Grace's Mosaic Moments

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Busy Week

Nothing new in Mosaic Moments this week as both my writing and my blogging went on hold to get ready for my big "Moving" garage sale. With daughter Susie providing a large contingent of children's clothes & games, hamster cages, etc., as she too is moving & lives in a gated community. Lots of preparation over the last few weeks, plus three days non-stop - organizing, pricing, then selling, selling, selling. Susie deserted me several times to show her house and once to direct the Citrus Chorus in the National Anthem for a softball game at UCF. (I understand the girls were a big hit.) While I held forth alone, though with only one sour note when a family of three kept waving items at me from all sides, demanding in that awful sing-song: "What will you take for this?"!) 

Interestingly, I met and talked to more neighbors than I had in the eight years I've lived here, plus a lot of other interesting people. Including an immigrant from Peru who bought the furry 20" llama I originally purchased in Peru. And I sold tea bowls I purchased at a gift shop in an onion-domed mosque in Samarkand to a Muslim girl from Jordan. So definitely a fun two days - except for the family mentioned above who wanted to buy everything at one-tenth the garage-sale price. Oh yes - my piano went to a slim young man, who obviously really, really wanted it. But I worried that the friends he brought back to help move it might not be able to handle it (two were female). And then I saw Daddy. Twenty-four-inch biceps, I swear. I think he could have bench-pressed the piano all by himself.

All in all, the sale was worth the effort. As the saying goes, I'll be laughing all the way to the bank.

Below a few of the photos we managed to take over the past week.

Girl power - Making room for my garage sale by loading a U-haul of stuff  & taking it to my new house.

Susie, Hailey & Cassidy loaded the entire truck, drove it to Longwood & unloaded (though they had help from a male neighbor for the unload). Truly an amazing feat. Resulting in the not-so-surprising photo below. (Which Blogger absolutely refused to load in an upright position - sorry about that.)

On Thursday Mike flew to Lakeland (out of the Executive Airport) for the Sun 'n Fun airshow & took this photo as he passed over the Orlando Eye.


On Friday morning, I was rushing through the newspaper as I expected garage sale afficionados by 8:00 a.m., when I did a classic double-take as I skimmed the front page of the Local Section of The Orlando Sentinel. Cassidy in profile (on the right) and Riley peeking out between the two girls with hair bows. I knew the Citrus Singers had performed two patriotic numbers at the federal building for a citizenship ceremony for 200 the day before - after all, I drove our two there - but the photo on the front page was a big surprise. I understand the mothers of the children below bought out every Sentinel they could lay their hands on.

The odd twists of Garage Sales - would you believe no one bought that gorgeous doll or the cut-glass vase? The sewing machine, however, is headed to Colombia.

Female Power again - this time 3 seniors & Susie. Would you believe we loaded two three-drawer chests, a 4-drawer chest, and a full-length sofa into a pick-up all by ourselves? Brava, Girl Power! Susie also loaded a very heavy glass-topped table with wrought iron base for a customer this morning. Again, impressive! (Although I suspect her father would have been more horrified than proud.)

~ * ~

Grace Note:  Mosaic Moments will be sporadic over the next three months as I pack, move, get my computer set up, unpack & then re-pack up for a family cruise in the Mediterranean, plus four days in London. (Planned last summer before the big decision to move.)

I'll be updating my blog index on Writing & Editing articles, so hopefully readers can find useful blogs in Archives.

As always, 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, April 18, 2015

Recipes & Photo Gallery

"Summer is acumen in" - storm approaching Cocoa Beach while . . .
Cassidy frolics in the surf. Saturday, April 11, 2015

Orlando Eye scanned from The Orlando Sentinel, 4/17/15

On Thursday night the not-yet-in-use Orlando Eye was lit up for the first time with 64,000 LED lights, illuminating its 400-foot height. And to think I had this idea, using it in my fictional theme park, Florida Wild, a year before the new I-Drive project was announced. Ah, well . . . (The lights in the distance are downtown Orlando.)


