A Great Experience

A Pinch of Rodeo

By Joe R. Nichols


A Great Experience

I’ve never been paid to be a pick-up man at a rodeo.

My experience has only been at college practice sessions, or trying out horses.

When people watch a rodeo, the men who assist bronc riders safely to the ground, and clear the arena, mostly go unnoticed. If they’re doing a good job, there is no reason for the average spectator to pay any attention to their duties.

I’ve always wanted to be involved at the Cal Farley’s Boy’s Ranch. My wife and I have no children of our own, yet young kids are very important to us. I have personally seen how the sport of rodeo can change and effect lives for the better. A dear friend of mine has given me the opportunity to be a part of this great organization. J.B. asked me to help him pick-up at the practice sessions for the Labor Day Rodeo.

This is the biggest and most important event at the Boy’s Ranch for the whole year. The young women at Girls Town are also involved all the way.

I’m only there to try and help, not to take over or get in the way. J.B. is not there for any benefit for himself, only to help and improve the kid’s chances, in and out of the arena. That’s what I’d like to do as well. Surely, my knowledge of the rodeo events could effect someone in a positive way.

I’m honored to have been asked to help pick-up at the Labor Day Rodeo. I hope I do a good job and can live in the moment. These kids are phenomenal. They come from everywhere and anywhere, and they try harder than most kids.

I wish them the best, at this rodeo, and for the rest of their lives.

Who Loves You Baby


Who Loves You Baby

By Nandy Ekle

The second and fourth Thursdays of every month I subject myself to a bloodletting beyond anything Stephen King could ever write–and I love it. These are the nights my critique group meet.

We six writers sit around a conference room table and expose our deepest thoughts and passions to each other, and then beg to be ripped apart. Afterwards, we gather our shredded souls and hug each other, thank each other, and promise to do it again in two weeks.

This group of tough word lovers is one of the finer things in life. Writing itself is a huge rush; then add reading your work out loud to friends who believe in you enough to tell you the truth about what works and what doesn’t work, what makes them think, makes them laugh, makes them cry. These wonderful brothers and sisters of ink and paper care enough to slap my hands when the writing is bad and to raise me up on a pedestal when the writing is good.

So tonight I raise my glass in the most honorable toast I can put together. You five lovelies have educated me better than I could have dreamed and I love you all. And just so you know, red is an amazingly fantastic color for ink!

So, I guess you, my dear readers, are waiting for some clever bit of inspiration from me as the muse tonight.  Okay. Here it is. Find yourself a critique partner. It really will change your writing life.

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


 by Sharon Stevens
“Since it is likely that children will meet cruel enemies,
let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage.”
C. S. Lewis
If I had been there…
Can you imagine how it would feel? What would I remember on the ride back home? How many memories would I carry within for the next day, and then the next, and for all the days after that? What songs would I sing after I returned? What stories would I tell and memories might I write?
On August 28, 2013 I thought all day long of what I would have remembered if I had been there in 1963 with the March on Washington with Martin Luther King Jr. or on March 6, 2012 with Andrea Keller, a graduate of WTAMU.
At our Buffalo Bookstore we sell college textbooks for WTAMU and on this day I sold a book for History 1302 with the photo on the cover of Civil Rights Advocates singing in protest in front of the Washington Monument for the March on Washington.
Remember that in 1963 those returning home would have faced the same discrimination they had left behind. How much worse was it in their communities for those filled with the glory and inspiration they carried home? I can only imagine how angry their employers must have been for those attending in Washington to take time off to participate in something those in the rest of the country felt was an act of rebellion against the status quo. Those brave and courageous souls knew the backlash was going to be horrific but they were willing to take the leap of faith to feel moments of celebration. Of course they knew that things wouldn’t change over night, or over years, but they knew there WOULD be change and excitement to share with their children as well as their grandparents.
Andrea Keller was named as “20 Educators to Watch in the Nation” by the National School Board Association and was given this award in Washington DC. On the morning she received this honor she stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and skyped with her class back home at Stipes Elementary in Irving Texas. She skyped with us first to make sure everything worked perfectly before she connected with her class. The substitute teacher said the excitement with her children with Autism was so special and the ultimate field trip for those who might never get the chance.
When Andrea returned home she didn’t face any discrimination or ugliness. She didn’t fear for her life as those attending the March on Washington. Andrea would go right back to teaching and living her life without a fear of reprisal for celebrating her God-Given Freedom. Her memories might not be as serious as those in 1963, but this doesn’t make them any less precious or meaningful because I know that Andrea doesn’t take this memory for granted.
How do I know this? I believe this deep down in my heart and soul because Andrea Keller is my daughter and I witnessed her skype from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
I wish I could write the words for great speeches…stirring, moving, inspirational words to launch a movement. I can’t. EVER. But this doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the words of others. I love to share and the greatest joy I celebrate in my life is to gather the stories and pass them on. For example, in the Amarillo Globe News on this day is a story about Lisa Lawrence and her memory of facing horrific ugliness when she and her friends, after finishing her first year of college wanted to go to the movies at the Paramount Theater in Amarillo Texas. They were denied because they were “colored” so they circled in front of the theater until they were arrested for disturbing the peace.
As writers we need to center ALL our gifts together and realize that however we connect or whatever we treasure is just as important and relevant whether in 1963, 2012 or August 28, 2013! They represent those “brave knights and heroic courage” for every generation! Can you imagine what Abraham Lincoln saw from His vantage point?
OH, I wished I could have been there!

