Grace's Mosaic Moments


Monday, December 31, 2012

BLOG UPDATES

To close out 2012 and maybe tweak your thoughts for 2013, I'm posting an updated index to my blog posts on Writing and adding a new author to my list of "What Grace Reads." But first . . .


The "grandgirls" - Hailey, Cassidy, Riley, Christmas 2012

Look, Mom, it's snowing!

Road Trip - Gatlinburg, Tennessee, December 26, 2012 - a LONG drive to see snow!




UPDATED INDEX

 to Grace's Writing & Editing Blogs

2011:

The Writing 101 series

1.  Formatting a Manuscript - May 9, 2011

2.  Nuts & Bolts, Part 1(grammar, punctuation) - May 16, 2011

3.  Tab conversion (from manual to auto) - June 5, 2011

4.  Nuts & Bolts, Part 2 - June 16, 2011

5.  I Ran Spell Check, I'm Done, Right? (self-editing) - July 5, 2011

6.  The Final Steps (self-editing) - July 14, 2011


2012:

EDIT THE BLASTED BOOK series

1.  Intro to Self-editing - April 1, 2012

2.  Should you hire help? - April 28, 2012

3.  Manuscript Format for the 21st Century - May 6, 2012

4.  Writing No-No's - May 28, 2012

5.  Point of View - June 18, 2012

6.  Anatomy of an Edit, Part 1 - August 5, 2012

7.  Anatomy of an Edit, Part 2 - August 19, 2012


HOW TO DEVELOP YOUR CHARACTERS series

Part 1 - What you need to discover about your characters - October 15, 2012

Part 2 - More questions about your characters - October 29, 2012

Part 3 - The Rest of the story - November 5, 2012 


Miscellaneous:

1.  Guideposts for Critiquing - January 28, 2011

2.  Writing Mistakes, Near Misses & Just Plain Strange - March 4, 2011

3.  Shortcuts for Writers (ASCII codes) - March 18, 2011

4.  Rules for Romance - September 18, 2011

5.  More Rules for Romance - October 16, 2011

6.  How Not to Write a Book - December 20, 2012 


UPDATE TO "WHAT GRACE READS" 
Original post - September 9, 2012


Aaron Pogue.  Evidently, Mr. Pogue thought he was writing Young Adult - hence the third book in his Dragonprince trilogy, The Dragonprince's Heir, with a fourteen-year-old hero of the next generation. However, from the notes at the end of the e-version of this book, I believe he's finally realized he reached a much wider audience and plans to fill in the "gap" years between Books 2 & 3. The triology is highly sensitive, imaginative, and heart-wrenching, delving into nearly everything from warcraft and magic to insanity and politics.  
 

Grace's Archives.

 The Archive menu to the right of the screen should allow you to find the articles you want. I'd very much appreciate hearing which topics you found most helpful. Questions and suggestions for future posts are also welcome.



Thanks for stopping by.

Grace (who writes as Blair Bancroft)

For Blair's website, click here.




Monday, December 17, 2012

HOLIDAY GREETINGS



For a Holiday Greeting this year I'm presenting a photo essay on a "Europe by Train" journey I did a few years ago. Glimpses of London, Paris, Zermatt, San Moritiz, and Venice. The photos are all scanned from non-digital photos taken with my now deceased Nikon.

Where else to begin but the London Eye?


Parliament & Big Ben from the London Eye
London classic - the Changing of the Guard
Traitor's Gate at the Tower of London - taken from a boat
Outside Covent Garden Market on a quiet Sunday morning
My personal London favorite - the Regency canal
Regency Mansion above the Regency Canal 
Just picture living in the heart of London and having your very own narrowboat anchored just across the street. The Regency Canal has access to most of Britain's vast network of canals. The mansion above is one of many along the Regency Park portion of the canal (not far from the London zoo).

Next stop: through the Chunnel to Paris. Sorry, nothing from the Chunnel trip - it doesn't exactly photograph well. 

Paris from the second level of the Eiffel Tower
Notre Dame from a boat on the Seine

Notre Dame at sunset

And back on the train for our next stop:  Zermatt, Switzerland, a town where the only cars allowed are taxis that transport tourists up the mountain from the train station. If you ever go to Switzerland, make Zermatt a "must."

The Matterhorn as seen from my hotel balcony
Cable car from Zermatt up the mountain
Village above Zermatt - taken from cable car

Skiing in May








Believe me, it was really cold on top of that mountain! None of us had jackets for that kind of weather.

And then it was off to San Moritz via the Glacier Express - great trip except for the wait staff who ignored single females, taking orders only from MEN! 







View, mile after mile, from the Glacier Express. In MAY
The chariots that took us up another picturesque mountain outside San Moritz
Interestingly, most of the shops in San Moritz were closed, due to "Off Season." Even the restaurant on top of the mountain the horses climbed. (Our tour guide ordered a special picnic basket for us.) I'm told we were lucky - the carriage ride is frequently cancelled due to bad weather.

I had hoped to take the train all the way to fabled Venice, but we were off-loaded onto a bus for the last 50-100 miles.

Bridge of Sighs
Although this was taken from a pedestrian bridge, we later traveled by gondola directly under it and through some of the narrow "back door" canals.

St. Marks Cathedral
 We went to a blown-glass shop in St. Mark's Square, admired the Doge's palace, and I indulged in what I believe was a c. $40 hot fudge sundae! (If I figured the translation to dollars correctly.) But who could visit and not sit at one of those outdoor tables and not eat something?

Workboat removing garbage from our hotel early in the morning

 I really like to know how things work and was pleased to have the opportunity to take photos of the supply & trash boats servicing our hotel. 

Now back to Zermatt and a couple of professional photos to end our mini tour of Europe.


