Writing Z’s

Writing Z’s

By Nandy Ekle

Sitting in my usual spot on the couch, I stared at the blank screen with my fingers hovering over the keyboard. C’mon, words. Let’s get this going. Still, no letters appeared. I looked at the show playing on the TV. I couldn’t even concentrate on that. My cross-stitch project sat next to me untouched. Even my dinner had not inspired me.

Suddenly I blinked. I had fallen asleep again and been that way for an undetermined amount of time. I yawned, stretched my fingers and cracked my one crackable knuckle. Okay. I’m awake. Let’s write something.

Once again I stared at the blank computer screen demanding words to jump from my head to the keyboard. A sweet stillness covered me and I rode it like a wave of comfort, not thinking, not moving, only darkness and ease.

I heard a strange noise as I snored and immediately my eyes opened again. Still no words on the screen. Anger flashed through me because where I had been was so comforting and I wanted to go back.

But I had writing to do. I stared at the blank computer, the opened soda next to me, the idle craft kit on the table. In my mind I walked the hall of my mental dictionary and realized all the doors were shut tight, even barred.

There would be no words tonight. Not even a tiny “the.”

Wondering why I was torturing myself when I really should be in bed, I snapped the lid of my computer closed and stood up. I didn’t want to move too quickly because then I wouldn’t sleep when I found my pillow. I would only fume that I was in bed wide-awake when I had been sleeping so soundly on the couch.

The sandman had his way with me and the next thing I knew, a story was playing out on my internal television. Details are gone, but the situation, a few faces and an incredible atmosphere remain.

Sometimes you just need to go to bed and sleep.

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



by Sharon Stevens


I was so down-deep, dark, under the bridge, deep in the tunnel, buried six feet under, destroyed.

Anyone who is a writer knows this feeling, that overwhelming sadness that comes with the knowledge every dream is dead, and will never see the light of day. That moment when you realize deep in your soul that any passion should have been buried way before thoughts were turned into words. Powerful images that come from within the heart of anyone that celebrates putting letters together to form a visual emblem.

Who cared? What did it matter? The pain is real. We know we must let it go, but we hang on against all hope that an idea will magically appear.

I gave up and gave it away. THEY had won and I had nowhere I could go. Actually, at peace knowing there was no way to turn, knowing that no one would be there waiting on the other side.

So I put everything aside and picked up the book I had been reading, turning to the next chapter to begin again. The first words were, “Myron Dart stood inside the Doric fastness of the Lincoln Memorial, staring moodily at the expanse of marble beneath his feet.”

OMG! In that one sentence my world was renewed! Lincoln Memorial, what a sweet memory that surfaced and broke. My faith was restored. Who could imagine that words written in a book could have that much power. This was such a message to me, for me, about me.

The book I was reading was Preston & Child’s “Gideon’s Corpse” and Lincoln’s statue had special meaning to me. I had no idea what a doric was, but I knew that within minutes I could find the definition, and I did. I had alternated between this book and my new “Chicken Soup for the Soul, Inspirations for Writers” reading each story over again. Our fellow Wordsmithsix blogger, Rory Craig Keel’s story appeared in this issue. His and all the other authors brought me such peace.

As writers we never know when our reader will be facing great joy or absolute and draining sorrow. We can’t choose anyone’s memory for them or what they will celebrate or what they will shed. So never, ever get down in the depths of darkness where you can’t see the light that surrounds you. You never know when a sentence, or word just might be the ticket to drag the reader’s heart out in the open where they can face another tragedy, another day, another memory.

The doric’s will still stand.

My Way

Outtakes 96

My Way

By Cait Collins

I appreciate creativity. It propels the author to search for new ways to tell old stories. However, this does not mean anything goes when preparing a manuscript. There are rules and standard that should be followed if an author wants to be published. Some rules are genre specific and others are universal.

Whatever you write, grammar and punctuation rules must be followed. Youth writing competitions are designed to teach young people how to write. I have had teachers approach me and ask if we were serious about some of the rules. Surely we would not take off points for grammar and punctuation errors. After all, children are more informal in the way the write. Kids email and text, so the rules don’t apply. Would we really disqualify a work just because the young author refused to adhere to Times New Roman 12 point font and one inch margins all around? And what about the limitations on the number of pages for short stories and the number of lines for poems? How could the student’s choice to express creativity be grounds for disqualification? Then came the real kicker. “I told my students they didn’t have to follow these arbitrary rules.” Unfortunately for her students, many were disqualified.

