Grace's Mosaic Moments

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Bits & Pieces

In Memoriam - the crew of the Challenger
Each January here in Florida, we remember Challenger. I will never forget standing in my driveway in January 1986 - my "spot" for watching launches - and seeing Challenger's vapor trail split in two. I rushed back inside in time to hear the announcer say, "Obviously, there's been an anomaly." How do they do it? I wondered later. How do they maintain that absolute calm in the face of disaster? But I think most of us didn't have to wait for the analysis - we knew it had been an unusually icy morning for Florida, and sure enough, that turned out to be the cause. Although the flaw was quickly remedied, nothing could bring back the crew, including Christa McAuliffe, the first public school teacher to go into space (back row, 2nd from the left).

On a happier note:

A portion of the All-County Orchestra & Chorus, Orange County, Florida
I was truly impressed by the excellent concert performed by students from Orange County elementary schools Thursday evening, January 29. (And truly stunned by the number of competent string players that age.) In addition to violins and violas, there was a huge cello section and two basses that towered above the boys playing them! Our Riley was in the chorus, which sang in Latin and Lakota (Sioux), as well as English, finishing with a rousing and complex arrangement of the African-American Spiritual, "Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho."  The Orff Ensemble, primarily drums and xylophones, were also great, their performance even including one number with wafting scarves. "Songs" by the Recorder Ensemble circled the globe, interspersing the performances of the three larger groups. All in all, a truly superior evening, until it was time to safely dismiss 400+ students to the their parents! We all sat there, glued to our seats, obedient to our instructions, and waited for the teachers to get everyone sorted out. Which forced us to postpone our dinner reservations! But it was well worth it. Orange County Elementary Schools did themselves proud last night.

How Cassidy Saved the Day

 I was out of the house Thursday afternoon from 2:00 until 5:45, arriving home just in time for a 6:00 pick-up for the concert mentioned above. And to find my message light blinking, with a frantic "Call me!" from my daughter. (I'd had my cellphone with me, but somehow I hadn't heard it ring. Changed the ring tone as soon as I got home last night.) Anyway, it seems Riley's blue concert shirt was nowhere to be found. Riley had to go to dress rehearsal without it, while Mommie Susie looked everywhere and made frantic phone calls to see if an extra was available. Because Riley would not be allowed to sing unless she had her shirt. And then Susie remembered Riley had been at my house the previous afternoon. Was it possible . . .? But I wasn't home. And my daughter couldn't find the key she has for my house. So . . . she brought Cassidy (the baby of the family at 8½) to my house, and Cassidy crawled through the CAT DOOR—the teeny weeny cat door—between my screen porch and the family room. No shirt in the living room where the girls usually spend their Gramma afternoons, but fortunately Cassidy remembered that Riley had been sewing on Wednesday afternoon - though why she would take her shirt into the sewing room no one knows, including Riley - and there it was! Mom dropped Cassidy and Hailey off with Daddy and rushed the shirt to Winter Park in the nick of time.
Oh, the drama of childhood balanced with the joys.

Python Hunt - Again

Although the great Everglades Burmese Python Hunt proved a disappointment, Miami-Dade County initiated a hunt this week for North African rock pythons, huge constrictors that can grow up to 20 feet and have been known to consume antelopes in their native land. Fortunately, it's believed this species is confined to a 6-square-mile area in western Miami-Dade, and it was felt they would be easier to find than on the much-heralded hunt a couple of years ago.

But the next day, the newspaper revealed that not a single python had been found. This, allegedly, was a good thing, officials said, meaning that they were well on their way to eradicating the problem. My take on it? I'm not a fan of Miami, which always seems like a foreign country, mostly inhabited by Cuban ex-pats determined not to assimilate, but now I'm really certain I'm not traveling to the lower east side of the Florida peninsula!

