Grace's Mosaic Moments

Saturday, December 28, 2013


Grace Note Update:  Due to my spending New Year's in the hospital, World Building, Part 2, will not be posted until Sunday, January 12.

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In keeping with my practice of adding a bit of color to each blog (and for which I thank my daughter's Facebook page for most of the photos), below is what may be a "first."

Most people have attended a house closing at one time or another - formal atmosphere, conference table, big chairs, lots of paperwork, lots of signatures, etc. Well, on our way to the steam train in Tavares last week (mom, dad, three children & two grandmothers), we took a short detour to a title company, where we pulled up, and a young man ran out with paperwork which was completed on the hood of the SUV. Elapsed time: 5-7 minutes. (Guess that's what happens when you buy so many houses it becomes routine.)


ATTENTION, all authors: World-Building is for everyone!
This week I finished the first draft of The Sorcerer's Bride, Book 2 in the Futuristic Paranormal series, Blue Moon Rising. So it seemed a good time to blog about the intricacies of World Building. But before we get down to what I had to do for Blue Moon, let's talk about the kind of world-building all authors must do, even if they aren't writing a series or setting a book in an unknown world in some future time.

SETTING. Anyone who has ever entered a fiction contest has probably been scored on this category. And, believe me, it's not an also-ran. What would Downton Abbey be without its exotic setting? And every successful author of that oh-so-popular genre, Regency Historical, knows how much study is involved to get that setting right. Or let's say your setting is Medieval. Do you know your Book of Hours, that marriage must be on the church steps, not inside? Have you read about the persecution of women preached by men like St. Bernard? Do you understand the differences between the Medieval twelfth century and the Renaissance of the fourteenth century? The changes in culture, fashion, and politics, the enormous influence of religion? If you want to do it right, the challenges are many.

Whether your setting is the American Old West, the Scottish Highlands, the Old South, the streets of New York, Victorian London, or a small New England town, you need to incorporate a proper feel for the location into your novel. Your story won't come alive without all those little details about the people who live, love, and work in the place you chose for your setting.

Another example:  What would your classic "Cozy Mystery " be without details on all those small-town shops where the intrepid heroines manage a business and stick their noses into murder at the same time? Plus all those recipes, craft ideas, etc.,  that are featured in so many of them. For these books, setting is an integral part of the genre.

A personal example:  Even the simplest novel requires a well-described setting. In one of my first published books, a 50,000-word Precious Gem for Kensington, Cape Cod, Massachusetts, is as much a character as my beleaguered lovers. (Now available as an e-book under the title Love At Your Own Risk)

Basically, every book needs "color." Just as our characters need to wear clothes, our books need to be dressed up with those details that proclaim: this author really knows the place he/she is writing about. For contemporary settings, if all else fails, try Google Earth and a street map. (I found these an enormous help when I couldn't get to Lyon, France, to take a good look at Interpol's headquarters.) And I have no idea how I'd have managed to contrive all my English settings without the maps and guidebooks I picked up on my many visits. 

But simple geography - knowing your way around - is not enough. You must create households (or lack thereof) that fit your characters lives. Put those dwelling places in the proper setting, which could be anything from an empty endless plain to a mountain village, a farming town, or a sophisticated city. Then you need to build layers on those initial bare facts, keeping at it until you can understand your characters' placement in their world. After that comes the really hard part - you have to describe that world so your readers can see what you see. In summary, expand your world from geography and bricks and mortar into jobs, life-styles, the everyday struggles, the humor, the dangers, whatever makes your world tick.

Sometimes the research necessary to build our worlds can be very demanding, so much so that many authors stick to one historical period. I still recall the staggering amount of research I did when I decided to do a twelfth century Medieval for Young Adults. After writing Regency for many years, I found myself challenged by a whole new universe. Different customs, different clothing, different religion, different wars, sports, games, and dances. Fortunately, I seem to have gotten it right, as it continues to be my best-selling book in England - a tough audience! (The Captive Heiress, suitable for age 12 to adult.)