The rules were set in accordance with industry standards and submission guidelines. In applying industry standards to the contest rules, we were attempting to teach the importance of following instructions. Failure to comply with the guidelines had consequences, Can you imagine reading a call for submissions and deciding the length, the subject matter, and the format were of no consequence? After all you are just expressing your creativity. Consider how many submissions editors receive. Do you honestly believe a busy editor will wade through submissions that flaunted the guidelines? Such works will no doubt wind up in the rejection pile.

Sadly, authors believe genre standards are non-existent. A young writer self-published and illustrated her children’s picture book. Her sales were not good and she didn’t know why. She asked me to read the story and give her some feedback. The pet was cute, grandma sweet and loving, but a book written for four and five year-olds centered on drug abuse and animal abuse. Additionally, there was no flow or continuity to the work and the illustrations were not to industry standards. It was also overpriced. When I attempted to explain both the good points and the problems, she became defensive. This was her story. Someone had to warn children about the evils in life. Her agent was too stupid and lazy to sell her book so she had no choice except to self-publish. My next quest was, “Did your agent point out problems with the manuscript?” Her response, “I told him I would not change anything. He didn’t even try to sell my book.” The real problem was her refusal to provide a work the agent could sell.

My way does not mean an author is permitted to be difficult in dealing with agents, editors, and critique groups. I’ve been in groups where a writer was told repeatedly by several members there were issues with the story. Week after week, chapter one was presented with minor changes and the major problems ignored. He could not understand why no one liked his protagonist. Just because the guy wasn’t macho, and aggressive didn’t mean he needed to change the characterization. Why didn’t women appreciate a man who would cater to her needs and do whatever necessary to make his love happy? Excuse me? A women’s fiction novel needs a strong male lead. His hero was a door mat and a pushover. He suggested we just didn’t understand his vision.  Or what about the lady who stated in her cover letter she would not sell to any publisher who required her characters to smoke, drink, or be involved in illicit sex. Needless to say, she had no offers.

Does this mean a writer has no personal options when writing his story? Of course there are opportunities to explore your creativity. The trick is to learn the rules, practice them, and then learn when and how to break them. Creativity is best expressed in good plotting, character development, and scene setting. Show your way in adherence to submission guidelines and respect for agents, editors, and fellow writers. Your efforts will be appreciated.

The Social Network

The Social Network

 By Rory C. Keel

For a writer, social networking sites are beneficial in several ways. First, they can help you make connections with other writers who are trying to achieve the same goals. The ability to discuss with others the techniques that work, and those that might not, can help you as a writer avoid mistakes and pitfalls by increasing your knowledge of the writing craft.

Second, social networking sites can provide the ability to contact and reach out to successful writers and their publishers, creating opportunities that you might not otherwise have. Due to the high volume of manuscripts received by publishers, many good writers may be overlooked. By networking with publishers, agents, and the authors who write for them, your connections could turn into an asset when you are ready to seek publication.

Third is marketing. As much as we would like for our writing to sell itself, or for our publishers to do all the marketing, we will need to do some of it, if not most, for ourselves. A majority of publishers will want to know your platform – in other words, do you have an audience? With social networking sites, you can develop a potential vast audience for your writing.

PPW Window, Volume 2009, Issue 6, Presidents report By Rory Craig Keel


Crazy Daze

Crazy Daze

By Natalie Bright

The month of May has always been whirlwind of stuff, and I can never seem to get control. What is it about May?

I’ll spare you the list because I’m sure your obligations are the same or even worse. What suffered this month is my writing. And no matter how much I worry and fret, I can’t go back and recover those productive hours. They’re gone. Poof. And I’m left with an unfinished story, patiently waiting, still digging a hole in my brain. It will take another several weeks to get back into the time and setting, maybe even longer to find the voice of my characters.

Which brings me to this question—why do writers put themselves through this kind of anguish? Maybe for you there’s a better word; torture, agony, misery? Seriously, some days I’m certain my head will explode if I can’t find thirty minutes of quiet time to write. Crazy. That’s the word. I’m just flat out psycho. We force our brains from reality to daydream, and back again, pushing our physical selves beyond the limit to get everything done so that we can disappear into our make-believe worlds. Does that sound normal to you?

And yet there it is. One chapter, or paragraph, maybe just one sentence. It’s done. It’s the key to the whole plot. Members of your critique group exclaim with excitement; “I love that.”  “Don’t change that. It’s perfect.” “Good job.”  “Send that out right away.” And you do. And it’s a best-seller. And you have legions of fans anxiously waiting for your next book…

Oh, I’m sorry – what was this blog post about? This month has been crazy!

