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The Writer's Mailbag: Installment One-Hundred and Thirty-Three

Updated on January 16, 2017

Friday the 13th

I write this on Friday the 13th. I’m not superstitious but just in case, if this Mailbag sucks, it wasn’t my fault. Blame the universe!

It really is remarkable, you know, one-hundred and thirty-three installments to this series, over two-and-a-half years, and it’s all because of you folks and your constant support. We pick up new readers each week, and the questions remain fresh and interesting and hell, let’s shoot for infinity and beyond, shall we?

Let’s do it!

Welcome to the Mail Room
Welcome to the Mail Room | Source

APPREHENSION

From Eric: “I am sure that you suffer like most writers a bit of "clay feet" or doubt of the worthiness of your work -- clearly not a debilitating condition but some. What is your little trick to get out of the apprehension hesitation?”

Eric, for sure, I suffer from that daily. I know a lot of people don’t believe it, but I have serious self-doubt when it comes to my writing abilities. I constantly chastise myself for not being as good as I should be, or for not being picked up by an agent or publisher, or for wasting my last remaining years on this silliness, or for not having a “real job” and contributing more to our financial situation.

My little trick?

My little trick is the memory of my father. He won’t let me give up, period, end of story. I can hear his words while I work, and, should I start whining or complaining, I hear him telling me that “any man who shrinks from challenge is no man at all,” or “strap on some balls and be a man, Bill,” or “life isn’t easy so don’t expect handouts.”

My dad was a tough man. He loved me with all his heart, but he was not one to sugarcoat his parenting approach. He had to scrape his way through the Great Depression, and if he could do that then by God his son could handle any problem that came along.

It turns out he was correct, Eric. I knew when I started this writing journey that it was a long-shot at best and yet I took on the challenge. Just because I haven’t struck gold yet is not an excuse for quitting. My old man worked a physical labor job in a sand and gravel pit for twenty-five years, so what I’m doing is a walk in the park by comparison.

My work is my work until I sign away the rights to it.  Beware of the fine print in any contract.
My work is my work until I sign away the rights to it. Beware of the fine print in any contract. | Source

Intellectual Property

From Linda: “Let’s say that one of us lands that dream job—writing a column for a newspaper. Once our words are published, are they still “our words”, or does the newspaper now own them? If those precious words/thoughts/ideas now belong to the the Daily Planet, wouldn’t that prevent us from using those same words/thoughts/ideas to publish our own collection of poetry, how-to-manuals, cookbooks?”

Linda, I’m amazed, each week, that I still get new questions after two-and-a-half years of doing this series. You just amazed me again, and I love being amazed. Great question!

The answer depends on the contract you sign. There are various “rights” with regards to publishing in a newspaper or magazine. “First serial rights” means the publication has exclusive rights and ownership of your piece for one publication only. After that one publication the rights transfer back to you. There are also “second serial rights” which means what it says, that a publication is paying for the right to re-print a previously published article. The one set of rights you want to avoid, as a writer, is the “exclusive rights” clause, which means you are selling your article to the publication forever. Do that and you are permanently screwed with regards to publishing a collection of your work later on.

To put it all in a nutshell, avoid signing away an article under the “exclusive rights” clause. It’s a killer for your future plans.

Age of Characters

From Dee: “You may have already addressed this in an earlier mailbag delivery but is it important to give the reader the age of your character early on? Should it be obvious from your introduction without actually stating the age? I appreciate and value your advice, Bill.”

Dee, congratulations, this is another new question. I can’t tell from your question whether you are talking about the main character or any character in a book you write. My general rule, but this is just what I’m comfortable with, is to give at least a hint of age in my initial description of the secondary characters. “He approached the woman at the counter, a bleach-blonde forty-something carrying far too much weight for her height of five-three.” I consider that description sufficient for the “bit players” in my books.

As for the main characters, I usually give hints through the first few chapters about their age. “Back in high school, God was it really twenty years ago, I would stay out late and never worry about such a silly thing as beauty rest.” Now in that example yes, I could have just come out and said the character was about thirty-six or thirty-seven, but I like this approach better, and yes, I try to do it early on, in the first couple of chapters. I want the readers to feel comfortable with the main characters early on, and giving the age is certainly something most readers would want to know.

