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.

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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.

A Good Saturday


Outtakes 344

 

A Good Saturday

By Cait Collins

 

Last Saturday a new coffee company opened across from my office.  They had a special going—any medium coffee was $1.00. I decided to support the new business in the neighborhood. So I left home early to get in line for a white chocolate mocha.  When I got to the window the barrister handed me my coffee and said that another company had paid for the first 100 cups of coffee. My coffee was paid for.  Now a dollar cup of coffee doesn’t seem like much, but just the idea of someone doing something nice for a bunch of people really made my day.

It made me think that we all should find ways to make someone’s day.  Writers have opportunities to give back to the next generation of authors.  Schools have mentoring opportunities, kids after school programs might need story readers, judge a youth writing contest, or sit with a young person and teach him to read.  Kids need adults to help them grow and blossom.  They could use a high five when they write their first poem or story.  And we need them to remind us of all the people who helped us develop our talents.

Just an hour, a Big Chief tablet, a pen could mean more that we imagine. So pay it forward and mentor a kid.

Spring Cleaning


Outtakes 339

Spring Cleaning

By Cait Collins

 

I always hated to see my mom bring out the buckets, mops, brooms, and garbage bags. I knew it must be spring and mom was going to do the spring cleaning. My sisters and I had a part in the ritual. It was a time when we were supposed to dump the trash and really clean our rooms. When mom deemed the house clean, we could step back; inhale the scents of cleaners, furniture polish and sun-dried linens. (We didn’t have a dryer, so all the laundry was hung on the clothes line in the backyard.)

Writers need to do some spring cleaning. W need to take time to assess our accomplishments and our failures, toss out expired ideas and rejected pages, and clear the clutter from our minds. Here’s where I plan to start.

Go through the boxes of old manuscripts and unfinished projects. Keep the pieces that have potential and toss the dead-weight.

Clean out the office supplies. Yes, there’s a lot of junk there. Donate or trash electronics that I no longer use.

Clean up my attitude. If I’m not writing, it’s my fault. I can’t blame it on others or on circumstances.

Make time to write. No more “I work long hours at the office and just can’t look at the computer one more minute.” This is an excuse not a reason.

Understand that others are having difficult times and be encouraging instead of dismissing their importance in the grand scheme of things.

Remember this is a business and not a hobby. Reject my “It’s okay if I never publish. Just finishing a project is an accomplishment.” Really?

Dump negative thoughts. I can do this.

Once the trash is tossed out, commit to keeping my writer’s life clutter-free. Junk and trash are not conducive to success. Besides, I hate spring cleaning.

Spring Cleaning


Outtakes 339

Spring Cleaning

By Cait Collins

 

I always hated to see my mom bring out the buckets, mops, brooms, and garbage bags. I knew it must be spring and mom was going to do the spring cleaning. My sisters and I had a part in the ritual. It was a time when we were supposed to dump the trash and really clean our rooms. When mom deemed the house clean, we could step back; inhale the scents of cleaners, furniture polish and sun-dried linens. (We didn’t have a dryer, so all the laundry was hung on the clothes line in the backyard.)

Writers need to do some spring cleaning. W need to take time to assess our accomplishments and our failures, toss out expired ideas and rejected pages, and clear the clutter from our minds. Here’s where I plan to start.

Go through the boxes of old manuscripts and unfinished projects. Keep the pieces that have potential and toss the dead-weight.

Clean out the office supplies. Yes, there’s a lot of junk there. Donate or trash electronics that I no longer use.

Clean up my attitude. If I’m not writing, it’s my fault. I can’t blame it on others or on circumstances.

Make time to write. No more “I work long hours at the office and just can’t look at the computer one more minute.” This is an excuse not a reason.

Understand that others are having difficult times and be encouraging instead of dismissing their importance in the grand scheme of things.

Remember this is a business and not a hobby. Reject my “It’s okay if I never publish. Just finishing a project is an accomplishment.” Really?

Dump negative thoughts. I can do this.

