Singing and Dancing in the Rain


Outtakes 258

Singing and Dancing in the Rain

by Cait Collins

 

The Texas Panhandle is flat as far as the eye can see, but about 25 or 30 miles south of Amarillo, the grassy Plains drop off into Palo Duro Canyon. It’s amazing the abrupt change in the landscape.

Palo Duro Canyon is the second largest canyon system in the United States, second only to the Grand Canyon. Much of the canyon is privately owned and not open to the public. But Palo Duro Canyon State Park is operated by the State of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. It’s a beautiful place to camp, hike, and enjoy nature. It is also the home of the Pioneer Amphitheatre and the musical drama T*E*X*A*S.

I don’t go every year, but I do attend a performance every few years. Last Friday evening, my nephew, his three kids, and I braved threatening weather to see the play. We were about half way to the canyon when rain drops began splashing against the windshield. The shower was brief, so we had hopes everything would be great. No such luck. It misted, sprinkled, or rained from the middle of the first act to the end of the show. We were wet and chilled, but the show was still stunning. The thunder and lightning only added to the spectacle.

I am always impressed with the talent and professionalism of the cast and crew. No matter the weather or the adversities, these gifted men, women, and children adhere to the old adage, “The show must go on”. They were as wet and cold as the members of the audience, but they smiled and thanked the theater-goers for attending.

My question is how do we as writers maintain our professionalism when faced with rejection, criticism, and lack of support? Do we write nasty blogs about the agent or editor who rejected a query? Do we toss the manuscript into the trash? Or refuse to work on another piece for months because no one understands our artistic musings?

I won’t say writing is easy or always fun, but if we choose to be writers, then shouldn’t we also choose to be professional? Do we want an agent to remember that we accepted his rejection graciously? Of course we do. But if we storm off we will be remembered but not in a positive way.

I choose to be a writer; therefore, I must also choose to act in a manner that makes a positive impression on those I meet. The bottom line is attitude and actions can make or break a career.

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READING AND WRITING


READING AND WRITING
By Natalie Bright

One of the notable things that many successful writers have in common is that they read. If you find interviews by some of your favorite best-selling authors, they usually reveal their reading lists. And more often than not, they’ll have a few books that they’ve read over and over.

William Faulkner wrote, “Read, read, read. Read everything — trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it.” 

One of the WordsmithSix writers told me she reads Stephen Kings’ THE SHINING every year around Halloween. It’s one of her favorite books because of the psychological intensity, and of course written by one of the masters. My goal this year is to read that book in October. It’s already on my eReader.

Which comes first: the writer or the reader? For me personally, I can’t answer that question, but one bookshelf holds several of my cherished childhood picture books. And I can vividly remember my hometown library, Rhoads Memorial Library in Dimmitt, Texas.

Located on the same block, and just around the corner from the Laundromat, I spent most Saturdays there.  While my mother did our weekly wash, I whiled away the time with characters and discovered places I’ll never forget. Mrs. Howell usually had books ready and waiting for me. With a cheery “Good morning. I think you’ll enjoy this,” she’d hand me a stack of treasures.  The feel, the smell of the pages, the tingle of excitement; I couldn’t wait until I could bury my thoughts into the story.

One of the happiest days for my mom, and probably one of the saddest for me, was when my dad backed his pickup truck next to the front porch and unloaded a new washer and dryer. That was the Saturday I didn’t get to go to the library. And perhaps that was the day I started writing the stories in my head.

Who influenced you to become a reader?

nataliebright.com

Professionalism


Outtakes 209

Professionalism

by Cait Collins

 

The outdoor musical drama, TEXAS, is a seasonal event in the Texas Panhandle. The show is spectacular and is loaded with special effects and fireworks. A couple of weeks ago, the young stage manager, Peyton Trueblood, was killed in a tragic accident at the amphitheater in Palo Duro Canyon. Performances were cancelled for Friday and Saturday, but the cast and crew chose to start again on Sunday.

