Grace's Mosaic Moments

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Courtesan's Letters

Abigail Todd, the very proper headmistress of an academy for young ladies in Boston, arrives in England to settle her grandmother’s estate, having no idea that her grandmother was la grande Clarisse, the most notorious courtesan of her day. Nor that in order to inherit the cottage, which is far grander than she had ever imagined, she must carry out a series of commissions, detailed in letters left by her grandmother. It is also stipulated in the Will that the estate’s executor must accompany Abby while she carries out the commissions.

The estate’s executor is Jared Verney, Earl of Langley. Not only is he a shining example of England’s ruling class, whom Abby despises, but his brother, a military man, helped burn Washington in the recent war. Not an auspicious way to begin a collaboration on eight commissions. To make matters worse, it was Jared’s grandfather who installed Abby’s grandmother in the cottage and frittered away his fortune showering her with gifts. Which means—oh horrors!—Abby and Jared may be cousins.

Only strict training in manners allows the stiff-necked American and the English aristocrat to move forward, carrying out Clarissa’s instructions. Over the course of the commissions, which range from sentimental to uncomfortable, threatening to a stunning surprise, the two antagonists begin to realize that Clarissa might have had an ulterior motive. Is it possible she hoped to achieve for Abby the wedding ring Clarissa was never offered by Jared’s grandfather? By the time Abby and Jared recognize the old courtesan’s scheme, it may be too late. Clarissa has bound them together as thoroughly as the ribbons around her packets of letters. But is it marriage the earl has in mind, or merely tumbling the proper Bostonian into her grandmother’s footsteps?


“This story flows like fine champagne, full of sparkle, zest and energy.”
Teresa Roebuck, Romantic Times

“The dialogue sparkles, the plot evolves at a brisk pace, and a diverse cast of secondary characters adds depth and texture to this well-written tale.”
Susan Lantz, Romance Reviews Today

“I was completely and utterly seduced by this book. . . . The plot is exquisite, a sparklingly innovative, perfectly executed piece of craftsmanship. . . . It is books like this that restore our faith in the Regency genre. . . .”
Celia Merenyi, A Romance Review

Grace Notes: The Courtesan’s Letters (formerly titled, The Indifferent Earl) was a finalist for the RITA, the “Oscar” of the Romance Writers of America. It was also chosen as Regency of the Year by Romantic Times magazine.

Also, my special thanks, as always, to Delle Jacobs for the provocative cover. Since neither one of us could picture using the au naturel painting described in the book on a traditional Regency cover, we settled for the pose and leave the rest to your imagination . . .

Thanks for stopping by. Grace's next Mosaic Moment features as guest blogger a budding author, age 8.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Writing 101 - the Final Steps

Welcome back to Writing 101. Today, in Self-editing, Part 2, we look at the “hard stuff.” Most of the problems below won’t jump out at you on your first edit. It takes time, tenacity, and an open mind to find them. That’s why there’s more to editing than checking each chapter as you go. How many times do you have to read the darn thing? Hopefully, until you’ve got it right. Most professional authors, I would estimate, average three edits per manuscript.

As for myself, I edit after each chapter. I edit again after every five chapters (1-5, 6-10, 11-15, 16-20, etc.). And when I've finished the whole book, I go back to the beginning and read from the first word to the last. I’m still keeping an eye out for typos, continuity, etc., but primarily I’m looking for the “hard stuff,” the things mentioned below. And—sigh—if I make a lot of changes on this supposedly final edit (and sometimes that happens), I type in the revisions and go back and read the whole thing again to make sure it still flows smoothly with all the new additions and/or deletions.

Am I sick of it by then? Very likely. But I know I’m turning in the best possible manuscript I can provide without putting it away for a year and editing it again. Which I don’t do, or I’d never submit anything!

Attention: Contest Entrants. If you only have three chapters, you still need to go through all three editing steps: Easy, Harder, Hardest. (Easy & Harder can be found in "I ran Spell Check. I'm done, right?" (Self-Editing, Part 1) For the hardest things to look for, keep reading.


