Grace's Mosaic Moments

Sunday, June 30, 2013

EDITING, Part 1 - Layering

Grace Note:  MGM Studio Portrait, c. 1944. Before getting down to Part 1of my new Editing series, I'd like to point out a photo (forwarded by my daughter with an identification request from the Portland Film Festival). After scribbling down and typing up the ID caption from the large framed copy of the photo I've had on the wall of three different houses over the last forty-some years, I added the Film Festival's digital photo to last week's Mosaic Moments several days after it was originally posted. The photo is strictly for film buffs and those who recall the great movies of the '40s, '50s, and early '60s. It's a formal portrait of MGM Studio greats, taken, as far as I can tell, near the end of WWII. If you're interested, keep arrowing down at the end of this post, past all my Historical Romances, and you'll find it.

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EDITING - Layering in information

At my very first writing conference - sponsored by The Romance Writers of America umpteen years ago in Orlando - I heard Tami Hoag describe her writing process and realized it was similar to my own.  I "wing" the initial draft of a chapter. In the back of my mind is a vague idea of what I want to accomplish and how I want to lead in to what happens next. But because I'm thinking ahead, intent on moving the story forward, I often skip, or give short shrift, to descriptions, explanations, motivations, and other things that add important points or color to the story. In my case, dialogue is always easy and seldom needs to change, but, oh, do I tend to cheat on the narration!

I'm not, of course, the only author with this approach to writing. (For example, Tami Hoag made it clear she does this too, and look how famous she became just a few years later!) I suspect, in fact, that almost all authors find they can do better the second or third time around. So you might want to take a look at some of the examples listed below.

All examples are from my current Work in Progress, Brides of Falconfell and will be re-edited several times more before being considered "finished."

Note: Serena is the first-person heroine in the excerpts below.

Example 1:

At least I thought not. But what did I know about such things beyond the on dits that were bandied about at every gathering of females? Poor Serena, who had no idea what it was like to break the rules.

At least I thought not. But what did I know about such things beyond the on dits that were bandied about at every gathering of females? Serena, sheltered daughter, sister, aunt, who had no idea what it was like to break the rules.

Example 2:

An eerie silence enveloped the morning; not even the customary rustle of the housemaids rekindling fires in the bedchambers could be heard. I'd swear even the birds had ceased to sing.

An eerie silence enveloped the morning; not even the customary rustle of the housemaids rekindling fires in the bedchambers could be heard. If the birds were indulging in their dawn chorus, not so much as a tweet penetrated Falconfell's thick walls.

Example 3:

"And then the footmen came to find us, for which I am grateful, I must admit. It's been a difficult week, my lord. My own tears were threatening to soak the ground."

"Violet's right," he said. "Helen's lips and fingertips were blue—they'd gone that way before she died. Gradually. I didn't even notice at first."

"And then the footmen came to find us, for which I am grateful, I must admit. It has been a difficult week, my lord. At that point I fear my own tears were threatening to soak the ground."

Silence stretched between us, though oddly not as awkward as it should have been between master and sometime governess.

"Violet is correct," he said at last. "Helen's lips and fingertips were blue—they'd gone that way before she died. Gradually. I didn't even notice at first."

Example 4:

"A temper tantrum, perhaps, or pure stage play. A plea for sympathy."

Not that I sympathized with her—she had ruined my wedding, after all. Nonetheless, could she not in that elevated state . . .?

"A temper tantrum, perhaps, or pure stage play. A plea for sympathy." 

Sympathy? Who on earth would sympathize with such a creature? She had ruined my wedding.

Nonetheless, whatever her motive, could she not have worked herself into such an abysmal state that . . .? 

Example 5: 

When I was properly dressed and hoping for a bit of toast and tea, I discovered a veritable sea of servants in need of reassurance.

When I was properly dressed, I went to the dining room in search of a bit of tea and toast, only to find the sideboard empty. I descended to the kitchen, where I discovered a veritable sea of servants in need of reassurance. 

Example 6:

And why had I skipped over Maud? She had her lucid moments but, all in all, there could be little doubt her sanity had slipped a cog or two. She might not have needed a valid reason to do away with Helen. Considering her an interloper might have been enough.

