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The Writer's Mailbag: Installment #343

Let’s Play Word Association

From my blog, Artistry With Words, because we hardly had any questions this week:

“You know the preacher likes the cold; he knows I’m going to stay.”

I’m sure you’re all familiar with that line from the classic rock song “California Dreamin’”

It popped into my head the other day as I was preparing to walk the dogs on a 36 degree, drizzling day. We have a different cold here in the Pacific Northwest, specifically Western Washington. It’s a damp cold. It’s a cold that seeps into your clothing, somehow, some way, and finds the marrow of your bones. It’s a cold that sucks the last remnants of warmth from you, leaving you chilled throughout the winter.

I know, I know, it’s colder in other places. I’ve lived in Vermont and minus twenty, the snow glistening in the sunshine. I’ve lived in Alaska, minus forty, moon dogs floating in the air, defying logic, air crystals frozen, other-worldly type of stuff. But good God, there ain’t enough fleece to keep you warm, in Olympia, when the skies are weeping and your breath plumes, day in, day out, dampness the default setting for everything you see . . . everything you touch . . . and how many more goshdarned days until April?

That might be the first time I’ve ever written/typed goshdarned. What’s up with that? I can cuss like a sailor, so goshdarned stretches the limits of believability and authenticity, don’t you think?

I think about that when working on a novel. Is this authentic? Is it believable? Supernatural thrillers like I write, The Shadow Series, I’m pushing the limits of believability right out of the gate, so I want my dialogue to be believable if nothing else, you know?

Of course you do!

You do and I do, for better or for worse, till death do us part, and there goes my mind again, taking another side-trip down the Word Association Lane, wondering where I’ll end up next, might be a dead end or it might be the beginnings of a story, or novel, a seed planted in the womb of fertility, growth or abortion, picketers around the abortion clinic, shouting their slogans, anti-protestors opposite them, shouting their slogans, no one really listening, a wall of sound, and that takes us to Phil Spector, Motown, 1964, music history in the making, smoke-filled studios, engineers experimenting with a sound soon to become classic, and isn’t this fun, playing with words, creating on the fly, no nuns to slap my hands if my grammar is broken?

You bet it is!

Happy 2021 to you all! Let’s rebound in a big way, put this darkness behind us, warm up after the cold, put those preachers out of business.

The Mail Room

The Mail Room

How Long Should a Novel Be?

From Brad: “I’ve never written a novel before. Is there a word limit I should shoot for? An average length which is considered better?”

Answers to this question are all over the place, Brad, so I wouldn’t worry too much about it. Write your novel until your story is done. That’s the most important thing to do, in my opinion.

50,000 is considered the minimum word count for a novel. 60,000 is considered the minimum to be marketable, and 80,000-100,000 is the standard most best-selling novelists shoot for.

Tell your story! First and foremost, work on crafting the best story possible. The word count will take care of itself.

Novels and novellas

Novels and novellas

Too Many Similes

From Maria: “I know you are a big fan of similes and metaphors, but how do you know when you’ve used too many of them? I don’t want my novel to sound like a lesson in grammar.”

Maria, I think of similes and metaphors like I think about adverbs: a couple are fine, but at some point one needs to work on the craft of writing and not use crutches. Let me give you an example.

I could write the following sentence: “She ran like a gazelle,” meaning she ran fast. Or I could write the following: “No one could catch her. Her legs pounded the pavement, arms swung at her sides, every huffing breath burned. Faster, faster, she ran, trying to escape her pursuers.”

Scroll to Continue

Which do you think is better?

I love similes, and I love metaphors, but, more importantly, I love a finely-crafted piece of writing.

Can you think of a simile for this picture?

Can you think of a simile for this picture?

