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The Writer's Mailbag: Installment 265

Updated on July 15, 2019

The Death of a Student

I just found out a student I had back in 1990 just died. She was a mother of two, came down with spinal meningitis in June, and just died. She was a feisty one, that’s for damned sure, always questioning me and demanding this, demanding that, and like most of my students, she made me a better teacher.

Her mother and I became good friends over the years, and I grieve for the family this Friday.

You simply never know when this ride will end.

Make the most of it.

Of course this took me back to the death of my father when I was twenty. It was all so sudden, so invasive, and so totally impossible to grasp. Here one moment, gone the next, and all that remains are the bittersweet memories of better days.

I think we should tackle the Mailbag. It’s time to move on, as the survivors always do.

The Mail Room!
The Mail Room!


From Brian: “Bill, your customers expect you, as a freelance writer, to meet their deadlines. When you work on your own writing projects, do you self-impose deadlines? So many words per day in so many hours? Publish by Christmas? So many minutes maximum per mailbag reply and per comment response? How do you incentivize compliance?”

The quick answer to your question is NO, Brian, I do not impose deadlines on my own works. I have far too many things going on; it would be unfair to myself to expect a book published by Christmas, or an article published in eight hours.

And no, nothing on the Mailbag replies. I demand that I respond to all comments, but it’s taking me longer and longer to do that. Many years ago, when I first started on HP, I promised myself I would find the time to respond to every comment I receive . . . and I think I’ve kept that promise. I may have accidentally missed a few along the way, but I’m fairly confident I have responded to 99.9% of them.

Incentivize compliance? No! My incentive is doing a job well. That’s all I need to keep me going.

Thanks so much for the questions!

For Sara....Happy Sunset!
For Sara....Happy Sunset!

More on Traditional Publishing

From Verlie: “I hope traditional publishing is not extinct, maybe there will be a revival? There's got to be some small press activity out there somewhere? In Canada there is still some of that going on. If a poet is serious about publishing in Canada, they can join the League of Canadian Poets, which supports, and provides resources, contests, and publishing opportunities for its members. I always wonder if online published work, like what we do here on Hub Pages is considered 'published'. Because for a lot of contests, they want only work that has not been previously published. It's confusing. I feel like I need to hire a 'poetry lawyer' to advise on what qualifies as ' previously published'. Any thoughts from you, or your readers on that?”

This is a fascinating question, Verlie. I was pretty certain of the answer, but still I did some research to confirm my suspicions.

Back in the old days, prior to the internet, this question was black and white. If your work appeared in print, it was considered previously published, and publishers of all types would not touch it. The internet certainly muddied the waters, but still, black and white seem to still be black and white.

If your writing has appeared in a blog, on a social media site, on a content site like HP, just about anywhere other than a private forum, it is considered published. Period! Now, there are two gray areas in this discussion.

What if you publish something, but then “unpublish” it, so you can present it to a publisher? Technically, in that situation, it is not published, even though it was at one time. The courts have leaned towards still calling that work “published” even though it is no longer published.

The other area in question is that of excerpts. If you share an excerpt of your story or book online, does that qualify as published? No, not according to existing publication laws.

I hope I clarified things for you and didn’t manage to further muddy the waters. You mentioned Canada, and I cannot swear that the same is true in Canada, but I suspect it is.

Keep writing keep publishing, and pray!
Keep writing keep publishing, and pray!

Where Does It Come From?

From Vidra: “You recently shared a piece of random writing on your blog, “Artistry with Words.” It was about some character with a fascinating pedigree. The characterization was amazing and I’m just curious where these characters come from? Have you personally experienced, or known, people like them?”

First, Vidra, thank you for the kind words; I don’t know a writer who hates praise, so I truly do appreciate it. As for the character in question no, I do not know anyone like that, nor have I ever known anyone like that. He was purely a figment of my imagination. I’ve met some interesting people on the streets, people “in the game,” and people who have led violent lives, but no one who was quite as colorful as that character.