Wearily, I slipped out of the room and made my way to bed.

And why had I skipped over Maud? She had her lucid moments but, all in all, there could be little doubt her sanity had slipped a cog or two. She might not have needed a valid reason to do away with Helen. Considering her an interloper might have been enough.

Foolish creature!  More likely I was making a mountain out of a molehill. Building nightmares from the remark of a five-year-old. It must be something in the gloom of Falconfell that turned a head of sound common sense into a diabolical machine conjuring monsters out of the mist. And yet the very air we breathed seemed tense with secrets, with an eerie menacing mystery undeterred by brilliant splashes of spring flowers. Even the stream crashing down the mountainside and racing through the valley offered more danger than picturesque beauty.

When I had arrived, I embraced any household that included Thayne Hammersley. Now . . . suspicion licked at the edges of my good sense, and fear—probably totally unjustified—seemed to lurk around every corner. 

Idiot! I should be thoroughly ashamed of myself for allowing my mind to stray so far from reality.

Wearily, I slipped out of the room and made my way to bed.

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 I made numerous other adjustments to the chapter these excerpts came from, but the above best illustrate "layering." These examples are from a first edit, the edit I do at the end of each chapter. I go back every five chapters and read the whole section for continuity, as well as more "layering." And when the entire book is finished, I go back and edit the whole thing from top to bottom. If there are a lot of changes at this point - and naturally I hope there won't be - I type in the corrections and re-edit the whole blasted thing again.

This is how good books are made. With hard work and great attention to detail. Look at your work. Ask yourself: 

Have I described my characters? (In addition to physical descriptions of both primary and secondary characters, this can include looking inside the main characters' heads and showing us how their minds work.)

Have I used colorful narration as well as dialogue? Have I taken the easy way out, writing mostly dialogue? Or have I gotten inside my main characters' heads and used introspection (narration) to show readers how they really feel?

Have I explained why my characters did what they did? - preferably through their own thoughts.

Is the plot understandable? Or did you just put it into a synopsis and forget that readers never see the synopsis, that everything you want the reader to know must in the pages of the manuscript itself?  Or did you leave important plot points in your head, assuming your readers were mind readers?

Are there a more colorful words and/or expressions I could use to make my work more interesting?

I could go on and on, but I hope you get the gist of it by now.  Never settle for a first draft. Go over your work until you've made it sing. But, yes, you have to know when to stop. There comes a moment in every manuscript when perhaps a year from now you might be able to improve it, but right now, this is the best you can do. It's time to stop and send that baby out there. Whether you're submitting to an agent, an editor, or going indie, it's time to cut the apron strings and say goodbye. 

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Thanks for stopping by.

More editing examples next week.
Arrow down to the end of last week's blog to find the MGM photo.


Sunday, June 23, 2013

Blair's Historical Romances

Grace note: I prepared this blog before going off to Boston and Cape Cod for ten days.  Hopefully, it makes sense!

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Having winged my way through loglines of my traditional Regencies, i thought I'd try the same with my Historicals. A fun challenge.

Listed in the order in which they were published, although I actually wrote The Sometime Bride first. 

The Regency Warrior Series, Book 1

At the battle of Corunna, a dying British major marries his dead colonel's daughter so she will have a home to return to. Eighteen months later she is making a new life for herself and the major's tenants—she is even involved in a budding romance—when the major returns - with a fiancée at his side.

First published  in 1999 - this cover is from the paperback version currently available from Ellora's Cave Blush (e-version also available).

The Regency Warrior series, Book 2

An epic tale of war, as seen through the eyes of two people much too young to be married, even in a marriage of convenience. A book of battles and spies, tragedy and deception. And a revealed betrayal that finally ends our heroine's seven years as a "sometime" bride.

First published in 2000

The Regency Warrior series, Book 3

Terence O'Rourke, the deus ex machina, who appears in the final chapters of Tarleton's Wife, gets his own book. The young Irish bastard has only one love in his life, the daughter of his employer, as much a bastard as he. Except her father's goal is for her to marry a title. Which leads to considerable suffering, abuse, and yet another bastard baby. With no happy ending in sight.