Happy May!

A Pinch of Rodeo – CP #11 Part Two

A Pinch of Rodeo

By Joe R. Nichols


CP #11 Part Two

Ardmore, Oklahoma, hosted one of the first stand alone bull riding events in the world. The best bull riders always entered, and top bucking bulls from several different stock contractors were selected to produce this competition, including Charlie Plumbers’ number eleven.

The first performance action began with11, but things didn’t go as planned. The lights were turned down for the opening ceremonies, and when the lights came back up, the announcers’ voice made a request, “We need the ambulance, please. Please bring in the ambulance immediately.”

The little brown bull had walked in to the chute and stood right next to the gate. He didn’t lean or squat, he simply parked himself against the gate.

He would allow you to shove your leg in between him and the gate for you to scoot up to your rope, but if you tried to move him over, he would take action. His hind end would come up in a violent bucking motion, propelling the rider forward. Then, with calculated perfect timing, the bull would rear up and throw his head back, intentionally trying to knock your head off. Such was the case in that first performance.

The poor cowboy was rendered unconscious, and fell off underneath the bull. They opened the gate to let the bull out. He whirled, scooped up the latch man, flung him to the ground, and pounced on him. Finished with that victim, he returned to the chute and penned the other the gate man behind the gate. He raked him up and down with his devil like horns. Trapped between the gate and the next chute, he couldn’t escape, and he couldn’t fall down. 11 undressed him, shredded his clothes, and then discarded him. This all took place in the matter of a few seconds. The cowboy who had drawn 11 for the third and final performance, was in attendance that night, and witnessed the whole fiasco.

Richard was up in the last performance, and I went along to watch. When all the bulls had been bucked, 11 stood rider-less in his chute. After seeing the bull that first night, the cowboy never showed up to get on him.

The announcer informed the crowd that the bullfighters were going to entertain them with an exhibition bullfight.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I said. “Why would they try to fight 11?”

Richard clasped his hands together and rubbed them briskly, “Oh boy! This is going to be good.” A fellow siting next to us on the fence asked, “Is this bull bad to hook, or something?”

“How many clowns do you see in the arena?” Richard asked him.

“Three,” he responded.

“Before he goes through that out gate, he’ll hook every one of them.”

I could tell this guy wasn’t impressed, and really didn’t think Richards’ prediction would come true. It didn’t take long to turn the statement into fact.

The two bullfighters were the best in the business at the time, Deacon Jones and Jim McClain. Bullet Bob was the barrel man. When they turned 11 loose, Deacon awaited some 75 feet from the chutes. The barrel was maybe 20 feet behind him. 11 had him in his sites, and zoomed toward him so fast, Deacon decided to seek refuge at the barrel. He sprinted to safety, reached out and grabbed the rim, and intended to run around the backside of the barrel. But, 11 was already there. At full speed, he slipped between Deacon and the clown barrel, running a horn under his armpit. Deacon made a high flying arc in the air, landing far down the arena. 11 met him upon his return to earth, and gave him a severe hooking. Richard elbowed the cowboy next to him, “That’s one,” he told him.

Mean while, Jim was on his way to rescue his comrade, he left from the bucking chutes and was about a third of the way there when 11 spotted him. The bull lined him out, and Jim did a 180 back the way he came. Jim leaped for the fence, and it looked like he might have made it. Except, 11 reared and jumped at the same time Jim did, straddling him with his front legs over the top fence rail. He then drug Jim off the fence with his horns, and mauled him on the arena floor.

Another elbow jammed the ribs of the fellow sitting by Richard, “That’s two.”

Bob climbed out of his barrel, and 11 quickly smoked him. “That’s three,” Richard said.

From the time the chute gate opened until the out gate closed, couldn’t have been more than fifteen seconds.

It never did take long for this bull to do his damage.




 By Nandy Ekle

The alarm rings and my eyes open long enough to turn it off, then they close again. I turn over and force my eyes open and feel the sand under my lids pull my eyes closed again. I roll out of bed, stumble into clothes and start my day. I look at the stove and the breakfast foods and all I can think is, “I d’wanna.”

I get to my desk at the office, turn on the computer and look at my tasks. The voice inside my head speaks up again. “I d’wanna.”

“What does that mean?” I ask the voice.

“This is not what I wanna do today,” it answers back.

“I wanna sit on the couch and play games.”

