Grace's Mosaic Moments

Saturday, May 20, 2017

The Tale of Squeak

Happy Mother's Day!
 (One more drink selfie for our collection, which extends from the Caribbean to Istanbul)

Florida Wildfire Update: 2,600+ fires this season have burned over 700,000 acres. A number of years ago I used this annual Florida problem (tho' worse this year) in my Romantic Suspense, Paradise Burning. Oddly enough, I wrote the book about three years before the area (east of Venice, Florida) suffered a severe burn similar to the one in my book. 

~ * ~
An Admittedly Political Moment - Mea Culpa

Whether in writing or in speech, the repetitive use of the simplest adverbs, such as "very," is a sign of a sparse vocabulary, lack of imagination, and disregard for those who must listen to this paucity of creativity. At least that's how I see it. Yet there seem to be people out there gullible enough to believe the person who keeps repeating how "very, very good," or "very, very great," something is, no matter its dubious merit. Does the believability of an "alternative fact" increase with each "very" used?  Does calling the truth a lie ad nauseum make it a lie? If so, God help us all. 

~ * ~

Except for Mother's Day, this could be called Disaster Week. The following photo was taken at the jetties in Venice, Florida, where I lived for 25 years. The jetties mark the only access between the Gulf of Mexico and the Intracoastal Waterway for 20 miles in either direction. I've sat there, eating lunch at one of the many picnic tables and enjoying the view countless times over the years. Last week a man and his daughter somehow drove off the jetty parking lot into the swift-moving current. All efforts to save them failed.

~ * ~

Grace note: After a traumatic experience with my cat, I have postponed my comments on the verb "to be" until next week, so I could share with you . . .

The Tale of Squeak  
A Story for Animal Lovers Everywhere

Once upon a time there was a small, dark calico kitten. It was winter (2016) and she needed warmth. Or possibly she was just seeking shelter. You see, she was a feisty little kitty, her mommy most likely a tame housecat, but daddy . . . ? Well, from the kitten's subsequent behavior, one can only assume daddy was a big, tough, feral cat with an aggressive streak a mile wide.

"Kitten" may have been given into a loving new home for Christmas and disgraced herself by biting and scratching (which sweet little kittens aren't supposed to do, particularly around children). Whether she was tossed out or ran off remains unknown, but somehow she found her way inside the hood of a car. (From the way she remains terrified of the sound of a car engine to this day, she may have actually been transported "under the hood" from her original location.)

Late last January, my daughter's neighbor was about to start her car when she heard a noise. It couldn't have been more than a distressed "squeak" because that was the best this little kitten could do. Fortunately, the kitten was rescued, but the woman had dogs and could not keep her. She turned to my daughter whose elderly and settled cats wanted no part of a kitten. So I was asked to kitty-sit until someone was found to adopt this feisty little scrap of fur (who is sitting in my lap as I type and just tried to nip me because she thought I was going to move her!) 

Yes, you guessed it. "Squeak" and I bonded, even though she was clearly traumatized and the most aggressive, unfriendly cat I had ever seen - and I've had cats all my life. Squeak became my rescue project. Fortunately, it was obvious she'd had a proper upbringing. She was perfectly sandbox trained and flealess, though a bit on the scrawny side since she'd obviously spent several days on her own. So off to the vet for whatever a poor lost kitten needed . . . and that's when I discovered she was a shameless flirt. Bite or scratch the male vet? No way. You would have thought she was the poster child for meek and mild kitten of the week.

Squeak, Winter 2016

In reality Squeak bit, scratched, and generally fought her way through the world for most of the next year. I had to have a squirt bottle of water handy for the grandgirls and myself for the times her biting got out of hand. We also had to enclose her with a pet gate to keep her from jumping into the middle of both cooking and sewing projects with disastrous results. It's only in the last two or three months that she's begun to settle into a more tranquil animal. (Though I still have bites and scratches here and there to prove she's not totally reformed.)

Squeak, growing
It wasn't as if she didn't recognize that I had rescued her. For weeks she followed me from room to room, never letting me out of her sight. And over the months she's become a real cuddle cat, sweet as pie until you tried to move her! Or didn't open her cat can fast enough. Or tried to stop her using the sofa as a scratching post. (Of course she won't go near the fancy scratching post I bought her, even when I doused it in catnip.)

Alas, she soon outgrew the bowl.

Another favorite spot - & ladder to her favorite hidey hole behind the clothes - while directly below . . .

Look, Mommy, I got those bad old towels.

