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The Writer's Mailbag: Installment 147

Updated on April 24, 2017

Oh My God, the Sun!!!!!

I’m writing this on April 21st, a Friday, and the predicted high in Olympia is 70 degrees. We haven’t seen 70 degrees in seven months. Needless to say, I’m going to get my writing done as quickly as possible and then go outside and soak up some much-needed warmth.

How ya doing? I hope this finds you all well. I’m doing well, thank you very much, and I’m honored to be spending a little bit of this Monday with all of you. Thanks for inviting me into your home. Next time I visit, if you could see fit to have some chocolate chip cookies, it would be appreciated. J

Are we ready? Only nine more to go and we’ll celebrate three years of the Mailbag, so let’s do it! Is my math correct? I think so!

Welcome to the Mail Room!
Welcome to the Mail Room! | Source

Switching Hats

From Audrey: “Excellent advice as always Bill--freelancing is so difficult to balance with my creative writing--my freelancing is always legal blogs--and after that I just have no fun stuff left in my tank--how you do switch hats between the two?”

It’s a great question, Audrey, and I wouldn’t be able to do it in the same day. That’s why I designate certain days for certain types of writing. Customer SEO writing is done on Monday and Tuesday, usually, and creative writing is done the rest of the week. I go so far as to not even mix two different creative writing projects on the same day. I just find it easier to compartmentalize my writing and my days.


From Liz: “Have you ever entered or considered entering the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest? I have not, but am thinking about doing so. It's all in fun. The general 'rule' or task, is to create the opening sentence to a novel or story, which should be the most awful sentence you can think up. The fellow after whom the contest is named, was the originator of the now trite, "It was a dark and stormy night..."

Liz, I have not. I’ve never even heard of it, and I definitely did not know where that opening line came from, so thank you for both pieces of information. For those interested, and I’ve already gone and taken a look, you can find that contest by following this link.

A whole lot of darkness in these novels of mine.
A whole lot of darkness in these novels of mine. | Source

How Do You Write About Ugly Topics?

From Misha: “I was reading your current short story ‘Mary Had A Little Lamb,’ and it is extraordinary writing, but it also makes me cringe and look under the covers at night before I go to bed. How do you write about topics like child murders and stay sane?”

Misha, who told you I’m sane? LOL

I don’t know, Misha, and that’s the truth. If I were to actually see a murdered child in real life, it would probably haunt me for the rest of my life. Just the thought of child abuse in any form makes my blood boil. So I honestly don’t know how I separate myself from the ugly reality of life. Maybe my mind shuts down when writing fiction. I know it’s fiction so I don’t allow emotions to enter the fray…..but maybe that’s not it….I honestly don’t know.

We all have different buttons which, when pushed, will send us into darkness. For me it’s rape. I can’t write in detail about rape. It bothers me too much. I can’t write about physical abuse, or spousal abuse. Why that is a no-no for me but child murder is not, I have no clue. We are complicated beings, my friend, much too complicated for me to understand.

Separating Characters

From Katie: “Hey, Bill! I was wondering, when you write short stories, or even a novel, how do you make each character seem unique? Maybe I’m not asking that correctly. In real life, we can all see, so we can see the uniqueness of individuals. But in a book, we can’t see the characters. What tools does a writer have to give each character some distinguishing characteristics? Does that make sense?”

It makes perfect sense, Katie, and I wish more writers of fiction gave this some thought before they attempted to write a book.

Let me begin by stating that I would go crazy trying to do this with every single character in one of my novels. I do try to give a physical description of everyone who shows up in my novels, but that’s as far as I go with most secondary characters. With the main characters, however, more is needed, because we writers want our readers to be totally invested in the story.

One way you can do it is through types of speech. I’m reminded of a character in the “Longmire” series, Henry Standing Bear. Despite the fact that Henry is Native American, the author of that series has given Henry a distinctive way of speaking. Henry never speaks with contractions. Now that may not seem very drastic but believe me, when he’s the only one in the entire novel not speaking with contractions, it becomes very noticeable. It is a very subtle way of making Henry stand out from the rest of the characters.

