Grace's Mosaic Moments

Sunday, September 30, 2012


Or There's Such a Thing as Too Far Away
Or A Visit to Spider, Snake & Rodentville, Not Far south of the Okeefenokee*

When I was growing up, Stephen Foster was a beloved composer of American music. We sang his songs all the time. I knew most of them by heart. But he wrote about a South that no longer exists - and rightly so - and we turned our backs on his music, along with the culture that spawned them. The only time we hear a Stephen Foster song now is just before the running of the Kentucky Derby when the singing of “My Old Kentucky Home” still brings tears to the eye.

*If you don't recognize the word, the Okeefenokee is a very large swamp in southern Georgia.
A couple of weeks ago I was strongly reminded of Foster’s “Suwanee River,” which begins: “Way down upon the Suwanee River, far, far away . . .” Because that is where I surely was - after a nightmare trip to get there.

Here’s how it happened.

Our extended family has acquired a hideaway “down upon the Suwanee River.” And, yes, it is definitely “far, far away” from Orlando.  Very far away - 3½ hours if nothing goes wrong. (You’ll notice the italics on “if”!
And, no, I had no hand in picking it out.) Since my daughter and son-in-law run a real estate investment business and do frequent rehabs, they were not put off by a manufactured home that required them to “start from scratch.” At the time I visited, half the new flooring was in, a couple of bedroom rugs, living room furniture, two dining tables + chairs, and an odd assortment of beds. We were bringing with us a truckload of appliances and “fixings,” including range, refrigerator, dishwasher, and TV.

In addition to the renovations already under way, they had been forced to hire a contractor to thin out the trees and brush around the house as the very large spiders in that area spin webs from tree to tree, making it necessary to “broom” one’s way to the river. Not to mention the rattlesnakes. (I think the grandchildren have been traumatized for life.) The camouflage-colored praying mantises, however, are kind of cute. But the house was now supposed to be ready for "camping out" company and I was invited to see it for the first time.

Friday night. We set out late, several hours past the time we were supposed to leave, but we still should have arrived before midnight.  (Fortunately the grandgirls, ages 6-9, are nightowls). My daughter Susie, son-in-law Mike, the girls & I were all in an SUV, playing “chase” car to the truck, which was being driven by Mike’s cousin and a friend. We were connected by walkie-talkies, and the men were thoroughly enjoying doing Smokey and the Bandit jokes as we hit the Florida Turnpike.

My daughter, who was driving, did not like poking along behind the truck. She finally got fed up and passed them. We were about a half mile ahead when the walkie-talkie squawked: “The truck’s on fire. Come back, come back!”

And there we were backing up on the Florida Turnpike! (On the grass, of course.) But backing up, nonetheless, toward a truck that was stopped dead on the grass verge with no lights while three lanes of traffic whizzed by at 70+ mph. When we finally got there, smoke was pouring from the front of the truck. “Turn around,” came the order, “so we can see.” So Susie somehow manages to turn the SUV around without straying into the traffic lanes and we focus the headlights on the truck. (We can now see the billows of smoke even more clearly.) Mike, meanwhile, has jumped out and the men have all disappeared somewhere inside the truck.

New orders: we have to drive to the back of the truck and turn on our blinkers so drivers can see the broken-down truck. This is easier said than done as the truck is so far off the road, all the grass left is at a 40° angle down to the brush below. Very carefully we ease the SUV around the truck on the soft, rain-soaked grass and are making progress when we run into a giant spider in a web that must have been three or four feet across. The little girls’ screeches add to our already jangled nerves.

We finally make it, but the SUV’s rear end is now facing the truck, so once again Susie has to turn around, pointing our headlights at the truck and starting our red emergency blinkers. Mike’s cousin finds a large industrial flashlight in the rear of the truck and stands there swinging it and waving traffic around us. Fortunately, luck was with us, but it was a very bad half hour or so. The problem turned out to be a fire in the electrical system, not in the engine. A fire extinguisher put it out, and Mike managed to fix the problem. The joy when we saw the truck’s lights come back on!

After that, of course, we had to find a place to pull off, eat, and unwind a bit. But there was a lot more Florida Turnpike left, plus I-75, plus back roads that led to dirt roads that led to more dirt roads. We arrived at 2:30 a.m. and after all that, the truck had to be backed down a long, curving, tree-lined driveway so all the appliances could be unloaded in the morning. At 3:15 a.m., when I was just beginning to get settled in my room (more on that in the next installment), I hear one of the little girls running by, calling, “Mommy, Mommy, there’s a stranger at the door!”

