Home Stretch

Outtakes 22

Home Stretch

As a child, I could not wait for the big experiences. Christmas seemed so far away. I thought I’d never get my driver’s license. Would I ever reach sixteen and be allowed to wear makeup and get to date? Would I ever graduate high school? Marriage was a dream. Like most young people, patience was not a sterling quality. My mother and father warned me to slow down and enjoy the stages of life. Didn’t make sense at the time, but now I wish I had listened. As I get older, life seems to move at an Indy 500 pace. I feel I have missed so much because I was impatient.

It can be that way when I write. I’m so anxious to finish one project and start another that I miss out on the pleasure of creating something special. As I prepare the final pages of HOW DO YOU LIKE ME NOW for my critique group to review, I realize I’ve sped through Kate and Dalton’s journey. I’ve overlooked some of their special moments and maybe I’ve glossed over the intensity of their struggles; downplayed their doubts; left unsaid their most intimate thoughts. That is why the final editing process is so important to me.

At this stage, I pull out the critiques, read the notes I’ve made and the comments my friends have written. I weigh the ideas, incorporate those I like, discard the ones I don’t need, and even flag some for further consideration. I carefully rework scenes and dialogue to improve the story I already love. I do not rush through this process. Instead, I invest time in conversing with my characters. At some point, I will probably ask King Phillips if he has a redeeming quality. And, I will listen for his response. I will read aloud to be sure the dialogue flows. When I complete the final rewrite, I will do one more proof-read and put the novel to bed. I’ll let it cook for a few days and then will send the first thirty pages to a potential agent.

I’ve been asked how I know it’s finished. I don’t really know how to answer that. There’s a line between working toward perfection and over-working the novel. I’ve known authors who worry about dotting every “I” and crossing every “T”, they destroy the soul of the work. At some point, my internal editor will say, “Let go,” and then I will say it’s done. Will I ever be one hundred percent satisfied with writing? I doubt it, but I will be happy with my creation.

Cait Collins



by Sharon Stevens

My husband and I were readying our college bookstore for the onslaught of students we hoped would come and buy their textbooks for the fall semester. We had vacuumed and dusted the best we could, and made the store as presentable as possible in the outdated building that housed our business. We try our best to make it homey to welcome the generations of families who stream to Canyon to attend our university, WTAMU. There is always tables covered with bright tablecloths ladened with a bounty of homemade cookies and simple snacks and even popcorn donated by the Varsity Theater just down the block.

This year we had an added bonus to catch the student’s eyes.

A dear friend of ours had recently given us a four-foot tall wooden chalkboard in the shape of Santa Claus complete with cutouts of redbirds and green Christmas trees. With the attached piece of chalk you could write holiday menus, shopping list for ingredients, or count down the remaining days of Christmas.

This jolly old Saint Nick had belonged to her parents and been brought out for decoration when they hosted Christmas parties at their home. As her mother had been ill our friend knew they would never again have the opportunity to display him for holiday festivities so she gave him to us knowing that at our business he would have a good home.

As usual my husband was mortified. Why display an object that represents the END of the school term instead of the beginning. I admit I did have some misgivings with bringing him out in August during the hottest year in recorded history, in the middle of a drought where farmers and their families were loosing their crops and their livelihood.

It wasn’t Christmas for heavens sake.

And that’s where Scrooges missed the point. As the kids would come in to our sweltering store to purchase textbooks I pictured some of the them laughing and rolling their eyes, as if we were so ancient and outdated we didn’t know what day or even what season it was. I could also imagine parents writing out checks draining their life savings to pay for the books. This would give them an excuse to cry tears of fun while hiding the tears of pain not only with depleting their bank account, but also at leaving their child behind for the four or five or six years or more that they attended college.

I also put the chalkboard front and center because sometimes the students needed a reminder that even though they were leaving behind family and friends, embarking on a new adventure, they could still find the holiday spirit to swirl around them. And though the experienced students had no doubt that the semester would come to an end, this silly Santa would confirm a break was just around the corner.

To us our Santa fit right in with the environment of mismatched carpet and silly knick-knacks scattered throughout our store. But more importantly I think we provided proof for all the kids that when Christmas Eve came, our community, our town, our university would celebrate.

