What’s the Rule?

What’s the Rule?

By Rory C. Keel

When attending writers groups and conventions, it’s amazing how many times I hear the question, “How much can I quote from other works without breaking copyrights?”

Unfortunately, sometimes they’re really asking, “How much of someone else’s work can I use without paying for it?”

Sure, there are times in writing where we would like to quote or use pieces and incorporate them into our works. It is very important to understand the rules before publishing words that someone else wrote.

Let’s define what we are talking about. First, “plagiarism” means to copy someone else’s words and pass them off as your own. This is always wrong and should never be done. Second, “fair use” means to use a certain percent of someone else’s writings and quote or incorporate them in your work without the need to obtain permission.

Here are a few simple guidelines to help keep you out of trouble.

  1. Chicago Manual of Style states “quotations should not be so long that they diminish the value of the work from which they are taken.”
  2. Some experts say up to three hundred words total can be used with attribution of original author.
  3. As a general rule up to fifty words can be from a magazine article with attribution.
  4. Newspaper articles that are syndicated, under a byline, or individually copyrighted, photographs, artwork, and cartoons will require the permission of the copyright holder.
  5. Ideas are not copyrightable, exact words to express that idea are. You may use an idea inspired by another person’s writing as long as you express it in your own words.
  6. If you only quote a line or two from another work, you should be within the fair use rule and not need permission.

Without being an exhaustive list, these simple guidelines should keep you out of trouble. When using the writings of others, remember the golden rule. If it were your writing being used, how much would you allow?


Selling Books for 25 Years

Selling Books for 25 Years

by Natalie Bright

The Amarillo Downtown Library hosted a reception this month to celebrate Jodi Thomas’ 25 year career as a published author. With millions of books in print, numerous awards, and four RITA’s, the prestigious golden statue from the Romance Writer’s of America, this lady deserves a celebration. We also recognized ten years of  The Jodi Thomas Fan Club, which can boast of a membership that spans across the country.

Her fans in Amarillo were delighted to have an autographed copy of the newest historical, PROMISE ME TEXAS (Berkley), the 7th novel in her popular Whispering Mountain Series. Jodi shared news about her upcoming projects, reminding us that inspiration continues to come from the members of her fan club. She knows that we’re anxiously awaiting each and every one.

Autographings and Booksignings

She recalled how early in her career she’d pick an area of the state and cold call bookstores to schedule events. Her husband, Tom, would help load the car with kids and boxes of novels and they’d set out on a weekend road trip to sell books.  Her private dream was to make the New York Times Bestseller List some day. Meeting as many librarians and bookstore owners and people as she could, she never lost sight of her dreams. Many times these connections paid off resulting in invitations to speak at fundraisers, book clubs, and writer’s groups.  I’ve learned from Jodi that you can never have too many people in your network because you never know where those connections might lead. She advised me early on to start a contact list of these people and include them in every mailing.

Setting Goals

Jodi mentioned that her current goal is to write 25-30 pages a week. My jaw dropped. That’s about 7500 words! Every week! I’ve been friends with this lady for some time and I know her plate is loaded with grandkids, guiding college students as Writer-In-Residence, co-chairing a week long summer writing academy and newly elected RWA Board member.  She’s no different than the rest of us, except she’s got 39 novels under her belt.

It’s like one of her long time critique partners stated. DeWanna Pace observed that Jodi Thomas “had the same 24 hours as everyone else does who sets out on the writer’s journey and, yes, life got in the way many times. But she always found a way to shift her strategy and made it all work in the end. She never missed an opportunity to learn more, write more, network more, to help other writers, and meet each goal she set for herself.”

The Truth about Selling Books

Selling books is an endless marathon. Don’t kid yourself into thinking otherwise. A newly published author shared her excitement and told me that her book is with a smaller house so she’ll have to do all of the marketing herself. I’m happy for her. Every publishing credit is thrilling, but the ‘who’ in promotion is a misguided belief.

