Grace's Mosaic Moments


Saturday, September 14, 2019

Where Do You Get Your Ideas?


_____________________________________________________

IN MEMORIAM

For the Budweiser commercial made to commemorate 9/11, please click here.
Even after eighteen years, it brought tears to my eyes.
______________________________________________________



Perth, Scotland - photo by author, Regan Walker


WHERE DO YOU GET YOUR IDEAS?

I've touched on this briefly in the past, but this week when I was asked that question for thousandth time, it occurred to me that, instead of groaning, perhaps a longer look might be a worthwhile blog topic.

My stock, public answer to that question is a vague wave of my hand, a shrug, and the response:  "Everywhere." But really, speaking to other authors, where do we get our ideas?

So I thought back to The Sometime Bride, Tarleton's Wife, Shadowed Paradise, and was scribbling notes when I recalled those really weren't my first books, just the first books that were published. I wrote two previous novels, both with strong Russian elements. One actually landed an agent and made the rounds in New York. I still have the manuscripts of both books in a box in the garage. There are no computer copies—they were hacked out on an IBM Selectric! The very first book?* Well, that's the one read by my mother, the highly successful author of close to fifty children's books, who gently suggested that perhaps writing wasn't for me. (Happily, she changed her mind some years later.)

*Perhaps not at total loss. I sent it to an agency in New York for a "paid" critique. It was returned with very little said. But two or three years later a movie came out, with very nearly the same plot. Hmmm?

So why on earth, Russia?
But, wait, how did it come about that those first two books had Russian themes? The very solid answer: they were the direct result of an interest in Russia and Russian history that began for no known reason while I was in college. I suppose there was a dichotomy in my mind. I'd grown up during World War II when the Russians were allies, when our merchant seamen were risking their all to deliver supplies to Russia via the Siberian port of Murmansk. Years later, I was fascinated by Russia's colorful history, its monarchy ending with a hemophiliac heir, the empress's bizarre fascination with Rasputin, and a firing squad in an obscure shed. And finally, after WWII, the rise of Communism and the spectre of the Cold War. 

I had to see this place, so much greater in size than even US & Canada together. This place we feared, as they feared us, each possessed of enough nukes to wipe us all off the face of the earth. So my husband asked around at Yale and found me a tutor, the female of a couple who had somehow managed to leave Russia at a time when travel was forbidden. (One did not ask how anyone got out.) I studied hard, learning to read and write Cyrillic, as well as speak the language enough to get by. And in August 1972, smack in the middle of the Cold War, I was one of the first group of tourists (along with 9 other adults & 2 children) to tour the Soviet Union. We traveled 10,000 miles—from Moscow to Novosibirsk andTashken;, Samarkand to Irkutsk, Siberia, Lake Baikal, and north to the Bratsk Dam before returning to St. Petersburg.

So how could I write about anything else? It was one of the great experiences of my life. To this day, I think my second book was worthy of publication, but I suspect the Cold War atmosphere simply wasn't right for a book with sympathetic Russian characters. Which is truly sad, as we were treated so well over there. (One of our twelve travelers had been a sailor on the Murmansk run. All he had to do was say, "Murmansk," and he was a hero. The Russians loved him. And this a quarter century after the war.) I came away with the conviction that it was a shame our governments were so at odds, because I really liked the people.

So there you have the first place an author garners ideas:  personal experience.

But what about my first three published books? Where did those ideas come from?
Looking back on The Sometime Bride, I have to say:  "I have no idea." It came out of nowhere, the original beginning, a fourteen-year-old English girl looking out a second-story window in Lisbon, Portugal, and watching a carter go by, singing a bawdy son. The saga moves from Portugal to Spain to England to France, spans eight years, and takes a 140,000+ words to tell. And I simply do not know where it all came from. Though I later visited all the sites, including La Coruña by special plea to our tour director, I wrote the whole thing sight unseen (except London) in a time before Google Earth. And yet it works. And will always be my special favorite. 

