Grace's Mosaic Moments


Saturday, April 22, 2017

Recipe Encore



Beauty & the Beast. 2
Note license plate - BYBY FLU
Goldenrod is near where we used to live in East Orlando - not far from Florida Hospital East and UCF. I presume this germy VW is associated with one or the other.

Cassidy, awake, posing with a posy
Photos by Susie

WILDFIRE UPDATE: As of Saturday night, April 22, there are 115 wildfires burning in the state. Enough that the governor postponed a scheduled 5-day trip to Argentina. Many displaced families. One of last week's fires (about 20 miles north of here) has gone underground, creating what they call a "mud fire." Newscasters keep assuring homeowners that it's really rare for such a fire to spread to "under houses." Yikes!

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I've been saving the above photos for a "Mosaic Moments" occasion, and this week seemed to be it. Our extended-family Easter dinner last week (27 strong), plus another "empanada" session with Cassidy prompted this second round of recipes in a such a short time. So many people asked for my cornbread recipe that this seemed the easiest way to get it to those who wanted it. 

The cornbread recipe below is the result of taking a standard cornbread recipe, found on the Internet, and adding quite a lot! Here it is. 

GRACE'S JALAPEÑO CORNBREAD

Grace note: I added the chilies, corn, bacon, cheddar, and sour cream to a basic cornbread recipe.  

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup yellow cornmeal
1/4 cup sugar*
1½ teaspoons salt **
1½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1-2 jalapeño chilies, finely diced***
3/4 - 1 cup corn kernels
¼ lb. bacon, crisped & crumbled
c. ½ cup shredded cheddar
Fresh herbs, chopped (optional)
1¼ cups buttermilk****
2 large eggs
1 large dollop sour cream*****
¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter, melted, cooled

* I used “Sugar in the Raw.”
** I used c. 1 teaspoon kosher salt
*** I used 1½ chilies, finely diced
**** It’s possible to substitute milk, but it just won’t taste as good. 
***** I used a serving spoon, not the “measuring” tablespoon, & dipped out a heaping scoop of sour cream (my mother added sour cream to as many recipes as possible, saying it made everything taste better).

Before you begin to assemble your cornbread, cook & crumble the bacon, dice the chilies, shred the cheddar, & melt the butter, giving it time to cool.

Preheat oven to 350°. Use solid shortening, such as butter or Crisco to grease a 13x9x2 baking pan. Whisk flour, cornmeal, sugar, salt, baking powder, and baking soda in large bowl to blend. Stir in diced jalapeños, corn, bacon, cheddar, and fresh herbs.

Whisk buttermilk and eggs in medium bowl; add sour cream, whisk until blended. Add buttermilk mixture to dry ingredients and stir just until blended.  (Do not overmix.) Transfer batter to prepared pan.

Bake until lightly browned on top & toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. (If making ahead, cover & store in refrigerator; reheat in oven or microwave.) 


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SPANISH BEEF EMPANADAS
with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce
 
Grace note: This is a recipe found on the Internet. The Roasted Red Pepper sauce looked good, but Cassidy and I were swamped with making 20 empanadas for six people, so I I bought a different salsa from my usual (Three Pepper) and a package each of fresh pico de gallo and chopped creole-style vegies from my local Winn Dixie. Used together, or just one alone, they provided a refreshing topping for the empanadas.

To make 10 empanadas, using frozen “Discos Grandes” from the supermarket:

1 lb. lean ground beef
½ cup onion, chopped
1/3 cup tomato sauce
¼ teaspoons salt & pepper (preferably kosher salt & ground fresh pepper)
⅛ teaspoon red pepper flakes (or to taste)
¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
½ teaspoon minced garlic
½ cup roasted red peppers, chopped
½ cup sliced green olives, pimiento stuffed

Filling:

In a large skillet over medium heat, sauté beef and onions until beef is browned and onions are translucent. Drain excess liquid.  Add tomato sauce, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, paprika, garlic, roasted red peppers and olives. Cook, stirring, about 5 minutes.

Assemble & Bake:

Preheat oven to 425°. On a floured board, stuff the wrappers one at a time, using about 2-3 rounded tablespoons each. Brush water on the edge of one side of each disk; pinch closed, finish by “forking” the edge. Place on baking pans lined with parchment paper. For egg wash, whisk together one egg & up to ½ cup water. Brush the top of each empanada with egg wash. Bake for 17-20 minutes or until golden brown.

