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The Writer's Mailbag: Installment #355

Thank You, Mr. Jahner

My love affair with writing began with my Sophomore English teacher, Mr. Jahner. He was a fireplug of a man, couldn’t have been much more than five-four, maybe five-five, crewcut, chiseled features, smile lines around his mouth. He was my Freshman baseball coach in high school, but Sophomore year was the first time I had him as an actual teacher.

He had a passion for creative writing. His face just lit up when he was teaching it, every Friday, part of our weekly schedule, sit down, you boneheads, and write a short story about pain, about happiness, about love, about sports, on and on and on we would practice the craft, hoping for his praise for he truly was one of our favorite teachers at Bellarmine Prep.

Mr. Jahner was handing back our papers one day, short stories about conflict, and he handed mine to me, a large, red A on the top of the first page, some story about a gladiator fight to the death, and his comment next to the A. The comment said something like “wonderful conclusion, topnotch stuff, you have a talent for this, Bill, and I hope you pursue writing some day.”

And that was all it took for this shy, introverted kid. I was hooked on creative writing.

One kind word of encouragement from a fireplug of a man.

Let’s get to the mail, shall we?

The Mail Room!

The Mail Room!

Author’s Option

From Liz: “Your comment on colons got me thinking about a recent conundrum. Whilst editing a friend's book I questioned the use of capitals for some words. It turned out that it was his style to capitalize what he considered to be key words such as army officers. Now an academic has questioned this. I tend to think that the author"s decision should be final and that rules are there to be broken if there's a good reason. What do you think? Are there times when writers are justified in breaking the grammar rules?”

Liz, I’m with you on this one. The academic was probably correct regarding the strict rules of grammar, but that bottom line is this: the author is the one who, literally, spent months writing that book, and the author should do what the author is comfortable doing. My only suggestion would be a suggestion of consistency. If they want to capitalize key words, great, but do it consistently throughout. Otherwise it will drive me nutso reading it.

As a writer, you have to follow your own path.

As a writer, you have to follow your own path.

More on That Pesky Colon

From Mr. Happy: “I have another question related to writing. Sometimes, I chose to write as we speak so, "I am going to go buy bread" becomes "I'm gonna go buy bread". When we speak, we often change the default sound of words. Weather anyone likes it, or not stylistically, or flow-wise I am not interested in so much, if I chose a certain flow/tone/style in my mind.

“Sometimes You might have heard someone elongate a "because" I am sure. The "au" which is more of an "ȯ" sound is extended so, it's almost as if there were two "ȯ"s there (or two "au"s to be precise). How would You write-out that sound of an elongated "because" by extending the "ȯ" sound?

“Now, that's also why I put a colon after a "because". In my mind there is a significant pause after that "because" - I am trying to change the "common" sound, or what people would commonly use. I am not a conformist by any stretch of the imagination. Mrs. Ann Carr regarded it as an overkill and that is fine with me because of the sound/flow/or not so much flow (lol) that I am looking for. I was actually looking for an over-kill there so, she actually understood what I was trying to do by putting a colon after the "because" (even though she didn't like it, haha!!). So ya, how would one write-out a long-sounding"because" lol Just curious. If I can write-out that long "because", I would take away the colon. Haha!! The only way. : )”

Mr. Happy, your question actually relates to Liz’s question a second ago.

I’m not married to the rules of grammar. I break them quite often, but when I do break them I have a good reason for doing it, and that reason is often related to the flow of the book or the flow of the conversation, or my desire to make dialogue seem authentic.

My only word of caution is this: if you are going to break the rules of grammar, have a reason for it, and make sure the reader understands why those rules were broken. Otherwise, all of your best intentions will be lost in a manuscript which appears to be poorly-written.

It’s my opinion that most book readers, and certainly most writers, are grammar snobs. I know I am. If I pick up a book, and grammar has been butchered in the first few pages, and there appears to be no reason for the butchering, I will not read on. Period! End of story for me!

So tread carefully!

Formatting for Kindle Direct

From Mel: “Anyhow, in your spare time, maybe you could write a hub about how to format a word document correctly for Kindle. I for one would appreciate it, because I plan to do it in the next few months. Great work.”

