Grace's Mosaic Moments

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Photo Essay for the Holidays

Whatever holiday you celebrate during this winter season, I hope your days are happy and that 2015 roars in with better health, better weather, and a better outlook for a safe and happy new year. (I suspect I'm not the only one happy to boot 2014 out the door!)

This week, Mosaic Moments is presenting a double photo essay for the holidays: the launch of Orion, our hope for the next great step in space exploration, and holiday photos from the Festival of Trees at the Orlando Museum of Art. 

I'd also like to mention that although Scrooge still lives in some hearts, this year there seems to be a rise in the number of Secret Angels roaming our land. More tales of people paying for other people's meals in restaurants and drive-thrus. And most recently, an amazing surge of anonymous donors paying off huge sums for people who bought Christmas presents on Lay-away. The amounts reported on the TV news range from $10,000 to $65,000, the incidents occurring all over the country. (And the TV reporters seeming to love every moment of filming moms with tears rolling down their cheeks.) And then there are all those people who rushed out and bought extra toys to make up for a shortfall this week in our local Toys for Tots program. (The demand was higher this year & the shelves already empty.)

So take heart - the world has not yet imploded, the spirit of Christmas still lives. (Though I fear we've all had our doubts, this year more than most.) 


ORION - the first baby step in the road of manned flight to Mars. All photos are screen shots from Orlando's Channel 9 live presentation of the lift-off. No "live" from my driveway this time, as there was heavy cloud cover between here and the coast.

Comparison of rockets - Orion piggy-backed on a Delta IV

Orion & gantries at 7:00 a.m.

Ready . . .

Set . . .

The test appeared to be a success, with the unmanned Orion circling the earth four times, as planned, before splashing down in the Pacific right where our ships hovered, waiting to pick it up. Launch was Dec. 5, 2014, at 7:05 a.m. Orion returned to the Kennedy Space Center this Thursday, after being trucked back across the country.

FESTIVAL OF TREES - The Orlando Museum of Art

The grandchildren's favorites - Gingerbread Creations 

Classic Gingerbread House

The family favorite - a pirate ship

Florida Gingerbread?

I didn't ask that darling to pose. Really!

One of several gorgeous tablesettings being raffled for this annual fundraising event

How about a wreath that's a bit different?

Or maybe this one? I believe that price tag reads a mere $425!

Trimmed with Toys
Christmas Tree Re-think

Do you think the bulldozer migrated from the Toy Tree? I suspect a practical joker somewhere about.
Soloists with the Citrus Singers, who were performing at the Museum
Carolers at the Museum
Three remarkable Menorahs

Hmm - a tree wearing a headdress

Merry Christmas!

And farewell to another wonderful afternoon at the Festival of Trees at the Orlando Museum of Art. 

~ * ~

Thanks for stopping by.


For Grace's website, listing all books as Blair Bancroft, click here.

For a brochure for Grace's editing service, Best Foot Forward, click here.


Saturday, December 13, 2014


While the family was having dinner at my house last night, my daughter put on a Christmas CD she and her girls made two years ago, with her husband doing the technical work. Suddenly inspired with the idea of posting her solo of "Ave Maria" to Facebook, she went home at about 10:00 p.m. and by 12:30 a.m. she had created this very special Christmas treat - "Ave Maria," accompanied by a succession of glorious sunsets (plus a sunrise, a moonrise & a rainbow). To view, click here.  


So after doing your initial research, what comes next ?

Give your book a title, even if you change it later. It's good psychology - having that title up there at the top of the page makes your effort seem more real. You're actually writing a book, not fooling around.

Before you begin, name your major characters. Hero, heroine, and at least the secondary characters in the first few chapters. It also helps to make a note of their physical descriptions and their relationship to the other characters. I personally make a formal typed Character List, scribbling in new names as I go along until it gets so messy I'm forced to type up a new clean list! Sometimes, instead of putting brief notes about physical and personality descriptions in the Character List, I type up a separate sheet for these. Attention to details like this avoids a character having dark eyes ion page 10 and blue eyes on page 250!

You might also consider making a few notes on your hero's and heroine's backgrounds - father, mother, sisters, brothers (uncles, aunts, cousins, if pertinent). If any of these people appear in the story, name them. The purpose? To fix the who, what, where, when & why of your main characters in your head, plus you won't get hung up in the middle of writing, looking for a name.