Not to worry that St. Nicholas would either find his way to their new home in the dorm room, or follow them back to where “visions of sugar plums would dance through their heads”.

More importantly, as we were miserable in the heat that fed wildfires and destroyed homes and life, and even though this year might remain bleak, Father Christmas would be a nudge that there would return a time where we bundled up in layers upon layers of coats and mittens, sweaters and scarves with no doubt that family is all that matters.

But I had more ulterior motives under the tree. Kris Kringle’s rosy red cheeks and cheery smile hidden within his beard was a gentle reminder to me that it was time to write Christmas memories to send to publishers to include in memoirs and stories. With a six-month lead time designating summer “the most wonderful time of the year” that magazines and publishing houses welcomed well-written articles for the upcoming holiday issues.

This fall semester our wooden Santa held court beside the table ladened with homemade cookies and goodies. His smile never wavered, not like the scowl my husband showered me with after each customer left the store. Bah humbug! I wonder what Jolly Ol’ Saint Nick has to say about that on his naughty and nice list.


After textbook rush is over I plan to place St. Nicholas in our front window for passerby’s to enjoy. I will put him on display again when we decorate our store for Christmas as the kids begin to pack up to return home for the holiday break. But I plan to dust him off and set him back up for the rush of the spring semester in January.

I believe he represents the future. A simple reminder that without commercialization the holidays will come again and again and ever again, no matter where we travel or the steps that take us farther away from home.

On second thought I just might even display him amid chocolate sweets for Valentines Day. His never ending smile will be just the thing to warm our hearts as we face the prospect of February blizzards with taxes following close behind.

And I just might bring Him out again for Easter weekend…because I know HIS spirit still lives.

Sharon Stevens


By Natalie Bright

During the holidays, time can be bittersweet as we remember the loved ones who have passed on. For grieving parents, the time can be devastating. Laughing toddlers and loving family; the sights, sounds, smells of Christmas can weigh heavy on a grieving heart. The daily struggle seems endless and the loss is something you may never get over, but I made it through and you can too.

If you know of anyone suffering from the loss of a baby, I invite you to share with them my latest eBook:

GONE NEVER FORGOTTEN offers healing words through verse and text for grieving parents. I didn’t begin where most books do on this topic; instead, I started at what happens when you get home. With empty arms, parents have to return to their life without the much anticipated new addition to their family. In addition to several of my favorite Bible verses, two very special ladies have contributed poetry on grief and hope.

Marianne McNeil Logan is an award winning rhyming poet. I’ve admired Marianne’s work for many years, and I enjoy rereading her chapbooks as inspiration for words and the writing craft. She continues to be a strong voice of encouragement for our local writing community.

Nell Lindenmeyer is a long-time friend through our day jobs and through our work in an organization which educates its members about the energy industry. When I discovered she wrote poetry, I asked if she might have some pieces on grief and the free-verse samples she sent absolutely blew me away. I hope you find inspiration and peace through them as much as I did.

From my heart to yours, GONE NEVER FORGOTTEN, is a book of hope and healing after the loss of a baby.

For excerpts and reviews, GONE NEVER FORGOTTEN is available at http://www.smashwords.com in a variety of eBook formats for only $4.99.

Read two of the poems now, below:

This Isn’t Me

by Marianne McNeil Logan

I say the strangest, weirdest things,

Not what I feel, at all—

Yet words that have been blurted out

Aren’t subject to recall.


What’s happened to my attitude,

My personality?

It seems all feeling has withdrawn

And left a shell of me. 

Will spirit and faith ever return?

Last One

by Nell Lindenmeyer

I will not cry for your being gone

But for the life left to be lived that will go on ahead of you

All the laughter that was meant to be heard

And all the tears we’ll never learn to share together

Your dying reminds me of drinking fine champagne from a crystal glass

I appreciate the beauty of the finely etched glass as I swirl it in my hand

But my thirst isn’t quenched by the smooth, rich liquid gold

All I think about is that last drop that I can’t have as it swirls off the rim

And settles into the small hollow

Last one to hold onto love has to say it

I love you.


Natalie Bright


Outtakes 21


January 1, 2012 is closing in fast. I can’t believe there are only thirteen days until the New Year begins. I’m not much for New Year’s resolutions as I break them within 48 hours. However, I am setting my writing goals for next year. Here they are; short and simple, and I hope my critique partners hold me to them.