Leftover Tidbit from Christmas

 Neiman Marcus has a reputation for including several outrageously priced items in their catalog. The one below is not the most expensive I've seen, but it comes close to it. And is something we can all recognize - a Christmas Nativity scene. The nativity in the catalog is described as created by Jay Strongwater. "Hand-enameled metal figurines with hand-set Swarovski crystals." There are 16 pieces, from crèche to Rejoicing Angel, each priced individually. When I totaled them, the price came to $33,935!  Just what you always wanted for Christmas, right? Frankly, exquisitely beautiful as it is, it seems downright sinful. Guess we leave this one for the billionaires of this world.

A Really Snappy Pot Pie Recipe

I found this recipe online last week - from the Pillsbury kitchens, I believe. It was so tasty I'd like to pass it along. Supper for two. Easily doubled for four.

½ lb. lean ground beef
¼ cup chopped onion (½ medium)
3/4 cup Green Giant Steamers frozen mixed vegetables
1 teaspoon packed brown sugar
½ teaspoon dry ground mustard
3/4 cup chili sauce
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 Pillsbury "Grands" Frozen Buttermilk Biscuits (from 25-oz bag)
2 teaspoons milk (optional)
½ teaspoon sesame seed (optional)
Fresh herbs (Grace's addition)

1.  Heat oven to 400° F. Spray 8- to 10-inch skillet with cooking spray. Add ground beef and onion; cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until beef is thoroughly cooked. Drain.
2.  Stir in frozen mixed vegetables, brown sugar, mustard, chili sauce and Worcestershire sauce. (This is where I also added some chopped fresh herbs from my garden.) Cook 2 to 3 minutes, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are crisp-tender.
3.  Spoon beef mixture into 2  (1½-up) ungreased overproof bowls or ramekins. Top each with a frozen biscuit. Brush each biscuit with milk; sprinkle with sesame seed.
4.  Bake 20-25 minutes or until biscuits are deep golden brown.


Final Tidbit

Can't remember where I found this one - probably on Facebook. 

Everything you need to succeed in life—
A funny bone, a wishbone, and a backbone.
~ * ~

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, January 24, 2015



If you click where indicated, you will see a video news clip of a sharp response by the Polk County Sheriff to a question by a reporter. Polk County neighbors my own county here in Florida, and Sheriff Grady Judd is frequently on the local news, but this time he surpassed himself. No matter how you feel about guns, I think most of you will enjoy his response. For the sheriff's promise to criminals,  click here. 

The Christmas gift that arrived in Argentina in 2 days, but took 34 more days before it was delivered! (I suspect every last gift was unwrapped & inspected - I wonder how many actually made it to the family . . .)


Unlike the 1,059 books on "How to Plot," when it comes to GMC, one book stands out above all the rest. In fact, I suspect Deb Dixon in her book, GMC: Goal, Motivation & Conflict, may have invented the modern concept of GMC as vital ingredients in every book.What you see below is merely the nutshell version. If you feel you are having trouble with these concepts, don't hesitate to add Deb's book, print or e, to your library.

Every author has a different approach to plotting—from "out of the mist" to extensive outlines, storyboards, photos, etc. But no matter which method you use, you should always have a goal in mind. A goal for the book, a goal for a chapter, a goal for a scene. Short-term and long-term goals for both hero and heroine, and for the villain (if you have one). I may be one of those people who does not sit down and make a list of any of these goals, but I could not write a good scene if I didn't have a pretty good idea of where I wanted that scene to go, what I wanted it to accomplish. Yes, sometimes the scene surprises me and goes off in a quite different direction than planned, and then I have to ask myself: did this surprise direction add to the story, or did it distract?  And there's a question that applies to every scene you write. Have I moved the story forward? Have I achieved my goal for this scene? Or have I wandered off into the wilderness, giving too much emphasis to unimportant details, unimportant people and events? Have I allowed a secondary character to grab too much intention? Or perhaps you've accomplished your goal but inadvertently shot yourself in the foot by giving your hero or heroine qualities so negative there's no retreat, no redemption. For example, have you tossed off remarks about a main character gathering a stack of speeding tickets? Unless this personality quirk is necessary for your plot, it simply weakens your character without adding to your goal of making readers like your hero and heroine. (Risking an accident - hurting other people - is not a sign of daring. It's sheer uncaring recklessness. Definitely not the stuff heroes or heroine are made of.)

