor. Her grandmother had a heart attack and is not expected to live. At this point, her sole motivation is to see her grandmother and take care of her. But things change. After Miss Lucille’s death, past events and current events combine creating a new purpose for Kate. She wants justice for herself, her grandmother, and her friend Travis.

The antagonist, King Phillips, is a bully, power hungry, and self-important. He has one ambition; to own the Walker family property. He threatened and attempted to intimidate Miss Lucille into selling and now he’s after Kate. His motive seems straightforward, but is it? Is there some other reason King demands Kate sell out to him?

The characters’ motives create conflict. In this case King uses every means, every threat to obtain the land. Kate is equally determined to honor her grandmother’s request not to sell out to Phillips. Their battle comes to a head with surprising revelations. Throughout the story, their actions must be in keeping with the motives. For example, if Kate says she forgives King, it would not be in keeping with her desire for justice. Nor would King be in character if he took pity on Miss Lucille’s granddaughter.  They must be consistent as they pursue their goals.

In order to keep the characters’ actions in keeping with their motives, you have to know who they are. The past, present, and future aspirations should be part of the character sketches you create. I’m not one for long, detailed character sketches, but I believe in a bit of back story. You need to know when the character was born, age at the time of major events in their life, socio-economic status, and where you plan to take him. You also need to hint of the setting. Does he live in a small town or a major city? Can you describe where he lives? What does he do for a living? While I might not write it all down, the information is in my head. By knowing your characters and their desires and motivation, you can lead them from hook to resolution and take your readers along for the ride.

Cait Collins

My Favorite Toy


My Favorite Toy

The sun seemed to make an audible pop as the light poked through my bedroom window. My four-year-old eyes sprang open and the world was brand new. Grabbing my doll, I looked into her plastic face and watched it transform to real flesh as her eyelids blinked at me.

As an eight-year-old girl I hopped on my bike and rode around the neighborhood with the feeling that I was the lead rider in a huge bicycle race. The wind blew my hair behind me and the sun browned my skin.

At the age of ten I played on my keyboard in front of the enormous audience that had come to my bedroom to listen to my rendition of the songs in my music book.

And every night when the sun went down, I took my bath and then stood in front of the mirror arranging my towel into every style of formal gown I could invent.

The best toy I ever owned never had a storage box and could never be stashed in a corner because there was nothing that could ever contain it all at once. And of course I’m talking about my imagination.

Let your imagination out to play and your stories will write themselves. Allow the magic to move your pen across the paper and you’ll find your writing zone in no time. And I know from experience that you will be as surprised with your characters and story as your readers.

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

Nandy Ekle



by Sharon Stevens

Recently I volunteered at Llano Cemetery in Amarillo, Texas on behalf of the Panhandle Plains Historical Museum, “Cemetery by Twilight Tour”. I was assigned to share the story of the Wolflin’s, who were a long standing, dedicated family from our area. I researched at the libraries and on-line references to follow their story, and received a great deal of information from Christine Wyly’s book, “Amarillo’s Historic Wolflin District”.

In her book there are several photos and notations concerning the Wolflin Estates Development and the Siberian Elms Charles Wolflin purchased, planted and watered over the years. Because of time limits I didn’t have a chance beforehand to see for myself what the area looked like, but after the tour was over and I packed up my patchwork quilt, hat, gathered my handouts, loaded up my car and headed out.

I admit I was feeling a tad down, not depressed or grieved, just low. For no reason whatsoever other than I wished I had done a better job in sharing my stories.

The sun was just beginning to sink as I made my way across town. When I found the street signs for the neighborhood I just picked one at random and slowly drove up and down, back and forth, gazing at the beauty before me. In my talk at the gravesite I had told how Mr. Wolflin had designed the landscaping and wanted the streets to be extra wide, but nothing had prepared me to actually see how the design plan translated from blueprint to reality right before me eighty years later. I wished I had the words to express what I felt as I drove. To actually see the width from curb to curb, and to gaze at the majestic homes was breathtaking. But it was the trees, those wonderful Siberian Elms still straight and massive, perfectly spaced, their limbs embracing the panhandle sky that truly tugged at my heart.

If only I could stop and take a picture, get out and wander down the sidewalk to my hearts content, something to take back with me to gaze at when I needed a boost. But I also knew a photograph would not do justice to the sentiment behind the image. And then I also had to worry about the families behind the security alarms of their homes who would not understand someone caressing their trees. I can only imagine trying to explain that to the police called to investigate.

After a moment or two it hit me. It was the memory I saw within my heart and soul that would carry me forever. In my minds eye I could go back and picture the Wolflin’s as they researched the best trees to withstand the panhandle weather and winds, could imagine as they ordered from a nursery, could visualize when they came in on the train or were trucked in, and as the workers unloaded and carried them across town to their new home away from home.

What a sight this must have been to behold! Just think of what this means! To dig a speck of earth, and then to plant every one of those one thousand trees, deep and true, then to place sod around the base to keep them safe. Then to water every sapling every evening. What a labor of love for the family to watch as the young stalks were drenched, watching to make sure they were growing straight, and actually put their hands down in the soil to make sure it was packed and not disturbed.

It didn’t take me long to realize the Wolflins may have paid for and planted the trees in the Woflin Estates, but as God and John Wayne are my witness, they must have had so much fun to have discussed it with family and friends…what to order, how to plant, how to get them here, and where they needed to be set out. And who was the work force that worked so hard to maintain these treasures? The W.P.A. during the depression and war years were just a few of the men who planted those trees into the ground. What about their memories. Don’t forget about the architects, the landscapers, the design team who brought all this together. There is no question the Wolflin’s had to have secured financing for the project with advice from those around them, those in business as well as their inner circle. What a gamble this must have been during those years and the years that followed. Someone, somewhere had to nurture this thought and these saplings so they would grow to survive.

In my Webster’s Dictionary from the 1890‘s, Nurture is defined as “That which nourishes such as food or diet” or “That which promotes growth; education; instruction.”

Just as water, sun and the earth had nourished those elms to grow, all of it came together to nourish my soul. I might never speak of the Wolflins again or ponder the ills of the universe. But for one moment in time I witnessed a beauty and simplicity to sustain me whenever I needed strength. The homes, the trees, the wide streets were witness to a community that gathered together and shared the beauty of the residents.

So many times as writers we are faced with life that gets in the way not only of writing, but those life moments that interfere deep in our gut. Unseen forces try to pull us away from our deepest passions. There is no question that even though we face tragedy and hardship, economic worries and family troubles we can still enjoy friends and kin, peace and freedom, and above all the simple expressions of neighbors around us. These things are just the as welcome as the shade that a Siberian Elm still provides.

Sometimes we just need to be reminded of those people who have touched their name to an idea, a thought, a sweetness. This was just another reminder deep in my heart and soul that someone, somewhere nurtured not only the trees, but they also nurtured a dream, a vision, an inspiration.

Eighty years later this nurtured ME.

Sharon Stevens

Dealing with Pressure

Dealing with Pressure

Do you get things done better under pressure, or fall apart when you’re not prepared ahead of time? When we put obligations off to the last minute, we create the pressure ourselves, and I know people that intentionally function this way. Others have everything organized in advance and avoid all tense situations they can. But what about the circumstances that come to you unexpected and out of your control?

Donnie Williams has a huge responsibility to train Trails End to be a gentle horse for his boss. After the colt starts bucking him off, the fear of failing puts the pressure on Donnie for over a year, and it overwhelms him. How he deals with it, is an important part of the story that reveals his past struggles, and effects his future.

How would you handle it?

Until next Wednesday,

Joe Nichols