Okay, I have to admit I think authors who create settings from the contemporary world around them have the easiest task. (At least, if they are observant.) Next come those who build their worlds from carefully recorded history. Third are those who build fantasy worlds from what already exists (such as those who write Contemporary Paranormal or Urban Fantasy). And then there are authors who must create worlds from scratch - worlds out of time and context, alien worlds with cultures far removed from what we know. I like to think my Blue Moon series comes somewhere between the last two - a future culture far, far away, but one that hasn't become detached from its roots. 

In a nutshell: the most successful authors create a detailed world around their characters in every book they write. (If they're fortunate enough to be writing a series, then they simply expand that same world with each new book.)  

Best advice: If you've been neglecting that all important thing called "Setting," adjust your thinking. Show your shining story against a backdrop it deserves.

Next week, a look at why I had to give up my time-honored practice of "winging it" (well, at least to some extent) when I set out to write a three-book series set in a time and place where everything had to be created from the imagination.

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What Grace is reading this week: 

I just happened to hit Laura Resnik's Christmas and New Year's paranormal mysteries at the exact right time of the year. Although I recommend her entire series, Polterheist and The Misfortune Cookie are not to be missed. (You may never eat a fortune cookie again.)

And then I took an actual paperback off my shelf, one of my all-time favorites, First Lady by Susan Elizabeth Philips. A real treat, even the third time around (though I missed the ease of reading on my Kindle).

Thanks for stopping by.


Next week:  The enormous amount of work involved in creating a setting on a planet (or four or five) far, far away.

To view Grace's books as Blair Bancroft, click here.

To ask for a brochure for Edits by Best Foot Forward, click here.


Saturday, December 21, 2013


Before I get to a true story dating back to World War II, here's a pic of the Tavares Steam Train. Seven of us took their "Santa Ride" this week, and I must say they do it well. Not only Santa and Mrs. Claus, but singing elves, a chorus of white-coated singing chefs, plus cocoa, cookies, and a ride past Lake Dora and lovely decorations on both sides of the tracks.  There is also an open wooden car with benches, plus a genuine caboose. A truly fun experience. (And a voucher for all of us for a free ride when the train isn't confined to a half-mile of track, due to repairs!)

Riley, a bit reluctant to give Santa a hug (with her "other" gramma looking on)
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A World War II Christmas Story

My husband loved to tell this tale - I even helped him write it up for a religious magazine a quarter century ago. He is no longer with us, but this is such a nice story, I'd like to keep it alive.

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My husband was fortunate in his war experiences. Refusing officer training since all new officers were being sent to the Pacific and he wanted to see Europe, he ended up as the Staff Sergeant for the Colonel in charge of an Ordnance battalion, stationed near Bath, England (where he learned "change ringing"). The battalion's primary duty was preparing vehicles, especially tanks, for what would be the Normandy invasion. After the invasion, his battalion tagged along, keeping everything in good repair. 

On Christmas Eve they were bivouacked near a nameless French village. (The Germans had removed all mileage and town signs.) My husband and a friend decided to walk into town, and on the way they passed a small Catholic church. Since my husband was interested in both European architecture and organs, they tried the door, found it open, and went inside. And, lo and behold, there was an ancient pump organ. My husband immediately tried it but found it lifeless. (He was one of those gifted people who could play by ear.)

The two soldiers continued their walk and were invited into a French home and fed supper. While there, they attempted to ask about the organ, but the language barrier was total. On their way back to base, they entered the church once again, took the organ apart, laying each piece along the front benches of the church. They then spent the night repairing and putting it back together. (And perhaps not surprisingly considering they were in Ordnance, it worked.)

The only problem, no one came near them that entire time. They never found out the name of the village, never knew if the villagers discovered the organ was usable again. My husband always hoped, of course, that people in that French village considered it "the Christmas Eve miracle of the restoration of the organ."  

