The Challenge


The Challenge

By Nandy Ekle


Lately Facebook has been full of various and sundry challenges from The Ice Bucket Challenge, benefitting ALS, to your favorite bible verse. There are challenges to count your blessings, challenges to count positive events from the day, and challenges to count ways you were inspired. These are all worthwhile, thought provoking, self-examining challenges.

For those of us who love books, the hardest challenge I’ve seen out there has been to list your top ten favorite books, books that have stayed with you the longest. While I try to learn something from every single book I read–even the books I didn’t really enjoy–I must say there are a few that my mind refuses to let go of.

Of course, I must start by mentioning The Holy Bible. This is actually 66 books. And really and truly, it’s a lot a more than just fun reading. This is where I go for answers to life questions, inspiration, comfort, peace, correction, lessons, literature, adventure, romance, and magic.

The rest of the books on my list are not nearly as noble as The Bible, but I enjoyed reading them, and I still reread some them over and over. Of course, I tend to lean to the dark side of story telling. But when you think about it, every story has elements of the dark side because, it wouldn’t be a real story without a conflict. And conflict is usually connected to something dark in some way.

So, for hundreds of different reasons, here are the ten books that I will go out on a limb and add the label “favorite.”

  1. The Shining by Stephen King. This was his third book and I was in high school. I had read his first two books and liked them, so when The Shining came out, I bought it, hard back. I’ve reread it more times than I can count. Besides all that, I love a good ghost story.
  1. The Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling. Even though this is seven books, it’s really all one story. Ms. Rowling is an expert at capturing her readers immediately and making them love the characters. The world is seamless and the details are astounding. And how she keeps up with those details simply blows me away.
  1. The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snider. This is a middle reader and I was in Jr. High when I read it. Great story of children with big imaginations — one of my favorite themes.
  1. Bag of Bones by Stephen King. Another ghost story, and by The King of ghost stories. How could it not be on my list. One other thing I will mention about this book is I never knew he could write romance.
  1. Lisey’s Story by Stephen King. In my mind, the flip side of Bag of Bones. Loved it!
  1. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. Now this is a very different book. A story within a story as an older writer tells a younger writer the story of her life. Excellent read.
  1. On Writing, A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King. I love the mini biography in the first half of the book, and the second is valuable writing instruction and advice. I keep it on my nightstand.
  1. Dracula by Bram Stoker. I voluntarily read this in high school. Now THAT’S a vampire story. And the format is amazing too.
  1. Go Ask Alice. This was actually the scariest book I ever read. I was in high school and read the whole thing in one night. Just. Wow.
  2. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. I have read this book to all three of my kids numerous times and to all of my grandchildren even more numerous times. I enjoy getting into the drama of it, and the kids always ask me to read it again. Imagination is the best toy we have.

So, everyone who reads this, consider yourself challenged. In the comments below, list your ten “favorite” books and we can have a fabulous discussion.

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

Not My Job

Outtakes 166


Not My Job

By Cait Collins


I’ve always believed one should be open to all career options. No job should be considered too small or insignificant to tackle. But there is one job that will never be on my career bucket list. I cannot imagine becoming a concession stand worker.

Every Friday my company allows us to snack on fresh popped popcorn. This means we have to pop the corn. I don’t eat the stuff, but that does not mean I get a pass when it is my team’s turn for popcorn duty. It’s not that I mind taking a turn; it’s just that people can be really nasty to those of us making and serving the treat. I’ve been hassled with lines like, “It’s too salty.”

Or “You should have started earlier. There’s too long a line.”

“I’ve been waiting for thirty minutes for one bag of pop corn.”

“You made it too dry.”

“Needs more butter.”

Not only do you have to deal with complaints, there’s the actual work. You see there’s a recipe for making popcorn in one of those movie-theater style machines. Do not, under penalty of a riot, vary the recipe. And don’t forget the routine. Pour oil in first, add popcorn, listen for the three-second lag between pops, dump the popper, and serve. The gallon jugs of oil are heavy. Sore muscles are a guarantee. But the best part is smelling like pop corn all day. After two hours, I was ready for a Dr. Pepper break, but we must clean up the mess. If I really had this job, I’d walk out the first day.

