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The Writer's Mailbag: Installment 295

Updated on February 10, 2020

The Inspirations Just Keep Pouring In

Up north about fifty miles, in an area of our state quite prone to flooding, where the rains meet the snowpack, and the melting snow meets the creeks, streams, and rivers, there are towns under water. A picture on the local news a couple days ago showed town people getting around by kayak and rowboats. Strange site, that; not particularly funny for those people, but fodder for any writer for sure.

I write fiction but I swear, no matter what creative story I come up with, it is pretty much overshadowed by real things I’ve seen during my lifetime. If you stick around for seventy-one years, like I have, there is no shortage of inspiration.

Still my favorite sight . . .when I was about ten my dad took me to a minor league baseball game. We bought our tickets and walked into the stadium, and in the main aisle there was a man walking a potbelly pig on a leash . . . and the pig had a pink dress on. It was so strange, so out of character with the whole scene, that it has stayed in my memory banks for sixty years now. My dad and I laughed for years over that encounter.

Keep your eyes open. It will happen to you as well.

It’s time for the mail!

The Mail Room
The Mail Room

Where Are the Commas?

From Zulma: “ I've been rereading some old articles about writing this past week and noticed an odd trend: the dash replacing the comma. Ex: However--as you may know--it was inevitable.

“I'm not sure if this was because the style of the article was meant to sound like you’re talking to a friend, but I found it off-putting and mentally replaced it with a comma. I usually only use the dash in dialogue when the speaker is being cut off by another character.


Did you know, Zulma, that a dash is actually called an em dash? I didn’t know it until I started doing some research for this question, and I still don’t know why it is called that. How did I miss out on that piece of grammatical trivia?

An em dash and commas are both used for the same purpose. The difference, I am told, is that the em dash is used when you want more emphasis.

So sayeth the Grammatical Gods of the Internet.

I had no idea!

How Do You Begin a Novel?

From Sandy: I just read your novel “Resurrecting Tobias,” and that introduction about the stoning to death of a woman blew me away. How does that happen? How do you come up with ideas like that to start off a novel? I had no idea what the story line would be, but I was hooked from the first page.”

Well thank you so much, Sandy! That particular introduction was born from the knowledge that my main character, Tobias, would end up being a journalist. I thought about things that journalists see while on the job, things which are shocking and meaningful and so beyond the scope of what normal people witness . . . and that introduction was born.

On all introductions I try to think of a scene which relates to the plot and is captivating/shocking/unforgettable. I am a firm believer in the Ten Second Rule. If I have failed to grab the reader’s attention in ten seconds, I most likely will lose that reader. That concept comes from the fact that most people shopping for a novel will decide based upon either the jacket summary or the first page, so I make sure my first page is a whopper!

Start with a bang!
Start with a bang!

Making the Time

From Ann: “I think if I want to write that novel, or memoir, I shall have to lock myself away for weeks and even then I couldn't stay away from everyone all that time! What does it take to be of strong will to write a good portion each day and not lose friends or loved ones?!! I know we have to make them understand and I know it's setting a routine but I just can't do it with all the other stuff. Maybe I should just take an away break alone. Any thoughts?”

I can only answer for myself, Ann. Writing is vitally important to me. It is almost an obsession. I don’t have a ton of friends. I have very few relatives. I would much rather write than interact with people, and I know how odd that sounds. You, on the other hand, are much more “normal” than I am. LOL And I mean that as a positive for you. You have other interests. You have grandchildren to pamper and spoil. You have traveling you want to do. I have no desire to travel.

I think we are just two different people with two different agendas. I suspect the only way you will be able to do what I do is if someone else locked you in a room with a computer and did not allow you out to become “distracted” by loved one and desires.

Anything New on Hp?

From Carol: “I had mentioned I am thinking about writing again for Hubpages. Gotta figure out the navigations...anything new I should know... The mail box #294. where has the time gone?? Hope all is wonderful in Olympia..It is a great city because my husband was born there.”

Carol, welcome back! You have been missed by little old me.

Anything new on HP you should know? I’m the wrong person to ask. HP and I have an agreement: I completely ignore their desires and recommendations, and they in turn leave me alone to do my non-profitable thing. Lol

I’ll tell you what works for me: 1250 words, three photos, and two videos. I rarely stray from that formula. It seems to satisfy HP’s minimum requirements, and I’m so accustomed to doing it that it is no problem for me at all.

I can tell you that HP conducts edits on our writings much more now than in the past. They will just randomly change your article if they deem it necessary to do so. That is something they never did in the past, but they sure love to do it now. It doesn’t much bother me, but it sure bothers a lot of writers on HP, so be aware of it. Your writings on HP are not really your writings, so you need to get comfortable with that fact.

Again, welcome back!


Pigs and Other Inspirations

I also once passed by a tree in New Iberia Parish, Louisiana, that the locals called “the hanging tree.” You can imagine how that tree earned that name.

Inspiration is all around us. Open your eyes, clear your mind, and allow it to spread over you like your favorite comforter. It really is a wonderful feeling, snuggling with you muse.

A short one today, so I will bid you farewell until next week. Thank you for stopping by. If you have a question, drop it in the comment section below, or email it to me at And if you would like to hire me as a writing coach, I guarantee you won’t find a better price, so email me and let’s get started.

And please, remember, to do all things with love!

2020 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”


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