Grace's Mosaic Moments

Sunday, April 28, 2013

How Does Your Novel Grow?

The following blog debuted on Savvy Authors in June 2012. I'm being lazy this week and repeating it here (without updating).

Mary, Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells and cockle shells,
And little maids all in a row.

I’ve been working so hard to plant and encourage my garden this year—while finishing a novella and starting a new Regency, plus editing and formatting my next indie book—that I could scarcely escape the close analogy between growing a garden and writing a book.  And when searching for a blog title, the old nursery rhyme popped into my mind. 

Are we all contrary Marys? It’s certainly possible. Those who make a living wage with their writing have certainly turned their backs on the traditional nine to five. And those who hold down a job and still find time to write have to be blessed with a stubbornly contrary gene that keeps them going, no matter what.

Silver bells, cockle shells, and little maids all in a row? Surely a symbol of the creative imagination it takes to do what we do. 

So . . . how does your novel grow?
If it’s like mine, the answer is, painfully. With great time, effort, and determination.
Details? you ask. Well, now, let’s see . . .

Good soil - start with a solid foundation.  For a garden, it’s good soil. For a novel, I suggest the foundation is:

1.    Read, read, read, read, read! I have judged c. 400 RWA chapter contest in the last fifteen years, and all too often I can tell the entrant set out to write a romance without ever having read one. (Or if he/she did, they weren’t paying attention!) Or perhaps you didn’t quite get the concepts of Goal, Motivation, and Conflict when you read a “How-to” book about them. Hopefully, reading books by the most successful romance authors will bring the points home. Certainly, they should give you a feeling for the style.

2.    Research. Whether you’re writing Contemporary or Historical, you need to know what you’re talking about. Police procedure, raising horses, military service, Medieval times, Regency, Victorian/Edwardian - know the clothing, the proper terminology. Know the history/background of your chosen subject. Don’t try to “wing it.” Too many will know if you get it wrong.
The Seed. Once you have that germ of an idea, you need to plant it in that solid foundation of knowing what is expected in your chosen sub-genre and let it sprout from the inspiration of your fertile mind, supported by all that research you did.

Water.  A seed won’t sprout in dry soil any more than a novel can grow without Goal, Motivation, Conflict. You have to water that seed with a good flow of all the necessary ingredients. Water it with two Good Main Characters, interesting characters—likable characters, the kind readers want to root for. (Of course for a villain, you need to make him/her someone the reader loves to hate.) Those characters need physical descriptions, information about their personalities and enough background so we can understand why they do what they do. The main characters need to reveal their thoughts through introspection, not just through dialogue. But when your characters do speak out loud, be sure they have something to say! Clever dialogue adds color, but it must always move the story forward; i.e., no dialogue just for sake of being cute and no dialogue thrown in just because you’ve written five pages of solid narration and ask yourself, “What do I do now?”

Fertilize.  Your plants—pardon me, your story—will remain mediocre unless you add fertilizer (color) in the form of a well-delineated setting, well-drawn secondary characters (with descriptions), mixed with narration and dialogue that keeps the plot on track. Never get so wound up in your characters that you forget your plot or so wound up in plot that you fail to develop your characters. Make them grow, if you’ll pardon me hammering home the analogy.

Weed.  Every chapter or two, go back and take a good look at what you wrote. Weed out the typos, fill in the missing words, and—far more important—spot the places where you used twenty words when ten would have been more clear, more to the point. Where did you stray from your Goals, Motivations, and Conflicts? Where did you fall into kaffeeklatch nonentities, straying from the plot and your characters’ purpose in this story?

Am I done yet?

As any gardener knows, you’re far from done. Gardening is demanding and never-ending.

The same is true of writing. Creativity is insatiable, requiring constant tending. You have to keep Watering and Fertilizing and Weeding.  In a longer book you might want to add a sub-plot, perhaps a second romance or layer on another bit of conflict for the hero and heroine. Or perhaps you skimped on the fertilizer and find yourself with little more than an outline the first time around. Those pesky plants just won’t grow, hovering just above the soil like little stick figures. For those authors, I suggest mining your creativity for some super fertilizer. Expand each paragraph with more color, better descriptions, more clear motives, more internal joy or anguish, more sparkling dialogue.

Hopefully, by now you’ve found one of those new fertilizers that also keeps weeds at bay. Or maybe you’ve just become more skilled at spotting weeds and getting rid of them as you go along. For the great moment—the end of the growing season—is at hand. You’ve written, “The End.” But if you’re wise, you’ll ask yourself:

Am I done yet?


Final Weeding & Edging.  Go back to the beginning and read the whole blasted book line by line. Yes, I know you’re sick of it, but this final editing is all important. If you do it right, you will be amazed at the things you missed during those chapter edits. Everything from improper punctuation to poor transitions, from failure to properly introduce new characters to lack of continuity.  In my case, I always end up making a number of insertions, clarifying points, adding more color, more emotion, etc. Others might find they have overwritten and must make numerous deletions rather than insertions.

Am I done yet?

Well, maybe.

 If you made only a few additions or deletions, you might be able to “get by.” You might take a chance on assuming your precious baby is ready for submission. But, frankly, most published authors consider three or four edits the norm. (Chapter by chapter edits, then two or three times through the whole manuscript.)  Never fall into the trap of thinking everything you write is perfect the first time. If you do, those pesky weeds will overwhelm your garden every time.

Picking Your Flowers and/or Vegies. Your garden has come to fruition. By George, you’ve done it! You have a colorful array of zinnias, marigolds, dahlias, morning glories, and whatever other glorious seeds you planted. Or maybe you’re chowing down on tomatoes, cucumbers, corn, and melons. Whether you chose flowers or vegies, you can finally pat yourself on the back for a job well done.

But unlike a garden that droops and fades each fall, your precious baby is just coming into full bloom, taking its first precarious steps out into the world. Will it catch an editor’s eye? An agent’s? Or will it faded into obscurity?

Dormancy.  Gardens and novels are endless battles with the forces ranged against us, from a struggle with our own laziness to dealing with the demands of others. Never give up. Whether polishing an old project or starting a new one, respect that tiny seed of an idea, nurture it. Water with creative juices, fertilize with new imagination, and attack those weeds with a vengeance. Like those dead-looking perennials who rise to life each spring, an author also experiences a renaissance with each new book, returning to the battle bigger and more hardy than the year (novel) before.

How does your novel grow?

Plant. Water. Fertilize. Weed.

Repeat Steps 2, 3 & 4 until manuscript is complete.
Then do it all again. 

The Author’s Motto: Determination, Perseverance, Endurance!
~ * ~ 

Blair's Free Book Schedule on Amazon Kindle

Airborne - The Hanover Restoration         Tuesday, May 7
Death by Marriage                                 Tuesday, May 14
Florida Knight                                       Tuesday, May 21
Limbo Man                                           Tuesday, May 28
Orange Blossoms & Mayhem                   Tuesday, June 4 

For covers and blurbs of the books above, click here.

Thanks for stopping by.

Grace, who writes as Blair Bancroft

Click here for a list of Grace's books as Blair Bancroft 

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Florida Wild & Miracle in Orlando

Special note:  I've just updated Dictionary for Writers, Part 5, with a whole new category: New AdultClick here.
~ * ~ 

I'd like to share the cover for my Romantic Suspense, Florida Wild, to be published by Ellora's Cave Blush sometime in the not too distant future. Unlike my Golden Beach RS, this one is set in the greater Orlando area. Way, way in the background you can see the wooden rollercoaster that is featured at the beginning and end of the book.

Miracle in Orlando

When I submitted a workshop proposal to the Moonlight & Magnolias conference, I promised to have a new high res photo taken (the one I sent to M&M was more than a decade old). Truthfully, I'd like to use the one from twenty-five years ago, but . . .  

My proposal was accepted, I turned to my daughter for recommendations, and found a local photographer named Simo Drissi. My photos—an amazing number in constantly changing poses—were taken outside in a small shopping center park. Simo and I agreed on our #1 choice, the one I call the "Blair" photo. The smiling one (Grace) I added as an extra for Facebook & Twitter. The third was my daughter's choice, forcing Simo to grind his teeth to make my stubby nails look decent (the only French manicure of my life!)

I post the photos here as a recommendation for Simo because strict anti-promo rules on RWA author loops make it impossible to do it there. But every professional needs a good photo, whether for the back of the book, social media, or your business card. And I think you'll agree if he can make me look good at my age, just think what he can do for someone much younger! I would also like to give a hearty thank-you to my talented hairstylist, Ileana Arroyo, from Penny's salon at Fashion Square Mall. And to my daughter, my makeup artist. During the decade or so she sang professionally, she worked as a makeover specialist at the cosmetics counters of a several large department stores in both Sarasota and Orlando. She is now a real estate investment broker and mother of the three cherubs you occasionally see on this blog. 

Blair Bancroft

Grace & French manicure

 Hmm, did my daughter like the one above because it looks like
 Mom is about to say, "You're grounded!"?

Same photo session, no retouching

Thanks for stopping by.
Next week: "How Does Your Novel Grow?" 

Click here for a list of Grace's books as Blair Bancroft

Sunday, April 14, 2013

A Different Mosaic - Recipes

I have to admit to an addiction - I have trouble saying no to a recipe book, almost any recipe book, any time, anywhere. I could not cook up a tenth of the recipes I own, given two or three lifetimes. And still, even after swearing "not one more," I can't resist. On the plus side - there's always something in the freezer, waiting to be eaten. On the negative - mass confusion on where to store all those books, magazines, and clippings. Sigh.

Today, in keeping with my theme of Mosaic Moments (a little bit of everything), I'm presenting three recipes. Two are not mine, but they stood out among the hundreds of recipes I've tried, and I felt they deserved more exposure. The third is my own version of how to make a package of fake crabmeat taste like a gourmet treat in under ten minutes.


2 tubes (8 oz. each) refrigerated crescent rolls
1 can (10 oz.) chunk white chicken, drained & flaked
1-1/2 cups (6 oz.) shredded Swiss cheese
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup finely chopped sweet red pepper
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
6 bacon strips, cooked & crumbled
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon Italian salad dressing mix

Grease a 14-inch pizza pan (or pizza stone). Unroll crescent roll dough; separate into 16 triangles. Place wide end of one triangle 3 inches from edge of prepared pan with point overhanging edge of pan. Repeat with remaining triangles along outer edge of pan, overlapping the wide ends (dough will look like a sun when complete). Lightly press wide ends together.

In a small bowl, combine the remaining ingredients. Spoon over wide ends of dough. Fold points of triangles over filling and tuck under wide ends (filling will be visible). Bake at 375° for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown. Yield:  8 servings.

* Recipe from Taste of Home's Bacon Recipe Cards 

Note:  The above recipe is a tad fussy, but the taste is incredible.


1 cup (6 oz.) semisweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons butter
1 egg, lightly beaten
3 cups pastel miniature marshmallows**
½ cup chopped pecans or walnuts
1 cup flaked coconut

1. In a heavy saucepan, melt chocolate chips and butter over low heat, stirring occasionally. Stir a small amount into the beaten egg, then return all to pan. Cook and stir over low heat for 2 minutes. Pour into a bowl; let cool for 15 minutes. Gently stir in marshmallows and nuts. Chill for 30 minutes. (I stirred the chocolate mix into the marshmallow mix - no difference.)

2.  On a long sheet of waxed paper, shape dough into a 1½-inch-diameter log. Place coconut on another sheet of waxed paper. Gently roll log over coconut to coat sides. Wrap up tightly, twisting ends to seal. (I twisted & clipped with plastic clothes pins.)

3.  Freeze for 4 hours or overnight. Remove waxed paper. Cut into 1/4 - 3/8" slices. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

TIP: Stash a batch of cookies in a plastic container in the freezer for use anytime. They unfreeze very quickly.

*Originally, “Cathedral Cookies” - recipe from Taste of Home’s Best-Loved Cookies, December 2012.

**The only place I was able to find colored mini-marshmallows was a Wal-Mart Superstore.

Note: the above recipe is easy enough for a child to do much of the work (except melt the chocolate). It becomes fussy only because of the "wait" times. The result, however, is worth every bit of the fuss. An amazing confection.


1 8-oz. refrigerated pkg. of fake crabmeat, cut into bite-size chunks
2-4 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted
juice of 1/2 to one whole fresh lemon, to taste*
6-10 capers, to taste
fresh dill, chopped**

*yes, you can use canned lemon juice, if you don't mind the chemicals
**yes, you can use dry dill weed - again, to taste. But I advise picking up a dill plant at your local plant source - it's worth the extra effort.

Melt butter, add lemon juice & crabmeat; heat, adding capers & dill to taste. 

~ * ~
Thanks for stopping by.

Click here for a list of Grace's books as Blair Bancroft

Sunday, April 7, 2013


                         Romance and Related Genres           

Note: "Romance Genres" require an HEA ending.  (HEA =  Happily Ever After.)

In “Related Genres” a satisfactory wrap-up to the story is expected, but an HEA ending is not required.


Contemporary - Category*
Books, usually 50,000-70,000 words, written to a certain “style” and “rules..”
Example: books published by Harlequin & Silhouette. See their guidelines H/S Guidelines for the many sub-genres they publish, featuring a wide variety of themes, from cowboys to doctors to hot sex. View points beyond Hero, Heroine & Villain (if applicable) are usually frowned on. Sex varies from none to graphic. [Harlequin/Silhouette are known for giving many beginners their start in the writing profession.] 

*It’s a bit tricky when “Category” refers to short Harlequin/Silhouette-style books but is also applied, particularly by contest coordinators, to each sub-genre of romance: i.e., "Select a Category," referring to Contemporary, Romantic Suspense, Historical, etc.  It’s a double use of the word “category” to which  every author needs to adjust.

Contemporary - Single Title*
A work, usually of 85,000-100,000 words, with a contemporary setting. The plots are more complex than "Category," multiple points of view are allowed. Sexual content varies from little to lots. Example: books by Susan Elizabeth Philips

*Because so many Contemporary romances are aimed at the Harlequin/Silhouette “category” market, “Single Title” is used to distinguish longer books aimed at a somewhat more “mainstream” market.

Contemporary - Series
Books, often a triology, connected by a single theme. Each book has its own hero & heroine, plus HEA, but one major problem runs through all three books and is not solved until the end of Book 3.  Length - c. 80,000- 95,000 words. The style usually lies somewhere between Mainstream and Category. The books are often anchored around one special setting. Nora Roberts writes a lot of these, while also writing heavier “Mainstream” style Contemporaries. The level of sexual details varies, but characterization, romantic tension, and general ambiance are usually more important.

Contemporary - Mainstream
Authors are usually expected to work up to writing “Mainstream.” Mainstream novels are mostly 95,000+ words. They have many characters, complex plots & subplots, even secondary romances. Multiple viewpoints are common. They frequently involve extensive background research, specialized information, including technical vocabulary. Romance, including sex scenes, may be secondary to the complex plot.

Romantic Suspense
A very popular sub-genre of romance, these stories feature both a love story and a suspense plot. It is generally expected that the hero and heroine will work together to solve whatever the problem is. Basically, the divisions are similar to Contemporary - Mainstream, "Mid-stream," & Category. Harlequin Intrigue (55-60,000 words) is the best-known “Category” Romantic Suspense. In Category RS, the emphasis is expected to be about 50-50 between the romance and the suspense. Most mainstream RS authors, however, tend to emphasize the suspense plot over the sex scenes.  Examples of Mainstream RS: books by Tami Hoag & Suzanne Brockman (100,000+).
Historical Romance
When I first began to write, “Historical” stopped c.1900. Fortunately, that is no longer true. The Edwardian era, the 20s & 30s, World War II are now acceptable. But I’d be leery of submitting anything after that as an “Historical.”  Readers probably don’t care to have the well-remembered days of their youth described as “historical”! 

Historical Romances range from the squeaky clean to flat-out hot sex. The Regency era has been super popular for quite a while now, but any era from ancient times to the mid 20th c. is acceptable. “Traditional Regencies,” some Harlequin/Silhouette Westerns,” and Inspirational Historicals put sex behind closed doors. Almost all other Historicals have sex scenes which range from PG right through X.
Historical Romances can range from 75,000 words for a Harlequin Historical to around 100,000 words for non-category publishers.  The most popular historicals extend over a whole series, with recurring characters in each new book. Examples: Jo Beverly, Mary Balogh, Joanna Bourne. Blair Bancroft (that's me) writes both trad Regencies and Regency Historicals.

Paranormal encompasses a variety of sub-genres. In contests with no SF or Futuristic category, for example, these entries get lumped into Paranormal; i.e., anything that is not of our normal world on Earth. The most common sub-genres are: vampires, werewolves, psychics, ghosts, and witches. Examples: Charlaine Harris and Kim Harrison. Length depends on whether you are writing for an H/S series with a strict word count or aiming at publishers who are looking for longer novels.

Fantasy sub-genres can range from relatively simple tales of fairies, elves, etc., to complex series, such as the Ring stories. Two personal favorites are the dragon fantasy series of C. L. Wilson and the more “mainstream” dragon tales by Naomi Novik.  And then there’s Anne McCaffrey’s classic, and extensive, series, The Dragonriders of Pern. (See also Urban Fantasy below.)

Urban Fantasy
Urban Fantasy not only must take place in a city, it is generally “darker” and “grittier” than the Fantasy genre above. Humans and “not humans” wage wars in an urban setting, usually in a  contemporary or vaguely alternative universe, although historical settings do occur. The “not humans” can be allies or adversaries of the humans, depending on the plot. Characters, such as vampires and werewolves, may be drawn from the Paranormal also. Urban Fantasy tends to extend over a series of books with recurring characters. Length tends to be toward longer books, 85-100,000 words.

Many Steampunk novels could also qualify as Urban Fantasy - dark, coal-smoked cities suffering from invasion by dread diseases, mutants, robots gone wild. But Steampunk requires an emphasis on machines powered by steam. Clockwork mechanisms are also big for powering a wide variety of good and evil machines. The “punk” part simply means that although clothing tends to be exaggerated late-19th c., the alternative history of the Steampunk era allows creative genius from robots to atom bombs to computers,  which did not actually exist during the age of steam. Another requirement of Steampunk is the airship as the major means of long-distance transportation. Steampunk novels range from dark, serious, even "downer," to the romance version which may have lots of drama but still manage some kind of HEA ending. Steampunk, like Urban Fantasy, also tends to extend over several books with recurring characters. For examples of Steampunk Romance, see books by Meljean Brooks and Kate Cross. For Steampunk Futuristic, Lindsay Buroker

Futuristic is simply Science Fiction which emphasizes Romance. For example, Heinlein, Bradbury, and Azimov are renowned for their ability to add true science to the stories they tell. Less scientifically oriented people who want to write about romance in a setting far in the future write the genre called “Futuristic.” Having said that, my example is an author who gets her technical information so correct, she is often shelved in Science Fiction instead of Romance. Nonetheless, she herself told me she writes “Futuristic.” Check out books by Linnea Sinclair. Jayne Ann Krentz, writing as Jayne Castle, is also an excellent example of “Futuristic.”

Books written with a strong emphasis on graphic sex are usually described as Erotica. The best have a plot, but most of the book is devoted to sexual details in a variety of forms. Erotica also includes multi-partner sex, bondage, sado-masochism, and GLBT sex. Why people got so excited about Fifty Shades when Ellora’s Cave and other major e-publishers have been presenting Erotica for years is beyond my comprehension.
Cross Genre

When an author combines two or more genres in a book, it’s called writing “cross genre.” It used to be really difficult to get an editor to accept these books - “Where are they going to shelved?” the Marketing departments would wail. But publishing is gradually growing up, and e-publishers can be more liberal about cross-genres. My favorite example: Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series, a superb blend of Steampunk, Vampires and Werewolves, with a goodly dollop of Gay.

Back in the 19th c. serials were common in magazines - many of Dickens’s books were introduced this way. Amazon Kindle has recently brought back the Serial genre. Whether or not it will catch on is still up in the air.  As presented by Amazon, a story is divided into c. 8 parts, with a hook at the end of each part. [Classic hook - heroine tied to the RR tracks with a train coming].  If this revival catches on, another genre has entered the romance market.  (And perhaps the general fiction market, as well.)

                                                  RELATED GENRES

Young Adult
Since books for Young Adults often include a romance, YA is frequently included in RWA (Romance Writers of America) contests. Again, there are broad varieties within this category, which ranges from Tween fiction, often humorous, to more hard-edged fiction aimed at fifteen and up. Even sex scenes are longer no-no’s in some YA titles. With the glaring exception of the Harry Potter series, most YA books are in the 40-75,000-word range.

New Adult - added April 19, 2013

This is a brand new category, and much needed. These books are geared to the 18 to early 20s market - stories about young people going out on their own, learning to cope with the world, including sex. Bonnie Lamer's Witch-Fairy series is a good example of this. I'd been trying to figure out how sex got into what seemed to be a YA series, and this seems to explain it. Authors take note - it isn't often a brand new category crops up for you to consider.

Although Mystery/Suspense is considered a legitimate category by the Romance Writers of America, the emphasis is primarily on Romantic Suspense (see above), with the so-called “cozy” mystery allowable. Mainstream, hard-core mysteries don’t seem to fit too well into the Romance genre.  Cozy Mysteries feature an amateur sleuth, like Miss Marple. They tend to have a cutesy theme - the heroine runs a knick-knack shop, a cupcake bakery, etc. Cozies are shorter than most Romantic Suspense, c. 70-80,000 words.  They can be written in first or third person. (First person is definitely more acceptable in mystery than it is in Romantic Suspense. The reason? Probably because romance readers want to see inside the hero’s head as well as the heroine’s.)  Cozies seldom have blood “on the page.”

Mainstream mysteries feature professional sleuths, police, PIs, etc. They can be, and often are, violent, with multiple bloody acts happening right before the readers’ eyes. These books range around the 100,000-word mark.  Although an HEA ending is not necessary, the murder(s) must be solved by the end of the book. Other, perhaps more personal, problems can extend over a series of books. Examples of outstanding Cozy authors: Rhys Bowen, Blaize Clement, Julie Hyzy. Example of Mainstream Mystery: James Lee Burke and the Regency mysteries of C. S. Harris.

Darker, often longer version of the Romantic Suspense mentioned above. The action is front and center, although there is often a romance on the side. The word count is usually c. 100,000 words. In Mainstream Suspense - often written by men - there may be no romance at all. Examples of Mainstream Suspense written by a female - Tami Hoag’s Ashes to Ashes series and the almost agonizing suspense of books by Karen Rose.

A Thriller is similar to Suspense, but the problem to be solved is much bigger - widespread annihilation of some kind, whether by bomb, biological weapon, superstorm, etc. Romance is not a given. Example: the works of Jack Higgins.

An Historical novel emphasizes the historical aspect of the book, not the romance. Since history does not always turn out the way a reader might wish, an HEA ending is not guaranteed.  Historicals are usually 100,000+ words, well-researched, and aimed at those who want their history correct instead of bent to fit a romantic plot. 

Alternative History
Steampunk, even Paranormal, can be Alternative History, but a more strict definition is a story set on our own earth but with some basic ingredient altered. The author makes that one drastic change to history, then writes about what our world might have been like if this change actually occurred. For example, in my Steampunk Romance, Airborne - The Hanover Restoration, I have the Duke of Wellington seize the British government in 1830.

Chick Lit 
A bright, breezy, first-person style of writing, featuring mostly girl-talk, fashion, and female crises. Although a novelty popular for a short length of time, the writing style of this sub-genre is now mostly used to spice up other genres. Example: Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum mysteries.
Women’s Fiction

Women’s Fiction defines itself. These are books which tell women’s stories to other women. They involve romance only peripherally, recounting women’s joys and sorrows, anxieties and tragedies. They do not have to have a Happily Ever After ending. These books seem to vary considerably in length.

Romantic Fiction
I came across this genre only recently. Evidently, some people use it to describe contemporary novels that describe the details of a woman’s life (as in Women’s Fiction) but allow more room for romance. The emphasis is still more on the female in the story than on the male.

~ * ~

This is the last installment in the DICTIONARY FOR WRITERS series. Please don't hesitate to contact me about omissions. Adding another definition is never a problem.

Thanks for stopping by.