Plot. Have you made your plot clear? Or did you leave too many details in your head, causing the reader confusion about what is going on? This is very common, particularly with newbie writers. Please remember that readers never see a synopsis. Everything you want them to know must be in the pages of the manuscript itself.

Did you drop hints about your plot in the opening chapters? The primary plot line shouldn’t suddenly appear in Chapter 4 with no previous set-up. I have read contest entries where the pages I received (usually Chapters 1-3) seemed to have nothing to do with the plot outlined in the Synopsis. This is a no-no. There should be hints of the main plot from the very first chapter.

Do you have enough plot to carry your story? If you’re writing a simple 50,000-word boy-meets-girl category romance, you don’t need nearly as much plot as you do for a 100,000-word romantic suspense. For a longer book, you need sub-plots, a series of lesser goals, more action (which can range from a party to a high-speed car chase to murder).

Example of possible sub-plot: secondary characters have problems of their own.

Do you have so much plot that you’ve obscured the point of your story? Did you digress into too much history, into a side plot that does not move the story forward, perhaps into scenes that have clever dialogue, but again do not move the story forward. Do you have so many characters that the plot is lost behind a screen of talking heads?

Does your plot make sense, or did you throw a whole bucketful of events onto the pages, figuring something would make sense? Is your ending a downer, not acceptable in romance? Remember what you’re writing. Happily Ever After is a requirement.

Basically, your h/h need a major goal to achieve (not always the same goal). Readers must be able to understand why these goals are important to them (motivation). And there must be conflict that almost makes the goal(s) nearly impossible to reach.

Most importantly, never assume the readers know the story as well as you do. Make your plot clear, with enough hints early on that readers will understand the larger issues facing the hero and heroine.

Conflict. It’s all too easy to assume that bickering between the hero and heroine provides conflict. Not so. Yes, they can have surface conflict if it fits the story, but true conflict is much more serious. The hero and heroine need External conflict that keeps them apart. This is usually from outside forces that are trying to get them to do something they don’t want to do. (I recall one memorable book where the h/h feared to marry because madness ran in the heroine’s family.) External conflict can be as common as family pressure or something as serious as someone is trying to kill them. Whatever the External conflict, it should be strong, not simply banter between the h/h. Internal conflict is also very important. This is the angst suffered by both hero and heroine over some problem. For example, the separate reactions of both hero and heroine to the possibility of having to sacrifice something important so they can be together. In introspection (their private thoughts), they agonize over this problem. Or perhaps the Internal conflict is simply the heroine trying to decide between two men. Just keep in mind that books without true conflict don’t make it into print. Or e-pub.

Characterization. Did you give a physical description of your main characters and your important secondary characters? Did you identify them? (It’s so easy to forget readers don’t know these people the way you do.) Readers want to empathize with the main characters. They want you to get inside the hero’s and heroine’s heads and let them see what they see, hear what they hear, feel what they feel. They want to care about these characters. This is hard to do if you don’t give them enough description and background to go on. This can be done in just a few sentences, but when judging contests, I so often find that newbie writers forget that readers don’t know their characters the way they do. They simply don’t give us the information we need to understand and invest ourselves in these characters. It’s all right for the h/h to have flaws, but we need to get the feeling they are truly likable, and in the end they will learn to be better people.

Dialogue. Is your dialogue natural? Do your characters sound like real people? Do they sound like the individual characters you have created? Stilted dialogue stops a story dead. Each character should have his/her way of speaking and stick to that style. And, above all, do not write dialogue for the sake of dialogue or because it’s so much easier to write. Yes, dialogue can add color, but it needs to move the story forward, not wander off on a tangent unconnected with your main storyline. And have you punctuated the tags correctly? (No full sentences as dialogue tags.)

Narration. Have you added description and/or action to your dialogue? See example below from The Courtesan’s Letters by Blair Bancroft, showing the integration of narration into dialogue.

“That was the promise I made.” The Earl of Langley resumed his long strides toward Arbor Cottage.

Lunging forward, Captain Verney planted himself in his brother’s path. “But why?” he demanded.