Scroll to Continue

Good God, Mel, how much time do you think I have? LOL

There is a great book titled “A Detailed Guide To Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers,” written by Chris McMullen, and I highly recommend it. You can find it on Amazon or on ebay. Pick up a used copy for five bucks. You will never again have questions about preparing a Word Doc for Kindle. That book takes you through every step in the process, and it does so in a way which can be understood by tech babies like me. It’s worth the money, and McMullen does a much better job than I could ever hope to do.

Back to Mr. Jahner

How many people, in our lifetimes, had huge effects on us as we aged? That memory of Mr. Jahner got me to thinking. Maybe five, six, outside chance of seven, people that I can think of who altered my life with their words or with their actions, and the sad thing is, at least for me, is they never knew what a great influence they were on me.

I never saw Mr. Jahner after I graduated from high school. I never got the chance to thank him for encouraging the little nerd that was me back in 1964. Hell, I don’t think I ever told my father how damned grateful I was for his guidance, even though he was easily the most influential person in my life.

I did get that chance with my best friend Frank, a friend for fifty-five years, back to 1964 when we met, the best friend a man could ever hope for. Frank died two years ago, and I got the chance to drive down to Oregon to see him three months before cancer claimed him, and I told him, on one of our walks, how much his friendship had meant to me, and that I loved him.

And that kind of closure was liberating!

My one word of advice for today: reach out and tell those who influenced you how important they are to you. Tell them you love them and tell them that you are grateful. They deserve to hear those words.

Have a great week, and thanks for stopping by the Mail Room. If you have questions, leave them in the comment section below, or email them to me at

2021 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

All ready for Mr. Jahner's class!

All ready for Mr. Jahner's class!


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

Thank you Rosina, and Happy Tuesday to you as well.

Rosina S Khan on April 13, 2021:

Hi Bill, an interesting mailbag, as always. Happy Tuesday to you.

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

Thank you Devika! It is an interesting difference for sure. It's amazing we are able to communicate with our British friends. lol

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on April 10, 2021:

Hi Bill another one of your great write up and so interesting to know of the English and American grammar. I realized the differences between the both when I moved to Croatia. There is an American college here and local people are learning American English.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on April 10, 2021:

Hey, Sha, good to hear from you. No apologies necessary. Life has a way of detouring us, doesn't it?

Thanks for the help with Mr. Happy. I was somewhat stumped on that one but then I never claimed to know it all. lol

Happy April to you, my dear friend.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on April 09, 2021:

Bill, I love the intro on this week's mailbag. Thanks for sharing Mr. Jahner with us and the wonderful advice with which you close.

Interesting mailbag, as usual. To Mr. Happy's question regarding drawing out the word "because" in order to emphasize, I would do something like: be-cause (italicize the last syllable) or, becau-ause. The reader is forced to draw the pronunciation of the word out, which is what Mr. Happy is looking for. Colons all over the place are very clunky and completely distracts from the context of the sentence, in my opinion. Commas can be overdone as well. Colons are more commonly used to precede lists, bullet points, or even the way I used colon in this paragraph.

Sorry I haven't been around much lately. I've been busy at work, having stuff done at my house and the feed search simply takes up too much scant time.

I hope you and Bev had a nice Easter!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on April 08, 2021:

Thank you Linda! I have no doubt you have your share of Mr. Jahners in your life. :)

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on April 08, 2021:

Blessings to you as well, Denise. Reach out and tell those people, if you can. I think it's important that we all do that.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on April 08, 2021:

I hope you contact them, Mary! Your words of thanks would mean a great deal to them. Of that I am sure.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on April 07, 2021:

It sounds like Mr. Jahner was a great teacher. Thanks for sharing his lovely comment about your writing.

Denise McGill from Fresno CA on April 07, 2021:

You really got me with that last paragraph. I started tearing up just thinking about the many people who have influenced me and in particular, my mom. I do like your answers about the grammar rules for creative writing being breakable.



Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on April 07, 2021:

Thanks, Bill, for your story on Mr. Jahner. I have many Mr. Jahners in my life, and I have not told them how much of an influence they were. It's time to recognize that, and luckily, some of them are still alive.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on April 07, 2021:

Thank you Manatita! Grammar will be the death of me. lol I want to be understood. Period! I change the grammar rules on occasion, but if it works, and it is understood, and people "feel it," it's all good for me.

I hope this finds you well, my friend. Peace be with you also.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on April 07, 2021:

Mel, I love your memories of Mrs. Thornhill. I would have loved that woman as a teacher. Trust me when I tell you I was not a conventional teacher.

