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The Writer's Mailbag: Installment #321

Updated on August 10, 2020

It Rained Yesterday

I know, that doesn’t seem like a newsworthy statement, especially talking about Olympia, Washington, but it had been a few weeks and, well, it felt good. A couple hours of light rain - refreshing, you know?

I could smell it coming hours before. Why is that? Ozone, as a matter of fact, remembering an old science lesson. Fascinating, really, taking me back thousands of years, really, our ancestors, the ancient ones, they had that ability, smelling the rain, one with nature, they were, and it’s in our DNA if we just quiet down, slow down, and allow old lessons to wash over us.

And when it rains, a good summer rain, there’s a different smell to it, hard to describe, almost musky, you know, as water meets parched ground, releasing what? Again, science steps up to answer, water evaporates on warm ground, releasing all manner of scents for our pleasure, if we take the time to be pleased.

Just randomness on this Friday. Let’s find out what random questions you have for me this week.

The Mail Room!
The Mail Room!

From Technical to Creative

From Eric: “Through years of knowing you. Shucks over 8. I know you also write technical sales type stuff/ or some such for clients. Does one type of writing influence the other? I am writing a legal document with a real tough timeline from the criminal action to the autopsy. I keep telling myself it will make me a more disciplined writer. Am I fooling myself?”

It's actually a pretty interesting question, Eric, and I had to pause to think about it.

Other than the obvious answer, that all writing makes us a better writer, I can definitely see that writing SEO articles for companies is a continued lesson in organizing, and organization leads to discipline, does it not? The articles I write for real estate companies and hair salons and salvage yards must be informational and they must be enticing. It is my job to make my client’s product sound interesting and worth purchasing. Randomness and stream of consciousness writing will not accomplish those goals so yes, I must be a somewhat tethered, organized, and goal-oriented writer when I’m doing the content writing.

And I would think it is particularly true in your type of writing, Eric, so no, you are not fooling yourself. Not this time, at least.

Vulnerability in Characters

From Lora: “Now for my question. Do you think that excellent writers show a vulnerability in their characters that really makes for much more interesting characters that is often overlooked by writers who aren't as skilled? And what characters would you say in your stories show a vulnerability?”

Lora, I think if a writer does not create characters with layers, that writer is missing the boat. Human beings are complicated creatures. We are strong and we are vulnerable. We are loving but we have our moments of hatred. We are gentle and we are, in some instances, brutal. And we are capable of building people up and tearing them down with our actions and words. If that is not reflected in the main characters of a short story or novel, the author might as well not write that story or novel.

In my humble opinion!

I would hope that those who read my novels see that in my characters. Tobias King is strong and vulnerable, as is his best friend Pete. Eli Baker is a complex casserole of opposing character traits, and I love that about him. I want my main characters to struggle with the complexities of life, just like I do and just like most people do.

Great question, my friend. Thank you!

Every person in this photo is vulnerable; why would your characters be any different?
Every person in this photo is vulnerable; why would your characters be any different?

Prose to Poetry

From Rochelle: “I think good rhythm , flow and nuance are vital elements in good poetry. Which prompts a question: is there a dividing line between prose and poetry? The Steinbeck excerpt could be considered a poem, I think. Thanks for continuing to share your insight.”

This is a fascinating question, Rochelle.

You will be happy to know there is such a thing as Prose Poetry. It is poetry without the line breaks, but it takes advantage of standard poetry characteristics like metaphors and heightened imagery. During the 50’s almost every coffee shop in every big city had a prose poet at a microphone railing about society.

An example? Let’s look at Paradise Lost by John Milton:

“Now Morn, her rosy steps in the eastern clime

Advancing, sowed the earth with orient pearl,

When Adam waked, so customed; for his sleep

Was aery-light, from pure digestion bred,

And temperate vapours bland, which the only sound

Of leaves and fuming rills, Aurora's fan,

Lightly dispersed, and the shrill matin song

Of birds on every bough; so much the more

His wonder was to find unwakened Eve

With tresses discomposed, and glowing cheek,

As through unquiet rest: He, on his side

Leaning half raised, with looks of cordial love

Hung over her enamoured, and beheld

Beauty, which, whether waking or asleep,

Shot forth peculiar graces; then with voice

Mild, as when Zephyrus on Flora breathes,

Her hand soft touching, whispered thus.”

Pretty cool, right?

Good and Evil

From Zulma: “What if you have a character who is basically good, but sometimes does bad things to achieve his honourable goals. Is it the intent behind the actions that deem the character good or evil?”

Oh boy, a good or evil question. Thank you Zulma! I have been looking at this question in almost all of the books I’ve written. I absolutely love this question.

If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then shouldn’t evil be as well?

Let’s look at a situation which could very easily happen in today’s world: A man is arrested for child abuse. His wife knows he did it, his other children know he did it, and extended family members know he did it. He is out on bail awaiting trial, and while on bail, his oldest son shoots and kills the abuser.

Is the son evil? His intent was to find justice for his sister, who will probably be negatively affected by the trauma of the abuse for the rest of her life? The brother loved his sister, and he “showed” his love for her by killing his father.

The law says the son is guilty of murder, but is he evil? Or flip it over – is the son good for avenging his sister?

We see these moral questions daily on the news. Some of you may have experienced one of these moral crossroads during your life.

Life isn’t black and white, my friends, and questions of good and evil just emphasize that point, and those questions are the engines which propel my novels.

My favorite characters in my Shadow series, Eli Baker and Paul Striker are constant reminders of the evil in each of us, and the good in each of us.

Thanks for stoking my fire today, Zulma!

The River of Life flows through good and evil. How long we visit each is entirely up to us.
The River of Life flows through good and evil. How long we visit each is entirely up to us.

A Short One but I’m Okay With That

I have things to smell, so we can cut this short and allow me to go outside and sniff.

How about you? When was the last time you took a walk and allowed your senses to really absorb all that is around them? Try it! Go to a quiet park, sit on a bench, close your eyes and allow nature to do her thing. It’s a pretty cool experience!

Thanks for the questions this week! I will leave you with some more prose poetry, this from Amy Lowell in her poem “Bath”

The day is fresh-washed and fair, and there is a smell of tulips and narcissus in the air.
The sunshine pours in at the bath-room window and bores through the water in the bath-tub in lathes and planes of greenish-white. It cleaves the water into flaws like a jewel, and cracks it to bright light.
Little spots of sunshine lie on the surface of the water and dance, dance, and their reflections wobble deliciously over the ceiling; a stir of my finger sets them whirring, reeling. I move a foot and the planes of light in the water jar. I lie back and laugh, and let the green-white water, the sun-flawed beryl water, flow over me. The day is almost too bright to bear, the green water covers me from the too bright day. I will lie here awhile and play with the water and the sun spots. The sky is blue and high. A crow flaps by the window, and there is a whiff of tulips and narcissus in the air.”

Have a great week, stay safe, and 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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