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The Writer's Mailbag: Installment 148

Updated on May 1, 2017

Welcome Back

It’s been a busy week for me. I picked up a new freelance customer, and it’s a big account with literally hundreds of articles to do, so this past week has been a mixed bag of blessings for me. No complaints at all, but it has me hustling big-time to get everything done.

But enough about me . . . we have some great questions so let’s get to them.

FLASHBACKS

From Bill: “Bill, here's a question, maybe for the mailbag. I'm writing a story about a couple who suffers a terrible loss that strains their marriage to the breaking point. I feel it's necessary to show the relationship growing over the years into the "perfect" marriage before disaster hits. My question is how do I do this and still draw in the reader in without a bunch of boring background information? Hope that makes sense. Thanks.”

It’s really a great question, Bill. I’ve seen this done several ways, and in my novel “Resurrecting Tobias” I did it extensively. How I handled it was through the use of flashbacks. One word of caution using flashbacks: make sure you, in some way, make it obvious to the reader that they are going on another flashback. This can be done by simply changing the font on a flashback episode, or perhaps putting the year on the chapter title.

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

Dialogue in Final Form

From Brian: “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?”

No, Brian, the dialogue I do on the first draft is pretty much what it will be on the final draft. I might add some dialogue along the way, or change a word of two, but I always start out, in the first draft, with real dialogue. Honestly I don’t think I could do it the way you suggested in your second choice. That seems terribly awkward to me.

TOYING WITH THE READERS

From Eric: “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?”

I love the way you said that, Eric…”on purpose to irritate your readers.” LOL Well, my intention is never to irritate, but I do admit to some deliberate smokescreens from time to time, or red herrings if you prefer.

Most of my books are mystery/thrillers, and I’m pretty sure all mystery writers hit hot buttons to keep their readers guessing and hungry for the next chapter. I’m just following a rich tradition. Yep, that’s what I’m going with, following a rich tradition. Sounds much better than irritating on purpose, doesn’t it?

Beware: anyone I know could appear in my next novel.
Beware: anyone I know could appear in my next novel. | Source

Using Real People in Fiction

From Mel: “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.”

Interesting question, Mel, or maybe it’s an interesting way of wording it.

I don’t know many writers who don’t use real people in their novels, cleverly disguised by a different name. I’ve certainly done it in the past. Listen, fiction writers are the biggest copycats on the planet. We may not steal stories from other writers, but we do steal scenes and characters from our own lives.

So, is it acceptable? You’re damned right it’s acceptable.

On the flip side of that coin, be very careful if you decide to use real people from your life AND use their real names. You are tiptoeing on real thin ice in that case, and opening yourself up for possible slander charges, at worst, and extremely hurt feelings, at best.

TURNING DOWN WORK

From Manatita: “Great start! You wrote so well that it reminded me of you saying that you had turned someone down. Why did you do it? You can answer in your mailbag, if you like.”

It was actually a fairly new customer, Manatita, and he wanted to fly me to Dallas to interview him over several days, and then I would use the interviews to ghostwrite his next book about personal success. I had to tell him no thank you because my life is crazy right now, and I simply could not devote the right amount of time to his book. If I can’t give a project 100% of my attention and efforts I won’t do it.

So, although the money would have been very good, I’ve got farmers markets to attend to this summer, and I don’t have the time to jet off to Dallas. In other words, it’s all about priorities for me, my friend.

While we’re on this topic, a word about ghostwriting books: I don’t enjoy it. I’m not trying to convince anyone of anything here; this is simply my personal opinion. A book ghostwriter needs to have the patience of Job, and an extremely thick skin, and when he/she is all done writing that book, they must have the humility to let it go, knowing their name will never be on that book. It is not an easy gig, and in my opinion it often does not pay what it is worth.

So give that some thought before taking on a book ghostwriting gig.

May self-publishing continue to flourish!
May self-publishing continue to flourish! | Source

Where Is Book Publishing Going?

From Mary: “Hi Bill, I've got a question for the mailbag. With the popularity of self-publishing, where do you see the book market going? Here are a few scenarios I see but I would love your take on it. I often wonder if it will implode with readers being offered so many free books in exchange for a review that readers won't want to pay. Or will people have to pay for server space if they wish to keep their book available for sale? At what point do you think wannabes will throw in the towel or do you think there is a continuous supply of up and coming wannabes? Or do you think that the book buying public, will get discouraged and return to books from known publishers because they feel they are more likely to be reading something of quality?”