You Know the Preacher Likes the Cold

That’s such a great line, isn’t it? Many times, when searching for inspiration, I’ll turn to songwriters. The good ones say so much with so few words. From Dan Fogelberg and his song “The Beggar’s Game:”

I saw her first in a beggar's game
Her eyes were wild but her
Laugh was tame
Those people knew her by
Another name
I knew that she'd be mine
I knew that she'd be mine

She took me in on a winter's night
The air was brittle and the
Moon was bright
My heart was heavy but her
Touch was light
Deep in the dance we wandered
Deep in my heart she fell

The candles glistened and
The water gleamed
She drew a bath and the
Windows steamed
She looked like every woman
Ever dreamed
In the heart of a lonely man
In the heart of a lonely man

That’s it for this week. If you have a question for the Mailbag, include it in the comments below, or email it to me at

Have a great week and please, do all things with love.

2021 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”


Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on January 13, 2021:

Thank you Linda! You should know all about that type of cold in BC, so you stay warm too, my friend.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on January 12, 2021:

I enjoyed reading about your thoughts, Bill. I hope the weather in your area gets warmer soon. I love the photo of the mountain.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on January 12, 2021:

Mel, that is one hell of a change you took on, San Diego to Colorado. I know all about cracked skin. That year in Alaska, there were days my hands bled from cracked skin. Not fun at all!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on January 12, 2021:

Venkatachari M, I do not handle the cold like I once did. There was a time I loved the cold. That time is long gone. It must be a thing about growing older, my friend.

Thank you and blessings to you always.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on January 12, 2021:

Lora, I didn't know you lived in Arizona. For some reason I thought you were a Midwest girl. My goodness, how do you handle those summers? I would melt. Literally melt into a puddle and be totally worthless for about four months there.

Sigh! Thank you for your kind words. I love that you think I make writing come alive. You have brought a smile to my face, so thanks!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on January 12, 2021:

Brenda, I didn't watch the game. In fact, I don't know who won. I'll have to go check out the score right now. Thanks for the reminder!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on January 12, 2021:

Sha, I had no doubt you were still reading my stuff. I don't always get to articles as quickly as is necessary. I'm afraid I miss several each day now. I just can't catch them quickly enough to comment, and I don't have the time to search the feeds for the ones I miss. Sigh!

Love you, friend!


Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on January 12, 2021:

Great point, Flourish! Next week, let's all pray for subfreezing temps in DC and a foot of snow. That would slow things down a bit.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on January 12, 2021:

There's a lot of that anger going around, Manatita. Leadership has been asleep to the problems surrounding us for four years, I'm afraid. They need a dose of our reality, me thinks. :) Blessings to you always.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on January 12, 2021:

Mary, our weather is very similar to the UK. One could move there, from here, and feel quite at home.

Thank you for your kind words, my friend. Take care in this crazy world.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on January 12, 2021:

Thank you Alyssa. You made me smile about the heating pad. Bev has one too, and she loves it. :) Now I know why that electricity bill is so high! lol

Happy Tuesday, my friend!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on January 12, 2021:

Thank you for that, Denise! Words are fun for me. It's a wonderful stimulant for a guy who doesn't do well with alcohol. lol Anyway, I appreciate you very much.

Blessings always


Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on January 12, 2021:

Thanks for the question, Greg! I appreciate it. Regarding "Old Lang Syne," there is a story behind it. It actually happened. Fogelberg did meet his old high school lover in a grocery store. She just recently came forward as the person in the song. Google it and read it. Interesting story!

Mel Carriere from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on January 12, 2021:

No fancy similes or metaphors from me today, especially to describe the cold. I know what you mean about that darn damp cold, we had it San Diego sometimes, where a 40 degree day feels worse than a day in the 20s here in Colorado. Here my hands crack open from the dry cold, but it certainly gets my metabolism cranking. Great words, keep them flowing from either that hot or cold spigot they spring from, though spring is a distant dream.

Venkatachari M from Hyderabad, India on January 11, 2021:

A nice mailbag, Bill. Even with fewer questions, you made it very interesting by adding that artistry with words. Your description of that running scene is also very beautiful, picturizing the entire incident so lively. I love your narrative skills.