A meadow near Zermatt

We all had our pictures taken with Bella, the Zermatt photographer's dog


~ * ~

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, 
and Best Wishes to people
of every religion and country
 for a happy, healthy, hopeful 2013.

Thanks for stopping by. Mosaic Moments is going to take a Christmas break. "See you" in 2013.

Grace
www.blairbancroft.com






Monday, December 10, 2012

HOW NOT TO WRITE A BOOK

No, this is not about setting a daily writing schedule, writing X-many words each day, or doing your research. Nor will I tell you to:
    play background music, don’t play background music;
    do your edits onscreen, do your edits on hardcopy;
    write the whole book before you edit, edit after every chapter;
    write linear, write random scenes then tie it all together;
    spelling & punctuation count, don’t worry the small stuff - that’s what
    copy editors are for.
   
This post is the tale of how a highly experienced author and editor got caught in the meat-grinder of inserting a vague long-time idea, called “Jack’s Book” into an already finished novel with an entirely different hero. With nearly catastrophic results. I’m reeling, and I’m only on the revision of Chapter 7.  My advice: don’t try it!

Background: My first book destined for publication was The Sometime Bride, which sparked the idea for Tarleton’s Wife, which won RWA’s Golden Heart contest. Tarleton's Wife ended up being published first (1999), at the request of a newly founded e-book company, Starlight Writer Publications. Even my elderly mother, the author of c. 50 children’s books, had recognized the potential of e-pub and handed me an article about it when it was in its infancy. So I was receptive to the offer from Starlight and became an early advocate of e-books. I went on to write a mass market paperback love story for Kensington, followed by a number of Regency paperbacks for Signet. But when Kensington closed Precious Gems and Signet closed their Regency line (and refused to look at Historical Romances by their “trad” authors), I found myself pounding my head against the wall, although I still kept writing. And then came indie publishing.  Yay, hurray! Fortunately, I scrambled around and got my rights back before NY publishers decided to be difficult about it!

So, finally, earlier this year, I uploaded O’Rourke’s Heiress, the third book in my Regency Historical series, containing characters from both The Sometime Bride and Tarleton’s Wife. But for fifteen or twenty years I’d had a folder marked “Jack’s book.” Poor Jack who never got the girl. Nor the book he so richly deserved. I toyed with a number of ideas for him, but none seemed quite right. Until - hallelujah! - I recalled a book I’d written shortly after moving to Orlando, which remained in the cyber drawer because no one should ever write a book while moving or within six months after moving. Particularly after leaving a house in which you’ve spent twenty-five years and which contains not only all the possessions of someone who writes, sews, knits, crochets, and reads excessively, but also all the accumulations of an equally pack-rat elder son and a deceased spouse, plus all the “extras” of three grown children (including a huge carton of all my daughter’s stuffed animals, which she had absolutely refused to give up).

But somehow I suddenly realized that not-so-great tale, written under extreme stress, contained a heroine worthy of Jack. Why hadn’t I realized it at the time? (See above paragraph.) So when I finished Lady of the Lock, I turned to Shadows Rising. (Yes, I agree, the title wasn’t so hot either.) Before cracking a page, I put some thought into the necessary major changes: I had to delete the heroine’s brother, a half-Abenaki who was so dynamic he refused to stay in Quebec and crossed the Atlantic to become a much too important character. And I had to switch the classic hero, a cavalry colonel and younger son of an earl, to a man who worked for a living. (Oh horrors!) To Jack, a man who was nearly hanged in Tarleton’s Wife and became a confidant of the young heroine in O’Rourke’s Heiress.  To Jack who has loved two women and lost them both to best friends.  (He did have one similarity to the original hero—Jack is the son of an earl, but on the wrong side of the blanket)

I also had to eliminate a number of the “shadows” from Shadows Rising. (And I’d spent a lot of time developing physical descriptions and individual personalities for each one of them. Sigh.) But good romance demands an emphasis on the Hero and Heroine. Too many charming young cavalrymen can be almost as distracting as a striking Big Brother. Out! All but two had to go.

To make matters even worse, I decided the beginning of the new book should overlap the ending of O'Rourke's Heiress, making it necessary to write new scenes with coordinated timelines.

And then . . . near the end of Chapter 7, I ran into a sub-plot that was a bit doubtful the first time around and blatantly wrong for Jack. Oops! So I had to sit down and make a list of crimes heinous enough to force the villain, a high-ranking nobleman, to go into exile. Hm-m, I just may choose four out of five things on the list. Nothing like overkill to get rid of the Bad Guy. Only all these new threads have to be woven into fabric which already exists. Double, maybe triple, Oops.

Oh joy, I still have c. twenty chapters to go . . .


Advice: Do not attempt this method of writing a book!

Alas, I liked Alain, the brother. He was a great character. Too great. He overshadowed my original hero. He might even have overshadowed Jack, although that’s debatable. But what do you have left after you’ve eliminated all that clever dialogue between the heroine and her now deleted brother? Pages and pages of narrative, that’s what. Ugh! And then there’s the matter of eliminating every reference to “Alain,” “her brother,” even “they” and “them,” which now had to be “she” and “her.”

As for Jack the bastard. . . he, as leader of a private army known as Harding’s Hellions, has to take over the hero position from a man who was a legitimate “gentleman,” a heroic cavalry colonel who fought against Napoleon. Again, poor Jack. But since he no longer lacks for money, the switch ought to work, I thought. Except I had to eliminate every “colonel,” switch every reference to his “officers” to men who served with Jack's brother Avery (a character in both Tarleton’s Wife and O’Rourke’s Heiress). And I had to make sure every word of "salvaged" dialogue was something that would come out of Jack's mouth, not the colonel's.

