Grace's Mosaic Moments


Saturday, November 22, 2014

CRUSING, Part 2

BULLETIN from Argentina (Thursday, November 20) - the family on the banks of the Parana River in Rosario, Argentina - where they're attending a quinceañera. They flew from Orlando to Miami to Buenos Aires on Tuesday night.



Visiting an Argentinian shoe store! (on Friday)


CRUISING - Part 2


Below is a photo essay for the Thanksgiving holiday, before I begin a new Writing & Editing series. Here is Part 2 of the Caribbean cruise the family and I took last August. 



After touring separately on St. Thomas, we were all together for a full-circle bus tour of our next port of call - St. Maarten/St. Martin - an island amicably divided since the seventeenth century into jurisdiction by the Dutch and the French. (We enjoyed the comfort of an air-conditioned full-size bus as opposed to the small open-sided lorries on St. Thomas, where it is impossible to imagine a full-size bus negotiating the roads!)

Crossing the border from St. Maarten to St. Martin

And no, there was no border guard, no stopping to show our passports.



To New Englanders like me, the walls just inside the French border appeared to be classic stone walls, but our driver told us they're called "slave walls" because they were constructed by slaves from the ballast stones offloaded from European ships which would be returning with their holds full of island produce.


A flat-out fake shot of St. Maarten's famous airport where airplanes skim the beach.
It really looks like this - my daughter has the videos to prove it - but I confess this is a photo of a photo passed around by our bus driver!


Naturally, while in "France," we had to visit an open-air Pâtisserie. Yum!

St. Thomas isn't the only island with amazing colors in the water.

And a fond farewell to St. Maarten as our ship pulls out of the harbor.

More ice skating on Deck 3

I actually went in the pool, but it was way too crowded. Stayed long enough for a photo!

So I went to the all-adult pool, which was just as crowded, but it had underwater bar stools, a bar, and mojitos!

Monkey on a wire!
That's my mojito front & center.



A fond farewell to our dining room - and the fabulous food - on Freedom of the Seas


Safely back at Port Canaveral

Waiting for our faithful picker-uppers, Lionel & Tim, just pulling in. (I waited on a bench, thank you very much!)

If you want to cruise on a truly great ship, try Royal Caribbean's  Freedom of the Seas. We loved it!

~ * ~

Coming soon: a new series based on my workshop, "The Wise Author's Approach to Writing a Better Book"

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, November 15, 2014

HOLLY




For some reason it seems as if Holly took forever to be ready to go live online, but truth is, I recall taking Belle and Cecilia (the first two novellas of the Aphrodite Academy series) with me on our cruise in mid-August (via my Kindle), and re-reading them to refresh my mind about the characters before starting Holly. So I guess it really hasn't been that long. 

I have to admit I've found violating most of the rules of traditional Regency romance, even most Regency historicals, a refreshing switch. The freedom to be outrageous is exhilarating. The result, I hope, not offensive.

For those who might not remember the girls of the Aphrodite Academy . . .

These novellas explore what might have happened to young women, from ladies to tavern wenches, to whom life has not been kind. I call this genre "Regency Darkside." The language is saucy, the sex occasionally graphic, but the stories are driven by plot and characters, not the sex scenes. And traditional Happily Ever After endings prevail.

Holly - the story:

Holly Hammond, an independent, sharp-tongued former tavern wench, has reached the pinnacle of her ambition, flying high as a sparkling courtesan—until she finds herself out on the street, pregnant with twins. Her choices are few:  live the false life of a widow in some distant corner of the realm or give up her child. And then, an offer out of the blue. For what might be the highest price ever placed on a courtesan, she is bartered into marriage with a stranger.

Royce Kincade is a stalwart, upright border Scot who fixes his sight on the prize at the end of the rainbow, giving little thought to such pitfalls as his wife's determined independence, the possible outrage of his relatives, or the reappearance of the babies' natural father. Not surprisingly, both Holly and Royce are left to wonder if theirs is marriage made in Heaven or in Hell.

~ * ~

Holly is currently available on Amazon & Smashwords. B&N's Nook takes a bit longer. 

For a link to Amazon Kindle, click here.

For a link to Smashwords, click here.

Note: a 20% free read is available on Smashwords.