Those are wild Dartmoor ponies grazing on the cover.

The Regency Warrior series, Book 4

An "also ran" in Tarleton's Wife and O'Rourke's Heiress, Jack Harding has risen from almost being hanged to the powerful head of a merchant prince's private army.* But he never gets the girl - until he meets his match in a feisty young lady from Québec. The only problem: someone is trying to kill her.

*The merchant prince is, of course, the father who wanted his only daughter to marry a title in O'Rourke's Heiress.

My all-time favorite cover
The Captive Heiress is my best-selling book in Britain. Since it was originally written with Young Adults in mind (with extensive research into the 12th century, plus an update at the end about what eventually happened to all the genuine historical characters), I presume teachers have been recommending it, for nothing else could account for such exceptional sales! Anyway, it's a lovely little tale, chock full of real people of the time, most notably, King Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, plus their children who eventually become so well known in the Robin Hood tales, King Richard and Prince John. (And, of course, with John there was that little thing called the Magna Carta. ) My favorite, however, is my young hero's friend, William Marshall, who has come down in history as the greatest knight who ever lived, even ruling England during the minority of John's heir.


A very young heiress is kidnapped so her guardian may enjoy her fortune until King Henry marries her off. Her only friend is a young squire who is so poor he cannot afford a horse and armor so he can become a knight. They eventually become part of the tumultuous court of King Henry and Eleanor, with no hope for a future together, until an attack on the queen leads to great changes for both William Marshall and our young squire.

A Steampunk Adventure

I had a ball writing AIRBORNE - THE HANOVER RESTORATION. Such fun to create alternative history and machines that never existed in the 19th century. Also, a young lady who is in love with a train! I also happily messed with the British succession, putting Wellington on the throne, while discarding the true inventor of the airship. I mean, what's Alternative History all about if you can't do as you please?

A young miss believes she is traveling to the protection of her new guardian, only to discover he expects her to marry him! Not only is he a perfect stranger, but his household is full of odd machines, and, as if that weren't enough, he has involved her in a revolution - the push to put a young woman named Victoria on the English throne. 


a Regency Gothic, coming Fall 2013

Brides of Falconfell is not Goth, but a classic Gothic romance, written in first person because the heroine has to feel alone and beleagured. No peeking into anyone else's head, particularly the hero's. 

Before the great surge of the present romance market, Victoria Holt wrote magnificent Victorian Gothics; Mary Stewart set the standard for contemporary Gothics. They were marvelous, and this is my stab at bringing that genre back to life.


A managing female is summoned to the wilds of Northumberland to nurse yet another member of her family, only to find her patient deceased and the widower anxious to marry a woman capable of putting his unruly house in order. The possibility of past murder looms, even as a second member of the household meets death. Is our heroine next? Add a dark hero, a motherless five-year-old, a self-professed witch, a couple of gay family connections, and a murderer or two, and, hopefully, we have all the ingredients of a classic Gothic novel.  

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Added June 25, 2013:

Yesterday, my daughter copied a photo to me that had been posted by the Portland Film Festival, asking if anyone could identify the people in the photo. She recognized it instantly, as she grew up with a large framed copy of the photo hanging on the wall of our house. It's an MGM studio portrait of its stars at the height of its glory, believed to be taken close to the end of WWII. I laboriously hand-copied the photo caption from our photo, typed it up, and posted it to the Film Festival. I'm enlarging the photo here so you can make your own identifications. (Hint: the older you are, the better.) Below the photo is my newly typed caption.