Chapter 7 was such a mix of usable bits and pieces, interspersed with long passages that had to be deleted, that I went through the hardcopy armed with yellow and pink highlighters and a red pen, as well as scribbling side notes in pencil. Will it make sense when I’m finished with it? I can only hope so. Astonishingly, when I read through Chapters 1-5 a few days ago, the story actually seemed flow with some normalcy. So I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

Repeat:  I strongly advise against ever trying this method of writing a book!

Then again, it really sharpens the wits.

Tentative title for the finished result:  Rogue's Destiny  - if poor Jack doesn't implode somewhere during the transition from gentleman colonel to bastard rogue.

~ * ~

Thanks for stopping by. Next blog will likely be "Holiday Greetings."

Grace






 

Monday, December 3, 2012

BEST FOOT FORWARD

I have made some major changes to the services offered by Best Foot Forward. In addition to "General Edits," which should be enough for most authors, I am offering "Author Development"—comprehensive analysis, revision suggestions, plus copy edits*—aimed at new authors.  I have also added an Intro Page to the BFF brochure, which, hopefully, will be self-explanatory (see below). 

*For an explanation of the difference between edits and copy edits, please see my blog Archives: EDIT THE BLASTED BOOK, April 1, 2012. 


                                        INTRODUCTION to BEST FOOT FORWARD

In the world of New York publishing, editing and copy edits are done by two entirely different people of very different skill levels and at different times in the manuscript’s life. But in the world of independent publishing or authors who want to polish manuscripts before submitting them to agents or publishers, a different kind of editing is necessary - primarily for financial reasons. Authors need someone who can edit, copy edit, and suggest major revisions all in one reading.

Is it easy to find someone who can combine the creativity of an editor with the meticulous grammar, spelling, and fact-checking (librarian skills) of a copy editor? No, it isn’t, but there’s no doubt this combination of skills is very much needed in today’s publishing world.

I founded Best Foot Forward for exactly that reason. I am a multi-published author, and I also have those “nitty gritty” skills demanded of a copy editor. Am I perfect? Absolutely not - I don’t know anyone who is, but I am an outstanding editor and I make a genuine effort to be consistent with all those stray capitals, commas, dashes, and ellipses. And I absolutely will not let you use a full sentence as a dialogue tag!

In the months I’ve been editing as Best Foot Forward, I have discovered I cannot offer copy edits separate from editing. The editor in me simply won’t allow it. I end up making all sorts of editing notes anyway and working for less than minimum wage. After all, what’s the point in returning to you a manuscript with all the punctuation in the right place if your story just isn’t working? I simply will not return a story to you unless I’ve covered all the bases needed to make it better.

Therefore, Best Foot Forward now offers only two kinds of service:

Author Development - for unpublished authors who want to make a serious effort to improve their skills. These services include extensive Track Changes comments, copy edits, and a separate comprehensive critique. The editing suggestions are more detailed than in “General Editing.” The critique covers: Opening Paragraphs; Characterization - Hero, Heroine & Secondary; Conflict; Narration; Dialogue; Setting; Plot; Style - including Show vs. Tell, Less is More, Personalize/Identify, Point of View; Presentation - format, grammar, spelling & punctuation; Overall Impression


General Editing (with copy edits) - suitable for more experienced authors who know their books need “another pair of eyes.” This service includes Track Changes comments and a separate Mini Critique.

                                                                    ~ * ~                                                       
                                 
                    
                                                          
Thanks for stopping by. Next blog - finally - "How Not to Write a Book"

Grace
Click here for the Blair Bancroft website 

                                                    

Sunday, November 25, 2012

IN HONOR OF THANKSGIVING


In my 2011 "Reflections on Thanksgiving," I ranted about Black Friday. Alas, things have only gotten worse, with the media now proclaiming, "Gray Thursday"! Gray Thursday? Can they possibly mean Thanksgiving? Thanksgiving, the most American of all our holidays? The holiday that extends across ethnic backgrounds, religion, education, age, etc. The holiday which inspires more travel than any other time of the year - 43,000,000 according to this week's television news. 

Why is Thanksgiving such a universal American holiday? Because if you are an American—if you appreciate what being an American means—you celebrate Thanksgiving. And, if it's at all possible, you find a way to celebrate this very special holiday with family. And possibly extend the holiday feast to friends with no family of their own.

Mayflower replica, Plymouth, Massachusetts


What makes Thanksgiving so special? After all, we have a lot of holidays, from the birthday of our country to the birthdays of great men, to honoring our veterans, so what makes this one stand out?  Because 156 years before we became the United States of America, we were a tiny colony on the shore of Massachusetts. A colony of Pilgrims, religious dissenters who suffered two months on board the sailing ship Mayflower, hoping to settle in Virginia—where Jamestown had become the first English colony in the New World— only to end up at the end of a promontory considerably farther north. The place now known as Provincetown on Cape Cod. There, they found a spring. What joy to have fresh water after two months at sea. But the land was narrow, scarcely a mile wide, and sandy. No good for farming, for keeping themselves alive. So they got back on board the Mayflower and continued on. Farther along the cape's "arm," they stopped again. This time they were greeted by natives, the people Christopher Columbus had erroneously named "Indians." [The place, now commemorated as "First Encounter Beach," is on the Bay shore in Eastham, Massachusetts. We stopped there on our trip to Cape Cod last summer.]

But the soil was still sand, so once again they set sail. The next landing was more productive and the Pilgrims joined the New World's first wave of  "immigrants." Conditions were harsh, many died, but when spring came they cleared land and planted seeds.  And that Fall, they stopped to give thanks - for their survival, for food, for help from the Indians, for the new land they were settling. [Today's Plymouth offers a replica of the Mayflower, which you can explore, and an excellent reproduction of the buildings and crafts of the early colony at what is called "Plymouth Plantation."]