I could not bear even a 50 degree cold now. It is too much for my lean skeleton body. I have to wear a woolen coat, socks, and a neck scarf while doing my morning puja nowadays. Previously I witnessed drizzling colds during my 30s to 50s while working in the north. But, now I am reaching 70 in a couple of months.

Lora Hollings on January 11, 2021:

I don’t think I could survive the winters in Olympia, Washington. I live in sunny Arizona and the winters are so mild and dry! It’s not the cold that I would mind, but it’s the dampness. My immune system probably couldn’t handle it and even in the winters here if the temps drop at night in the thirties, I have to put many blankets on my bed and wear thick socks or else my feet get very cold! I love being warm. Now, I will gladly trade my summers here for yours. There is a warmth in your writing which I find very appealing, Bill, and I love Dan Fogelberg’s song, “The Beggar’s Game.”

You make writing come alive with your wonderful wit and your ability to talk to the reader. I loved your sentence on running! Your mailbag, once again, is full of great information and inspiration too! Stay well and show those winters whose the boss.

BRENDA ARLEDGE from Washington Court House on January 11, 2021:


I get you when you talk about the cold. Once the season starts it seems like every day is chilly.

The drizzling rain kind of day is miserable.

Take care on those walks with the doggies & let their spirit brighten your walks.

I love your examples od similes. The second one is of course the best writing.

Take care.

The Ohio State vs Alabama football game is about to start.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on January 11, 2021:

Bill, this edition of The Mailbag may have been short on questions, but it was long on insight. I love your response to the simile/metaphor question. Your second example brought action, purpose, and shortness of breath to the reader. Readers want to be immersed in the story and you did just that with the alternate to a simile.

I need you to know that I read everything you post here. I just don't always make it to the front door. Sadly, finding the back door often takes more time than I have. Lately, I find myself more present in the forums because there we are free to converse without having to jump through hoops. I look forward to the day when comments are incorporated into the Maven format.

Still an ardent fan and friend,


FlourishAnyway from USA on January 11, 2021:

We need a bitter cold snap to calm tempers down in DC and elsewhere right now. People need to chill. When I saw your headline about too many similies I mistakenly read it as a question about too many smiles and I thought no way.

manatita44 from london on January 11, 2021:

Great story and excellent poem! Didn't see Artistry with Words this week or last week, perhaps.

Here's your simile: 'I felt bitter, resentful, angry ... the latest Government figures said 300,000 dead and yet leadership seemed to be asleep on a remote island. 'My mind became cloudy, like the top of a mountain.' Pax Vorbiscum!

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on January 11, 2021:

Oh about the cold. Anyway, the way you describe the cold in your area is how I would describe the cold in the UK. It's cold here in Canada but it doesn't really penetrate your bones. 80,000 words is a dream for me but one never knows. The more you encourage and teach us in your hub, the more attainable it is.

Alyssa from Ohio on January 11, 2021:

I love your word association game, Bill! I know our cold in Ohio is different from yours, but I felt everything you described in my soul. It perfectly explains how my body reacts to winter. Luckily, I have a heating pad. I'm thinking that's what is responsible for the majority of our electricity bill. haha!

I greatly appreciate your notes on similes and metaphors this week. :) Have an amazing one my friend!

Denise McGill from Fresno CA on January 11, 2021:

I love the way you make me think about words and the way you weave them into a workable garment. I can slide into it and be comfortable. It always makes me smile the way you can make words dance and flow. Then you turn and admire the way others do the same with lyrics and literature.



greg cain from Moscow, Idaho, USA on January 11, 2021:

Bill - another great edition of the Mailbag, and thanks for sharing. I enjoyed muchly the free association piece, and references to Dan Fogelberg. One of my favorite lyrics from any song is his:

"And as I turned to make my way back home...the snow turned into rain."

The final line in the song Same Old Lang Syne, for me it's just like a movie, it's just like a song, my god this reminds me of when we were young...let me photograph you in this light...

And so on, and so on and scooby dooby dooby.