But how could I write about war? Yes, I was brought up in the solemn atmosphere of WWII, but I have never actually known war, never lost a close member of the family. I do not consider myself intrepid or adventurous. But I was most certainly a scholar, a determined research buff (though not an "academic"). I had read about war and romance and all the nuances in between—which most certainly helped. Seen all those WWII movies on Saturday afternoons. And I was married, with children of my own—a state that almost guarantees a wide knowledge of just about every emotion there is. The rest came straight out of my imagination, and I never expect to achieve that height again. Books like The Sometime Bride are a one-time event.

My second published book, Tarleton's Wife*, could almost be called a spin-off from Bride. I was so caught up in my research into the Peninsular War that I absolutely had to put the British march to Corunna (La Coruña) and the battle that followed into a book. (In January 1809 the entire British army was forced into retreat by the French, slogging through freezing mountain passes in the dead of winter, then forced to stand and fight when the ships sent to evacuate them had not yet arrived.) Who could resist drama like that?

*Although Tarleton's Wife was published first (in December 1999), The Sometime Bride (August 2000) was written first.

Next up was Shadowed Paradise, my first Romantic Suspense. Now here it really gets personal. And real. An amazing amount of actual events went into this book, plus my own cultural shock as a New Englander transplanted to Florida's Gulf Coast. The resort/retirement community, the rustic restaurant on a jungle river, the land stretching from the beach to cattle ranches, an almost deserted town that looks like a city on plat maps - including roads to nowhere. A washed-out bridge, an airplane diving into the sea, a series of murders (some, real estate agents). The grandmother, a famous author, borrowed from my own mother.

Paradise Burning, a sequel to Shadowed Paradise, also borrowed from actual events, if not so heavily. Alas, human trafficking is all too common in Florida, as is wildfire. About three years after I wrote the sweeping fire in Paradise Burning, the actual area suffered a burn even more catastrophic. And once again, research helped. I was greatly aided by several books on contemporary Bangkok, Thailand.

Since I still have an entire page of notes on my yellow pad, I'll continue this topic next week.

~ * ~

For a link to Blair's website, click here.
 
Blair's Regency Warrior series (in order)
The Sometime Bride
Tarleton's Wife
O'Rourke's Heiress
Rogue's Destiny
The Lady Takes a Risk
The Abominable Major


Thanks for stopping by,
Grace  





Saturday, September 7, 2019

Freak Accident

At the doctor's office (9/28/19)


FREAK ACCIDENT

On Wednesday afternoon, August 21, I pulled up to the cluster of mailboxes at the end of the cul-de-sac where I live - as I do almost every day of the week as I come home from errands, choir, kid transport, etc. I got out of the car, was standing behind the open door looking through my keys for the post box key when WHAM! my car rocked back, the door toppling me over. Fortunately, I ended up on the grass next to the mailboxes and seemingly in pretty good shape. My elbow was skinned by the cement curb, but that appeared to be it.

A young woman came rushing over to pick me up, apologizing about a hundred times in the next five minutes. She'd backed out of her driveway (perpendicular to my car), backed around into the street and hit my front bumper straight on. There were a few more scratches than it had before, but not enough to make a big fuss. I did not want to pursue the matter; I just wanted drive the half block home.

BUT I soon discovered my foot seemed "sensitive," but it did not pain me and there was little swelling, so I figured it was only bruised. I got out my cane and began using it for more than long-distance walking, and that was it. And then . . .

A couple days later, I noticed the AC on my car - usually freezing on the lowest setting - was not acting right. Had something vital been loosened or damaged in the accident - could I be losing Freon? I was planning to take it to Toyota on the Friday nine days after the accident when on Wednesday, and again on Thursday, I stepped down, and for the first time felt true shafts of pain. I suspect that up to that point I'd had only a hairline fracture and when I put my full weight on the foot, it finally broke.

Anyway, there I was with businesses closing down right and left, including my GP's office, because at that point we thought Dorian was going to make landfall in Central Florida, yet I knew it was time to have my foot X-rayed. Sigh.

My GP recommended Centra-Care, a walk-in clinic with many branches in our area. I went to the one in Lake Mary and was just about their only patient that morning when everyone was home "battening down the hatches," as the saying goes. I knew I was in trouble when the technician took her first look at the X-ray and said, "You've been walking around on this for a week!"