Mary, I had my own opinion on this, but I did some research to confirm it. Here’s what I found out.

Publishers Weekly reports that indie authors now account for 31% of e-book sales on Amazon, and the Big Five of book publishers now only account for 16% of total e-book sales in the United States. Latest statistics seem to hint that the e-book revolution has leveled out, but leveled out or not, it is strong and continues to be strong. Indie authors are particularly strong in mysteries, sci-fi, and romance, and series do much better than stand-alone novels.

Giving books away for free seems to be a great marketing ploy if you have a series. Giving the first book in the series away for free leads to much better sales for the rest of the books in the series.

I would be a fool to argue with those statistics. Indie authors are here to stay, I believe, but I also believe only those indie authors who are good will see lasting success. You can put a dress on a pig, but it doesn’t take long for people to realize it is still a pig. I think the wannabe writers out there fall by the wayside once they realize there is no “get rich quick” answer to their problems, but serious writers will hang in there and continue writing.

Bottom line for my opinion: quality still matters!

WE’LL STOP HERE

Life is about to get crazy for me. As I mentioned above, starting next week we have farmers markets on Tuesday and Wednesday, each week until the end of September, and although I love working the markets, they do cut into my writing time in a big way . . . so I’m not upset at all that there are no more questions for this mailbag. I need to get busy on other projects.

Ta-Ta for now! Have a great week, and thanks to those who asked questions.

2017 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

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    • Karen Hellier profile image

      Karen Hellier 3 weeks ago from Georgia

      Another great mailbag, Bill. That trip to Dallas sounds like great fun, but I feel the same way you do about ghostwriting. I signed up for a free online seminar about ghostwriting once and halfway through I realized ghostwriting is not for me. Thanks for sharing all of the wonderful information in the mailbag. Keep up the great work!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      Hey, Karen, thanks for stopping by. You are always appreciated here, my friend.

    • Janine Huldie profile image

      Janine Huldie 3 weeks ago from New York, New York

      Aw, hope your week isn't too crazy, but still so happy to here you have picked up another wiring client. Good for you and definitely well earned as you are an amazing and talented writer. Happy Monday now, my friend!! :)

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      Awww, thanks Janine. Truth be told, I wish I didn't have to do the freelance stuff. I would be perfectly happy writing novels the rest of my days.

      Wishing you a fabulous Monday,my friend.

    • mpropp profile image

      Melissa Propp 3 weeks ago from Minnesota

      Happy Monday and Happy May Day! Your busy schedule always amazes me...So, you turned down a ghost-writing non-fiction book? That made me curious...have you ever been approached to ghost write a fiction book? Maybe it is just me, but I think that would be even harder to "let go", than non-fiction!

      Hope you have a great rest of the week!

    • breakfastpop profile image

      breakfastpop 3 weeks ago

      Good luck with your new writing gig and enjoy the markets.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 3 weeks ago from Queensland Australia

      A wonderful mailbag this week, Bill. Good for you landing a new client too even though it will make life even busier. I can understand why you turned down the ghostwriting gig in Dallas. I seem to be doing more ghostwriting than anything for myself these days, and it can be a drudge. The latest gig I turned down was someone wanting me to do their college poetry assignment for them..that is cheating and I won't come at that.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      Yes it would be, John, and I love that you turned it down. The old teacher in me is pissed off even hearing that someone asked you to do it for them. LOL

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      Thanks Pop! I appreciate it.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      Happy Monday Melissa! As always, thanks for being here. A quick answer to your question no, I've never been approached to do a fiction for someone. I wouldn't do it. Seems senseless to me, kind of like those ghostwriters who do the James Patterson novels for the great man.

      Anyway, wishing you a great week of super weather!

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 3 weeks ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Most wonderful on this May Day and International Workers Day to hear you are overloaded with work. And this brings me to a question that only an expert like you can answer. Are "amateur" writers in general as good as professional writers. What I mean is; does the impetus to write as a full time job make writers better? Your case exempt as you clearly write for passion and the money falls into place. Maybe I am asking if I turned pro, do you think it would make me better at writing? I could do it for that reason, but not for the money as my impetus in that regard is sorely lacking.