Bestselling authors do their own marketing too. It never ends. The writing, the advertising, the blogging, the speaking, the selling; successful authors do it all. This business is not for the faint of heart. It’s the hardest work you’ll ever do.

Selling More Books

I stayed after Jodi’s event to help clean up. We carefully wrapped the glorious RITA’s in bubble wrap and packed away mementos symbolizing a writing career that began with the first sale in 1988. We carried boxes of leftover books, pens, bags, and bookmarks to Jodi’s car. Before driving off, she asked me for the Fan Club poster I’d made, a 10-year picture collage of memories. She had a bookstore event the next day and thought it would look good next to her autographing table. I watched this amazing author, teacher, and a dear friend of some twenty years drive away. I suddenly realized that there hasn’t been a time that I’ve known her when her car wasn’t filled with boxes. She’s living the dream. Still selling. Still hauling books.

Go to www.jodithomas.com to learn more about Jodi Thomas, New York Times Bestselling author of contemporary and historical novels.

Happy book selling Wordsmith Six friends!



Count Down to the Wrangler NFR

A Pinch Of Rodeo
By Joe R. Nichols
Count Down to the Wrangler NFR

Trevor Brazile won his fourth Steer Roping Championship Nov. 9th & 10 at the Lazy E Arena in Guthrie, OK. Trailing Rocky Patterson of Pratt, KS, going in to the final go-round, Brazile tied the fastest steer of the 10 round finals with a smoking 9 seconds flat. He won four go-rounds in all, overtaking the lead by earning $26,462.

This title marks his 19th overall World Championship, tying him with “The Legend”, Guy Allen of Lovington, NM. A tie that will be broken in December.

For the All-Around Championship, Trevor’s winnings of $255,187, leads his closest competitor, Tuff Cooper, better than $120,000. Trevor has qualified for the NFR in tie down roping and heading, the only two-event cowboy at this year’s final. Cooper is certainly capable of winning over $120,000, but it won’t be enough to overcome what Trevor accumulates. This is the only title race that is a virtual lock, and Trevor Brazile will win his 11th All-Around and 20th World title. He is also a contender in his other two events for those titles as well, and could surpass 5 million in career winnings. Regardless, with a record twenty Championships, he is the most winning cowboy in PRCA history.

The Steer Wrestling is probably the closest contested event every year. Those guys are so evenly matched and tightly positioned together by the money standings. However, this year they are spread out a little more. The range goes from Casey Martin with $108,938, down to the 15th hole at $50,000. The top three have separated themselves somewhat from the rest with Trevor Knowles seven thousand back of Martin, and Pampa,TX native Matt Reeves eleven thousand back of Trevor.

It’s still anybody’s game when you consider each of the ten go-round pays nearly $19,000, and the average win will pay almost $50,000. Casey Martin has led all year long, but I have a feeling this is going to be the year for Trevor Knowles. He is physically awesome, and I believe his experience competing in his previous NFR’s are going to make the difference for him.

Thanks for reading. Next week I’ll make some more comments and predictions.

In Limbo


In Limbo

By Nandy Ekle

The scene opens with a little boy wearing yellow swim trunks and nothing else. His body is curled in a cannon ball pose and it appears he has jumped from a platform and is heading toward water on a warm summer afternoon. As we see him hang in midair, his head turns toward us and he speaks.

“Mom, how long are you going to keep me like this before you print the picture?”

Of course, this is a commercial for a camera and how easy it is to use. But it does teach us a couple of lessons.

First, print your pictures quickly before you lose them. This has happened to me.  I have lost entire birthday parties for grandchildren that I will never be able to get back because I left them on my camera too long before I printed them. Second, if you’re going to be captured in the middle of act for all eternity, wear something you don’t mind wearing for all eternity.

Third, and this is the big thing, when we begin to create something, we need to finish it, for our sakes, for the sake of the creation.