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, November 8, 2014

Fairy Tales & Romance

A rare sight - a full moon against a Florida sunset


FAIRY TALES & ROMANCE

Have fairy tales - from children's storybooks to Disney movies - ruined women's ability to distinguish genuine romance from sheer fantasy? 

Last night on TV's Criminal Minds, the serial killer turned out to be an ethereal young woman who had been so damaged in her youth that her mind had become fixed on the concept of finding "the one." If a man she met, even casually, did not live up to her ideal of instant Happily Ever After, she killed him. Does this fictional character, I wonder, have numerous not-so-fictional sister sufferers - not to such an extreme, of course - who think only "love at first sight" will do? Women who never find the right man because they reject a man if sparks don't fly on the first date? 

Are romance authors guilty of continuing these myths? Very likely, and yet where would we be without romance? Though a widow of long standing, I embrace the concept every day. Writing about romance adds immensely to my pleasure in life, as I hope my work does to the lives of my readers. But . . .

In last night's episode of Criminal Minds, the young woman could not accept men as they are, even the charming ones. If they made a pass, strayed the least little bit off the prim fairy tale path, she freaked and killed them. In actuality, of course, we see every variety of aberration as women seek romance and the ever-illusive love. From those who vow to wait for Mr. Right to those who leap into bed with every man they meet, thinking that's the only way they find "the one." 

Nonsense, of course. Yet when I checked my "blog file" this morning, I found I had saved a newspaper article on this topic (by Jessica Reynolds for Tribune newspapers). It lists seven concepts experts feel should be debunked. They are:

1.  You'll meet "the one."
2.  Love at first sight.
3.  Opposites attract.
4.  "Happily ever after" lasts forever.
5.  Fighting means you have passion.
6.  You can change someone if you try hard enough.
7.  Love can conquer all.

In a nutshell, here's what they said:

1. Believing you'll meet Mr. or Miss Right is passive. You're letting a perhaps mythical destiny control your life. Love requires participation. You have to engage in it, work at it. It doesn't just happen.

2.  People may fall in lust at first sight, the experts concede, and be fooled, as their relationship develops, into thinking it was love at first sight. This concept should definitely be taken with the proverbial grain of salt.

3.  Opposites attract? Believe it or not, sociologists state that social class is a greater divider than even gender or race. The simple truth is that the more dissimilar the day-to-day rituals and preferences of two people, the less likely their relationship will last.

4.  The validity of HEA. Let's face it, that's why we go to romance movies, read romance novels. We know life just doesn't work that way. (At least most of us do - I'm still worried about the really young and naive who haven't yet made that horrid discovery.) 

5.  Fights & passion. For all the tales to the contrary, explosive fights rarely end in a passionate love scene. Fighting can even make a couple question whether they've made a good match. Some couples fight, many don't. Just don't make the mistake of thinking it adds to the romance of their lives. 

6. The hope of change. Experts suggest that in real life Belle of Beauty and the Beast would likely have resigned in frustration or been mauled! Occasionally unrelenting good nature may change a grumpy partner, but more likely it can lead to abuse. Basically, if you enter a relationship with the idea you can change your partner, you're likely headed for a fall.

7.  Love conquers all. The greatest fallacy of all. There are some issues which cannot be fixed, from death and disaster to different attitudes toward money. Some relationships, no matter how right they might seem at the beginning, are not destined to last.


Discouraged? Disillusioned? Or are you nodding your head and saying, "Wow, I don't feel so guilty about . . ."?

The most important thing, I believe, is to acknowledge that some people - frequently young women - have been brainwashed by the unrelenting, and decidedly unrealistic, bombardment of the Disney version of fairy-tale romance. (The tales, as originally written, were frequently more realistic. Modern-day versions have been sanitized in a manner similar to what Thomas Bowdler did to Shakespeare in the early 19th c.)

So we need to be wary of these "prettified" stories. We need to raise our young ones with the ability to differentiate between romance in fiction and romance in the real world. And yes, our young men need to face this too. For they cannot be totally unaffected by the fantasy romances that constantly bombard us from every side. Can anyone be blamed if we have difficulty distinguishing fiction from reality?