Free Thinking

Outtakes 109

Free Thinking

By Cait Collins

One of my favorite creative writing instructors is Robert Ray, author of the Weekend Novelist Writes the Novel and The Weekend Novelist Writes the Mystery. Mr. Ray has the best list of writing exercises. I really enjoy free writing under his direction.

He has rules for these exercises. Hard and fast rules that you dare not break in his presence.

  1. Write down the opening phrase.
  2. Do not begin writing until instructed to do so.
  3. Once given the go-ahead, do not stop. In fact, do not lift your pencil or pen from the paper.
  4. Do not think. Allow your mind free rein to choose the course and run with the images.
  5. Do not use punctuation. Replace commas, periods, colons, semi-colons, etc., with conjunctions such as and, and so, but, therefore, however, then, so then. Use any connector you choose.
  6. Do not edit. No cross-outs, no erasing, no going back and starting over. Write and only move forward.
  7. When the timer alarm goes off, stop no matter where you are in the thought, set your pencil on the table, close your eyes, and breathe. When you open your eyes, read your free writing.

Study the style and imagery on the paper. Are the verbs crisper and more active? Do the scenes have more color, and are the emotions more intense? You may realize this is some of the best work you’ve done. Without your internal editor, your over-thinking the scene, and stifling your feelings, the creative side takes over allowing the real writer to move seamlessly from one thought to another. Next time you get stuck, try a free-writing session. Set a timer for five to ten minutes and write following all the rules. I’ll even give you the opening phrase.

I knew I’d become my parents when…

Making Connections

Making Connections

By Natalie Bright

The business side of publishing and promoting your work is not much different than any other industry. Networking with business colleagues and potential clients has been going on for centuries, whether it be in the local pub or the downtown martini bar.

For writers social media has changed the dynamics of how we can publicize our stories to readers. Just like through the centuries, building a viable network takes time. Consider marketing and promotion as a marathon. In addition to sitting behind your computer, think about putting yourself out there as well.

Connections that Last

Bestselling author, Jodi Thomas, has always maintained a strong local fan base during her 25 year career. Her local autographings in the Texas Panhandle are well attended, with long lines of eager fans. I met a librarian at one of these events who remembers Jodi speaking to their small club over ten years ago. Many years later she happened to be browsing through a bookstore and saw a display with books by Jodi Thomas. Now retired and with plenty of time to read, she bought a copy of every book and has been a  loyal fan ever since. She says, “Even though we were a small group and Jodi Thomas was a New York Times Bestselling author, it was like we were her best friends. She was so gracious and kind, and gave a very professional and interesting talk.” It’s that one to one relationship with her fans that Jodi excels at, and it’s served her well through the years.

That lady’s enthusiasm got me to thinking about making connections that last. Sometimes we may not ever realize the connections we’ve made or the people we’ll meet, and how it might lead to something else many years down the road.