 The MGM caption is reproduced exactly as found, pasted beneath the famous photo:


First row: Capt. James Stewart (on leave), Margaret Sullivan, Lucille Ball, Hedy Lamarr, Katherine Hepburn, Louis B. Mayer, Greer Garson, Irene Dunne, Susan Peters, Ginny Simms, Lionel Barrymore. Second row: Harry James (Betty Grable’s new husband), Brian Donlevy, Red Skelton, Mickey Rooney, William Powell, Wallace Beery, Spencer Tracy, Walter Pidgeon (with beard for Madame Curie role), Robert Taylor (with G.I. haircut for real life Navy role), Pierre Aumont, Lewis Stone, Gene Kelly, Jackie Jenkins. Third row: Tommy Dorsey, George Murphy, Jean Rogers, James Craig, Donna Reed, Van Johnson, Fay Bainter, Marsha Hunt, Ruth Hussey, Marjorie Main, Robert Benchley. Fourth row: Dame May Whitty (in costume for White Cliffs), Reginald Owen, Keenan Wynn, Diana Lewis (Bill Powell’s wife), Marilyn Maxwell, Esther Williams, Ann Richards, Martha Linden, Lee Bowman, Richard Carlson, Mary Astor.  Fifth row:  Blanche Ring, Sara Haden, Fay Holden, Bert Lahr, Frances Gifford, June Allyson, Richard Whorf, Frances Rafferty, Spring Byington, Connie Gilchrist, Gladys Cooper. Sixth row: Ben Blue, Chill Wills (in uniform for See Here, Private Hargrove), Keye Luke, Barry Nelson, Pfc. Desi Arnaz, Henry O’Neill, Bob Crosby, Rags Ragland.

Absent from this gilded gathering on camp tours or other assignments, were Lana Turner, Judy Garland, Charles Laughton, Laraine Day, Robert Young, Ann Sothern, Margaret O’Brien, Hubert Marshall and Robert Walker. In the armed forces are: Clark Gable, Robert Montgomery, Melvyn Douglas, Lew Ayres
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Thanks for stopping by.


For fuller descriptions and links to the above books, please see Blair's Books 


Sunday, June 9, 2013

Thoughts on Star Trek

Clouds & diagonal sunlight looming over Orlando -
taken through the windshield by Grace using daughter's smart phone

 Thoughts on Star Trek

I saw Star Trek—Into Darkness last week, and it brought back a whole host of memories, from the hope that Gene Roddenberry is able to look down and see what has happened to his grand idea to the fun of seeing a young Chris Pine as "Prince Charming" in The Princess Diaries 2.

[Grace note: Whoever cast Ann Hathaway and Chris Pine in The Princess Diaries films must have had a true gift for spotting talent.]
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A long, long time ago, my husband, who never missed the important bits in the morning paper, packed up his wife and two sons—my daughter at 2 or 3 was considered too young—and drove us from our suburb in Branford (CT) to a college on the far side of New Haven. It was a miserable, rainy night and only about twenty people showed up to hear a man talk about his dream of creating a movie from a defunct television series. We could only hope our boys were old enough to remember, because we were believers, back before "Trekkie" became a household word.

We wanted to hear Gene Roddenberry because we admired not only his television series but his vision. Because he had put a black female and a Russian on the bridge of a starship when our country was still struggling with civil rights and trapped in the midst of the Cold War. We also laughed at the Tribbles, cried over the death of Jim Kirk's love in the 1920s, appreciated the Roman touch with the Romulans, went wide-eyed over Klingons, and were forever captured by the Enterprise family, its humanity, its courage, and its willingness to sacrifice for each other and for those left behind on earth. When we watched with our children, we knew they were learning valuable life lessons.

So we mourned Star Trek's demise. And drove through a rain storm to hear Gene Roddenberry speak. He must have been traveling the college circuit at the time, attempting to drum up interest in making a Star Trek feature film. Enough interest to convince investors that people would pay to see it. Enough people to make a profit.

The few of us at the college In New Haven that night couldn't have been much encouragement, but things must have gone better elsewhere, because in 1979 Star Trek - The Motion Picture made its debut. With the "villain" turning out to be our own Voyager explorer, refashioned by an alien race.

And, suddenly, Star Trek movies were off and running (my personal favorite, the one about the whales). They survived so well, they eventually ran right into the transformation from William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy to the capable hands of Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto. (And, bless him, Leonard Nimoy as occasional Greek oracle.) Has the most recent film gone too action-movie? Perhaps, but they've done it so well, few would quibble. And they've managed to keep a lot of the heart.