I have a character in my “Shadow” series, Paul Striker. Now Striker is a stone-cold killer, so I always try to convey a darkness about him when he appears in the novels. I don’t allow him to speak very much, and when he does speak it is usually in short, clipped sentences. There is a very menacing quality about Striker, and I try very hard to convey that through his mannerisms, his unwillingness to speak very much, and the overall vibes he gives off when he enters a room.

Again, this is very subtle stuff, but I think it is also very important.

Remember, when developing characters, no two human beings are the same. Observe people downtown, or in a library, or a coffee shop. Observe the differences in their mannerisms. That’s real life, and a novel reflects, in many ways, real life.

Anyway, great question!

A profitable undertaking
A profitable undertaking | Source


From Duwayle: “Is anyone else seeing their HP views and earnings drop drastically? What’s up with that? Anyone?”

I have, mine have, and I have no clue.

I used to make decent money on HP, decent for a creative writer, that is. I used to make around $150 each month, sometimes $200….this month I’ll make $25.

I have no answers for you, Duwayle. I’m just a writer, and I’m only here because I love this community of writers.


From Leo: “I was wondering how the sales are for your coloring books? I was thinking of doing the same thing as a fundraiser for our Little League team.”

The sales, Leo, are excellent, much better than my novels, and that should probably tell me something. LOL The big test will be once the farmers markets begin. I’ll be interested in seeing how the coloring books do in that setting . . . but thanks for asking, and good luck with yours should you do it.


I was going to berate all of you for not asking more questions (not really), but then I realized that the lack of questions means I can get outside sooner and enjoy the heck out of this gorgeous day.

So thank you, all, and I’ll see you again next week, as we inch our way towards the three-year anniversary of the Mailbag.

2017 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”


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    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      16 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Sha! It is fun having new followers ask questions....I look forward to writing the Mailbag each week...and thank you for always being here. Seattle is 60 miles north of Olympia and yes, we have six straight days of beautiful weather coming our way. We deserve it! LOL

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 

      16 months ago from Central Florida

      The Mailbag is almost three years old? Holy Moly! I've read every single one of them, not always on Monday, but I never miss one.

      Your new followers are coming up with some damn good questions, Bill. That's the sign of a great teacher. Yes, you are still a teacher, just not in a classroom setting.

      Enjoy your weather, my friend. I saw last night that Seattle is expecting highs of 78 today (5/25/17). How far is Seattle from Olympia?

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      17 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Eloquently stated, Vicky65, and I agree and thank you!

    • profile image


      17 months ago

      Its all about reality of life.In addition to the beauty of poetry in every human excistence in a poor country with just all the familiar faces around.The cruelty as a trade is real only the fearless truth can speak for and how it can be done.Oftentimes a painful sacrifices must be done especially to the abuse of power with the innocent. There is no better way but to stop it now!

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      17 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Tough challenge, Rasma, but you made it. Congratulations on a job well-done, and thank you!

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      17 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Now that, Jo, is a toast I can appreciate. Thank you!

    • jo miller profile image

      Jo Miller 

      17 months ago from Tennessee

      Here's to three more years and sunny days in Washington.

    • Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

      Gypsy Rose Lee 

      17 months ago from Riga, Latvia

      Informative as usual. As you see I am once again a week behind with 4 poems due on the April challenge so tomorrow I will very gladly be posting my last one and breathing a sigh of relief.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      17 months ago from Olympia, WA

      You did indeed, Manatita! Blessings to you my logical friend.

    • manatita44 profile image


      17 months ago from london

      LOL. Keep writing bro. He who gives hope believes in hope. We cannot give what we do not have and I know that you love logic. Ha. Caught you out, eh? Feeling cheerful today.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      17 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I hope that's true, Martie. Thank you!

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      17 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I appreciate that, Linda. I really do. Thank you very much.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      17 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      I think it's great that after three years you're still getting questions that haven't been asked before. Your mailbag series is very useful, Bill.

    • MartieCoetser profile image

      Martie Coetser 

      17 months ago from South Africa

      Interesting questions and answers. Somehow you manage to hit all nails on the head, Bill. Your Writer's Mailbag is a precious resource for all writers.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      17 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Buildreps, that was very kind of you to say, and I thank you! I needed a morale boost today and you provided it.