  1. Get organized. Since starting the blog, I realize I need a good system for tracking topics and making sure they are done on time. I also need to keep better records for submissions and Frontiers in Writing conference details.
  2. Write and mail the checks for my Panhandle Professional Writers and Oklahoma Writers’ Federation Inc. dues. I keep forgetting to do that.
  3. Follow-up on Fall 2011 submissions.
  4. Complete the publicity plans for Frontiers in Writing.
  5. Complete the final edits for my novel HOW DO YOU LIKE ME NOW.
  6. Submit the first thirty pages of the novel to a potential editor.
  7. Write down the lyrics to the songs I’ve written for my Sunday School class. Other teachers are asking for them.
  8. Learn more about using social media to promote my work.
  9. Start a new project.
  10. Lose another fifteen pounds. Okay, that doesn’t have much to do with writing. But getting a little more weight off will help my blood pressure, increase my stamina, and make me more productive.

If you haven’t set your writing goals for 2012, now’s the time to get to work on them. Goals are good for us. They provide a path to improving our productivity and better our chances for publication. If you are a beginner, start small. Keep track of your progress, and mark accomplishments as “Done”. You’ll enjoy seeing the list get smaller.

I wish you all a happy and productive 2012.

Cait Collins



At some point between starting a story or novel and publishing, you will need to write a synopsis. It can be a great tool in keeping you on track with your writing. Most literary agents, publishers and even writing contests will require a synopsis along with a few sample chapters of your writing with your submission.

A synopsis is a brief outline of the basic plotline of your story. It differs from your story or novel in that it covers the brief and precise outline of the characters and major plot points of the story, and not all the small details.

When writing a story or novel, a writer is taught to “show don’t tell.” However, when writing the synopsis the reverse is true, “tell don’t show.”

When starting a synopsis, write a theme statement to help guide your thoughts. What is the main theme that defines your story?

Next, answer the following questions telling the reader the answers. Remember “tell don’t show” in the synopsis.

1. Who is the protagonist in the story?

2. What are his or her personality traits? List strengths or weaknesses.

3. What other characters surround the protagonist?

4. What is protagonist’s major conflict?

5. How does he or she solve the conflict?

6. What hindrances stand in the way of accomplishing the goal?

7. How is each obstacle conquered, or is it?

8. What is the climax of the story?

9. How does the story end?

10. What change takes place in your protagonist?

Rory C. Keel

Elmer Kelton on Westerns

Elmer Kelton on Westerns

By Natalie Bright

Elmer Kelton remains one of my favorite western authors, and continues to be an inspiration for me in my efforts to publish my middle grade westerns. As I mentioned in a previous blog, the owner of Cactus Bookstore in San Angelo was a long-time friend of the great western author, Elmer Kelton.  He sold me a cassette tape featuring two of Kelton’s keynotes from a Chilsolm Trail workshop which was held in Fort Worth in June 1989. From that tape, I’ve paraphrased a list of advice from Kelton, in his own words.

1. Western genre is about authenticity. Stories are real: with real backgrounds, real incidents, about unusual events in history.

2. Read alot of history. Find obscure books without wide circulation. Look for periods of transition.

3. A plot should grown out of characters and situation.

4.  Conflict equals change. There’s always somebody changing and always others resisting.

5.  Best that can ever happen to a writer is when a character takes over the story and runs away with it.

6. Best three of all time that you should read: #1 A Trail to Ogalla by Vincent Capp; #2 North to Yesterday by Robert Flynn; #3 Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

7.  Greatest character ever portrayed: Augustus played by Duval.

Natalie Bright

Writers’ Conferences

Outtakes 20

Writers’ Conferences

Beginning writers often run into problems jump starting their careers. Questions regarding copyright, contracts, submissions, formatting, genres, and marketing come up and answers are sometimes hard to find. I’ve been there so I understand the frustration. I thought I was the only writer out there who had doubts and questions. I had a novel. I’d submitted it. The agent liked it, but didn’t sign me. So what do you do?