“We can’t do that,” I say. “We have things to do.”

“Oh, yeah? Like what?” The voice is insistent.

“We have to make our living, then we have stories to write.”

“D’wanna.” It stamps its foot like a toddler.

“Here. I’ll show you how fun is it.” The voice turns its head with mild interest. I put my hands on the computer and mentally open a door inside my head. A third voice joins the conversation as my character steps out of the room and begins to tell me her story. I type as fast as I can to keep up as the character’s voice gets louder and faster and pretty soon I’m having a ball.

Suddenly I realize the toddler’s voice, the one with the d’wannas is gone and my story is written and I feel satisfied.

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



by Sharon Stevens

A mother and her young son came into our bookstore to price college textbooks. After they found what they were looking for we took a moment to discuss the high price of books, the terribly hot weather, the rising cost of fuel, groceries, school clothes, work clothes, play clothes, cost of living and just life in general. As they were leaving I invited them to rummage through the basket up front that I keep filled with trinkets of stickers, bubbles, necklaces, bracelets, bouncing balls, slinkys and other such odds and ends that find their way into my stash.

The mother declined but encouraged her son to go through and pick something out to take home. After stirring everything up with his fingers he reached in and chose a golden heart bracelet and shared it with his mom. But he didn’t just pass it on to her, he placed it against her chest and told her he chose it special for her because it reminded him of her heart. The look she shared with her son for this wonderful gift I will carry in MY heart forever. What a precious thought from a young man to his mom.

The dictionary definition of heart describes it as a “chambered muscular organ in vertebrates that pumps blood”. I understand that. You have to have a heart to survive. But I also recognize that heart transcends all definitions and connections. Thomas C. Foster mentions in his book “How to Read Literature Like A Professor” that a heart can have so many different meanings. His book reminds me to never look at a heart simply the same way again.

And if I had my druthers I would choose for my definition the verb tense that describes a heart as one that encourages. Even though it is not in general use it fits me to a capital H.

I watched the mother and son leave our store after just heartbeats in time. I wonder how many pulses were exchanged between the three of us not only in that lifespan, but how many hours that moment will sustain us for the future. Who knows.

It wasn’t until after they left that I realized the young man had placed the bracelet heart against the RIGHT side of his mother’s chest instead of the left.

No matter, his mother and I both knew which side her heart was on.

– Sharon Stevens

Click on the author page above to connect with Sharon.

Never Could

Outtakes 95

 Never Could

By Cait Collins

There’s a sure way to end your writing career. It’s a simple phrase. We all use it and it is a killer. Not only does it hurt your progress as an author, it could have a profound impact on your life. Two words can end it all.

I can’t.

Are you one of those people who respond to a challenge with, “I can’t?” If so, you have sealed your fate. Can’t never did and never will. Maybe you will not succeed at everything, but beginning with a negative insures failure. So what if you don’t know how to write a romantic love scene. Why not try? Call on all your experiences. Remember how you felt when you kissed your spouse or significant other for the first time. Use your senses and write from the heart.

Will your effort be perfect? Maybe; maybe not. The point is you tried.

How Did You Do It?

css-inspiration-for-writers-2How Did You Do It? 

By Rory C. Keel

This is the number one question I’m asked when others learn that my story, The Challenge, was published in the recent edition of Chicken Soup for the Soul:Inspiration for Writers. 

There is no magic button

In trying to answer this question, I realized there is no one specific thing that will get a story published. There is no switch to flip or button to push that makes it happen, nor did I have an acquaintance or inside contact at Chicken Soup.

However, hard work along with a few of the following things can improve your chance of success.


To keep me from getting writer’s block, I have made it a practice to write in a journal everyday. I jot down simple things like a quote, a thought or a remembrance of something in the past. Many times I express an emotion and try to explain in words how I feel. The words in a journal don’t have to be profound, hilarious or novel worthy, but write something, anything.

Over time your journal becomes a vault of story materials.

Study the publication

I believe a crucial step in getting published in any market, is to know the market. If you desire to be published in Chicken Soup, read it, study the stories and notice how they are written.

Submit, Submit, Submit

Watch for story call outs. Many publications announce the type of stories they are seeking to publish. This is where the journal comes in handy. You may have story material already waiting to be expanded, worked or polished.

Early in my writing at a writer’s conference, I remember a publisher who said, “Ninety-five percent of those who want to be published begin writing, but only five percent finish and submit.”


Finally, sometimes it’s a matter of having good work at the right place at the right time.