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The Writer's Mailbag: Installment #318

Updated on July 20, 2020

The Porch Is All Done

I know you were waiting impatiently for an update on my porch-expansion task, so there’s your update. I’m all done with it. Once I kicked it into gear, it only took a few hours. Now all that’s left is to mix up some cement, pour it, and I’ll be done with that and I can move on to the next project on my list, whatever that might be.

I like projects. What I don’t like is deadlines. Deadlines seem to me to be the exact opposite of creativity. I understand the point of deadlines, but I think once you introduce a time limit to a project, you risk nipping the creative element in the bud. Just one man’s opinion.

Anyway, summer is moving along in this new reality of ours. We are seeing a spike in the virus again, in our state, after having a nice reduction of cases for about a month. They are talking about bringing back some restrictions again. I’m beginning to think this Coronavirus thing is going to be with us well into 2021. It’s going to be interesting to watch it all unfold from the comfort of the Mail Room.

Shall we?

The Mail Room
The Mail Room

Good Character to Bad Character

From Ann: “Do you ever create a character who's supposed to be good but ends up being a real baddy? Or vice versa?”

I had to give this some thought, Ann. I knew for a fact I hadn’t done that on purpose, but I was wondering if I somehow did it without really planning on doing it. But no, that has not happened to me. Almost all of my main characters, if not all, are flawed human beings, and that is on purpose. I don’t like perfect characters. I want them to struggle with morality. I want them to be sinners and saints, good and evil. I think that duplicity makes for some very interesting and memorable characters, don’t you?

This bad boy has doubled in size thanks to my mediocre skills.
This bad boy has doubled in size thanks to my mediocre skills.

The Doldrums

From Alyssa: “Thank you for sharing the origin of the dog days of summer. I'm hoping you reveal we're in the doldrums next week. I love that word, doldrums.”

I love explaining stuff like this, Alyssa, so thanks for asking. The doldrums is a word used by meteorologists and sailors. It refers to a band around the Earth five degrees north of, and five degrees south of, the Equator. In that “narrow” area, air commonly circulates up and down rather than north, south, east, or west. It rises and falls, and that movement of air creates practically no surface wind. Thus, that area is known by all sailors as an area where a wind-propelled ship might be stuck in calm water for weeks at a time – stuck in the doldrums.

Three Dog Night

From Pete: “Okay, Bill, you mentioned a three-dog night recently. Other than the rock band of the 60’s, what is the origin of that phrase?”

This is one of my favorites, Pete, so thanks for asking.

It is said that Australian Aborigines use this term to describe a particularly cold night. If it’s just chilly out, you take one dog to bed with you to stay warm. A bit colder out and you’ll need two dogs, and a frigid night is a three-dog night.

Momma told me not to come! And if I remember correctly, one of the band’s original members had a girlfriend at the time of the band’s formation, and she’s the one who suggested the name for the band. And the rest, as they say, is musical history.


From Dora: “Bill, do you know whether there's any correlation between introverts and writers? Is someone likely to write more because he talks less? Thinking of you, and I couldn't resist.”

Dora, I doubt if there have been any studies about this, but it’s a fascinating question nonetheless. I think it is quite natural and understandable that many writers are introverts. I read a couple articles about this, getting ready to answer your question, and this is what I found out:

  • Introverts are good listeners
  • Writing our thoughts is less intimidating than speaking them
  • Introverts are very aware of their surroundings; they are observers
  • Introverts love alone time and quiet, which is perfect for writing
  • Writing gives an introvert time to think before sharing thoughts
  • Introverts tend to be more empathetic
  • Reflection comes naturally to an introvert

Add it all together and you can come up with a rather convincing argument that it makes perfect sense that so many introverts are writers.

How Much Detail Is Enough?

From Chris: “Here is a question. I was recently writing a suspense story that took place in our current time. One character discovered a scientific process that was unimaginable. How fully should I describe this process which is actually impossible. It is a sci fi element within a suspense story.”

The only thing you didn’t mention, Chris, is whether this scientific process is really important to the story. If it is a key element in the story, then I believe you need to go into considerable detail. If it is something which really doesn’t affect the plot that much, I would hold back on giving too much detail. Scientific details can be confusing and distracting, so there needs to be a good reason for spending time on them.

Just my opinion, of course!

Why so Much Struggle?

From Geoff: “I’ve noticed in your novels that your characters are always struggling with good vs evil within themselves. Why do you spend so much time on this internal struggle?”

First, Geoff, the fact that you know that tells me you’ve read more than one of my novels, so for that I thank you.

Good vs evil – that is the primary struggle within us all, isn’t it? Humans are imperfect beings. We are always struggling with the angels of our better nature, aren’t we? God, I hope it’s not just me. LOL

Seriously, we see this daily on social media, or stories on the news. Man walks this moral tightrope daily. In religious jargon, we are all sinners. The question, then, is how much of a sinner we are at any given time? I want my characters to struggle with that question. I think it makes them much more believable, and I sure hope I’m correct in that belief.

The projects never end
The projects never end

More Projects

It’s time to go prepare for that cement mixing. By the way, I hate mixing cement. It’s a messy, time-consuming job. It’s one of those jobs I’ll only do when it’s absolutely necessary, so I’ll be happy when I finish this part of the porch project.

And then it’s on to the next, whatever that might be. Owning a home means an endless list of projects. I’m not great at any of it, but I’m determined and focused. I may not do any of these projects perfectly, but by God I’ll get them done and yes, I have my parents to thank for that.

I hope you all have a safe week. If you want to find me in the blogging world, you can find me at or I would love to interact with you if you have time. And if you have a question for the Mailbag, leave it in the comment section below, or email me at

Blessings to you all!

2020 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”


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