So, you guessed it - unless your heart is weak—this movie tops all others for nail-biting situations!—don't miss Star Trek - Into Darkness. My daughter might not have had a chance to meet Gene Roddenberry—and, yes, we made sure the boys met him personally—, but here is her Facebook post after viewing Into Darkness:


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Update to the Pantser/Plotter debate:

A few days ago I had just finished enjoying the Kindle version of Jo Beverley's The Demon's Mistress, when I found the following Author's Note - the quote begins at Sentence 2:

"Sometimes stories come to me with dramatic opening scenes, and this is one. I had no idea why this disheveled, gorgeous young man wanted to kill himself, and no idea why an elegant lady was determined to stop him, but I needed to know. In such situations, the only way to find out is to write on, and so I did."

Thank you, thank you, Jo Beverley, for confirming the validity of my oft-repeated statement: "I can hardly wait to get to the computer each morning to find out what is going to happen."  

Thanks for stopping by. 


Next Mosaic Moments: June 22 . . . or maybe a wee bit later
Likely topic: Blair's Historical Romances
Next writing series: editing examples

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Blair's Book List

It seemed time to update my book inventory over the Memorial Day weekend and, frankly, the number of additions surprised me. I would have sworn I was mostly uploading backlist to indie pub, but I guess I've sneaked in a few new ones here and there. For this blog series, I thought it might be fun to go all the way back to the beginning and see if I could challenge myself to come up with fresh log-lines without looking at the originals. Unlikely, but I'm going to try. With emphasis on cryptic, humorous, intriguing, atypical . . .

LATER: I actually did it, which surprised me as some of these books go back more than a decade. 

Blair's Traditional Regencies

A waif who won't talk until challenged by a Regency version of a vet with PTSD. (The closest I've come to writing soap opera.)

A young heiress hires a solicitor to find her a husband and gets much more than she bargained for, including a somewhat hilarious political election.

Two love stories for the price of one. A duke and a war widow, plus the unlikely combination of the duke's daughter and widow's brother. And mustn't forget the secret baby!

Not your classic duke marrying down but an engineer marrying up. Though he finds it difficult to conduct any kind of romance around a series of kooky characters, not to mention two sickrooms and possible murder. Even if he, the lowly engineer, does hold Power of Attorney for an earl. (My editor described this as her first "Regency Mystery.")

Trials, tribulations, terror, kidnapping, misunderstandings. The heroic sacrifice of young man to rescue a girl from the Topkapi harem. And the long recovery from the drama that singes their youth. Plus Lord Elgin and his marbles.

This one gets a special place. Originally published under a contrived name I won't mention here because Signet's marketing department felt that "courtesan" wouldn't play in the "heartland." It did, however, receive the Best Regency of the Year award from Romantic Times magazine and was nominated for a RITA. After getting my rights back, I re-published it under its original title. The setting includes a number of different places in England, including Oxford, Bath, and Stonehenge.

Log line: 
The very proper headmistress of a girls' academy in Boston travels to England shortly after the War of 1812 to settle the estate of her grandmother, never dreaming that grandma was a well-known courtesan. In the course of settling her grandmother's many requests, she discovers that not all Brits are the enemy.

Two very young people make a marriage of convenience for which the bride does most of the suffering. The extremes she goes to to capture her husband's attention come close to killing her.

My paen to the engineers who built England's incredible waterways and to the volunteers who restored the system for modern boating enjoyment.

The daughter of the architect/engineer of the Kennet & Avon canal sets her sights far above her - all the way to a young marquess she first meets at age twelve.

A young lady, in hiding after humiliating herself at a dance, meets a young gentleman trying to recover from years of war. Fortunately, there's mistletoe at hand. (A Christmas novella)

A young lady in the midst of a glorious Season suffers one unhappy surprise after the other until, at long last, she is able to cope with her sorrow and offer the husband in her cold marriage of convenience one last surprise. (A Christmas novella)

Blair's Free Book Schedule on Amazon Kindle

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

Thanks for stopping by.