Would you believe a Deputy Sheriff? At 3:15 a.m. in the middle of nowhere?

More on “Way down upon the Suwanee River” in my next blog.

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Addendum to "What Grace Reads":

I failed to list one of my favorites in the "Unclassifiable" category - Lindsay Buroker's marvelous series, The Emperor's Edge. It's action/adventure in a star system far, far away, which is hanging somewhere between the steam age, the agrarian age, and the dawn of modern weapons. (Sci Fi Steampunk with a dash of Magic?) Buroker took an Imperial assassin from an early book and parlayed him into the coolest, coldest, most impossible hero, who is mellowed only a degree or so each book by the humanitarian impulses of his new boss, the female leader of "The Emperor's Edge." The series is strictly for those who like a good story. If you want hot sex, look elsewhere.

Thanks for stopping by.

Coming soon: How to Develop Your Characters

Sunday, September 23, 2012


A long time ago, during the Cold War, a group of twelve adventurous Americans traveled 10,000 miles in what was then known as the USSR, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. I was one of them. I had prepared for the trip by studying Russian one-on-one with a young woman at Yale. She and her husband had defected from the USSR at a time when one did not ask how they managed it. She was Moscow-born, and that is the Russian I learned. Not one word of English was spoken during my lessons, including the very first, so it was “learn conversational Russian or bust.”

My roommate on the trip had studied Russian too and was making her second trip to the USSR. Also with us was a man who had been a merchant seaman on the Murmansk Run during WWII. (For the youngsters among us - the Murmansk Run was the extremely hazardous northern route used to bring supplies to the Russians, who were our allies during WWII. If the German subs didn’t get you, the freezing conditions would.) Because he had been iced-in one winter in Murmansk, he too had a pretty good command or Russian. And all he had to do during our tour was mention “Murmansk,” and we were what those of us from New Haven called, “paesan.” We were, in fact, amazed at our welcome. At that time, stylish clothing hadn’t made it to Russia, and if a tourist was well-dressed, it was assumed he/she was German. When I replied each time, “Nyet, ya amerikanskaya,” I was welcomed with surprise and even joy. Our governments might have been at odds, but the Russians remembered American aid and took us to their hearts. Their most frequent question: “How do you live?” Try answering that one on five months of Russian instruction!

Those of us who spoke Russian made a point of leaving our group and sitting next to Russians on Aeroflot flights. We talked to people on street corners, anywhere we could strike up a conversation. The only time I couldn’t communicate with the “man on the street” was in Siberia, where an accent, which could be compared to a Texas drawl, reduced me to speaking with college students only. The most humorous of my Russian encounters was with a taxi driver - in Moscow, I think it was. I told him where we wanted to go in pretty good Russian and he returned a whole spate of words so fast I couldn’t follow. When I asked him to speak more slowly, he laughed and said: “Ah, you speak Russian, but you don’t understand it!” My only disaster - when I told a young military pilot he might fly to the United States one day and he thought I meant “defect.” I fished madly through my dictionary, trying to explain I meant as a tourist, but he abruptly got up and changed seats, obviously fearing my dreadful American influence.

Our tour took us places you can’t find in tourist brochures any more. In Moscow, we saw the Kremlin from its ancient churches and museum with its gorgeous array of Fabergé eggs to the modern government assembly hall. We visited the university in Novosibirsk, Siberia, and then on to Irkutsk, which is just north of Mongolia. Irkutsk is situated on Lake Baikal, the largest fresh water lake in the world due to its one-mile depth. And then we flew north to see the Bratsk dam, at the time the largest dam in the world. Bratsk is way up there in the Siberian wilderness. We turned back west to what was then Soviet Central Asia, Kazhakstan and Uzbekistan, where the architecture changed abruptly from ugly to exotic. Evidently, Stalin architecture made no inroads in the Muslim-influenced south. I’ve got to admit that standing in a square, looking up at a blue-domed mosque and thinking, “I’m in Samarkand!” was a special moment. (But, no, Baikonur and the Soviet space program were not on our tour of Kazhakstan.)

We ended our journey in Leningrad (which now has its original name again - St. Petersburg). What can I say about the Hermitage, the former royal palace and now one of the great art museums of the world, except that they sneaked us into the room where the Impressionist art was hidden in case it might pollute the minds of the populace (or give them ideas “outside the box”). And, oh yes, a very burly female guard scolded me for touching the malachite on one of the huge vases. Fortunately, she stopped short of wrestling me to the ground.