Centra-Care made a CD of the X-ray and sent me to an orthopedic clinic about two miles away. Naturally, by this time, I was dragging. Fortunately, Susie was able to join me and be with me when I was ordered into an orthopedic boot and to use a walker and keep off the foot for SIX weeks. Believe me, I was in shock. 

Susie went out and found a wheeled walker (at Walmart), and her husband's cousin came over to put it together - NOT the easiest task. Lionel is extremely handy and still got the left arm in the right slot & vice versa the first time around. He also rolled up rugs, moved furniture, etc., so my wheels would have room to run.

But oh, the agony of learning to get around at a snail's pace. There's no way to picture what the effort and frustration one has to go through unless you've had to do it. Making coffee, feeding the cat, putting together a sandwich, and oh horrors, using an above-stove microwave become hurdles as challenging as a steeplechase.

Fortunately Squeak (my cat) doesn't seem to mind eating off the floor.

After nearly a week of this torturous snail-like pace, I am happy to say that my ease of locomotion is improving. I can only hope my foot is, as well. But it's perfectly horrid to depend on others for everything, from moving my hanging baskets and birdfeeder before the storm - and then putting them back. To picking up my mail, buying groceries, cleaning, etc. (I did manage to unload, reload, & run the dishwasher, a major accomplishment.)

This morning I looked at the lovely clean kitchen tiles Susie just mopped and saw coffee drips. Sigh. Just try transporting even half a cup of coffee while sitting on a walker seat & trying to make it turn a corner - over raised molding. Aargh!

But I'm getting quite a bit of work done on my new Gothic, plus more editing on the blog posts going into the compilation of all my articles on Writing & Editing since January 2011. No running off to buy fabric or yarn at Jo-Ann's. Or to the Post Office, grocery store, or garden outlet. No constant demand for transport for the grandgirls.

Okay, one week I can manage, but SIX???

I'm hoping for a bit more mobility after my check-up on Sept. 17th. Encouraging thoughts are welcome!


~ * ~

For a link to Blair's website, click here.
 


For a link to The Abominable Major on Amazon,  click here.


For a link to The Abominable Major on Smashwords,  click here.  


Background information on The Abominable Major can be found on my Facebook Author Page. To read it, click here.



Thanks for stopping by,
Grace  

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Author Oops!


Hurricane Dorian Update

Wednesday, September 4, 11:30 p.m.
By some miracle, Florida escaped the brunt of Hurricane Dorian, which passed by 100 miles out to sea with wind, storm surge, and some power outages along the coast, and little more than occasional squalls inland (where I live). We look at the pictures coming out of the Bahamas (pounded by 200 mph winds for c. 36 hours) and know that could have been Florida, except for a "High" our local forecaster named "The Cavalry," which traveled more than 1500 miles across the U.S. & turned Dorian north, where it is still skirting the coast, causing trouble in Georgia and the Carolinas.

We sigh with relief, and thank God for being spared. If you are able to contribute to Bahamas relief, please do.


Clearly, someone in our local grocery chain (Publix) has a sense of humor.
The photo above was posted to Facebook on Thursday, August 28, when Dorian was a Cat 1 and we could still joke about it. [For those who don't live in hurricane country - that's a map of Florida featuring the infamous "cone of uncertainty" in white) with Dorian (in red) bearing down on Central Florida.]

Grace note:  And amidst all the preparations for Dorian, I discovered I have a broken foot! Am hobbling around with a "boot" and a walker. (More on that next week.) 


~ * ~


AUTHOR OOPS!

Since January 2011, I have been offering advice on Writing and Editing, primarily emphasizing, "take the time to get it right; research; edit, edit, edit; keep lists of characters and descriptions, etc., etc. And I really try to follow my own advice!

But . . .

Only days after the publication of The Abominable Major, a Regency author friend pointed out a mistake. A mistake I never would have made if I'd taken the time to re-read the companion book, The Lady Takes a Risk, before writing The Abominable Major. Except one book was set on a hops farm in Kent, the other in London, and never the twain should meet. Yes, there were bit-parts by cross-over characters, but nothing that even hinted: "Re-read Risk first!" So I gleaned the names I needed from the Risk Character List, and that was it.