Over the years this First Thanksgiving has become an inspiration for a holiday which emphasizes giving thanks for all we have, particularly for the love of family and friends, for a roof over our heads and food on the table. It is also a time when, thanks mostly to volunteers, we do our best to provide "Thanksgiving" for those who have little or nothing. Nor does our government forget our men and women in uniform. Thanksgiving is truly the "universal" holiday. 


And yet . . . retail America, particularly the "big box" stores, are turning Black Friday, the traditional start of the Christmas shopping season, into "Gray Thursday," encroaching more and more on America's most precious holiday. If the owners of these corporations were going to be out there, staffing the stores on the Thanksgiving, maybe this crass play for money and more money wouldn't be so bad, as I'd like to think only those hard-shelled enough not to give a @#$% about Thanksgiving would be shopping on the holiday. BUT these corporate giants are infringing on the most sacred American family holiday by requiring their workers to be front and center for this madhouse of consumerism. Employees must cut short their holiday to run back to work at eight, nine, midnight, four a.m., five a.m.  You name the time, and some store has compromised the holiday tradition in order to offer people an opportunity to trample all over each other so they can buy a 40" TV.

NOT AT OUR HOUSE! This Thanksgiving at 6:30 p.m. we sat down thirteen to dinner - twelve family plus one "friend." [The rest of the nineteen (the brand new American citizens) who joined us last year were creating their own holiday tradition for friends visiting from Miami.] This year my son-in-law (born in Argentina) started a new tradition. He asked each person at the table, in turn, to tell what he or she was thankful for. After the adults spoke, he asked his daughters (ages 6-9) to read a list of ten things they had written down for which they were thankful. (They had to compose these lists on their own.) It was a moving experience and, as sometimes happens, it all came together in a perfect moment. 

After we stuffed ourselves with an incredible array of food, we sat around the table and talked. Just talked - in English and Spanish. None of the thirteen of us was rushing off to the mall. We enjoyed Thanksgiving for the family day it was meant to be. For the giving of thanks, not the gimme-gimme of "What can I buy & how cheap can I get it?"


Has our family had some of those Thanksgiving disasters or blow-ups that people sometimes moan about? Yes, we have, so, believe me, I particularly treasure this year's ideal Thanksgiving. And I want other people to have their very special Thanksgiving moments and not be forced to give it all up in order to go to work so crass consumerism can push our most American holiday all the way back to August. 

If you agree with me, I hope you will pass this blog post on to others. 

~ * ~

Next week: "Best Foot Forward" will likely come before "How Not to Write a Book"

Thanks for stopping by, 
Grace
Grace's books as Blair Bancroft

Saturday, November 17, 2012

LADY OF THE LOCK

In the summer of 2006 I traveled England's Kennet & Avon canal (see England at 3mph - Blog Archives - Feb 11 & Feb 23, 2011), so Lady of the Lock has been a long time in the making. Two things held it up: the crash of the traditional Regency market as Signet and Kensington shut down their Regency lines, and by the time indie publishing came along, my research materials had disappeared during my move to Orlando in 2007! But thanks to my son cleaning and organizing my garage last winter (with a magnificent array of shelving), the box containing detailed maps of the K&A canal and Bath, plus a host of other items collected during that trip, finally turned up. I practically cried. At last I could write Lady of the Lock.

It's quite possible Lady of the Lock contains more than most people want to know about building a canal - and very likely some wholly erroneous details I made up when my research failed me. But I hope any lapses on my part will not detract from the overall story, which I intended to be both heart-warming and humorous in spite of a whole series of "black moments." For cover and blurb, please see below.


At age eleven, Miss Amanda Merriwether encounters a rather rude young man on the banks of the Kennet & Avon canal and embarks on a decade-long relationship which suffers enough blows to discourage the strongest will. The young man is the Marquess of Montsale, heir to a dukedom; she, the daughter of the architect/engineer who designed the Kennet & Avon, a man the nobility consider little better than a tradesman. Scarcely a suitable family background for a marchioness! But the blood of a man capable of heading a massive construction project that has taken most of her lifetime to build runs through Amanda's veins. Even when she finally learns to spurn her long-time love, somehow a spark remains.

Grace Note:  Lady of the Lock is a "traditional" Regency in the style of my previous Regencies, Lady Silence, A Gamble on Love, A Season for Love, The Temporary Earl, The Harem Bride, The Courtesan's Letters, Steeplechase, and my two Christmas novellas, Mistletoe Moment and The Last Surprise. The canal is real, the dates of construction real. All else is fiction. The man who actually designed and supervised the building of the Kennet & Avon canal was John Rennie, a Scotsman. His career includes a number of other canals, major bridges, and docks and harbors. His design for London Bridge was carried out by his son after Rennie's death. One of the outstanding architect/engineers of his time, John Rennie is buried in St. Paul's Cathedral.

Lady of the Lock is currently "live" at Kindle and Smashwords. Best guess for Nook, Sony, and other e-readers, 2-3 weeks yet. (Please remember - Smashwords offers a 20% free read.)

Thanks for stopping by.

Grace

Coming soon: "How Not to Write a Book"  or "The Sad Tale of Rogue's Destiny"



Monday, November 12, 2012

FLORIDA ELECTIONS - EMBARRASSED AGAIN

On Election Day, November 6, 2012, I drove to my polling station, the local country club, easily found a parking space, walked thirty feet to the club, being greeted by smiling poll workers along the way. I walked into a large room, crossed to the second long table where my precinct's records are kept (two precincts vote in the same room). With only one person before me, I waited no more than two minutes before it was time to show my license, sign my name in the record book, and receive my ballot. I then sat down at one of four large round tables and filled out the lengthy (4-pages, legal length) ballot. When every oval was correctly filled (or skipped, as I could not in good conscience vote for either candidate in one particular race), I re-checked my ballot - still comfortably seated at the table - before taking it to the ballot-scanning machine. There I encountered another helpful, smiling poll worker, who watched me feed the pages into the machine and then handed me my "I voted" sticker.

