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The Writer's Mailbag: Installment 290

Updated on January 6, 2020

Happy New Year

2020 . . . hard to believe for me, honestly . . . I was thinking, on New Year’s Day, that I have been breathing in nine different decades. That just blows me away, quite frankly. My mind is still sharp. Physically I’m in damned good shape, thank you very much. I still do what I want to do without making any adjustments due to age. I can still write with a clear mind. I still feel young . . . but nine different decades? HOLY COW!!!!

Party lines and cars with engines you had to crank . . .those things existed when I was a kid. The science fiction we read about in comics back then is everyday stuff in today’s world.

Anyway, that was all a lead-in to wish you a brilliantly successful and Happy 2020? Tell me, what are your goals for 2020? What is the one thing you would most like to accomplish in this New Year?

While you ponder that question, I’ll ponder some Mailbag questions. I’ll meet you at the end.

The Mail Room
The Mail Room

Footnotes and Fiction

From William: “Just wondering, Bill. Is it ever proper to include footnotes to document your research for a fiction novel?”

Is it ever proper, William?

A surprising number of people believe that footnotes can only be used in nonfiction. This is not correct! Anyone who has read J.R.R. Tolkien is quite familiar with Tolkien’s use of footnotes to add an academic air to his story. David Foster Wallace, in his book “Infinite Jest,” uses footnotes to add information about the characters.

I will say this about footnotes in fiction: it is certainly all right to do so, but you should have a creative reason for doing so. A creative use of footnotes adds to the story; just using them to use them bogs a story down.

Writing Coach

From Brenda: “I saw on your blog, or on Facebook, I don’t remember, but you were offering your services as a writing coach for $50 per month. Don’t misunderstand me here, I think that’s a remarkable service/value, but my question is this: does every writer need a writing coach? Is there value in hiring one for any writer?”

Brenda, here’s my one-word answer to your question: NO!

Now please allow me to expand on that a bit.

My friend Heidi Thorne, a writer on HP and a marketing guru, thinks I’m crazier than a loon for offering coaching services for so little money. She’s probably right. LOL It’s not the first time I’ve been called nutso. But here’s the thing: I’m a teacher by nature. .I spent twenty years in the classroom because I love teaching and helping people. I used to tutor for spare cash back when I was a teacher, and I tutored for $20 per hour, which was a ridiculously low price back then. I had peer teachers who also tutored who were mad at me for doing it for such a low price. I understand where they were coming from, and I understand my friend Heidi.

But I’ll stick with covering expenses and helping people, thank you very much.

Now, do all writers need a coach? Of course not! If you are just writing to fulfill a need, or because you just enjoy writing, you probably don’t need a coach. If you really don’t care much if you grow in your skill, you don’t need a coach.

But, if you write to make money, or you have a goal for the future to make money, or you have a desire to be the best writer you possibly can be, then it is my opinion that a coach can help you.

End of speech!

Your friendly writing coach
Your friendly writing coach


From Frederick: “I know you do work as a freelancer for companies, and I know you know a thing or two about Search Engine Optimization. Can you give me one tip which will help my articles to gather more views online? Just one; I know there are many things which help with Google. I’m just looking for one.”

Well Frederick, kudos to you for not being greedy. LOL

You are correct, of course. There are many things which can help you with SEO. You asked for one, so here it is: if you are doing nonfiction, add a list. Google loves lists and bullet points. Don’t ask me why because I don’t know the tech reason for it, but you can boost your Google value by including a list or bullet points.

And how about I give you a bonus? HP is absolutely correct in offering all the different capsule options in their article formats. Google loves variation. Google loves photos and videos and podcasts and polls and on and on and on. They love good subheadings. They love articles to be of a certain length. They like four or five relevant links per 500 words. They are placing more and more emphasis on quality writing.

Back in the good old days, it was relatively easy to play the SEO game and get Google’s attention. Back then, you just stuffed an article with links and Google loved you for it. Today it’s not so easy.

Good luck!

Excerpt From “Shadows Across the Pond

I promise, my memoir will be available this month. In the meantime, how about an excerpt from the new Shadow novel I’m working on, “Shadows Across the Pond?”

Striker finished packing his duffel a full eight hours early. No reason to wait. You have a job to do, you do it, no hesitation, and move on to the next. The Army could be a pain in the ass for many, but for Striker it had been his salvation, teaching him direction and discipline, smoothing his jagged edges, giving him a means to curb his anger, channel his temper, and providing purpose for a teen desperately in need of it.

He had originally enlisted to get away from his old man. It was either that or kill the sonofabitch. It turned out the Army was exactly what had been missing in his life. He found purpose in the service to his country. He loved the physical demands in basic training. He embraced the rigid standards, and he even found value in the brotherhood, a large, extended family he could call his own, a family he could actually trust, and a family which rewarded him when he excelled.

And excel he did! He was simply faster and more athletic than anyone in his class of enlistees. If he had failings he worked harder than anyone else to correct those deficiencies. Weapons became an extension of his body. Stealth was his friend. He was praised for his problem-solving skills, which usually followed the principle that the shortest distance between two points was a straight line, and heaven forbid anyone who got in the way of that straight line.

Exactly one year to the day after he enlisted, the NSA came calling. They were followed by the CIA and then Homeland Security. His specialty, elimination, was in high demand in the shadow world of global terrorism, and during two decades of serving his country, he had only come close once to having his ticket punched, an ambush in the desert, no way he avoided that mess if it hadn’t been for one Sergeant Eli Baker.

So he owed Baker, a debt which would never be paid in full, and that’s just the way it was. Besides, within the Brotherhood, one-point-three million strong, Baker was as close to an actual brother as Striker would ever have, and brothers always protected brothers. If Baker needed him in London . . .

Shadows Across the Pond
Shadows Across the Pond

A Short One Today

Well, what did you come up with for a goal? I hope you’ll share in the comment section. I’d love to hear about your plans.

If you want to get in touch with me, with a question for the Mailbag, or for coaching, you can email me at, or leave a question in the comment section below. I promise to respond ASAP.

Have a brilliantly lovely week in January, 2020, and Happy New Year to you all.

2020 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”


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