Enjoying Christmas 2016 - fortunately she only climbed the tree once after it was decorated.

I installed a cat door to the screen porch because Squeak obviously loved the outdoors, zipping by me to get outside any time she could. But every time she got away, she was back within 15-20 minutes. I got in the habit of propping the outside screen door open so she could find her way in on her own. At night, when she'd stay out longer, she'd pop back in every 20 minutes or so, checking in, her version of "Hi, Mommy, I'm fine."

Which leads up to last week's trauma . . .

The phone repairman was here, and we left the kitchen door open as we moved from house to garage. I didn't see Squeak run out, but it was inevitable as she races through any open door. While in the garage, I heard her cry out, the loudest, most alarmed noises I'd ever heard from her. I rushed out but saw nothing. I decided it must have been one of the screechier birds in the neighborhood and thought nothing more about it. Until an hour later when the phone man left and I realized Squeak hadn't been parading up and down in front of him, doing the "flirt" routine she does with all repairmen who come to the house.

I started searching, calling, looking in all her favorite hiding places. No Squeak. I remembered there had been a strange white car parked in front of my neighbor's house. I'd assumed it belonged to one of the workmen at the house across the street. But when I asked, I was told no. Then I remembered comments on our neighborhood e-mail loop about a mysterious white car that had been seen parked in various places where it didn't belong. I asked for more information about the car, describing it on the loop, and received several replies confirming that this late-model car, perhaps a Lexus, had been seen several times in different places.

The hours went by. I was devastated. There was no doubt in my mind Squeak had been cat-napped. But why? She's about as far from an expensive purebred as one can get. A Mother's Day present? Well, they were in for shock if they wanted a sweet, friendly little kitty. But would they just toss her out someplace where she couldn't find her way home? Or had she been catnapped by someone sadistic? That thought really hurt. I remembered the alarm in her cries that morning and was sick. My only hope was that it was a prank, and after dark she would be returned. 

I was heartbroken. I could not believe how much that scrappy bit of fur had come to mean to me. Come nightfall, I propped open the outside screen door. I watched television. I waited. Nothing. At 10:20 I went into my bedroom and began to read. At 10:30 - nearly 12 hours after her disappearance - I heard the distinctive flop of the cat door between the screen porch and the living room. And there she was. Totally spooked. She wouldn't let me touch her. She ran from one end of the house to the other several times before finally going into her favorite hidey-hole, a shelf in my closet where she is totally hidden behind my hanging clothes. Except for coming out to eat, she stayed there for two days. When she finally emerged, she either cuddled next to me or squeaked anxiously at my feet for a whole week before finally, within the last couple of days, returning to her independent self.

Did she bite her catnapper and get tossed out, making her own way home?
Was it a prank by someone kindhearted enough to bring her home?
Was it the person in the mysterious white car?

I have no idea. I posted Squeak's return and my thanks on the neighborhood e-mail loop, wondering if the person involved had seen my original post and realized Squeak was a beloved pet, not a stray.  

A week after her trauma, the first time she finally settled, without hiding or clinging.
So that's the Tale of Squeak. I am truly grateful for this happy ending.

~ * ~

Thanks for stopping by,

For Grace's website, listing all books as Blair Bancroft, click here.

For a brochure for Grace's editing service, Best Foot Forward, click here.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Don't be a "Rule" Slave

Special Grace Note (5/13/17): 
I am taking the weekend off for Mothers' Day. 
See you next week.

Last weekend the grandgirls all had solo roles in local "Junior" productions of The Lion King and Grease. Hailey and Riley shared a role, performing on different nights. They also shared the same dress! Cassidy played the villain Scar in The Lion King.



Cassidy - a smiling villain (the show was over)

Don't Be a "Rule" Slave

A lengthy discussion on adverbs on the Regency authors' BeauMonde email loop is the spark behind this week's Mosaic Moments. I'll be holding forth on Adverbs this week, but I expect there will be a lot more about "rule busting" in the foreseeable future.

I'd like to begin with an adverb story from real life. Over the last few years I've been bothered by dentists and dental assistants telling me to "Open big." (In both East Orlando and Longwood.) I finally broke down and tried to explain it made me feel like a four-year-old with a minimal vocabulary.  Not that it was easy to explain to people in the medical field that "big" is an adjective and can only modify a noun, while  "open" is a verb and must be modified by an adverb. Therefore a dental patient should be told to "Open wide." 

For more uses of adverbs, please the definitions below.

