Grace's Mosaic Moments

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Sorrow & Outrage

Riley & Cassidy "playing around" after Band Camp concert
I was stunned on Thursday night at the Band Camp concert performed by students in grades 5-9 here in Seminole County. There was a Beginners Band who had exactly 8 mornings on their brand new instruments, including Cassidy on trumpet, and you would not believe how good their sound was. Yes, they were playing nursery rhymes, but they did it well. There was also a Beginners Jazz Band that did very well. But the Senior Jazz Band and the Advanced Band? All I can say is, Wow! (Riley has been playing baritone this whole school year, so she was in the advanced group.) They had everything from standard band instruments and a wide variety of percussion to guitars, piano, keyboard, and marimbas. A most enjoyable, and enlightening, experience. Music is alive and well in Seminole County, Florida. (All three grandgirls participated in year-end choral concerts at their schools, but Band Camp is something new for them.)


Last Monday night (June 12, 2017), c. 50,000 people jammed downtown Orlando for a Memorial service on the first anniversary of the Pulse shooting. In addition to the massive public remembrance, for the first time victims' families and survivors were allowed inside the fence for a private memorial service. I could only bear to watch a portion of the television coverage. Remembering is important but very painful. Before church last Sunday our organist rang the chimes 49 times. In a congregation known for chit-chatting through the organ prelude, you could have heard a pin drop. We may live 20 miles north, but this happened to US, to every one of us. When they talk about Orlando United, they mean all those who ring this city known round the world. The city that gets 68,000,000 visitors a year because of our theme parks, our nearby beaches, and our sporting events. (That's more than half the visitors to the state of Florida.)

And Homeland Security says we're "too small" to get extra government funding for security measures! 

Of course any "extra measures" wouldn't have protected the people at a warehouse a block from my daughter's and son-in-law's former office in Winter Park. Five were killed this week in what's come to be known as a "workplace killing." That was followed by a similar shooting at a UPS facility in another party of the country. And then came the shooting on the baseball field in Virginia. A so-called "Democrat" targeting Republicans. I guess you'd have to call that one an "extremist political" killing. 

And those are just this week! 

What's gone wrong? How did this happen? Yes, we were brought up on Wild West movies and Space Operas, but we knew it was fiction. 

Didn't we . . . ? 

Actually, so many Westerns, old and new, had a moral to their story. They taught honor and courage and "doing the right thing." As did that most famous of space operas, Star Trek, with nearly every episode a morality tale.

So what happened? How did we fall so far so fast? To the point that hate and violence are tearing at the very fabric of the country we love.

I'd like to blame ISIS for slamming the world with mindless terrorism. Or do we blame the fanaticism of Medieval Crusaders who allegedly sparked ISIS's revenge? Then there's the utter depravity of Hitler and the holocaust. And those who want to blame all our woes on video games, or the National Rifle Association. Others decry too much permissiveness in the schools, too few teeth in our criminal justice system, and/or a general deterioration in manners for the loss of civility in government (and, let's face it, just about everywhere else). 

And yet . . .

I look at the remarkable people who make up the congregation in my church each Sunday. And I go to events like Thursday night's Band Camp concert and view a room full of eager students and supportive parents, grandparents, sisters, brothers, cousins, aunts, and uncles. I see REAL people, good people, and I know there's still hope. But the rhetoric has to be toned down. We have to be able to disagree without inflammatory language. Without hate. Without violence. Whether in the workplace, on the street, or in the halls of Congress, fanaticism and volatility have to go. 

Running off at the mouth:   OUT!

Violence:  OUT!

Hate:  OUT!

We have to live together, work together, agree to disagree in a civil manner. And we need those in power to lead the way, not shoot from the hip.

Enough said. The message is clear. Time to straighten up and fly right. 

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Thanks for stopping by,

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

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

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Cultural Confusion


 The 49 victims of the Pulse massacre


 for the continuing recovery of the 53 survivors

 for the victims' families & First Responders


My glorious Gloriosa Lilies are in bloom again. 

Update on Florida's Rainy Season:

This year we went from drought to monsoon in a single day. On Tuesday, May 30, our unusually long drought broke with a vengeance. The "rainy season" usually means that it rains nearly every day from June 1 to late September, sometime between 4-6 p.m. A brief shower or thunder shower, with the sun shining brightly both before and after. This year, we've had all-day clouds and almost unremitting deluges. Today, even the newspaper delivery person was caught short. My plastic-wrapped paper was soaked through from top to bottom, and still unreadable at three in the afternoon. (Rain at night is rare during the rainy season.) We are promised that things should settle down to a more normal pattern by the middle of next week, but meanwhile Longwood is at 10+ inches in ten days, and counting. My garden is positively quivering with joy!