I am drawn to that sort of duplicity. I believe there is darkness and light in almost all human beings, if not all. I like to explore that duplicity by creating characters with some serious depth. I love to write about the inner struggle we all deal with. I happen to think it is one of the more fascinating things about being human, the fact that we all don’t just give up and go over to the Dark Side.

Anyway, thank you! Hopefully you will never meet someone like my “man with no name.”

And Still More on Publishing

From Victoria: “I’ve been following your recent discussions about traditional publishing with some interest. I just finished my first manuscript, and now I don’t know what to do with it. Is there any chance I can find a traditional publisher to take my novel, or a professional agent to take it? Of should I just give up and self-publish on Kindle?”

Is there any chance, Victoria? Sure there is! There is also a chance I’ll one day be elected President of the United States but, if I were you, I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for either of those two things to happen.

Listen, you can still get picked up by a traditional publisher after you self-publish. It happens every year, and that is my suggestion to you: self-publish, start a marketing campaign, a social media blitz, whatever, and make your book go viral. Once it goes viral you will have publishers calling you.

I made that sound easy, but it’s not. Having a book go viral, or having your self-published book top Amazon’s best-seller list, those things are like catching lightning in a bottle . . . incredibly difficult to do, but absolutely impossible to do if you don’t first find a bottle.

Time to Run

Always time to run, until it isn’t, and then it will be a time of permanent rest.

Rest in peace, Sara! You fought the good fight, you left a loving legacy in your two sons, and the world is better for having known you.

2019 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”


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    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thanks for taking the time to read the mail, Meg! As for the virus, stay safe and blessings to you always.

    • DreamerMeg profile image


      2 months ago from Northern Ireland

      I didn't always read the writers' mailbag so decided to go back to an old one and see what I could gain from it. Amazing, to read something written before Covid-19 was even named, yet here at the start of the mailbag a (presumably) fairly young person dying unexpectedly from a virus, leaving a grieving family as many more are at the moment. As you say, "enjoy the ride, we never know when it will end."

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      11 months ago from Olympia, WA

      No, it isn't, Sha, but thank you! She was in one of my first classes in Olympia...seems strange to think a student of mine has died.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 

      11 months ago from Central Florida

      I'm sorry to hear about your student, Bill. It's never easy, is it?

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      11 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Genna! I think trying to find a traditional publisher is a young man's game. i just don't have the energy or desire to navigate those waters. :)

    • Genna East profile image

      Genna East 

      11 months ago from Massachusetts, USA

      I'm so sorry to hear of the death of your former condolences to you and to her family.

      Thanks for the pointers on publishing. Traditional publishing is an incredibly odds-are-against- it, tough gambit to navigate, and even harder to succeed.

      Hope you are enjoying your Sunday.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      11 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Ann!


    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 

      11 months ago from SW England

      Thanks, bill. I've finally written something today - absolutely nothing to do with stuff I planned, just an off-the-cuff reaction to another's hub!

      Hope you have a wizard weekend too, bill!


    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      11 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Aww, thanks Dora! I'm just doing what you would do too, helping those who ask for assistance.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      11 months ago from Olympia, WA

      It is sad, Ruby, for all who survive a young death in the family. It is against the natural order of things, you know? Of course you do!

      Thank you for always supporting me.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      11 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Yes Ann, that might be a place to begin! lol But what the heck, my friend, you are retired and answer to no one other than yourself. Kick back and enjoy the freedom from deadlines.

      Happy Weekend, Ann!


    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      11 months ago from The Caribbean

      Sincerely sorrowful about Sara's death. Praying strength and peace for you and for her family during this difficult time. You continue to touch and mold lives through your dedication to this valuable mailbag. What a treasure you are!

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Richert 

      11 months ago from Southern Illinois

      Bill, when someone young dies it feels like a double whammy. Of course I am thinking of my son Jackie and my sister's son Tommy. Life is so very unpredictable. Enjoy each day. Your information is useful, no matter the subject. Thank you for caring enough about we writers to lend a helping hand...

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 

      11 months ago from SW England

      How hard to hear about the sudden death of a student. You remember them young and vibrant and pushing the boundaries, then the light is flicked off. So sad.