Okay, there you are, staring at the screen with no more than a Title, a page number, and a few names. What now?

Take your time with that first sentence. I often don't start a book until I have that first sentence firmly in mind. Also take your time with the rest of the first paragraph and the first page. This is where you capture the attention of an agent or editor, and eventually your readers.

I have judged 400+ writing contests over the last fifteen years or so and, believe me, I can always tell if an author knows what he/she is doing by the end of the first page. As an example: I often download four or five books at a time to my Kindle, and by the time I get ready to read the last one, I have totally forgotten why I chose it. Usually I recognize a favorite author, but on this occasion, I simply stared, frowning at the Index. Neither title nor author rang a bell, and the author was a male. Now it's not that I don't have some favorite male authors, but they're "old friends," and this one certainly wasn't one of them. So I simply punched the "Select" button and started reading.

By the end of the first three paragraphs, I had no doubt this book was something special. I flipped back to the Index and glared at it once again. Why had I chosen The Cuckoo's Calling? And who on earth was Robert Galbraith? And finally it came to me. I was reading J. K. Rowling's first adult mystery. And, believe me, the book lived up to what I saw in those first few paragraphs. So I'm telling you, frankly, it may be true a book is judged by its cover, but it is also judged by its opening paragraphs.

Quick aside: I should add that in her second mystery, The Silkworm, J. K. Rowling skewers indie authors (in a perfectly straight-faced manner) as she includes atrocious grammatical and spelling errors in the indie author's blog). And who can blame her? It's her way of saying what I've been saying on this blog since 2011. If you want anyone to take you seriously, you have to get the mechanics of your profession right!

Below are three of my favorite examples of opening lines or paragraphs:

From Natural Born Charmer by Susan Elizabeth Philips:

"It wasn't every day a guy saw a headless beaver marching down the side of a road, not even in Dean Robillard's larger-than-life world."

From The Third Circle by Jane Ann Krentz:

"The heavily shadowed gallery of the museum was filled with many strange and disturbing artifacts. None of the antiquities, however, was as shocking as the woman lying in a dark pool of blood on the cold marble floor."

From Soulless by Gail Carriger:

"Miss Alexia Tarabotti was not enjoying her evening. Private balls were never more than middling amusements for spinsters, and Miss Tarabotti was not the kind of spinster who could garner even that much pleasure from the event. To put the pudding in the puff: she had retreated to the library, her favorite sanctuary in any house, only to happen upon an unexpected vampire."

~ * ~

 A lot more to go in the Writing Workshop, but perhaps not until after Christmas. Hopefully, something holiday-ish for next week, if I ever get around to downloading my pics from the Orlando Museum of Art's Festival of Trees.

Thanks for stopping by.


For Grace's website, listing all books as Blair Bancroft, click here.

For a brochure for Grace's editing service, Best Foot Forward, click here.

Saturday, December 6, 2014


This week I am beginning a new series based on the workshop I developed not only for writers struggling to be published but for those who may have a book or two under their belt but are still polishing their skills and trying to find a way to excel. I hasten to say, I'm far from omnipotent, but hopefully there will be things in this series that will help you rise above the ordinary to write a book that meets your fondest dreams.

The full title of the original workshop, which I have presented to several RWA chapters is:

The Wise Author's Approach to Writing a Book
How to Rise Above the Ordinary


 "Where do you get your ideas?"
How many times have you been asked that question? The answer is: "Everywhere."
Ideas are all around you. Personal experiences, television, newspapers, movies, people on the street, a chance remark, a character or situation in a book that sets you to asking, "What if . . .?" Or perhaps you're building a whole new world from scratch. Let's face it, if you didn't have ideas, you wouldn't be attempting to write a book. BUT developing these ideas into a 400-page book is something else again.

Fresh Twist.
So what do you do with that germ of an idea? To sell in today's tough market, give it a fresh twist, something that will keep the reader turning pages instead of groaning over yet another version of same old-same old. Be innovative, not cookie-cutter. Grab that idea - find a way to make it fresh. For example, in Grave Intentions, Lori Sjoberg makes a hero of the Grim Reaper, going on to develop other male and female reapers in her ongoing series for Kensington.