As for Petrodvoretz, Peterhof, Peter the Great’s castle by the sea - whatever you want to call it - if you’re ever in St. Petersburg, don’t miss it. The cascade running down to the Gulf of Finland and the garden full of artificial trees and innocent statuary that suddenly spray water over the unwary are absolute “musts” of any Russian tour. And I understand the palace has some furniture now. It did not when I saw it, the restoration yet in its infancy after long years of war and Stalin’s animosity toward Russia’s monarchist history.

Many years have gone by. It now takes me an age to read a word in Cyrillic, but I remember the events of that journey with astonishing clarity. It was a seminal moment in my life. Since then I’ve been to Machu Picchu twice, seen the ramparts at Coruña where Sir John Moore died, lunched in the main square at Salamanca while attempting to picture it when Wellington was beating at the walls. I’ve traveled the high passes of Switzerland on a mountain train and glided the canals of Venice in a gondola, not to mention seven trips to the British isles and standing in awe in the eerie silence of dusk on the field at Culloden. But none of my travels ever made a greater impression than those 10,000 miles in the USSR.

And, naturally, over the years that Russian connection has cropped up in my books. Here’s a list:


Shadowed Paradise. A subtle Russian connection through a hero whose father defected by jumping ship in the Cuban straits. Brad Blue speaks idiomatic Russian and was likely a spy before he zigged when he should have zagged. He’s now building a multi-million dollar development of “Key West” homes in the Gulf Coast resort and retirement community of Golden Beach, Florida.

Paradise Burning. Brad Blue gets to use his Russian background to assist an estranged husband and wife who are researching a book on international trafficking in women and children, only to discover that the Russian mafia has set up a brothel almost within their own backyard.


Orange Blossoms & Mayhem.  Laine Halliday, a troubleshooter for her family who own an exotic wedding and vacation business in Golden Beach, encounters a good deal more trouble than usual when a Russian mafioso wants his bride to step out of nesting Fabergé eggs! In a tale that ranges from Peru to Interpol headquarters in Lyon, France, Laine scrambles to keep one step ahead of gangsters and save a Russian bride. Not to mention a Brit Interpol agent.


Limbo Man. The strongest Russian connection of all. The amnesiac hero doesn’t know if he’s a good guy or a bad guy, Russian or American. He’s told he’s a Russian arms dealer, but that doesn’t feel right. What he does like is his “minder,” a female FBI agent on loan to Homeland Security. As his memory begins to creep back, they race to save the U.S. from the detonation of two antique Russian nukes.


Note: Only Limbo Man is not anchored by the not-so-imaginary town of Golden Beach, Florida. The settings for Limbo Man range from the U.S. to Siberia and Iran and back again. 

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Thanks for stopping by.


Coming soon: "Way Down Upon the Suwanee River . . ." or "There's Such a Thing as Too Far Away."  
Or "A Visit to Spider, Snake & Rodentville, Not Far South of the Okeefenokee."

Friday, September 14, 2012


Florida Knight went live this week on Kindle & Smashwords (with Barnes & Noble, Sony, et al coming soon). This "modern medieval" didn't need any outside research. I lived it all. Well, not the heroine's abuse, thank God, but I've lived the Medieval life in Central Florida and believe I've reproduced it pretty accurately as the background for Florida Knight. I was a long-time volunteer for the Medieval Fair held annually on the John & Mable Ringling Museum complex in Sarasota and also a long-time member of the Medieval re-enactment group, the Society for Creative Anchronism, which is very active in Florida. All the outside help I needed to write this book came from  Charles Abbott, FHP retired, to whom I am very grateful. Any mistakes are mine. For blurb, please see below. (And please note the play on words in Delle Jacob's cover.)

When Michael Turco's brother is injured in a tournament at a Medieval Fair, the Florida Highway Patrol lieutenant suspects it wasn't an accident and begins his own personal investigation. Which causes him considerable anguish when he has to enlist the aid of Kate Knight, who is his entree into the Lord and Ladies of Chivalry (LALOC), a Medieval re-enactment group. Kate, who has been fighting her way out of abuse for years, is equally appalled. Michael will pose as her boyfriend, and she, who has been celibate for years, will be forced to share a postage-stamp-size tent with him nearly every weekend until the mystery of a series of disasters at Medieval Fairs and LALOC events is solved.