Roasted Red Pepper Sauce (if desired):

8 oz. cream cheese
1 cup roasted red peppers, chopped
½ teaspoon minced garlic
⅛ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon smoked paprika

In food processor combine cream cheese and roasted red peppers. Pulse until combined. Add garlic, salt & paprika. Process until smooth. Serve cool or at room temperature with empanadas. Store leftovers in refrigerator.




~ * ~

Thanks for stopping by. Next week: More on the importance of names.

Thanks for stopping by,
 
Grace

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, April 15, 2017

United we fall!



 Above is a photo of MaryAnn Barry, CEO of the Citrus Council Girl Scouts speaking on Wednesday afternoon to the Women's Executive Council of Orlando.

Last Saturday afternoon, April 8, a wildfire only about four miles from my house burned eight buildings in a beloved Girl Scout Camp. Around 100 Girl Scouts had to be evacuated, as well as an entire subdivision of homes - though none were lost. (The thanks to the fire department were profuse!) My daughter, Susie, attended the event where Ms. Barry described the tense moments as the drama unfolded and provided the photo above. Even the dock burned! The Scouts are determined that the camp will continue to function, although it may be 18 months before the buildings can be replaced, and half the woods on site are nothing more than charred ashes. My eyes are still suffering from the smoke, which has lingered for days, somehow insinuating itself into my windowless office and refusing to leave. The drought here is extreme at the moment. Last night's TV news reported that there are currently 104 wildfires in the state of Florida, 24 of them more than 10 acres.

Grace Note to my foreign readers: I keep telling you that Florida is a great deal more than beaches, Disney, Universal, Sea World, and the Kennedy Space Center. We haven't paved the state over yet - we have a LOT of trees. 

Saturday, April 15:  two more wildfires in our area tonight, 500-900 acres, only partially contained - roads closed & smoke spreading. Though they're 10-15 miles away, I can feel the grit in my eyes. We need rain!


UNITED WE FALL!

Or should I say, "United, you failed"?

Grace note (Saturday, April 15, 2017): this blog was written several days ago. Since then, United Airlines has opted for raising the "bribe" to get customers to give up their seats. This is such a patently obvious move that it is shocking that no one had the sense to do this before the appalling incident that prompted the following rant. 


It takes very little thought to realize that something stinks to high heaven about the way Airlines treat their passengers. The extreme example seen on video around the world this week is only the tip of the iceberg. I’m not sure what has makes Airlines think they don’t have to follow rules known by every business since the first caveman decided to make an arrow for some guy who was all thumbs. What about that classic, "the customer always right"? And those known business generators and gatherers of repeat customers: courtesy and a smile?

It’s been just under a year since I was nearly bumped from a Southwest flight at a changeover in Charlotte when I was on the way to my son’s wedding. Fortunately, someone was “bought off” by the airline and I made it to the wedding. This, when we’d had our tickets for months! And one time when I was changing from an international flight from London to Continental in Atlanta, the timing was tight. My daughter-in-law and her sister ran ahead to tell them I was coming. I was about two-thirds of the way there, when one of them came running back to tell me I had to get there on time or else. The officials at the gate were adamant - and nasty about it. And when I arrived, huffing & puffing, I was yelled at by a security agent. When, totally shocked, I spoke back to him, he threatened to throw me off the flight. Needless to say, I had never been treated like that by anybody in my entire life. When I got home, I wrote to the President of Continental, detailing my experience. I received a phone call from one of the presidential assistants, assuring me that my letter did make it all the way to the top and the matter was being dealt with. Good PR, but I couldn’t help wonder if any actual changes were made.

That was not my last encounter with airport arrogance. One evening a few years ago I was attempting to pick up my son and his girlfriend from Orlando International Airport. Each pass around “Arrivals” was met with irate shouts by security to “go round, even though there were many open spaces along the sidewalk at airlines where no planes were expected. On my third or fourth time around, I spotted my son and his friend; they saw me and headed toward an open space fifty feet down the sidewalk. This time I was screamed at. The guard, arms flailing, insisted I go around again!

I wrote a letter, detailing the incident, to the Chairman of the Board of Orlando International, with a copy to the TSA. I heard from TSA immediately, stating that they regretted the incident but the outside security guards were not part of their agency. Shortly after, I received a call from a woman in the Airport Chairman’s office. She was the perfect person for her job, adept at PR, and highly apologetic. But when she asked permission to use my letter for training purposes, I decided that I just might have made a dent in the system.