This is the lesson this TV ad placed in my head. I’ve talked about my imagination being a hall with hundreds of doors. Behind each door is a world with characters, and I have set these characters in motion. When I close the door, the action is suspended. In some rooms I have characters hanging in midair. Some are frozen in mid sentence. Some of my characters sit in hopeless tears because I’ve left them hanging from a cliff. And, if you know my writing, some of my characters crouch with their hands stuck in a downward arc of violence, which is terrifying for their victims, forever staring at their own demise.

So, like the little boy who will never splash into the water wearing his yellow swim suit, our characters are like wax statues waiting for us. In the words of the commercial, how long are we going to leave them that way?

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



by Sharon Stevens

I just hate research. I hate it, HATE it, HATE IT!! Can I tell you how much I hate it. Let me count the ways.

I just start out with one note, one page, one idea and before you know it I am thrown in a million different directions. Take today for instance. We had a gentleman come into our Buffalo Bookstore. He and his wife are retired professors from Buffalo New York. They were in Ireland visiting the national park of the Adair family. They came across information about the Adairs and the connection to the Goodnights, and then found where they could research at the Panhandle Plains Historical Museum. Voila, they were here.

You cannot imagine the journeys our conversation traveled. We talked about the town, the heritage, books, the community here and there. We discussed their passions, our passions and everything in between and found connections with every connection. Unbelievable!

So this evening I was researching in the book “The Panhandle Plains Historical Society and its Museum” by Joseph Hill and came across the word “perspicacity”. I had never heard or seen this word and had no clue what it pertained to. I read it in the context of the sentence but unsure of the true meaning. So of course I had to look it up. And then I had to look it up with the next definition and the next. You know how they have Wikipedia and free this and free that. Well you know the rest of this story. No one needs a rocket scientist to tell you the name of that tune. This means I had to spend the better part of an hour or more going back and forth searching for the perfect definition for my blog that would make the most sense. I AM a writer you know. Well actually I was working on my story for the Llano Cemetery Walk hosted by the Panhandle Plains Historical Museum on October 19, 2013 from 3-7:30pm, but that’s another story.

Back to my original thought,… nope,… can’t go there yet until I copy, paste, and file away for future reference something interesting that I found in the book that surely I can use someday, somewhere, in my next endeavor. So proud of me. That time it only took thirty minutes out of my lifetime. And if you are really dying to read, this is what I came across. I can’t help but to share. I know you will find it just as interesting as I did. So sad you can’t make it to the library to look it up yourself so I will do it for you. Glad to do it. Ask me anytime. Glad to be of service. This is what I live for. No trouble at all … “And here we have the pattern that really built the institution-a clear vision of the possibilities, a strong conviction as to its merit, unselfish devotion to a challenging undertaking, a good public relations program, a co-operative spirit on the part of all interested people, an annual fellowship meeting around a banquet table, and a sound and aggressive leadership.”

Before I knew it the evening was over and I hadn’t written the body of the text, just the definition at the top of the page. There is nothing I can accomplish with just one word. It takes all of them put together to make a functioning, viable statement. Or so they tell me.

Anyway, back to research. If there is one thing I need to change in my writing career is that I need to take a topic, follow just one thread, or one connection, for a focused amount of time and immediately get back to the basis of the article. I cannot spend all my time with “research” and neglect what brought me to this idea in the first place. Oh well, I’ll try to do better. I just wish DeWanna Pace and Jodi Thomas had shared how to limit my research time years ago when I took creative writing from them. My life would have been so much simpler.

But in all honesty, I so love research. It brings me such joy! I just wish I could control it more.

And the definition of the word perspicacity…you will have to look it up yourself and choose your own definition. I have too much writing to do.