As for myself, I will continue to write romance with a clear conscience, for I try to include the bad with the good. In Holly, Book 3 in the Aphrodite Academy series, Happily Ever After is anything but. And in my Regency Gothic, The Mists of Moorhead Manor, the hero and heroine are confronted by a heart-wrenching, nearly insoluble dilemma. And even after they make that decision, the battle of Waterloo interferes with what we can only hope will be a much less stressful future.

In all fairness I should add that the TV program Once Upon a Time, which presents twist upon twist on the old fairy tales, never falls into the trap of nothing- but-sweetness-and-light and happily-ever-after. It does, in fact, present some good life lessons, such as the value of friendship that is front and center in this fall's "Frozen" episodes. I should also add that even fairy tale movies are showing signs of growing up, as seen in Snow White and the Huntsman and Maleficent

To conclude, here is the final paragraph from Ms. Reynolds' article.

"Romantic storylines may very well amplify our expectations of love beyond what will ever be feasible, but they do add some benefit," Ozair* said. "They remind us to be optimistic about love and open to adventure . . . and hit at our deep-seated hope that love will find a way."

* Mia Adler Ozair, a clinical psychotherapist from Los Angeles and mother of nine. 

~ * ~


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, November 1, 2014

Thoughts on Space

Hailey, Halloween, 2014
Take a good look at the zipper that runs from Hailey's forehead down around her mouth. Amazing stuff. Some of us have been teasing her make-up artist, her mother, that some of Bill Corso's genius must have rubbed off when they were classmates in the Booker Performing Arts program in Sarasota. Shortly after graduating, Bill went off to Hollywood where's he's become one of the leading horror make-up artists in the U.S.


A few thoughts on going where no-one has gone before . . .

A slightly cockeyed scan of the exploding Antares rocket - from the Orlando Sentinel

The photo above is of an Antares rocket, owned by Orbital Sciences Corp. - and contracted by NASA to the tune of $200,000,000 - blowing up only a few seconds after launch in Virginia on Tuesday, October 28. There was also damage to the launchpad.

Today, Wednesday,I just walked back into the house after watching an Atlas V, owned by SpaceX, manage a perfect launch from Cape Canaveral, with far more people watching than in many a year. It seems it takes an explosion of one rocket to get the launch of the next one onto CNN. 

On board the exploded rocket were 5,000 pounds of supplies for the International Space Station. The SpaceX Atlas V is carrying GPS equipment intended for military use. Due to a long rainy season and heavy clouds, this is the first launch I've seen from my house in quite a while. Here's how it works . . .

Almost everyone in Florida - at least within a hundred miles of Cape Canaveral - learned long ago where to get the best view of a launch. In my old home in Venice, Florida, it was the middle of my driveway. Unfortunately, here in Orlando, it's the middle of the road! (A quiet dead end, thank goodness.) The way most of us do it, as far as I know, is we watch on television until the rocket actually launches, and then we rush outside, assume the pre-determined position, and wait. When I was in Venice, it took the rocket a surprisingly long while before it rose over the roof of the house across the street. Here in Orlando, which is much closer, the rocket becomes visible much sooner.

That's what I was doing on January 28, 1986, standing in my driveway watching Challenger's vapor trail, when it suddenly split into two trails. Something I had never seen before. I rushed back into the house in time to hear a choked-up announcer say there had been an "anomaly." Such a clinical word for disaster and death. 

And almost two years later, I was standing in the parking lot behind my costume business, along with every other small business owner, plus customers, in that small strip mall, watching the first shuttle launch after the Challenger disaster. We were all chanting, "Go, go!" Followed by cheers when Discovery flew true, her vapor trail long and clear behind.

The rocket that blew up last night did so during the evening news and became "Breaking News" within moments. It was also fully recorded by both professional and amateur videographers. The one thing the newsmen kept repeating was, "This is an unmanned rocket. No one was killed." And not long after, they were able to assure viewers that no one had been killed on the ground either. But on amateur video shown on CNN today you could hear someone repeating, "Oh God, oh God, oh God." It truly was a horrible sight. And I feel sorry for Orbital Sciences, even as I cheer SpaceX for yet another clean launch today. (Their launch record, so far, is superb.) To be fair, this was the first disastrous launch among those made by private contractors since the shuttles were retired. These private companies stuck their necks out to continue our venture into space after the government pulled the plug. Government contracts or not, they are to be applauded for risking so much.