Alas, however, I never again picked up anyone at the airport. I made my daughter take over that task.


So naturally the sight of someone being dragged down the aisle of a United Airlines jet just so an EMPLOYEE of United could have a seat set my brain to humming. They had to be kidding! I can only hope United stock keeps on plunging, all the way to the bottom of the Marianas Trench. Could anything have pointed more clearly to the fact that it’s time to change the way Airlines do business?. I’m no PR expert, but it doesn’t take much to figure out possible alternatives to this heinous situation. Here are a few suggestions:

1.  Stop bumping passengers. Better to fly a few seats short of full, depending on Stand-bys to fill the gaps than risk your company’s stock plunging into the toilet due a repeat of the nightmare scene we witnessed this week.

2.  If your CFO whines & says that just isn’t economically feasible (which I don’t believe for a second), and if no passenger rises to the bait (money) being offered when a flight is overbooked, then up the ante ’til they do. Again, it’s way cheaper than the resulting bad publicity.

3.  NEVER bump a paying passenger for EMPLOYEES. Fix up space in the baggage hold, if necessary.

4.  NEVER bump a paying passenger for EMPLOYEES.  Charter a Lear Jet. Pay for passage on another airline.

Why? Because it’s wrong, wrong, wrong. Airlines, you are treating your life’s blood like dirt. You are insulting the people who keep you in business. You are playing arrogant monarch of all you survey, forgetting that the people squeezed into those seats are paying your salary, your mortgage, your kids’ college tuition, your country club fees, your health insurance.

5. No matter which approach you use to the problem, treat passengers with the respect they deserve. They have paid you money to take them where they need to go. They are trusting you with their lives. They deserve respect, courtesy. And a safe journey.

They do not deserve to be yelled at, denigrated, manhandled, punched, or dragged down an aisle. Yes, unruly passengers happen, but too many times perfectly innocent people have been ejected from airplanes by those who have let a little power go to their heads.

We deserve better. Much better.

To United, and all the other airlines out there . . .

Kindly remember it’s ordinary people like me who keep you in the air. If you don’t shape up, some airline is going to come along that remembers that Rule One of every business is: The customer is always right. And that’s the airline all of us will be flocking to, for good Customer Service is what makes businesses grow and thrive. They certainly don’t do it by dragging 69-year-old passengers down the aisle, dripping blood!

I had already vowed never to fly Southwest again. I now add United to my blacklist.




I debated with myself whether or not to add the following, but I think it has to be said. This is too serious a matter to gloss over. The ultimate end of tolerating petty dictatorship is loss of individuality, loss of freedom. Loss of respect, honor, and our personal responsibility for the fate of others. It is Tyranny, plain and simple.

 There are certain people to whom a whiff of authority goes to their head. It’s that old, “Give ’em an inch, they’ll take a mile” philosophy. We see instances of it almost every day on the evening news. At its most foolish, it’s the guard who screamed at me at the airport. At its worse, it’s the guards who shoved people into the “showers” at Dachau and Buchenwald.
 

'Ware tyrants, in whatever form! Our ancestors came to this country to escape tyranny, and look what’s happened. Don’t accept it. Do not roll over and play dead. Protest! Write a letter, an e-mail. Make a phone call. Or shout,  “I’ve had enough. I’m not going to take it anymore!” Never forget: Not protesting is what gives tyrants power.

~ * ~

Thanks for stopping by,
Grace

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, April 8, 2017

Fairy Tales, BACA, & 99¢ Mysteries



FAIRY TALE ADDENDUM  

On Friday night we had another Girls' Night Out, attending an absolutely stunning performance of Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods by Lake Brantley High School. Both Susie and I are professional musicians, and believe me, if we say we were impressed, it means something! This is the musical, along with the Harry Potter books, that revived fairy tales in our modern age. Like its offspring, the TV show Once Upon a Time, Into the Woods demonstrates what happens after "Happily Ever After"—from infidelity to retribution for Jack stealing the Goose That Laid a Golden Egg. [My favorite line, delivered by one of two princes: "I was brought up to be charming, not sincere!"] Amazingly, the show's powerful, not-so happy message was beautifully enacted by a cast of 16- to19-year-olds. (Though on the way out I heard two teen girls say of a moment in the second act, "I didn't think they'd go that far!") Kiddies can watch this musical (it's PG, sort of), but basically this is a fairy tale for adults - intended for viewing by a tough Broadway audience. 

