Outtakes 83


By Cait Collins


The Texas Panhandle was hit by a blizzard on Monday, February 25. Officially, Amarillo received 19 inches of snow, but the hurricane force winds blew that 19 inches into 2.5 to 7 foot drifts. By mid-morning, roads into and out of the city in all directions were closed. The National Guard was called out to assist first responders in reaching stranded motorists. In some areas, authorities were stopping travelers and sending them back. Motels and hotels were full and shelters were opened. Power was out in some areas of Amarillo. I called my 97-year old friend who was without electricity and heat for a short time. I was terrified when she told me about losing power. Thankfully, she is okay.

My family was lucky. Most of us got a snow day. One sister was at work at 5AM, Her company ordered the closing at 1PM. By this time, she was snowed in the parking lot. Her employees and a couple of patrons helped her out. She made it home about thirty minutes later, but got stuck when she tried to turn into the alley. Another driver stopped and helped her get her vehicle to the side of the road.

The storm has moved on and the clean-up has begun. My sidewalks are clear and the ice and snow removed from my front door. I still have to take care of the drift behind my car and help my sister clear the huge drift behind her car. Her side of the parking lot got the worst of the drifting. We joined a neighborhood dig out. Together, we cleared the snow and put each other in position to go to work on Wednesday.

One of the young men in the group had just moved to Amarillo. This was his first blizzard. He told me he did not enjoy this. The truth is none of us like these storms. They disrupt lives and increase our stress levels. Thankfully, we don’t get this much snow very often. The good news is 19 inches of snow equals about an inch and a half of rain. That’s moisture our farmers and ranchers desperately need. While I don’t enjoy the inconvenience, I will not complain. This snow will help the economy of the Panhandle.

I am going to complain a bit. I’m cold and my neck, shoulders, and arms hurt. I’m sure that by morning moving will be difficult. But I had fun and got to meet new people. Now it’s time for a hot bubble bath, a glass of wine, and a good book. Tonight I just want to relax, enjoy a bowl of stew, and watch my favorite TV shows. I’ll get back to writing tomorrow. After all, tomorrow is another day.

What Do You Know?

What Do You Know?

By Rory C. Keel

That is an interesting question. I greeted a young man I hadn’t seen in a while by asking him “What do you know?” It would have been really interesting if he had replied with a long string of facts or some secret revelation that would make a good story. This would help with the dilemma of where to get a story, or what to write about?

This is one of the great mantras of the writing field. Let’s explore what this means.


First, write what you know about the physical truths.

Describe what an object or a location looks like. What are the sounds or smells that would help you explain where you are or what you’re doing? What kind of textures do you feel when you touch it? These are the physical attributes of a subject.


Secondly, write about the emotional truths. When writing about the emotional aspect of a situation, describe the feelings of the reality of the moment you are writing. These emotions create the mood of the “now” moment of your story. This creates believability and connects the reader to the action. When the reader “feels” emotions along with the characters and senses the mood of the setting, the reader will accept your story.

Characterization Part 3

Characterization Part 3

By Natalie Bright


From last week, did you develop a history and family chart for your character? Next, let’s dig even deeper and consider how their life experiences might influence their actions and responses to the conflict in your plot.

The Power of Control

When you get right down to it, I think people throughout the world and through time have experienced the same emotions. Being human means we have the ability to practice self-control and we cover our genitals (and there are always exceptions). Fictional characters would draw on those same emotions. They’d also be influenced by traits of their experiences, both past and present.

Author Steven James talked about the power of control in a main character in a special session at OWFI con in Oklahoma City. Self-control and silence are remarkable traits for the hero. “Heroes don’t back down,” he said. Stillness, silence, body stance, and a slow response can evoke power. Would 007 ever run from the room screaming like a girl? Through internal dialogue, your main character may be having a total meltdown but on the outside the villain only sees calm and control. This makes an intense scene for the reader.

Develop the Differences

reflect on the differences for your protag and antag, and then take everything to the next level for fictional characters. For example, consider the Texas Panhandle where I live. A visitor from Florida commented how busy everyone is here. She said we’re always going somewhere to do something, evidenced by our recurring reference of “fixin’ to”.  She told me that people in Florida don’t seem to be that busy at doing anything or even making plans. Her comment surprised me in that the differences would even be that noticeable.