The above experience has been mine through all the elections I've experienced since I moved to Orlando five years ago (and similar to my experiences for a quarter century in Venice, FL). Each time television news programs show long lines, yet on Election Day I walk straight in and vote. Why? Until this week I hadn't stopped to analyze the problem. But when I did . . .

On Election Day 2012, less than five miles east and west of where I voted, students at the University of Central Florida and voters in the predominantly African-American Pine Hills communities waited in line for hours and hours and hours. Anyone in line when the polls closed at seven o'clock was allowed to vote. Which meant that some people were still voting when the vote-count began and it became apparent just how close the Florida race was going to be. The television news showed people in line keeping in touch through their smart phones and determined to wait to vote, no matter how long it took, because they could see their vote was really going to matter.

I, along with the rest of Florida (except for the poor souls still in line), sat in front of my TV and watched with avid interest as state after state was "called" by the experts for Obama or Romney. The Florida count was 50-50, 50-49, 49-50, see-sawing back and forth between the candidates. The Electoral College votes mounted. Florida was going to do it, I was sure. We were going to be the decisive state. Wow!

But - what? Ohio - in a later time zone - got their votes counted before Florida. New Mexico, Colorado - way west of Florida - got their votes in. The Presidential election was essentially over, Obama giving his victory speech, and Florida's votes weren't counted yet. Romney conceded - and Florida's votes weren't counted yet. The entire "voting map" was colored in with red and blue states, except Florida which was a sickly blue on some maps and yellow on others. 

For FOUR DAYS!  Yes, our votes did count, but it didn't seem like it. It seemed as if all those determined voters stuck it out in line for nothing. Because on election night, their votes were not counted as red or blue by the news media. The State of Florida, once again the laughingstock of the nation.

Why? The following is my opinion, but, providentially, it was borne out by a column in Sunday's Orlando Sentinel, so I don't think I'm too far out of line. It would seem that the Florida Legislature, far too full of people with their own agendas rather than people concerned about good government for the State of Florida, not only tried to mess with the Florida Constitution and State Supreme Court, they were determined to make it as difficult as possible for voters in certain districts to make themselves heard. I, who vote at a country club, had everything made easy. Students, blacks and Hispanics - who tend to vote for the more liberal candidates - had everything made as difficult as possible to cast their votes. 

One of the rays of hope in all this is that it appears the man scheduled to be the next Speaker of the Florida House was voted out of office. (A recount is in the works as the vote difference is about 123 votes - yet more proof that every vote counts.) The Supreme Court judges the Legislature wanted to oust were retained by the voters. Most of the ridiculous and convoluted amendments to the Florida Constitution were voted down. Which means . . .

You might be able to fool voters once, but not twice. Common sense ruled. Wow, special-interest politicians, I guess we voters are smarter than you thought we were.

Is there any hope of fixing the Florida election system? I'm not optimistic, since it isn't just the present administration which has manipulated the system. But no one likes to have egg on his/her face. Young, old, Republican, Democrat, Independent. It's EMBARRASSING. Not just the United States, but the whole world sees Florida as a backwater swamp that can't even get its votes counted until four days after the elections. And if we go back to those hanging chads, where a political nobody from Florida was allowed to decide the outcome of a national Presidential election . . . Ah, well, don't get me started on that! 

So perhaps the politicians in Tallahassee will be forced to do something about election reform at long last. Forced to create a more equitable system of polling stations. Forced to make fair rules and stick to them so the various Supervisors of Elections aren't left tearing their hair and wondering how they can make their way through the morass of Legislative obstacles. (Is that the shadow of Jim Crow I see?)

I've lived and voted in Florida for thirty years. And most people I know are really trying to do the right thing, to vote for people they believe will do their best for Florida. So how have we gotten ourselves into this untenable situation? I guess we're just going to have to be smarter, more discriminating. Pay more attention to who's going to Tallahassee and not just who's going to Washington. 

I was planning to tell a couple of election horror stories that happened here in Orlando, but I've decided they don't fit in this post. I may write about them at another time or I may be able to swallow my indignation, as the losing half of the electorate must, if we are to function as a country again, not two separate belief systems with a chasm between. I'm old enough to remember when this country "worked," when we all pulled together, finding reasonable compromises when necessary, to make it great. We need to find our way back. 

No, we must find our way back - so we can move forward!

~ * ~

Thanks for stopping by. 

Grace



Monday, November 5, 2012

HOW TO DEVELOP YOUR CHARACTERS, Part 3

The most important lesson to be gained from this series on "How to Develop Your Characters" is:  
No Cardboard Characters Allowed!

No characters taken verbatim from movies, television, or other people's books. No characters skimmed off the top of your mind without thought. (Except one-sentence walk-ons who don't really need a lot of depth.) Yes, movies, TV, or books might give you that germ of an idea, but you must take it and make it your own. Figure out who these people are, what made them who they are, and are they worthy of a place in your story?  If not, keep mining the depths of their characters until they are. Or get rid of them!

But how are you going to let your reader know what you've discovered about your characters? Are you going to sit down and write a couple of brilliant paragraphs telling us about them, as Nora Roberts told us about Tucker Longstreet? Sadly, today's market, particularly the romance market, says, "No." There are, however, several acceptable ways to "show" readers your characters rather than "tell" us about them.

1.  Dialogue. When writing dialogue, always keep in mind the depths of your character's personality. Would he or she really say that? As the book progresses, you reveal the various characters' personalities by what they say to each other. (It's possible your character might develop to the point where you have to go back and change previous dialogue because you suddenly realize he/she "would never say that."