Anyway, I enjoyed the freewrite a great deal, and now I have a question:

At what point is use of lyrics in our writing considered to be an infringement? I once took a Creative Non-Fiction class at university and the professor basically said, "Don't even use one line," that looks like it came from a song. And yet, I see it all the time. I'd like to hear your thoughts (and your readers' thoughts, too) on the matter.

Be well, and have a good week, Biill.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on January 11, 2021:

I think you are correct, Ruby! We will heal eventually. It might be a painful process, but this nation was built on pain. We'll get through it.

Glad you liked Dan's song. He was a genius!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on January 11, 2021:

I don't have an answer to that question, Bill! I wish I did. Our ability to compromise, or just listen to opposing viewpoints, is a thing of the past, and I sure hope we find it soon.

Take care, buddy, and enjoy that Florida weather.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on January 11, 2021:

Thank you Rosina! Happy Monday to you, and I appreciate you taking the time to comment.

Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on January 11, 2021:

I'm listening to Dan as I write, and my toes are tapping the floor, such a great song! It's cold here, but I don't mind, in my heart I know the world is ' gonna heal and we'll be better than ever! Keep on writing your thoughts. We all listen and believe.

Bill De Giulio from Massachusetts on January 11, 2021:

Hi Bill. We have been in Florida since early November caring for my elderly in-laws. While not Ideal, at least the weather is better than it is in Massachusetts.

It was quite a week to start the year, I am hopeful that things will settle down after the 20th. The more video I see of what took place in Washington the more hatred I see. People have always disagreed about things, especially politics, but it has gotten to the point of extreme hate and violence. Whatever happened to agreeing to disagree and moving on?

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on January 11, 2021:

Linda, that was my goal, to cut down on potential movers to our area. They need to fully understand just how miserable it is here in the winter. lol Just doing my part, my friend.

Have a great week, and stay safe! There are crazies out there.

Rosina S Khan on January 11, 2021:

It was an interesting mailbag even with fewer questions. I really liked the song by Dan Fogelberg. Thank you for sharing, Bill. Happy Monday to you and a great week ahead as well.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on January 11, 2021:

It's easy to miss hubs, Devika, with the HP changes going on. No worries. I know I've missed some from writers I follow. I don't know how we can fix it, but it's annoying.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on January 11, 2021:

What a week, Heidi, and I think there's more craziness on the horizon. Heaven help us all, my friend.

Be well, stay safe, and let's hope it all blows over sooner rather than later.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on January 11, 2021:

Thanks, Jo! Our woodstove is burning constantly during the winter; anything to combat the damp cold, and nothing warms like a good fire.

I've never been to Tennessee, but I'd like to visit it one day. I better hurry up! lol

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on January 11, 2021:

Eric, I blame you specifically for the lack of questions lately. You went AWOL on me, and you are always good for a question or two. How dare you, buddy! lol

Thanks for the tap root question. I'll get right on it.

Be well, my friend!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on January 11, 2021:

Thank you always, Chitrangada Sharan. Yes, a bit different today. I had to "wing it" because of the lack of questions.

Have a safe and peaceful week, my friend.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on January 11, 2021:

Stay warm, Miebakagh, and be well. Thank you for finding the time to share your thoughts with me.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on January 11, 2021:

I caught that, Pamela, uphill both ways. lol I've experienced those winds in Cleveland, in the winter, and they were brutal. Same thing in North Dakota. I don't think the wind ever stops blowing in the winter there, straight down from Alberta. Brrr!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on January 11, 2021:

Thank you, Dora, and Happy New Year to you. I hope you are safe and sound, my friend.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on January 11, 2021:

Liz, interesting question, one I'm sure many HP writers want to know. I'll see if I can't give you a good answer next Monday. In the meantime, it wouldn't be a bad idea to prioritize them on the next round of reviews.

Thank you! Have a fantastic week in the UK!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on January 11, 2021:

Always a pleasure, John! Thanks for being so fast this morning and commenting right out of the chute. You are appreciated, buddy.