I was privileged to be in the audience for the second performance following the accident. The average age of cast and crew could be considered young. Many of them are students pursuing their educations at West Texas A&M University in Canyon, Texas or at another area college or university. The actors, singers, dancers, musicians, and crew bond as a family. No doubt they were still grieving the loss of their friend, but they performed. From the opening number to the close, I did not see a missed dance step, no lines were dropped, no voices faltered. Even as they opened the second act with the beautiful song “West Texas Rain”, they remained strong, and in perfect harmony. These young men and women along with the older members of the company showed true professionalism from the appearance of the Rider on the Rim to greeting guests after the performance. I was impressed by their courage; by their dedication to their craft and to the audience. They taught a valuable lesson just by keeping on keeping on.

Sometimes I get discouraged when my writing does not go the way I think it should. I wonder if I will ever make it in the business. I make excuses for not getting out my computer and working on my current project. I am not always living up to my personal standards. I have no reason to sluff-off on my commitments. I’m sure I’m not alone in this. So I am rededicating myself to my writing. No more failing to have my blog ready to post. I will have something new to read every critique meeting. No more hiding accomplishments. I will put my name on everything I write. I am a professional writer. And the emphasis will be on “professional”.

 

Reunion


Outtakes 188

Reunion

by Cait Collins

 

I’ve been fortunate to be associated with some very talented writers. Many are still trying for the big break, but they continue to work at their craft. Because of schedules, new places in our writing careers, or new locations, we don’t often see each other. It’s sad, but that’s the way of life. Recently we lost one of the talented writers.

I didn’t know DeWanna Pace as well as many of the writers and published authors in the Amarillo, Texas region. My association with her was limited to conferences and writer’s meetings, but I always believed there was something very special about her. She had this way of making you feel important. When she was talking with you, you were the only person in the room with her. She focused on the conversation and listened. Really listened.

DeWanna was unfailingly kind. She put other people first. I remember the day I was released from the hospital and found DeWanna sitting off to the side in the entry. I stopped to speak with her and learned her mother was being admitted. I asked if there was anything I could do. All she wanted was prayers. In return, she asked if I was visiting someone. I explained I had just been released. She offered to help me. If I needed anything all I had to do was call. Her own plate was full and yet she was concerned about me.

She was a great teacher. When she presented classes at writers’ conferences, her sessions were always well attended. She encouraged young writers. Even though her health was not the best, she kept her commitment to speak at the last writers’ conference held in Amarillo. It was important to her to pass on what she had learned.

This past Saturday, we celebrated the release of DeWanna’s latest book, The Daddy List, at a reception at Barnes and Noble. There was no book signing; just a meeting of people who had been touched by her generosity and talent. I found myself hugging my fellow writers and catching up on their lives and work. The passing of years did not matter; we were writers honoring one of our own. I can’t think of a better way to spend an afternoon.

Writing Exercise


Writing Exercise

Rory C. Keel

Our Wordsmith Critique group participated in a writing exercise in which we wrote a letter to a student. In the letter we selected a word and wrote about all aspects of that word and our surrounding community.

When you’re stuck in your writing, use this type of exercise to move your writing along.

 

Balloon

1. An airtight bag that rises and floats above the earth when filled with hot air or gas lighter than air, such as hydrogen or helium.

2. A bag of this sort with an attached car or gondola for carrying passengers or instruments.

3. A small rubber bag inflated for use chiefly as a toy or decoration.

4.  The outline enclosing the words or thoughts of a character in a cartoon, as in a comic strip.

WEBSTER’ NEW WORLD COLLEGE DICTIONARY, Fourth Edition, Page 110

Dear Brian,

Balloons are the most amazing things. They are made from many different materials such as nylon and rubber. They can be any color of the rainbow like blue, red, yellow and green. Some balloons are even Silver or Black.

When I watch a balloon rise into the air, it lifts the corners of my mouth creating a smile without even being tied to it.

A balloon can fly like a rocket when you let it go untied, zigzagging around the room before running out of air.  Clowns use them at parties to make balloon animals like a giraffe or a wiener dog.

Have you ever used them to play games with your friends? When I was a child, my brothers and I would play with them like volleyballs, hitting them to each other across the room. We would also see who could pop the most by sitting on them one at a time. At the carnival people throw darts at them winning the prizes that are hidden behind them.