Building Bridges by Volunteering

I’ve volunteered at our local museum for close to 20 years as a docent. I joined the museum auxiliary when I was in college, even before I had kids, because I love history. Through my participation, I’ve talked to countless numbers of kids and teachers and parents while conducting school tours. I’ve met so many wonderful people from all over the world while guiding them through the exhibits and talking about the Texas Panhandle. After I became an author, and my articles began appearing in local publications, those same teachers have invited me to speak in their classrooms. I think these connections have served me well. 

It’s A Book Fair!

I also enjoy participating in book events. Table fees and travel expense can be shared with other authors. One such event was a first ever library sponsored community book fair resulting in only one person coming to my talk.  I also sold one book. The day wasn’t a waste however, because I met countless teachers, school librarians, interesting book lovers, and one lady who is in the process of opening a bookstore. From that one event, I’ve already received two speaking invitations.

So get yourself out there and smile. You just never know where those simple connections might lead down the road.



Beginning, Middle and End – WHAT A RIDE!

A story has a beginning, middle and an end.

Make a brief outline answering these questions to create a story skeleton to build upon.

  1. The Beginning: What event happens to person, that creates a problem or a need?
  2. The Middle: What struggle does the character face in solving the problem or the need?
  3. The End: How is this person changed and what have they learned as a result of the struggle?

This is where the story is made. Imagine the process like a roller coaster. The reader’s attention is captured by the alluring promises made by the title and then they are locked into their seat at the beginning of the ride. Tension builds as the chain’s click-clack pulls them higher into the problem, and then drops them into the middle of the story where there’s no turning back. The reader struggles back and forth, and then up and down along with the characters to solve the problem. The ride then comes to an end where there is resolution showing a change created by the struggle.

Rory C. Keel


Learning how to lose – Part Three

A Pinch of Rodeo

By Joe R. Nichols

Learning how to lose – Part Three

Riding broncs provides a completely different way to lose. So many variables that are out of your control. For instance, the opinion of the judges.

Or; the men opening the gate can give you a bad start, not intentionally, usually by not paying attention, or just not understanding the importance of their job. The flank man can miss pull the flank for several reasons, or just not have it adjusted right. The pick-up men can get in the way and distract the horse. It might have rained and some horses won’t buck well in the mud. The stockman loading the horses might put your horse in the front chute when he wants to circle to the right, giving him no room to do so. Or maybe they put him out of a right hand delivery when he always circles left. Lot’s of things get overlooked during a rodeo performance because of the time limits and pressure to keep the event moving fast. When you draw a good horse, you expect to win, and it’s very frustrating when someone on the labor crew screws up your chance.

Sometimes, a bucking horse just won’t have his day, for no reason anyone can explain. In San Francisco, 1985, I place in the second go-round, and qualified for the short-go. First or second place was out of reach, but third in the average was mine with a score of seventy-three or better. They had previously scored seventy-six and seventy-seven in his first two outs on the horse I drew. I watched the film of him, and he was just a good solid bronc. I couldn’t wait. He started good and I was tapped off. He weakened, but I couldn’t tell what my score would be. Sixty-seven points later, I wanted to puke. I split sixth in the average three ways for a check you couldn’t pay for a six-pack of beer with. Go figure.

One more example of a hard loss to take. The New Mexico State Finals. A two go-round good amateur rodeo. I won second in the first round, and had kind of a rank horse for my second one. Big John of Edgar Wilson’s. Big Bay horse that would go about four jumps down the arena, then turn back and spin to the left. Hard son-of-a-gun to ride. Even though I knew his pattern, he still dumped me to the outside of the spin. I spent three seconds of the ride pushing off my right stirrup, trying to get square in the saddle. Finally, I got back in position and finished the ride well. The instant I heard the eight second horn, I reached down with my free hand and double grabbed my rein. I had all I wanted of Big John.

Even though I had my difficulties riding this horse, I figured I should still win third in the round, and that would be plenty good to win the overall average.

One judge gave me a no score, said I reached down before the whistle. I made my case, saying I heard the whistle, then double grabbed. He said no, I grabbed with my free hand just before the horn sounded. I said, “If I was going to grab down, I would have done it when I was hanging off like some kind of growth on the side of the horse, not after I got back in the middle of him.” He wasn’t interested in my theory.

Behind the chutes, a friend said to me, “You know why that happened, don’t you?”

