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The Writer's Mailbag: Installment #317

Updated on July 13, 2020

Did You Know?

So I was on Facebook the other day, and I came across a post, from a casual friend, which said that bat poop has been shown to cure cancer.

I swear, I’m not making this up.

The source of this claim was some blog written by a guy in Wyoming. A guy’s blog!!! There was no scientific information backing up the claim. There were no quotes from doctors. There was no date. Just this guy and his theory, and that was enough for my casual friend to share it and actually give credence to it.

For the love of God, people, do your homework!!!!

I’m not speaking to any of you because I know you are infinitely smarter than my casual friend, but that kind of nonsense scares the hell out of me. Those people vote! Those people are given driver’s licenses and gun permits.

Okay, enough of that rant. Let’s hope the mail brings us back to reality.

The Mail Room!
The Mail Room!

Native Speakers and Novels

From Mary: “What hampers me, at times, is my lack of spontaneity that a native speaker who grew up in the culture would have for the English language. I will have difficulty with dialogues and building characters. Do you think I can overcome this or just forget about writing novels?”

I think, Mary, that you can overcome it, but it will take time and effort.

This is a serious problem for those who do not speak English naturally. You would have to immerse yourself in the English language, or spend hours upon hours upon hours watching English-speaking television shows, or spend the same amount of hours reading novels written by English-speaking authors, or actually take a course in English.

And it will still take years to accomplish!

I would never tell someone to forget about writing novels, but I will tell you that this problem will require some work to correct. English is a terribly-challenging language. In many ways the rules of English are illogical, and then toss in the fact that many English-speaking people do not speak according to the nonsensical rules, or speak in different dialects, or toss in idioms which make no sense at all.

It’s a mess! Thank the gods I was born in the U.S. so I could have a head start in learning the language – and I still make errors!

Not even those born speaking English speak it correctly most days.
Not even those born speaking English speak it correctly most days.

Dog Days of Summer

From Peggy: “Wow! 56 degrees! I wish we could combine your low temps with our high ones and meet in the middle. Our upper 90 temps with "feel-like" ones of 100+ are the "dog days" of summer down here. I wonder whoever made up that saying? I love dogs, and in this meaning, it has a less than desirable meaning.”

I actually know the meaning behind that phrase, Peggy. I looked it up about a year ago out of curiosity. The “dog days” are so named because the hottest time of the year, in ancient times, came about the time the Dog Star Sirius was prominent in the sky. Thus, they equated the prominence of the Dog Star with hot days.

I’ve always loved that explanation and thus, that phrase is one of my favorites, as is “three dog night,” or the phrase “we’re in the doldrums,” which we’ll talk about some other time.

Dog days of summer!
Dog days of summer!

Characters Taking Over

From Mary: “Thanks for sharing that video featuring Stephen King. Towards the end of it he says he follows the characters instead of the plot. Have your characters 'taken over' and guided your stories in a way you didn't anticipate at the beginning?”

Mary, most definitely, and I love that you enjoyed the Stephen King video. That man knows his writing.

I think people believe I’m joking sometimes when I say I have no idea where my novels are going when I start them. I truly do not. No clue! My first chapter is the impetus for the entire novel, using my approach. After that the characters take over. I put them in that scene, in that situation, and then I allow them to guide the novel because of their particular personalities. I’m working on the sixth Shadow novel, and my characters have not let me down yet, so I’m going to assume they are people I can count on.

Did I anticipate where they take me? I never anticipate that. I have not one idea how a novel will end when I start it. I’m working on the novel as we speak, and I’m 50,000 words into it, and just this week I realized how I was going to finish it. One of my main characters walked into a scene, said something to the other characters, and the ending came into my mind like magic.

And I love it when that happens, one of those WHOA moments which leave me feeling pretty darned cool.

By the way, I never suggest that other writers follow my approach. There are many who need an outline and need a very clear roadmap from Chapter One to Chapter Forty, and that’s fine for them. It’s just not how my brain works. I am organized chaos and proud of it.

Talking to Writers

From Floyd: “Do you enjoy talking to other writers more than to people who don’t write? Do you find you have a certain bond with them which is irresistible and refreshing? I know I do with some writers in a community writing class I took.”

Floyd, truthfully, I don’t know any writers here in Olympia, so I really can’t answer that. My interaction with writers is all online. I do know I enjoy “talking” to writers online. They understand what I’m talking about and how I feel like none of my non-writing friends do.

I was watching Jerry Seinfeld in an episode of “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee,” or whatever the name of that series is, and he was talking with Steve Martin and they both said when they are at a party they instantly gravitate towards the other comedians in the group, that among other comedians they feel most comfortable. I get it! The only thing I have which resembles that is being around other introverts. I am most comfortable around introverts. Extroverts talk too much and talk too loudly. LOL In fact, I can “sense” another introvert when I enter a crowded room. We must give off a scent or something, because I will scan a room, find an introvert, and move in for a quiet conversation. It’s downright weird how that happens.

Anyway, I wish I knew some writers in Olympia. I could meet them for coffee once a week, and we could talk writing, and that sounds fun to me.

That’s It for This Week

Another short one, but that’s okay. We all have things to do, right?

If you do have a question for the Mailbag, you can include it in the comments below, or email me at I’ll include it the following week.

Have a great week! Stay safe and healthy. Do all things with love. And if you’re ever in Olympia, for God’s sake contact me so we can meet for some coffee.

And beware of what you read online. It’s a weird world online, down the rabbit hole we go; Facebook should come with a warning to wear helmets before logging on.

Just sayin’

And one more sentence to make sure I hit the magic 1250 in word count. There, that should do nicely! Sending you all happy thoughts!

2020 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”


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