One of my favorite things to do is watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on T.V. and see the giant balloons of Mickey Mouse and some of my other favorite heroes. Wow, It takes a lot of people to hold the ropes so they don’t fly away!

Science also uses balloons. A weather balloon is a balloon that carries an instrument that measures atmospheric pressure, temperature, and humidity. It can obtain wind data by being tracked by radar as it floats along the air stream. These balloons can reach an altitude of 25 miles or more.

Ocean scientists use balloons to lift heavy objects from the ocean floor such as sunken ships. Balloons are attached to the object and inflated with air, which brings it to the surface of the water.

In medical science balloons are used to open arteries to help blood flow easier. An instrument is inserted near a blocked artery and a balloon is inflated, expanding the artery to allow more blood to flow to the heart.

Balloons are sometimes used for transportation. In early years giant balloons that were driven by propellers were called Dirigibles or Zeppelin’s. They carried passengers from place to place. The military used them in early wars to carry equipment and as look out posts. Today we call them blimps, such as the Goodyear blimp we sometimes see at football games.

Hot air balloons are very popular today. A hot air balloon consists of a bag called the envelope that is capable of containing heated air. Suspended beneath is the gondola or wicker basket that carries the passengers and a source of heat, usually an open flame. The heated air inside the envelope makes it float since it has a lower density than the relatively cold air outside the envelope.

Recently, A hot air balloon event was held near my community of Canyon, Texas, in the Palo Duro Canyon, the second largest canyon in the United States.

The hot air balloons were filled at the bottom and lifted out of the 800 ft deep chasm and high into the sky.

The rim of the Palo Duro Canyon in located about 12 miles from my community, the city of Canyon, Texas. It has a population of about 13,000 people, and is the county seat of Randall County. It is located south of the city of Amarillo, Texas, in the Texas Panhandle. The city of Canyon has an average of 19 inches of rainfall annually and ranges in temperature from 74 degrees for the high to 44 degrees for an average low, and an average of 9 inches of Snow each year.

With a University like West Texas A&M University, and many things to see and do such as the play TEXAS in the Palo Duro Canyon, Buffalo Lake National Wildlife Refuge, Panhandle Plains Historical Museum, Canyon Texas is a wonderful community to live in.

roryckeel.com

Cowboy Slang


 

Cowboy Slang

By Natalie Bright

Southerners have a way of cutting consonants and lengthening vowels to speak our mind. Some people may assume we’re ignorant. I think we’re entertaining and somewhat lazy. For instance, we’ve shortened you all to y’all. Rather than converse in a lengthy explanation of our intentions and plans, we simply say, I’m fixin’ to. The listener has to guess at the intended task.

Lunch or Dinner; Which Is It?

Common day phrases have been altered too. My husband and I have had many a discussion regarding breakfast, lunch, and dinner. He insists the correct names are breakfast, dinner and supper, just like his grandparents used to call it.

Talking Hoss

Same thing goes for the American cowboy. Raising quality beef steak was a real profession, and continues to be so today. Technology has had some influence on the cattleman and ranching industry, but what remains is a simple way of speaking his mind. There are few story tellers equal to a group of cowboys gathered around talking hoss. These types of conversations are gold to a writers ear.  I heard a cowboy mention that his horse was smoked, which means the horse had already been ridden hard and needed a rest so the cowboy had to quit work for the day. One simple word can say a lot. 

Down in the Skillet

In the olden days, the Texas Panhandle was down in the skillet. On the cattle drive, the chuck wagon cook, or dough-wrangler, might whip up a batch of sour-doughs with sop (biscuits and gravy), along with a boggy top for dessert (a pie with only a bottom crust).

After work, the ranch hand would dig around in his war-bag for a clean shirt, which is a carry-all for his personal possessions. I’ve heard the term still used today. A war bag is similar to a sports bag with a cowboy’s rodeo gear for riding broncs or bulls.  Back to the olden days, if he could find clean duds, he’d slick-up for the shin-dig at a neighboring ranch where they’d shake a good hoof until day break.