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I've had some bad luck with my reading lately, enough so that I gave up on at least three books and struggled through one only because it was so bad I was taking notes for this blog. Sigh. Even then, I gave up twice, only to limp back when other books I was reading proved too off-putting to continue. 

So how did I do this to myself? Hmm - I guess my favorite authors aren't writing fast enough for my voracious reading habits, or perhaps I was making a commendable effort to try new authors, to see what's out there besides the tried and true. All I discovered was that some highly touted books and authors just aren't my cup of tea. And the unknown new author still had a great deal to learn. Except . . . perhaps there were lessons my blog readers could learn from yet another highly flawed attempt at what should have been a fascinating read.

As is my practice, I am going to avoid mentioning the book's title, author, or setting, as it is my goal to help authors learn, not suffer from direct criticism, even if it's justified. So pardon me, if I have to circle around the subject here and there.

I chose this particular book - advertised on Amazon - because it sounded like a good action plot and a setting that was unfamiliar to me. But I immediately encountered: wrong words (words that did not mean what the author obviously thought they meant), really bad punctuation (particularly in dialogue), poor sentence structure. (There were so many messed up sentences, I could only assume the author never heard of self-editing.) 

There were also many places where both narration and dialogue were contrary to the social manners and mores of English-speaking peoples of the book's era. For example, calling a baronet Sir Last Name instead of Sir First Name, a female referring to an older man by his last name only (as a man would).

More importantly, there was a vague reference to an event in the past that needed explanation. There was also a general lack of identification of certain characters - possibly because there had been a previous book and the author did not realize he/she had to put everything readers needed to know in the new book and not assume they had read, or remembered, what was in the first book.

Continuity was off. The plot had holes a mile wide. But the worst sin, from my point of view, was appalling characterization. The hero acted "holier than thou" with his friends about their treatment of women, while his own behavior was worse. Definitely not the attitude of an English gentleman of that period, particularly the hero of a novel.

And then, something amazing happened. The book moved into an all-male world, and everything changed. The narration and dialogue perked up, started to sound real. The story became interesting, the characters intriguing. The action sequences were good . . . Uh, what was happening here? 

Now, instead of putting the book aside, I read on, to see if I could puzzle it out. Perhaps the author just made a hash of the beginning and was one of those who never read over what they wrote, because - wow - I was actually interested in what was going to happen next.

And then, with the return of females to the story, the book crashed and burned. The manners and mores of these people (in a time period which is a specialty of mine) were so totally wrong, I cringed. Not just the attitudes of the women but of the men when interacting with the women. What the author wrote was simply outside the bounds of reality for male/female interaction of the time. (Even for interaction between James Bond and his many women two centuries later, the attitudes wouldn't work.) From both male and female point of view, they were totally alien.

And finally, I figured it out. Or at least I think I did. And my horrified reaction mellowed - at least a bit. For the technical mistakes were explained, and perhaps the odd interactions between males and females as well.

1) I began to suspect that this was a book written by someone for whom English was a second language. Certainly, a major accomplishment, if that is so, although the author should have realized he/she needed a native English speaker to edit it before publication.

2) The author was likely male and from a non-European culture, where women - their thoughts, aspirations, and actions - are a complete mystery. A culture where women in general are considered "insidious," dangerous to men and perhaps to themselves. Certainly, none of the women in the book could be called heroine material, or even likable. I was thoroughly disgusted by what I read. And insulted on behalf of females everywhere.

3) There is also the possibility the author was simply an narrow-minded gay, unwilling to edit, who could write about men all day long but should never have thought himself capable of writing from the female point of view.(With apologies to the many gays who exhibit empathy with both sexes, no matter their personal preferences.)


The book in question is part of a series. Its plot and unusual setting have great potential. But the author shoots himself/herself in the foot by trying to delve into a culture he/she knows nothing about. STICK TO WHAT YOU KNOW! Don't write from the viewpoint of the opposite sex or about sex in a different culture, unless you know what you're talking about. I recently edited a book set in India at the time of Buddha. Would I attempt to write such a book? Of course I wouldn't. I have NO idea of the customs of the times, of the proper interactions between males and females in that culture. It would be absurd for me to choose such a setting. 

Yes, most romance writers write from the viewpoint of both hero and heroine. But in our own culture. And we are married, or have been married. And yes, some of us are male. And they too are married, or have been. They know what is the expected thing for a hero or heroine to do. And if their characters deviate from that norm, the writer knows this must be explained, a reason given for not following the manners and mores of the times. 

