Grace's Mosaic Moments

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Fort Wilderness

My husband and I took our children to DisneyWorld the year it opened, and I recall driving by the entrance to Fort Wilderness, Disney's camping area, when it was little more than a path off a back road that ran between the hotels at Lake Buena Vista and the Magic Kingdom. But in all these many years since, even after moving to Orlando, I'd never actually seen Fort Wilderness. Until this month.

My visiting niece, whom we hadn't seen in years, spent several days at the University of Central Florida and wanted to get together when her work there was done. (She works for a company based in D.C. that educates people, particularly young people, on the evils of smoking.) The only problem - for the first time ever her cousin Susie and family were spending that particular weekend at Fort Wilderness. Oops.

So there was I, who hates driving on I-4, fighting my way past downtown Orlando, Sea World, Universal, I-Drive, and all the traffic that goes with four Disney theme parks, plus water parks, plus Downtown Disney, etc., etc. - quickly discovering that the road to Fort Wilderness has grown to something like eight lanes barricaded by toll booths, expecting parking fees. Aargh!

Except . . . when I said we were visitors to Fort Wilderness, we were waved through, after being told to "go right," requiring an interesting maneuver across at least three lanes of traffic.  Fortunately, most of the drivers were as bewildered as I was, so no problem. 

I know there are statistics somewhere on how many "not acres but square miles" Disney bought when it decided to set up shop in Orlando, but let's agree it's a lot. And all of it heavily landscaped with trees so no matter where you drive, you are surrounded by "wilderness" right up until the moment you arrive at the vast parking lot of the theme park you had in mind. (Apologies to Orlando residents, who know all this, but my blog has readers around the world.)

The Fort Wilderness campground, however, is one vast forest. The natural pine and live oak forest was tweaked just enough to make campsites, each one with trees and bushes separating it from the next site. And it's huge. Almost all families rent golf carts during their stay there, so they can move easily from campsite to pool to lakefront to restaurant, hayrides, and other on-site attractions. There is also a dock at the lake, providing boat service which transports guests from the campsite to the theme parks and/or the many stores and restaurants in Downtown Disney.

My niece and I spent only an afternoon and evening there, but it was a unique experience. I was so busy looking around - and hanging on while my daughter drove a golf cart like she was doing the Daytona 500 - that I didn't take a single photo. The ones below I stole off Susie's Facebook page. 

Cousins - frankly, no one had noticed the resemblance until this photo

 A couple of days before the grandgirls left for Fort Wilderness, one of them confided, "There are going to be boys there." (Sons of the family who arranged the trip.)

"Hardshell" camping - they have tent sites as well
Fortunately, our family was warned that campers at Fort Wilderness decorate for all the holidays. We drove up and down in the golf cart, amazed by the inventiveness of the decorations - none, however, quite as clever as the people who hadn't gotten the message and rose to the occasion by outlining a large Mickey Mouse head on the pavement - with pine cones! (Sorry, no photo.)

The real estate broker "gone fishin'" again (near the pool area)

Yes, Virginia, there will be boys (pool area)

Making s'mores with Daddy
Our next-to-the-last activity of the day - a Hayride

And for a grand finale, everyone gathers at the lake to watch the fireworks at the Magic Kingdom
The photo above is definitely "telephoto" - the fireworks were WAY across the lake, very colorful but the "booms" were mere thuds.

All in all, a delightful experience for a family of non-campers. And, oh yes, a farewell photo before my niece and I climbed into my car and headed back to reality of I-4, leaving the "campers" to a second night in the "wilderness."

~ * ~

 Christmas at Halloween! Ordinarily I'd be grumbling about rushing the season, but below is a photo of Girl Scout Troop 1668 singing their "cookie" song to the tune of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" plus several blatantly Christmasy songs in front of the Halloween decorations at Florida Square Mall. The occasion: auditions for Orlando's Christmas festivities at Lake Eola. Believe me, the girls are a "shoo-in." Truly excellent. Cassidy was a featured soloist, Mom directing.

