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The Writer's Mailbag: Installment #344

Tough Times, These

I have pretty much refrained from making comments about the current turmoil in the United States. It’s not that I’m blind to it all, nor is it because I don’t care. I just think it’s time to step back and dial down the rhetoric because, in my humble opinion, it’s not helping anyone to spout off.

I could go on Facebook and join the throngs who are shouting their displeasure over one side of the political argument or the other, but what good will it do? Absolutely none! Anyone who knows me knows where I stand on politics, so why should I continue to shove it down the throats of anyone scanning the Facebook feeds? I just think, at some point, the vitriol needs to stop. At some point we all need to step back, take a deep breath, and let it all work out in its own time. And it will, you know? It will work out. I remember back to 1968, 1969, it seemed there were violent protests daily in the U.S. over the war and Civil Rights. Then fast-forward to the early 70’s, Watergate, a Nixon administration which was as corrupt as we have seen in a long, long time in this country, and all the hatred that stemmed from that, and here we are now, fifty years later, disagreeing again, hating again, and . . .

We will get through this! It’s going to be ugly. It’s going to be bloody. But we will get through it, and we’ll get through it incrementally easier if I just keep my mouth shut. We are a family of 320 million, and sometimes family needs to avoid certain topics when they meet for dinner.

So let’s turn our attention to the Mailbag, shall we? It’s feast or famine in the Mail Room, week after week, and this week is a feast!

The Mail Room!

The Mail Room!

Plummeting Hub Scores

From Liz: “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.”

Liz, anything I say will just be an educated guess. I think HP is very busy changing their algorithms, and that is bound to affect the scoring on some articles. I do believe this will level out in the near future but yes, I think your course of action is a good one. Refresh the ones which have dropped. It can’t hurt to try that approach.

The Tap Root of My Writing

From Eric: “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?”

The way you worded this question, Eric, makes it a bit tricky to answer. The tap root for my anal-retentive insistence on writing at certain times, day in, day out, almost obsessive in my preparation and routine? Or the tap root which inspires me to write daily?

I’ll answer both!

The work ethic, and the insistence on being consistent in preparation, comes partly from my father and partly from my desire to stay sober. My dad was a hard-worker, and he insisted that I “embrace” that same work ethic. For better or for worse, I prefer working and staying busy to laying back, doing nothing.

Sticking to a consistent schedule is important for my sobriety. Idleness is bad for this alcoholic. I do not do well with too much time to think. I do much better with a schedule. I suffered too much because of drinking, and I never want to return to it, so I make sure I do the same things every single day to eliminate randomness. To me, randomness means danger.

Writing is my outlet. It is my way of communicating with people. It is my attempt to scream to you all that I exist and that I have value. The shy kid in the corner wants to be heard . . . needs to be heard . . . and so I write!

Thanks for the question, buddy!

Empathy for the Villains

From Lori: “Hi Bill, I recently had a profound moment of connection with my antagonist. I've always hated him, he is evil through and through, but I decided to write a memory of his youth that put context to his pathological behavior. When I was done, I realized I cared about him very deeply. I saw his vulnerability and human brokenness. Have you had the experience of having empathy and compassion for even the most evil of your villains?”

It's a fascinating occurrence, Lori, and the answer is yes, it has happened to me. I’ll be curious if anyone else who reads this will weigh in with the same statement.

It’s not so unusual, is it? We spend six, seven, eight months, or more, with these characters. We create them, develop them, and at times kill them off. We should be invested in them. I would be concerned if a writer did not feel that kind of connection with a main character.

All About Seo

From Linda: “What is SEO and how does it work?”

Scroll to Continue

How much time do you have, Linda? He said with tongue firmly planted in his cheek.

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. I’m going to borrow from a site called Small Business Weekly for a better definition:

“Search engine optimization is the act of trying to push a website higher up in a search engine's results.1 SEO seeks to tweak particular factors known to affect search engine results. Successful SEO can make certain pages more attractive to search engines than similar pages that are vying for the same keywords or keyword phrases.”

The better search engine results are obtained by improving quality of content, by using quality keywords, and by using a variety of presentation forms like videos, graphs, photos, and polls.

Those are the basics. It gets pretty complicated after that, because too much of a good thing i.e. too many links, are actually bad, so internet gurus are constantly trying to find the perfect balance. Add to that the problem that search engines like Google are constantly changing the rules of the game, so it can be a serious headache for those who do this for a living.

Anyway, that’s enough to get you started. Good luck! You can email me if you want me to be more specific about a particular section of that explanation.

From Greg: “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.”