From the Oxford English Dictionary (very academic, as one would expect):

Name of one of the Parts of Speech; a word used to express the attribute of an attribute; which expresses any relation of place, time, circumstance, causality, manner, or degree, or which modifies or limits an attribute, or predicate, or their modification; a word that modifies or qualifies an adjective, verb, or other adverb.

From Random House Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (a little closer to clarity):

a member of a class of words functioning as modifiers of verbs, adjectives, other adverbs, or clauses, as quickly, well, here, now, and very, typically expressing some relation of place, time, manner, degree, means, cause, result, exception, etc., . . . often distinguished . . . in English by the ending -ly.

From The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation by Jane Straus*:

Adverbs are words that modify everything but nouns and pronouns. They modify adjectives, verbs, and other adverbs. A word is an adverb if it answers how, when, or where.  

*Grace note: You can see why I recommend Ms. Straus's book for authors who need to brush up on their grammar and punctuation! Whatever definition made sense to you, I think we can now agree on what kind of words we're talking about; i.e., a large portion of the English (or any other) language. 

To put the matter more dramatically (please note the use of an adverb) - without adverbs, your book just lost a good portion of its punch. Descriptions go blah, nuances fade to black. You lost lively, delightfully, sorrowfully, wickedly, absolutely positively, inside, outside, upstairs, downstairs, first, last, today, tomorrow, always, never, every—even happily ever after

So who's the idiot who decided authors should not use adverbs? You've got to be kidding! 

Which brings up the Big Question: Why do we have adverbs if we're told we can't use them? Not that my English teacher ever told me that, but I realize, looking back, he was never a slave to rules. His standard was quality. But evidently a great many budding authors have been hit with this problem—by teachers, by how-to- books, by critique groups. So . . .

This is my seventh year of Writing and Editing tips on Grace's Mosaic Moments, and I've bashed "rules" before, but until the recent discussion on BeauMonde I don't think I appreciated how badly damaged some authors' efforts have been by strict adherence to so-called "rules." Yes, I recall mentioning a manuscript I was judging that was almost incoherent because the author was afraid to use any form of "was" or "were." It was just plain sad, an excellent example of how to shoot yourself in the foot.

Grace's advice?

Don't be afraid to fly. 
"Wing it." 
Make your words sing. 

Like every aspect of life, don't overdo any one word or type of word*, but never be afraid to make your sentences shine with the words you feel need to be in that sentence. 

For examples of adverbs, I looked through my current Work in Progress, The Lady Takes a Risk. Could I have avoided the adverbs I used? Possibly. But why should I? As long as I wasn't overdoing it, why not use a perfectly good adverb and save elaborate verbiage for a more important moment? I.e., if I use a lot of descriptive words to replace the adverb in a sentence of a transitional or not-so-important paragraph, I detract from the big moments I want to dramatize with more colorful language. 

Grace note: All examples below are taken from the first six pages of the various books.

From The Lady Takes a Risk by Blair Bancroft:

What more could you possibly wish?”

 So here she was, feet flying to three-quarter time, while Cedric, Earl of Penhurst, imparted a running commentary—frequently derogatory—on each of the dancers, and more than a few chaperons, ranging from imposing dowagers to wilting lilies.

No matter how waspish her suitor became, Lady Amelie kept her perfectly polished social smile firmly fixed in place.

Horrified by her vehemence, Amelie silently begged forgiveness.

 She twisted, squirmed, her fists pounding his back, her feet kicking frantically until she encountered solid flesh.  She had the satisfaction of hearing him grunt, before abruptly breaking off the attempts of his wet, slobbering tongue to force open her mouth. Revolting!

A heaviness in her heart told her she really shouldn’t ask, but inevitably the words tumbled out.

The awful thing was, Amelie almost laughed. The thought of Cedric being able to compromise anyone was simply beyond her imagination. Which didn’t bode well for what she could expect of her marriage.
~ * ~

After copying the above from the first six pages of my manuscript, I got the bright idea of checking the masters of the Regency (since the discussion that sparked this blog was confined to Regency authors). Here is what I found. (All examples are from the first six pages of each book.)

From Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen:

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.

He was quite young, wonderfully handsome, extremely agreeable, and to crown the whole, he meant to be at the next assembly with a large party.
~ * ~

From The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer:

Grace note: Since Ms. Heyer’s sentences tend to be long and involved, I confined myself to the clause with the adverb in it.

The butler, having tolerantly observed those transports . . .

. . . said his sister hastily.