We’ve seen this a hundred times; a character is put into a new situation, a new city, or a different world in which their normalcy is now outside the norm, and often times extremely strange.  Develop the differences.

I remember talking to a group of Chinese college students who were amazed that they could drive outside of town to where there were no people.  They were shocked to drive down a dirt road to our home and not meet another car. At the time, they lived in apartments owned by my in-laws and they would ask the strangest questions, “Who gave you permission to buy this building.” “How were you assigned to this land?” “Who tells you how many cattle you can own?” They couldn’t comprehend that my husband managed property he actually owned, which he was capable of repairing and leasing to people of his choosing. The idea that families could own grassland and decide how many cattle the land will support was an unbelievable concept to these exchange students. To me, being assigned an apartment and having a job which I didn’t choose seems just as strange.

What If

I love meeting new people and learning about their lives. Aren’t humans fascinating? Fictional characters can be just as enthralling. Dig deeper to determine the differences between your heroes and villains and then make them larger than life. Create conflict. Utilize both external and internal issues and build intensity with emotion.

As the character dynamics swirl around in your head and as you consider the “what if”, you’ll come away with a ton of conflict for your plot line based on the feelings and desires of your characters. Once you really know your fictional creations, you can let them take you on their journey.

Bestselling author Jodi Thomas pointed out, “Characters are interesting only to the extent that they grate on each other.”

Have fun and Keep writing!

Liberal, Kansas

A Pinch of Rodeo

By Joe R. Nichols


 Liberal, Kansas

On our way to an amateur rodeo in Liberal, Kansas, my bull rider friend asked which bronc I would like to draw that night. We discussed the stock contractors bucking horses in detail, and Richard knew most of them well. “That Socks looks like he’d be good, until he turns back off that right fence.” he said.

“No, that aint Socks. He’s straight down the pen.” I corrected.

“A little flax mane sorrel?”

“Yeah, but he’s straight down the pen, like a jackhammer.”

“Naw, I saw him last week, he made a circle to the right, really leaped and hung in the air. Man when he come off that fence though, he spun to the right and it was wicked. If I guy could get by that deal, he’d sure win first.”

“Richard, Socks has never turned back in his life. I’m tellin’ ya he bucks straight away and takes forty-two jumps in eight seconds. If you spur him all you can, you might win third or fourth.”

“You’re confused. I know what I saw, it was Socks and he turned back like a bull.”

“You’re crazy,” I said. “You’ve been ridin’ too many bulls. I’ve been on him five or six times. I’ve seen him for years. Never has, never will.”

Guess what horse I drew.

Soon as Socks walked in the chute, Richard began tormenting me. “Might ought to bear down when he gets to that fence. Don’t be afraid to make you some big free arm moves when he comes around. Course, he could buck you off before he has a chance to turn back.”

I ignored him, because he didn’t know what he was talking about. I never considered there to be any chance the horse would do anything different than he ever had.

Most of bronc riding happens in the sub-conscious mind, but real time thoughts are present too. It took me a little bit to realize how good a trip Socks was having. I could feel him gather himself up and push off the ground, jumping high in the air and kicking directly over my head. I was in a perfect rhythm, and it felt awesome. Then it dawned on me. He’s circling to the right. He’s headed for the fence. This aint right. Then I heard Richard holler, “Get ready, he’s fixin’ to come around.”

Ole Socks planted his front feet, sucked back under me, and whirled right. He made several revolutions in the remaining three seconds and it took everything I had to stay in the middle. The spin was fast, but he didn’t lose any kick. That crazy bull rider went in to a frenzy. “I told you he was going to turn back! How do you like him now?! ” he squalled.

I rode him eight seconds. I didn’t ride him eight and one hundredth seconds, but I was there for the whistle. And like Richard predicted, I won first.

The next time I saw the little sorrel horse with the flax colored mane, he went straight as a chalk line, pounding the earth in rapid fire jumps. Just like always.

All except once, I guess. Well, maybe twice I suppose.

Damn bull riders.

The End


The End

By Nandy Ekle

 I need to end my story. I brought the character through the adventure, but at the critical point, she just froze in mid air. Now, a year later, I need to bring the whole thing together to end it.

I know a character has to want something. The whole point of a story is to illustrate a character pursuing a desire. They might want a relationship with a lover. They might want a new career. They might want safety, health, recognition, or even invisibility. And so they strike out on an adventure to get what they want.