“I guess I don’t,”

“The buzzer is at the other end of the arena. You heard the sound before the judge did.” I didn’t know, he didn’t know. He wasn’t trying to cheat me, it was just a circumstance. There’s lot’s of ways to lose, none of them good.

It takes perseverance and a good attitude to prevail, no matter what trail in life you’re heading down.




By Nandy Ekle

The time has come to assign homework.

Here’s the scenario. You’re walking through a bookstore. The hunger for a new story, the smell of new ink, the need to feel new paper is burning in your eyes. You must have a new book.

Standing at the end of the aisle you see hundreds of colorful tomes on the shelves, but they aren’t just waiting to be chosen. They are waving and whistling, competing for your attention.

You saunter down that aisle and hear several books throwing out come-on lines, complimenting you, hawking their words, begging you to take them home.

So, your assignment:  What do they say? How do they seduce you? Leave a comment at the bottom of this blog and tell me what a book says that makes you spend your money and take them to your home. Are they romantic like a lover? Are they whiney like a small child? Or do they threaten you like a scary villain?

Feel free to research this assignment by actually going to a bookstore and walking through it. Just be sure and post your discoveries in the comment section below.

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



“Some people find themselves closer to God in church,

but some people find themselves closer to God telling stories,

and I’m one of these people.”

Julian Arrendondo IV

Amarillo Magazine April 2012



by Sharon Stevens

So many years ago when I was a little girl my parents bought us a set of “The Children’s Hour” books. I loved to read and pored over these time after time. One of the most treasured was “Favorite Fairy Tales” and one of the stories within was “The Happy Prince” by Oscar Wilde.

Sunday evening I remembered this story but wasn’t sure which book it was in. I googled the one phrase that came to mind which had to do with plucking out the jewel in the statue’s eye and sharing it with another who was poor. It didn’t take me long to locate the book and then to find the pages and then to read the words out loud that Wilde had written so very long ago. I wept with the beauty and the memory as my heart was so full.

On Monday morning I was looking through some old magazines and came across the Amarillo Magazine with the cover story of the Lone Star Ballet titled, “FULL CIRCLE” and I wept with joy of all these kids. How was I to know?

I wept again when I heard of the tragedy of the loss and destruction of the wonderful kids of the “TEXAS” cast and crew! I had just attended “TEXAS ORIGINALS” and saw these kids perform. In fact I congratulated Eric Harrison as he made his way up the aisle after receiving his scholarship that night. And to think that I witnessed these kids who choreographed and performed with Tim Johnson, Clint Diaz, Amanda Starz, Andrew Duncan, Julian Arrendondo IV. I also can’t tell you the number of performances I witnessed at the Branding Iron Theater under the direction of Royal R.Brantley and Stephen Crandall. “Anatomy of Grey” will always be one of my favorites.

For those of you who have read my Wordsmith six blog over the past year know that I hold a precious place in my heart for memories of “TEXAS”. There are so many wonderful people to numerous to name, but my thoughts and prayers are with all of you not only in the cast and crew this year, but since the beginning of time that this dream began. The Dowlen’s, Gene Murray, Lois Hull, HR and Thelma Fulton, Claudia and Mike Wilson, the entire Brantley, Raillard, Moore, family..the list goes on and on and I remember each and every one.

And the canyons themselves. I hear the echos, and see the flashes, celebrating the music that resounds against the walls and through our hearts. I marvel each time I go to see a performance at the names engraved in stone in the front wall of the Phebe Warner’s and those on the back wall of all those who gave their time and their very soul to this endeavor.

And Jerry Williams. Kris Miller does an awesome job, always, but I still miss Jerry and always will.

Jerry and Ruth Holladay performed together as “Patchwork” storytellers. Jerry wore a silk patchwork top hat and Ruth wore a patchwork vest with pockets. In fact the last time I saw Jerry was at “TEXAS” when he would walk up and down the line of visitors waiting to buy tickets and visit and share stories. You could always see his colorful top hat as he moved from one guest to the next. Ruth never knew what story she would tell until she got on stage. She would put her hand in her pocket and pull out an item and what ever she held in her hand would be the story she would share.

There are no words for the grief we all share together! How can the Kunherts and the Hernandez and the Bertrands families bear it? And Christie Spring, how many lives have touched hers as these kids came through. I know Vickie McLean has an ache deep in her heart. And David Yirak, what a tremendous man to feel such loss!