      This mail bag was great the way you worked with the wording of questions not just the question.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      Eric, what an interesting question. When I answer next week, you realize you'll just be getting my opinion? I'm not certain there is any way to measure success with those variables, or if anyone ever has....anyway, thanks a bunch. I'll have fun answering that one.

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      Linda Lum 3 weeks ago from Washington State, USA

      Bill, congratulations on landing another writing gig--I am always amazed at the amount (and quality) of work that you produce week after week. I know you've got this!

      And I'm happy that the Farmers' Markets are starting up again. Gives one hope for the future.

      I wish you a great May Day and I pray that everyone remains sane, and sensible, and safe.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      Thanks so much, Linda! As for the sane May Day, I am not hopeful...the crazies seem to come out this time of year, sadly.

    • lifegate profile image

      William Kovacic 3 weeks ago from Pleasant Gap, PA

      Hi, Bill. Thanks for taking my question. It makes perfect sense. Glad to hear of your new gig, and I'm hoping it's not raining for you today. Either way, have a good one!

    • MartieCoetser profile image

      Martie Coetser 3 weeks ago from South Africa

      Another very useful installment of the Writers Mailbag series. Thanks for the warning against ghostwriting and the tips about book publishing.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      My pleasure, Martie, and thanks for always being here.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      You are very welcome, Bill! It was a good question, one I've wrestled with in the past, so thank you! Raining it is, but it's a good day, and I'm wishing you the same.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image

      Denise McGill 3 weeks ago from Fresno CA

      I totally understand your thinking on the Dallas gig. When we freelancers build a life and a work schedule it's pretty tough to be asked to ditch it all for one job. It's a case of weighing the pros and the cons and whether it is worth it in the long run. I was asked to fly to Pennsylvania to give a lecture on teaching art to senior citizens and had to really think whether it would be worth the effort and disruption of my schedule. Thanks for another great mailbag. Enjoy your farmer's market. I hope your coloring book really sells big!

      Blessings,

      Denise

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      Mary Wickison 3 weeks ago from Brazil

      Hi Bill,

      Thanks for tackling my question, it's good to know that the market is still strong.

      I also like how you would handle a flashback moment.

      Congratulations on your new writing assignment.

      Have a wonderful week.

    • heidithorne profile image

      Heidi Thorne 3 weeks ago from Chicago Area

      Happy Monday! It was sunny here for a bit, but it was looking like Seattle in Chicago for the entire weekend. Yikes!

      Re: Ghostwriting. I'd prefer to be the ghost "editor" than a ghost "writer." I think those folks deserve whatever they get paid!

      Re: Where We're Going. Yes, the democratization of the publishing world is definitely here to stay.

      Have to run. Busy here, too. Have a great week!

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      MizBejabbers 3 weeks ago

      Bill, my friend, congratulations on getting a new client. I certainly admire your perseverance. Ghostwriting I can handle (I'm on my second one), but my gut tells me not to venture back into ad writing although I was pretty good at it. (No more fabulous, figure-flatering, flexknit girdles for me! Tells my age because women don't wear girdles anymore.) I wouldn't want to ghostwrite a 1st person bio or memoir though, so I understand why you turned down the Dallas gig.

      Enjoy your pretty weather and your farmers markets. We are just coming out of a 4 inch overnight deluge Saturday night here. One of the streets to my house is covered in stones that washed up out of a ditch, and a number of our hillsides suffered landslides. My area is lucky though because the northern part of the state got a foot, and there were fatalities.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      MizB, I've been watching about your weather on the news...horrible stuff. We had a lucky streak this winter because although the rain never seemed to stop, and trees were falling right and left, we escaped unscathed, and for that I am thankful.

      And I am thankful for you, my friend.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      Thanks for finding the time to comment, Heidi. You are appreciated!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Mary and you are very welcome. It was a great question.

      And I wish, for you, a fabulous week in lovely Brazil!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Denise. It was nice to read your take on turning down gigs like that Dallas thing. I'm glad I turned it down. I was exhausted just thinking about accepting that offer. LOL

      Blessings always, my friend.

