A Boring Life


POST CARDS FROM THE MUSE

A Boring Life

My life is so boring. Nothing ever happens to me. I just want to have a good adventure.

Does that sound familiar? It does to me. I said that for years and years. I was a stay-at-home mom of three energetic brilliant children while my husband traveled for business constantly. Then one day I suddenly realized that as boring as life seemed, I actually was having huge adventures daily.

These adventures have occasionally made appearances in my writing, sometimes as just a cameo appearance or an extra complication, sometimes as the centerpiece of the story.

If you get to a place in your writing and you’re not sure what comes next, think about some of the things you’ve seen or experienced. Dwell on some of the conversations you had during the day with your kids, parents, co-workers or spouses. A writer told me once that when she gets stuck, she looks at current events and works them into the action. Not only does that move the story along, but it gives it an air of realism.

Never forget the saying, “I’m a writer. Be careful or you might end up in one of my novels.”

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

By Nandy Ekle

TEXAS


TEXAS
by Sharon Stevens
by Paul Green
Act I
Scene I
(With Choral Overture)

The evening star hangs like a liquid ball of fire trembling above the canon’s rim in the amethyst summer sky. As the night deepens, it descends and goes on down and out of sight. The amphitheater lights fade into darkness. Far up on the rim of the high canyon wall at the rear a single trumpet sounds a call-The first two phrases of the old cowboy song, “Oh, Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie”.

A halo of light comes on up there revealing a Texas Ranger seated on his horse with a lifted trumpet to his lips. The call is repeated, then the light dims down on him and his horse somewhat. The rattle of a drum begins as if under the very feet of the horse and comes down the canyon wall toward the audience in a growing avalanche of sound, building with the timpani until the whole amphitheater is enveloped in a thundering turmoil of musical tempest.

The tumult deluges the audience for a moment, then like a great ocean wave begins receding, passing backward and up the canyon side and diminishing as it goes, finally to merge itself into the ranger’s trumpet call again as the light brightens there. This time the call concludes with the last two phrases of the above song, with one repetition only. After an instant of pause, the light dies out from the ranger and his horse.

The above passage comes from the actual script of the musical drama TEXAS. What thoughts must have been running through Paul Greens mind as he contemplated the letter sent by Margaret Harper inviting him here. She had read the article about him in the July 1960 edition of the Readers’s Digest. After an evening shared with her husband Ples, and Margaret and William Moore, professors at WTAMU, they sent the note to invite Green to come to see what he thought about writing a play for Palo Duro Canyon.

Green responded quickly with excitement and to inform them of his expenses, but also asked if they could send him information about the area so he could begin to gather ideas of the struggles and joys of the panhandle settlers.

Of all the plans made from that day forward I am sure the hardest had to be with that first step. The Harpers and the Moores knew not only the Greek philosophers, and Shakespeare but George M. Cohan. They also knew and had read Loula Grace Erdman and J. Evetts Hayley as well as all the other local authors from here to Dallas. Phebe Warner and Laura Hamner, founders of the Panhandle Professional Writers, one of the oldest continuous writing groups in the nation, were established writers in their own right, and probably found their way into the mix.

How do you choose? How do you fathom? How can you condense buffalos, American Indians, faith, cattlemen, farmers, merchants, families, and everyone in between in one package? What do you think will be important in the thoughts of a man a thousand miles away as he begins to form the basis of the heritage and civilization of the panhandle of Texas? What will tell the true story of the ancient understanding of man versus man, man versus nature and man versus himself?

Paul Green was a Pulitzer Prize winning author with several shrine dramas under his belt. “The Common Glory” and, “The Lost Colony,” were just two of the many sagas he had helped bring to the stage. What was important to him as he began to form a picture in his mind of the canyons, the people, and the wind, the ever draining wind?

So many times as I sit down at my computer I am totally overwhelmed with what faces me. I am not afraid of the blank screen. I am petrified of the billions of words that will fill it up. There are so many stories and plots, people and struggles that share white space. How can I tame them down, and share their memories with the respect they truly deserve without getting mired in the rhetoric sure to follow.

There is no magic formula, no book on writing, no critique group that can cure this dilemma. The only relief is to write and read, and read and write again, and again, and then again, always tightening, cutting, adding, and deleting until the words make sense. And this is why we write.

I am sure Paul Green was faced with this insurmountable task when he received the package from Canyon Texas. He knew to fulfill his mission he had to do justice to the characters found within the pages of the mountain of materials from the post office. When he visited Palo Duro Canyon they say he jumped from rock to rock, always with pen in hand, to hear where the echo sounded the best off the canyon walls to complete his manuscript. I am sure he stopped to listen and to see if he could hear the sound of a thundering herd of buffalos, or the yip of a coyote, or the screech of an owl, or a whisper of the wings of a hawk or a field lark, or a mockingbird. No doubt he witnessed the majesty of our sunrises and sunsets painted by The Master himself.