Example: do not have someone bump into your main character in a bar unless there is a reason for that bump. Unless the bump moves the story forward. Colorful secondary characters can enhance a plot, but extraneous characters who do not contribute to the story just get in the way.

Example:  A group of friends enjoy a kaffeeklatch where the conversation never rises above "cute." The dialogue does not reveal character, does not move the story forward. It serves as nothing more than a "filler." (Filler = Distraction, plot coming to a screeching halt.)

As mentioned under "Plot," you can get away with almost anything, no matter how bizarre, if you give your characters proper motivation. Never forget to make it clear why they do what they do. For example, you can't have a person who seems perfectly normal suddenly grab a knife and stab someone. A reader's reaction is going to be: "Aw, come on!" You need to establish some kind of warning, like a creepy atmosphere, or establish that the villain is insane, a drug addict, or comes from a family with mental instability. Something to account for what he/she does. Even if your plot demands the murder (or dramatic event) comes as surprise, you need to get some explanation in there as soon as possible. Otherwise, your book becomes a wall-banger. I wish I had a dollar for every time I've commented in Track Changes: Clarify. Explain. Why on earth would he/she do that?

Amendment to the above:  I recently encountered a situation, while editing, which I felt no amount of motivation/explanation, however clever, could justify. My recommendation - delete. Exorcise that particular bit right out of the book. I strongly felt the plot could survive without it, while readers would definitely dig in their heels and balk if that scene was allowed to stay.

The "too stupid to live" heroine has been out of favor for some time, but you can still have your heroine do something stupid - like investigate a dark cellar - if you cite her motivation: she thinks her child might be down there and needs rescuing, or maybe her lover. She's in law enforcement and it's her duty. The house has gone dark and that's where the fuse box is. Give readers a decent "why" and they'll go along. Toss off cockamamie things without explanation, and you've lost them.

 Without conflict, your story is: Boy meets girl, they fall in love, get married, and live Happily Ever After. (Or Boy meets Boy, Girl meets Girl, depending on your genre.)* Your book would be four chapters, tops. Conflict is an essential ingredient in Romance. Conflict is not bickering between the hero and heroine (or the h/h with friends). It has to be much more serious. Some seemingly insurmountable object, such as the feud between the Montagues and the Capulets, incompatible backgrounds, lifestyles, jobs, medical problems, etc. Or outside influences, such as someone trying to kill the h/h or a family member; they're caught in a blizzard, a hurricane, car wreck, war zone, etc. On a more personal level, the hero and heroine live and work in two different towns, neither wants to move. Just keep in mind the Conflict has to be serious.

Then, just to make it trickier . . .

The conflicts mentioned above are External - conflicts superimposed from the outside. Internal conflict is also vital to Romance. This would include the hero's and heroine's private agonies and introspection: their reactions to the serious external problems, their feelings about their relationship; their worries about how they're going to get out of whatever mess they're in. Or is it all going to blow up in his/her face?

In Romantic Suspense and Mystery, the conflicts are frequently more External, such as escaping from a dangerous situation or finding a killer. Nonetheless, Internal conflict remains essential (and is particularly important in the development of the romance).

*When I gave this workshop at Moonlight & Magnolias in Atlanta, a young woman came up to me afterward with tears in her eyes, telling me she was so glad I had included alternative lifestyles. Truthfully, I had thought this a battle that had been fought and won. Guess not. So I hope anyone who reads this will make an effort to be more tolerant of other people's lifestyles.