Michael has his own problems, finding the adjustment to LALOC's Medieval lifestyle, including costumes he can't believe he's wearing - and bowing to a chair? - a severe trial. He must also cope with a multitude of quirky personalities among Medieval enthusiasts who take themselves very seriously indeed. Plus a rash of new, ever more serious "accidents." And then there's Kate, who seems to be mellowing until she gets a good look at him in full FHP uniform.
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"Lords and Ladies! Prepare thyself for an enchanting tale of mystery and romance!"
                                                                                        Heather Eileen, Romance Junkies

For Florida Knight at Amazon, click here

For Florida Knight on Smashwords, click here

And don't forget Smashwords offers a 20% free read of all my books. 

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                               Grace's Russian connection - next blog, I promise.

Thanks for stopping by.


Sunday, September 9, 2012


                                    What Grace Reads - Before & After Kindle

Twenty months ago I bought a vanilla model Kindle - and just in the nick of time as my book shelves were full. I’ve been sold on e-readers for years - the Kindle was my third - but I have to give the Kindle credit for exploding the concept onto the psyche of the general public. (We are forever indebted to Gene Roddenberry, the genius behind Star Trek, for coming up with the idea in the first place and inspiring an entire generation of young tech designers to bring his TV creation to life.)

While looking over the list of books I’ve read on Kindle - must be close to 300 - I decided to take a good look at my bookcases full of hardcovers and paperbacks. Why were these the books I brought with me when I moved to Orlando? And what authors have I kept on Kindle to remind me to keep an eye out for their latest books? So for the fun of it, I made a list, figuring it would tell me something about myself and just might be of interest to others.

I hope you find some unknown treasures among them.

Note:  What you will not see below is a list of current historical romance or romantic suspense authors. Most of them are my colleagues, and I wouldn’t think of naming one over the other!

Traditional Regencies

Georgette Heyer. I sacrificed her mysteries when I moved five years ago, but I believe I have all her Regencies, which instilled in me a lifelong love of the Regency period. I have read them all at least three times.

Clare Darcy.  Although not as numerous as Heyer’s, her Regencies are delightful, except, if I recall correctly, for Eugenia whom I wanted to slap upside the head for being such an idiot.

I also have a large collection of Regencies by Joan Smith and Joan Wolf (who, I believe, are no longer writing in this genre, though their backlist can be found online). Smith’s are more humorous, all are excellent.


Dorothy Dunnett.  Her two lengthy historical series are works of art - The Lymond Chronicles and The House of Nicollò. When you read them, the details are so perfect you’d swear she time-traveled to those eras. (Or was, perhaps, re-incarnated from that time.) Stunning and indescribable, although I have to admit I have never found the time to give all twelve 600-page books a second read.


Dorothy Dunnett - again.. Her Johnson Johnson mysteries are unsurpassed. (Her loss to cancer was a true loss to literature.)

Janet Evanovich. Her Stephanie Plum series (but not the spin-offs which are too farcical for my taste). And, yes, I’m a Ranger fan.

J. D. Robb. Her Dallas & Rourke series.

Kate Ross. Her four Julian Kestrel novels, particularly the last, are outstanding. (Another author lost far too young.)

Rhys Bowen. All her series, but the Royal Spyness series is bucking to become my favorite.

Blaize Clement.  Her pet-sitter series (set in Sarasota County, which I know so well).

C. S. Harris.  Her Sebastian St. Cyr series.

Victoria Laurie. Her psychic mystery series (although I'm partial to the early ones, set in my old stomping grounds of New Haven and the Connecticut shoreline).

James Lee Burke.  His Dave Robicheaux Louisiana series.

Randy Wayne White. His Doc Ford novels, mostly set in Florida

Romantic Suspense.

Mary Stewart. Everything she wrote, although The Ivy Tree remains my all-time favorite. I must have read it at least four times.

Madeline Brent. Moonraker’s Bride. Another book I take out and savor with regularity. Very humorous for a book containing high drama.

Maud Lang.
  Summer Station.  This Australian-set book blew me away. Another book with both humor and drama.

As for authors currently writing Romantic Suspense, again, I have to plead the Fifth. But must give a special mention to Jane Ann Krentz, who writes Romantic Suspense, Historical Romance as Amanda Quick, and Sci Fi as Jayne Castle, all genres I particularly enjoy. (And write myself.)