My answer came from a newspaper article for a writer’s conference right here in Amarillo. I read the information, called for the registration packet, and made plans to pick brains, and learn more about getting published. I so enjoyed that weekend. I attended workshops with New York Times Best Selling author Christina Dodd, mystery author Rick Riordan, and Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Cunningham. The best part was that I was no longer alone. I went to the conference not knowing anyone, and left with a pocketful of business cards from fellow writers. I became friends with some of the folks I met, and ten years later, I still can count on their support and encouragement.

Do I recommend writers’ conferences? Absolutely! The trick is finding the right one for your needs. I prefer smaller conferences (I’m shy), but some of my friends like the larger ones. I recommend Frontiers in Writing in Amarillo. The 2012 conference will be held the weekend of June 29-30 on the Amarillo College campus. This year’s conference will offer workshops for everyone whether you are a beginner or a published author. If Amarillo is a little too far away, run an internet search for a conference in your area. It will cost a little money, but this is an investment in your writing career. The contacts you make are so valuable, and the friendships made are priceless.

Cait Collins

Waxing Poetic


Waxing Poetic

The world is full of things that are similar and things that are very different and we like to compare things to get a better understanding of them. So we use similes and metaphors.

Similes are when we say that something is like something else:  Leaves fell like ideas all around me, but the wind blew them away before I could gather them together. This is a tool to use in description, but also works well for narrating and dialogue. It’s probably the easiest to  understand in symbolic language.

Metaphor is when we use one object to describe another as if it is the other object: When the thermometer broke the silvery liquid inside dribbled to the floor. As this liquid reached the floor, it didn’t make a puddle but beads. I tried to pick one up, but it became liquid and rolled away before I could pick it up.

Two images that mean the same thing, both poetic ways of saying the same thing.

What simile and metaphor can you use in your story telling?

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

Nandy Ekle

Taking Charge


Taking Charge

 Attitude is everything. If our mind has decided to commit, the objective will happen.

I’ve been extremely busy with larger numbers of cattle than usual, building a horse barn, dealing with some horse issues, and all with less daylight. Are these valid excuses for not getting my blogs posted? Absolutely not. I had time, if my mind would have been committed. I apologize. If we take charge of our lives, there really cannot be any excuses.

Donnie Williams learns several lessons pertaining to taking charge of his own life. All through the story he is faced with feeling sorry for himself and making excuses, or determining his own path. Gradually, he learns to “Take Charge.”

I believe it is a life long process.

Thanks for taking time to read this.


Gone, Not Forgotten

Outtakes #19

 Gone, Not Forgotten

I opened DEAD BY NIGHTFALL, the final installment in the DEAD BY trilogy, and read the sweetest memorial to a favorite author. Beverly Beaver, known to her fans as Beverly Barton, had passed away.

Beverly Barton was an award winning New York Times bestselling author of more than fifty books. She had over five million copies of her books in print in fifteen different languages. Her family referred to her writing as her dream career. I’ve read many of her books. She was a master with writing series novels. I would get hooked on book one and then watch the bookstore shelves for the next novel. I was a fan, but I never wrote to let her know how many hours of reading enjoyment she provided me. I never thanked her for teaching me about writing. While we did not meet, her writings gave me insight into improving my own work.

You see, Beverly Barton crafted memorable characters. Her heroes are men with pasts, full of flaws, and searching for redemption. They never excuse their mistakes. Instead they accept responsibility and move forward. They will give their lives to protect those they love. In like manner, heroines are the epitome of the line from the old song, “I am woman, hear me roar”. Her women have strength combined with a softer, nurturing side. They can survive without a man in their lives, but when they meet the man, they commit themselves to the relationship. Like their men, they have flaws, but they accept their imperfections, and grow in spite of them. I learned from her works that villains do not have to have a redeeming quality. After all, true evil does exist in this world.

Beverly’s settings are perfection. She writes of rural towns and mountain communities. Her characters thrive in world capitals. She has the knack of moving the good and the evil seamlessly from a private fortress in the United States to the perverted dens of iniquity in Europe, to Asian locals, and to the south Pacific Islands.

She made me believe what I don’t believe. Through her settings, characterizations, and description, I came to accept the existence of empaths, clairvoyants, and healers. She didn’t force me to believe; instead she created a path that allowed me to come to terms with the concepts and suspend by disbelief.

This talented author entertained me, taught me, and helped me to improve my craft. I will truly miss her stories and her lessons.

Cait Collins