Take care, my friend. I'll catch you down the road of life.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on April 07, 2021:

Well then, Rosina, God bless your father. He sounds like a good man.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on April 07, 2021:

Good morning, Ann! Thank you! I rarely use colons. I find them cumbersome, and we certainly don't want cumbersome when writing, do we? lol

The weather is nearly perfect here, finally, and I am having much fun working outside on projects. I hope this finds you well. Thank you, as always.


Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on April 07, 2021:

Thank you Brenda! That book I mentioned is still a valuable resource for me. I can't remember all of the things that must be done to format a Word Doc, so I'm constantly referencing it. Great investment for me.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on April 07, 2021:

MizB, I'm with you about editing heavily-coated dialects. I just can't do it. Life is too short. :)

As always, thank you for your pearls of wisdom. I do so look forward to reading your comments. They always make me smile and usually laugh. :)

The weather is approaching perfect. I have been quite busy with outdoor projects and loving it.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on April 06, 2021:

Thank you so much, Gyanendra Mocktan. That is so very kind of you to say, and I appreciate it very much.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on April 06, 2021:

Heidi, it's the same with me, and I always thought that was strange. I have no clue about any of my college professors. Not one of them! But I remember almost all of my high school teachers and even a couple of my elementary teachers. How weird!

Happy April my friend! Enjoy the warming temps.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on April 06, 2021:

Mr. Happy, no ideas are coming to me right now, but I'm sure I'll have an answer for you next Monday. Until then, my friend, stay healthy and be good. :) Thank you!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on April 06, 2021:

Thank you, Nithya! He was one of those rare teachers who noticed the individual traits in each student, and he found a way to speak to those traits.

manatita44 from london on April 06, 2021:

Some grammar orientated questions this week. I see them all the time. I'm like you. Some books are so badly written that they turn me off. Others have paragraphs that are so long! Some have other problems, which relates even if the person is a native speaker. So no hard and fast rules.

Yet I not only like the idea of challenging grammar, I bend the rules myself. For years I have been capitalising 'Love', when I'm talking of mystical Love. I keep it simple when I'm talking of human love.

Same with the spiritual Heart. Many speak of emotions and use the word 'heart.' When the mystic uses it, he/she is talking about a chakra--an energy centre in the middle of the chest. The Heart is the shrine and the soul is the deity within the shrine.

Perhaps grammar should be about 98% and interests 2%. Yes, Grammar should be that high! Add flow ... movement, like a dynamic river, with a great plot or interesting content and dialogue for a great story. Pax Vorbiscum!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on April 06, 2021:

Dora, that example you gave has me perplexed. I simply don't understand what the hell HP editors are thinking of sometimes. What a silly thing to reject an article for, especially since they were wrong and you were right. :)

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on April 06, 2021:

Always, Ravi! I'm into nostalgia in a big way lately, so I'm happy you enjoyed it.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on April 06, 2021:

Thank you for sharing that memory, James. It is sad you didn't tell her, but I suspect she knew anyway. Those of us who believe in faith would think the same way.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on April 06, 2021:

That is way too kind of you to say, Linda, but thank you! I try!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on April 06, 2021:

Bill, it was more advice for myself, but if it helps you, fantastic! Happy April my friend! Enjoy!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on April 06, 2021:

Thank you, John, my friend down under. You are appreciated!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on April 06, 2021:

Thank you Chitrangada Sharan. It's always a pleasure having you stop by. I am grateful for your friendship.

gyanendra mocktan from Kathmandu,Nepal on April 06, 2021:

Bill, I think your heart is flooded with eternal gratitude to Mr.Jahner, your friend who died of cancer and infinite number of people around you.

I have no words to describe about your compassion and gratitude to fellow friends and humanity. Thank you.

Mel Carriere from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on April 06, 2021:

I think all of us have somebody we can look back on and say - this was the person that made me want to become a writer. My writing coach was Mrs. Thornhill. She was a big, mean black woman in a white-bread school who tolerated no mischief or skylarking in her class. People were terrified of her showing up on their class schedules, but she was probably the best teacher I ever had.

Mrs. Thornhill was a disciple of the minimalist school of teaching. She might lecture for 5 minutes, tops, then made us write for the rest of the period, while she played soothing background music. There were no homework assignments, but if she liked something you wrote, she made you read it in front of the class. I had to read one of my pieces about wrecking a motorcycle in the desert. "A creosote bush for a tombstone," was one of the key lines that she liked.