Cowboy Slang Reference

These witty and colorful catch phrases are interesting to me and I love sprinkling a few throughout my stories. I’ve discovered several helpful reference books, in case you’d like to learn more about the lingo of the great American west. These are a few of my favorites:

COWBOY LINGO by Ramon F. Adams, is a collection of slack-jaw words and whangdoodle ways (Houghton Mifflin Company).

WESTERN WORDS, also by Adams, A dictionary of the Old West (Hippocrene Books, New York).

COWBOY SLANG by Edgar R. Frosty Potter

Happy trails and keep writing! 

www.nataliebright.com

 

SCUM


SCUM

By Sharon Stevens

“Scum-the refuse, the recrement, that which is vile or worthless”

Webster’s 1890 Dictionary Definition

While getting cookies at the local discount store for our cookie jar at our family business I spied a package of Kool-aid someone had knocked to the floor. (Black Cherry if I remember right.) It took only a second to pick it up and put it back on the shelf. That’s all I did, nothing more and nothing less. There was no fanfare, no flags unfurled, no pageantry anywhere around me. All I remember is looking at the image for just a moment, remembered the brand, then placing the bright colored picture back where it belonged among the others. I then simply walked on down the aisle.

But I came away from that brief encounter with memories that flooded and overwhelmed me deep within my heart all the way down to my toes, so much so that I couldn’t shake it off.

My husband worked with a man who had been in Vietnam and had battled some of the fiercest fighting of the war. He was just nineteen years old and from a small town in Texas surrounded by every horror known to man. He told us that he would never forget a hometown gesture that really kept him sane. He said that friends and neighbors back home would send him packets of Kool-aid. When he came to a steaming creek or river, all he had to do was skim the scum off the top of water, fill his canteen, pull out a packet with the bright colored logo, empty it in, shake it up and voila. In the horrendous heat of the tropical jungle he had a drink that instantly reminded him of cool glasses of lemonade on the front porch, or back porch, at the lake, at the baseball field, at a family picnic, or after a hard days work. His thoughts could return to home even with the drones of every insect, the scavengers in the water, and the bombardment of the deafening fight that surrounded him.

I will always remember Mrs. Gordon-Cummings, our neighbor next door out in the country. She was one of the original pioneers of our area. Until her death she would ask her caretakers to go down into the canyons, to the artesian springs, and bring her back a glass jar filled with cool water. I have been down to those very springs and they are covered in a scum that transcends nasty. But to her, for some reason, this was the nectar of the Gods.

But then again, when I think about it, I have gone down to these ponds and noticed a sweet smell, something that I couldn’t put my finger on. Earth, flowers, water, grass, leaves…all the colors of the rainbow would fill my senses. Years later I could be walking next to a stream in Colorado and be surrounded with these same thoughts.

Scum is such a relative word. When you hear or see this image you can’t help but think evil, ugly, and dark. Or child molesters, wife beaters, drug dealers, the whole gamut of despair. You can’t separate anything out other than the deepest and the worst. Men come to mind more than women, old comes to mind more that youth.

As writers you have to write your characters as you see and feel them. It is so very hard for me to write of the darkness of the soul. I don’t always look for the silver lining in whatever story I am working on, but I usually find a memory that pulls the very dregs of humanity out back up into the light. Makes me weary though. I so want everyone to be happy all the time. My heart tells me that not every story has a happy ending, or a joyous middle, or a sweet beginning. Or maybe its my brain that is forcing me to see reality between the lines.

On the other hand. I never want to get so lost in the black that I can’t ever see the light at the end of the tunnel. I think this is what happened to Heath Ledger in “The Dark Knight”, as he became consumed with the darkness that turned inward.

So the next time you hear or think the word, “scum” take just a moment and place yourself away in a world where a homesick soldier is skimming aside the scum of the earth to get a quick drink of memory so many miles away from the world he grew up in. Imagine a woman that remembered while living in a dugout, raising her family, so far away from the nearest neighbor or friend that a cool glass jar filled with water from the creek could make all the difference in the world.

Maybe then, as a writer, you will see your world in a different light.