Greg, honestly, whatever I say will be more opinion that fact. It is my understanding that as long as you give credit where credit is due, or at the very least mention that it is a lyric from a song, you won’t run into any infringement problems. I have to believe what I say is correct because I see it being done all the time in literature.

If you were to say, in one of your articles, “as Paul Simon once said, there must be fifty ways to leave your lover,” that is perfectly acceptable. You wade into murky territory if you leave out the Simon reference, and most definitely you are knee-deep in murky if you use that line in a poem without mentioning the songwriter.

I found this from a legal article about copyrighting:

“The use of song lyrics is more complicated. In some contexts, such as a scholarly analysis of the lyrics, extensive quotation might be protected as fair use. In contrast, using a song verse at the opening of a book chapter, or quotes of lyrics within works of fiction to develop the plot or characters, will typically require that the use be licensed.

“In most cases, the portion of a song that an author will want to reference will be the most famous or recognizable portion of a song, strengthening the copyright holder's right to control the use of the lyrics and, if desired, to charge royalties.

“As an alternative to quoting lyrics, an author may consider identifying the singer and song title, or referencing the lyrics without directly quoting them. The song, "American Pie", provides a good example of how references may be made to artists, songs and lyrics with almost no direct references to artists, titles or lyrics.”

Clear as mud, right?

I’m sure someone else will have something to add in the comments.

Understanding copyright laws is something every writer needs to attempt.

Understanding copyright laws is something every writer needs to attempt.

Consistency of Voice

From Audrey: “Happy 2021 Bill! How do your deal with the issue of consistency of voice from character to character–they must live in your bones I would think.”

Audrey, Happy New Year, and thanks for a fascinating question.

For me, it’s a matter of maintaining awareness. I have to constantly remind myself, when writing a novel, that each character is a bit different in the way they speak and what they say. It can be challenging, to say the least. I usually edit a novel three or four times, so I can usually catch any inconsistencies of voice during those edits but still, I have to be aware of it constantly.

Remembering that every main character is different.

Remembering that every main character is different.

Moving on in Love

I love to think, at times, that my opinion is terribly important, and it is in so far as everyone has the right to speak and be heard, but honestly, my opinion isn’t any more important than millions of others, and I’m not sure anything is accomplished by my adding to the unrest. Politics will always be a steaming cauldron, and today I don’t feel like adding more steam.

But issues like sex trafficking, abuse, homelessness, economic disparity, bigotry, those topics will never go out of style for me, and I’ll always have something to say about them.

That’s just me! I’m sure some will disagree with me, and I’m fine with that. I think we all need to learn to disagree with each other in a respectful manner. Trying to outshout everyone else is not a recipe for success.

Have a fabulous week ahead. The road ahead is a rocky one, but we’ll all figure out, together, how to traverse it. In the meantime please, try to do all things in love this week.

2021 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”


Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on January 20, 2021:

Thank you Alyssa! A new day dawning today, and with it hope! Happy Hump Day to you!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on January 20, 2021:

Thank you Mary! I do love writing, so it's easy for me to stick to a writing schedule.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on January 20, 2021:

I'm sure it will be, Brenda! Halfway done, thank God!

Alyssa from Ohio on January 19, 2021:

I agree wholeheartedly Bill! Things will get better, life will move on.

Thank you for another wonderful mailbag!

Have an awesome week!

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on January 19, 2021:

Bill, I like the way you deal with what is going on in your country right now. I agree with you. I also upheld your sticking to your writing schedule and your reason for doing it. I think it is also because because you are passionate about writing.

BRENDA ARLEDGE from Washington Court House on January 19, 2021:

Thanks Bill,

I will look forward to your detailed answer.

Remolding can be a chore, but it will be well worth it in the end.

Take care.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on January 19, 2021:

Thank you Rosina! I always appreciate you stopping by. Take care!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on January 19, 2021:

MizB, that's a very easy way to remember it...200 words with attribution. Now that I can remember, so thank you! As for spring, it needs to hurry. Our winter has actually been very mild, but damn it's wet!!!!

Happy Tuesday, my friend. Stay safe!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on January 19, 2021:

Thanks Bill! Me too, by the way. I have never convinced anyone to follow me in political views. I am batting zero in those attempts. With a batting average like that, I should probably be dropped from the lineup, don't you think? lol

Happy Tuesday, buddy!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on January 19, 2021:

Denise, the copyright laws are indeed very confusing. I can easily claim ignorance if I ever cross over the invisible line. lol

Have a wonderful week, my friend, and blessings always!


Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on January 19, 2021:

Aww, thanks, Dora! Honestly keeps me sober and alive. Seems like a small price to pay for such a huge payout. :)

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on January 19, 2021:

Hi Brenda! Sorry about Travels with Maggie. I haven't done one of those in awhile. I'll try to have one for you in a week or two, okay? Thanks for reminding me. We are remodeling two rooms in our house, and it has completely upset my writing schedule, I'm afraid. As for your question, I highly recommend you share excerpts of a book. I will have a more detailed answer for you on Monday in the Mailbag.

Thank you and Happy Tuesday to you!

Rosina S Khan on January 18, 2021:

A great mailbag indeed. Lots of interesting questions and answers and I learned a lot. Thank you, Bill, for sharing. Wish you an awesome week ahead.

Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on January 18, 2021:

Yes, you did have a long, thoughtful mailbag this week. I'd never thought about the use of song lyrics in writing since I spent several years watching as the recording companies collected their royalties from the radio stations where I worked. One station refused to play any record that was licensed through a very minor company so they wouldn't have to pay royalties. Those records were trashed the day they appeared in the mail. Journalism classes taught us that the limit on quoting someone else's work, like in historical writing, was 200 words with attribution. Just thought I'd throw that in.

We are about half way through the winter and spring is just around the corner. I can hardly wait. We keep being missed by the snows that wander through, and I'm not sad about it. 50s and sunshine feels pretty good. Stay warm and safe, my friend.

Bill De Giulio from Massachusetts on January 18, 2021:

Nice mailbag this week, Bill, with a variety of excellent questions and spot on answers. I don’t think I’ve ever been able to change anyone’s mind about a political issue so I don’t even try. And I really agree with you that the rhetoric needs to be toned down a few notches. Have a great week.

Denise McGill from Fresno CA on January 18, 2021:

Beautifully said. I've been feeling that my adding to the minutia is totally unnecessary and even a little counter-productive. It was a feast of great questions today. It gets just as confusing when speaking about copyright with respect to art. Two people can stand at the same spot and paint the same scene but each will have a different flavor. Is that copyright infringement? No. But copying from a photograph of that same scene is. Sort of confusing. Thanks for weighing in.



Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on January 18, 2021:

This was a really rich mailbag. Good questions, and as usual very good answers. I'm always impressed by your honest opinions. Thanks.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on January 18, 2021:

I like that, Eric! Criticize and all is well. lol Your questions always make me laugh. Me, patting myself on the back, now that's funny!!!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on January 18, 2021:

I agree with you, Flourish! The thing is, I don't think any songwriter gives a damn if I quote a lyric from one of his/her songs. I just don't worry about it, as long as my intentions are pure.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on January 18, 2021:

Peggy, I think we will settle down after this week, but that doesn't mean our problems will go away. Sooner or later we have to face the underlying reasons for all of this anger and hatred. It won't be pretty when we do. :)

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on January 18, 2021:

Manatita, this too shall pass. You are absolutely correct. History is filled with major events which seemed like "the worse" at the time, but history also gives us perspective, as does advancing age, I might add. lol We will be fine, but I'll be happy when this week is over.

Peace, my friend! Always peace!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on January 18, 2021:

Great reflections on villains, Mel. Thanks for sharing that, and I totally agree with you. You just said it much more eloquently than I would have. :)

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on January 18, 2021:

It is much harder to do today than it was ten years ago, Devika, no doubt about that. I wish you well in your endeavors. Have a great week, and thank you for the kind words.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on January 18, 2021:

Thank you Liz! It will drive you crazy keeping close tabs on article scores. They are volatile, just like the current political climate. The best you can do is revise the article in question and hope for the best.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on January 18, 2021:

Mr. Happy, I'm often wrong, so feel free to disagree with me any old time you want. lol Hell, I disagree with myself from time to time, if that makes any sense.

Interesting week ahead. We shall see how well our system of government, and our security, works after this week. Hopefully there will be some calm after the storm. It would be appreciated.

You take care up north, my friend. Stay safe and healthy.

BRENDA ARLEDGE from Washington Court House on January 18, 2021:


You are right. The road ahead will be a bumpy one but it does no one good to shout it all over social media.

People are going to have different viewpoints. If we respect one another instead of fighting, then we are truly an America to be proud of...the way it should exist.

I never seem to catch your walks anymore, but I truly love them. I hope Maggie & Tobi are doing well.

When one has too much time left to sit and ponder, the evil thoughts appear. Or at least thats when your mind can get you into trouble.

I find keeping busy helps me out alot. I am an mind literally never shuts off.

On to another subject....


I was wondering about when others post excerpts or chapters of their work.

I see this done alot.