Thanks for stopping by,


Next week: Very likely, Spain

For a look at Blair's books, click here.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Portugal, Spain, & Priceless Quote

I ran into a great quote this week - I sat there, Kindle in hand, and howled. (Of course the males among us may not find it as funny.) From A Study in Silk by Emma Jane Holloway - the young heroine is supposedly Sherlock Holme's niece. Speaking, her Holmes grandmother, mother of Sherlock:

"Finding a proper husband is rather like selecting a hound. They all have more bark than bite, my girl. One day you'll look across the breakfast table and realize the only option left is obedience training."

~ * ~


A few years ago I traveled to Portugal and Spain with my daughter-in-law and her sister. The photos are scanned from Kodak moments as I resisted giving up my Nikon for digital until it simply stopped functioning one day. Nonetheless, the trip was somewhat off the customary European tourist routes, and I hope some of you will find the photos of interest.

After our all-night flight from the U.S., we were dead tired but decided we should take advantage of our only free time in Lisbon. So we walked from our hotel to the Lisbon zoo, a delightfully large and shady place where we seemed to be the only tourists, something that's always fun. (People stared at us as if we were part of the exhibit.)

The flowers in Lisbon looked remarkably familiar to Floridians.

Cable car ride above the zoo
Zebras as seen from cable car
Fort on the Tagus River
If my memory doesn't fail me, this is the fort where Portugal's great explorers had to bring the treasure they found in the New World. (That's right, the government got it. Presumably the explorers were amply rewarded, however.)

Cannons inside the fort

The cloister of Geronimos monastery

The cloister's Gothic ceiling

These horsemen at the cloisters were translated as "the band," but to me they were Lisbon's version of the Horse Guards

We had lunch at the harbor in Cascais

The next day we were off to see the more of Portugal, starting with the walled city of Obidos, one of the very few where the entire ancient city wall is still standing.

Entrance to Obidos, complete with portcullis

In spite of the narrow streets, cars actually drive here - 'Ware, walkers!

A look back at Obidos from the bus - and yes, it has a genuine wall-walk

On to Our Lady of Fátima, one of the most visited shrines in the world

Below are modern-day versions of the boats Wellington used to cross the Douro River at Oporto and surprise the French, who were expecting him on the other side of town. (1809, during the Peninsular War against Napoleon.) The boats, once used to haul grapes to the wineries, are now mostly for pleasure. But the creation of "port" continues, unabated.

~ * ~

Addendum for BeauMonde members who want to see a "ha-ha":

Ha-ha at Laycock Abbey

Side view of ha-ha at the Royal Crescent, Bath

Thanks for stopping by,


Next week: Spain . . . or maybe Fort Wilderness . . . or ? 

For a look at Blair's books, click here. 


Sunday, October 13, 2013

Questions Fiction Writers Should Ask Themselves

Sunrise en route to Miami  - not bad for thru the windshield of a moving car

Daughter Susie  - photographer on both photos above - crowing on Facebook about the lowest temperature in Orlando since May, but take a good look at the odometer on her Honda SUV!

~ * ~

Grace Note:  I had an interesting experience last weekend at Moonlight & Magnolias, a conference presented by the Georgia Romance Writers. Five minutes before my 2-hour workshop - TOTAL BLACKOUT. When the hotel's generators kicked in, we had Exit lights, hall lights & an elevator no one quite trusted. (A friend told me she refused to chance it to get from the 10th floor down to my workshop in the ballroom.) Waiters put a slender taper in the center of each round table, which seated eight, and one on the podium. I laughed and said, "Anyone have a flashlight?" I sat near the edge of the stage and went through 11 of 13 pages of my workshop before the lights were finally restored over an hour later. (We skipped the "writing" bits as no one could see well enough to write. Sigh.) Anyway, it was an adventure. Glad I hadn't planned a power point presentation.

(The final installment in my latest Editing series)

Before you edit, whether it's chapter by chapter, or the whole thing at once, there are some questions you should ask yourself. Keep them in mind as you read all those precious bon mots you wrote. Should they go or stay? Do they need amplification or a "Sayonara, Baby"? 

Note: Other than saving the conference workshop questions for last, most of the following were scribbled down some time ago, and I have typed them up with no effort to organize them into any particular order.

1.  Have you identified your characters as each appears "on stage"? Or have you given your readers nothing more than first names and not so much as a hint of who they are, what they do, or why you bothered to put them in your book?