So what does this have to do with writing? What if your character is a shy, bullied teenager? What if on his first night on the job, a group of jocks walk up to the concession stand and begin hassling the teen? The kid smiles as he draws a coke for the football captain. The big man on campus accepts the drink and walks off without paying. The bullied teen…

Now finish the scene.


Stories of Our Youth

Stories of Our Youth

By Rory C. Keel

The Young Adult Genre is comprised of works written for the age group between twelve and eighteen, according to the Young Adult Library Service association (YALSA), which is a division of the American Library Association (ALA).

While written for a young audience, many adults also enjoy young adult stories and adventures. The protagonist as well as most of the main characters will usually be close in age, and the stories may deal with any social topic or subject that allows the character to deal with an inner struggle. The young adult genre will show the main character growing as they work to learn important life lessons.

Sub-genres include stories that fall into most other genres such as fantasy, horror, mystery, romance, science-fiction, historical and adventure, with a writing style that appeals to a younger audience.

It has been many years since my childhood, yet even today many of my favorite books are still those from my youth.

Tips from a Pro

Tips from a Pro

By Natalie Bright

Award winning author of 147 books, Dusty Richards, visited our critique group along with a few of our writerly guests to share insight on story craft and the crazy world of today’s publishing business.

Getting Started

Dusty writes short stories and novels set in the west which usually include a few cowboys on horses, but as he pointed out, story craft can apply across all genres. “For beginning writers, don’t think you have to write Gone With the Wind,” he says. “Write about one character and tell his story.”

Structuring a Story

Basic story structure can be divided into four parts:

Part 1: character lost (first 60-80 pages)

Part 2: character is alone

Part 3: emerging hero (somebody comes forward to help him & he has purpose)

Part 4: the main character becomes a Hero or Martyr

Keeping this basic structure in mind, you can apply this to most mainstream novels and movies. Think of story as a collection of scenes and sequels. Every action deserves a response.

Newbie Writer Mistakes & POV

Dusty told us that the number one mistake he sees over and over is Point of View. If you’re writing in the main characters point of view, an action statement should never be “they walked inside”, for example. It should always be he or she. “He took her arm and led her inside.” Stay in your characters POV and be true to that character. Don’t use words that seem awkward or stilted for that character.

Writing Exercise

Here’s your homework: for those writers having trouble with internalization, Dusty suggested finding a few used paperbacks and highlighting the internal dialogue. Not quotation spoken dialogue or action or imagery, only the character’s internal thoughts.

For more information about books by this SPUR Award winning author, visit

Changing Your Mind


Changing Your Mind

By Nandy Ekle


I love dark stories. I love horrors, thrillers, suspense, mysteries, science fiction, every form of scary tension you can think of. I read them all like a starving person at a Thanksgiving feast. Even more than reading, I love to write them.

But every once in a while I need a break from monsters, death, decay, and darkness for some light sugary fun. So I pick up a little romance to read. Or I dig out a children’s book from the shelf I keep for my grandkids. And sometimes I have to do this in my writing as well.

We can get bogged down to the point of being completely desensitized to the thrill of a new way to kill a character. The twisted mind of a psychotic serial killer no longer brings out those delicious chill bumps. Demons thumping around the pages of our story stay right on the page and don’t enter our imaginations to keep us up all night. We read about the scorned woman planning to kill her lover, and we yawn.

So I tried something different. I changed my writing genre. I still have all my fun little spooks in their assigned rooms in my head, but I thought it might be time to visit a different world. And to make sure I was being completely reborn, I did something else new: I made outlines for my new stories.

Guess what happened. The stainless steel wall that kept my words locked away from the page opened and there I was, writing again. For the first time in a while, I was eagerly typing while the words moved like they were on a conveyor belt.

Sometimes you just need a change to shake things up.

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

Marketing Does Not Have to Cost an Arm and a Leg

Outtakes 165

Marketing Does Not Have to Cost an Arm and a Leg

by Cait Collins


So the book is completed. You have it sold, but the publisher isn’t kicking in a ton of bucks for publicity and marketing. Don’t panic. There are good deals and good ideas out there. A huge budget is not absolutely necessary to promote your book. Check out these ideas.