Every year when I am sitting in the audience of the Pioneer Amphitheater and follow the music and hear the overture signaling the opening scene I am reminded of the words condensed and written in the actual script by Paul Greens own hand…”The rattle of a drum begins as if under the very feet of the horse and comes down the canyon wall toward the audience in a growing avalanche of sound, building with the timpani until the whole amphitheater is enveloped in a thundering turmoil of musical tempest.”

If only my words could talk like that!

Sharon Stevens

Writers’ Resources


Outtakes 29

Writers’ Resources

My published works are associated with broadcasting. I do have a few fiction pieces out there, but overall, the various television and radio stations I worked with own the rights to my commercials, documentaries, and news reports. Switching to fiction put me back in the newbie ranks. I never enjoyed being a beginner and not knowing all the ropes. I believed there were instructions out there, but where do you start looking for help? I must admit I got lucky when I attended my first conference. I found the direction I needed and met some great people along the way.

Kim Campbell helped me avoid mistakes with my first agent/editor pitch. No one mentioned the agent didn’t want my manuscript. I’d been toting that 400 page book for a day and a half. My shoulders ached from the extra weight. Kim let me know all I needed was my business card and a great pitch. I met with the agent; she requested a synopsis and the first thirty pages. It didn’t lead to a contract, but I did receive valuable information and encouragement from her. Kim began a screenwriting class on-line. She taught me how to format a screenplay, focus the action, and keep the story visual and moving. I’ve had some interest in that first screenplay, but no sale. The truth is that without Kim’s lessons and encouragement, RHYMES would not have been written.

FIW lead me to another wonderful organization. Amarillo College has an excellent continuing education program. The instructor for my first creative writing class was New York Times and USA Today Best Selling Author, Jodi Thomas. We had a great group of writers in that class. We all wrote different genres, had different perspectives, and varying experiences. I truly enjoyed that class. Jodi was a fantastic instructor. A former high school, teacher, she knew how to instruct and encourage us. She was able to bring out the very best in each student. Jodi was the inspiration for the short story RHYMES. The assignment was to write a story about a lone shoe on the side of the road. I was the last to read my story. I sat and listened to hilarious pieces, thought provoking stories, and some sweet romances. Mine was different and I feared my audience would not like the offering. The room was deadly quiet as I read. When I finished, Jodi looked at me and stated, “I would not want to go to your house tonight. I’d be afraid of finding where the bodies were buried.” Wow! That felt great. I still look to Jodi as a mentor. She has befriended many a struggling writer as an honorary member of Panhandle Professional Writers and as the current Writer in Residence at West Texas A&M University.

That brings us to writers’ organizations. Panhandle Professional Writers is one of the oldest, continuing writers’ groups in the country. I’ve made good friends through this organization. I treasure their support and encouragement. Through PPW, I joined my first critique group; attended writers’ retreats in Taos, NM. My association with this organization has allowed me to test my abilities and receive correction and instruction. I’d be lost without PPW.

Bottom line is we have resources. Go on line and do a search of writers groups, contests, and conferences. You are sure to find a group or conference in your area. Try entering contests. The critiques are so valuable. Check out your local community college or university for continuing education classes. Read blogs. Attend book signings. As you can see the resources are unlimited.

Cait Collins

Monday Musings: For the Love of PIG!



Monday Musings: For the Love of PIG!

By Natalie Bright

My middle grade novel is set in 1887 Texas and I’ve been researching provisions of the time period. My main character needed something that could be carried in a saddle bag for several days or even weeks. I hesitated to use pork. It wasn’t that long ago my 4th grader was told by a concerned classmate that he wasn’t going to Heaven because he ate bacon for breakfast.

It’s a PC World

The more I researched, the more I realized my main character would have in all probability had a slab of pork on hand. In this PC world, why has the traditional Southern diet become so offensive? Or as one blogger noted, “you spout religion while stuffing pork down your gullet“.

Understanding the culture in the South and our longstanding reliance on this animal may shed some light on this controversial meat.

From Where Pig Came

It was the Spanish explorers who introduced hogs to Florida in the early 1500’s. As colonists spread west, domestic and feral hogs soon became a staple of southern cooking. Various cuts of meat could be salt-cured and smoked, lard was saved in jars, cracklings used to flavor Johnnycakes, and the leftover meat was ground and mixed with spices to make sausage. Nothing was wasted, and it preserved well in the root cellars or smokehouses all across  frontier America.