Sci Fi/Futuristic.

There are three authors I turn to when my spirits need a boost. Two of them are Jayne Castle and Linnea Sinclair. Jayne’s books are closer to Futuristic, while Linnea always provides enough scientific details to qualify as Sci Fi. But both write romance set against imaginative worlds and do it exceedingly well. (They inspired my Blue Moon series, which has yet to see the light of day.)


Jack Higgins. All his mainstream books, and I confess to having read nearly every one of his earlier “men’s fiction” tales from long, long ago.

Taylor Stevens. The Vanesssa Michael Munroe series, beginning with The Informationist. (The Innocent just came out and I haven’t read it yet.) Highly dramatic mainstream action/adventure.

The Unclassifiable.

Gail Carriger. I generally won’t touch a vampire or werewolf story with a ten-foot pole, but in Carriger’s Souless series she writes a mix of Victorian/Vampire/Werewolf/Steampunk that is indescribable, dramatic, and often hilarious - although the heroine’s antics while pregnant were enough to make me go, “Aw, come on!”

Naomi Novik. Her dragon series, set during an alternative rendition of the Napoleonic wars, is impossible to classify as it is so far beyond what we normally think of as Fantasy. She writes dramatic and heart-wrenching tales about talking dragons and English heros who don’t always come to a happy ending.

Lindsay Buroker.  Her series, The Emperor's Edge, is a marvelous mix of Sci Fi, Steampunk, a dash of Magic, and flat-out Action/Adventure, featuring a tough but humanitarian heroine who heads an outlaw gang who spend their time doing spectacular good deeds to prove they're really not criminals. The series also features the coolest, coldest, toughest hero anywhere, whom the heroine is struggling to tame. At least a little.

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. 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.


The third author I turn to when my spirits are down is the Australian Lucy Walker, who wrote simple little romances about people living in the Outback. You could call them Australian cowboy tales, all with wonderfully innocent heroines and stalwart outback men. And, yes, I have a shelf full of them and still go back occasionally to visit a world that existed fifty or sixty years ago.
                                                                       ~ * ~

Well . . . if I don’t count all the current Historical Romance and Romantic Suspense authors I didn’t name (so I wouldn’t get my head combed with a joint stool, as the old expression goes), it appears I like Regencies, mysteries, and books by people who can really write up a storm. These are the authors who have filled my soul with wonder and kept me going through thick and thin. These books have brought me enormous hours of pleasure and will continue to do so for as long as I can lift a book or hold an e-reader. And thanks to modern technology, the older books mentioned above are still available. Try one or two . . . or more.  Enjoy!

Thanks for stopping by.

Coming next: Grace's Russian Connection - and how I've used it in my books

Sunday, September 2, 2012


I received my copies of the new print version of Tarleton's Wife this week, and of course that had to take precedence over other promised blogs. Not only do I really like the depiction of Major Tarleton and his wife, but herbs play an important role in the story, and I was delighted to see them included on the cover.

A bit of background:  Tarleton's Wife is my first published book. It came out as an e-book & CD in 1999 and in print in 2000. It has been with Ellora's Cave Blush for several years now, and frankly the new print version came as a surprise. Tarleton's Wife is my second favorite book, right after The Sometime Bride, so I am particularly pleased to see it done up in such an attractive version. Here's the new cover. Please tell me what you think.

Julia Litchfield, who has followed the drum all her life, is statuesque, independent, courageous, closer to handsome than pretty.  Not at all the petite, sweet type her father’s aide-de-camp Major Nicholas Tarleton prefers.  But on his deathbed in Spain, the major marries Julia so she will have a roof over her head when she returns to England.

Eighteen months later, when Julia has established an herbal business to aid the major’s tenants and is contemplating a new life with an old friend of his, Nicholas Tarleton returns home—with a Spanish fiancée at his side.  And no recollection of his marriage to Julia.  In the dramatic weeks that follow Julia nearly loses both men in her life before the final resolution of a conflict of love and honor that might have challenged Solomon himself. 
~ * ~ 

Note:  Cross-over characters from both Tarleton's Wife and The Sometime Bride can be found in O'Rourke's Heiress, and my next full-length Regency Historical (not yet begun) will finally provide a spouse for the gentleman who keeps getting left out.  

Links to Ellora's Cave, Kindle & Nook can be found on my website: Blair Bancroft 

Thanks for stopping by.