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      Ann Carr 3 weeks ago from SW England

      So many good questions, bill! They just keep on coming, don't they? Good luck with the farmers' markets; it sounds like such a good thing to do.

      Today is a bank holiday in England and we have spent the day with friends. Tomorrow is my birthday so we'll see more friends and I have a stack of cards to open in the morning. I'm a big kid when it comes to birthdays; some of my friends like to forget about them but I love an excuse to celebrate my life and all the great things I have around me.

      Mondays are made for merriment. Birthdays are brilliant!

      Ann :)

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Fuller 3 weeks ago from Southern Illinois

      Bill, it's difficult for me to think of a Farmer's Market here, it's still cool and the rain and tornados keep coming. I'm happy for you that you got a good paying gig. Stay well and happy.....

    • bdegiulio profile image

      Bill De Giulio 3 weeks ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Bill. Great week for the mailbag. Busy is good, at last compared to the alternative. Have a great week.

    • rebelogilbert profile image

      Gilbert Arevalo 3 weeks ago from Hacienda Heights, California

      Dear Bill, this is a very helpful hub. I like paraphrasing to avoid repeating scenes. I know all writers handle dialogue differently.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 3 weeks ago from USA

      You made the right choice on the ghostwriting gig. If someone cannot persuasively tell their own story in a self-help personal success book maybe they shouldn't seek to write a book. It's artistic and intellectual cheating. Just saying.

    • mckbirdbks profile image

      mckbirdbks 3 weeks ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      Hi Bill - You sure covered a lot of territory here in this mailbag. Enjoy the farmer's market. That surely is a great way to talk to people and gather new stories.

    • Venkatachari M profile image

      Venkatachari M 3 weeks ago from Hyderabad, India

      An interesting mailbag as always with great answers to good questions. I am much attracted at your answer to the Flashbacks question. It will be of much use for me if I ever try to write the book. I had to turn down many offers as they wanted daily submissions which I can't do. So, nobody is approaching me now since long.

      Thanks for the great advice and tips in your mailbags. Waiting for the next week.

    • Buildreps profile image

      Buildreps 3 weeks ago from Europe

      Thanks for spending your precious time with us, busy Bill! It was a great mailbag again this week, very interesting Q&As. Wish you a tranquil week!

    • Suzie HQ profile image

      Suzanne Ridgeway 3 weeks ago from Dublin, Ireland

      Another excellent bag of questions and answers Bill. Congrats on picking up a new client, you are such a busy bee fingers in many pies, love how you juggle all the variety! Have a fab week my friend best of luck with the markets this week xxx

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Isaac Weithers 3 weeks ago from The Caribbean

      Great questions and answers this week. Your advice on flashbacks is very pertinent. I find myself having to reread when the author does not make it clear upfront. Perhaps we have to expect it, even in the movies. Congratulations on your new customer!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      Thanks so much, Dora! Yes, flashbacks can be tricky, as I found out firsthand.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Irish! Hopefully I'll continue to juggle this week, my busiest yet. Sending hugs across the Pond!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      Buildreps, I would be very happy with a tranquil week. Thank you my friend and the same wish for you.

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      Bill Holland 3 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      It is very hard, Venkatachari M, when they demand daily updates. There is not enough time in the day for writing and updates.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      It really is, Mike. It's one of the few chances I have to stay in touch with real life people. :) thank you

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      I tend to agree with you, Flourish! The whole idea of ghostwriting someone else's personal story just doesn't sit right with me.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      Busy better be good, Bill, because I don't have any other options to choose from. LOL Have a super week and thank you!

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      Bill Holland 3 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      Oddly, Ruby, we are going to have our nicest day of the year tomorrow when Bev's market begins. Great break for her and all of us.

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      Bill Holland 3 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      They do for sure, rebelogilbert, and my advise to them all is do what works for you! In the final analysis we are in control of our work, and we are the ones who have to be happy with it. Thanks for the visit and your thoughts.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      Well Ann, my dear friend, Happy Birthday! May the next forty years be as good as the first forty. :)

      Seriously, I am grateful for your friendship, and I know you realize that I mean that sincerely.