Alas, it had been two years since Risk and my list did not extend to details about one minor character—Viscount Pomfret, Colonel Marcus Trevor's older brother, who makes a brief appearance near the end of The Abominable Major. I needed him to have a wife to act as hostess for a dinner party that was a pivotal part of the plot. So that is how I wrote the scene. And that is how the scene was published. Except . . .

In The Lady Takes a Risk, Lord Pomfret states unequivocally that he will never marry. Oops! At first, I thought I could fix the problem by simply removing that passage, but when I read it over, it was apparent that scene was too involved, too significant to remove it. Okay, so I'd mention the fact that the viscount met a young lady who caused him to change his mind. Except . . . the story of the major and the countess directly follows the story of Colonel Trevor and Lady Amelie. There simply wasn't time for Viscount Pomfret to have met and married someone in anything more than a shabby travesty of a marriage. And he simply wasn't the sort!

So what to do?

I printed off the dinner party scene and the club scene that precedes it. I scowled and grumbled and grimaced—and ended up making changes to four pages. I can only hope I caught all the anomalies! Basically, I changed the hostess of the dinner party from Lord Pomfret's wife to his mother, another character we met briefly in Risk. This, I hope, satisfied the facts in the first book while sticking to the rules of Regency entertaining in the second.

And, as I've blogged before, I was able to make changes only because The Abominable Major was an e-book. I polished the revised pages, typed in the revisions to both the Amazon and Smashwords versions, checking each two or three times over. I then made sure they were still in My Documents where they were supposed to be (I've had mss revert to Word Perfect!). And then I simply uploaded the new version to each vendor. 

Did I have egg on my face? I surely did. And still do. It's really embarrassing to know I've been urging people to read the two books as a set and realizing that anyone who did that was going to have my blatant Oops slap them in the face.

So apologies to all. And use this tale as a Warning. It is so very easy to goof up. Keep good records, and if there's been a lapse of time between books in a series, never fail to read the last one you wrote before beginning the next!

Grace note:  as I worked on this blog, I realized I never had a confirmation of the change from KDP. And after downloading a copy, sure enough, the first revision didn't take; perhaps I failed to continue to the very end and hit "Publish." Sigh. So I've just repeated the process. Hopefully, the corrected version will soon be available.  So - a second lesson. Check and re-check everything.Tedious, I know, but none of us is infallible.


~ * ~

For a link to Blair's website, click here.

 

For a link to The Abominable Major on Amazon,  click here.



For a link to The Abominable Major on Smashwords,  click here.  


Background information on The Abominable Major can be found on my Facebook Author Page. To read it, click here.



Thanks for stopping by,
Grace  



Saturday, August 24, 2019

Recipe Time Again

At the Steinway Fundraiser at the Orlando Museum of Art
Susie and I seldom have an opportunity to dress up, but this was an annual jazz concert we really enjoy. It raises money for piano lessons for children who otherwise could not afford them. 


RECIPE TIME AGAIN
 






ASPARAGUS TARTS


The photo above is of the original recipe (from the Orlando Sentinel). I prefer to double the recipe and make individual tarts, using two muffin pans. If you would like to make the flat tart above, halve the recipe below and use just one sheet of puff pastry, turning up the outside edges.

Here is the recipe for my version, which makes 18 individual tarts.*

1 lb. thin asparagus, trimmed & cut into ¼” pieces
4 scallions, sliced thin
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons chopped pitted kalamata olives
2 garlic cloves, minced
½ teaspoon grated lemon zest*
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper (preferably fresh ground)
8 oz. goat cheese, softened
2 sheets (9½ x 9") puff pastry, thawed

*fresh lemon zest is best, but “out of a jar” is okay.

Heat oven to 425°. Spray two muffin pans (at least 9 holes each).
Combine asparagus, scallions, 2 tablespoons of oil, olives, garlic, lemon zest, salt & pepper in bowl.

In separate bowl, mix 3/4 of the goat cheese, and 2 tablespoons of oil, then set aside.