I used quite a few "real people" in this novel..and so far I haven't been sued.
I used quite a few "real people" in this novel..and so far I haven't been sued. | Source

Historical Fiction

From Lisa: “I’m currently writing a historical fiction; well, I’m early on in it, but I’ve come to a struggle of conscience. How much freedom do I have when writing about real people from the past? Do I open myself up to libel or a lawsuit if I just make stuff up about a real person?”

And once more we have a brand new question!

Let me borrow from “Rights of a Writer” for a great answer to your question, Lisa:

“You do not libel someone simply by depicting him or her in fictional circumstances. Libel requires a false and defamatory statement of fact "of and concerning" an identifiable living person (or business entity). If real people are depicted in your work only as engaging in acts they actually engaged in, there is no "falsity." If real people are depicted in your work only as engaging in acts that are not at all untoward, there is no reasonable claim for that your work is "defamatory." (Of course, your model's view of whether he or she has been held up to shame and ridicule may differ markedly from yours.) Finally, if readers would not understand the statements you are making about your fictional character to be statements about a real person, then the statements are not "of and concerning" that person.”

In other words, Lisa, if you can avoid calling a real person a child molester, then you are pretty safe in writing about that person. Historical fiction, by definition, is going to require you to use real people from history. Just try and keep it A-rated in case there are any ancestors of that person lurking around looking for a reason to go to court.

Let me put it another way. In New York, where God knows there is no shortage of publishers and writers, there has only been one case of libel that was successful in the last twenty-five years.

I like your chances, Lisa!

So There You Go

Great questions! Let me repeat, GREAT QUESTIONS!

We survived Friday the 13th, so let’s all breathe a sigh of relief. Monday is upon us and that means a new week of possibilities awaits.

2017 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

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    • Janine Huldie profile image

      Janine Huldie 3 months ago from New York, New York

      We most certainly survived Friday the 13th and here we are back at good, old Monday. That said love who you think of (your dad) when you have those moments of self doubt, as I usually think of my own grandfather in all honesty as he always had faith in me even when I may not have had it in myself. Thanks for sharing, as always and Happy Monday now!! :)

    • letstalkabouteduc profile image

      Nancy Mitchell 3 months ago from Bend, OR

      Wow, those were interesting questions in the Mailbag today, Bill. I'm glad you have your father's voice to encourage you. That way you can keep writing and encourage us. Hey, I'm the first one to comment today -- another thing to check off my bucket list! Have a good one.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Janine, we were both blessed with some pretty special people in our lives. That makes us very lucky people, doesn't it?

      Happy Monday my friend. Thank you for always being here.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Letstalk, you are fast this morning. Thanks so much....let's both of us keep inspiriting, teaching, and entertaining. The world needs us.

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      breakfastpop 3 months ago

      Dear billy,

      Personally, I think you have struck gold!

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      Linda Lum 3 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Bill, no matter what we toss at you, you come up with great answers. Thanks for helping me with that hurdle. Now, on to bugging the heck out of some publishers.

      As for hinting at the age of a character -- I think another tool could be the name of the person. You've no doubt noticed that in 2017 no one names their child Sally, Debra, Kathy, (or even Bill). In my researach I look at a LOT of food blogs by 30-somethings and I swear every one of them has a given name that begins with the letter J (Jacey, Jadyn, Jalisa, Jenna). Well, you get it.

      Thanks for another great mailbag, and a quiet thanks to your dad for making you the person you are. We're glad you are here.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 months ago from Olympia, WA

      In many ways I have, Pop! Thanks so much.

    • heidithorne profile image

      Heidi Thorne 3 months ago from Chicago Area

      Happy Mailbag Monday... and it's actually Monday! :)

      Re: Legal. Two big issues brought up in today's Mailbag. The rights questions definitely need to be reviewed and understood before any writing is submitted. The other legal aspect of writing for publications is whether it can be classified as work-for-hire. Rights depend on the relationship established between the writer and the publisher.

      Using historical or contemporary figures in fiction should give writers pause for the reasons you note.

      A book I like for an introduction to the legal aspects of writing and self publishing is the Self Publishers Legal Handbook by Helen Sedwick. And, of course, a good IP (intellectual property) attorney can be a writer's best friend.

      Thanks for keeping the conversation going in 2017! Have a great week!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Aw, thanks, Linda! You make a great point about names and the times....there are names today, and spellings of names, I would never have dreamed of thirty years ago, which is saying a lot for a child of the 60s. :)

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      Bill Holland 3 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Great points, all, Heidi, and I hope the readers saw your comment. Thanks a bunch! One day closer to spring, my friend.