    • Buildreps profile image


      17 months ago from Europe

      According to Buddha is learning to know ourselves more difficult than winning a thousand battles, and I certainly agree with that. Our inner world is a bottomless pit that we must learn to explore, and you do that by writing about topics that most people are afraid to touch, not even in a thousand lifetimes. Nevertheless the topic is not fictional, it happens every day, especially in war zones. An applause for you, Bill. Thanks for this very interesting mailbag this week, my friend!

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      17 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Mel, the rains continue. Suffice it to say, if you were delivering mail in Olympia, you'd be doing it with waders on. :)

      Great question...short answer yes, with a qualifier, which I'll share in the next Mailbag.

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 

      17 months ago from San Diego California

      Make hay on your urban farm while the sun shines, because if the sun comes out and sees its shadow you'll have six more weeks of gloom. Then again, in the Pacific NW you were probably going to have six more weeks of gloom anyway.

      Is it acceptable to paint your characters from people you know in real life, and just do a little Picasso-esque distortion on them to protect their identities? Truman Capote did this in Breakfast at Tiffany's, and although he made a lot of his friends angry, he got away with it. Great mailbag.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      17 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thanks Flourish! Hopefully Duwayle will return for that bit of advice.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      17 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Manatita, hope for us all? Bev would say yes. Me? I'm a bit more pessimistic, I'm afraid, and my stories probably reflect that.

      We have cherry trees here which seem to explode in color overnight. It is dazzling.

      Peace, brother!

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      17 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Eric, would I do that to someone? LOL That should be your answer, but I have a real literary answer for you on Monday. Thanks, buddy!

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      17 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Great questions, Brian...quick answer now, more later....I write the dialogue in final form on the first draft....or about 90% of it in final form....thanks..more later.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      17 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Audrey, that's the way to this man's heart...chocolate. I'm a cheap date. :)

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      17 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you very much, Chitrangada Sharan! My followers do most of the work in this series, and I do love it.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      17 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thanks Lawrence! I love the process of bringing characters to life. It's a challenge but it is also very rewarding.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      17 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thanks Dolores! Just something I'm playing around with for the summer craft fairs and farmers markets.

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 

      17 months ago from East Coast, United States

      Hi Bill - I didn't know about your coloring books so will have to check them out. I know that adult coloring is very big right now, and know several people who do this and produce the prettiest pictures! It can be very calming.

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 

      18 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand


      I'm getting in early with this one! Just saw it on my screen and knew I had to read it.

      I found what you said about characters really good, for me, I tend to have to have some idea as to why they're in the story in the first place. For me, that helps a little with how the character is going to behave in the story.

      Glad you could get out and enjoy the sunshine today.


    • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

      Chitrangada Sharan 

      18 months ago from New Delhi, India

      Three years of the most popular and useful mailbag series--Wow! I think it is a milestone in itself. Congratulations to you for this and thanks for sharing yet another installment.

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 

      18 months ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      Hi Bill

      Well, I can't promise you sunshine, as it's been raining in Nashville for the past 5 days, but I can promise a hot batch of chocolate chip cookies that melt in your mouth. Got milk?

      Thanks for keeping the knowledge flowing through The Writer's Mailbag. Love this series immensely!

    • B. Leekley profile image

      Brian Leekley 

      18 months ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

      Whereas you work on different writing projects on different days of the week, I've heard of writers who have three or four typewriters or, these days, computers scattered about their house or apartment. Or the mix might include pads of writing paper and pens. While the writer ruminates about what comes next in the murder mystery in the kitchen, he-she works on a magazine article in the home office or on a poem on the porch. Trial and error curiosity discovers what writing procedure works for oneself.

      When you are writing the first or an early draft of a novel or story, do you write the dialogue close to final form ["Do as I say and you won't get hurt!" "Unhand me, knave!"] or do you paraphrase [He threatens harm to keep her compliant. She protests.] or do you use your own pidgin English ["You no talk! You no move! I am a very mean robber, so please behave yourself!" "Let go me! I no like you grab me like dat!"] or other?

