Memories


Outtakes 361

 

Memories

By Cait Collins

I was looking for a Halloween sweater the other day and ran across an old autograph album.  It was a gift from the youth group from our congregation when Dad was transferred to Maine in 1962.  Autograph albums were the rage back in the 60’s.

The white cover with gold embossed images is worn with age, but the notes and signatures brought back so many memories. The ink and pencil words and drawings have not faded.  As I read the messages I began to put faces with names.  Sometimes the face escaped me, but I still found much that brought a smile, a raised eyebrow, and a few tears.  The memories were good.

It’s strange that this book was found shortly after I received a note from my older sister who lives in Wichita Falls.  She asked me what I thought about writing a memoir about growing up back in the 60’s.  I called her and asked, “What would you say if I told you I have about nine chapters written?”

I think I surprised her.

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Rainy Days and Mondays


Outtakes 360

 

Rainy Days and Mondays

By Cait Collins

Rain in the Texas Panhandle has two basic characteristics; too much or not enough. My sisters and I were driving home to Amarillo from Norman, Oklahoma a couple of weeks ago.  Rain followed us the entire way.  But when we finally made it to the south end of Amarillo that we encountered flooded streets.  My sister’s new Jeep did okay with the high water, but the real problem was the drivers who refused to take precautions when driving through the flood. They seemed to speed up when they approached a flooded section and threw muddy water on to the cars beside them. I breathed a sigh of relief when we pulled up in front of my apartment.

The deluge continued Monday morning.  I knew the areas that were often shut down when it rained so I planned to take an alternate route to work on Monday morning. Having been through heavy down-pours before, I packed extra shoes, a pair of slacks, and a towel. Juggling my dry clothes, my purse, and my briefcase, I braved the elements.

Rain continued, alternating between sprinkles and blinding down pours. I made it to the turn-off and turned right into a river fueled by the heavy rain and runoff. I was about half way to the office when I finally reached a wet but clear city street. The luck followed me to the

Office. Meandering my way from the car to the office door I escaped into the warm building My feet were soaked, my purse soaked, the wheels on my rolling briefcase made wet tracks in the carpet. Didn’t need my dry slacks, but the shoes and socks made the shivers go away. I had a good day at work. At the end of the day, I could look at my reports and see accomplishments. Not a bad day for a rainy day and a Monday.

This little story really has nothing to do with writing. It wasn’t a writing day. It was a vacation from the gloomy day. But maybe the real point is that we can find inspiration in the quiet of a rainy day and a Monday.

Writer’s Block Remedy


Outtake 355

Writer’s Block Remedy

By Cait Collins

 

Robert J. Ray, author of The Weekend Novelist and The Weekend Novelist Writes a Mystery (Robert J. Ray and Jack Remick) had some excellent ideas for working through the rough spots in your story or novel. My favorite is free writing.  It’s a simple concept.

Write a sentence.

Set a timer for three minutes.

Ready. Set.  Go.

For the next three minutes write whatever comes to mind based on the sentence. Do not think. Just write.

Do not edit.  Just write.

Do not lift your pen or pencil off the paper.

When the timer sounds, stop.

Put down your pencil and review your work.

You’ will be surprised with the results when you allow your subconscious to control your pencil.

Another exercise is to write a sentence.  The next sentence begins with the last word in the previous sentence. The last word in the previous sentence is the first word in the nest sentence.  For example:

Winter arrives bringing the sailors home.

Home from the sea.

Sea waves crash against the shore…

Set the timer for three minutes.

Allowing your subconscious to momentarily control your writing frees you from worrying about the best word, proper punctuation, and is this going to work. Once you get the ideas down, you can make the corrections and enhancements in editing.  The point is to just write.

Lessons Learned


Outtakes 353

Lessons Learned

By Cait Collins

 

After years of writing for broadcasters, non-profits, and corporate training groups, I was finally published. Our Time on Route 66is now available..I had always longed for a chance to sign my stories. It sounds a little silly, but autographing your works is a thrill. It’s a way of acknowledging writing success.

I so enjoyed our two days in Shamrock at the Route 66 Festival. Not only did I get to sign our books, I had the chance to meet the real travelers of the road. They taught me to see the Mother Road through the eyes of those who built the new highway. I met people who had traveled the route from Chicago to Los Angeles multiple times. I learned their stories and their dreams for revitalizing the old road. One group had recently purchased the Dutch Windsor’s Painted Desert Trading Post in Arizona. They have no plans to reopen the site. The goal is to restore and maintain a piece of American history. Their shirts had the white and red “Cold Drinks” logo from the sign painted on the exterior wall of the structure..