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      Ann Carr 3 months ago from SW England

      How amazing you're getting these wonderful new questions, bill! And well done for accomplishing all this on Friday 13th; I'm not superstitious either but I'd rather err on the side of possibility!

      Don't know if this is a new question but if you use a family member as the basis for one of your characters do you ask his or her permission, or do you disguise them in some way, apart from giving them a different name?

      Congratulations on the success of this series. I'm not amazed it's continued for so long; I think everyone's grateful for such a good, reliable mentor such as you to help us along the rough path of writing.

      Have a multi-stupendous Monday, bill!

      Ann :)

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Aw, thank you Ann, and Happy Monday to you. This is one of those national holidays that we self-employed workers don't get to partake in. No mail, no banks, everyone off except a handful of us fools trying to make it on our own. LOL

      Have a wonderful day while I sit here stewing in my jealousy.

      bill

    • Venkatachari M profile image

      Venkatachari M 3 months ago from Hyderabad, India

      Another interesting mailbag with some great questions feeding our brains. The points regarding hinting at age and intellectual property rights are very useful for all writers. Thanks for the valuable thoughts and tips provided.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image

      Denise McGill 3 months ago from Fresno CA

      Hey Bill,

      Those were some head-scratching questions this week. I always hate having to worry about the legalities of things but it is a necessity of life today. Artists too, have clauses in the contracts that state "first time North American rights" or right to publish once in North American and the ownership reverts to the artist, etc. The one I always try to avoid is where it says "world rights in-perpetuity" then I'm forever locked out of using my art for anything else forever, even self-promotion. That stinks. If they offered me enough money I might consider it but usually the stinkers offer a pittance and think I won't notice I'm signing away my art forever. You really have to keep your eyes on these guys. Thanks for another thoughtful mailbag. Loved it.

      Blessings,

      Denise

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      Larry Rankin 3 months ago from Oklahoma

      Great read!

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 3 months ago from southern USA

      Happy New Year and Happy Monday Mailbag, Dear Bill!

      I am off for the MLK holiday today, and thought I'd start back reading here on HubPages after my absence since my husband had knee replacement surgery and other life issues, by reading your amazing unending series here. Wow, truly amazing that you are continuing to receive great questions. I love your examples about how to address a character's age in writing.

      Keep on keeping on , my friend.

      Blessings to you and yours in this New Year and always

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I'm glad to hear that, Venkatachari M. Thanks so much for always being here, my friend.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 months ago from Olympia, WA

      You really do, Denise, and thanks for pointing out it's the same way for artists. Keep your eyes open and watch out for yourself...those words are words to live by.

      blessings always

      bill

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Larry, I truly thank you! I'm very grateful you are here.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Faith, my dear friend, Happy New Year to you! I had an itch and it wouldn't be scratched, like knowing something is wrong but not quite sure what it is...turns out it was you missing from HP. Well I certainly hope your husband is better, and those other life issues are resolved. Thank you for thinking of me, and blessings to you always.

      bill

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 3 months ago from USA

      I liked your age-telling examples. This was a good mailbag with its new topics. I'm hoping Linda does land that big gig and can tell us what else we need to know.

    • MartieCoetser profile image

      Martie Coetser 3 months ago from South Africa

      It is all about opportunity. You now have the opportunity to write books and to go all the way to publishing, and you are giving it your best. Who knows what opportunity is waiting for you around the next corner. Whatever it is, billybac will grab it and give it his best.

      Thanks for the example you set!

    • Buildreps profile image

      Buildreps 3 months ago from Europe

      Friday the 13th is in some (ancient) cultures considered to be a lucky day. As far as doom hasn't strike you last Friday that might hold truth actually?

      Happy week and thank you for answering questions. It never seems to bore, my friend.

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      Ruby Jean Fuller 3 months ago from Southern Illinois

      Bill, I'm not surprised that you're still getting questions. It proves that people trust you and your willingness to help is evident. Your compassion is apparent with each mailbag installment..Thanks again..

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I hope that too, Flourish. Linda is a quality human being and I want good things to happen to such people. Thank you!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I will for sure, Martie! Thanks for the shot of adrenaline!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Buildreps. I like that, a day of luck....I'm still breathing so I guess it was. :)

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 3 months ago from Queensland Australia

      This was a great bunch of questions, Bill. I especially found Linda's about Intellectual Property and your answer helpful. I loved your answer to Dee and how you go about alluding to the age of your characters. The only time I can see this as not being important is maybe in flash fiction where you have to cut out everything that isn't absolutely essential.