Post cards, brochures, and business cards are readily available at your local Office Depot. I rely on the team at the store in Amarillo, Texas. The staff is well trained and able to help me make good decisions on my promotional materials. Recently, they printed post cards made from a couple of my photographs. They are really nice and well represent my current work. Two scenes, 50 cards each cost approximately $22.00. They saved the set up on my flash drive to make reprints easier. They also offer mailing and shipping services. Since the store is open later than the Post Office, UPS, or FedEx, they are able to assist you with your shipping needs on your time tale. Kinkos, Office Max, and most large office supply stores offer good quality printing services.

VistaPrint, an on-line print service company, also offers promotional materials at very reasonable prices. Many of my writer friends rely on this company for quality products.

Takeaways are nice for book signings and writers’ meetings. One friend gives out small tote bags. When fellow Wordsmith Six author Natalie Bright, made her first Chicken Soup sale, she provided small cups of Goldfish crackers to promote her story. I’ve seen small boxes of chocolates, ball point pens, and note pads. I even met a wine salesman who would use my book cover and name on a wine label. The wine is a bit more pricy, but a great idea for the folks who helped you along the way. Little gifts keep your name in front of the book buyer. Even after they have read the book, they will remember clever marketing and keep an eye out for your next publication.

Web presence is necessary. You may not have a website, but a Face Book author page will give you exposure. Twitter and Linkedin are other good vehicles.

With the popularity of EBooks, book signings may not be the big draw they once were. That said readers like to meet authors. They want to know about the process and why we write. You may not sell cases of books, but the exposure is priceless.

Seize the opportunity to speak at conferences, and schools.

Most of these ideas have little or no cost. The real expenditure is your time. You must decide how much of yourself you are willing to give toward your success. You are your best promotional item. The items covered here are suggestions. They are clever, but unless the writer is willing to step up and sell himself, sales may be lackluster.

Better Critiques

Better Critiques

By Rory C. Keel


Recently I re-examined a few rules on critiquing other writers’ works. Occasionally I have to do this because I tend to get caught up in the stories. There’s nothing better than someone reading a story to you, right?

First, when you give a critique, start with praise. The most fearful thing about having your work judged is the fear of mean spirited criticism. Find something that you like about the piece, whether it is the overall story idea, plot, character or phrase in the writing that touched a cord with you.

Second, examine the overall piece. Does it make sense? Will it fit within the stated genre or purpose for the writing? What is the plot or premise? Does it have a reasonable conclusion? Does it read smoothly? Does it show rather than tell?

Third, check the details. This is the time to check the facts, note any phrases that seem to be odd or out of place. Mark grammar, misspelled words and punctuation errors.

Finally, critique another writer’s work with respect. Have an attitude of helping them improve their skills, not tearing them down.

Follow these simple rules and you will give and get better critiques.

Something to Sit On

Something to Sit On

By Natalie Bright

It’s plush pleather (fake leather) mixed with springy black mesh, arch support, and swiveling arm rests. You can adjust the arm rests out straight for when you write or closer in if you’re holding something to read. The back and seat can tilt either way for maximum comfort. It’s a serious piece of office equipment. It’s beautiful and it’s my new desk chair.

Tools of the Trade

The reason I invested in an office chair is credited to Dusty Richards, SPUR award winning author and president of Western Writers of America. He said, “If there’s anything you remember from my talk, I hope it’s this: buy a quality office chair, because if the writing’s going good you have to stay put.” He explained that he’s logged in 10 to 12 hours straight before and walked away from it just fine. What a great piece of advice. If your back hurts or if your legs go to sleep you can’t keep writing. Something to sit on is an important piece of equipment essential to an author’s office.

The current work in progress is burning a hole in my head. Kids are back in school. Casseroles are put-together and stacked in the freezer.

Deep breath. Begin.


My computer screen is blank. Well, it wasn’t blank a minute ago. I had just started reshaping chapter one because I’m making a huge revision for my character’s motivation…and then a blip. No, not a blip. A major, heart wrenching snafu.


Some days, it really sucks to be a writer.