Around them the woods shimmered in the late afternoon of one of summer’s longest days. Birds still twittered. Small creatures scurried through the underbrush, their passage marked only by a soft rustling of leaves and twigs. Jared Verney raised his pewter eyes to another set so like his own. “I’ve walked this path countless times,” he said. “I liked her. She was kind, generous, always willing to listen. Even after I was grown, I continued to visit. She was the one person who would listen—”

“Listen?” Is that what an old tart is reduced to? Listening?”

“It’s not a bad attribute,” Jared chided softly. “Looking back, I could have wished more of my chère amies had been so gifted.”

“Are your bones so ancient then, brother, that you’ve given up the muslin company?”

“Perhaps.” Jared took time to consider his reply. “I confess I found a certain ennui when looking over the fresh crop at Hetty Jamison’s establishment. As much, I dare say, as you found in the new bevy of maidens at Almack’s. And even if I could afford to stay in town, I could scarce sport the blunt to set up an opera dancer or even a ripe widow. So you may have the right of it. I am getting old.” Jared turned his back and strode off toward Arbor Cottage, leaving Myles to stare after him, wondering how his brotherly teasing had gone awry.
Have you included the thoughts (introspection) of the person whose viewpoint you’re in? Have you added color to your story by describing settings—locations, landscapes, room furnishings, etc.? Example below from The Courtesan’s Letters, illustrating setting and introspection.

Abby’s feet seemed stuck to the shimmering pastels of the Persian carpet. At least, now that she was alone, she could openly gawk. The room was huge, with two pink marble fireplaces. Floor-to-ceiling windows, arched at the top in Gothic style, lit the far end of the room on three sides where the bedchamber extended beyond the confines of the main structure. The windowed area was set up as a sitting room, with furniture upholstered in cream brocade and accented by throw cushions in rose and palest pink. The occasional tables and chests were decorated with the finest marqueterie. The bed . . . Abby swallowed, felt a quiver of something quite strange flutter her insides. Got the old earl to buy her the best of everything, she did. Oh my, yes. The bed was big enough to accommodate a dozen earls. The tester bed was walnut, at least seven feet long and six across, both canopy and posts elaborately carved. The scalloped valance skirting the wooden canopy was of heavy raw silk embroidered in a crewel design, as was the matching quilt. Rose silk hangings were tied back at each of the four corners by graceful ropes of metallic gold. The room’s remaining furnishings, the chests and wardrobes were chinoiserie. Museum pieces, Abby speculated, each elaborately painted in fantastic designs of a quality only Boston’s most wealthy Brahmins could afford to purchase from the cargos of its world-traveling merchant fleet. She had come these thousands of miles, expecting little but the adventure of it. And because an unknown woman, now deceased, had wished her to. Now came the startling surprise. Obviously, Arbor Cottage was worth far more than she had expected.

The mystery deepened. Who was Miss Clarissa Bivens?
Curiosity unglued Abby’s feet. She strode to the wall, pulled the cord on the silk curtain covering what Mrs. Deering had indicated was a painting of her former mistress. Dear God in heaven! Abby closed the curtains faster than she had opened them. She stood, quivering, fighting the good fight with a long array of Puritan and Pilgrim ancestors. Her father might have been born in England, but her mother’s forebears had stepped off the Mayflower itself.

Gingerly, she tugged on the cord, gradually reopening the pink silk curtain. Perhaps on second view it wouldn’t be so . . .

It was.

Setting. Did you put your characters against a well-described background (location, time, environment)? Or did you have them speaking & thinking against a blank canvas? Readers like to be able to picture scenes in their head. Be sure you give them something to go on. Are we in the city or country? New England or England? The Deep South or South Africa? Is it hot, cold, raining, snowing? Is it the nineteenth century or the twelfth? You’re the author; don’t leave the reader struggling to paint the backdrop for you.

Style. Did you make the drama dramatic enough, the comedy, funny enough? Did you make the scary parts scary enough? The love scenes as sweet, tender, hot, or erotic enough, according to the sub-genre you’re writing? Or were you rushing when a big moment came and sloughed it off with no more than a couple of sentences?

