A Pinch of Rodeo – Hanging around the Best

A Pinch of Rodeo

 By Joe R. Nichols


 Hanging around the Best

The summer before I started college, I worked on a ranch in Nebraska. There’s an amateur rodeo association up there that is very respectable. This made the non-sanctioned rodeos easy pickin’s, and I won money at most all of them I went to. It gave me a false sense of my skill level. I figured when I got to the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association, I’d make’em bow down. I was so confused.

The Central Plains Region of the NIRA was one of the best in the nation. Young men from all over the United States were recruited on scholarships, and many of them were already competing at the pro rodeos. I was out of my league.

I still believed I could ride at that level and be successful; it just took longer than I thought. My freshman year; blanked. Zip, zero, notta.

At the rodeo in Weatherford, OK (Southwestern Oklahoma State University) my sophomore year, there was one saddle bronc horse that stood out. He was way better than all the rest. Rod Breech had him in the first performance, I had him in the last. Rod’s score had him winning the rodeo.

Rod was one of the reasons why these rodeos were so tough. A top bronc rider and bull rider, he also could beat you in the team roping and steer wrestling. I looked up to him and he was helping me learn to ride. We were becoming friends.

I can’t recall for sure how many points we each had, just that Rod scored much higher than me, but I still won second. What a boost! What a relief!

Years later, Rod and I traveled together in the PRCA. In our rookie year, I remember him saying; “I used to be a hot dog, now I’m just a weenie.” He went on to win the overall Rookie of the Year in the Prairie Circuit, and proved himself as a great professional bronc rider for several years. The point being, he dominated college and amateur associations, but he had to step up his game when he arrived on the pro scene.

It doesn’t matter if you’re writing a book or riding a bronc, hang around the best in the business and they’ll make you better.

The Grail


The Grail

By Nandy Ekle

I found it on line, filled out the order form and typed in my payment information. Then I sat back and waited. I didn’t have to wait long. It came in the mail this week; I was so excited and couldn’t wait to get home from work and open my package. And I was not disappointed.

Of course, it’s nothing more than a plain, simple coffee cup. It has the name of my favorite author printed around the cup and a print of his signature. That’s all it is. But to me, it might as well be the Holy Grail. It looks really cool in my hands, the coffee tastes better, and suddenly my words flow much better.

There is an old story about a child who wants to learn to do something, but they have no self-confidence. They are given some little trinket and told that it has magic powers and they are immediately able to do the thing they want to do and believe it’s because of the magical object they hold. Then, in the middle of a very intense moment, they lose their magical possession, but are able to continue what they’re doing.

The intelligent side of my brain knows this story and laughs at the creative side for believing it. But I guarantee that since receiving my new cup in the mail, I have been able to write again.

Sometimes we just have to do whatever it takes to get the words on the paper.

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




By Sharon Stevens


Carla Stewart recently blogged with Susan Reinhardt about writing, and also about her book, “The Moses Conspiracy”. Reinhardt said something that truly touched my heart. Her words… “The novel was born from an experience I had while standing in Gettysburg Square on December 2004. Surrounded by old buildings, I “heard” the forefathers voices, but they were like fading echoes.”

Can you imagine standing in Gettysburg Square? What did Susan feel, sense, smell, hear, or touch with the echoes of the forefathers? Who was there to tug at her thoughts? I am sure she didn’t hear laughter, but then again, what if she sensed the families that strolled through the town at better times.

How many of us stop and actually listen to the voices of our characters? How does the setting change if we turn in this direction? How can we write our stories if we can’t hear what they are saying? So many times we are so afraid of losing the terrific thoughts running through our brain that we forget to forge the story within. We are petrified that if we stop for even just a moment in time, all will be lost and we will have to start all over again. But the opposite is so true. Sometimes, if we breathe with the heart of our character, OUR heart will carry on to complete the scene.

I remember how Natalie Bright told our critique group that her character would wake her up at night urging her to tell the story. Jodi Thomas spent nights at the computer only to hear the alarm go off the next morning just in time to get ready to teach school. Paul Green, who wrote the musical drama TEXAS, said that the panhandle was his thinking day and night.