I was fascinated enough by the imaginative tale that I've ordered from Netflix both the 1991 version with the original cast and the 2014 version with Chris Pine (Captain Kirk). I can hardly wait. [Although no performance can be as thrilling (or hysterically funny) as watching high schoolers do such a outstanding job, from music to scenery and costumes, in front of an audience primarily composed of peers and parents.] Take a peek. Into the Woods may shock you, but you'll love the beauty of it and appreciate the genius behind it.


BIKERS AGAINST CHILD ABUSE


On Sunday, April 2, I went to Crane's Roost Park in Altamonte Springs, Florida, to hear the grandgirls perform with The Citrus Singers. (With "Mommy/Susie" directing.) Frankly, I had no idea what the occasion was. So I was surprised to find myself parking only feet away from an array of motorcycles. And to hear an impassioned story from a young lady who had endured years of childhood abuse before being helped by a group called BACA. She is now in college and planning to be a social worker. BACA is Bikers Against Child Abuse, an organization with chapters not only all over the U. S. but around the world. They are frank about being willing to use their "tough guy" image to protect children who need it, particularly when it comes to escorting them to testify against their abusers. 

The message was inspiring, the Girl Scouts (age 7-16) sang magnificently, as always, even being asked to perform an additional two numbers. And afterwards, they had their pictures taken with some of the many bikers there.
All in all, an inspirational event.

 
Citrus Singers with Seminole County Sheriff on the left




The Citrus Singers & bikers at Crane's Roost Park


Grace's Mysteries - 99¢ Sale
(writing as Blair Bancroft)

Two of the mysteries below are set in my favorite Gulf Coast mini-city, Venice, FL; the third, in Sarasota, FL, at a thinly disguised John & Mable Ringling Museum for the Arts, the creation of famed circus entrepreneur John Ringling, who is undoubtedly rolling in his grave at the announcement that the circus is closing at the end of this season. (The Venice Sarasota area is the permanent home for a great many circus families involved in several well-known traveling circuses.)




Death by accident, old age, strangulation. An elderly senior about to marry a con artist. A rash of burglaries. Only an artistic imagination could conjure these disasters into connected events. But costume designer Gwyn Halliday manages it, as she flees trauma in the big city, only to discover that bad things can also happen in a sleepy Florida retirement community.

 For a link to Amazon, click here.

 For a link to Smashwords, click here.







Want to get married in a hot air balloon? Have the bride step out of a Fabergé egg? Just call Fantascapes, the Halliday family business. Trouble in paradise? Call Laine Halliday, who travels the world smoothing out bumps encountered by high-end clients. But when Fantascapes is used as a front by the Russian mob, in action ranging from Florida to Peru to France, Laine steps into a whole new world of Serve and Protect.

For a link to Amazon, click here.

For a link to Smashwords, click here.





Someone is killing people at the Bellman Museum, staging the deaths as bizarre works of art. Though struggling to recover from a severe injury and the death of her lover, FBI Special Agent Rory Travers can't resist the challenge of tackling this mystery, which brings two new men into her life. But in the end she stands alone, facing evil one-on-one.

For a link to Amazon, click here.

For a link to Smashwords, click here.






~ * ~

Thanks for stopping by,


Grace
 
 
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, April 1, 2017

What's the Fascination with Fairy Tales?

Girls night out (Mommy took the photo.)


Grace note: Any post last week would have been more like Shattered Mosaics - nothing awful happened, just too much going on - so let's hope this promised post on Bacon Bread & Beauty and the Beast doesn't turn out to be an April's Fool's prank!



WHAT'S THE FASCINATION WITH FAIRY TALES?

Attending Disney's latest version of Beauty and the Beast set off today's blog topic, although I didn't realize how rich a topic it was until I started scribbling notes. Wow! No wonder fairy tales have survived the years, in the last couple of decades becoming even more popular with the overwhelming success of Harry Potter and the TV series, Once Upon a Time. I can't help but wonder if this revival of the fanstastical has come about because our world needs magic so badly. Because we look around, and what we see screams for heroics in the grand manner. For Faith, Love, Loyalty, Honesty, Caring, Leadership, Friendship, Integrity, Helpfulness, Humor, and perhaps above all, Redemption. We need these stories to tell us Happily Ever After has not completely fallen by the wayside. And on the reverse side, fairy tales make us all aware of the sins of Greed, Selfishness, Heedlessness, Power-grabbing, Marchivellian scheming, and flat-out Evil.