Did you indulge in what I call Unintentional Mystery? This means that you failed to give readers information they needed to know in order to understand the story. For example, the hero’s or heroine’s background. Or plot information you put in the Synopsis but left out of the manuscript. Are there secondary characters you failed to introduce? (You knew who they were, but the readers haven’t a clue.) Or any other vital information readers need to understand what is going on.

Did you Show, not Tell? (Write an Active story or a Passive one?) If there is one thing that will kill a story fast, it’s writing in “storyteller” mode. You are not the narrator sitting around a campfire telling a story. You are a writer who must get inside her main characters’ heads and let readers see the action from their Point of View. A simple example of Show vs. Tell (Active vs. Passive):

Active: A daunting sight met her eyes.
Passive: The sight which met her eyes was daunting.

Example of Active ("Show") from The Courtesan’s Letters:

Miss Abigail Todd, far from the scrutiny of her pupils in Miss Todd’s Academy for Young Ladies in Boston, peered out the window of the post chaise with unabashed curiosity. Now that the city of London had been left behind, the countryside was remarkably familiar. New England had been aptly named, she decided. Although the fields here were smaller and laid out in a fantasy maze of uneven shapes framed in hedgerows, the overall feel of the land was so similar she might have been traveling the post road from Boston to Providence. There were fewer acres of towering trees in this much older country, she conceded, but that was a boon, surely, for highwaymen could shelter in heavy woods, lying in wait for two lone women traveling the road to Bath.
Enough! A woman of eight and twenty, owner and headmistress of her own school, had long since learned not to ask for trouble. She would leave the conjuring of bogeymen to her wide-eyed thirteen-year-olds.

“I cannot like it,” declared a voice beside Abby for perhaps the twentieth time in the past two days. Mrs. Hannah Greaves, a lady of imposing angular shape that belied a heart as soft as butter, had been pressed into service as Miss Abigail Todd’s companion for the long journey to England. “That man was surely hiding something,” Mrs. Greaves continued her complaint. “And I fear to know what. Here we are, off to some unknown spot in the English countryside, just the two of us—”

“But it’s an adventure,” Abby teased, her usually solemn features dancing into a grin. “With Mr. Smallwood making the arrangements, for all we know we could be headed for Gretna Green or some Gothic castle with dark dungeons—”

“Abigail Todd!” Forgetting her own doubts, the older woman was shocked. “You cannot truly suspect Mr. Smallwood of such ah—treachery.”

Example of Passive - The opening of The Courtesan’s Letters, restructured as an example of “Tell, not Show,” with a dash of “Unintentional Mystery,”and cliché. Note: This is an example of how NOT to write your opening scene.

Abigail peered out the window of the post chaise. She was surprised to discover England looked so much like the countryside back home in New England. She was grateful, however, that this older country did not have so many woods that might shelter highwaymen. Foolishness, she thought. She was twenty-eight years old, headmistress of her own school. She would not let her imagination run away with her.

“I cannot like it,” Hannah said. “That man was surely hiding something.”

“But it’s an adventure,” Abby teased. “With Mr. Smallwood making the arrangements, we could end up anywhere, perhaps even some dark castle.”

“Surely not!” Hannah was shocked.


Overall Impression. Did you draw your h/h well enough that readers will be intrigued, no matter what they get up to? Did you truly say what you wanted to say, or are the best parts still in your head? Please remember that putting essential details into the Synopsis is not enough. Repeat: A reader never sees the synopsis. Everything you want the reader to know must be in the pages of the manuscript itself.
* * ***

This is the last installment of Writing 101, at least for now. I am considering expanding and polishing these articles into book form and would really appreciate your comments. For example:
What did I leave out? (Obviously, a ton of stuff.)
What should I add?
What did I get wrong? If so, please explain.
Were there sections you found unclear? (Don’t forget to say which ones!)
Any other comments that pop into your mind.

As always, thanks so much for stopping by. The Courtesan’s Letters (formerly, The Indifferent Earl) will be available soon on Kindle and Smashwords, and c. a couple of weeks later on Nook, Sony, Palm, etc.