      To me, the photo of all the books you have published is proof that you have succeeded as a writer. It is quite impressive, and you are a great inspiration to me. Have a great week.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Ruby, your kindness warms my heart. Thank you dear friend. You truly are appreciated by this old man.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 months ago from Olympia, WA

      John, thank you! I'm jealous of you talent, so we are both inspired by each other. Just once I wish I could write poetry like you do. :) Let's both keep doing what we're doing and hope for the best.

    • Terrielynn1 profile image

      Terrie Lynn 3 months ago from Canada

      I love Friday the 13 th my one and only son was born on that day. Many moons ago. Great hub. I love reading your work. Your dad sounds like mine was.

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      Linda Lum 3 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Thank you Bill!

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 3 months ago from San Diego California

      That Eric always comes up with killer expressions, for a man who claims to suffer from feet of clay syndrome. The biggest obstacle the writer has to get around is himself. I don't want to end up like Franz Kafka or Nietzche, dying destitute while my descendants, who all thumbed their noses at my work while I was alive, dig the manuscripts out of the closet and publish them for millions. We have to make it work while we're still breathing, or bust.

    • bdegiulio profile image

      Bill De Giulio 3 months ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Bill. An exceptional week for the mailbag. I find it amazing that you are still getting new questions after 133 weeks. Great answers, have a wonderful week.

    • mpropp profile image

      Melissa Propp 3 months ago from Minnesota

      Happy Monday bill! This is a first for me as I read and wrote my comment on my phone. I do have to say the layout was super easy to read and navigate. Hope you had a good mlk day and I look forward to next week!

    • Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

      Gypsy Rose Lee 3 months ago from Riga, Latvia

      Your mailbags always set my pace for the week when I can catch up on time. This question I guess is not really for a mailbag but for just plain advice. I wrote quite a few articles on my dad, his own memories and memories from friends. People enjoyed reading but I think that now that they have been sitting around I would like to find a new audience. I wanted your opinion on how it would be to rewrite and publish the memories on NIUME I guess in Literature or should I put them on Creative Exiles in Memoirs. Have a great week.

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      jo miller 3 months ago from Tennessee

      Thanks for sharing your self doubts. That's very helpful this morning.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Terrielynn, Happy Birthday to your son, and thank you for the kind words.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 months ago from Olympia, WA

      My pleasure, Linda!

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      Bill Holland 3 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I love that, Mel, and ain't that the truth. Many of us can relate to Kafka for exactly that reason. I guess we better get busy then, eh?

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you, Bill, and may your week be all that you envisioned.

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      Bill Holland 3 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Melissa, I always feel like the Mailbag was a success when you show up. Thanks so much, my friend.

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      Bill Holland 3 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Rasma, with your permission, I'll include this in the Mailbag, but quickly, either one is fine...I think, at this point, building an audience on NIUME and posting them there will net you more readers, simply because it is a bigger site....but that's really just one man's opinion.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Oh, I've got a ton of them, Jo! No problem sharing them at all. LOL Glad it helped.

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      Eric Dierker 3 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Thank you, you are an invaluable resource and motivator.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I appreciate that, Eric.Thank you so much.

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      William Kovacic 3 months ago from Pleasant Gap, PA

      Well, here I am - a day l and a dollar short, as they say. You had some interesting questions to deal with this week, and as always, your answers were very good. Thanks for another week of information, Bill.

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      MizBejabbers 3 months ago

      Really good questions this week, Bill. I've missed a week or two of reading due to my husband's surgery, and then last week when Mr. B needed me the most, my little Tasmanian Devil chomped down on my hand. It got infected and almost landed me in the hospital. Now there's a story there.

      Anyway you have a couple of delightful questions, especially Lisa's. She mentioned that she was writing a historical novel. We were taught in journalism school that you can't defame the dead. It's as if they never lived. GGson can't sue you because you said GGpaw Billy Bob had an affair with Mary Sue, nor can Mary Sue's descendants because the couple aren't here to testify against you, and history is mostly hearsay anyway. I would advise being very careful about naming a living character in a fiction, though. If you put them in a bad light, they can give you an expensive hell in court even if they don't win.