To the Extreme

Outtakes 120


To the Extreme

by Cait Collins

I have a lot of respect for my doctor, but I hate taking medications. Medicines and I often do not get along. So whenever the doc suggests a course of treatment, I start researching a holistic approach. I visited one of our local health food stores recently to gather information to discuss with my doctor. I’d had dealings with the folks in this store in the past, so I was really surprised when I encountered the Health Food Maniac.

“I can help you but you have to be willing to change your diet.”

“What do you mean by change my diet?”

She handed me a sheet of paper. Both sides were covered with lists of food to avoid. There was a small section of approved foods. No more junk food, which meant anything she considered unfit for human consumption. The list continued. Soft drinks, chewing gum, cookies, throat lozenges, milk, processed cheese, breath mints, oranges, grapefruit, soup, pasta, white flour, white rice, margarine, corn, and Cool Whip were banned substances.

While I was recovering from the shock of fasting for the remainder of my days, she began she began a campaign of it’s your fault. “So you work 80 hours a week. You don’t have time to cook healthy food.”  “It’s your choice, but if you want to get better…” “You’ll need to take this.” She began to place boxes and bottles on the counter.

I tried to make sense of this nonsense. Where was the sweet, compassionate gentleman I worked with before? I picked up the sheet and left the store. Wow, what a witch. I don’t respond well to the “my way or the highway” mentality.

My disgust turned to an idea. The health food nut would make a great character in a novel. I saw so many possibilities. She is so obsessed with her causes she alienates her family and friends. Or she gets careless in her pursuit of her desires and destroys the lives of her neighbors. Or she could be the comic relief character.

Extreme characters can be fun.  They can be annoying or terrifying. But they are interesting and they are remembered. Think about some of the way-out folks you’ve met and how their obsessive traits can be written to add sizzle to a story? The people we encounter on a daily basis can be a fantastic tool in our writing arsenals. Do some people watching, write mini character sketches. Keep a file of these wacky folks and use them judiciously. There’s really something special about extreme characters.

The First Words

The First Words

By Rory C. Keel

The first words on the page are often the most difficult to write. The number one problem is usually deciding the first word. And many times the first word may be the only word you write for the day.

Motion and Promise

One quality of a good novel or story is the feeling of motion in the opening. The paragraph should offer a promise that your story has life and will stir the reader forward

The very first lines should pull the reader into the story. By the end of the first page the reader should be caught up in story and carried forward.

If the beginning of a story is difficult for you, just begin writing your story and somewhere around fifteen to twenty pages the true opening will appear.


Women Writing the West

Women Writing the West

Inspiration for writers can come through a variety of venues, and the truth is we can’t be too picky. We’ll take that flash of brilliance whenever and however it is gifted. 

Hanging out with other writers is one of my favorite ways to ignite a fire under the muse. When you’re passionate about something, who doesn’t love to “talk shop”?

As I mentioned in a previous email, sometimes the group your find yourself a part of doesn’t inspire you, and may in fact start wearing you down. I think professional colleagues should not only be a source of information in regards to your profession, but also a positive influence by offering encouragement and congratulations and ideas. Everyone in the group selflessly promotes each other and are genuinely glad for each others successes. Thankfully, I’ve found that through my Critique Group, WordsmithSix. And recently I’ve stumbled upon that again through an online group: Women Writing the West.


From their website:  Women Writing the West is a group of writers who set their work in the West, and are creating a literary explosion said to be comparable to the Southern literary renaissance in the 1930s. Women Writing the West is open to all persons worldwide.

History and Heritage

I’m extremely passionate about writing westerns for children and affording today’s kids an exciting way to discover history and their heritage. It’s very inspiring to be involved with a group who loves the same genre as I do. One of the things I’ve really enjoyed is WWW’s active listserv on Yahoo. Questions are asked, multiple answers are given, blog links are shared, book reviews, promo ideas, and personal reflections on story craft. It’s all good. This diverse group has close to 300 members and holds an annual conference.

Women Writing the West: The flavor we wish to recognize and perpetuate is found between the pages of our books. Join us in the adventure of rich conversations and exchanges; information on writing today, western history, and marketing for the future.