Yes, some of the original fairy tales were pretty grim (pardon the pun), but most of us remember with vivid fondness the exotic settings and amazing people, the happy endings, even if only one of the Three Little Pigs survived! We're quite sure the wolf didn't really eat Red Riding Hood - hey, it's just a long-ago tale to warn kids of Stranger-Danger, right? And Greed's bad - the story of Rumplestiltskin tells us so. Except Rumple didn't get the baby after all, so . . .

Okay, so fairy tales offer mixed messages, but they make us think. They not only provide lessons in good and evil for everyone, they offer challenges. For those whose lives are less than ideal, the tales provide a dream, a look at a world beyond poverty, violence, and despair. They say, Okay, this too can be yours. For the more privileged among us, fairy tales offer an opportunity to see evil not created by Marvel comics and learn to be wary. They prod the privileged and protected to be morally stronger than many of them have been challenged to be. Basically, fairy tales are lessons in right vs. wrong, heroism vs. cowardice, responsibility vs. leaving duty to someone else. And also lessons about evil lurking in the happiest of times.

The TV series, Once Upon a Time, takes bits and pieces from just about any fantasy you can name. From your favorite fairy tales to medieval classics, such as King Arthur (even a brief appearance by Beowulf!). And then there are the characters who never lived anywhere but in a Disney animated film. Plots, Characters, and Settings are juxtaposed, twisted, tumbled into nearly unrecognizable forms, and yet the classic "moral of the story" remains: Good versus Evil. Honor vs. Bad Deeds. And the ever-present hope of Redemption. A happy ending, even for the Bad Guys.

Powerful Stuff.

I don't want to leave out my favorite among the modern fairy-tale re-tellings, Snow White and the Huntsman. If you haven't seen it, make an effort to do so. It's a gem. Which, alas, was spoiled by a sequel that completely ruined the "up in the air" ending of "Oh wow, maybe she's going to marry the Huntsman instead of Prince Charming." Snow White and the Huntsman goes one-up on Once Upon a Time in providing a magnificent depiction of a twist to the classic tale. But through it all the "morals" are there. Love prevails, the good guys triumph, even when the road to success is long, harsh, and nearly lost to the machinations of the evil witch.

So don't be a cynic about fairy tales. (I exclude the modern versions created for the sole purpose of being horror stories.) We can learn a lot from these stories, including elements we need to include in our own books. No book is so "modern" or action-filled that it isn't enhanced by a bit of magical love, a goodly dollop of friendship, and the triumph of honor over temptation. And don't forget that soupçon of evil. 

Above all, fairy tales add Wonder to our lives, whether they're dealing with magic or only showing us a precious family moment. They show us the best and the worst of ourselves and show us, no matter how stupid or downright bad we are, redemption is possible. Though sometimes the price is high. 

Are there bad people who triumph in real life? Of course there are. But fairy tales keep hope alive. Consider the possibility that adding a bit of fairy tale magic to the next book you write just might give it that extra sparkle, that tug at the heart we all want our books to have. 

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BACON BREAD

My bacon bread, derived from a long-ago recipe found on the Internet, is always in demand, but on the Saturday before St. Patrick's Day I was invited to two parties on the same night. I told my daughter I had pledged my bacon bread to the choir party, but she informed me, "It's bacon bread or nothing." In other words, "Don't show up to my party without it." So after school on Friday, I solicited Cassidy's help, and together we made a bacon bread she could take home for her mother to reheat for her brother-in-law's birthday party. And on Saturday afternoon I made the one for the choir, resulting in back-to-back bacon breads. Whew! (At least I was able to have a few bites of the one at the choir's St. Pat's party. There wasn't a smidgin left by the time I arrived at the birthday party.)

The recipe below has been adapted from the original, which was created before Pillsbury began to produce only the larger "Grand" biscuits.
 


Pull-apart Bacon Bread made in a Bundt pan

 PULL-APART BACON BREAD

Since it is almost impossible to buy the 7.5 oz. Pillsbury Buttermilk Biscuits any more, I have attempted to revise the original recipe, using “Grands.” Two “Grands” make quite a bit more dough than three of the smaller biscuit packages, so I have adjusted the other ingredients accordingly. Needless to say, there is quite a bit of leeway for you to adjust the recipe to your taste, including increasing the amount of bacon, which remains the same in this recipe as in the original.