My husband was Elliott H. Kone, who later founded the Yale Audio-Visual Center and the Yale Guild of Carillioneurs. He was Jewish.

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For those who missed this really unusual no-bake treat the last time I posted it:


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've found colored mini-marshmallows is in the baking section of a Super Wal-mart.

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A Very Merry Christmas to my Christian readers
A Most Sincere Happy Holidays to those of other faiths
And may 2014 be kind to us all. 
Thanks for stopping by.


Saturday, December 14, 2013


"Singing Trees" - The Creation, December 2013
One doesn't have to take the story of The Creation literally in order to enjoy the striking symbolism of the annual Singing Trees performance at First Baptist Orlando. (Long-time readers of Grace's Mosaic Moments may recall the hair-raising tale recounted in my first two blogs, detailing my attempt to drive my three grandchildren home from the Singing Trees performance of Christmas 2010!) This year's performance, told in song and dance, and with the aid of some very large animals and a sinuous snake, was a true spectacle. And the music, as always, was glorious. [Orlando area residents - consider putting it on your holiday schedule for next year.]

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I was going to begin my World Building series this week, but a book I just read sent me into shock mode and a brief postponement of my plans. As we all know, it's close to impossible to publish a book without an error or three. Typos no one noticed, a missing word here or there. It's expected. Even the best old-time print publishers get caught by this publishing inevitability. But a book that looks like no one bothered to check it, let alone fix it? Now that's just downright unacceptable. I don't care whether you're a best-selling multi-published author or some high school student on his/her first publishing venture, there is no excuse for not presenting a well-polished book. (Exception: Authors writing for New York print publishers and royalty-paying e-publishers. They should turn in a clean, proof-read manuscript, but after that the publisher becomes responsible.) My words today are primarily addressed to those who are doing their own publishing.

Some suggestions:

Have a critique group read your book, making note of copy edits as well as story.
Have friends read your book - not as sycophants but as careful critics.
Have colleagues read it - again, with care, not a quick once-over. 
Have Mom, Dad, Aunt Susie. read it. (Well, one can always hope.)
Hire a professional editor and/or copy editor.

One of the above should work for you. Or, if you're like me, you simply edit and proof your own work until you truly believe it's as close to flawless as it's going to get.

And yet . . . just this week a friend e-mailed me about a couple of errors in my naughty novella, Belle. And yes, they were critical errors - the wrong name for the hero in one place and an incorrect pronoun that rendered a sentence senseless. I immediately found and fixed them and uploaded the corrected version to Amazon. (Since Belle is having some difficulty making it to B&N via Smashwords, it's the corrected version that will finally appear there.) Simply put, I make a real effort to present the nuts and bolts of my work with as much quality as I hope went into the writing. 

And I expect others to do the same.

Alas, this week I happily downloaded the latest in a series of books I have enjoyed over the past few years, only to discover the author seems to have skipped the proof-reading phase of this one. Because I do not want to make this personal, I will avoid specific examples, but here is what I found:

1.  Soundalike words used in place of the proper word. Quite a few of them.

2.  A totally incorrect soundalike word used over and over again, clearly indicating the author did not know the difference between the two.

3. Other incorrect words which might have been either author misconception or simply typos.

4.  Non sequiturs - words in the middle of a sentence that made no sense - probably meant for deletion but which never made it.

5.  In one place, an entire paragraph was displaced, completely mangling the end of a chapter.


It's possible some bad things may have been happening in the author's life when editing time came along. But the impression a reader gets is that the author has written so many successful indie-published books, she no longer has respect for her readers. "Just write it and upload it. Why bother to look it over?" That's the message I got. To say I was disappointed is putting it mildly. I just couldn't empathize with the characters as I had in the past.

The moral of this tale is one I'm sure you don't have to be told: For the sake of your book, for the sake of your readers, for the sake of pride in your accomplishment(s), EDIT THE BLASTED BOOK! 