Feeding Pioneer Families

Steeped in a rich tradition that all blessings for the table are gifts from God, pioneer mothers prepared huge country breakfasts of fresh eggs, milk, bisquits and hearty slabs of fried ham to fill empty bellies after early morning chores and to sustain everyone during a day of hard labor until sundown. My grandfather recalled he got tired of sliced onion in a biscuit for his school lunch, until the family slaughtered in late fall. My husband remembers two fatted pigs fed his family of five for the entire winter. The children’s classic Little House on the Prairie devotes an entire chapter to the hog and how they utilized every part of him.

The fear created around pork may be rooted in a parasitic disease called trichinosis, caused by eating raw or undercooked pork or wild game. We understand now that pork must be cooked to at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit. U.S. pig farms are ultra clean and heavily regulated.

Symbol of Luck

The Pig symbolizes good luck in many cultures around the world. People in Cuba, Spain, Portugal, Hungary and Austria eat pork on New Year’s, based on the animal’s habit of rooting and pushing forward, making progress with every step. In Italy, the rich fatty content signifies wealth and prosperity, and tasty German sausage is legendary.

Life in the South

If you live in the South, the reality is that majority of us eat pork. Our love affair over a hickory smoked pork rib is not based on anything evil or satanic.  The family barbeque is a long held tradition from when we were little kids. Grease dripping down our chins and faces smeared with sauce is never considered rude.

For the love of pig; it’s a southern thing, ya’ll.

Natalie Bright

Appealing To Readers Outside Your Genre


TRAILS END – The Novel

Appealing To Readers Outside Your Genre

Rome Wager is a friend of mine. Not a close friend that I know intimately, but someone I became well acquainted with during my rodeo days. He stood out, for several reasons, and I admired him.

I am a subscriber to the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC magazine. It could be the most diverse publication there is. I most likely will skip the article on the latest species of frog or spider discovered in New Zealand or Kenya, but lots of topics are interesting to me. The cover story of the latest issue is about the writing of the King James version of the Bible. The article began with the first two words, Rome Wager.

I thought, how strange, whoever they’re taking about has the same name as ole Romey. Guess what. It was him, my bronc riding buddy.

The reason to include Rome in the article? He now is a minister in northern New Mexico, near the Jicarilla Apache Reservation. He is reaching out to young cowboys, ranchers, oil field workers, and staff at the Apache Nugget Casino. The point being made that ancient manuscripts from England, found their way to the American West to be repeated just as they were written.

Can you imagine how many people in the world have read and appreciated this article? This is what I would like to accomplish with my novel. A book that anyone can relate to, and enjoy.

My best wishes to you, Rome.

Thanks for reading,

Joe

Let’s Play Cards


POST CARDS FROM THE MUSE

Let’s Play Cards 

My hands hover above the keyboard. They don’t tap any keys, they just hang in space waiting for my brain to send some words to them. My brain sends nothing and so my hands stay motionless.

Sometimes, no matter how hard I try to think of something to write, the quieter the words in my head become. I simply cannot count the times I’ve said, “I’m going to write now,” and nothing happens. So I repeat the announcement, and still nothing happens.

Time for a game of cards.

Take a package of three by five index cards and write one random word on each card. Shuffle the deck and close your eyes. Pull out five cards and use the five words to come with a story. You have to do it fast, don’t give yourself time to think. Type the words on your computer and watch as more words grow around them.

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

Nandy Ekle

 

CHOICE


CHOICE
by Sharon Stevens

Recently a news journalist remarked that this was a wonderful time to be a reader, with books, magazines, libraries, bookstores, I-Pads, the Internet and so on.

I beg to differ. I don’t think there is any better or more glorious time in the history of our world than to simply be a writer.

Let me give you an example. On the way into town one morning, I passed a work crew on our neighbor’s land replacing electric poles of the “walking giants.” They were silhouetted against the morning sun and I could just make out the men and women getting into their safety gear, ready to climb into the buckets of their “cherry pickers” in preparation for the assent to the top of the poles.

I got out of my car to snap a quick picture and took just a moment to contemplate the scene before me. For a writer, this pastoral scene was simple and straight forward. But with a flick of my imagination I could conjure up any number of plots and characters. There were so many choices open to me on both sides of the grid requiring no human contact at all. My story could lead in so many different directions and avenues. I could use any emotion or genre of my choice.

My 1890 Webster’s Dictionary defines choice in so many ways. “The act of choosing, the voluntary act of selecting or separating from two or more things. The thing chosen. The best part of anything. That which is preferable and properly the object of choice.”