Seeking and Joining

I hope for you, dear blog readers, that you find a group whether it be a few or many, that will offer you encouragement, inspire your muse, and feed your soul.

Keep writing!



Writing Success

Writing Success 

by Natalie Bright

Our critique group, WordsmithSix, came together in part from connections made through a local writing organization to combine with an existing group who lost several members, and through long time friends and new neighbors. We’ve been meeting since 2009.

We began with a common goal—get published. We’ve consistently produced, read our work to the group, revised (and revised some more), and submitted. Between us we’re now multi-published across several genres in short stories, inspirational, devotionals, and kid lit. Since 2010 we became active bloggers. Each success motivates us to keep writing. Every meeting inspires us to work harder.

Which brings me to the point of this blog. I’d like to share a few of our recent works with you.

The Least He Could Do And Eleven Other Stories

Featuring Miss Bitsy by Nandy Ekle

From StoneThread Publishing comes an eclectic collection of twelve short stories. At times you’ll laugh out loud, and at times you’ll have to stop reading to let your heart calm down. This edition includes a story from WordsmithSix member Nandy Ekle. Miss Bitsy tells the tale about a kindly neighborhood grandmother who isn’t all she appears to be. This story gave me chills when I first read it in critique group, and I’m thrilled that it’s out there for everyone to enjoy. Way to go Nandy!

The Least He Could Do And Eleven Other Stories 51xt5BNVf3L._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-64,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Writers

Featuring The Challenge by Rory C. Keel
Features 101 Motivational Stories for Writers. Sometimes we need to be challenged to write, and this would make a great gift for those special writers in your life. This edition features The Challenge, by WordsmithSix author Rory C. Keel.

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Writerscss-inspiration-for-writers-2

West Texas Christmas Stories

Featuring A Cowboy’s Christmas Blessings by Natalie Bright

An anthology of more than 30 Christmas stories–short and upbeat, set in West Texas or by West Texas writers including Elmer Kelton and John Erickson. You’ll laugh out loud at the clever piece by editor Glenn Dromgoole about a holiday fruitcake, while other stories will evoke warm memories about past holidays.  My story, A Cowboy’s Christmas Blessings, was inspired by the cowboys and their families who live and work on Texas cattle ranches. It’s an age old tradition and a proud heritage that continues today.

Texas Christmas Stories west texas christmas stories

Remember, books make great gifts!





By Nandy Ekle

My playlist. I love my playlist. These are the songs I have collected that tell the story of my life. One of the songs is the first song my husband and I danced to in high school. One of the songs our high school drill team had a routine to, and won a state competition with it.  Several of the songs are from movies I really enjoyed. Some are comical, some are lyrical stories, some are just flat out beautiful poetry with genius tunes.

However, my MP3 player doesn’t have all of my songs. I have a secret list of songs only on the computer. These are what I call my writing playlist. These are the ones that give me little glimpses of stories in my head every time I hear them. One is a Christmas story about a main character that gives away his heart, then realizes quickly they gave it to the wrong person. One is the story of a main character who says the best dream they ever had was the one in which they were dying. I have an instrumental piece that, although it has no words, paints very vivid pictures of medieval dungeon with prisoners about to be rescued by a hero dressed in an animal skin loin cloth and carrying a gigantic broad sword.

What I’m getting at here, and I know I say this fairly often, is let music dance through your brain. It can set the tone for what you’re writing. It can plant images and stimulate memories for you to expand on. Sometimes it can even provide enough of the story that all you have to do is put it down on paper.

My writing playlist is short but powerful. A couple of the songs I love to listen to when I write are Last Christmas, performed by Wham, Mad World, performed by Michael Andrews and Gary Jules, and Fire On High, performed by Electric Light Orchestra. What music inspires you when you write?

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



Tag words: play list, MP3 player, Electric Light Orchestra, Wham