Without a doubt we need to listen to our characters, but then again, not to forget they also took time out of their busy lives to celebrate life itself.

Someone left behind a desk diary from 2002, “On Writers & Writing” by Helen Sheehy & Leslie Stainton. Each page listed an author and the story of their life. To me, this was a true treasure on every level. The calendar itself had spaces to write thoughts and memories. The birth or death dates of authors were inserted at the bottom of each entry. But it was the stories of all the authors that caused my heart to leap for joy!

The March notation is the life story of Olaudah Equiano who was born sometime in 1745 and died March 31, 1797. Equiano’s life story began when he was kidnapped at age 11 and shipped to America for a life of slavery, “in a state of distraction not to be described.” He wrote an autobiography recounting the violence of being branded and beaten, but also of being taken in by an officer of the Royal Navy who taught him to read. He writes, “I had a great curiosity to talk to the books as I thought they did.” Equiano recalled. “for that purpose I have often taken up a book and have talked to it and then put my ears to it, when in hopes it would answer me.”

As writers, may you always take a moment to listen to your books as they tell their story! And may your books have a story to tell.

Happy Easter!

When You Have Nothing To Say

Outtakes 87

Release 3-27-1213

When You Have Nothing To Say

By Cait Collins


I hate saying this, but I have nothing to take out of my mind this week. My thoughts are focused on responding to clients. After nine to ten hours of quoting contract provisions, calculating annual accrued interest, telling a beneficiary the contract was surrendered, and researching contract histories, I’m brain dead. I’m not sure I can write a coherent sentence much less create a well constructed blog.

This is one of those times when it’s best to say little and maintain a semblance of professionalism. Better to be thought a fool, than to type gibberish and remove all doubt. Less can be more. And if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. Fake it til you make it. Wow, how many more clichés can I drop into this paragraph before I prove my mind is not functioning?

Writers prove their lack of vocabulary and ability to construct a story when the work is filled with clichés. While lines like “when hell freezes over” might be appropriate once in an entire novel, repeated over-used phrases ruin the work. Be creative. Instead of saying “you are not a blip on my radar” try “you’re not even a speed bump in my road.” Better yet, “and you are…?” All three indicate the character is not important to the speaker, but only one escapes sounding common place. Remember when “at the end of the day” was the hot saying. Newsmen, commentators, editorial writers used that line to the point of being irritating. At the end of the day, the writer or speaker showed a lack of originality

Used sparingly, some clichés might spice up your project. Just remember your original lines are better. Use your words instead of the old and tired.

Word Count

Word Count

By Rory C. Keel


As writers, it’s easy to become absorbed in our writing. We are the defenders of our plot and characters, sometimes to a fault. We create new worlds and imaginary realms where the impossible becomes possible, where truth and justice prevail and love conquers all.

But then there’s reality.

When we pitch our project to an agent or publisher one of the first questions asked is, “What is the word count?” As the writer it may not matter, after all, it’s the story that counts, right? However in publishing it means Money.

It is estimated that for every 10,000 words over the stated guideline of a publisher, it could equate to a ten percent increase in publishing costs.

While researching word counts for my writing projects, I have found the following basic word counts to be a standard measure in the industry.

Chapter book (6-8 yr.) 5-25,000 words

Middle reader (8-12 yr.) 25-40,000 words

Young adult (12-18 yr.) 40-75,000 words

Novelette 7,500-20,000 words

Novella 20-30,000 words

Short Contemporary 50,000-60,000 words

Long Contemporary 70,000-80,000 words

Short Historical/ Mainstream 90,000-100,000 words

Romance novel 90,000-100,000 words

Long Historical/Mainstream 108,000-120,000

Remember, these are averages and the submission guidelines for your particular agent or publisher should be the final say.

Growing Up Friendly

Growing Up Friendly

By N. Bright


“Most people that are too nice are either very naive or have a hidden motive.” This comment posted on a blog was very troubling to me and has been on my mind for several weeks.

Seriously? Do people really believe this about kindness and manners?

Hidden Motives

When the coffee barista hands me my latte and says, “Have a wonderful day” with a friendly smile that shines in her eyes, does she have a secret motive? When the bank teller says that he really appreciates my business, obviously he must be naïve about the world. When a friend buys my lunch for no good reason, what secret agenda is she hiding?  And when the waitress tells us to come back again soon, what is she really plotting?