. . . so rudely interrupted,

You see, what with the really dreadful expense . . .
~ * ~

From The Reluctant Widow by Georgette Heyer:

A lady, soberly dressed in a drab-coloured pelisse . . .

She stepped up into it, her spirits insensibly rising . . .

. . . by performing menial tasks, generally allotted to a second housemaid.

Miss Rochdale’s astonished gaze alighted presently . . .
~ * ~

I tried to picture what convoluted passages might have prevailed if Jane Austen or Georgette Heyer felt they had to avoid those adverbs. Absurd! Both authors, masters of their art, are telling you a tale in the language that was appropriate for her voice. (Their magnificent voices.) Are there places you should ask yourself, "Is there a better way of saying this?" Of course there are! Every sentence cries out to be the best you can make it. But those sentences must come from your heart. Not from the dictates of some how-to book, what you heard in a workshop, what someone whispered in your ear at an authors' meeting, or what people of no talent - forced to regurgitate what they've read or heard because they have no original thoughts - tell you.

Finally, I decided I should add examples from other genres, just to show that Regency authors aren't the only ones using adverbs.

From Murder on the Serpentine by Anne Perry:

As Pitt vaguely recalled being here before, Sir Peter stopped abruptly and knocked on a large paneled door.

In short form, still from the first six pages:

. . . visibly struggling 
. . . drew in his breath sharply 
. . . almost as if they were equals.

From Rain on the Dead by Jack Higgins:

They were obviously on drugs, which exasperated Tod, though there was no point in mentioning it now.

They didn't reply, simply turned and swam away, and so did he.

 ~ * ~
The moral of ALL these examples: Adverbs are good. They give us a way to play with our verbs, adjectives, and adverbs, to subtly alter or nuance what we want to say. They provide us with words like forever and never, phrases like I walked upstairs, I'll see you tomorrow. Adverbs are an integral part of our language. And yes, they provide us with a simple way to say what we want to say. (And many times "simple" is best.)

No, you don't tack an adverb onto every verb in your paragraph, any more than you attach an adjective to every noun. But for heaven's sake, don't listen to the no-can-do's who throw up their hands and cry, "Oh, horrors, you used an adverb!" 

Hold your head high, fly in the face of ignorance, and if an adverb is the word that works for you in a sentence, USE IT!

~ * ~

Thanks for stopping by,

For Grace's website, listing all books as Blair Bancroft, click here.

For a brochure for Grace's editing service, Best Foot Forward, click here.  

Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Nitty Gritty of Names

Can't remember where I found this, but I love it!

Florida Update:

A few weeks ago, the sheriff of Lake County, which is adjacent to Seminole County, where I live, decided to make a drug prevention video. His undercover officers wanted to be included. The video they made has been criticized by some for his men looking too "ISIS." Most of us think it's great. Certainly, the sheriff and his men never thought to go viral. The video has, however, been viewed more than 700,000 times on You Tube. If you'd like to see it, click here.

The Nitty Gritty of Names

Since I first blogged about the importance of names, I've been working my way through all five books of The Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones) by George R. R. Martin. Believe me, here is the ultimate user of names as a writing technique. The names of Martin's literally thousands of characters sing. They evoke the person behind the name.They scream, they shout, they cry, they suffer. They love, they die. You have only to look at the list of characters at the back of his books to know Martin is a master of the Art of Names. As an example, here is the opening line of the chapter, "The Wayward Bride" from Book 5, A Dance With Dragons:

Asha Greyjoy was seated in Galbart Glover's longhall drinking Galbart Glover's wine when Galbart Glover's maester brought the letter to her.

I ask you, would this line have had the same ring if Martin wrote:

Asha Greyjoy was seated in Glover's longhall drinking his wine when Glover's maester brought the letter to her.

The answer is, Of course not. Full names have a ring to them nothing else can match. 

Here is an example of the dramatic use of place names, also from Martin's A Dance With Dragons

But the day before that, three ships had come out of the south together—his captive Noble Lady, lumbering along between Ravenfeeder and Iron Kiss. But the day before and the day before there had been nothing and only Headless Jeyne and Fear before that, then two more days of empty seas and cloudless skies after Ralf the Limper appeared with the remnants of his squadron. Lord Quellon, White Widow, Lamentation, Woe, Leviathan, Iron Lady, Reaper's Wind, and Warhammer, with six more ships behind, two of them storm-wracked and under tow.

