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The Writer's Mailbag: Installment #309

Updated on May 18, 2020

I Had a Tooth Pulled

How’s that for an exciting prologue?

The darned thing hardly had any root at all, so it had to go. The dentist gave me a quote of $5,000 for a replacement implant. I literally laughed at him. Evidently he thought my name was Bill Gates instead of Bill Holland.

So now I have a rather prominent gap in my smile, like the front tooth for God’s sake, no hiding that at all. If this had happened thirty years ago I would have moved heaven and earth to pay for that implant. Now, I don’t much care. If people want to judge me, or make fun of me, about a missing tooth, I say go for it. I’m happy I can provide a little levity for someone who obviously needs it.

It’s kind of nice finally being secure in who I am, and not hung up on physical appearance. You know?

It’s time for the mail. I hope this finds you healthy and happy.

The Mailroom
The Mailroom

Great Question About Scenes

From Brian: “When you describe a scene, do you sometimes start with a photo or painting? (For a sense of possibilities, at Google Images search on drunken brawl, or caught downpour, or alone midnight, or high school smokers, or dilapidated motel.) Or do you start with deciding whatever items are essential to the plot and then minimally add to that? (In "The Killers", Hemingway provides only two details about the boarding-house room: "the bed" and "the wall".) Or do you start with an actual, familiar to you setting and adapt it for use in a story, subtracting most details? Or?”

That’s a fascinating question, Brian. It really is. I had to stop and think about that one for a moment or two.

All of my “Shadow” novels are set in Olympia. Describing a scene from my hometown is not a problem at all, and I use familiar scenes almost exclusively in those novels. Only twice have to detoured from that approach. One novel was partially in Mexico, and this latest one I’m working on now is partially in London. I pulled up pictures from the internet to familiarize myself with those places. I also asked a writer friend who lives in London about one scene. What I have found to be true, though, is that most locations in industrialized cities look very similar. I was looking at a picture of a neighborhood in the suburbs of Perth and it looked an awful lot like where I live in Olympia. I’m afraid we’ve all Westernized the hell out of a good portion of the world.

For the most part, though, I take the easy way out and stick with what I’m familiar with. In my “Resurrecting Tobias” novel, all scenes were set in cities I have actually lived in or visited, so that, too, was fairly easy.

Just call me lazy and be done with it. It’s one reason I would never attempt science fiction or fantasy. The idea of creating a new world is just too daunting for me.

My approach: find a location I am familiar with.
My approach: find a location I am familiar with.

A Danger of an Autobiography

From Rinita: “Interesting topics today and I hope all's well with you. I have a question similar to the pen name topic. I think part of why the author might want to use a pen name is that they are writing about their own family history and don't want people to know that? Anyway my question is, how do you write something autobiographical without it being evident that it's about your own life? You could change names and places, of course, but people who are close to you personally would still know that these incidents happened to you and if it involves them, might get offended too. Is there any other way to "mask" this?”

Yes, Rinita, they would definitely know what and who you were writing about. I don’t think there is any possible way to mask that from people who know you well, and that is why care is called for when writing a memoir or autobiography. You have to make a decision about how brutally honest you are going to be, and who that honesty will affect. It’s your call, as the writer, but you need to be aware of the fallout. It could be radioactive. I found that out the hard way in one of my novels, and I don’t plan on making that mistake again. It’s just not worth it to me.

Be careful of hurting others in your autobiography.
Be careful of hurting others in your autobiography.

Covid-19 Story

From Lori: “Hi Bill, I have an interesting question: if you could write about this time in our history with the covid-19 and all the stuff that goes along with it what do you think your focus would be? What genre of fiction would it be? Would you ever consider writing a novel based on it?”

I doubt I would write a novel based on it, Lori, but if I did it would be a science fiction. I can see aliens stopping by for a visit and leaving us on earth with this virus. Then our government finds out where the virus came from, and declares war on the aliens, and by God Luke Skywalker comes to our rescue, but the damage has been done, and we can no longer buy our computer components from the aliens and trade plummets.

Something like that!

But no, I wouldn’t write it. I wouldn’t write any novel focused on the virus. It seems like everyone is writing about it these days, and I’m not too fond of all that company – social distancing, you know. lol

Biggest Complaint About Novels

From Allegra: “Just wondering, what is your biggest complaint about novels you read, or maybe about short stories you read? If you’re like me, for every good novel or short story you read, there are ten that are not very good.”

Only 10:1, Allegra? I would have put that ratio much, much higher.

I could go on a rant very quickly about this topic, Allegra. By the way, your name flows like a gentle stream. I love it! But back to your question and my mini-rant. Writing is an Art, and I capitalize Art to give it the importance I think it deserves. Self-publishing has flooded the market with a plethora of not-so-artistic novels and short stories. It drives me nutso, and trying to narrow down my complaints to a single one is like a Mission Impossible.

But since you asked, I think I would say that far too many writers do not ramp it up quickly enough and often enough. By that I mean a thriller should be thrilling, a love story should be very romantic, and a comedy should be damned funny. I don’t want to wait five chapters to be thrilled, romantically wooed, or amused, and I want that to continue throughout the book.

I think a major problem with many writers who write novels is that they don’t understand how to sustain the interest for over 75,000 words. It is not easy to do and I think that’s a major reason why there are so few really good noveiists.

Don’t even get me started on grammar!

But that’s just my opinion!

Back to My Tooth

I was born at the wrong time for good teeth. My family was lower-middle class. They couldn’t afford for me top get braces. Heck, I don’t even know if braces were around in the 50’s and 60’s, but if they were there was no way my folks could afford them for me. Consequently, I grew up with crooked teeth and two teeth set back from the rest. That’s just the way it goes, you know, and I understand and I’m fine with it.

Now that I’m older, I just don’t care. I’m seventy-one. I’m way beyond caring about how my smile looks, and that is liberating. There truly are benefits to getting older. I just hope this missing tooth doesn’t affect my speech when it comes time to start doing my “Yesterday To Today” podcast.

Remember, if you are in need of a writing coach, one who works cheap, email me at and we’ll get you on the road to better writing.

I wish, for all of you, a peaceful, safe, and healthy week ahead. Be good to yourself and be good to others and please, remember, do all things with love.

2020 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”


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