Grace Note: This recipe is much easier if you do the preparations ahead of time - several hours up to a whole day. Cook the bacon to crisp. Cool & crumble. (I cut the strips into quarters before frying.) Shred the cheese; sauté the onion & pepper. Refrigerate until an hour or two before putting the bread ring together. Just prior to opening the biscuit packages, melt the butter.

Prepare a Bundt pan with a generous coating of solid shortening (such as Crisco), plus a dusting of flour. (Do not use a spray. The bread will not unmold correctly.)

c. 1 cup finely chopped onion
c. 3/4 - 1 cup finely chopped green pepper (optional)
1½ teaspoons vegetable or olive oil*
1 lb. bacon, cooked & crumbled
3/4 c. butter, melted
3/4 - 1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
Fresh herbs, chopped (if available)
2 pkgs. (16.3 oz. ea.) Pillsbury “Grand” buttermilk biscuits

Grace note: No need to preheat the oven until you start cutting the biscuits.

Sauté onion & green pepper in oil until tender. Cut each biscuit into six sections. In a large bowl, gently toss onion & pepper mix, biscuits, bacon, butter, cheese & herbs, until combined.** Transfer to Bundt pan. Bake at 350° for c. 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Let stand for 10 minutes. Carefully run table knife around the outer & inner edges of the bread before inverting onto a serving plate. Serve warm. Refrigerate leftovers. Reheat in microwave before serving leftovers.


*I sauté the onion & green pepper in the bacon fat (pouring off all but what I need). But sautéing in olive oil would likely be considered more healthy.

**This is a hands-on process. You need to separate each hunk of dough and make sure it is coated with the butter mixture.

Please remember this is "finger food." Pull apart - do not slice!

~ * ~

Thanks for stopping by,

Grace

 
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, March 18, 2017

What's in a Name?


Debut of cover for book-in-progress
A duke's daughter proposes marriage to the retired colonel of the 10th Hussars


~ * ~


WHAT'S IN A NAME?

For me, the answer to that is: Everything. Names have power. (And that's not a fantasy allegedly perpetrated by tribal lore or certain religions.) Names have weight. Names tell us who a person is, often what a person is. For example: Mark Wilson, Chief Executive Officer, The Great Widget Company. Technically, I suppose CEO is a title, but it is also a form of Identification. Those three little words tell us something about Mark Wilson. If you introduced your character as "Mark, CEO of The Great Widget Company," he immediately loses stature. "Mark" works in the mailroom. Even "Mark Wilson" can be anybody, from basement to executive suite. But put the three sections together—Mark Wilson, Chief Executive Officer of The Great Widget Company—and you have a "somebody." 

Although it's not necessary to write out CEO, those words also add importance to Mr. Wilson's name. We see the acronym "CEO" so much we don't stop to think what it means. "Chief Executive Officer" rings a much louder bell. As for "The Great Widget Company" . . . well, firstly, I'd hope you'd choose a more auspicious name for your fictitious company. But keep in mind that the three parts of that identification add up to who (Mark Wilson), what (CEO), and where (Great Widget Company), three of the most important aspects of identifying a character well enough so readers aren't left scratching their heads about "Mark," asking who he is, what his job is, or where he's doing it. Yes, the "why" remains to be told at a later date, but in nine short words you've said enough to keep your readers with you long enough to discover the rest of Mark Wilson's story—whether he's a hero, villain, or secondary character.

Opening Paragraphs:
Get those identifications in there right up front (exception - see Action Scene below). Don't wander around with a whole slew of Dick and Jane first names and expect readers to figure out who you're talking about. Your characters' last names give them substance. And if you're writing in an historical setting, last names are a "must." First names were rare, even in the United States, until within the last sixty years or so. 

When introducing a character, go beyond names, if possible. Give us at least a hint of who these people are the moment they make an appearance in your story. "Jane Beresford's friend, Emily."  "George, Ben's partner at the law firm."  As an example of something a bit longer: ". . . Jack Phillips. She'd heard he belonged to the East Side Raiders, but that was hard to believe. He didn't have the swaggering, hardened look of a gang member."

Keep in mind that historical times were generally more formal, the men identified mostly by last names or titles, noble ladies by their titles (Lady, Mistress, Dame, Missus); female servants by first names, male servants generally by last names.