Living in the Texas Panhandle, I have experienced “nice” my whole life.

Good Manners

Good manners are  important in this part of the country. I think back to my grandparents who treated each other with nothing but kindness and respect, and I remember them showering the same over their kids, grandkids and neighbors.

My mother managed the cosmetic counter at Parsons Rexall Drug in my hometown of Dimmitt. I grew up as “Peggy’s daughter”. From her I learned that people love to talk about their life and the things that matter to them, and sometimes they just need someone who’ll listen. She had a steady stream of loyal customers and sold a lot of perfume and jewelry, but I don’t believe this was her hidden motive. I think my mom really cared about other people and their lives. She was a kindhearted, generous person.

I am continually reminded that nice and friendly are not foreign to the Texas Panhandle. When I walked across the campus of West Texas A&M University on my way to a meeting with writers, several young men held the doors for me usually with a friendly “Hello “ma’am”. These young gentlemen might sport a white Stetson and wrangler jeans, typical West Texas attire, and yet  another had a tattooed arm attached to fly-away locks and body piercings. The kindness expressed by these students makes me proud to know that common courtesy can be found even in today’s youth. After my meeting I made a stop at the local Braum’s for milk and eggs, only to be greeted at the door by a young man of about seven who held the door open for his mother and me.

I’ve traveled to numerous places to speak in Texas, as well as to Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Kansas, and I’ve found nice people in all of those places.  I attended a conference in Bakersfield, California and had a blast with several very nice and fun folks who rolled out the red carpet to welcome us.

Friendly People & Talented Writers

I don’t believe that acts of kindness and good manners are entirely absent from the human race, and I don’t think that nice people are stupid to the ways of the world. My heart goes out to the person who wrote that comment above, and to other people who truly believe it. How very sad to live every day in suspicion, cowering in alarm of random smiles or hellos, and wondering at any kindness that might come their way.

A New York City acquiring editor told me that she loves coming to this area to find authors. “People here have a clarity of emotion that is rare. You are sincere in your thoughts and actions, and writers have the ability to arrive at the heart of the story.”

Isn’t that a better way to live?  Growing up friendly and finding the heart of the story.

Or maybe I’m just naïve.

First Professional Rodeo

A Pinch of Rodeo

First Professional Rodeo

By Joe R. Nichols

In 1982, I competed in my first professional rodeo. It was over the forth of July in Pecatonica, Illinois, produced by Barnes Rodeo Company.

I called the central entry system for my stock draw, and they gave me a number, no name. The number meant nothing to me. When I got there and paid my entry fees to Mrs. Barnes, she excitedly said, “Oh, you have Crystal Springs.”

“Is that a good one?” I asked in my naive permit holder state of mind.

“Oh yes! She was bucking horse of the year in ’77.”

Now, you might think this would make me a little nervous, but you’d be wrong. I was terrified out of my mind. A wheat whacker farm boy from Kansas getting on one of the best broncs in pro-rodeo? Yes, I was scared.

I found Lyle Sankey to ask him about her. Lyle had been to the National Finals several times, and I knew him a little bit. “She aint no good.” he said.

Once again my inexperience showed through. “Really?” I said. I learned later Lyle never missed the opportunity to kid someone. “No, she’s not any good at all. Unless you want to win first, then she’s pretty good.”

I was too dumb and confused to see much humor at the time. Then he let me off the hook. “No, you’ll love her. She’ll be a little honky right out of there, but after that, she’s a day off.”

Still stunned from the challenge, I returned to my gear to get ready. Then a gentleman rode up to me on a black horse. “Are you the one that has Crystal Springs?”

“Yes Sir.”

“Here’s her halter.” He handed me a beautiful leather halter with a silver plate on the nose band. It read; CRYSTAL SPRINGS, 1977 PRCA BUCKING HORSE OF THE YEAR. I tried not to act psyched out as he explained to me that I would be last to go, and that they would spend some time telling the crowd about this mare. He would tell me when to saddle her.