The next element of a good story is something blocking their way. This problem could be in the form of a natural disaster, such as a tornado or hurricane. It could be another person, such as a wicked witch or an evil step-mother. Or the problem could be within the character herself. She might want the thing, but be afraid to get it or have a feeling of unworthiness.

Another element is the theme of the story. This is the general reason for the whole tale. The character goes through the adventure to learn a life lesson. This is the glue that holds the whole story together. Why does the character want to save her stale marriage? Maybe she tells herself she doesn’t want to lose the comfort of routine and join the ranks of single mothers. But maybe deep down inside she really loves her husband and wants his attention back on her.

So how does the story end? Your character will learn the lesson and either live happily ever after or be sadder but wiser.

And don’t forget the twist. In order to twist the end, you have to know a secret about your character and keep that secret until the very end. Our lady character above loves her husband and misses his attention. So her imagination goes on a rant and builds suspicion, convincing her his attentions are on another woman. He’s distracted, works long hours, smells like cigarettes when he gets home and goes directly to sleep. What she doesn’t know, and my readers don’t know (until the last page) is that her husband has developed superhero powers and spends his evenings fighting crime with a sidekick. Her marriage is saved, their love is renewed and the reader gets a fun little surprise as a reward for sticking with the character through her whole adventure.

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



By Sharon Stevens


We had such fun at critique group last week. Everyone brought a strong story and shared. As usual we each had a take on what our characters were trying to say with what voice. I had found an article in the Amarillo Globe News by Chip Chandler about WTAMU’s “Anatomy of Gray”, the play at the Sybil B. Harrington Theatre.  Caleb Brink who played the healer, Galen Gray, had kept a diary in Gray’s voice to try to better understand his character.

I had everyone at critique to write a diary entry of their characters. We didn’t go into depth, but just used one liner’s to describe an entry as if they had written into their own journal with their characters voice. Boy did we get some zingers! Fun had by all, lifting the spirits from the serious side of deep characters from all across the spectrum.

I have my grandfather’s diary from World War I in France at the signing of the Armistice, and on February 23, 1919 he wrote that he was …

“Disturbed, Disappointed, Discouraged, Disheartened, & Disgusted. I don’t know how many more “dis” I could use but I feel like using all of them.”

Now what could have made such a young man be so discouraged? He was homesick and so many ships had already headed west. He had LaGrippe (Spanish Flu) and I’m sure he didn’t feel well. His commanding officer had bawled the company out and that may have got him down. Who knows what was bothering him on this particular day.

I think as writers that every once in awhile we need to write an entry into the diaries of our characters. We need to give them a “voice” so we can share in their thoughts and feelings. So many times we, especially me, just skim the surface, keeping everything hunky-dory with sunshine and rainbows. Our stories can become more real if we give them a moment to pause or tinge them with a little sorrow, or at least simply a heart.

Writing a diary is also a timeline of the day’s events and everything about the weather. To think about it, after I took my first creative writing class and was working on my novel I took a daily planner and jotted down the sights and smells and sensations that surrounded me each day. I can still go back and read those entries and it whisks me right back to that time period.

This Sunday represents the anniversary of the letter Colonel William B. Travis wrote to cry for help for his fellow Texans. This letter will be coming home to the Alamo for the first time since it left the mission in 1836. In all essence this correspondence is a diary entry. I wonder how many times Travis wrote the message in his head. Did he share it with Bowie, or Crockett, or any of the other men there with him? Did he really think anyone would come or was he resigned to his fate and those around him, and just wrote the words to keep up appearances, convinced that help was coming?

During World War II Dorothy Gill wrote in her book, “Memories of World War II” that her husband and his fellow National Guard Texas “T-Patchers” carried a copy of Travis’ letter in the Standard of the American Flag as they stormed the beach at Salerno Italy. I wonder how many diary entries were written before and after the battle where they shared stories of home and loved ones, or even just the weather. Who knows what they wrote in their heart and soul.

Tonight the weathermen predict snow, sleet and treacherous roads. We plan on having another critique group meeting tomorrow evening if the weather holds.

I wonder what we will write in the diaries of our characters as if they were facing the same events. I don’t think sunshine and rainbows quite fills the bill.