At least three-quarters of you are groaning, thinking: "But I write Contemporary . . ." Nonetheless, you have research to do. You need to find out how to make your hero and heroine, the setting, and general ambiance of your book sound authentic. Whether it's Renaissance, Regency, police procedure, arson investigation, high finance, medical, or whatever—make sure you know what you're talking about.

For example, what did I know about "the British Electoral System prior to the reforms of 1832" when I began the book now titled, A Gamble on Love? Absolutely nothing, of course. It took some heavy reading of books acquired for me by the Sarasota Library system via Interlibrary loan, but in the end I picked up some gems, tidbits that greatly enhanced the tale of a "cit" who horrifies his aristocratic bride when he runs for Parliament.

But don't panic. Research doesn't have to be all "up front." You can dredge it up as you go along. (I certainly didn't read all those heavy tomes on the British Electoral system before I began to write.) But you absolutely must have enough knowledge by the time you do your final edit so that people who are experts on your book's subject don't throw your book against the wall by the end of the first chapter.

As an example of how easy it is to slip up, no matter how careful you think you're being: when I was writing, The Harem Bride for Signet, I had the hero and heroine meet in Constantinople, at the home of the British Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire. I paused long enough to think about the problem but considered it so unlikely that I could discover the name of the actual person that I simply made up a name for this character and continued on.

But in final editing before submitting the manuscript, I scowled at the name I'd invented and decided, well maybe, after all, I should check Google. To my shock, when I entered "British Ambassador, Ottoman Empire, 1803," page after page after page came scrolling up. Oops! It seems the ambassador was Lord Elgin, famed for boxing up many of the statues on the Acropolis, even to the extent of chipping off the friezes from the Parthenon, and shipping them back to England, where, some years later, they ended up in the British Museum. (I've seen them - they have a whole hall of their own.) To this day, Greece is trying to get them back.

After I finished gulping at how close I'd come to a major faux pas, I revised not only that scene but added references to Lord Elgin's struggles in getting the British Museum to buy his marbles. Moral of this story: check your facts. Don't end up with egg on your face.

~ * ~
 Below is an example of a sign by someone who should have been a bit more careful, perhaps checked with a more expert translator. (One of the Spanish comments beneath this photo on my daughter's Facebook page suggests it was English translated from German rather than from Spanish.) The instructions are for a small train on a mountaintop in Argentina. (Not that I could do any better if I had to translate English to Spanish or German, but you've got to admit it's disastrously funny, as well as making a point about being careful what you write.)

Below, a view remarkably similar to photos taken on our Caribbean cruise. The water, however - unlabeled on my daughter's Facebook post - is believed to be a lake in the lower Andes. (Mountains are a phenomenon to those who live in relentlessly flat Florida. The average height of the Central Florida Ridge, beginning around Orlando and going west for 40-50  miles, is 100 feet above sea level.)

Below, a sight I was happy to see, signaling the family's arrival back in Florida.

Sunrise over Miami
~ * ~

More Workshop coming soon, also Orion launch photos.
Thanks for stopping by,

For Grace's website, listing all books as Blair Bancroft, click here.

For a brochure for Grace's editing service, Best Foot Forward, click here.

Saturday, November 22, 2014


BULLETIN from Argentina (Thursday, November 20) - the family on the banks of the Parana River in Rosario, Argentina - where they're attending a quinceaƱera. They flew from Orlando to Miami to Buenos Aires on Tuesday night.

Visiting an Argentinian shoe store! (on Friday)


Below is a photo essay for the Thanksgiving holiday, before I begin a new Writing & Editing series. Here is Part 2 of the Caribbean cruise the family and I took last August. 

After touring separately on St. Thomas, we were all together for a full-circle bus tour of our next port of call - St. Maarten/St. Martin - an island amicably divided since the seventeenth century into jurisdiction by the Dutch and the French. (We enjoyed the comfort of an air-conditioned full-size bus as opposed to the small open-sided lorries on St. Thomas, where it is impossible to imagine a full-size bus negotiating the roads!)

Crossing the border from St. Maarten to St. Martin

And no, there was no border guard, no stopping to show our passports.

To New Englanders like me, the walls just inside the French border appeared to be classic stone walls, but our driver told us they're called "slave walls" because they were constructed by slaves from the ballast stones offloaded from European ships which would be returning with their holds full of island produce.

A flat-out fake shot of St. Maarten's famous airport where airplanes skim the beach.
It really looks like this - my daughter has the videos to prove it - but I confess this is a photo of a photo passed around by our bus driver!