Again, as a writer, this puts the dilemma right in front of me, making it almost impossible to tackle. Or it does for me.

For instance, I could write a drama regarding one of the men being so distracted with troubles at home, putting the lives of his fellow workers in danger. Or I could pen a romance of the electricians and engineers erecting poles with hard muscles, strong spirit, dedicated heart, and with faces that exuded masculinity or sexuality in their smile, through eyes etched with desire that could look deep into your soul.

Or maybe I could write about safety, including hard hats, or lifelines, or anchors to the ground such as those about safety first that fellow Wordsmith Six blogger Natalie Bright wrote in her book Oil People. What about tragedy and the loss of friends on the job, senseless acts, terrorism on a national scale, shutting down the power grids all across the country. I would have to do a lot of research, but it’s doable.

On the one hand I could write about the power conglomerates tearing up the land, killing the environment, gobbling up natural resources. Or maybe I could choose to focus my story on the hawk I witness every day on my way home from work that settles on top of one of the cross bars of the electric pole just high enough to survey his domain as he looks for a tasty meal from his lofty perch.

What about cattle ranches and farmers? Each pole the power company erected was across generations of neighbors’ land on both sides of the spectrum. I could write about the power companies taking Eminent Domain, growth hormones, Mad Cow disease, PETA, or vegetarians. Or I could write about Molly and Charles Goodnight and the Goodnight-Loving Trail, John Wayne, saving the environment, the beef industry, steaks sizzling on the grill for an outdoor cookout, hamburger sliders at a tailgate party for the Super Bowl.

And where would we be if there was no electricity or fuel to run the tractors, the cotton gins, and the grain elevators. Without this most basic commodity farmers would not be able to feed their neighbors, their families and their friends here in the community, but also throughout the world.

And then there is politics. I could choose any debate on the energy crisis, oil embargoes, foreign oil, offshore drilling. Or I could write about how thankful I am that Franklin Delano Roosevelt worked so hard for us to have rural electric power that runs our water well, the microwave, the washer and dryer, the lights, the heat, the air-conditioner, the refrigerator that keeps all food and produce at the peak of freshness, and of course, last but not least, our T.V.

But I am also intent on sharing the story that electricity levels the playing field for all businesses, corporations, and CEO’s, that reach from the tallest sky scrapers down to the littlest mom and pop shops alike.

The sky remains the limit for me or any writer worth their salt. I could undertake a screenplay, a stage play, a murder mystery, non-fiction, horror, science fiction/fantasy, westerns, children’s book, or even a song lyric. “I am a lineman for the county,” as Glen Campbell would sing. And if my little heart desires I could find a place for vampires, werewolves, blood sucking aliens, or energy guzzling robots. And how easy it would be to connect and pay tribute to all that protect and serve against all forms of those who spew evil in every walk of life.

So many choices, so many avenues, limitless possibilities.

After staying to watch the men work to link the cables that stretched from one end of the earth to another I knew I had to get to town. I took one last glance and climbed back into my car. My heart was heavy with the magnitude of decisions I would have to make. Once I left this place I feared the memories would dim. But as I turned my eye I caught the reflection of the breaking sun. The brilliance burst across the horizon through the clouds. I knew I had my answer. I could choose to write about the worst of society, the ills of mankind, the stupidness of humanity at large, or I could go with my first impression.

What I first witnessed in my heart and soul when I saw the framework of trucks embracing the giants was the Holy Trinity…the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and encircled within was the symbol of the cross. I could see the light of the Spirit rising above the scene with all of His majesty. I pictured the fields and the pastures and all the creatures below enveloped in the warmth of His gentle embrace all across the land.

And that leaves me with MY definition of “choice” from Webster’s Dictionary, “Holding dear, selecting with care. Worthy of being preferred, select, precious, very valuable.

And I knew at that precise moment what I would write.

No question, this is truly a glorious time to be a writer!

Sharon Stevens

People Watching


Outtakes 27

People Watching

My hair stylist ran late last Saturday.  He’s really good about keeping on schedule, so I didn’t mind the wait. I sat out in the lobby and read my book until a mom with a cute toddler entered the building. The little one jabbered and explored. She smiled at everyone. Mom gave her some space, but when the little one strayed too far, Mom brought her back to their chairs. I thought how wonderful. Here’s a happy little girl who is being taught about boundaries and limits, but she has enough freedom to test her wings. I really enjoyed watching the little one play.