~ * ~

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, January 17, 2015


One of several "Bad Grammar" photos posted to Facebook from

I have encountered this particular error - misusing a possessive pronoun for a contraction (and vice versa) in all too many books I've edited. Just a reminder - "your" is possessive (your book, your name, etc.); "you're" is a contraction of "you are." Just as "their" is a possessive, and "they are" is a contraction - both mistakes I encountered just this morning while editing.


 When I ran a search on Amazon, I discovered they offer 1,059 books on the art of plotting. (And I admit I've never read even one of them!) But the number makes it clear how important plotting is to your book. And if you want detailed help, your only problem is plowing through all the possibilities to find the books that are right for you.  I will, however, in the short space available, attempt to hit a few highlights. My experience is based not only on writing close to thirty books but my long years as an editor of both fiction and non-fiction and as the judge of more than 400 RWA chapter contest entries. 

1.  Whether your plot is simple or complex, at least a hint of it should be apparent in the first chapters, Chapter 1, if possible. Example:  I once judged a contest entry which sounded like a classic category romance centered around a class reunion. But when I read the synopsis, it turned out the author intended it to be a complex romantic suspense. Yet there wasn't a hint of RS anywhere in the pages of the contest entry. This won't work with readers any more than it did with me. Know what genre you're writing and make sure the reader gets the genre he or she expected right up front.

2.  Sub-plots are okay in a long book, but don't stray into sidebars that don't advance your plot. Example:  cute dialogue that doesn't move the plot forward; secondary characters who push the hero and heroine off center stage.  People sitting around chatting, to no purpose, simply distract, slowing your book to a crawl.

3.  Avoid "too much plot." I've judged a number of contests where the entry read well, but the synopsis had enough plot for a 3-book series. Since "showing" a book takes up more room than "telling," a plot with a zillion twists and turns is likely to run out of room. J. K. Rowling may be able to get away with a 700-page book. The rest of us can't.

4.  Plots have "rhythm" - character introduction, personality development, action, introspection, romantic developments, action, introspection, the high point, the black moment, resolution.* Unlike, say, Vin Diesel's Fast and Furious movies, romance plots have to allow time for breathing, for getting inside the hero's and heroine's heads, time for romance to develop. And even action/adventure movies have their more quiet moments when the main characters get a chance to slow down (and maybe a wee bit more - what would James Bond be without his throng of women?)

*Under no circumstances take this sentence as a "plot arc." I do not believe in arcs or outlines set in steel. I am merely giving examples of how the rhythm of a book varies. (A terrible blow is all the more powerful for coming directly after a moment when everything seems to be going well.) 

5.  You can get away with almost any plot, no matter how outrageous, if you provide an explanation good enough to coax your readers into "suspended disbelief." Conversely, your book becomes a "wall-banger" when you toss in something incredible without taking the time to justify what happens.

6.  Amendment to #5. There are certain things you must not do, things that cannot be explained away. If you want to believe your readers are dumb enough not to care, well, that's your choice. But among the accepted no-no's are such things as the laws of British inheritance: you cannot have a bastard become a duke. You also cannot toss a murder into a book without providing strong motivation. Basically, you cannot avoid the laws of common sense without an adept set-up.

7.  Most authors plot on instinct - at least that's how I do it. They learn from the ebb and flow of the books they've read over the years. Some authors, like me, start with no more than a basic premise and build from there. Others need to meticulously plot out every chapter. No matter which method you prefer, remember that if you need help, there are all those 1,059 "How to Plot" books on Amazon.

~ * ~
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, January 10, 2015

Neglected Thrillers

Blair's Lament

I have tried to come to terms with being "branded" as a Regency author, but sometimes it's downright frustrating. Yes, I love writing Regency-set stories, but I require variety in my writing challenges and I wish - really wish - I could find readers as devoted to my contemporary Mystery/Suspense/Thrillers as my Regency fans are to my books set in the Napoleonic era. 