Whatever you do, do not toss out a series of first names (or even full names) and let them lie there, writhing, while your readers try to figure out who is who and what they're doing in your story. Identify, identify. Identify. Whether you're on the opening paragraphs or way over in Chapter 26. 


Opening with an Action Scene:
Your writing style needs to fit the scene - short, sharp sentences for fast action. And it's a time when you can fudge the introductions a bit. The hero or heroine may be identified by first name only, their friends and/or enemies as briefly as possible, saving full identification until a less busy moment. Just don't forget to get the info in there as soon as feasible! 

Grace note:  the above advice also applies to most stories written in first person, where full names, even first names, are more difficult to work into the opening paragraphs.

Body Copy:
After you have made sure your readers understand who your characters are, both primary and secondary, do not say, "Okay, I did it. Now I can call them Marcus and Amelie for the rest of the book. Make an effort to refer to your characters in as many different ways as you can. Keep that last name going, the person's title, position, their relation to other people, etc. For example, from my latest Regency Historical, The Lady Takes a Risk:

Hero - Marcus Rexford Trevor, Colonel, the 10th Hussars =
Colonel Trevor, Colonel, the colonel, Marcus, the earl's younger son, husband, brother-in-law

Heroine - Lady Amelie Christabel Beaumont Sherbrooke =
Lady Amelie, Amelie, daughter, the ducal daughter, wife, sister, daughter-in-law  

Secondary Characters - using Major Courtland Randolph as an example =
Major Randolph, Randolph, Courtland Randolph, the major, and (rarely) Court


Again, whatever you do, do not forget to make it clear who each person is and what their place in the story is. And if you can't justify their place in the story, get rid of them! 

Grace note: A secondary character's place may be vital to the story, or he/she might simply be there to provide color. Both are valid reasons for that character to exist. Superfluous characters include those who pop in for no reason, do not advance the story, or do not add the color, humor, etc., that adds to your readers' enjoyment. Kick them out!

Warning: No matter how charmed you might be by one of your Secondary Characters, never allow him/her to overshadow your hero and heroine. If they're that good, give them their own book.
~ * ~
 I decided to challenge myself to see if I put my money where my mouth is (to use an old expression - which I love to do in my books). Below please find the opening paragraphs of several of my books. Decide for yourself if I used the names with clarity:

From my current Work in Progress, The Lady Takes a Risk (Regency Historical):

    It is not easy to be the daughter of a despot duke. For that matter, Lady Amelie Sherbrooke was forced to concede, there were likely earls, barons, tavern-keepers, farmers, soldiers, sailors, tinkers, and tailors whose daughters considered them quite as despotic as the Duke of Wentworth. Which did her no good at all. Misery might love company, but as for finding a way to prevent her betrothal to most the most pretentious, fatuous, unbearable idiot in the ton . . .  

From The Sorcerer's Bride (SyFy Adventure):

Blue Moon
    How had he gotten himself into such a fydding mess?
   Jagan Mondragon, Sorcerer Prime of the planet Psyclid, stood at a high window in the Round Tower at Veranelle—once the summer retreat of the royal family—and scowled at the glowing orb of his home planet hanging low in the night sky. A few hours ago he had been down there, witnessing without protest his betrothed’s marriage to the leader of a hopeless rebellion. His woman, smiling, turning up her face to be kissed by a fydding Reg.


From Tarleton's Wife (Regency Historical):

January 1809 - Northern Spain
    “Major! Major!” Lt. Avery Dunstan burst into his major’s room after a token scratch at the door. Slamming it shut behind him, he leaned against the door, gasping for breath. Relief lit his youthful features at the sight of Nicholas Tarleton.
    “I’ve already heard,” snapped the major who had been savoring one of his few moments of comfort and privacy since the army left Salamanca in November. “The transports have been sighted.”
    “Yes, sir!” the lieutenant agreed with enthusiasm, diverted from his mission. “And battleships. Even The Victory, they say.” His hazel eyes sparkled in a face which had softened from exhausted soldier to the eager, boyish countenance of a young man who had barely reached his majority. “It looks like we’re really going home, Major.”


From Paradise Burning (Romantic Suspense): [an "action" scene which manages to get the heroine's last name into Line 4.]



“Kira?”

“Almost in.” Kira Malfi’s honey-warm voice pinged off a satellite, crossing thousands of miles as clearly as a call to Boston.