I want to take a moment and remember Elsie Batenhorst who passed away this week. PBS televised a special called, “Cathedral on the Plains” about St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Umbarger a few years ago. We had our book signing for Donald Mace Williams with his book, “Interlude in Umbarger” about the Italian Prisoner’s of War who painted this church and were featured in this documentary. Elsie came as well as Gerri Gerber and shared her memories and scrapbooks with those of us gathered. I will always remember her twinkling smile and impish laughter. She shared several stories about Mrs. Gordon-Cummings with me as well. I miss them both.

SCUM


SCUM

By Sharon Stevens

“Scum-the refuse, the recrement, that which is vile or worthless”

Webster’s 1890 Dictionary Definition

While getting cookies at the local discount store for our cookie jar at our family business I spied a package of Kool-aid someone had knocked to the floor. (Black Cherry if I remember right.) It took only a second to pick it up and put it back on the shelf. That’s all I did, nothing more and nothing less. There was no fanfare, no flags unfurled, no pageantry anywhere around me. All I remember is looking at the image for just a moment, remembered the brand, then placing the bright colored picture back where it belonged among the others. I then simply walked on down the aisle.

But I came away from that brief encounter with memories that flooded and overwhelmed me deep within my heart all the way down to my toes, so much so that I couldn’t shake it off.

My husband worked with a man who had been in Vietnam and had battled some of the fiercest fighting of the war. He was just nineteen years old and from a small town in Texas surrounded by every horror known to man. He told us that he would never forget a hometown gesture that really kept him sane. He said that friends and neighbors back home would send him packets of Kool-aid. When he came to a steaming creek or river, all he had to do was skim the scum off the top of water, fill his canteen, pull out a packet with the bright colored logo, empty it in, shake it up and voila. In the horrendous heat of the tropical jungle he had a drink that instantly reminded him of cool glasses of lemonade on the front porch, or back porch, at the lake, at the baseball field, at a family picnic, or after a hard days work. His thoughts could return to home even with the drones of every insect, the scavengers in the water, and the bombardment of the deafening fight that surrounded him.

I will always remember Mrs. Gordon-Cummings, our neighbor next door out in the country. She was one of the original pioneers of our area. Until her death she would ask her caretakers to go down into the canyons, to the artesian springs, and bring her back a glass jar filled with cool water. I have been down to those very springs and they are covered in a scum that transcends nasty. But to her, for some reason, this was the nectar of the Gods.

But then again, when I think about it, I have gone down to these ponds and noticed a sweet smell, something that I couldn’t put my finger on. Earth, flowers, water, grass, leaves…all the colors of the rainbow would fill my senses. Years later I could be walking next to a stream in Colorado and be surrounded with these same thoughts.

Scum is such a relative word. When you hear or see this image you can’t help but think evil, ugly, and dark. Or child molesters, wife beaters, drug dealers, the whole gamut of despair. You can’t separate anything out other than the deepest and the worst. Men come to mind more than women, old comes to mind more that youth.

As writers you have to write your characters as you see and feel them. It is so very hard for me to write of the darkness of the soul. I don’t always look for the silver lining in whatever story I am working on, but I usually find a memory that pulls the very dregs of humanity out back up into the light. Makes me weary though. I so want everyone to be happy all the time. My heart tells me that not every story has a happy ending, or a joyous middle, or a sweet beginning. Or maybe its my brain that is forcing me to see reality between the lines.

On the other hand. I never want to get so lost in the black that I can’t ever see the light at the end of the tunnel. I think this is what happened to Heath Ledger in “The Dark Knight”, as he became consumed with the darkness that turned inward.

So the next time you hear or think the word, “scum” take just a moment and place yourself away in a world where a homesick soldier is skimming aside the scum of the earth to get a quick drink of memory so many miles away from the world he grew up in. Imagine a woman that remembered while living in a dugout, raising her family, so far away from the nearest neighbor or friend that a cool glass jar filled with water from the creek could make all the difference in the world.

Maybe then, as a writer, you will see your world in a different light.