Can one post a chapter of a book he is wanting to write & publish before he has done so.

Kinda like a trial run to see how others respond?

Or will that stop the book from being published?

Take care and have a relaxing week.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on January 18, 2021:

Thank you Mary! I do thing change will happen, and hopefully calmer minds will prevail in the future...but changes must happen in this country, hopefully sooner rather than later.

Have a great Monday, my friend!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on January 18, 2021:

Thanks John! Politics is a bottomless pit, I'm afraid, and I don't want my comments to add to the vitriol we already see daily in this country. It's downright ugly on Facebook these days.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on January 18, 2021:

Wonderful mailbag. There is a fun one on copyrights. Whenever you quote something criticize it. Then it is covered by a few exceptions to the rule.

Just how much time do you spend patting yourself on the back after you do good writing. My time varies.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on January 18, 2021:

DW, I appreciate that, thank you! That would be my advice as well, so it's nice to have some reinforcement. Copyright is such a tricky topic, I'm afraid, and it takes a copyright lawyer to fully understand it.

Have a great week!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on January 18, 2021:

Ann, these are tough times these days, no doubt about it, but in this country they have been approaching a blow-up for quite some time. There is a great deal of unhappiness in this country. Too many poor people. Too many people who believe they have been forgotten by their elected officials. This recent mess was predictable, and I don't think it will go away in the near future. We have to address income disparity or we will continue to have civil unrest.

Great questions. I'll use them in the Mailbag, but the answer to the first if no, I don't wake up in the middle of the night with ideas. I sleep like the proverbial log, I'm afraid. I have written notes while out and about.

You take care as well, my friend, and have a great week ahead.


Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on January 18, 2021:

Thank you Chitrangada Sharan! Tough times for sure in our country, but we've faced tougher. We'll get through this one way or another. I believe in the Constitution and our Republic, and I have faith they will survive the recent turmoil.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on January 18, 2021:

Greg, I appreciate it any old time you drop by. The new changes to HP make it hard for me to comment on articles I once would have. I just don't have the time to sort through the HP feed in search of them all, so I completely understand.

Let's hope this week is a peaceful one in this country. It's a good thing to hope for.

FlourishAnyway from USA on January 18, 2021:

Wheat comes to lyrics it depends on purpose I think. If you’re discussing the work itself or promoting it what’s a couple of lines from the song IF you note it as a quote, reference the song, artist and year released so the reader can go to the original if needed. There are multiple websites dedicated to lyrics alone (and thank goodness for them because they save us from singing crazy misheard versions of songs)!

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on January 18, 2021:

You certainly had some wide-ranging subjects this time in your mailbag. It is always interesting reading your answers. This site, and others, are still filled with political opinions of one side or another. You are correct in writing that few minds are ever swayed, so it is best to avoid most of them. We definitely need to tone down the rhetoric and be more respectful of one another. Let's pray that more peaceful times are ahead.

manatita44 from london on January 18, 2021:

Much Love, healing and blessings for this Wednesday and beyond. I have been sending them out - Master's Grace.

You and I know that society evolves. Life was very bad in Roman times, in major Dynasties and so forth. There was pomp and ceremony, all right, but much injustice also. Our Christianity evolved that way.

Move forward to the 20th Century and we had one war, Spanish flu, the Great Depression and another war, losing millions in the process, not to mention the dictators who found it necessary to send a few million more HOME.

So my message is that life evolves, changes and transformation will happen as nature/Love, continues to find a way to balance itself, when things are getting too bad. It has always been this way.

Yes, I love baddies. My Flash Fiction characters such as in the 'Deadly Mamba' and 'Deadly Waiter' do bad things. In the movies, some protagonist try their hands at being antagonists and also excel. Awesome! Haha. Peace, Bro.

Mel Carriere from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on January 18, 2021:

On the subject of villains, or antagonists in a story, I think that the line between the two is often a matter of perspective. The antagonist might have started out as a good person and fell into evil, perhaps without realizing it. Or else the antagonist might be able to rationalize his or her bad deeds as good ones, and may even see the protagonist as the evil person. Some of my favorite villains, and heroes even, are morally ambiguous ones. Life is shades of gray, not black and white, and the best stories reflect that. Great mailbag.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on January 18, 2021:

Hi Bill questions and answers are important and you know how to help writers helping writers. I think writing online is a way to earn a small income , but has become difficult in this time.

Liz Westwood from UK on January 18, 2021:

This is a wide-ranging and interesting mailbag. You have touched upon a lot of fascinating and very useful topics. Thanks for the answer to my question. I wondered if it was something to do with algorithms. The article had dropped, I reviewed it, it went up a little, but within a few days it had dropped back down again. Very wise words too about the political situation. I really hope that predictions of unrest are unfulfilled this week and that you see a largely peaceful power transition.