Commandancy of the Alamo

Bexar, Feb. 24th, 1836

To the People of Texas and All Americans in the World—

Fellow Citizens and Compatriots

I am besieged with a thousand or more of the Mexicans under Santa Anna. I have sustained a continual Bombardment and cannonade for 24 hours and have not lost a man. The enemy has demanded surrender at discretion, otherwise, the garrison is to be put to the sword, if the fort is taken. I have answered the demand with a cannon shot, and our Flag still waves proudly over the wall. I shall never surrender or retreat. Then I call on you in the name of Liberty, of patriotism, of everything dear to the American character, to come to our aid with all dispatch.

The enemy is receiving reinforcements daily and will no doubt increase to three or four thousand in four or five days. If this call is neglected I am determined to sustain myself as long as possible and die like a soldier who never forgets what is due his honor and that of his country…


William Barret Travis

Lt. Col. Comd’t

P.S. The Lord is on our side—when the enemy appeared in sight we had not three bushels of corn—We have since found in deserted houses 80-90 bushels & got into the walls 20 or 30 head of beeves.

Switching Gears

Outtakes 81

Switching Gears

By Cait Collins


Late December through early June is tax season in my business.  As soon as the holidays wind down, thoughts turn to April 15 when all workers must face the IRS and pay our income taxes. Like it or not, tax day is a fact of life. Some folks decide to get a jump on filing day and begin requesting forms on January 2 and my department is flooded with work. This means eight to ten hours a day Monday through Friday as well as some Saturdays.

My job is to respond to clients in writing so that they have information to give to their accountants or tax preparers. My work is not creative. It’s factual and pretty cold. After nine or ten hours of straight forward facts and figures, I find I have problems shutting down the researcher/correspondent and awakening the novelist. I planned a chapter for a current work retelling that eventful day when Amarillo High burned. In my mind it was full of emotion. I typed it, printed the pages, read it to my critique group. My friends agreed the work had no emotion. When I reread it I realized it sound like my business correspondence or an impersonal news report.

I spoke with my sisters. They gave me new insight on the event. Sister number three even had a copy of the year book supplement that covered the day our school burned. Using that information and my revised notes, I tried to rewrite the story. Three paragraphs later, I knew I still sounded like a bored talking head. The story deserves more than that. I loved Amarillo High. I cried as treasures were carried from the smoking ruin. But I couldn’t bring the broken heart to paper.

So what is the solution? Am I doomed to being unproductive for the next few months? Absolutely not. I switched gears. Sister number one may hate me for a few days, but I did write the light-hearted beginning of geek vs beauty. She was the beauty and I was the geek. Like all creative works, it needs some polishing, but it got laughs. So instead of torturing myself with trying to pull emotions from painful incidents, I can write lighter pieces. Next on the agenda — my first date. As for April 15 and the IRS, well my taxes are prepared. I have to pay, so don’t expect the envelope to be postmarked before April 14.



The Art of Writing

The Art of Writing

By Rory C. Keel

I appreciate a good work of art. I enjoy paintings, sculptures, and on occasion a memorable structure of architecture. Some of these works I don’t understand, like abstract art, there’s been times that i’ve wondered if I could do better by closing my eyes and throwing the paintbrush at the canvas. But I do appreciate a good piece of art.

In order to understand art, I participated in a college art appreciation class. In this class I found out that there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye.

Art is the expression of an idea, formed in such a way it allows others to enjoy the experience. This is done by creating music, paintings, sculpture, dance and even writing. Within each of these forms of art, are principles of craftsmanship that must be followed regarding specific materials and how they work.

Meet the Artist

Thinking about my writing as an art form keeps me from over-analyzing and being too critical of my mental idea. This also helps prevent writers block. As a sculptor takes a blob of clay and shapes it to his or her idea, the writer needs to put the material, the idea, on the table or paper, and turn off the editor for the first draft.

Introduce the Craftsman

When the idea is formed, then the elements of the craft can be applied and the editor can take over to finish the masterpiece. Writing is the merger of art and craft.

Characterization Part II

Characterization Part II
by N. Bright

I’m going back through my conference notes to provide you with a hodge-podge of all things on character development over the next several weeks. (I might add that in a past job I used short-hand every day, so I’m a diligent note-taker. In today’s world his useless skill is next to impossible to forget.)