People watching is a wonderful way for writers to pass time or conduct a little research. I love seeing an older couple walking hand-in-hand. I begin to imagine the progression of the relationship from courtship to the present day. I consider the day they met. Was it love at first sight or more of an I-don’t-think-I-like-you-but-I-want-to-give-you-a-chance situation? What about the wedding? Did they have a simple home ceremony or a lavish affair? What obstacles did they face? We all know relationships aren’t perfect. How did they weather the storms? Are they still in love? I watch him look down at the woman at his side. His eyes shine. He smiles. True, she’s not the girl he married. Her steps are slower. Wrinkles etch her face. But in his eyes, she is still beautiful, and she’s the light of his life.

Watch the young mother shopping for groceries. She consults her list; shuffles through her coupons to see if she can save a few cents on one brand over another. Her hand hovers over the name brand but she selects the store label because it is cheaper. The little one in the cart asks for a treat, but Mom shakes her head. It’s not in the budget. Her brow wrinkles. She checks her wallet; counts the money. It’s not enough to buy the healthy food her family should have, so she compromises.

Scenes like these offer opportunities for the writer to enhance his characterizations. By truly observing the people around him, he can recreate the expressions, mannerisms, and physical attributes to show the reader what is happening to the character instead of stating what is occurring. It brings the reader into the story and creates a bond between the reader and the character. Using his observations tightens the writing and keeps the plot moving. Learning to use what he sees eliminates excessive adverbs and adjectives and makes a cleaner, clearer story.  Give people watching a try and let your imagination soar. The results will be amazing.

Cait Collins

 

Oh, The Horror of it All!


Oh, The Horror of it All!

The term Horror describes an intense feeling of fear, shock, or disgust. In this genre you will find stories created to stir these intense feelings in the reader. From the classic Frankenstein to The Blob of unknown origins, from the resurrected dead to the mad protagonist who never dies.

The stories in the horror genre make the nightmares of our childhood real by describing the horrific and shocking details in a way that bends them into a plausible scenario.

It has several subgenres including the following:

Aliens: which may also overlap with science fiction.

Creepy Kids: Involves possessed, ghostly or dead children.

Cross Genre: Horror that contains major elements of other genres.

Cutting Edge: Usually associated with graphic novels.

Dark Fantasy: Is the companion to human evil and strife, instead of monsters.

Dark Fiction: This is a term used in the horror genre to market stories without using the term HORROR.

Erotic: Horror that usually contains violent sexual elements.

Extreme (splatterpunk, grindhouse or visceral): 
When thinking of this subgenre think Texas Chainsaw massacre. It intends to be bloody and gross.

Fabulist: horror emphasizes stories in a specific place or old-fashioned style.

Gothic (English gothic, southern gothic): 
This subgenre is written in a ‘literary’ style such as much of Edgar Allen Poe’s work.

Haunting: Have you ever seen a ghost? You will find them in this subgenre.

Holocaust: tales involve mass deaths, or a near-future apocalyptic plague, whether past or future.

Humorous horror: The Macabre in parody such as the Munster’s.

Paranormal: These are stories that describe the battle against the evil supernatural.

Rampant Animals: Horror containing animals: birds, dogs, giant ants, etc.

Rampant Technology: Horror where machines take over.

Supernatural (demons, zombies, etc.): 
Stories of monsters persistent on consuming the lives of mankind.

Be scared, be very scared!

Rory C. Keel

Books on Impulse


Books on Impulse

By Natalie Bright

Impulse buy is a standard retail term meaning spur of the moment purchases. The buying is unplanned and purely spontaneous triggered usually by seeing the item. Who can resist the decorative tissues, gum, breath mints, cute bottles of hand sanitizer–all the little goodies jammed in the display next to the check-out. Why do you think the milk and eggs are at the far back corner of the grocery store? It’s basic retailing logic.

I’ve read that books are becoming more and more a form of entertainment classified under the term impulse buy. I’ve fallen victim to the ease of logging on and ordering books and more books, and last week this became even more apparent.

Making Connections

My blog about characterization and creating a history for characters was read by a writer who I had met at DFWcon the year before. By happenstance, we had sat together in several classes, enjoyed interesting conversation over a few meals, and after returning home, ‘liked’ each others Facebook pages.

Following Links

Last week, she sent me a private email with an attachment explaining her process of character development. I followed the links included in her email to her blog and ePublishing sites. Within a few seconds, I placed an order through my PayPal for her 45 page eNovella and there it was, on my desktop within seconds. Shazaam!

Buying on Impulse

That’s impulse buying at it’s finest, and this savvy author made it easy for the consumer. Within minutes of her email, I followed all of the leads, learned about her and her work, and made a purchase. It’s a great time to be a writer, and if you’re a fan of hot romance I hope you’ll follow the link and checkout Casesa Major’s blog.

What’s an impulse buy you’ve made recently?

Natalie Bright