Martin could have settled for saying a fleet of ninety-nine ships plus a large number of captured ships had been reduced to a mere fifty-four, but he spends nine Kindle pages giving details of what happened before he gets to the paragraph above and a good many more afterward. These details, in addition to using names to add dramatic effect, are what it takes to turn an author's efforts from satisfactory to great.

Do you and I have Martin's incredible imagination for creating names? Well, I know I certainly don't, so below are the ways I've coped with this problem over the years.

As my regular readers know, I've spent a lot of time talking about the importance of names—full names and titles, not just first names. But perhaps more advice is needed on how to get past Dick, Jane, David, and Mary. Past wasting time puzzling over last names that have some "zing" to them. Or maybe you need a wimpy name . . . Which is why I always put naming my characters way up at the top of my book preparation list, right after the Title . . . hmm, maybe even before the Title. Where on earth do all these names come from?

Way back when I first began to write, computers had small memories. Hardcopy research was necessary, so that's the way I still do it. In a 4" 3-ring notebook. In those little pocket folders featured every fall in the school supply section. In baby books and place name books, and in scribbles on legal pads. Any way I can to keep those precious names from slipping away.

So how did I compile all these lists over the course of the last 25 years? Let's see if I can reconstruct it for you . . .

1.  Fortunately, I kept the books of names I bought to search out names for my children. One book included the meanings of each name, the country of origin, and the many variations of the name. Another book listed the names by Traditional, Strong, Ultra-Feminine, Cross-Gender, Biblical, Exotic/Ethnic, Unusual, Very Unusual, etc. Thus,in two small paperbacks, a treasure trove of first names.

2.  For last names, there's nothing like a genuine phone book. While still living on Florida's Gulf Coast, I used both the Venice and Sarasota phone books. After moving to Orlando, I made an even more sweeping commitment of time to find the English names I needed for my books set in Regency, England. I sat down with the huge Orlando phone book (c. 2008) and copied all the English-looking names by hand onto a legal pad. I used up almost the entire pad, but it has been a boundless source of names ever since. It was that search that turned up the name "Mondragon," which I promptly took for the sorcerer in my SyFy/Adventure, the Blue Moon Rising series.  Nowadays , of course, all you have to do is google any city's phone book, and there it is. Wow! But if you want specific ethnic names, you're still going to have to buckle down and make your own list.

3. In a 4" 3-ring notebook, I have typed lists of many aspects of the Regency, including the following sections on names (mostly compiled from the Regency books of Jane Austen, Georgette Heyer, and Clare Darcy: 
First Names, Female
First Names, Male
Last Names
Servants, Female
Servants, Male
Servants, Last Names
Last Names, General*

*Last Names, General, has mostly been replaced by the "Orlando" list mentioned above.

4. I also have pocket folders with names I researched for different countries, as needed for whatever book I was writing. As of this moment, they are: Russian Names; Greek Names; Medieval Names; Welsh Names; Arab Names; Spanish Names; plus print-outs on Greek Gods and Egyptian Gods. (To find lists of foreign names, just ask Google.)

5.  I have a separate 4" 3-ring binder with the endless details of the world I made up for my Blue Moon Rising series, including pages of astronomical references for place names and the names of space ships. I also created several pages of male and female first and last names for several different races, most based on tweaked versions of standard Earth names, as almost all my characters are descended from Old Earth. (Some really strange ones came directly out of the Orlando phone book!)

 6. Cities, Towns, & Titles. When I was in England, I bought a book called, Dictionary of English Place-Names, a compendium of every last village, town, and city in the country. It has been an immense help in my work. I strongly advise searching the Net for similar books for whatever country is of interest to you.

This mountain of reference materials sits on the first two shelves of a bookcase in my bedroom, the phone books nearer to my bed where I can guard them from people who say, "You don't need those any more. Why don't you throw them out?"! The SyFy notebook rates a place on a desk in my office—close at hand, always ready for me to make sure that I'm spelling a newly created word the same way in Book 3 as I did in Book 1!

~ * ~
Are names important? Yes, yes, yes, and yes! Full names and titles. Glorious names, wonderful names. Terrible names, scary names. Names that purr, names that scratch. Names that say, "This is who I am." 
"I'm proud. I conquer."
"I'm small and weak and frightened."
"I'm a survivor."
(Or whatever you want them to say)

And keep in mind that after all those amazing names George R. R. Martin created for so many incredibly divergent characters, male and female, his primary hero is a simple Jon Snow.

~ * ~

Thanks for stopping by,

For Grace's website, listing all books as Blair Bancroft, click here.

For a brochure for Grace's editing service, Best Foot Forward, click here.