I know Timothy Johnson will carry the pain forever, but I wish for him such peace. And Theron McSay…I pray has comfort for him and his family and friends as he heals from his injuries.

After the death of Mother Teresa and Princess Diana I wrote a letter to the editor of the Canyon News that there were so many wonderful people among us that didn’t make great speeches or hold office but they touched our lives just the same. I wrote of David Schutte who rode the Canyon rim night after night with the Texas flag unfurled. I will always miss David.

Our thoughts and prayers also go out to Harry Haines and their family as they mourn the loss of wife Shirley. She will be missed as well. Shirley was the one who invited me to join the Friends of the Fine Arts Club as she knew I so loved the fine arts. She was very precious to me. So much loss for our community.

The final words of “The Happy Prince” are so simple, but so touching and I hope that sharing these will bring a tinge of comfort to anyone who reads them.

“What a strange thing!” said the overseer of the workmen at the foundry. “This broken lead heart will not melt in the furnace. We must throw it away.” So they threw it on a dustheap where the dead Swallow was also lying.

“Bring me the two most precious things in the city,” said God to one of His Angels; and the Angel brought Him the leaden heart and the dead bird. “You have rightly chosen,” said God, “for in my garden of Paradise this little bird shall sing forevermore, and in my city of gold the Happy Prince will praise me.”

I have no doubt in my mind that these kids are singing and dancing forevermore on the streets of the city of gold, and they will always have the best seats in the house. Break a leg to all! The performances you will all have to give in the coming years on the world stage will be the hardest to bear.

Phone a Friend

Outtakes 108

Release 08-21-2013


Phone a Friend

By Cait Collins


I admit I’m far more at home with doing research from books and periodicals. There’s just something about the feel of paper that makes me feel scholarly. My apologies to Bill Gates, the Apple Corporation, Dell, HP, and all the other manufacturers of electronic tools, but I just don’t always get it. I key in what I think are the correct key words, but I get junk. The results don’t seem to have any relevance to my search. While I’m getting better with the internet, I still like books.

Recently I found a really great resource. I was trying to remember the names of the kids that lived next door to us in Bangor, Maine. I remembered a couple of the names, but was blank on the rest. I sent quick emails to Sisters One, Three, and Four. They didn’t remember either. However, a few minutes after reading Sis One’s email, I got a message from her with the names of the five kids. I may be from the Bronze Age when it comes to technology, but my older sister ran with the dinosaurs. I knew she hadn’t done the research. Her husband is the computer guru. I asked him if he had access to some secret military data base. His response was that he had taken direction from my sister. In other words she gave him the information she had and he took it from there. I’m grateful for his help. I would have spent hours keying and rekeying searches.

While I miss books, I have to admit there is a real convenience to the internet. When I’m working on a story late in the evening and need a date or the name of a town, Google or Bing are handy. And I don’t have to get dressed and drive to the book store or library. Or worse wait until the next day for stores or library to open to find the information. On top of that the internet is cheaper than a book store. Barnes and Noble has me pegged. Walk in the door empty handed and walk out with two full tote bags.

The point is we all have special sources. My parents and grandparents are gone, but they left a legacy of information. I use it. Often. My sisters are good sources. They remember details I forget. I also have friends who are historians, scientists, public servants. They are passionate about their specialties and are willing to talk. Offer them dinner or coffee and cake, and I have hours of instruction and fellowship. Our research sessions also allow us time to catch up on what’s been happening since our last chat.

Why not take a few minutes to jot down resources that are uniquely yours. Make sure you have current email addresses and phone numbers. Maybe add their favorite restaurants or favorite foods and beverages. Have an idea of their schedules so you don’t call the night shift worker during the day when he might be sleeping. Acknowledge their assistance with a thank-you in your book or article.

Professional resources are invaluable. A writer can’t be expected to know everything. In the early stages of a writing career, a paid researcher may not be in the budget. The phone-a-friend life line may be your best source for a quick answer or a can-I-pick-your-brain session. The information you receive might answer a question, but just think of possibilities. What if your protagonist takes a wrong turn when leaving Dallas and winds up in Salem’s Lot? Think about it.