Once the trash is tossed out, commit to keeping my writer’s life clutter-free. Junk and trash are not conducive to success. Besides, I hate spring cleaning.

The Mom Gene


Outtakes 338

The Mom Gene

By Cait Collins

 

Our minister and his wife have three lively toddlers. They can be really sweet and then get busy. I have wondered how his wife will manage three kids and a baby. I volunteered to let one of the boys sit with me during services, but both boys wanted to sit with me. I thought, “Why not? I can handle this.”

I was so wrong. You see, I don’t have the Mom gene. I tried explaining to a four year old why he could not play with my antique matched jade bead necklace. My sister shook her head and handed him her necklace. My sister could hand one a crayon while preventing the other one from dumping a bible on the floor. One ate two bags of snacks and the other handed his bag back to me stating “I don’t like these.” I thought every kid liked Goldfish. You see, I don’t have that Mom instinct. I never had kids, so if I ever had that gene I did not develop it. And while I might be able to deal with one toddler at a time, I’m woefully inadequate in handling two.

Sometime I feel inadequate as a writer. I can put the words together, but it’s not always the ones I should be using. I find it difficult to write the emotions. And sometimes I just can’t get the setting right. This is very difficult for a perfectionist. I’d like to believe everything I put on paper is perfect and will not need editing. But as fellow writers you know the perfect sentence is as rare as a perfect gem stone.

Writers don’t edit because the sentence or paragraph is lousy. We edit to make the story better. To flesh out characters. To include another perspective. Or to evoke an emotion from the reader. Like being a good Mom, learning to honestly review your work and make the corrections takes time and patience. It requires determination and hard work. But are we willing to invest the same effort into being a great writer as we do being a good parent? It is a choice.

What’s In a Name?


Outtakes 337

What’s In a Name?

By Cait Collins

 

 

I disagree with the Bard of Avon. A rose by any other name would still smell as sweet may not smell as sweet. What if we called the rose a daisy? Would it smell like a rose or like a daisy? Can a Magnolia smell as sweet as a rose? If I handed you a lilac would you envision a rose?

Names mean something. If I introduced two men in a story as Butch and Allen but did not describe them, could you picture each man in your mind? I see Butch as a big, burly man with a loud voice, and less than perfect manners. He’s not a bad man. He lacks polish. Allen is mild-mannered. He tends to fade into the background. He’s neither handsome nor ugly. He’s just average.

Monique is exotic and beautiful. Delilah would be desirable and devious. Would you name your daughter Jezebel? Or would you choose a name like Elizabeth or Mary. Let’s be honest, a name has positive or negative reactions. We have prejudices against certain names based on experiences, history, literature, and movies.

When we are writing a story, how careful are we in naming our characters? Do you ever get half way through the work and suddenly decide the hero’s name is wrong? Do you make the change or keep the name that doesn’t seem right? If I can’t be comfortable with the name or can’t warm up to it, I’ll change the name. If I am not happy with the character’s name but hold on to it, I risk creating a negative response from the reader.

Names are important. That’s why we spend time researching character names and names of the location. We want our characters to enhance the story; not detract from it.

Could This Be Love?


Outtakes 335

Could This Be Love?

By Cait Collins

 

Ah, romance. The book shelves are full of romance novels. Poets extol the virtues of love and commitment. Cynics decry the emotion, calling it a crutch and an opiate for fools. I like to view love as something very special. But despite varying opinions of what love is and the part it plays in our lives, love stories are popular. And there are so many variations in the genre. Straight romance…boy meets girl, boy woos girl, boy gets girl. Then there’s romantic suspense…girl is in trouble, boy rescues girl, boy marries girl. Add paranormal romance, magic, war stories, western romance, “adult” romance, and you have almost unlimited story lines.

Poetry, song lyrics all extol the virtues of love. And then you have the broken romances, stories of love gone bad, and broken hearts that are mended by a new love. Face it, love sells. So write that romance. You just might find a whole new outlet for your talent.

Happy Valentines Day.