2.  Narration. You can use your characters' actions to reveal more about them. Do they pace the room? Run hands through their hair? Do they remain calm, even cold, poker-faced, in time of trouble. Are they strong and silent, or do they talk all the time? Do they cry, panic, run for cover? (Hm-m-m, the last is definitely not recommended for anything but secondary characters. Modern heroes and heroines are expected to be stalwart.)

3.  Introspection.  Most important, and all too easily forgotten, is Introspection. This is revealing the Point-of-View characters' thoughts through narration. [Beginning writers are urged to keep to the Point of View of Hero, Heroine, and Villain (if applicable).] It is all important for an author to get inside his/her main characters' heads and let readers see the story through their eyes. Do not stand on the outside and be a narrator! Get inside the Hero's and Heroine's heads and let us see what they see, hear what they hear, feel what they feel. This is what grabs readers' hearts and makes them care about your characters. Repeat: readers do not want you to tell the story. They want you to let your characters show them what is happening. 

~ * ~

 A Note on Villains. 
I know no one who does a more evil villain than Karen Rose. I knew her before her first book was published and became an avid fan. The problem is, I had to stop reading Karen's last book. Really evil, sickly evil, villains just aren't my thing. They make me squirm. That's not why I read. But for those who do like something stronger than your usual villain, I strongly recommend reading Karen Rose's books and noting how she creates her villains. I've heard Karen speak on this subject twice now, and she has prepared herself with an excellent understanding of the inner workings of evil minds. She didn't just jump in and say, "I'm going to write a Bad Guy today."  

For those of us who prefer something less strong . . .
We still have to take the time to understand our bad guys and gals. Why would they be so mean? Is it money, jealousy, something twisted in their past? Or are they simply bad seeds? I personally prefer what I call Jack Higgins-style villains. I like to see some contrast in their personalities, something not all bad. I prefer villains who are not insane or basically evil. And, as Higgins has done, I like to see an occasional villain be redeemed. As he did with the villain who became the hero in a subsequent series of books. Or the German sub commander readers liked so much he had to resurrect him!

Whatever style villain you want to write, don't make him skin-deep. Justify the villainy with solid motives, glimpses into his/her background, and plenty of Introspection, showing us his/her thoughts. My best villain, I believe, is in Shadowed Paradise. I was almost shocked to discover that those scenes just flowed out, needing almost no revision over the several versions of the book that have appeared before its present incarnation as an online indie pub. Truthfully, I'm still not sure where that villain came from. An excellent example of a character taking over and telling his own story!

~ * ~

Look to friends, relatives, and not-friends for inspiration. Everywhere you go—Wal-Mart, Target, a sports arena, national park, Disneyworld, international travel sites—keep your eyes and ears open, your imagination quivering for input. Newspapers, TV, movies, the mall, the neighborhood—pay attention! Absorb the feel. Be aware. The world around us is a gold mine of characterization. No, not copying, but catching those tiny sparks that can lead to an explosion of something new. A smile, a frown, a slouch, an accent, a burst of laughter, a baby gurgling, the guy who yells, "Bitch!" because you passed him. A political rant that makes you wince. Any and all can inspire ideas that move your characters from two-dimensional to three.That take a cardboard stereotype and turn it someone readers can laugh and cry with, love or hate . . . and want to keep turning the pages (or flipping that button on their e-readers).

Or you can make every last bit of it up, straight out of your imagination. As long as you take the time to discover your characters and don't settle for a thin fa├žade, it's okay to grab your characters out of the "cloud." 

How to Develop Your Characters? Just plunge right in, ask the questions a good reporter must ask:  Who, What, Where, When & Why? Whether your character is good or bad, sweet or annoying, weak or strong, figure out what makes them tick. And don't forget to share the parts that are important to the story with your readers. The rest, more subtly, will take care of itself. 

~ * ~

Thanks for stopping by. 

Grace

Coming sometime in November - LADY OF THE LOCK, a new Regency by Blair Bancroft in the tradition of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer






Monday, October 29, 2012

HOW TO DEVELOP YOUR CHARACTERS, Part 2

My personal approach to developing characters is pretty laissez-faire. I have, of course, spent some time thinking about these people and their possible problems before I even attempted to name them (as we did in Part 1). For how can I know what names are right for them if I haven't "met" them yet? That's one of the great things about being an author, we don't have to "take what we get," we can create exactly the people we want. (Wow, if only we could do that in real life!) I guess that's why so many people enjoy the fantasy world of romance.

But beyond a general idea of my main characters' personalities, creating their names and a bit of family background, I let these people develop on their own. This, however, is not a method that works for everyone, so today I'm going to suggest some more questions you might want to ask yourself about your characters, particularly the hero, heroine, and villain (if applicable). If you wish, you can extend the same questions to your most important secondary characters.

First, a not-apocryphal tale.  
My mother, Wilma Pitchford Hays, was an author. While I was growing up, she wrote serial stories for Modern Romances, a Dell publication. We lived quite a ways from New York City, but I can recall her getting all dressed up, complete with hat and gloves, to go into the city to meet her editor. After each discussion, the editor would always escort her "upstairs" to Mr. Delacorte's office to speak for a few minutes to "the boss." (Sorry, I don't think I ever knew which Delacorte brother it was.) But according to my mother, he evidently had an eye for an attractive author!

When my mother paid my last college tuition, she switched to writing children's books (for three different age levels) and became well-known in that field. But I never forgot the story she told me when I was in high school and she was writing one of her serial romances for Dell. She said she never intended for her heroine and the two men vying for her love to all end up in a lake at the same time. The characters simply took over, and it happened, just like that. Since this was an open-ended story, where the readers got to decide which man triumphed, I expect this caused quite a stir. Did she have to drown one of the men? I don't think she ever told me that. But the concept of characters grabbing a story and running with it stuck in my mind. And it's certainly happened to me. Some days I start out intending to write A, and suddenly my fingers are typing B, or maybe something so very different I should call it XYZ.