Naturally, while in "France," we had to visit an open-air PĆ¢tisserie. Yum!

St. Thomas isn't the only island with amazing colors in the water.

And a fond farewell to St. Maarten as our ship pulls out of the harbor.

More ice skating on Deck 3

I actually went in the pool, but it was way too crowded. Stayed long enough for a photo!

So I went to the all-adult pool, which was just as crowded, but it had underwater bar stools, a bar, and mojitos!

Monkey on a wire!
That's my mojito front & center.

A fond farewell to our dining room - and the fabulous food - on Freedom of the Seas

Safely back at Port Canaveral

Waiting for our faithful picker-uppers, Lionel & Tim, just pulling in. (I waited on a bench, thank you very much!)

If you want to cruise on a truly great ship, try Royal Caribbean's  Freedom of the Seas. We loved it!

~ * ~

Coming soon: a new series based on my workshop, "The Wise Author's Approach to Writing a Better Book"

Thanks for stopping by,

For Grace's website, listing all books as Blair Bancroft, click here.

For a brochure for Grace's editing service, Best Foot Forward, click here.

Saturday, November 15, 2014


For some reason it seems as if Holly took forever to be ready to go live online, but truth is, I recall taking Belle and Cecilia (the first two novellas of the Aphrodite Academy series) with me on our cruise in mid-August (via my Kindle), and re-reading them to refresh my mind about the characters before starting Holly. So I guess it really hasn't been that long. 

I have to admit I've found violating most of the rules of traditional Regency romance, even most Regency historicals, a refreshing switch. The freedom to be outrageous is exhilarating. The result, I hope, not offensive.

For those who might not remember the girls of the Aphrodite Academy . . .

These novellas explore what might have happened to young women, from ladies to tavern wenches, to whom life has not been kind. I call this genre "Regency Darkside." The language is saucy, the sex occasionally graphic, but the stories are driven by plot and characters, not the sex scenes. And traditional Happily Ever After endings prevail.

Holly - the story:

Holly Hammond, an independent, sharp-tongued former tavern wench, has reached the pinnacle of her ambition, flying high as a sparkling courtesan—until she finds herself out on the street, pregnant with twins. Her choices are few:  live the false life of a widow in some distant corner of the realm or give up her child. And then, an offer out of the blue. For what might be the highest price ever placed on a courtesan, she is bartered into marriage with a stranger.

Royce Kincade is a stalwart, upright border Scot who fixes his sight on the prize at the end of the rainbow, giving little thought to such pitfalls as his wife's determined independence, the possible outrage of his relatives, or the reappearance of the babies' natural father. Not surprisingly, both Holly and Royce are left to wonder if theirs is marriage made in Heaven or in Hell.

~ * ~

Holly is currently available on Amazon & Smashwords. B&N's Nook takes a bit longer. 

For a link to Amazon Kindle, click here.

For a link to Smashwords, click here.

Note: a 20% free read is available on Smashwords.

Thanks for stopping by,

For Grace's website, listing all books as Blair Bancroft, click here.

For a brochure for Grace's editing service, Best Foot Forward, click here. 

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Fairy Tales & Romance

A rare sight - a full moon against a Florida sunset


Have fairy tales - from children's storybooks to Disney movies - ruined women's ability to distinguish genuine romance from sheer fantasy? 

Last night on TV's Criminal Minds, the serial killer turned out to be an ethereal young woman who had been so damaged in her youth that her mind had become fixed on the concept of finding "the one." If a man she met, even casually, did not live up to her ideal of instant Happily Ever After, she killed him. Does this fictional character, I wonder, have numerous not-so-fictional sister sufferers - not to such an extreme, of course - who think only "love at first sight" will do? Women who never find the right man because they reject a man if sparks don't fly on the first date? 

Are romance authors guilty of continuing these myths? Very likely, and yet where would we be without romance? Though a widow of long standing, I embrace the concept every day. Writing about romance adds immensely to my pleasure in life, as I hope my work does to the lives of my readers. But . . .

In last night's episode of Criminal Minds, the young woman could not accept men as they are, even the charming ones. If they made a pass, strayed the least little bit off the prim fairy tale path, she freaked and killed them. In actuality, of course, we see every variety of aberration as women seek romance and the ever-illusive love. From those who vow to wait for Mr. Right to those who leap into bed with every man they meet, thinking that's the only way they find "the one." 