The portable arena was set up on a race track and there was no room behind the bucking chutes. I stood in the corner with my saddle waiting for them to load her. They bucked all the other broncs, and they still hadn’t put her in the chute. I mean, I’m up! It’s my turn to ride, and my horse in standing in the back pen. Lyle must have seen the panic on my face, and came to my rescue. “Hey, don’t worry about this deal. they’re going to give you plenty of time. No body’s going to rush you. You won’t believe how long they’ll talk about this horse. They’re going to talk about her, they’re going to talk about you,,, well, mostly they’re going to talk about her.

He made me laugh, and at that moment, I finally gained some composer. I dropped my saddle, and relaxed. The announcer went blah, blah, blah, for ever. Finally they ran her in. Mr. Barnes gave me strict instructions. “You can put your halter on her son, but don’t saddle her ’till I tell you.” On and on it went. I can’t remember a word said about her, but they must have started the day she was born and told every detail of her whole life. They were some kind of proud of this mare.

I could only assume this bronc would be double rank. She really was strong the first four jumps, but not rank. She then bailed so high in the air, I couldn’t believe it, I went after her like I was killing snakes. At the six-second mark, I finally realized how nice she was. I slowed things down and rode her right the last few seconds. I reached down with my free hand and waited for the pickup man. She had bucked in a straight line, and hadn’t traveled 100 feet. I looked over as the pickup man got in position, and I saw the crown of his hat  a long, long, way below me.

Another bronc rider rode the mare in an earlier performance, and won the rodeo. I could have rode her better and possibly won second, but I was proud to ride such a great horse and apply my first winnings to my permit. I placed forth, and won $120.

Let’s Talk


Let’s Talk

By Nandy Ekle

“Hi. My name is Main Character.” He raised his hand in a wave.

“Hi, Main Character. My name is Nemesis.” He nodded toward Main Character.

Main Character smiled. “It’s good to meet you.”

“Thank you. It’s good to meet you too.”

Main Character looked past Nemesis’ shoulder and Nemesis looked down at the floor. The clock ticked an awkward moment.

Main Character jerked his face back to Nemesis’ face as a flash of thought passed through his mind. “We’re supposed to inspire writers to write a believable dialogue.”

A light snapped on in Nemesis’ eyes. “Oh. Do you mean, like, actually sounding like two people having a conversation instead of sounding like two sides of the same person?”

“Yes. That’s right.” Main Character smiled while his head moved up and down.

“I see.  How do you think a good writer does that?”

Shrugging his shoulders, Main Character said, “Well, I think they have to just almost actually hear two different people speaking and write what they say exactly the way it’s said.”

Nemesis’ eyes darken slightly. “Ya’ know, Mainy, I do b’lieve you jes’ hit da nail rat own its big ol’ head.”

“Yes. And that means the writer needs to know his characters very well.” He took a coupe of steps backward.

“Yore galdern rat ‘bout dat dar rule.” Nemesis took a couple of steps forward toward Main Character.

Main Character turned his head and looked over his shoulder for the door behind him, then he looked back at Nemesis. His brow was lined with worry. “So, do you have any advice to add to that?”

Nemesis stopped moving and lookd up into space as if an idea would appear like a light bulb. “Well . . . yeah. They prolly need to make shore dem readers know who’s tawkin’ when. ‘Cause, like us? We ain’t just standing still flappin’ our gums. We’re acchully doing’ sumpin’”

“That’s right,” Main Character said.

Nemesis grinned a dark toothy grin. Yeah.” He turned to look at the person reading their dialogue. “Got that, reader? Now.” He paused and leaned forward until his nose nearly touched the reader’s nose. The dark light came back to his eyes. “Go do it!”

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



Sharon Stevens

I was so sorry to have missed the last Panhandle Professional Writers meeting due to a family emergency. Jan Epton Seale spoke several years ago at a conference at WTAMU, and it was such a joy to hear her stories. I purchased one of her books and stuck it in my bag. The next day my husband, mom and aunt would be making our yearly trek to the family homestead in East Texas for a reunion, and then for the Sunday service at the little country church. This book would be something to take along for the trip.