So today I'm doing some blatant promo for my three Thrillers. One is set in the not-so-fictional town of Golden Beach, Florida, where I lived for twenty-five years. The second is set mostly in the Northeast, where I used to live, and the third is set in the Orlando area, where I now live. The books were written many years apart, yet, oddly enough, two of them feature amnesiac heroes. How that happened I really don't know.

Perhaps the problem with Thrillers is that most of my readers are looking more for romance than for action. And while all three books have strong romantic elements, the action dominates. Hmm - any guys out there willing to read books with a female heroine? [And yet my Regency Gothics (read Suspense) are outselling all my other books put together. Sigh. So who knows?]

In any event, I truly enjoyed writing the books featured below - both the research, which included 10,000 miles in the USSR back in the days of the Cold War (Limbo Man), and what seemed like endless volumes on Interpol, its history and its cases (Orange Blossoms & Mayhem). 

In addition, at the time I wrote Orange Blossoms, the fact the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was digging up WWII explosive devices from the yards of expensive homes and an elementary school in my area was a near-daily topic on the local news. I was also receiving updates from the Corps in the mail - and even attended one "town meeting" on the various excavations - since my own house is situated on the outer fringes of the old Pine Castle Bombing Range near what is now Orlando International Airport! 

In contrast, research for Florida Wild was a breeze. Although I'm still gnashing my teeth that some entrepreneur decided to build a "London Eye"-type ride just off I-4, only months after I created one for my book. (Mine was out in the boonies, designed for a view of the "real" Florida, not what's called "the Tourist Corridor." FYI, the actual Orlando Eye is still under construction.) 

For Orlando-area residents, Florida Wild is almost totally set in Central Florida, while Limbo Man has two major scenes in Orlando, one the climactic "chase" scene.

So here they are - Blair's three thrillers. Orange Blossoms & Mayhem and Limbo Man are available from Amazon, B&N, and Smashwords. Florida Wild, published by Ellora's Cave Blush, is available through EC and most online vendors.

Want to get married in a hot air balloon?  Have the bride step out of a Fabergé egg?  Just call Fantascapes, the Halliday family business (ironically based in a sleepy Florida resort and retirement community). Fantascapes is also the right number for hiking the Inca Trail*, a chalet in Switzerland, or a luxury journey to Angkor Wat.

Trouble in Fantasyland?  It’s Laine Halliday—well-dressed, well-toned, a sharpshooter in every sense of the word—to the rescue.  But are fantasy weddings and vacations for the pampered rich enough to satisfy her? 

Laine’s options expand when bullets fly after she meets a mystery man on the Inca Trail, and she begins to fear there may be more to that Fabergé egg project than meets the eye. Amid the color and frantic pace of a luxury business, Laine finds herself involved in Russian mob warfare and law enforcement activity that ranges from the local SWAT team to Interpol. Can a wedding planner from Golden Beach, Florida, survive an encounter with the mob and juggle the two men in her life, as well as her job with Fantascapes and an offer from Interpol? Never fear, Laine Halliday is the kind of heroine who may be able to do it all.

*Oddly enough, I may share responsibility (with Yale anthropologist Mike Coe) for starting the fad for hiking the Inca Trail. On a Yale tour "way back when," Mike and I found the trail high above Machu Picchu that the Incas used to enter the town from other villages along the trail. (As opposed to the present entrance which is from the base of the ancient site.) When we mentioned our find at dinner that night, I saw the travel agent who was accompanying us prick up his ears. And, sure enough, only a year later, he led the first expedition along the trail that rapidly became a worldwide hiking phenomenon.

I'm planning on a second book in this series, but so far it's taking a back seat to books that make me more money. The cousin of the Orange Blossoms heroine is, however, featured in Florida Wild, as is her oldest brother.

FBI Special Agent Vee Frost does not care for Homeland Security's list of job qualifications when they ask to borrow her services. "An experienced agent with a proven track record" is good. "Fluent in Russian" hints of an assignment which is close to her heart. But "Attractive female, under thirty-five" sends up red flags. Obviously DHS is asking for services above and beyond the call of duty. But a loan to Homeland Security would look great on her resumé, and it sounds as if they really need her . . .