2.  Have you ignored those names briefly mentioned on page one, proceeding with "he, she, him, her, they, them" until the reader is ready to scream? Not only are readers unable to identify who you mean as they haven't had time to absorb the hero's or heroine's names, but they have no idea if you're referring to the main characters, secondary characters, or the housemaid who stumbled into the room to light a fire. Using people's names not only makes them real to the reader, it avoids massive confusion in the manuscript.

3.  Did you start off your book with the Point of View of a secondary character?   Not a good idea. Readers expect the initial POV to be that of the Hero or the Heroine. Or the Villain, if that's the genre you're writing.

4.  Did you make your secondary characters so interesting you detracted from the impact of your Hero and Heroine?  (I'm amazed at the number of times I've seen this particular error.) In a nutshell - don't do it!

5.  Have you added "color" to your descriptions? For Characters,  move beyond hair and eye color to a more in-depth description, including hints of personality if possible. (Admittedly, this is harder to do in an era where Author POV is frowned upon, but find a way to get it in there somehow.)  For Setting - don't have your characters speaking in front of a blank canvas. Let your readers see through their eyes where they are - private home, condo, mansion, big business, small shop, city, country, cruise, US, Europe, Asia, etc. Readers will be so much more comfortable if they can not only picture the characters but see them against a well-drawn background.

6.  Are you writing in Present Tense - quite common in Young Adult & New Adult these days?  If so, stick to it. Don't wander back into Past Tense.

7.  Have you developed the romance over a period of time? It's a real disappointment to most readers when the Hero and Heroine have just met and suddenly they're having all sorts of wild emotional thoughts about each other. A good romance, the ones readers savor, develop the romance over many chapters, with the protagonists' feelings for each other (often hostile at the beginning) gradually changing from toleration to interest (or possibly one-sided interest, frustrated interest, etc.) before finally metamorphosing into something we can all agree is a romantic relationship (whether sex is involved or not).

8.  Have you added Narrative and Action to your Dialogue scenes?  Yes, clever dialogue can add color and move your story forward, but readers also want to know what the characters looked like when they spoke, their inner (silent) reactions to what the other person said, and what they were doing while they spoke.  Action and Introspection, as well as clear "tags" are needed in Dialogue. Note:  if three or more characters are "on scene," you must add a tag every time. Don't leave readers frowning at the page, scratching their heads.

9.  Did you take enough time to emphasize important points?  For example, I've seen manuscripts which said something like, "Jack fell down the stairs," and then went on to something entirely different, leaving readers to wonder how Jack fell. Was he hurt? How is the story affected by Jack's fall? If an "event" happens in your manuscript, make sure readers can not only see it but understand it and feel its impact.

10.  Did you dump the whole backstory in the first few pages, boring your readers to tears? By now I think almost all authors know they shouldn't do this, that backstory needs to be inserted a bit at a time, enough to identify our characters, give readers an idea of who these people are, etc., but definitely not loaded all at once into the beginning of a book.

11.  Did you heed all those warnings about backstory and were afraid to put in any backstory at all?  Believe me, this is worse than dumping it all at once. I don't know how many manuscripts I've read where the characters were simply miraculously there on the page - no identification, no hints given why their conversation, action, or thoughts might be of interest, no indication the book is a romance, suspense, mystery, or whatever. Again, talking heads against a blank background.  This is wall-banger stuff. The reader doesn't know who these people are, why he/she should bother to read about them. Frankly, if the plot/conflict/characters are that confusing, this one's for the Goodwill pile.

12.  Are you writing a series and started your second book as if every reader read the first book just yesterday and remembers who all the characters are, all the details of the setting, plot, conflict, etc., so naturally you don't have to repeat yourself?  Allow me to tell you: 1) you want to expand your readership to those who never saw the first book; 2) even if every person did read your first book, they're not going to remember it! Everything you want readers to know about your characters, about the setting, about past events, must be in the pages of the new book. The characters must be identified all over again, the places where they live and work, and all past events relevant to the current plot. [The same advice applies to every book in a series, whether it's No. 2 or 22.]