      Now if you're writing a modern nonfiction say...about the West Memphis Three, you will have to use real characters. Be as accurate as possible.

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      William Leverne Smith 3 months ago from Hollister, MO

      Since 100 I've not read every one, and certainly not commented very often. However, I still think you have a wonderful series, and are a real service to your writer followers, thank you. This was a neat one with good questions and answers. Look forward to 200, 300, and however long we each can still breath, read, and write!! ;-)

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Bill, in my book, you are never late. Thank you for being here any old time.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Excellent information, Miz B, but more importantly my best to you and Mr. B. I hope you two recover fully and hit full-strength soon. Thanks for taking the time to visit and share your knowledge with us.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Bill, I appreciate you stopping by and commenting. Life has other plans for us, and it's very hard to always comment. I certainly understand that, so thank you for the times you do comment.

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      mckbirdbks 3 months ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      Hello Bill - Some very good questions here again this week.

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      Bill Holland 3 months ago from Olympia, WA

      For sure, Mike! Thanks for stopping by and no sweat on that review, buddy.

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      Nithya Venkat 3 months ago from Dubai

      Great questions and answers. Learned about Intelectual Property in detail, thank you for sharing.

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      Bill Holland 3 months ago from Olympia, WA

      It's my pleasure, Vellur. Thanks for always being here.

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      Audrey Hunt 3 months ago from Nashville Tn.

      Wow - what terrific questions! And your answers are like getting a crash course in writing without the empty-headed or over-the-head teachers. Sorry but I recently signed up for a writing class and half the class walked out after 2 classes ... including yours truly.

      Ever entertained the idea of teaching some "skype" classes? I've taught both voice and piano for years using this free program. Students pay through paypal which is super convenient.

      Love this series!

      Audrey

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      social thoughts 3 months ago from New Jersey

      Bill,

      Linda's question is one I am constantly worried about. Thank you for clarifying it! Of course, there will always be situations when money comes first, I suppose.

      Have a great week!

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      Bill Holland 3 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Audrey, thanks so much. Yes, I've thought about it, but so far I haven't made the time to do it. I suspect another reason is I'm intimidated by the setting up of the course. My knowledge of the internet and computers is pretty limited.

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      Bill Holland 3 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Hey, Kailey, I'll try to have a great week, but the signing in of the new President is Friday, and I have no doubt that will depress me considerably. :) Thanks for being here my young passionate firebrand.

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      Nell Rose 3 months ago from England

      Great questions, and great answers as always Bill! Thanks for all your info!

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      Dianna Mendez 3 months ago

      Our fathers before us inspired the love of hard work and determination in us. I hope to pass this on successfully to my kids as well. You were blessed to have such a heritage. I was so excited to read my question posted today in the mail and with your excellent advice. Thank you.

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      Mary Norton 3 months ago from Ontario, Canada

      Thank you for including examples of what you are saying. It makes it clearer for me ho is clueless about many of these things. I particularly like the response to a writer's rights. I have not seen any of these contracts but will be more knowledgeable when it comes.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Aw, thanks, Nell! The readers do most of the work. I just post their great questions, but thank you.

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      Bill Holland 3 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I'm so glad, Dee! Thanks for the question, and blessings to you always.

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      Bill Holland 3 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I'm glad you found it all helpful, Aesta...thanks so much for your comment. It helps me when interacting with others.

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      Mary Wickison 3 months ago from Brazil

      Another great round of questions and answers. It's true what teachers used to say about asking questions because you won't be the only one wanting to know the answer.

      I have been listening to an audio book called Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. She emphasizes continued daily writing practice. I was wondering if this is still something you do as you seem so busy producing work which is either published here, on Amazon or working for clients. Do you still have time to just practice or do you feel that you have cut your teeth and it is no longer necessary?

      Hope your weekend is going great.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Mary, I needed one more question and you came through for me. Thank you! Answer coming tomorrow.

      Good weekend...Bev got a job she really wanted, so we're pretty happy around here. I hope yours is going well, my friend.

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      Shauna L Bowling 3 months ago from Central Florida

      Bill, you've accomplished more in the last five years than many writers do in a lifetime. You're a published novelist, successful freelance writer and have a huge, loyal following. I won't say don't ever doubt yourself, because doubt is often the fuel that forges the drive. But remember what I've pointed out here and smile at your reflection the next time you "wonder if".

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Sha! I needed that, and I'll try to remember it going into next week.

      Hugs from chilly Olympia

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