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      18 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      No comment on the weather. This was a really cool mailbag. I loved about the hats and the character trait stuff. You really love writing and it is infectious, thank you for that.

      In your fiction do you ever set out to hit hot buttons on purpose to irritate your readers in order to get them to stay tuned for revenge. Not big like child murder but sneaky like politics or religion?

    • manatita44 profile image


      18 months ago from london

      Hi Bro,

      I think I might have told you I was in America. Jamaica, Queens, was about 78 degrees one day. Awesome! I feel sorry that you have suffered so much! When I left Germany just four weeks ago, I was so inspired by Spring that I wrote the one about magnolias there.

      Yet the branches of the apple tree in Jamaica, looked so dry when I got there. Four days later it was buzzing with blooms of life.

      I saw a movie, probably with Nicolas Cage, where the child killer was like your Mr Striker. So Real! He played his part beautifully! Funny, I think he actually helped a child in the end. So you see we all have Hearts. Hope for us yet, eh? LOL.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image


      18 months ago from USA

      I really enjoyed today's topics. Very diverse. Duwayle is not alone on those earnings. Sometimes updating and sharing via social media can help create a bump.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      18 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Venkatachari M, as much as I complain about the rain here, I could not live where it is that hot. I wish you a cool break from the heat, my friend, and thank you.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      18 months ago from Olympia, WA

      It didn't last long, Melissa. By Saturday night the rains had returned, and they haven't stopped since with five more days of this wet crap predicted. I need summer badly!

      Happy Monday my faithful friend.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      18 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I totally agree, Pop, but unless they are lying to me, I know of several who do.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      18 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Aww, thanks, Bill. I really enjoy the interaction with other writers.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      18 months ago from Olympia, WA

      The sun is gone, Larry,and the rains have returned. Have fun with that acre. :)

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 

      18 months ago from Oklahoma

      I'm enjoying push mowing my acre give or take. I won't be come August, lol.

      Enjoy the sun my friend:-)

    • Homeplace Series profile image

      William Leverne Smith 

      18 months ago from Hollister, MO

      Keep them coming, the mailbags, ... always fascinating to see what is on the minds of your writer readers!! Thanks, again, for all you do! ;-)

    • breakfastpop profile image


      18 months ago

      It is hard to believe anyone makes decent money oh HP!

    • mpropp profile image

      Melissa Propp 

      18 months ago from Minnesota

      Happy Monday Bill! And I hope you are enjoying the same nice weather today as you had on Friday (and that you can get outside to enjoy it!). We had a gorgeous weekend here in MN too!

      Enjoy it while it lasts, it can change so fast!

    • Venkatachari M profile image

      Venkatachari M 

      18 months ago from Hyderabad, India

      Very interesting mailbag with great answers and questions. The question regarding characters and their distinct qualities is very interesting. There is always some good advice and useful tip throughout your mailbag.

      The weather here in India is very hot with mercury shooting 100 and more points. There are predictions of some showers in coming days for a short period. Then it will shoot again.

      Thanks for the nice mailbags.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      18 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Jamie! I hope you give the coloring book idea a try. The real test is coming in two weeks when I publicly try to sell it at markets.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      18 months ago from Olympia, WA

      MizB, I've given up trying to figure out HP. Whatever they are up to, I am not privy to the information or decisions. So I just blindly flail forwards, writing stuff that will be floating around cyberspace for decades to come, read by who knows who? :) Thanks so much...more rain on the way and I'm tired of it.

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      Doris James-MizBejabbers 

      18 months ago from Beautiful South

      Goodness, Bill, I thought you'd be having nice warm weather by now. It had been reaching 80 here, but I went up into the Ozarks Saturday and needed a jacket. It was a dark and stormy day, LOL, chilly at 54 degrees. I wore sandals and got cold feet, literally. About the fall in earnings people are complaining about. (I don't write often enough to complain) I wonder if this is because of HP being split into niche sites. I've noticed more views on my few niche hubs, but not more money. Have a warm sunny rest of the week, my friend.

    • jhamann profile image

      Jamie Lee Hamann 

      18 months ago from Reno NV

      What a collection of publications. A job well done Bill. I am in love with this coloring book idea. Great stuff. Jamie

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      18 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I believe it is, Denise! I also heard that there are no new ideas for novels. All the possible themes have been written about over the years. The only newness is in the way we, as writers, present it....thus, it is our voice which is unique,and we should celebrate that uniqueness.

      Happy Monday my friend!


    • PAINTDRIPS profile image

      Denise McGill 

      18 months ago from Fresno CA


      Amazing!! Wasn't it just a couple weeks ago when you celebrated two years? I attended an art lecture this weekend and as a side note on plays and artistic themes, the lecturer said if you were ever in a slump for ideas, just return to one of the ancient Greek classics and update it. I think even Hamlet is an updated version of the Greek Oedipus Rex, right? Enjoy the sunshine.



    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      18 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Great help, Jackclee, and I thank you for it. Maybe we need another search engine to take over....Google, perhaps, has outlived its usefulness.

    • jackclee lm profile image

      Jack Lee 

      18 months ago from Yorktown NY

      Bill, congratulations on your up coming 3 years anniversary.

      The problem we are seeing with views are the fault of google, IMHO. We are not doing anything wrong. We just produce the contents and for the most part, are excellent in quality as the QAP assessment. The problem is google has issues with their ranking algorithm and HP and other content sites are being hurt by the changes. If they don't shape up, another search engine may take their place as the leader.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      18 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Irish, if we ever find out way across the Pond, you can bet we will drop by for some chocolate. Thank you for the invite and hi to the Mickster!

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      18 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thanks for the wish, Vellur, but the rains have returned. I appreciate you.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      18 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Mike, it was two days and now it's over. Back to the gloom and doom! LOL

      Happy Lawn Mowing, buddy!

    • mckbirdbks profile image


      18 months ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      Hello Bill - Enjoy the weather. If it were a 'dark and stormy night' I would not have to go out and mow the yards today. I enjoyed the mailbag, which is typical.

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 

      18 months ago from Dubai

      Another great installment, interesting questions, and answers. Wishing you many more gorgeous day ahead.

    • Suzie HQ profile image

      Suzanne Ridgeway 

      18 months ago from Dublin, Ireland

      Happy Monday Bill, about time you got some rays of sunshine your way so hope you are taking advantage. Nice mix of questions and as always the answers brought a smile. It is fascinating what subjects you can write about and others a definite no-go area. Glad the coppers were coming in for you here, you certainly deserve it and more for all you give us in spades! Have a fab week my friend and always a choc chip cookie and a coffee for you and Bev here xxxx

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      18 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I appreciate that, Bill. Thank you!

    • lifegate profile image

      William Kovacic 

      18 months ago from Pleasant Gap, PA

      Another week of interesting stuff, Bill. You keep us entertained and informed at the same time and for that, I thank you much!

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      18 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Two days, Janine, that's what we got, and now the rains return for five. I guess I should be happy but damn it, Janine, this is not baseball or gardening weather!!!!!

      Happy Monday and thank you!

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      18 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Have fun, Ann! You are a braver soul than I. Those little ones wear me out very quickly. There is a very good reason why I taught teenagers. :)

      Have a mood-lifting Monday!


    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 

      18 months ago from SW England

      Great mailbag as always, bill. You can certainly have some chocolate cookies (or biscuits as we say here in Blighty!) next time you pop by. I like the question regarding individual characters; we all have to think carefully about how we portray them.

      It's a mothering the grandchildren Monday for me today, indeed for the next few days too! Makes it most mindblowingly moving to see the marvels of little monkeys!

      Have a great one, bill!


    • Janine Huldie profile image

      Janine Huldie 

      18 months ago from New York, New York

      Bill, I hope you enjoyed the 70 degree weather. We have had a few days here and there with high 60s and 70s, but still have 50s mixed in and some rain, too. I am looking forward to more sunshine and warmth though and got my fingers crossed it will find us sooner now on the whole rather than later. Happy Monday now and thanks for the almost 3 years of awesome advice here :)


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