But when Vee agrees to turn on the charm for Sergei Tokarev, an amnesiac Russian arms dealer with an agenda as hidden as the contents of his past, she never anticipates a chase after two nuclear bombs that will have her hopping around the world from from Connecticut to Colorado, New Jersey, Florida, Siberia, and Iran.And no matter how strong a bond she and Sergei forge, it seems doubtful either will live long enough for a happy ending.

Cass Wilder is looking for excitement, both on the job and in her personal life—a wish that is more than fulfilled when she saves a child at a theme park and is plunged into international intrigue, her sole companion a man whose motives might be questionable.

When Michael Dillon, a here-today, gone-tomorrow government agent, is forced to turn to a fledgling PI for help in a chase that takes them deep into the Florida backwoods, he not only regains his kidnapped sister, but loses his heart.

~ * ~
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.

Friday, January 2, 2015


Sunset, Branford, CT - shared by Dan on Facebook. (Branford was my home for many happy years. My children grew up there.)

That's Branford Harbor, with Long Island Sound in the background. The sun is setting in the direction of New York City, c. 80 miles away.

My Christmas begonia - I must have remembered to fertilize it!


 The Hook.
Many years ago, when we still communicated by snail mail, I recall writing to the person heading an RWA contest, asking plaintively, "What's a hook?" (One of the items listed on the chapter's Score Sheet). She was kind enough to reply in depth, a favor I have never forgotten. And the incident points up how important it is for authors to share their knowledge with others. Such a simple thing, a hook. But I needed to know what it was, and someone took the time to explain it. I later joined that chapter and was taught about contest judging by the very same gracious lady, who is gone now. Her chapter has honored her by naming their contest in her memory.

A recent discussion on one of my author loops also pointed up how important it is that published authors share their hard-earned knowledge with unpubs, and that we do not get up on our high horse and ignore, or "look down" on, those who are still struggling with the basics. So here is my definition of a hook. And, yes, hooks are an essential part of writing your book.

Hook: the last line in a chapter that keeps readers turning the page. The sentence that "leaves readers hanging" in the grand tradition of the heroine tied to the railroad tracks, the announcement of a surprise pregnancy, a bad guy with a gun trained at the hero's head." 

In the past a good hook was most emphasized for the end of Chapter 3, as that was the end of the traditional submission package. More recently, a hook is encouraged for as many chapters as possible, beginning with Chapter 1.

Example 1:  
Way back in 1998, when I submitted Tarleton's Wife to RWA's Golden Heart contest, I still had no idea what a hook was. Yet by some miracle my entry ended with a great hook. (Which I had written instinctively, without knowing what I was writing had a name.) And, yes, Tarleton's Wife won the Golden Heart that year, and I strongly suspect that great hook had something to do with it.

Example 2:
From Dark Light, a Futuristic by Jayne Castle 
Background: On a planet somewhat similar to earth, a young female reporter has been writing articles criticizing a very powerful organization called "The Guild." She has finally gotten an interview with the Guild Boss, who surprises her by admitting to some problems in his organization. Near the end of Chapter 1 he further surprises her by suggesting they work together to eliminate the problems. And then . . .

     He watched her with a steady, unwavering look. "I'm dead serious."
     It was the word dead that aroused all her new journalistic instincts. Okay, maybe he was serious.
     "This would be a Guild story?" she asked warily. "What, exactly, do I have to do to get this hot exclusive?"
     "Marry me."

 ~ * ~

Since the next section of the Writing Workshop is Plot, which is long and complicated, I'll stick with just the Hook for this week. But I invite you to go back through the Archives of Mosaic Moments and check out any writing & editing hints you might have missed. Or some of the photo essays, just for fun of it. Now that we're moving into 2015, I'll be posting another Index shortly.

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.