Unfold pastries, one at a time, onto lightly floured surface. Cut each into 9 squares. Carefully fold each square into muffin pan, pressing the bottom & sides into place. (You will need enough muffin holes for 18 tarts.)

Put some of the goat cheese mixture in the bottom of each cup, making the portions as even as possible. Layer the asparagus mixture over the top of the goat cheese. Crumble remaining goat cheese on top of the asparagus.

Bake until pastry is puffed and golden and asparagus is crisp-tender, c. 15-20 minutes.  Let cool for 15 minutes. Drizzle with remaining oil (optional).


Grace note:  the cutting-up of the asparagus and the scallions is time-consuming. I find it makes life easier to do it ahead.



APRICOT, WHITE CHOCOLATE & WALNUT SCONES***

This recipe does not work for "drop" scones. It is so rich in "additions" that the dough can only be formed into a wheel and cut into triangles. 

Special note:  I had to add more cream than recommended (a bit at a time until all the "dry" dough is gone).

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tspns baking powder
½ tspn salt
¼ cup unsalted butter, chilled
½ cup heavy (whipping) cream
1 large egg
1½ tspns vanilla
6 oz. white chocolate, cut into ½" chunks
1 cup toasted coarsely broken walnuts*
1 cup finely chopped dried apricots

Preheat oven to 375°. In large bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder & salt. Cut the butter into ½-inch cubes and distribute them over the flour mixture. With a pastry blender (or two knives used scissor fashion), cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. In a small bowl, stir together the cream, egg, and vanilla. Add the cream mixture to the flour mixture and knead until combined. Knead in the white chocolate, walnuts & apricots.

With lightly floured hands, pat the dough into a 9-inch circle in the center of an ungreased baking sheet. With a serrated knife, cut circle into 8 wedges.** Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until top is lightly browned. Cool scones on baking sheet on wire rack for 5 minutes, then transfer scones directly to rack. 

*To toast walnuts, place in single layer on a baking sheet & bake at 375° for 5-7 minutes.

**After baking, I divided each eighth once again, to make 16 scones, freezing some for future use. (This recipe freezes well.)

***From Simply Scones by Leslie Weiner & Barbara Albright 


~ * ~

COMPANION BOOKS

The stories of two high-born veterans of the Napoleonic wars who escape their former lives as well as their wartime memories when they buy a hops farm in Kent. Or at least, that's what they planned.







~ * ~
For a link to Blair's website, click here.
 
For a link to The Abominable Major on Amazon,  click here.



For a link to The Abominable Major on Smashwords,  click here.  


Background information on The Abominable Major can be found on my Facebook Author Page. To read it, click here.



Thanks for stopping by,
Grace  



Saturday, August 17, 2019

The Routine of Writing

Only in Florida . . .
A raccoon was found inside a vending machine at a high school in Volusia County (next to the county where I live). Since it was a high school, I suspect the raccoon may not have wandered in by himself.

From Colorado, a new hailstone record:  4.83"

And a truly remarkable photo from Facebook, credited to:  marcokorosecnet.

 
Taken in Kansas - and as far as I know, "for real."




THE ROUTINE OF WRITING

On Friday morning of this week I was happily sticking pencils, one by one, into the electric sharpener, when I realized that I, the author who urges creativity even unto rule-breaking, was following a fixed routine established at least a quarter century ago. This was how I edit hardcopy, and the heavens would fall if I deviated from a single step!

And then I got to thinking . . .

Several years ago one of the grandgirls, evidently prompted by a discussion at school, asked me, "Gramma, do you have a routine?"  And I had to admit I did. From getting up, making coffee, feeding the cat, checking the news, making the bed, to walking into my office every morning but Sunday and sitting down to write. Except "editing" mornings when I took hardcopy into my bedroom, sharpened my pencils, and settled in to decimate what I'd written over the last couple of days.

So yes, as creative as I try to be, my life is circumscribed by routine. 

Good or bad?

Before going any further, I must point out that I'm still strongly opposed to anyone who preaches, "My way or the highway." Each person must find his/her own way through the writing maze, but I've spent the last eight years giving advice on what works for me—and hopefully will work for you as well—so once again, here are my personal thoughts on the subject of routines.