Is this good? For me it has been. The new zig or zag always seemed to be more creative than what I'd planned. Which is why I'm an "out of the mist" writer, always willing to accommodate fresh ideas.

If, however, this new idea takes you off on a tangent not relevant to the story, then it's bad. Change your intended plot angle, change your setting, change the point of view, but never wander more than a few inches off the path of the story you're telling.

Questions you might want to ask about your characters:

1.  What makes your main character (or characters) tick? Are they tough and streetwise or sweet and innocent? Sophisticated, loud, sarcastic, a wise-guy or gal? Sly or honest? Thief or Protector? Full of humor or never cracks a smile? Arrogant or humble? Loner or People Person? Maybe a Turtle - hard outside, soft inside? A Clam (90% of the males of the species)? Or maybe a Brick - hard through and through. (If so, he'd better be the villain.)

2. What triumphs or anguish have your main characters suffered in the past? How has it affected them? (The same for the villain.)

3.  Are your hero and heroine different from the main characters in your previous books? If not, figure out how you can make this pair of main characters unique. Even if you're writing a series, you will want to add some new quirk to your primary character's personality that might not have shown up before. And you will want to provide a different set of secondary characters for your main character to play against. 

4.  Have the hero and heroine met before?  If so, was it significant?


5.  Do some of the secondary characters know each other? If so, how? Do they work together, party together, study together, etc.

6.  What is the major conflict between the hero and heroine? Is it a product of their background, lifestyle, inner angst? Or are they more beset by outside forces (someone's trying to kill them)?  If you're dealing mostly with inner conflicts, you need to get inside your main characters' heads and show your readers what they are suffering, and why. 

7.  What do your main characters do for a living? Even if you're writing an historical, your characters undoubtedly have a particular job they are expected to do, although that job might have been "inherited," rather than the "choice" we expect to have today.

8.  How does their job relate to their goal in the book? Do they love what they do or hate it? Are their actions in the story from a sense of duty, a need for revenge, frustration with the life they have, desperation to save someone? Or maybe save themselves. Perhaps their everyday life has nothing to do with the action of the book. This is just one more thing you need to consider. And while doing it, you might find a whole new aspect (or even a small detail) to add to your story. Tinker, tailor, soldier, spy. The jobs are different and so are the personalities required to do those jobs.

Reminder: Keep in mind that, whatever you decide, your hero and heroine must be likable. They can have faults, but the reader must be able to trust that those faults will be overcome. Even if one or both starts off perfectly obnoxious, there must be something that indicates this attitude won't last. (Kind to children, animals, his/her grandmother, gives to charity, etc.)

~ * ~

The best photo of me in years! - taken at a Halloween party Saturday night


Next blog: More questions, a closer look at villains, and some wind-up elaboration on the tricky topic of "How to Develop Your Characters."  

Thanks for stopping by.

Grace
For Grace's books as Blair Bancroft, please see Blair's website
For info on edits & copy edits, contact Best Foot Forward at editsbyBFF@aol.com









Monday, October 22, 2012

THE LAST SURPRISE



Not all surprises are good ones. Lady Christine Ashford, daughter of the Earl of Bainbridge, is enjoying a glorious first season in London when tragedy strikes. Suddenly, she and her two younger sisters are thrust from the glitter of the London ton to the far reaches of Yorkshire, where they must live with relatives until the new earl returns from his diplomatic post in Canada. To compound Christine’s grief, her Yorkshire cousin decides she and her generous dowry are just what he needs, making her situation untenable.

The problem seems to be solved when the girls’ guardian, Harlan Ashford, the new Earl of Bainbridge, returns and makes Christine an offer of marriage. But the shock of her father’s death and the intrusion into their lives of a perfect stranger make it difficult for her to adapt to being a bride.  As Christmas approaches, Christine is faced with two unhappy sisters and a decidedly unhappy husband. She has a decision to make—maintain her strict mourning and intransigent behavior or save her marriage. Is it possible one last surprise, a happy one, can bring Christmas spirit to a house of mourning? And perhaps love as well?


Note: Blair Bancroft is Grace's alter ego.

Ellora's Cave Link:  http://www.jasminejade.com/p-10368-the-last-surprise.aspx

Amazon Link:  http://www.amazon.com/Last-Surprise-Christmas-Surprises-ebook/dp/B009RQV23W/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1350915535&sr=1-1&keywords=The+Last+Surprise

DON'T GO AWAY!   See Suwanee Addendum below:

Shot in the driveway of our Suwanee neighbor's house. And, yes, that's a rattlesnake!   


 I'm inclined to think there's such a thing as getting too far away from civilization.

~ * ~

Coming Soon: Part 2 of "How to Develop Your Characters"


Thanks for stopping by.

Grace
 

Monday, October 15, 2012

HOW TO DEVELOP YOUR CHARACTERS

At a booksigning at Orlando’s Central Library last August, a young lady asked me: “How do you develop your characters?” I gulped and thought fast, because I never took a writing class, read a “how to” book, or even stopped to think about it before. Fortunately, I managed to come up with at least the germ of a reply, but I vowed on the spot to examine the subject more thoroughly and write a blog post about it. So here is Part 1.

                                                    CHARACTERIZATION 

Put quite simply, there is nothing more important than characterization when writing fiction. Even the best Action/Adventure books and the best Erotica feature well-drawn characters. Are there many books that don’t? You betcha! (And I never get beyond the first ten pages.) But most readers demand more than guns/swords/chase scenes/explosions or heaving bosoms and graphically delineated bare body parts. For which writers like me, who really care about our characters, are eternally grateful!

As I have written when critiquing hundreds of contest entries for the Romance Writers of America: readers want to love their hero and heroine. They want to empathize with them, feel their joys, their sorrows, the warmth of that final Happily Ever After. It’s all right for these main characters to have faults. In fact, faults, whether major or minor, usually add color to the story. But readers always need to know that these faults are going to be resolved. Or perhaps realize that the fault is so minor it can be more endearing than annoying.