I was flipping through their coffee table book Route 66 Sightingsand came across a picture of the Santo Domingo Indian Trading Post.  I had visited the post a number of years ago and even witnessed a trade between the proprietor and a Native American. Sadly the original structure has burned down. It has been rebuilt, but much of the history has been lost.

I met a Park Ranger who works at the Washita Battlefield near Cheyenne, Oklahoma. We talked about how the Sand Creek massacre triggered the Washita massacre. He said “If Sand Creek hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t have a job.”

I was able to speak to children about rescue horses and how they have new lives because someone loved them and believed they could be rehabilitated. And Miss Route 66 spoke of her students and wanting them to learn more about writing.

It was a weekend of joy. Three of my sisters drove up to buy our books and get them signed. They will never truly understand how much their support means to me.

I photographed old cars. (I wish I owned the T-Bird.) And I relived a scene from my childhood. The Blarney Inn is an older motel built in the three-sided design from the fifties and sixties. From the outside the inn didn’t look like much. It has had a face lift, and the rooms have been updated. The place was immaculate.

I guess this is my long-winded way of saying the weekend was a success. I signed books, I made contact with others who love history and want to preserve the pieces that can be salvaged. I met with people who love to write and want to teach others to enjoy the written word. I rediscovered what I’ve always known, reaching out to new people and new ideas helps me grow not only as a writer, but also as a person.

You’ve Got To Pay the Bills


Outtakes 351

You’ve Got To Pay the Bills

By Cait Collins

 

When my dad asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I told him I wanted to be an actress.  He told me that acting jobs were hard to get.  There might be times when the money wasn’t coming in, so how would I pay the bills?

I didn’t have an answer, but I continued to study acting. I did okay. I won a “Best Actress” award for playing an insane woman, Type casting according to my sister. I was also inducted into Delta Psi Omega, a national acting fraternity. While I enjoyed acting, I realized I didn’t have the discipline or drive to act all the time. It’s fun for a while, but I wasn’t in love with the job.

So again my Dad asked what do you want to be? This time I told him I wanted to be a writer. I got the even good writers don’t always make it speech. And he followed the warning by saying, “You have to be able to pay your bills.”

My father died before I could show him how I could be a writer and pay the bills without having a book on the shelf in a book store. I have made a living writing for most of my adult life. I have three television documentaries to my credit and a local 13-week TV series. I’ve written commercial copy, news stories, training materials, sales handouts, two children’s plays, and served as the publicity chairperson for non-profits. I still make my living writing while I work toward my big break.

I may not have written the great American novel or even had a novel published. The point is I am a writer and I pay my bills by writing.

Improvement


Outtakes 350

Improvement

By Cait Collins

I’ve been reviewing some of my under-the-bed and box-in the-closet manuscripts.  I thought I had written some really great stories.  But when I compare these earlier offerings with my more recent works, I realize how much better the new stories are.  Over the years I’ve learned more about characterization, plots and turning points, and dialogue. With new tools, I do a better job of crafting a story.

I’ve also learned that honest criticism is not a bad thing.  I can trust my friends with WordsmithSix to be honest in their critiques.  I can listen to their ideas and thoughts but still feel comfortable in choosing what to incorporate in my story and what to discard or hold for future use.  They encourage me to be just me.

While I see major improvement in my writing, I am well aware I’m not where I want to be and could be.  I have to keep looking for better ways to say things, practice getting into my characters’ heads and figuring out how they will respond to the milestones of life. More importantly, I cannot base my characters actions on how I see things or how I would handle the situation. I must step outside the box and allow the character to map his or her future without my interference.

So what am I going to do with those old manuscripts?  I’m keeping them.  Some of the stories have good bones.  They just need a little reshaping and restructuring.  And maybe the passing years have allowed some good characters to grow up and provide a new perspective on an old plot.

A Good Read


Outtakes 348

A Good Read

By Cait Collins

 

I have a list of favorite authors and look forward to the announcements of new releases.  Nora Roberts is on that list.  Her most recent release, Shelter in Place, is a great read. We hear about mass shootings almost daily.  Too often, the focus seems to be on the shooter and less on the victims and survivors.

In her new book, Ms. Roberts focuses on the lives of the victims and survivors. While the mastermind of the shooting lives and tries to pick off her select set of survivors, the main characters are those who lived and found a purpose for their lives and peace for the loss of those they loved.  The Mastermind contributes to the novel without becoming the prime character. Her presence in the story is to elicit responses from the other characters and contribute to their decisions and to their fears.  It is the strength, vulnerability, and the determination of the living that move the plot.

Roberts’ dialogue is, as always, spot on, allowing the characters to express their doubts and dreams.  The inner thought reveals so much about CiCi, Simone, and Reed.  It moves each person toward climatic revelations.  I learned about them as they discovered themselves. I could not put the book down.