      Deadlines? What deadlines? I'm sitting here with a list in my head and nothing in paper. Maybe I should at least set the starting line!

      Great stuff as always, bill!


    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      11 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Peg! That is encouraging. I guess it, in theory, could happen to any of us writers. It's a nice dream to hold onto.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      11 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I believe you are correct, Brian. We have to know when to quit or we will accomplish nothing.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      11 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts on deadlines,Bill. I appreciate you always being here. Happy summer!

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      11 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Always move forward, Nithya! it's the only direction which allows for growth.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      11 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you for the words of inspiration, Chitrangada are so correct!

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      11 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Forever, Audrey,and I like the sound of that. Thank you my friend. Looking forward to many more years of friendship between us.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      11 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Linda! I appreciate it very much.

    • PegCole17 profile image

      Peg Cole 

      11 months ago from Northeast of Dallas, Texas

      So sorry for your loss, Bill. It always serves to make us mindful of our short time here, especially when we lose someone younger than ourselves. This month marks the second year since my best friend died suddenly. Never saw that coming.

      Ahem, btw, about self publishing, I just read a post where a self-published author sold over 5,000 of his books in one day! Wow, that's encouraging.

      And the response to Verlie's question was quite informative. Thank you.

    • B. Leekley profile image

      Brian Leekley 

      11 months ago from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA

      Thanks, Bill, for your answer to my question if you set self-deadlines. (You don't.) I suspect that one reason that you accomplish so much writing per day—original, on assignment, comments, whatever—is that you have a strong sense of when "that's enough said".

    • bdegiulio profile image

      Bill De Giulio 

      11 months ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Bill. Sorry to hear about your former student, Sara. I really enjoyed this weeks mailbag. Some great questions and answers about publishing. I always try to set a deadline when I'm writing an article. If not it will tend to linger on indefinitely. Have a great week.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      11 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Zulma! She lived a good life and touched many.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      11 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Marlene, you are so kind to say that. Thank you! If I have helped you then I am grateful and satisfied. Good people should get a hand-up from time to time. Friendship should be about giving. I am proud to call you my friend. Let's raise a toast to many more years of friendship.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      11 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I appreciate that, Pamela.Thank you so much.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      11 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Alyssa, I hope one day you use this information about publishing. I think you have something useful to say, my friend. A good marketing campaign, complete with videos and vlogs, and you could be a media darling. :)

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      11 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you for that question, Verlie, and for your sympathies. Have a brilliant week, my friend.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      11 months ago from Olympia, WA

      MizB, I guarantee you that I'm not that lucky. I do not foresee anything of mine becoming a cult classic. It's all just out there for the random stranger, and devoted friends,to enjoy.

      Thank you always! A very mild summer here. We haven't even sniffed 90 yet after having the hottest summer on record last year.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      11 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thanks so much, Lori!

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      11 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Liz! I'll answer your question about deadlines on Monday. As for characters I completely agree..that is the formula I use for my characters, and it seems to work.

      Have a brilliant week, my friend.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      11 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Venkatachari M. You and I share a similar outlook and philosophy regarding death...a cycle it is, nothing more, nothing less,and it happens to us all.

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 

      11 months ago from Dubai

      Sorry to hear about the death of your student. Survivors have to move on though it is quite difficult.

    • phoenix2327 profile image

      Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 

      11 months ago from United Kingdom

      I'm so sorry to hear about your student, Bill. I hope she lived well and will rest in peace.

    • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

      Chitrangada Sharan 

      11 months ago from New Delhi, India

      So sorry to hear about your student. May she rest in peace.

      So many people touch our lives, in so many ways, and have an impact on us, as a person. Once they depart, there is always a void, which can’t be filled.

      But, we keep moving on, because that’s the only option, we have.

      Take care and keep inspiring. Thanks for sharing this installment.

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 

      11 months ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      I'm sorry to hear about the loss of your student, my friend. If a hug will help, I'm sending you a big one.

      This mailbag was really interesting. Great questions with your usual superb answers. You take care now and remember how much you are treasured and loved.