Creating Ancestors

It was a larger-than-life character who came to me in a dream which caused me to become obsessed with learning everything I could about characterization. As pointed out by a few writer friends, I wrote her adventures but had never given this character a past.

The idea for a young girl who lived on the Texas frontier appeared in my head so vibrant and alive, I couldn’t shake her. Her adventures began as little snippets of scenes in no particular order. As I began thinking about her life, she’d have to be a little independent and more worldly than most kids her age. Her father is a U.S. Marshall so he’d be gone a lot. Her mother is of Mexican descent from a sheepherding family. She loves books, thanks to an Aunt, so her vocabulary would be above average and well-developed. I can imagine she was riding horses at a very young age along with fishing and exploring and doing chores; all of the things necessary for survival on the frontier. All of these things come together to create what I hope to be a unique and memorable character.

Just like real people, your characters must have a past life filled with family, friends, joys, and loss; all of the things that shape their motivation and personality. This gives your characters dimension and believability.

Character History

Most writers I know are curious and fascinated by human nature and their motives. This should be a fun process for you. As you develop your characters past, consider where they grew up, why they moved there and where their families came from.

My grandmother told me about traveling by wagon with her parents to Texas from Oklahoma. That was only three generations away; not that long ago. That independent, can-do spirit remains in the people here, much like those before us who came to this barren place to build towns and raise families in the middle of nowhere. Our buildings and communities are not that old, as compared to places in the eastern United States. I get aggravated at the way we seem to so readily tear down the old to build new in this part of the country. I guess we’re still in pioneer mode.

Kids in this area play video games just like big city kids. My kids and their friends watch movies, read books, and love their iPhones, too.  On the other hand, families here have space; to ride 4-wheelers in sandy river beds, fish and ski on area lakes, and the mountain ski slopes are only half-a-days drive away. As an FYI, not everyone in Texas owns a horse, however, I think my kids are a little more “out-doorsman” than urban kids, but probably not as much as kids from Alaska might be.

Your characters are no different. There is much to think about when considering the many influences that shaped their behavior.

Keep writing and have fun creating a past life for your characters!

A Pinch of Rodeo – Salina, Kansas,

A Pinch of Rodeo 

By Joe R. Nichols

Salina, Kansas

Tom Is a very dear family friend, close to my Dad’s age. He rodeoed professionally in the late 1940’s and all during the 50’s. The cowboys in his circle of friends and traveling partners were the legends of the sport. Men including Jim Shoulders, Casey Tibbs, Jack Bushbom, Gerald and Ken Roberts. I was fascinated by his experiences, and he’s a great story teller.

Tom had the reputation of being the wildest, most aggressive spurring bareback bronc rider in his era, and I looked up to him and always wanted to impress him.

At seventeen years old, I entered the bareback riding at the Tri-Rivers Fair and Rodeo in Salina, Kansas, my home town. Tom was there, behind the chutes as I got ready, but he didn’t speak to me before the ride.

My bronc went down the arena in a straight line, and didn’t buck all that hard. I spurred at him a little bit, but he jerked on me enough that he sat me up and my feet dropped. Rather than make an effort to get back and try to regain a spur lick, I finished the ride in safety mode. After all, I wasn’t going to risk getting bucked off in front of the home crowd. Getting a score was the most important task at hand.

Behind the chutes once again, I felt success was mine, and I couldn’t wait for Tom to come over and tell me what a great ride I made and how bright my future in rodeo would be. Finally, he approached, hat on a slight tilt, cigarette in hand.

“Did you get a score on that horse, Joe?”

“Yep. Sure did. 56 points,” I replied with my chest out.

“Uh huh. Is that winning anything?”

“Well, I’m not sure. I don’t think so.”

“You’ve never been bucked off, have you Joe?”

“Um, no, I haven’t.” I said with even more pride.

“And you’ve never won a dime either, have you.”

“Uh, well, no I guess not.”

“If you aint gonna spur ’em, then there’s no sense in you even getting on them.” He blew a bit of smoke as he walked away.

He shocked me in to reality, but I was devastated.

A few days later, I had the opportunity to spend some time with him, and he mentored me in a much kinder way. I gained a lifetime of knowledge that applies to much more than rodeo. His words taught me to get aggressive, and go after what I wanted. To make things happen, not to just wish they would happen.

Everyone should have a friend like Tom.