DO NOT, under any circumstances, plunge into writing about a culture foreign to your personal knowledge. You're Caucasian but raised in Japan? Okay, you may know enough to write in depth about Japanese characters. But the line is thin. Don't cross the cultural gap unless you really know what you're doing. And it's always a good idea to have a native of that culture check your work. Don't emulate the author who created a "hero," plus a variety of female characters, whose behaviors turned my stomach. Frankly, I ended up not caring what happened to any of them.

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Thanks for stopping by,

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

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



Saturday, June 3, 2017

The Lady Takes a Risk

Another news story out of Venice, Florida (known as the city of Golden Beach in several of my books of mystery and suspense). This one has a happier ending than the car disaster pictured two weeks ago. Good thing the homeowners looked in their pool before jumping in. When this video was shown on the local TV news, the announcer said that it was mating season and female gators are roaming, looking for safe spots to lay eggs. Uh, sorry, gator. Too much chlorine.

For video of a couple of Sarasota County Sheriff's Deputies rousting a gator from a backyard pool, click here.

The Rainy Season came in with a vengeance on Tuesday, with a deluge strong enough to topple two of my window boxes off the stone wall behind my house. Nobody minded, however, as the drought has been vicious this year. We welcome the daily afternoon rains like manna from heaven. (Sighs of relief from fire departments throughout Florida.)

I'm pleased to announce that Book 5 of my Regency Warrior series went live on Amazon and Smashwords this week. The Lady Takes a Risk is a "dramedy"—a mix of drama and comedy that I truly enjoyed writing. For the past few years I've been caught up in Regency Gothics, which are told from the single viewpoint of a beleaguered female, or tales of SyFy Adventure and Romance in my Blue Moon Rising series. Neither of which lends itself to comedy (although I get to expound on a lot of male viewpoints in the SyFy series). So it was fun to get back to a classic Regency Historical, slipping in viewpoints here and there in addition to the hero and the heroine. (I recall one reviewer saying my first book - Tarleton's Wife - had "slippery" viewpoints! And I did my best to resurrect that style with The Lady Takes a Risk!)

I'm particularly fond of the cover Delle Jacobs did for this one. As well as the beautiful foreground, please note the oast house in the distance. 

The story:

Lady Amelie Sherbrooke is not wanted. In fact, her future mama-in-law has refused to share a house with her. And Amelie, thoroughly enjoying her long-time role as hostess for her father, the Duke of Wentworth, has already rejected a score of suitors. With time running out, clearly a love match is out of the question. But desperation makes for odd unions . . .

After six years of war, Marcus Trevor, colonel of the Royal 10th Hussars, has had enough. He buys a hops farm in Kent and retires to the supposed peace and quiet of farming, taking his daughter and a number of his officers and men with him. Alas, the solid citizens of Kent look upon the newcomers not as heroes of the war against Bonaparte but as invaders little better than the French. To complicate matters further, the daughter of a duke needs to be rescued from the man her father insists she wed. What is a poor man to do when his new world refuses to be the peaceful sanctuary he'd hoped for?

 ~ * ~

For a link to The Lady Takes a Risk on Amazon's Kindle, click here.

For a link to The Lady Takes a Risk on Smashwords, click here. 

Grace note: a 20% free read is available on Smashwords. 

~ * ~

Thanks for stopping by,

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

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

Saturday, May 27, 2017

To Be or Not to Be

Cassidy trying out band instruments for her new school next fall. No decision yet, but, alas, her arms weren't long enough for the trombone, her chin (?) not suited to the oboe. She is considering the trumpet, like Daddy; the French horn, like Mommy; or the baritone, like sister Riley.

This is not my kitten, but it was just too adorable not to share from a friend's post to Facebook.


To be.  A highly irregular verb
Is.  Present tense singular
Are.  Present tense plural
Was.  Past tense singular
Were.  Past tense plural
Been.  Past Perfect

 What would we do without the verb "to be"? From "Let there be light" to "Bless, O Lord, this ring to be a sign of the vows . . .," the verb "to be" is one of the most essential tools in our language. And, alas, like adverbs, so-called "rule-makers" have cast it as a villain.

I've no doubt those who need rules for everything meant well. They were attempting to keep authors from "telling" their stories, like an ancient storyteller, instead of "showing" the story by getting inside the protagonists' heads and letting us see what they see, hear what they hear, feel what they feel. When rule-makers told authors to avoid the past tenses of "to be" (was and were), they were offering a way to avoid passive prose. Giving authors a boost toward writing in a more active mode that would make readers sit up and take notice.

The trouble was, of course (please note the use of "was"), that too many authors took the advice literally, interpreting avoiding "was" and "were" as a goal in itself, something that would miraculously transform their early efforts into deathless prose.

It just ain't so.

Yes, if you look over your work and it's jam-packed with "was" and "were," it's likely you are "telling" instead of "showing"; i.e., writing passively instead of actively. (For more on this, see my blog posts of 7/21 & 7/28, 2013.) But basically, just like adverbs, "was" and "were" are important aids to our language, and there is no reason to shun them, as long as you don't overdo it.