      Forever your friend,


    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      11 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      It's always sad when someone that we know dies, especially when that person was younger than us. I'm sorry about the bad news, Bill.

    • MarleneB profile image

      Marlene Bertrand 

      11 months ago from USA

      I am really sad to hear about the loss of your student. It always hurts more when it is sudden like that. Life does go on, and thank goodness so do the wonderful memories.

      Today's mailbag makes me quite grateful for self-publishing opportunities. I use to waste hours upon hours sending out letters. With magazine articles, I was a little lucky, but with books, not so much.

      My mindset has changed over the years. Now, I no longer seek to be published by a big publishing house because I am satisfied with the few books I have sold over the internet and the small earnings I receive from online writing. I like that I can spend time writing or spend time in the garden - my choice. I think if I had a publisher breathing down my neck, writing might not be as rewarding.

      Bill, I would be nowhere if it were not for you. Over the years, from elevating my confidence to elevating my writing talent, you have helped me in many ways. This mailbag is a gift to all writers.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      11 months ago from Sunny Florida

      I am sorry to hear about Sara. We never know when our time is up. I believe in living each day to its fullest.

      I do think publishing anything is challenging. Times ave changed completely, and we have to adapt to those changes. Very good article Bill, as always.

    • Alyssa Nichol profile image


      11 months ago from Ohio

      Good evening, Bill. A wonderful mailbag, as always. I appreciate your advice in the mysterious world of publishing. I'm putting all of that good information in my back pocket for future use. I'm sorry to hear one of your former students passed. It's never easy to say goodbye to people we care about, especially when it's unexpected.

    • snakeslane profile image

      Verlie Burroughs 

      11 months ago from Canada

      Thanks Bill, and all who weighed in on my question. I am saddened by the news of your loss, it is such a shock when someone dies so young.

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      Doris James MizBejabbers 

      11 months ago from Beautiful South

      Bill, I'm sorry to hear of the passing of one of your star pupils. It is never easy to face the death of a person whom you admire.

      Short mailbag today, more on publishing than writing. That brings up a problem, to really push one's work or to self-publish and let it be. Sometimes a work gets published that becomes a cult classic despite all its handicaps. If we were all that lucky....

      We are getting a lot of rain from the lingering effects of Barry. I for one welcome it because it was getting dry, but not all of my neighbors agree with me. Have a good rest of the week, my friend.

    • lambservant profile image

      Lori Colbo 

      11 months ago from Pacific Northwest

      How sad about your student. So sorry.

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      11 months ago from UK

      Sorry to hear of the sudden passing of Sarah. Sudden unexpected loss, when people are taken before their time seems harder to deal with. There is a lot of sadness in the world.

      You made a good link into your mailbag from such a sad piece of news and then rounded it off appropriately at the end as well.

      As always I was interested in the answers you gave. If you don't set deadlines, do you set yourself a target of how much time to spend writing each day?

      Your commemts on publishing were fascinating. I for one and several of my friends still prefer a paper copy to a kindle version, but maybe we are a dying breed.

      I think characters are built upon extracts of people we meet, combined with our character perceptions and a good dose of imagination.

      I hope you have a good week, Bill and I look forward to reading your next mailbag.

    • Venkatachari M profile image

      Venkatachari M 

      11 months ago from Hyderabad, India

      Sorry, Bill, for that loss of one of your best students. I can understand your feelings as well as those of her two sons and family.

      I had lost my mother in my early teens and father while I was graduating. And, my wife in 2012. So, it is the way of life and the worldly life is like that only. A cycle of births and deaths.

      The information provided by you regarding publishing is very informative and useful.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      11 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Melissa! There is something about losing a parent at such a young age....devastating for sure, and it takes a long time to recover. Thanks for sharing that...have a brilliant week!

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      11 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I hope so, Linda. Thank you! I know she had a positive impact on my career as a teacher for sure.

    • mpropp profile image

      Melissa Propp 

      11 months ago from Minnesota

      Happy Monday Bill! I can totally relate to your loss..I lost my father when I was only 24 and I still can't believe he is gone. You truly never know how long you or any of your loved ones will be around so we need to live life to the fullest, love wholeheartedly, laugh and enjoy the adventure!