Mrs. Thornhill taught me tons about paragraph organization, and transitions between paragraphs. No lecturing, no homework, but I somehow learned more from her than anyone. My experience in her class convinced me that the traditional teaching model is way overrated.

Just thought I would share that. Thanks for sharing that guideline for Kindle publishing. I will most definitely check it out.

Rosina S Khan on April 06, 2021:

Bill, I am glad to know Mr Jahner was your favorite college English teacher. I cannot remember a good English teacher all my childhood other than my own father who took all the pains to teach good grammar and essay composition writing. Interesting mailbag, as always. Wish you a good start to the week.

Ann Carr from SW England on April 06, 2021:

This pesky colon indeed! I forgot there are so many differences between American English and British English, especially when it comes to putting it into print! I should've known, and Jules Roman's article on the etiquette of emails made me realise, that the colon is used much more in American punctuation than in British. The rules are different and I've since had a good look at them. So ignore everything I have previously written about colons unless you are British!

I too have had significant teachers and was lucky that they were ones whose subjects were my favourites, i.e. English and French. One set my foundations in the use of English and grammar, in primary school; the others were at secondary school, one in each of those subjects, both kind, fun and totally encouraging.

Great mailbag, bill.

Have a great week!


BRENDA ARLEDGE from Washington Court House on April 05, 2021:


I had to search for your article on the feed, but I finally found it.

The story about how your Sophomore teacher influenced you is a great.

He probably does not know the impact those scribbles on your paper really made in your life.

Grammer I guess is up to the Author, but I'm like you if it has too many errors.. I just stop reading.

But I do notice some people have a different style...and sometimes it works.

The book you mentioned is probably a wise investment.

Have a great week.

Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on April 05, 2021:

I love your story about Mr. Jahner. It was my experience that a coach can be the best teacher in school because he doesn't want his star player to fail and be thrown off the team. My weakness was math because I'm mildly dyslectic and I transpose digits. Then I found myself in the football coach's sophomore geometry class. His two star football players, brothers in fact, weren't mathematically inclined. Coach made that class so darned simple that it was beautiful. I made all As in it, and those two boys made the grade. Today I love geometry and would thank him, but he left us all too soon. A fatal heart attack at only 42.

Back to the colon after "because". That's too abstract for me. (I don't read smoke signals either.) Remember when you write like you speak, people who are not from your area may not understand your dialect. I think he's taking that "write like we speak too literally."

In my writing classes, to "write like we speak" meant informally perhaps with colloquialisms. A dangling participle or saying "ain't" is okay. But don't throw in your dialect unless there is a good reason such as writing a regional conversation. Good example here, compare the New York Times to Dave Barry who writes like he speaks.

I would never agree to edit an article or a book that the author writes totally in his dialect.

Sorry, that's enough soapbox today. Loving this fine weather, aren't you?

Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on April 05, 2021:

Happy Easter Monday!

Re: Grammar Rules and Breaking Them. I agree, you can break the rules. But if some reader doesn't get that it is an intentional breaking of the rules for effect, they'll think you're sloppy or poorly educated. There is a way to express in writing what we actually say in real life. And to that I say, get an editor. Tell him/her what you're trying to achieve, and let them perform their magic.

Re: Teachers. I remember most of my teachers from kindergarten through high school. Some good ones, some not so much. But I have a lot of memories and know how they impacted me. I can barely remember any of my college instructors. Isn't that weird? With a few exceptions, I guess they didn't affect me in either a positive or negative way. That's not a rousing endorsement for paying for college investment.

Anyway, hope you had a lovely Easter and that your first week of April is wonderful!

Mr. Happy from Toronto, Canada on April 05, 2021:

Alrighty, thanks for the conversation. I appreciate it. So, how about that: "How would You write-out that sound of an elongated "because" by extending the "ȯ" sound? Any ideas? This is still an "issue" lol

And regarding teachers, there have been a few good ones in my life which were significantly influential. Wouldn't it be amazing if they all had that quality, of being life-changing? Many just handed-out photocopies from their previous year's lessons. Blah ... lol

Well, thanks again for the writing and the chats! I appreciate it. Cheers!

