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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.”

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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: