Grace's Mosaic Moments

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Controversy Gone Amuck

Before today's blog - a Python Update

A Univ. of Florida pic, scanned from The Orlando Sentinel

  From The Orlando Sentinel, May 21, 2013:

"A record-setting Burmese python was killed with a knife in a rural section of southern Miami-Dade County, after a long struggle in which it wrapped itself around a man's legs. The monster snake was 18 feet, eight inches long, beating the previous Florida record by more than a foot, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission."

Summary of the remainder of the article:  Jason Leon, 23, of Palmetto Bay and friends were riding all-terrain vehicles near Florida City when one of them spotted the snake sticking out of a bush. Leon, who used to have a pet python, grabbed the snake behind the head, a friend handed him a knife, and he ended up wrestling the 128-pound snake, which wrapped itself around both legs and one of his arms. He reports he wasn't scared as he had two friends to back him up. After a 10-minute struggle, he cut the snake's head off. Although Jason donated the snake to the state, he hopes to retain the skin after the university's analysis is done. He plans to mount it on the wall.

Added May 26: Last night's TV news reported that the state has returned the skin to Jason.

Grace note:  If he marries, I wonder what his bride will think about that!

~ * ~

The Controversy That Should not Exist

I'm still trying to figure out how different approaches to writing became a controversy. Until recently, I didn't think they had. There are all sorts of approaches to writing, each valid for the person involved. Two of the most common are generally referred to as: "Plotter" and "Pantser." I dislike both expressions, but for the sake of familiarity will use them in this article. Any alternatives* I came up with were as skewed to one side as the terms we already have. Skewed? Yes, skewed, because naming one side “Plotters” implies that “Pantsers” don’t plot. And that’s absurd. Of course we plot - we just do it in our heads or in random scribbled notes, not set down in page after page of precise outlines. Below, to the best of my ability, is a brief description of how I first discovered these differences, what the differences are, and why they have suddenly become a bone of contention.

*See Addendum below

At my very first RWA national conference - Orlando sometime in the mid 90s - I attended a workshop held in someone's hotel room. It was sponsored by RWA's Kiss of Death Mystery/Suspense chapter. There were several authors on the panel. I remember only Tami Hoag on the Pantser side and Ruth Glick (Ruth York) on the Plotter side. Frankly, I'd never thought about my writing style before. I simply did it. But I instantly recognized kinship with Tami, who told about simply sitting down and writing, plus the number of times she went through her manuscript, each time adding more description, more color, etc. (She may be the first person I heard use the expression "out of the mist.") Ruth represented the approach needed by Harlequin authors, which requires a great deal more work "up front" before one starts to write.

If you are one of those who has escaped hearing about Plotters versus Pantsers, let me explain. I heard a good example of a Plotter recently. A Harlequin author stated she wrote a 30-page outline for a 50,000-word book! She also had photos, research, and a zillion other details all neatly organized in a 4" binder. Great, particularly if you write for Harlequin/Silhouette. And if that’s the method that works for you.

A Pantser, however, gets the name from the early airplane expression - “flying by the seat of his/her pants.” I prefer to say I write “out of the mist.” Pantsers undoubtedly approach a book from all 360° of the compass. Which is good, as we’re all individuals, right? For me, it’s necessary to have a Title, the names of my major characters, some idea of who my characters are, and where the story is going before I start. But that’s it. Nothing but names written down - all the rest is in my head. As my characters develop, I scribble notes of what the next scene might be; but quite often, when I begin the scene, it goes in a different direction than I intended. (Always an improvement, I might add.) By the time I’ve finished, say, five chapters, I might have a stack of legal pad scribbles, reminding me of everything from ignored physical descriptions to a plot point I want to elaborate on. And in editing I do exactly that. Perhaps three or four more times before the book is done. This is how I work and I truly enjoy the spontaneity of it.

And there’s the rub, the reason for today's blog. There are as many ways to approach the writing of a book as there are authors. Until recently, I never considered the old Plotter vs. Pantser argument anything more than theoretical. Some authors plan their manuscripts with all the detail of an architect rendering a skyscraper, and some of us approach writing more like a modern artist creating a free-form painting. A matter of personality, which should not be a controversial issue. But this spring I encountered an attitude of Plotters attempting to tell Pantsers, “It’s my way or the highway.” Which forced me to rise up and say, “You’ve got to be kidding.” We are what we are. We do what we have to do to write the kinds of books we want to write.

Yes, it's wrong not to edit, not to polish your work. Yes, it's wrong not to be professional in your attitude about writing. Yes, it's wrong to present a manuscript full of errors in grammar and punctuation. But the method you use to write your book? That's yours, baby. All yours. If you want to stand on your head and dictate into a machine, that's your choice. It's only the finished product that becomes an editor's, agent's, or reader's business. Until then, you write that book any @#$% way that works for you. But, please, remember not to act as if other people's methods simply won't work.

Why this controversy exploded into rancor is hard to pin down, but I tend to think it's due to the elephant in the room, the huge influence the giant publishing house Harlequin/Silhouette inevitably has on the Romance Writers of America. (You noticed RWA's recent tightening of the rules, right? The emphasis on Romance, just Romance.) In my not-so-humble opinion, H/S has a right to demand lengthy detailed synopses from its authors, but its influence should not extend to a writers' organization which encompasses authors who write an almost endless variety of romance sub-genres. Authors deserve the freedom to create in any manner they deem fit and not necessarily in the manner advocated by Harlequin/Silhouette.

So there it is. I've found myself up to my neck in controversy again. Didn't plan on this one, just defending my territory, so to speak. I'd love to hear the opinions of other authors on this one.


While attempting to find alternatives for the ugly and misleading terms, "Pantser" and "Plotter," I came up with a bunch. But quickly realized they are as misleading (and/or insulting) as what I was trying to replace. But here they are:

Plan Ahead vs Out of the Mist  (the most benign alternative)
Fettered vs Free
Crafting vs Creating
Deliberate vs Spontaneous
Craft vs Art

Hopefully, these terms give you an idea of how difficult it is to "label" any one style of writing. We should each develop a method that works for us and accept that we are all different. I strongly suggest none of us should stoop to making negative remarks about the other person's approach to writing.

Blair's Free Book Schedule on Amazon Kindle

Limbo Man (the Russians are coming)                      Tuesday, May 28

Orange Blossoms & Mayhem (marriage & murder)      Tuesday, June 4 
For covers and blurbs of the books above, click here.

Thanks for stopping by.


Sunday, May 19, 2013

Reminiscences of Controversies, Part 2

 I was hoping for a little color to add to Part 2 of "Reminiscences of Controversies," and, lo and behold, three pics arrived in the morning's e-mail. It seems the Girl Scouts had a sleep-over at Coco Key on International Drive (Orlando). So here are some colorful bits to spice up my memories of the early days of e-publishing.

Coco Key Resort, I-Drive, Orlando

Coco Key Resort

Cassidy, Hailey & Riley w/troop at Coco Key

  ~ * ~

Reminiscences of Controversies - Part 2

Continuing my series on how I've managed to put my foot in it through the years. (Gleefully, at times.) Here are excerpts from my article, "E-Books and You," written sometime between 2000 & 2002:


"E-publishers are looking for fresh ideas, new voices. They came into being as alternatives to print publishing, determined to offer a wide variety of ideas and styles than was acceptable in the traditional New York market. E-publishers are not afraid of cross-genres, older heroines, historicals set in the twentieth century, a long separation between the hero and heroine, or books set in foreign countries other than Britian or Ireland. If a book is well-written, it doesn't have to be rejected because the marking department says it's too long or doesn't have a hook they can sell. Yes, economical publishing costs make this feasible, but the open-minded attitude of e-publishers is the key ingredient which will appeal to the eager minds of Internet users looking for the world of the twenty-first century. 

[Note: not much change here, except that major publishers have finally waked up to the e-revolution, most now adding an e-book line.]

 Most print books, particularly category, have a lifetime of four to six weeks. That's right 30-45 days. After you spent six months, maybe a year, writing it. Not a happy thought. E-books are not only good for the length of your original contract, but for however long after that you want to keep your book on the web site. And your book is not fighting for doubtful placement at Barnes & Noble or even at your local mom and pop bookstore. Your book is right there on the World Wide Web, as available in London and Sydney as it is in New York, Boston, Chicago, suburbs across the nation, farms in the heartland, or college dormitoris. To those with the newest cell phone upgrades, it's even available on the beach!

[Note: so much change here the reality is mind-boggling. A deluge of e-books available on a myriad devices. So many good e-readers at a reasonable price; even some color e-readers at a cost that's not too far out of sight.  And then there are I-Pads and Smart Phones, and an endless variety of devices offering book-reading capacity.]

For most of us who write romance, e-book royalties are best described as "not much, not yet." The royalty percentage of each download is high (often around 35%), but e-books are still in their infancy and volume has not yet had time to build. Except for erotica. The demand for e-erotica has been astonishing, and its authors are making good money, as much as print books, if not more. So even if you don't care for erotica, it's helping increase e-readership, and we should all be grateful for its impact. 

[Note: Also a major change from when I wrote the above—primarily brought about by two things, I believe: the proliferation of e-reading devices and the advent of indie publishing. Well-known authors, publishing their backlists on their own, were among the first to discover this vast new market. And make good money. They were soon followed by those who "write between the cracks." Authors whose work was good but did not fit the New York guidelines. And then, of course, it seemed like half the world jumped on the bandwagon, and indie pub became the rage. Some good, some not so good. But you can't stuff the genie back in the bottle. Indie pub is as much here to stay as the formal e-publishing which began near the end of the 1990s. And, yes, a lot more than authors of erotica are making money, myself among them. For which I am enormously grateful.]

[Okay, I'm not going to repeat this paragraph. At the time I was proselytizing for recognition of e-publishers as true publishers, never dreaming what would happen when Smashwords and Amazon offered independent publishing. There are, however, many excellent e-publishers out there, who edit, provide covers, distribution, and pay royalties on time. In particular, if your work does not fit the New York mold, I strongly recommend submitting to a good e-publisher. This list has broadened a great deal in just the last few years as major New York publishing houses have added e-book divisions. Check with other e-pubbed authors to make sure you're submitting to one of the e-pubs who provides good service and prompt royalties. And if you'd rather go DYI, by all means do so. I've just edited several indie books, for example, where the characterizations and stories were truly impressive, comparable to only the top ten percent of New York print books. I will never, however, advocate writing a book and throwing it at the Internet with all the arrogance of someone who actually believes their first draft is undying prose. Edit, idiot! Edit! And if you can't do it yourself, hire someone who can.

 I don't write articles on the e-revolution or e-pub any more. There's no need. It's happened, and even faster than I anticipated. But I'm proud to have been in on it from very near the beginning. By the time I "retired" to indie pub, I had nine print books and eight e-books to my published credit. And Tarleton's Wife, the book that started it all for me, is on its third incarnation. Ellora's Cave Blush, which had offered an e-version for some time, brought it out in paperback in the fall of 2012. Talk about longevity!

 ~ * ~
Although e-publishing has been the major controversy I've been embroiled in over more than a decade, there are others worth a mention. 

I am a member of RWA's online historical romance chapter, The BeauMonde. I try to steer a median down the middle on the battles that rage over authenticity, but sometimes I blow my top and scream (via keyboard): How can it possibly matter what the weather was on a particular day in the year 1813? Do you really have to know the exact dates a certain play or opera was performed in London? Yes, I agree one shouldn't get the dates of the Frost Fair (which was unique) wrong. And one should never, ever have a bastard inherit a title. But, really . . . one can't be flexible about the weather? Or write about an opera by Mozart without citing the exact date and year? Come on, people, be real!

And—warning!—heaven forbid anyone should mention the word "horse" on the BeauMonde loop. In the blink of an eye there will be fifty posts on "horses I have known." Kind of hard on those of us who might like to get a word in edgewise. So, yes, I've been an old curmudgeon about that on occasion. 

And, yes, I'm the one who broke the dam on indie publishing on RWAPAN, RWA's e-loop for published authors. I wrote a post called "Brave New World," and it was like the walls came tumbling down. Suddenly, all sorts of print authors were admitting they were making money by indie-pubbing their backlist, even as others rushed to join the gravy train. Not long after that, RWA was putting out a survey asking their authors how much they were making on e-pub. Finally. 

Not that the battle is over - I still see a definite "class" system within RWA - print pubs vs. e-pubs vs. indie pubs. And I'm heartily sorry for it. This needs to change. Since I began writing more than twenty years ago, I have been involved in all three, and I can say with absolute honesty that my e-publishers provided far more extensive editing than my print publishers. And that I had to work a lot harder to write, edit, and format my indie books than I have ever worked at a book before. Give credit where credit is due. If someone writes a bunch of pages, calls it a book, and tosses it up on the net, warts and all, then that person's work should be shunned. But over the course of the past two and a half years of reading downloads exclusively, I have found some wonderful indie books (as well as some I deleted after the first few pages). Be open-minded. Accept that New York is not putting out all the good books. (It is, in fact, putting out some real wall-bangers, as well as the good stuff.) Be venturesome. Give something new a try. Reject the bad, accept, even praise, the good, no matter how the book found its way to Kindle, Nook, Smashwords, Sony, or your Smart Phone.

~ * ~

Next week: a different kind of controversy, one I put my foot in by accident because I had no idea it was such a sensitive topic.  Some call it, "Plotter vs. Pantser." Since I hate both terms, finding them both inadequate and a tad vulgar, I haven't decided what to call the two sides of the coin yet. But controversial? Oh wow! You wouldn't believe!

Blair's Free Book Schedule on Amazon Kindle

Florida Knight (an SCA story)                                  Tuesday, May 21

Limbo Man (the Russians are coming)                      Tuesday, May 28

Orange Blossoms & Mayhem (marriage & murder)      Tuesday, June 4 

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

Thanks for stopping by.


Thanks for stopping by.



Monday, May 13, 2013

Reminiscences of Controversies

For those who are still wondering what was wrong with the romance cover 
featured in my previous blog: the lovely, languishing heroine has three hands.

 ~ * ~

Reminiscences of Controversies

In my life before the Romance Writers of America, I must admit to a controversy or two. I can distinctly recall telling people in Connecticut, when I was a young wife and mother, not to put me on any committees as I was inclined to be too vocal. (Which, alas, was all too true.) And I got into it on an environmental issue when a neighbor (on Long Island Sound) wanted to build a deck on a rocky outcropping, which was partially below mean high water. Had to go all the way to Hartford for a hearing on that one. I won, by the way. But mostly I lived a pretty peaceful existence until I joined RWA somewhere around twenty years ago. And began to discover how far outside the box I really was.

I had been editor of a small publishing company for a number of years, and when I learned RWA chapter contests were still advocating Courier 10 at 25 lines to the page, I nearly choked. Courier, a hold-over font from the 19th century? They had to be kidding. I admit we'd had word processing computers only about ten years at that point (not counting the ones before PCs), but, well, really . . .? 

I sighed and tried to conform, but using ugly old Courier with underlines for italics when the modern author could write in Times New Roman with real italics . . .? My solution? I only submitted to contests which did not specify a type font. And I gritted my teeth every time some other author complained that people using TNR were able to submit more words! Well, boo-hoo, so could they if they'd just get up out of their rut. (The johnny-come-latelies to publishing are undoubtedly dropping their jaws in astonishment. There was a time when TNR was frowned upon, considered "cheating"??? Oh, yes, a very long time, in fact.)

And then I discovered the multiple points of view I'd used in my first three books were a no-no. Since just about every book I'd ever read had multiple points of view, this was a shocker. But, according to RWA, romance readers wanted to concentrate on the hero and heroine, so that's what New York publishers were buying. Oops. In this particular case I struggled to remake my style—after all, we all like to make money, and the income from e-books at that time was pretty slim.  The almost immediate result, a sale to Kensington. And then at an RWA conference workshop, I learned that Signet (a division of Penguin Putnam) was looking for traditional Regencies, and, lo and behold, I'd found my niche. In that particular sub-genre of romance, I could write Regency and use multiple POVs!  [Of course that didn't last long. I was sailing along at Regency #6 when sex shoved the closed bedchamber door into Never-Never Land. Translate that as : both Signet and Kensington dropped their traditional Regency lines, and I was unemployed.] 

To get back to multiple POVs, over the last decade some publishers have become more flexible about POV, but the controversy hasn't gone away. Only a year or so ago, I had a Romantic Suspense rejected by a major e-publisher because it had more than four POVs. (Although another major e-publisher accepted it without a murmur.) Note to all authors out there - be careful you write in the style expected by the publishers to whom you're submitting.  

As you've guessed by now, I'm not a conformist. To laws of the land, yes, but not to traditions that need to be broken.

And then came the moment my mother, a very successful author of children's books, handed me a newspaper article on e-publishing. What? But it helped prepare me for what would happen only a year or so later. I had entered RWA's Golden Heart contest (for unpublished authors) with a Regency Historical titled Tarleton's Wife. Evidently, one of my judges was about to start an e-publishing company, and about two months before RWA's national convention, I was asked to help inaugurate the company by allowing them to publish Tarleton's Wife.  There was no way I was going to turn down such an offer, of course. I felt like a true pioneer. And, after all, if my highly knowledgeable mother thought it might be the wave of the future . . .

Tarleton's Wife finaled in the Golden Heart. I went to Chicago for the RWA convention (1999, I believe), where I met my publisher and her gal Friday. And on the night of the awards, my publisher was the person I chose to sit with me "down front." All finalists were asked to prepare an acceptance speech so we wouldn't be caught flat-footed before the microphone. And I did exactly that. Which is how I happened to stand before the entire assembly of Who's Who in RWA and proclaim that Tarleton's Wife had already been contracted and would be published that December by the e-publisher, Wings Press.  To tell you the truth, I had no idea I would provoke the enormous gasps that rang through the auditorium. No idea I was treading on sensitive toes or that it would be literally years before RWA recognized e-publishing, and even more before the true significance of e-publishing began to sink in.

Controversial? Oh yeah!

Those were tough years, while authors involved in the early days of e-publishing attempted to help others understand this great new medium of expression. I joined EPIC, the RWA of electronic authors. I wrote articles, which were posted to my website. (Blogs hadn't come along yet.) And everywhere we had to contend with put-downs from people who confused e-publishing with vanity publishing. No matter how frequently we told people we got royalties from a legitimate publishing company . . . Well, you get the message. To wean over readers, e-pubs had to go the paperback route as well as offering downloads, and to many skeptics POD (Print on Demand) became a dirty word. Poor e-publishers, they just couldn't win. 

But gradually e-pubbing grew, and in another effort to lure traditional readers, the e-reader was born. The first one, with its backlighting, was a marvel. I loved it. But like the legendary Tower of Babel, e-pub split into what seemed like a hundred directions, each new e-device putting out books in its own exclusive language. And causing e-publishers no end of anguish as they struggled to make books available in whatever computer language their readers needed. No wonder so many of the early e-pubs didn't make it.

But I get ahead of myself. I searched for some of my early articles on e-publishing and found them interesting, and sometimes amusing. How much I got right - and how much I got wrong!  Here are some excerpts from an article written sometime around 2000-2001 (unedited except for an occasional note):

"When Gene Roddenberry created the world of Star Trek, he envisioned a future where all information was retrieved from computers. Whether displayed on a monitor screen, a hand-held device, or spoken aloud, information on paper had become obsolete. Classic printed books were treasured artifacts.

TV viewers lapped it up; imaginations caught fire. A generation weaned on Star Trek set about making Roddenberry's vision a reality. Yet I doubt if anyone expected the changover to all-electronic information to gain a serious foothold in our lifetime.

But it's happening. Just look around. The Web, no longer tethered to a wire, surrounds us, providing instant worldwide communication and information. Is it the great marvel of our age? Or are we caught in an infinite spider's Web, irretrievably tangled with no hope of escape?

Do we want to escape? Do we want to escape television, airplanes, the telephone, cars, electricity, flush toilets—each, in its day, a startling innovation?

You get the message.

Bill Gates in his 1995 book, The Road Ahead, declared that the Internet—the Information Highway, as he called it—would become a dominant force in our lives. Not in the negative sense of Big Brother, but as a connector to a vast world of information, services, and communication. If you're reading this article, you are "online." You are already part of the Information Highway, the World Wide Web—the Internet. Would you give it up? Lose your ability to have instant communication with distant children, parents, your old school buddies? [Note: This was written, I believe, before Facebook.] Lose your instant ability to check the sports scores, research clothing in Medieval Times, print a map, order a gift basket for Aunt Tillie, download a book to read, chat with someone in New Zealand, even Anatarctica?

In 1997, when the Internet was a scant six years old, a group of experts got together to predict the dollar amount which would be generated by the Internet in 1998. They decided on a figure of eight billion. When the numbers were totaled at the end of 1998, the actual figure was one hundred two billion." [Note: What the figure is now, is beyond my imagination!]

[Several paragraphs skipped here about music downloads and What are e-books & e-readers.]

And then I wrote:

". . . . Until the major tech companies settle on a universal download format and produce e-readers at a reasonable price, most people who want to cuddle up with a book are going to stick to print."

[Note: I scorned the Kindle when it first came out because it wasn't backlit, but it was the device that won the blue ribbon from the public and pushed the e-book industry into an age of exponential growth. I've had one for more than two years now and never read books any other way.]

I went on to write:

"The catch phrase to remember? . . .
The Internet is not a fad. The Internet is the future. The future is NOW."

 I ended my highly controversial (at the time) article with a quote from Bill Gates:

"We are watching something historic happen, and it will affect the world seismically, rocking us the same way the discovery of the scientific method, the invention of printing, and the arrival of the Industrial Age did. . . . Some people will seize upon the setbacks and proclaim that the [information] highway never really was more than hype. But on the highway, the early failures will just be learning experiences. The highway is going to happen."

Gates, Bill. The Road Ahead. New York: Penguin, 1995. 

 ~ * ~ 
 "Reminiscences of Controversies" will continue next week.

Blair's Free Book Schedule on Amazon Kindle

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.


Sunday, May 5, 2013


To fill in the gap while I'm struggling with my next blog topic: "Reminiscences of Controversies," plus fighting to get my garden in, finish my novella (in a new genre), judge fifteen contest entries (for three different contests), edit a book for someone else, prepare a puppet play of Cinderella with the grandchildren, and provide soccer transportation . . . I'm going to settle for a couple of pictures today. Enjoy!

And, oh yes, I'm doing an Internet radio interview on 
on Tuesday, May 7, at 5:00 p.m. The topic: England's waterways

 ~ * ~

Below is a romance cover I've been hearing about for years, but only saw for the first time last month, when someone posted it to one of my author loops. Needless to say, it is the stuff of legends.

And, yes, the publisher did a reprint. Don't know what happened to the artist. Perhaps Sci Fi covers??

While my daughter was preparing a special photo celebration for her eldest daughter's tenth birthday on April Fool's Day, she ran across a bit of nostalgia from about five years ago . . .

 ~ * ~

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

Coming soon: "Reminiscences of Controversies" - some of the occasions I've put my foot in it, occasionally by accident; more often, quite deliberately.

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