When it comes to writing, I believe an established routine helps. NOT to produce "routine" writing but for finding the time in your busy schedule to get those precious words out of your head and onto paper (or at least onto your hard drive). Some authors I know get up at five in the morning to find their precious "alone" time. Others write late at night. Only a few of us have the flexibility I do, being able to write without the constant demands of a job, spouse, and/or children. But no matter your situation in life, you will accomplish far more if you carve out a space of time that is solely yours. Not just for a day or two but week after week, year after year. Your own special "me" time. 

All the years I was growing up, I recall my mother going into her office, shutting the door, and that was it. NO ONE disturbed her while she was writing. (Fortunately this routine was never tested by the house catching fire!) This was, I should add, in the days when most women did not work outside the home, so she had the freedom so many writers only wish they had in the so-called "liberated" world.

So, yes, when it comes to getting a book done, establishing a writing routine and sticking to it is vital. A "hit or miss" approach could leave a book hanging for years.

So What about an Editing Routine?

Those who grew up in the digital age will undoubtedly find my editing routine amusing, but I still feel the need to edit hardcopy for at least the first couple of run-throughs of what I've written. Somehow, sitting there with pencil in hand, clarifies my thoughts, sharpens my mind, lets me see what I missed on screen. So to add to your amusement, I'll detail the routine necessary before I can even look at Page One. 

Note: Hardcopy editing is done in bed, propped up against a pile of pillows. [Sure, you can sit at a desk (or at a narrow writing bench on a cruise ship - which I've done), but editing in bed is much more comfortable.]

1.  I move my latest's book hardcopy from my office to my bedroom; also, my Character/Description List, Notes, and previous chapters (in a blue leather zippered container I've used for every book I've ever written).

2. I set up the metal bed tray I've had for more years than I can remember, fixing it at the angle I prefer. 

3.  I remove a slew of pencils, two easy-writing pens, a red felt pen, and a pink marker from their containers on my bedtable.

4.  I examine the end of each pencil. If it is not "pointy" sharp, I stick it in the sharpener, also on the bedtable. They have to be perfect.

5.  I dig out at least two lined legal pads from another bedside table and add those to the pile on the bed.

Then, and only then, am I ready to look at what needs to be editing.


The Editing Process.

Pencil in hand, I begin to read. Sometimes I smile and continue on; other times, I balk, scowling at a paragraph, grumbling and agonizing over how I could say the same thing so much better. Perhaps I only need to change a word or two. Perhaps I scribble in a whole sentence—or cross one out. And sometimes I need to grab up one of those legal pads and a pen and write an Insert that enhances the bare bones of that meager first draft.

Other times I need to juggle the order of what I've written—which is when that red pen comes in handy, marking (1, 2, 3) the order of the sentences (or clauses) being juggled. The pink marker, by the way, comes in handy when indicating the portion of a paragraph to be kept during a major rewrite.

To me, all this is much easier on hardcopy. It's also useful to have what you're deleting there before you, in case you change your mind! And scribbling changes in pencil works the same. So easy to erase and try something else, without obliterating the original.

Yes, I have to get up off the bed, gather up all my stuff, and trundle it back to the office. And then I have to sit down and make sense of all those pencil scribbles, red and pink markings, and the legal pad Inserts written in pen. But it works for me. I feel I do a much better job of editing when I start with hardcopy. I usually don't use "on screen" editing until a second complete run-through of the entire book. 

Note:  I do not, however, hesitate to change my hardcopy edits while typing them in. I'm always looking for more detail, more color, more clarity.

Old-fashioned, you say? Probably. But it works for me. And after forty books, I'm unlikely to change my methods. But hopefully, setting up a writing routine and an editing routine will help you in that eternal struggle to "get the blasted book done." And in the even more important struggle to make it the best book it can be.

~ * ~




 

For a link to Blair's website, click here.



For a link to The Abominable Major on Amazon,  click here.




For a link to The Abominable Major on Smashwords,  click here.
 


Background information on The Abominable Major can be found on my Facebook Author Page. To read it, click here.



Thanks for stopping by,
Grace