Come on back to Grace’s Mosaic Moments for some lighter fare next time around.


Thursday, July 7, 2011

Available on Kindle & Smashwords - available soon on Nook, Sony & other e-readers

All Major Charles Tyrone wants to do is forget his soldiering days and concentrate on making a success of his new engineering company. But Fate has other plans. Although an obscure third in line as heir to the Earl of Wyverne, Charles is suddenly catapulted to head of the family when the old earl suffers a stroke, the heir is killed, and Julian, the heir’s only son, is in a coma from a curricle-racing accident.

As if that weren’t enough, the major is confronted by Lady Vanessa Rayne, a ward of the old earl, who has been running the household very well without his help, thank you very much. Animosity between Charles and Vanessa is further exacerbated by the earl’s determination that they shall marry.

The efforts to restore Julian to health are considerably hampered by a plethora of relatives, two of whom follow Charles in the line of succession. Mr. Ambrose Tyrone is the local vicar; his mother, a woman accustomed to ruling the roost. Mr. Godfrey Tyrone, a London dandy, arrives at Wyverne Abbey with his young sister, fluttery mother, and his mother’s latest “friend” in tow. Not exactly welcome visitors in a house with two bed-ridden patients.

When hints of murder and attempted murder begin to rear their ugly heads, Charles calls on the support of some of the soldiers once under his command, but even that isn’t enough to keep Julian, Charles, and even Vanessa from harm. Yet in spite of being caught in the midst of murder and mayhem, Charles and Vanessa begin to suspect that it truly is possible for the daughter of a duke and a lowly engineer to fall in love. If they live long enough to enjoy it.


“The very talented Blair Bancroft has added another diamond to the Regency treasure chest with the tightly plotted and delightfully executed The Major Meets His Match.”*
[* now titled The Temporary Earl] Teresa Roebuck, Romantic Times

“It’s a vibrant and fun-filled glimpse into a time long ago, and I highly recommend it to . . . any fan of romance. It has all the qualities that we look for, regardless of the time period. Don’t miss it. It’s a keeper!” Celia Merenyi, A Romance Review

Next Blog - Writing 101 - Self-editing - the Hard Stuff

Thanks for stopping by, Grace

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

I ran Spell Check. I'm done, right?

I began the Writing 101 blog series because a surprising number of the RWA contest entries sent to me for judging in the past year seem to have been written by people who were convinced the title of this blog is true.


Running Spell Check and saying, “That’s it,” is like putting on nothing but lipstick when you’re getting ready for a professional photo. What about foundation, blush, eye-shadow, mascara - maybe even eye liner. Your hair must be just so. And, oh yes, you plan your clothing with care, have your nails done, maybe even a pedicure, just in case the photographer wants full-length and you’re wearing sandals. You consider every last little detail.

The same approach applies to your manuscript. You’re attempting to create a professional submission. You want a publisher to pay you money for it. Well, duh . . . did you go to your last job interview in jeans and T-shirt, or maybe something as skimpy as a bathing suit? Did you throw on any old thing and charge out the door with no more than a glance in the mirror? Well, in this case, your manuscript is your clothing. Presentation is important. Remember, most editors were English majors in college. Mistakes stand out like a sore thumb. And if it looks like you cared so little you didn’t bother to proofread or edit your manuscript, then it looks as if you’re not serious about your writing career.

WHY ALL THE FUSS? Surely editors are going to see how brilliant my work is, even if I’ve made a mistake here and there. And there and here, and . . .

There are a very few authors who do it right the first time. My mother, the children’s book author, Wilma Pitchford Hays, was one of those - but then she wasn’t dealing with 100,000-word manuscripts. Most successful authors do, indeed, edit their work three or four times. That’s being professional. That’s presenting a manuscript that makes sense and won’t cost the publishing company a bundle for hours of editing and copy editing. And in this tight economy, that means a lot.