Happy Monday to you! Be safe!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on January 11, 2021:

Peggy, as a country, our warts are showing. Let's hope and pray we are able to find a way to come together sooner rather than later. Thank you always!

Linda Lum from Washington State, USA on January 11, 2021:

Bill, thanks to you perhaps no one (in their right mind) will ever again consider moving to the Pacific Northwest (hahaha). You've described it perfectly.

I'm sorry you only had two questions (but they were good ones). A true friend would work on sending you a question this week, right? However, because of the lack of material in the Mailbag we got another glimpse of Tobias.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on January 11, 2021:

Hi Bill looks like I have missed a few of your hubs. So glad I got this one. You know exactly how to get your message across to an audience. Thank you

Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on January 11, 2021:

I think we all need a break after last week! Dear God, I feel like I'm living in an evil parallel universe. Let's hope that this isn't a forecast of what this year will bring.

Anyway... like everyone, I'm trying to stay positive even though the distraction is significant.

Let's all sing "Let There Be Peace on Earth" and make it a great week. Happy Monday.

Jo Miller from Tennessee on January 11, 2021:

I like the cold. And here in North Central Tennessee is a good place to enjoy it. Enough snow occasionally to cover the trees, sometimes with sparkling ice crystals. Cold enough to crank up the fireplace, and a week later the first signs of spring as the daffodils begin to poke through the ground. It's monotony I don't like.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on January 11, 2021:

Fantastic Bill. I really liked this one. I once read a book and the secondary character only spoke in similes and metaphors. It worked but you could just feel the artist struggle.

If you could figure out the tap root of your day in and day out writing. What do you think it could be. Or a few.

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on January 11, 2021:

Hello Bill!

A little bit different, but valuable mailbag as always. I enjoyed reading it, and I liked your tips regarding similes, and word counts.

Have a good day and a wonderful week. Thank you for sharing.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on January 11, 2021:

Hi Bill, thanks for this week's Monday mail bag. Its inspiring. The cold, oh its not only in your part of the world that its being felt. Right now and right here at the southern fringe of the Niger Delta on the Atlantic coast line, a cold wind is blowing daily if as to dehydrate my skin and bones.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on January 11, 2021:

I guess I am fortunate to have mild temperatures,but I grew up in a suburb of Clevlend. The wind off the lake was so cold in the winter. I had to walk about a mile to and from school (up hill both ways).. :)

I am glad I saw your article before it left t his area. Your advice on the length of books was very interesting, and not something I knew. I like to read the Dan Fogelberg lyrics as his message is always good.

Take care and stay healthy, my friend.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on January 11, 2021:

So refreshing. From the intro to the answers to the song. Thanks for always sharing "well-crafted" writing in all forms.

Don't think I got to wish you a Happy New Year.

Liz Westwood from UK on January 11, 2021:

Interesting word association game. It's useful to know the ideal length of a novel. Quality is key for me. If it's so good that I don't want to put it down I don't mind a longer novel. Your illustration about similes is excellent.

I have a question. After an enforced break from HubPages I was recently checking the scores of some of my articles. In my absence, some have dropped a lot. Any suggestions on why that might be? I am wondering whether I should prioritise these on my next round of reviews.

John Hansen from Australia (Gondwana Land) on January 11, 2021:

I got in early again, hooray. Only two questions this week but good ones. It is good to know the recommended word lengths for novels, and similes and metaphors are great but can be overdone. Once again, I will say Dan Fogelberg is a great song-writer and poet. Thanks for sharing the words to The Beggar’s Game.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on January 11, 2021:

We have a humid climate here in Houston. When it is cold, as it is right now, it is similar to how you described what you are living through right now. The only difference is that it does not settle in for a long time. It comes in waves from the north.

Your example of using similies versus writing a more engaging piece is excellent.

After the week we have experienced, I echo your ending sentence. "Have a great week and please, do all things with love." We need more of that kind of advice!

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