Nonsense, of course. Yet when I checked my "blog file" this morning, I found I had saved a newspaper article on this topic (by Jessica Reynolds for Tribune newspapers). It lists seven concepts experts feel should be debunked. They are:

1.  You'll meet "the one."
2.  Love at first sight.
3.  Opposites attract.
4.  "Happily ever after" lasts forever.
5.  Fighting means you have passion.
6.  You can change someone if you try hard enough.
7.  Love can conquer all.

In a nutshell, here's what they said:

1. Believing you'll meet Mr. or Miss Right is passive. You're letting a perhaps mythical destiny control your life. Love requires participation. You have to engage in it, work at it. It doesn't just happen.

2.  People may fall in lust at first sight, the experts concede, and be fooled, as their relationship develops, into thinking it was love at first sight. This concept should definitely be taken with the proverbial grain of salt.

3.  Opposites attract? Believe it or not, sociologists state that social class is a greater divider than even gender or race. The simple truth is that the more dissimilar the day-to-day rituals and preferences of two people, the less likely their relationship will last.

4.  The validity of HEA. Let's face it, that's why we go to romance movies, read romance novels. We know life just doesn't work that way. (At least most of us do - I'm still worried about the really young and naive who haven't yet made that horrid discovery.) 

5.  Fights & passion. For all the tales to the contrary, explosive fights rarely end in a passionate love scene. Fighting can even make a couple question whether they've made a good match. Some couples fight, many don't. Just don't make the mistake of thinking it adds to the romance of their lives. 

6. The hope of change. Experts suggest that in real life Belle of Beauty and the Beast would likely have resigned in frustration or been mauled! Occasionally unrelenting good nature may change a grumpy partner, but more likely it can lead to abuse. Basically, if you enter a relationship with the idea you can change your partner, you're likely headed for a fall.

7.  Love conquers all. The greatest fallacy of all. There are some issues which cannot be fixed, from death and disaster to different attitudes toward money. Some relationships, no matter how right they might seem at the beginning, are not destined to last.

Discouraged? Disillusioned? Or are you nodding your head and saying, "Wow, I don't feel so guilty about . . ."?

The most important thing, I believe, is to acknowledge that some people - frequently young women - have been brainwashed by the unrelenting, and decidedly unrealistic, bombardment of the Disney version of fairy-tale romance. (The tales, as originally written, were frequently more realistic. Modern-day versions have been sanitized in a manner similar to what Thomas Bowdler did to Shakespeare in the early 19th c.)

So we need to be wary of these "prettified" stories. We need to raise our young ones with the ability to differentiate between romance in fiction and romance in the real world. And yes, our young men need to face this too. For they cannot be totally unaffected by the fantasy romances that constantly bombard us from every side. Can anyone be blamed if we have difficulty distinguishing fiction from reality?

As for myself, I will continue to write romance with a clear conscience, for I try to include the bad with the good. In Holly, Book 3 in the Aphrodite Academy series, Happily Ever After is anything but. And in my Regency Gothic, The Mists of Moorhead Manor, the hero and heroine are confronted by a heart-wrenching, nearly insoluble dilemma. And even after they make that decision, the battle of Waterloo interferes with what we can only hope will be a much less stressful future.

In all fairness I should add that the TV program Once Upon a Time, which presents twist upon twist on the old fairy tales, never falls into the trap of nothing- but-sweetness-and-light and happily-ever-after. It does, in fact, present some good life lessons, such as the value of friendship that is front and center in this fall's "Frozen" episodes. I should also add that even fairy tale movies are showing signs of growing up, as seen in Snow White and the Huntsman and Maleficent

To conclude, here is the final paragraph from Ms. Reynolds' article.

"Romantic storylines may very well amplify our expectations of love beyond what will ever be feasible, but they do add some benefit," Ozair* said. "They remind us to be optimistic about love and open to adventure . . . and hit at our deep-seated hope that love will find a way."

* Mia Adler Ozair, a clinical psychotherapist from Los Angeles and mother of nine. 

~ * ~

Thanks for stopping by,

For Grace's website, listing all books as Blair Bancroft, click here.

For a brochure for Grace's editing service, Best Foot Forward, click here.