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Hmmm, that's two rants, almost back to back. I promise to get to World Building next time round - though that will likely be after Christmas.

Thanks for stopping by,


Tuesday, Dec. 17: For Nook owners, who might have been wondering if Belle was ever going to make it to Barnes and Noble, I'm happy to announce it is finally there. Here is the link:  Belle

For Blair's website with book covers & blurbs, click here

For Grace's editing service, click here


Saturday, December 7, 2013

Spain & Portugal 4

Before we finish off our trip to the Iberian Peninsula, here is a recipe which deserves to be passed along. Every year I put half a pound of Jimmy Dean sausage into my turkey stuffing for Thanksgiving and freeze the rest for cassoulet. Cassoulet might be called France's downhome recipe for everyday eating with delight. I've had this particular recipe for more years than I care to remember, and its piquant taste never fails. I've also added a few of my "extras" to an addendum at the end. 


½ lb. bulk pork sausage
1 small onion, sliced (½ cup)
1 clove garlic, minced
½ lb. (1½ cups) cooked ham, cubed
2 tablespoons snipped parsley
1 bay leaf
2 15-oz. cans navy beans
¼ cup dry white wine
Dash ground cloves [don't overdo it!]

In skillet, cook sausage [breaking it into small pieces], onion, and garlic till meat is lightly browned and vegetables are tender; drain off excess fat. Add ham, parsley, and bay leaf; mix well. Stir in undrained beans, wine, and cloves. Pour into 1½-qt casserole.* Bake, covered, in 325° oven for 45 minutes. Uncover and bake for 40 to 45 minutes more, stirring occasionally. Remove bay leaf. Serve in bowls. Makes 6 servings.

*I use a 2-2½-qt casserole.
I also add 4 or 5 whole green peppercorns and fresh garden herbs.
If desired, a drained can of chick peas may be substituted for one of the cans of beans. (Add a bit more wine.)
For the ham, I usually get a single slice of Black Forest ham, a half-inch thick, at the Publix Deli.

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And now to finish off the travels of Tina, Nicki, and Grace through the Iberian Peninsula . . .

We crossed the border back into Portugal at its southern coast. Below, a look at the cliffs at Sagres.

We arrived at Villamouro, a coastal resort full of fancy hotels, beaches, boutiques, restaurants, and expensive boats in a U-shaped harbor.

The beach in front of our hotel

Our hotel's indoor pools

We decided to take a boat trip to see something called "the grottoes." One of our party took one look at the boat, started humming the theme from Gilligan's Island, and walked back down the dock. The rest of us decided it wasn't the Minnow and stayed on board. Ours is the one with brown stripe toward the back of the line-up below, a power boat, not sail.

A portion of the harbor - Villamouro, Portugal

Perched on a clifftop

Some people live really well, but swimming - not so much. Even if a small sand beach could be found, the climb down & back up would be daunting. One presumes that's a pool at the front of this mansion. The view, however, must be spectacular.

After many minutes of spectacular cliffs, an occasional town, and numerous resorts and private residences, we arrived at "the grottoes," where our boat plunged through humungous waves in order for us to get a good look at what we'd paid to see. Thoughts of S. S. Minnow chased through our heads. It seemed only splinters would be left if we got any closer.

One of several "grottoes"

Grotto close-up - note pass-thru to sandy beach

When we returned to Villamouro harbor at dusk, a fisherman had just laid out his catch for the day, a small shark.


And, finally, as our group headed back toward Lisbon and our flight home, we got to see cork trees. They can only be harvested every nine years. Below, an unharvested branch. And a harvested trunk.

Branch of a cork tree

Cork tree - bare
All I can say after our tour of Spain and Portugal is to urge more people to visit. The Iberian Peninsula is full of history, wondrous sights, and friendly people. Consider it for your next vacation.

Thanks for stopping by,


Coming soon: The Challenges of World Building

For Blair's website with book covers & blurbs, click here

For Grace's editing service, click here