Mr. Happy from Toronto, Canada on January 18, 2021:

"sometimes family needs to avoid certain topics when they meet for dinner." - I am not of that opinion, You know why? Because keeping things bottled-up inside, often results in them bursting out at the wrong place and the wrong time. I speak from experience, haha!

Not only that but things have to be discussed, analyzed, understood; plans have to be made about the future and such things not happening again ... there is no healing without first cleaning-up the wound. You know, cleaning it up of Nazis, fascists, insurgents, etc. Otherwise, instead of healing we get an infection and then, we gotta cut limbs off. No fun so deal with it asap in my opinion.

"To me, randomness means danger." - And to me it means: "My life"!! I can't do it without randomness, haha!! That's why they say that in life it is good to: "Know Thyself." To each their own.

"We create them, develop them, and at times kill them off." - Okay Dr. Frankenstein. Haha!! : )

"by using quality keywords" - Ya, like "BBQ, Beer, Freedom" - that article is never gonna stop getting hits lmao It worked and I didn't even mean it that way.

"each character is a bit different in the way they speak and what they say. It can be challenging, to say the least." - That's like acting. So, You gotta change your act I guess, between characters. Ughh!! I can' t act and do not like to pretend either lol To each their own!! : )

Alrighty, thanks for the piece of writing. Stay safe and stay sane - cheers!

Mary Wickison from USA on January 18, 2021:

Hi Bill,

Yes, these are challenging times for everyone. I do however think that this current climate has revealed the true character of people. I would like to think that once the dust settles, we can reevaluate ourselves and find common ground again.

Have a wonderful week.

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on January 18, 2021:

Quite a full mailbag this week, Bill, and good questions and answers they are. I rarely express my opinion regarding politics as it never gets you anywhere other than into an argument and there has been too much of that already. Thanks for touching on copyright infringement in regard to song lyrics. I found that helpful.

DW Davis from Eastern NC on January 18, 2021:

Hi Bill. You weren't kidding when you said this mailbag was a feast. Your inquirers touched on a number of interesting topics.

In reference to the writer who asked about song lyrics, I have done some research on that topic. My best advice when writing fiction is to reference a song title and an artist but leave the lyrics out of it unless you're willing to license the use. Fair use regarding song lyrics is a tricky thing because most songs consist of few words compared to a novel, or even a typical short story. Where five or ten words might be a tiny fraction of a book, they might be a significant part of a song.

Thanks for another great Hub.


Ann Carr from SW England on January 18, 2021:

I've noticed that the unrest in America, before the latest political one, has spread round the world. In the name of racism, we had our spate of statues being pulled down without a word of discussion, we had protests which didn't take long to become violent. And now, we have rebellion just for the sake of it, to do with wearing masks and staying at home. There is disquiet in many people's hearts and it's an infection, just like Covid. The sooner we tow the line, calm down, look to the way we, ourselves, behave, the sooner some sense of reason can return. Maybe it needed those Capitol riots to shock us into realising that there is another answer. I don't know, just saying... Ok, enough of that, let's move on!

Empathy for our villains has to be there, doesn't it? Anyone can be a villain, can take his or her pain down any avenue, can't they? If we don't empathise with all our characters, we do not have real/vital characters.

Question: Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night, had a light-bulb idea, and written it down before you forgot it? What was the result? I'll tell you the reason for that question after you've answered it (hopefully)! If you haven't, have you ever written notes when you're out and about?

Take care, you and Bev, and keep well!


Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on January 18, 2021:

Hello Bill!

I agree that these are tough times for the Americans. But, I am sure better times are ahead.

Arguments and disagreements have become common these days, especially on social media. It's wise to avoid them, as much as we can.

Thank you for sharing another set of useful questions and answers in this mailbag.

Have a great week!

greg cain from Moscow, Idaho, USA on January 18, 2021:

Bill - tough times, indeed. And your approach is the right one, one I've adopted myself of late and of necessity. I got sucked into that abyss and it is not helpful for me to add my unsolicited voice to the cacophony that is already ringing out.

Though times are tough and tough days remain, let me say thanks for being here consistently every Monday morning. Though I personally can’t be here at the same time every day or every week, it is somehow refreshing, encouraging, soothing to know you will be.

Thanks also for the answer on lyrics and copyright infringement. I believe that helps a bit. I appreciate you doing the homework on it, and also for providing a thoughtful answer.

Happy Monday, and have a good week, Bill.

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