      Have a beautiful birthday bountiful in bags of goodies.

      bill

    • B. Leekley profile image

      Brian Leekley 3 weeks ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

      An autobiographical novel will likely have characters based directly on real-life persons. ON THE ROAD by Kerouac is an example. But most fictional characters are based on aspects of several different real-life persons plus some imaginary traits. In one of my stories in progress, a main character has the hair style of Michael Corleone (a character in the film THE GODFATHER), the body and face of a family friend, and a totally made up life history and personality. The settings are based on a long closed restaurant and the house of a slight acquaintance that long ago and far away I visited once, plus my imagination. The term for the process is "grist for the mill"—the grinding of the story line turns memories and imaginings into characters and settings.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 3 weeks ago from SW England

      Thank you, bill, for the best wishes, the morale boost and for your friendship too!

      Just about to go out for a lovely meal with my fella and one of our good friends. Hope your Tuesday's as terrific as mine.

      Ann :)

    • manatita44 profile image

      manatita44 3 weeks ago from london

      Great stuff and thank you so much!! Interesting questions and answers. I guess you have Eric thinking ...

      I saw an excellent poet last night. The piece of paper pulled out of the hat, simply said 'unknown', so the MC hoped that he/she was present. He was present, all right, and totally awesome. So there's hope for some unknown writers yet. Lol.

    • Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

      Gypsy Rose Lee 3 weeks ago from Riga, Latvia

      Your answers always bring encouragement to me on lots of different things. You know I am still afraid of self-publishing because in one way I picture myself starting and then winding up making a mess of everything. So for me the chicken hearted let's run through this just on more time and I will take your answer and paste it to my wall in front of my PC and this summer at some point I will finally do my book of poems say in time for Christmas presents. Here we go

      What two sites are best for unsure self-publishers like me? Is it possible to add photos to my poems or will the site tell me this? How do I keep my hand from trembling when I am done and what happens next? How do I let everyone know I have done this and where can they take a look at my creation?

      You see I have so many more questions and practically no real answers.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      Off to the market I go, Ann! Have a wonderfully whoopdedoo Wednesday!

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      Ann Carr 3 weeks ago from SW England

      Thanks, bill! It's been good.

      Ann :)

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      Bill Holland 2 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      I'm happy to hear it, Ann. :)

      bill

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      Bill Holland 2 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      I love that, Brian...grist for the mill...perfect term for what you described. Your comments are always so interesting and I thank you for them.

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      Bill Holland 2 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      No problem, Rasma, I have answers, and I'll share them on Monday in the next Mailbag. In the meantime, stiff-upper lip, my friend. One way or another we're going to get that book of yours written.

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      MizBejabbers 2 weeks ago

      Bill, you know what a "bah, humbug!" I am when it comes to writing contests, however, I just got an email for one that I would like to pass along. The Long Ridge Writers Group is sponsoring a contest for short fiction for children ages 6-8, 750 words max. What makes this different is that after the winners are declared, the group is offering a free webinar to participants to critique their writing. Now that is the way a contest should be conducted. You are the best route I know of to pass this along to other writers. I just hope this isn't deleted as a commercial post. Regardless, feel free to include this in your next writers mailbag (if you choose, no pressure from me, my friend).

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      Bill Holland 2 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      I've included it in the Mailbag, MizB. Thanks for sharing, my friend,and Happy Weekend to you!

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      Bill Holland 2 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      There is always hope, Manatita! I do believe that....our job is to simply improve our craft. What happens after that is for the gods to say. :)

    • Glenis Rix profile image

      Glenis Rix 2 weeks ago from UK

      I've never heard the phrase 'You can put a dress on a pig...' before. I'm still giggling about it. Love farmers markets. We sometimes host French ones here in Newark Market Place - but I'm guessing that will end when we Brexit.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Glenis! It was an old saying of my father....I'm sure it was passed down by his father, origin unknown. :) It is interesting watching your political scene from afar, but then I'm sure the U.S. is providing much entertainment as well. :)

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      Linda Crampton 2 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Congratulations on the new freelance customer, Bill. Thanks for sharing some more great questions and answers.

    • jo miller profile image

      jo miller 2 weeks ago from Tennessee

      Congratulations on the new job and another great mailbag.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you very much, Jo!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      It is my pleasure, Linda, and I thank you for your loyal friendship.

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