After we got on the road I pulled out the book, explaining the story. Jan’s father was a Baptist preacher and her book contained poetry and snippets of family and community life in a small town. I was encouraged to read out loud. Could be it was to keep me from talking. Either way the miles began to pass as I started turned the pages. One of the chapters had to do with Sword Drills. We were Methodists except for my husband, and he instantly remembered this Baptist tradition. The kids in Sunday school would line up holding their closed Bibles in front of their chest waiting for the signal. The teacher called out a Bible verse, and the child who was first in finding chapter and verse won the drill.

This led each of us to reminisce about memories growing up. We shared about Church picnics, (fun whatever the faith), Baptism (sprinkling versus dunking), fire and brimstone (the Methodist church doesn’t have too many pulpit pounding services.)

When we arrived at the church my great aunt was sitting in her pew with several friends clustered around her. I took Jan’s book and began circulating among those gathered at the church. Each one signed the inside after I told them I would be giving it to my aunt after the service as a gift and record of the memories of our time together.

My aunt was over ninety years old and she sent me a letter telling me how much she enjoyed reading and rereading the stories and remembering each person at the church that day. I was assured by her family that she cherished this until her death years later.

As writers we may not know the journey our stories will take when they are published. Who can fathom how far they may travel? Just think, Jan Seale wrote her book from a Baptist standpoint of her childhood memories, but it was shared several years later to those with a common faith. I so wanted to tell her at the Panhandle Professional Writers meeting how much this book meant to me, and how I shared it with others. I know that to a writer there is no greater accolade.

Recently I saw a facebook post encouraging people to write fan letters to five favorite authors. There are so many in my life that I need to write to. Loula Grace Erdman, Jodi Thomas, Natalie Bright, DeWanna Pace, and now Jan Epton Seale, are just a few out of thousands on my “bucket list” that deserve to be honored. I know that it will take a lifetime to list them all, and then another to put words to paper. How can I ever find the write words? So little time and so many thoughts.

But, when I do finally sit down to focus on the task at hand, in the back of my mind, with each note written, I will always remember Jan, and the sword drill.

Snap Shot

Outtakes 86

Snap Shot

By Cait Collins

I didn’t realize how important old photographs were until I began writing TABLES, a series of stories about growing up as a Baby Boomer. The 50’s and 60’s were exciting times.  Lifestyles were so different back then. Family was important and so was picture taking. My photo albums witness the advances in photographic technology. My skills improved with each new camera I purchased. But cameras are not the issue. The picture, the snap shot is the subject of the Outtake.

I’ve been flipping through photo albums searching for more inspiration for my stories. Each shot brings back memories of my youth. The colors and scenes fill in blanks in my memory. Some spark memories that make me laugh or bring a tear to the eye. The pictures serve as a history of my family and the life we shared.

As valuable as the prints are for my current work, they also trigger story ideas. Take the photograph of my older sister getting ready for her wedding. She’s rolling her long auburn hair on super-sized rollers. Disappointed in the style she received at the salon, she started over. But what if we change the situation? The young lady has a date with a new guy. A friend arranged the meeting in hopes the couple might hit it off. One of the duo harbors a dark secret. The other approaches the evening with anticipation. Maybe this new person is the one.

What if Mr. New Guy arrives carrying a box of chocolates and a long stem yellow rose? And then, instead of giving his date the gifts, he gives them to her mother. So when she sees how he honors her mom, she decides to give him more than a passing glance. Maybe she feels a twinge of jealousy. Mom is not that old and she’s still a beautiful woman. What is he’s more interested in her mother than he should be? Let’s suppose he plans to play one woman against the other. Or maybe Mom is his mother; the woman who abandoned him at birth. He accepted the date with his sister to get close to the woman who threw him away. Hurting the sister is his way of getting back at Mom. However, the older woman doesn’t really care about her daughter’s feelings. She has her own agenda. Our young lady is not so innocent. She’s going out with her friend’s friend in order to get out of the house and meet up with her gang member boy friend.

Now we have the start of a story.

Photo albums may not be plentiful in every home, but no writer should miss out on the inspiration of pictures. Post card racks, antique store photo displays, magazines, and craft stores are sources for creative stimulus. Start an album of photographic treasures to help spark or enhance your imagination. One snap shot might actually be worth a thousand words in your story development.