Secondary Characters are important too. Even though they might not have a Point of View (the story is not being seen through their eyes), they can add an immense amount of color to your book. Villainy, humor, anger, spice, annoyance, etc. The secondary characters can be a sounding board for the Hero’s and Heroine’s thoughts or actions. They can provide shock, condemnation, comic relief. They allow exposition of ideas and plot action through dialogue with the Hero or Heroine. They can also be the Villain or the Bad Guys. As long as you don’t allow them to overshadow the Hero or Heroine (which can happen all too easily), Secondary Characters are vital to a good book.

So how do you make your readers empathize with your characters?
Where do you start?


1.    NAMES.  Your characters can’t come to life until they have names, first and last. When approaching a new book, I spend a lot of time looking through my old baby-name books, searching for first names. I scribble a bunch of possibilities on a yellow legal pad, and then I go on a search for last names. For example, for my Regency books I have a notebook full of typical surnames for the English upper classes. And long lists of less noble English surnames, most of them garnered from the phone book! I also have a book listing all the towns and hamlets in England, an excellent source of last names for that era. If I need foreign first names, an Internet search can be very helpful. Last names? Again, the phone book, adjusting for possible Americanized spellings. (Of course, if you’ve given up phone books, you may have to look elsewhere!) 

    When I have a list of first and last names on my yellow pad, I try pairing them up, seeing which ones will work. Which one best suits my hero . . . which best suits my heroine. Naturally, as I do this, I am forced to think about them, molding vague outlines into more human form. After that, I use a similar method to develop names for the characters in the book’s first scene. As well as any important characters who appear later in the book.

    Is this name search important, worth spending the time? For the Hero, Heroine, and major Secondary Characters, absolutely. The names should suit the people you have in mind. And the process of choosing will help anchor these people in your mind. They go, for example, from “Heir to a duke” and “Engineer’s daughter” to the names you see in the list below. They rise off the paper and become people.


2.    CHARACTER LIST.  After I have created names for my Hero, Heroine, and the characters in the book’s first scene, I type up a  Character List.  I put the character’s name first, then who they are. (If I don’t know the physical description yet, I add it as soon as it becomes clear.)  Example - the first few entries from my newest book, Lady of the Lock (Release Date - c. November 2012):



                                                Character List  -  Lady of the Lock

Bourne Granville Hayden Challenor, Marquess of Montsale  [From Lady Silence]
    Heir to the Duke of Carewe   [added later: brown hair, flint gray eyes, mother - Rosalind]

Amanda Grace Merriwether - a young lady of the upper middle class
    [added later: bronze hair, green eyes, mother - Caroline]

John Merriwether, her father, a canal architect/engineer [added later: blond, blue eyes]    


Lady Eulalia Tynsdale - wealthy & eccentric dowager baroness


Note: at the beginning, before I’ve named everyone, part of the list might read:

Lady Tynsdale’s companion
Nasty mother & daughter in Bath
John’s young engineers
Butler in Bath


As the book progresses, I add each new character to the list, from friends of the h/h to butlers, housekeepers & maids. In Lady of the Lock, the list eventually ran to three pages, plus a scribbled entry for the name of a horse!



3.    FAMILY BACKGROUND. Although you may not use all the people in your main characters’ backgrounds in your book, it is helpful to figure out what their background is. Were they raised with the proverbial silver spoon, or did they struggle in poverty? Were they only children, or was the hero hen-pecked by a bevy of sisters? Did the heroine constantly struggle to keep up with a host of brothers? Is his/her aunt or grandmother kindly or a shrew? Does the father dote on his daughter, or is he, perhaps, a monster?  Has the hero been on his own since an early age? Is he a bastard? Or is his greatest obstacle learning to stand on his own two feet, because he has led too privileged a life? Is there an uncle who wants to do away with the heroine because he will inherit her fortune? Or is the heroine someone who is willing to sacrifice her happiness for her family? Do we have a wounded hero who returns from war to a country where no family waits? Or one who is deluged with so much love and “help” that he has to get away? Do we have a policeman from a long line of law enforcement, or is he the first of his “old money” family to join the force?

    The list of questions you should ask yourself could be endless, but usually only a short Q&A will be enough to get you started. The rest of your characters’ personality traits or outside influences can develop as you go along. Don’t mire yourself down with endless note cards, storyboarding, movie star photos, etc. Get your names down, decide on your main characters’ background and consequent  personalities, and let the rest develop as you begin to know your character better. As you craft dialogue that is “right” for that character. As your character interacts with the other characters in a variety of ways. Each scene should speak to you, as well as to the reader. Telling you who these characters are.


Special Note on Character:  For those who missed Nora Roberts’s description of Tucker Longstreet, posted in “Edit the Blasted Book, Part 5,” please check out my blog for June 18, 2012. It is the most perfect example of delineating a character in a few brief paragraphs that I have ever seen.  Warning:  It is in Omnipotent or Author POV, which seems to be out of favor at the moment. But that doesn't keep this passage from being an outstanding example of characterization. You can always use it as a shining example of how you should develop your hero or heroine in your mind before you begin to write.


For my other blogs on writing topics, see “Index to Writing Blogs,” August 26, 2012.

                                                                          ~ * ~

Next Blog: In Part 2 of “How to Develop Your Characters,” I’ll list more questions you can ask yourself in an effort to create characters with depth, characters readers can empathize with, characters readers can love, hate, laugh with, etc. (From the many notes I wrote myself today, I suspect this topic may run to a Part 3.)

Thanks for stopping by.

Grace, who writes as Blair Bancroft 

Blair's Website
or check out my books on Kindle, Smashwords, Nook, et al