      Hope you have a productive week!

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      11 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Mary! I like characters to have dimensions, the good and the bad, which I think is much more realistic and believable.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      11 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Shaloo...yes, you would understand.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      11 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I"m with you, Peggy! It certainly is an eye-opener when it happens so suddenly, without warning.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      11 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Heidi, you and me, my friend. This obsession some have with traditional's a dead-end journey,one I wish I could discourage.

      Hopefully they will listen to your words of frank wisdom.

      A great week I shall have; you do the same!

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      11 months ago from Olympia, WA

      We all know that, Pop, and then promptly forge it, don't' we? But thank you...let's just make the most of today, my friend.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      11 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Still, Flourish, yours was chosen, so it must have been of sufficient high quality. :)

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      11 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thanks, John, and I will do exactly that and wish the same for you.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      11 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Love you too, Eric! Big changes for us in our backyard, and that means work for me, but it's work I love. The front yard is one large berry buffet. Just pick a path and eat your way through it...heaven on earth!

    • Carb Diva profile image

      Linda Lum 

      11 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Bill, I too am sorry for your loss. We just muddle through the days without a thought about our mortality, and then life knocks us over with a bomb blast. Knowing the person that you are, I am convinced that you had a positive impact on her life and contributed to the wonderful person she was.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 

      11 months ago from Ontario, Canada

      Hi Bill. Sorry about your former student. I really liked your comment on a character. I love to read books where the author shows well the light and dark in everyperson as we do have in real life. This is especially true in the novel's hero. We love them to be perfect which is far from real.

    • swalia profile image

      Shaloo Walia 

      12 months ago from India

      Sorry to hear about your loss. Being a former teacher, I can understand how close teachers are to their students. May her soul rest in peace!

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      12 months ago from Houston, Texas

      May your former student Sara rest in peace and may her family and friends find some peace and happiness in the days that lie ahead of them. We never know when our last day will arrive. Some have some warning signals, and others do not. Best to live each day as if it is our last.

    • heidithorne profile image

      Heidi Thorne 

      12 months ago from Chicago Area

      Sorry to hear about your student's passing. That's always sobering when someone you know that's much younger than you leaves this plane of existence.

      Re: Traditional Publishing. I literally just got through commenting on a Facebook post from a first-time author hopeful of getting a book deal with a well-known publisher. As you note, the chances are close to zero. Why, oh why, does this fascination with traditional publishing still exist? I cannot get on my soapbox this morning.

      As for previously published, this is an issue that must be discussed with an intellectual property attorney. Yes, the Internet has made that status very muddy.

      And then my other question is why you would want a traditional publisher to pick it up. Because it's not doing well so far and you think the traditional publisher can make it a star? Again, I'll save the soapboxing for another day.

      Re: Deadlines. Nope, don't do deadlines for my own work. When it's done, it's done.

      Have a great week!

    • breakfastpop profile image


      12 months ago

      I am very sorry to hear of your loss. We really do need to treasure every moment, don't we?

    • FlourishAnyway profile image


      12 months ago from USA

      I liked the variety of questions today and was intrigued by those Canadian poets. I once considered myself a poet but then I decided against it. I was the Class Poet for my graduating high school class. I read a poem at graduation and everything. I can’t imagine the competition was very intense though if you know what I mean.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 

      12 months ago from Queensland Australia

      Bill, sorry to hear about the passing of your former student. I am sure you had an impact on her life as she did with yours. Interesting mailbag. No, we never know when our time will be up so need to make the most of the time we have. Have a good week.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

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

      You are a beacon my friend. I have not considered all things with wings but I expect to find you are the wind beneath many who soar.

      I hear of deaths on my children of years with coaching and instructing and teaching. I just give up a day. As everything seems so irrelevant.

      Very interesting about published and not published I assume we should be careful.

      It is a strange and not logical world in some cases, and the law and publishing seem to lead that way.

      More soil turning for summer veggies. I am adjusting schedules to work in the cool and rest in the heat.

      Love ya bro.


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