To Mandy Armitage, Kira was a reddish blob of body heat on her computer screen, but in her head she held a clear picture of AKA’s whipcord-fit agent, poised over a keyboard in a dilapidated warehouse on the outskirts of Lomé, Togo, her chocolate-brown skin blending smoothly into the darkness around her.


 
 From Tangled Destinies (Regency Gothic): [an example of an "action" opening & also "first person" - the heroine's last name does not appear until Page 4]

    As I placed the sleeping baby in her cradle, I heard the click of the latch. In spite of a frisson of alarm, I pulled the bedcovers up under little Sarah’s chin, placed a kiss on her smooth-as-silk brow, and murmured, “Good-night, little one.” Then, and only then, did I allow myself to consider why that click had sent a shiver up my spine.
    It was too early for Nurse to return from supper and a comfortable coze in the kitchen far below. My sister Emilia,  Sarah’s mother, was too weak to climb the stairs. Meg, the nursery maid, would have breezed straight in, bringing her customary cheer and competence without raising goosebumps on my arms and a chill in my soul.
    “Good evening, Lucinda.” The satisfaction in my brother-in-law’s baritone had me fisting my hands before I slowly turned to face him.
 
  
From The Art of Evil (Mystery): [another "first person" book where it takes until page 2 for a full name - but please note I said, page 2, not page 22 or 122!]

    There’s something about a naked man seventeen feet tall.  Even if he’s bronze and pushing one hundred.  I eat lunch with him twice a week, thanks to the machinations of my Aunt Hyacinth.  More accurately, my great-Aunt Hyacinth, the sister of my mother’s mother, and the only person in our whole extended family who’s never had to work a day in her life.
    “Go visit Aunt Hy,” my mother told me.  “Florida’s the perfect place to recuperate.”  She paused, pondering her next words, an unusual move for my mother who is seldom at a loss on any occasion.  “Your Aunt Hy has always been a bit—ah—different,” she confided.
    As if I didn’t know.
    “But, lately,” she continued, “well . . . I’d feel much better if you were down there keeping an eye on her.”
    There was more, I knew it.  After all, when had Aunt Hyacinth not been strange?
    “You know, Aurora”—I winced at my mother’s use of the name she had inflicted on me in an excessive burst of romanticism some twenty-nine years ago— “your Aunt Hy is very wealthy and has no children—”
    “Mom!” I cut her off, nearly strangling as I repressed a screech unsuitable to my proper New England upbringing.  “Aunt Hyacinth lives in a condo at the Ritz.  With a housekeeper and a maid.  Believe me, she plans to spend it all.”
    “Nonetheless,” my mother decreed, “you have several months of recovery ahead of you and Florida is the ideal place to be.  Aunt Hy tells me she’ll be delighted to have you, so you might as well start packing.  It’s the perfect solution to your problem.”
    My problem.  That’s as close as we’d ever come to talking about my problem.  My “accident.”  My probable career change.  The great red blob in the middle of the white rug that everyone pussy-foots around and no one ever mentions.  I guess I should have been grateful my parents recognized I wasn’t yet ready to face the monster in the closet.  Correction.  My particular monster refused to be relegated to a closet.  It hovered beside me every minute of every day, hissing in my ear, Screwed the pooch, didn’t you, girl?  Messed up big time.  Pay for it the rest of your life, you will, Rory . . . Ro-ry . . . Ror-r-ry . . .
    Mom may have tippy-toed around the crisis in my life, but on the subject of my visit to Aunt Hyacinth she was inexorable.  Okay, so I’d go to the land of the has-beens, the cast-offs, the seniors who alleviated boredom with endless rounds of golf and shopping while they longed to be back in the boardrooms and teeming activities of the North.
    Or so I thought, while sunk in depression in my parent’s Connecticut living room with its great bay windows overlooking Long Island Sound.  Connecticut, the land of real people—the movers and shakers, from the rich-as-sin to university intellectuals, with a few dons and capos still clinging to the good old days.  Florida, in contrast, was the end of the world.  Exile.  I’d be fallen off the edge of the map, lost in the place that used to be labeled, “There be dragons!”
    Some dragons!  White-haired seniors with quad canes or walkers, creeping along with oxygen bottles at their sides.  And Rory Travis fitting right in.  In fact, it was a good bet most of the seniors could outdistance my hobbling steps nine times out of ten.



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Next week (probably): Bacon Bread and Beauty & the Beast

Thanks for stopping by,


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


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