13.  Is there enough Conflict to carry the story? Unless you're writing the simplest Category romance (Harlequin/Silhouette's shorter books, for example), Conflict has to be ramped up. Conflict is not bickering between the Hero and Heroine. It's a genuine, serious problem, like the enmity between the Montagues and Capulets. Both External and Internal Conflict are important. External Conflicts are the outside influences on the Hero and Heroine: Parents, Job, Bad Guys, Illness, a Bomb, etc. Internal Conflicts are the Hero's and Heroine's private thoughts when agonizing about these problems and about their relationship with each other.  For a good story, you need to have both strong External and Internal Conflict.

14.  Are you making an effort to use colorful or dramatic words, particularly when making important points? Or have you allowed yourself to stick to workaday words of one syllable and a string of clichés? Did you accept your first draft, or did you go back and work on that sentence, paragraph, page until it shines with color, emotion, action, and depth?

15.  Have you added interesting secondary characters - without allowing them to overshadow your main characters? Secondary characters can add an enormous amount to a story - the heroine's BFF, the hero's best buddy, wise Gramma or Grampa, or those marvelous weird ones à la Janet Evanovich. And then there are the endless supply of the really nasty, jealous, mad, or just plain mean. Secondary characters add sparkle, contrast, a chance for comic dialogue - or tragedy. Just keep them in their place!

16.  Do you have so many secondary characters that the Hero and Heroine are eclipsed? Don't let those colorful secondary characters seize the bit and run with your story. They are there to support your h/h, not overshadow them.

17.  Have you written 50 words to describe something when 20 words would draw a clearer picture? I've frequently seen writing where the author seemed to think that throwing erudite words or involved sentence structure into a paragraph made it sound more literary. Well, maybe it did. It was also less intelligible. In fact, in fiction it's downright disconcerting to see a simple thought or action, requiring ten words at most, twisted and tortured into twenty or thirty words which totally obscure what the author wants to convey. Find colorful words, active verbs. "Show" don't "tell, keep it simple. Draw a clear picture. Less is more. Whichever phrase works for you, hold it tight as a reminder not to drown your good intentions in a sea of unnecessary words.

18.  Is your plot an unintentional mystery, perhaps the thoughts and feelings of the main characters as well? Did you put all those important details of who, what, where, when, and why in your Synopsis and forget that readers never see a synopsis? Or did you simply live with your characters in your head for so long you forgot readers don't know Word One about them. Cardinal rule:  Everything you want readers to know must be in the pages of the manuscript.

19.  Have you ignored Motive?  It's amazing what you can have your characters get away with as long as you explain why they're doing it. Abberant behavior?  Give a reason - readers will likely forgive them. Without an explanation? Forgetabout it.  Goodwill box by page 20.

20.  Does every scene move the story forward?  There's nothing like a bunch of people sitting around, just chitchatting, to slow a book to zero. Do not write Dialogue for the sake of writing dialogue! Whether Dialogue, Narration, Action, or Introspection, every scene must move the story forward.

21. Have you made every effort to use proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation? Yes, it counts. Why should a publisher pay an editor and copy editor to "fix" your mistakes when they can get a book just as good from someone who knows the rules?

22. Did you check your facts? Did you do enough research that readers won't be tossing your book at the wall because you got the facts wrong for your hero's or heroine's profession? Or maybe you allowed a bastard or an adopted daughter (oh horrors!) to inherit a British title. Or did put your Georgian heroine in a simple Regency round gown? Don't shoot yourself in the foot by ignoring necessary research. 

Here are the six major questions I used to close my workshop in Atlanta:

1.  Have you created interesting characters your readers will want to root for?

2.  Have you made their motivations clear - why your characters do what they do?

3.  Have you amped up the Conflict, putting roadblocks in the path of Happily Ever After?

4.  Have you written clever, but relevant dialogue?

5.  Have you fleshed out your story with clear but colorful narration?

6.  Have you self-edited more than once? Have you proofread until you're sick of the whole blasted manuscript?

If so, you're probably ready to submit.  Go ahead, take the plunge.

Thanks for stopping by.


For a look at all Blair's books, covers & blurbs, please see Blair's Website

For a brochure for Grace's editing service, please click here.