Nithya Venkat from Dubai on April 05, 2021:

Mr. Jahner must have been a wonderful teacher who deeply cared and inspired his students to follow their passion. I agree that we have to tread carefully while breaking grammar rules-we do not want to lose the reader. Great questions and answers, thank you for sharing.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on April 05, 2021:

I agree that the author has some authority to change some grammar rules. I'm still appalled that a certain editor on this site refused to accept my title: "Caribbean People, Place and Food" because he or she wants me to say Peoples, Places and Foods. The Caribbean is a single region, so we are one people and one place and my article was based on that concept. And whoever says "Chinese Foods.?" Alas! We have to put up with some narrow-minded conservatism until everybody catches up. All that to say that I appreciate your answer to Liz. Thank you. Have a great week!

Ravi Rajan from Mumbai on April 05, 2021:

Great bit of writing Bill. It brought me back memories of my own teachers who had shaped my life and my words for the good. Thanks for bringing back nostalgies.

James C Moore from Joliet, IL on April 05, 2021:


You struck a sentimental chord with me. Your Mr. Jahner was my Mrs. McEwen. Our families knew each other and we were in the same church. Her youngest son and I both wrestled at the same high school and graduated the same year. She introduced my 8th grade "language arts" class to doing something akin to a term paper. I am so thankful to her. And, sadly I did'nt get to tell her this.

Linda Lum from Washington State, USA on April 05, 2021:

Bill, if only every one of us could have a Mr. Jahner in our lives. The people on Hub Pages who visit your Mailbag each week have a Mr. Jahner in you.

Bill De Giulio from Massachusetts on April 05, 2021:

Great mailbag, Bill. I can easily think of a handful of people who have changed my life with their words. Some of them are no longer with us and I wish I had told them what a great influence they were on me. I will certainly take your advice and not make that same mistake going forward. Have a wonderful week, Bill.

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on April 05, 2021:

I am glad to catch another mailbag in time, Bill. We all have at least one Mr. Jahner in our lives, someone who inspired us or whose words made a difference. I’d like to thank Misbah for her kind words also. Have a great week.

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on April 05, 2021:

Hello Bill!

A beautifully written introductory paragraph, which I loved reading. We are indebted to so many, who shape our lives, influence and inspire us. I have also too many to mention, and I am forever grateful to them.

Good questions and answers as well.

Have a good week. Thank you for sharing.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on April 05, 2021:

Thank you Umesh! I appreciate it very much.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on April 05, 2021:

People like that are to be fondly remembered, Peggy, and that was my intention here. I wonder what happened to Mr. Jahner? Probably dead, but I would love to know if he is still in the area.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on April 05, 2021:

Thank you Misbah! Trust me, those writers you mentioned, they know you appreciate them, and they are grateful. That's how a community is supposed to work.

Blessings always, my friend!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on April 05, 2021:

Thank you Alyssa! It was a nice weekend, and the weather is moderating, the rains are less-harsh, and life is good in Olympia. Happy April to you!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on April 05, 2021:

Perfectly-states, Flourish. Thank you!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on April 05, 2021:

Thank you Devika! I appreciate you taking the time to comment. Take care and stay safe.

Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on April 05, 2021:

Well sketched and interesting reading. Thanks.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on April 05, 2021:

It is so true that only a few people truly make a lasting impression on one's life, particularly when thinking of teachers. You were lucky to have Mr. Jahner as your teacher. That big red A, along with his note, meant a lot! He did a good job, and he would be proud of you if he could see what you are doing today!

Misbah Sheikh from — This Existence Is Only an Illusion on April 05, 2021:

Thanks for sharing so much knowledge here, Mr. Bill. You answered every question very wisely.

Highly Appreciated

I like the advice in the end. I am grateful to many Co-authors here. I am learning a lot from them. Obviously most of them are much elder than me and wise ofcourse so from your platform, I would like to Thank: you , Manatita, John Hansen and Pamela. I know they will be appearing here in comments and maybe they will read what I said here. Happy Easter

Much Gratitude

Blessings always

Alyssa from Ohio on April 05, 2021:

What a wonderful memory of your teacher! Little moments can have the biggest impact, I think that's a takeaway for us all -- you never know how much your kind words can change a person's life.

Excellent mailbag this week! You know I love to break grammar rules, but I agree with you, there should be a reason behind it.

I hope you had a wonderful Easter! Have an awesome week!

FlourishAnyway from USA on April 05, 2021:

The rules are only a strong suggestion to me. They are context-specific.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on April 05, 2021:

Hi Bill I could here soon. You have written another wonderful hub? People see everything different to everyone else and you have made valuable points here.

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