Hmmm. I can't help but wonder if a fear of "was" and "were" is at the heart of some authors switching their writing style to present tense instead of the traditional past tense. Pretty hard to be accused of being passive when you're using present tense!

Seriously, do not be so terrified of "was" and "were" that you stand on your head to avoid them (or garble your prose by simply leaving them out, as I once saw in a contest entry I judged). If you don't overdo it, they are perfectly legitimate ways to say what you need to say.


Below are the opening sentences of my about-to-be published The Lady Takes a Risk. By pure coincidence this excerpt, written several months ago, incorporates three forms of the verb "to be."

   It is not easy to be the daughter of a despot duke. For that matter, Lady Amelie Sherbrooke was forced to concede, there were likely earls, barons, tavern-keepers, farmers, soldiers, sailors, tinkers, and tailors whose daughters considered them quite as despotic as the Duke of Wentworth. 

From Nora Roberts's Carnal Innocence - a small portion of the seven-paragraph characterization I have quoted previously as one of the finest ever written. (So outstanding it was read aloud at a national conference awards ceremony of the Romance Writers of America.)

   For Tucker, life was a long, lazy road. He didn't mind walking it as long as he could do so at his own pace. He was affable about detours, providing he could negotiate back to his chosen destination. . . . He was easy-going and well-liked by most. . . . Of course, there would always be some who muttered that it was easy for a man to lend money when he had more than enough.

 From Tami Hoag's Dark Paradise:

   The world suddenly seemed a vast, empty wilderness, and she pulled into the yard of the small ranch, questioning for the first time the wisdom of a surprise arrival. There were no lights glowing a welcome in the windows of the handsome new log house. The garage doors were closed.

Opening lines of the Prologue to Running Hot by Jane Ann Krentz:

   Martin was going to kill her.
   She stepped off the gangway and onto the sleek, twin-engine cabin cruiser, wondering why the cold despair was hitting her so hard. If there was one thing you learned fast when you were raised by the state, it was that ultimately you could depend only on yourself. The foster home system and the streets were the ultimate universities, awarding harsh degrees in the most basic kind of entrepreneurship. When you were on your own in the world, the laws of survival were simple. She had learned them well. 

From A Dance with Dragons by George R. R. Martin:

   One Eye ripped through the undergrowth, spraying snow. His packmates followed. Up a hill and down the slope beyond the wood opened before them and the men were there. One was female. The fur-wrapped bundle she clutched was her pup. Leave her for last, the voice whispered, the males are the danger. They were roaring at each other as men did, but the warg could smell their terror. One had a wooden tooth as tall as he was. He flung it, but his hand was shaking and the tooth sailed high.
   Then the pack was on them. 

Opening lines of Gallows Thief by Bernard Cornwell:

   Sir Henry Forrest, Banker and Alderman of the City of London almost gagged when he entered the Press Yard, for the smell was terrible, worse than the reek of the sewer outflows where the Fleet Ditch oozed into the Thames. It was a stink from the cesspits of hell, an eye-watering stench that took a man's breath away and made Sir Henry take an involuntary step backward, clap a handkerchief to his nose, and hold his breath for fear that he was about to vomit.

 From a first-person novel - To the Nines by Janet Evanovich:
 His hair was dark and his eyes were dark and he looked like he frequently traveled through places where men's hearts were dark. 

Clyde was right about the first Susan. She was very nice. But she only knew Singh from a distance. And the same was true for the other four Susans. 


Traditionally, most fiction is written in the past tense. Therefore, writing in the past tense without using the past tenses of the most frequently used verb in the English language is patently absurd. The supposed rule against "was" and "were" was not laid down to get rid of every instance of those words. It is merely a warning flag that if you find you're using a lot of "was" and "were," your writing is likely too passive. Too standing on the sidelines and narrating the action, rather than having your characters get right in there and live it, bringing readers along with them. 

As with adverbs, "was" and "were" are immensely useful. And correct. Just don't overdo it. If you are, you need to do your homework on the subject of "Show, don't Tell," one the most basic rules of writing fiction. One that cannot be ignored. Modern writing does not "tell" a story from the outside, from the viewpoint of a storyteller looking at the action from afar. Today's fiction is up close and personal, "shown" from the viewpoint of whichever person is the main character in a scene. "Show, don't Tell" is not a rule you break. (Please note my blog posts on Show vs. Tell cited above. And I'm sure there are oodles of articles on the Net as well.)

So . . . don't be terrified of "was" and were." Just make an effort to use them wisely.

~ * ~

Thanks for stopping by,

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

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