The methods listed below are the ones I use. Obviously, we are not all alike and do not approach problems in the same fashion. It’s perfectly all right to devise your own editing method, as long as you actually do it! What I’m trying to emphasize is that some form of self-editing is absolutely essential. All successful authors do it. Some of us go through our manuscripts three or more times before we feel it is ready for submission. Basically, if you’re not totally sick of it, you probably haven’t read it over enough times!

Special Note: Why I edit after each chapter.

1. Each chapter builds on the one before it. If I add a character, add some new bit of information, etc., I need to know that before I forge ahead.

2. Leaving editing until the end of a book turns the editing process into Mount Everest. Change one thing back near the beginning and you may have a colossal fix-it job to change the domino effect that follows. I can’t even imagine tackling first edits for an entire book in one fell swoop. If you edit as you go along, the read-through of the entire manuscript will not be as daunting.

Self-Editing, Step by Step

AFTER EACH CHAPTER (and sometimes even after a long scene, if it was particularly tricky to write):

1. Run Spell Check carefully, making sure the program doesn’t substitute something you never intended.

2. Read the entire chapter, looking for the easy stuff:

a. Typos, misused words, missing words, double words (the the)

b. Awkward sentences. (It might have made sense when you wrote it, but will it make sense to someone reading it cold?) Or maybe you just messed up the dialogue punctuation or substituted a totally ridiculous word for the one you intended. (Happens to the best of us.)

c. Too-long sentences. Run-on sentences are hard to read, and today’s reader wants to be able to absorb things fast, fast, fast. Run-on sentences also tend to slow down your story.

d. Too-long paragraphs. Same as above. They’re harder to read and slow the story down.

e. Continuity. Is the hero’s hair brown on page 4 and black on page 124?

f. Poor transitions. The action leaps too fast from one paragraph to the next, causing the reader to go, “Huh?”

Grace Note: Unfortunately, the above are merely the easy stuff. You also need to keep an eye out for things that are a bit harder to spot. Hopefully, you will find some of these on the first read-through, but this is why several more reads are necessary. It takes a while to find all the bits and pieces that need improvement.

3. The harder stuff:

a. Opening Hook. We’ve all heard about that marvelous hook needed to close your first chapter, or maybe the third. But the first line, the first paragraph, the first page of your manuscript are all-important. They must capture the reader’s attention immediately. Just like the horse that stumbles coming out of the gate is not going to be a winner (Secretariat excluded), you have to get it right from the very first sentence. This includes those historical prologues that tend toward vague and mystical meanderings that make readers grind their teeth. I’m not anti-prologue; I just think they should have meaning.

b. Less is more. Keep an eye out for places where you used twenty words when you could have used ten, making the sentence clearer and the story move forward at a more energetic clip.

Example: You wrote a lot of chatter in a tea shop, which was cute but did not move the story forward. Like a lot of girl talk, you had your characters saying everything twice.

c. Writing isn’t a race. Also look for the opposite of too many words—places where you moved too fast, not giving enough attention to significant events. This is surprisingly common as an author is always looking ahead, thinking of what comes next and sometimes doesn’t make the most of the marvelous moment directly in front of her/him.

Example: You tossed off a shooting with two sentences. You show the heroine running, but not how she felt about getting shot at - or her worry about other people who might have been with her.

d. Point of View. Look for places where you might have slipped into the Point of View of a character other than the Hero or Heroine. Villain POV is also okay, but newbies are cautioned against multiple POVs. And head-hopping - jumping from one person’s POV to another’s after only a paragraph or so - is very much frowned on.

Example: You are in the heroine’s Point of View, and suddenly you mention what her girlfriend is thinking. Definitely a no-no.
e. Tense. Tense has only recently become a problem. Traditionally, fiction is written in Past tense, Synopses in Present tense. But novels written in Present tense are becoming more common, so writers need to check that as well. Do you slip back and forth, some sentences in Present, some in Past? (I saw a contest entry just this week where that happened.)
~ * ~

Next Writing 101 blog: Self-editing the “hard stuff”—Plot, Characterization, Active/Passive, Setting + what happens after that. And, yes, there is an “after that”!

Thanks for stopping by, and please let me know if you found this blog helpful. If “Comments” doesn’t work for you, you can find me at