Settings are another selling point of her work.  She picks interesting places: Ireland, the horse racing and breeding farms of Kentucky, the haunted regions of Louisiana, Chesapeake Bay, and the rocky coastline of Maine.  The reader can picture himself or herself in the locations.  And if it’s a new place to the reader, they create a desire to experience first-hand, the settings.

Does this mean I have enjoyed every Nora Roberts novel that I’ve read?  The answer is a simple no.  While there are titles I have not enjoyed as much as others, I’ve always found good, even brilliant, passages or characters, and I’ve always found new approaches for difficult situations.  She has taught me much about the craft of writing.  I always look forward to her releases because I know they will be good reads.

Voices


Outtakes 347

 

Voices

By Cait Collins

 

On Mothers’ Day my sister posted a photograph of my Mom and all six of us girls on Facebook. I don’t know what all she said about Mom, but I received over forty notices about being tagged in that photo. I started reading all the comments and so many memories came back. You see, they were voices from the past: members from our congregation, kids I grew up with, and my sisters. I could see each face and hear each voice. There was Terry’s gentle and simple response, “Loved your Mom.”

And Bonnie’s “Uh…7 girls. I know I was a challenge for her but she always let me know she loved me. Best everyday day mom I could have had. Love you and miss you Mom!My mother took care of Bonnie while her mom worked. She was another sister to us.

And then there were the cousins. She even stayed graceful and loving when she 8 girls for two solid weeks. I know we had to have driven her crazy. Miss her too.   A Blessing to all of us.

I think the one that really got me was a post from my nephew:  How she ever put up with all us grandchildren is a mystery! Many great memories at Grandma Brown’s house!!!  In fact, it was Grandmas house that was my last stop before I left Texas.

In each comment I recognized the speaker without even reading the name. The comments were so like the people who are so dear to me.

Writers have distinct voices. I can pick up a book without a book jacket or cover and know that I’m reading a Nora Roberts’ story, or a James Patterson novel. Even the Wordsmith Six members have distinct styles. A voice is something we cultivate so that we stand out from the crowd. We have no need to copy another writer, to try to make their voice our own. We should be unique. We want to be remembered for our work and style, and not for being an imitation of someone else.

My advice is to find that voice and build on it. Let readers fondly recall memories of our stories. After all the reader is the audience we write for.

IDK


Outtakes 346

IDK

By Cait Collins

 

 

I don’t know what to write next. Do I work on my next Route 66 story or do I work on the edits for my memoir?

I don’t know when I’ll finish the edits on the last draft of my novel How Do You Like Me Now?.

I don’t know the best way to inspire my students to write about their dreams and fantasies.

I don’t know who my best mentor is.  My life has been blessed with many inspiring people.

I don’t know where I’ll find the perfect place to write my next story. There are many choices.

I do know I will finish both the Route 66 story and the memoir.  I just have to put my mind to it.

I do know How Do You Like Me Now? is my favorite of my novels.

I do know young people need inspiration and as a writer I must help them develop their verbal and written skills.

I do know that I must be willing to mentor others because I have been blessed.

I do know that there are many places where beauty inspires me to write.  Some are close to home and others require travel, but each destination brings peace and the opportunity to create.

I know that I don’t have all the answers, but my job is to seek knowledge.

I know that knowledge requires dedication to study and by studying I learn not only facts but how those facts can impact my life and my surroundings.

I know that it’s often difficult to come up with a topic for my blog, but the fun is in playing with the thoughts and words.

History and Kids


Outtakes 345

History and Kids

By Cait Collins

I teach a group of fourth and fifth graders at my church.  They’re great kids and are really starting to figure out that the past often has a bearing on the present.  They know I’ve been working on a story about Route 66 and have expressed an interest in the Mother Road.  So I’m planning to take them to 6thStreet here in Amarillo.  This stretch of the historic highway is a haven for antique collectors, music lovers, and art gallery patrons.  I plan to show my kids how we lived back in the “olden days”.

This section of the Mother Road is a still a business district with antique shops, galleries, and music.  The Old Nat Ballroom still stands.  The history of a kinder gentler time lives on in a few blocks of the older part of Amarillo.  I really want them to see that even though it’s different our lives were still full and happy and we had technology.  Well, sort of.

I think young people are more willing to learn history when they have hands-on or eyes on the artifacts.  But there’s another reality…they keep me young.  I get to see the life I lived through their eyes.  I get a second chance at living the good times and the bad times through their interpretations of the items they see and touch. And I will pick their brains for a historic building to house my antique pottery and china shop in my next Route 66 story.  The location has to be special because the mission is life saving.  I have my eye on a store front.  I wonder what my students will think about my pick.