I'm old enough to remember our first attempts to develop a reliable rocket. Back then, it wasn't at all unusual to see a rocket blow up on launch. While I was touring with The Sound of Music, I remember sitting in a hotel room (in Cleveland, I think it was) and cheering one on, only to have it end in a fiery mess very similar to the one in the picture above. And yet we finally did it. We even created a rocket capable of taking men to the moon. And how sorry I am my children were too young to share that incredible first step with Neil Armstrong. But anyone can now enjoy that great moment at the Kennedy Space Center where they do an excellent re-enactment of the first moon-landing.

The evening news on Wednesday added a new wrinkle to the mix. It seems the rocket that blew up in Virginia was Russian, a leftover from the Soviet space program in the 1960s. Hmm - that's when all our rockets were blowing up too. Maybe not the best choice . . .? SpaceX engines, we were assured, are "Made in America." Well, it was ice that did in Challenger, not the rocket engine, so maybe we did finally learn a thing or two about creating and launching rockets. As did the Russians. They launched a supply ship to the ISS today, so there's no danger the astronauts up there are going to left wanting.

So . . . what does it all mean? 

Why explore? To borrow from Captain Kirk, "because it's out there." Because I've never doubted others are out there, and we shouldn't be the insular hicks from the sticks when we finally meet.

On CNN today (Wednesday) Senator Bill Nelson talked about the Orion space capsule that will be tested this December. This is our push to get back into space - farther than we've ever gone before. And, yes, it's something that has to be done. 

I'm so glad to be here in Florida where I can watch our giant birds come back to life in the next generation of space exploration. To know that one of these days I'll once again watch State Road 528* (a 4-lane superhighway) become a parking lot when so many people are rushing to the launch that they clog the roads. And when they realize they aren't going to get there in time, they simply pull over and stop, stand beside their cars, heads up, every eye aimed at the eastern sky. And yes, that actually happened a few years ago as we learned the shuttles' days were numbered, and so many of us were determined to see one more launch, up close and personal, before the curtain fell. (The particular occasion mentioned here was about three or four shuttle launches before the final one.)

*For those not familiar with the Orlando area, Rte. 528 makes a "beeline" (an absolutely straight line) from Orlando to Cocoa Beach, just south of the Kennedy Space Center. There's a small island on one of the causeways that offers an excellent launch view. You can clearly see ignition, launch, and main engine separation before the rocket streaks out over the Atlantic.

So, bring it on, Orion. Central Florida is ready. And hopefully the rest of the country isn't as apathetic as we sometimes think they are!  

~ * ~

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, October 25, 2014

Misused Words 2

"Haloed" by the setting sun - Venice Fishing Pier, Venice, FL - Susie in hat, Mike behind


 
Followed by another gorgeous Gulf Coast sunset

Although Connecticut is still "home," 25 years in Venice makes it my second home - an ideal location with constant seabreeze, boutique shopping, and "jungle" hiking that makes it a great place to visit as well. And doing a workshop for the Southwest Florida Romance Writers gave me an opportunity to do so. Plus we timed the trip for the Venice Sun Fiesta, always a high-old-time for music, food, and unique crafts before the onslaught of tourists arrives for the "Season." Icing on the cake - our favorite waterfront restaurant had added a gourmet-style second story, and we managed to get outdoor seating overlooking sand, dune grass, and the Gulf - at night with the stars coming out. Wow! (It's so fancy it even had an elevator. In Venice, yet!)

And, yes, if my Romantic Suspense/Mystery readers are wondering . . . Venice is the deep dark secret behind my "Golden Beach" books. (Why a secret? Because the number of residents triples each Season, and the year-round residents really, really don't want that to increase to "quadruple"!)