I want to take a moment and remember Elsie Batenhorst who passed away this week. PBS televised a special called, “Cathedral on the Plains” about St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Umbarger a few years ago. We had our book signing for Donald Mace Williams with his book, “Interlude in Umbarger” about the Italian Prisoner’s of War who painted this church and were featured in this documentary. Elsie came as well as Gerri Gerber and shared her memories and scrapbooks with those of us gathered. I will always remember her twinkling smile and impish laughter. She shared several stories about Mrs. Gordon-Cummings with me as well. I miss them both.

Growing Up Friendly


Growing Up Friendly

By N. Bright

 

“Most people that are too nice are either very naive or have a hidden motive.” This comment posted on a blog was very troubling to me and has been on my mind for several weeks.

Seriously? Do people really believe this about kindness and manners?

Hidden Motives

When the coffee barista hands me my latte and says, “Have a wonderful day” with a friendly smile that shines in her eyes, does she have a secret motive? When the bank teller says that he really appreciates my business, obviously he must be naïve about the world. When a friend buys my lunch for no good reason, what secret agenda is she hiding?  And when the waitress tells us to come back again soon, what is she really plotting?

Living in the Texas Panhandle, I have experienced “nice” my whole life.

Good Manners

Good manners are  important in this part of the country. I think back to my grandparents who treated each other with nothing but kindness and respect, and I remember them showering the same over their kids, grandkids and neighbors.

My mother managed the cosmetic counter at Parsons Rexall Drug in my hometown of Dimmitt. I grew up as “Peggy’s daughter”. From her I learned that people love to talk about their life and the things that matter to them, and sometimes they just need someone who’ll listen. She had a steady stream of loyal customers and sold a lot of perfume and jewelry, but I don’t believe this was her hidden motive. I think my mom really cared about other people and their lives. She was a kindhearted, generous person.

I am continually reminded that nice and friendly are not foreign to the Texas Panhandle. When I walked across the campus of West Texas A&M University on my way to a meeting with writers, several young men held the doors for me usually with a friendly “Hello “ma’am”. These young gentlemen might sport a white Stetson and wrangler jeans, typical West Texas attire, and yet  another had a tattooed arm attached to fly-away locks and body piercings. The kindness expressed by these students makes me proud to know that common courtesy can be found even in today’s youth. After my meeting I made a stop at the local Braum’s for milk and eggs, only to be greeted at the door by a young man of about seven who held the door open for his mother and me.

I’ve traveled to numerous places to speak in Texas, as well as to Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Kansas, and I’ve found nice people in all of those places.  I attended a conference in Bakersfield, California and had a blast with several very nice and fun folks who rolled out the red carpet to welcome us.

Friendly People & Talented Writers

I don’t believe that acts of kindness and good manners are entirely absent from the human race, and I don’t think that nice people are stupid to the ways of the world. My heart goes out to the person who wrote that comment above, and to other people who truly believe it. How very sad to live every day in suspicion, cowering in alarm of random smiles or hellos, and wondering at any kindness that might come their way.

A New York City acquiring editor told me that she loves coming to this area to find authors. “People here have a clarity of emotion that is rare. You are sincere in your thoughts and actions, and writers have the ability to arrive at the heart of the story.”

Isn’t that a better way to live?  Growing up friendly and finding the heart of the story.

Or maybe I’m just naïve.

Why, Oh Why?


Why, Oh Why?

Don’t Be Afraid of the Journey

By Natalie Bright

A feisty eleven-year-old by the name of Silver Belle consumes my thoughts. She lives in 1887 Texas in the fictitious frontier town of Justice, Texas.

She’s the main character in my western middle grade novel, and she’s so demanding. Thoughts of her adventures interrupt me without notice, day and night. Several weeks ago, for example, I realized her grandmother does not like her.

WHY is there conflict between Silver Belle and her grandmother? WHY must Silver Belle explore her Mexican heritage by visiting a sheepherders plazita in the Texas Panhandle? WHY can’t their issues be resolved and does this story end well?

I have no idea as to the answers to any of those questions, but I do know for a fact, just as true and real as this blog I’m writing, that Silver Belle’s grandmother refuses to acknowledge her own granddaughter’s existence.

The journey as a writer is in finding out the WHY.

At this point, I have total sympathy and a better understanding as to WHY Hemingway began drinking every day at noon.

www.nataliebright.com

Natalie Bright