MORE COMMONLY MISUSED WORDS

lead (pronounced "leed") - a noun meaning forefront; also, as a verb, the present tense of led.  She seized the lead in the race.  No matter where he leads, she follows.
lead (pronounced "led") - a metal. Ancient alchemists kept trying to turn lead into gold.
led -  guided; past tense of lead. He led the hikers along the path. 

lightening - growing lighter. The sun is rising; the sky is lightening. 
lightning - the bright burst of electricity before the thunder crashes. The eastern sky was filled with jagged streaks of lightning.

maize - corn. The Spanish may have called this Native American plant maiz, but today's North Americans call it corn.
maze -  labyrinth. A cornfield maze can be almost as hard to navigate as a maze of classic yew hedges. 

marquee - a canopy; also, the projection in front of a theater. Most outdoor weddings are held under some sort of marquee.
marquis - a noble title just beneath the rank of duke. The eldest sons of dukes often have the title of marquis. 

muscle - a part of the body many people, particularly men, attempt to enhance.  Three teenage girls admired the lifeguard's muscles.
mussel - a blue crustacean some people enjoy eating. My grandchildren actually like to eat mussels!

 Here are two examples of three words pronounced exactly alike but with wildly different meanings:

pair - two of a kind. A pair of twins.
pare - to peel. It takes a while to pare a potato or an apple, while scraping carrots is fast and easy.
pear - a fruit. Pears are very tasty.

peak - top of a mountain. It was a long hike, but I finally reached the peak.
peek - to glance (usually surreptitiously). The lady peeked over her fan at the handsome gentleman.
pique - to excite (interest/attention), to be intrigued. The girl in the string bikini piqued his interest.

perpetrate - to commit, as in perpetrate a crime. This word is the origin of the police term, "perp."
perpetuate - to prolong. Some tall tales are perpetuated long beyond their time.

principal - head of a school; something of importance; primary. The castle was the duke's principal residence.
principle - an important belief. In spite of threats from all sides, he stuck to his principles.
 
Another threesome:

rain - what falls from the sky. The TV weatherman tries to predict when it is going to rain.
reign - to rule. Queen Elizabeth II has reigned for a long time.
rein - what you use to guide a horse.  Don't drop your reins!

regardless - in spite of. Regardless of all the people who advised him not to, he dropped out of college.
irregardless - NO SUCH WORD EXISTS!   

shear - to cut.  In Australia they shear a lot of sheep.
sheer - transparent.  Her nightgown was so sheer it left little to the imagination.

stationary - fixed in one place.  That heavy machine remained stationary. It was much too hard to move.
stationery - something we write on. The desk drawer held a box of elegant stationery.

The following two words are pronounced exactly alike, although "suite" is badly mangled in some parts of the country.

suite - connected rooms, often used in the address of an apartment or office space; also used to describe a set of coordinated furniture. Mary's new bedroom suite is in the French Provincial style.
sweet - sugary, good-natured, kind. Sweet is both a taste and a personality trait.

Another trio of tricky words:

their - a possessive pronoun. Their uniforms are red with white piping.
there - a location (not where you are at the moment). See that house over there? That's where the Spauldings live.
they're - a contraction. Use only when what you want to say can be translated as "they are." They're a really good football team.


vain - used to describe someone overly obsessive about his/her appearance. Lady Anabelle was so vain, it was difficult for anyone to like her.
vane - a blade moved by the wind. Ancient windmills had four vanes; 19th c. mid-western windmills had as many as thirty vanes; modern wind machines have only three.
vein - the many vessels inside your body that carry blood.  A nurse has to pierce a vein with a needle in order to get a blood sample from a patient.

We'll end with a pair of words that are mostly abused by people who know better - but somehow the darn words insist on popping up in the wrong place. Our fingers stubbornly type one thing when we mean another. They're almost as bad as "its" and "it's"!

who's - use this contraction only when you mean "who is."  Who's going to the movies tonight?
whose - a possessive.  Whose books are scattered all over the couch?

Last-minute addition:

My eyes popped last night as I read a book by a highly talented author, who made an error that just goes to prove how easy it is for our fingers to type a sound-alike word and for it to go unnoticed, even by the eagle-eyes of both author and the copy editor of a major New York publisher. So I'm adding below two words it never occurred to me could be misused.

sextant - a navigational instrument once used by ships at sea.  The captain of the clipper ship used his sextant to plot a course.
sexton - the person who maintains a church building and its contents. When everyone had gone home, the sexton made sure the church was locked up tight.

~ * ~

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.