Susie doing prep work before sodding the front lawn at my new house - broken rake & all.


 As previously mentioned, I have an addiction to recipes. At least once a week I have to try something new - and occasionally the results are worth passing on. One recipe, though tasty, I rejected because although it arrived at the table as a "One Dish" meal, I looked around my devastated kitchen and discovered creating it had required: a frying pan, one large sauce pan, one medium sauce pan, one medium mixing bowl and one small mixing bowl. Plus a wire whisk and several wooden spoons. Frankly, the dish wasn't stunning enough to justify the clean-up effort.

I had better luck on a different recipe, however. After reading about Chicken Escabeche salad in romance novel (surprise, surprise), I looked up several recipes on the Internet and took a bit here and bit there to make a hot meal version, recorded below. A wonderful mix of flavors, with the pickled jalapeños offering a more mild piquancy to the dish than standard sliced hot peppers (fresh or canned).

Grace Note: I strongly recommend cutting up all the necessary ingredients ahead of time, so you can simply put everything together in one fell swoop. I also found it easier to use "chicken tenders" instead of chicken breast halves. 

Chicken Escabeche

4 teaspoons olive oil, divided
4 (8 oz.) chicken breast halves, skinned*
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
¼ teaspoon salt
2 cups thinly sliced onion
1½  cups thinly sliced red bell pepper
1 cup sliced carrot
½ cup raisins (preferably golden)
slivered almonds (opt., as desired)
6 garlic cloves, sliced
1½ cups low-sodium chicken broth
¼ - 1/3 cup cup cider vinegar
1 teaspoon dried thyme
ground cumin or cumin seeds (to taste)
capers (opt., as desired)
3 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick
¼ cup drained sliced pickled jalapeño peppers

*or a package of "chicken tenders"

Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Sprinkle chicken evenly with ¼ teaspoon black pepper and salt. Add chicken to pan; cook 5 minutes on each side or until browned. Remove from pan; set aside.

Heat remaining 2 teaspoons of oil over medium heat. Add onion, bell pepper, carrot, garlic, and remaining ¼ teaspoon black pepper. Cook over medium heat 5 minutes or until vegetables are crisp-tender, stirring frequently.

Add broth and remaining ingredients, except jalapeños,  to pan; bring to a boil. Return chicken to pan. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer 20 minutes or until chicken is done and vegetables are tender.

Remove and discard cinnamon stick and cloves. Stir in jalapeño peppers.

 ~ * ~

The first time Hailey & I attempted to make a mixed fruit pie, we didn't allow enough time for the frozen berries to defrost, nor enough time for them to drain. The pie was good but horribly soggy. When Hailey requested eight mini pies for her family birthday party, I put together the instructions on a Kraft box of tapioca with instructions that came with the pie molds,  & instructions learned from my mother, all the while keeping in mind the soggy mess of our first fruit pie. Riley and Cassidy made the pies, and they were a big hit. Truly exceptional fruit pies. So I'll try to re-create the recipe below. For just one 8-9" pie, you can cut the recipe in half.

Grace's Fruit Pie

1 48-oz. pkg. frozen Triple Berry Mix*
2 pkgs. Betty Crocker refrigerated pie crust (2 sheets each)
1/2 cup tapioca
1¼ - 1-1/3 cups raw sugar**
2 eggs 
aluminum foil (optional)

Note: the above makes enough for two 8-9" pies.

Be sure berries are fully thawed and drained. Preheat oven to 400°. Mix berries, tapioca & sugar together. Let set while unrolling one pie crust. Place crust in pie plate, molding to sides. (Do not cut off extra yet.) Poke holes in bottom of crust with fork. Brush crust with fork-whipped egg white. Dust crust with a little flour. Pour in berry mix. Unroll second crust. Lay on top of filling. Pinch edges in whatever pattern desired. Trim excess crust, if any. Make slits, or whatever steamholes desired, in top of crust. Brush crust with egg wash.***  Sprinkle raw sugar on top. Repeat directions for second pie.

If desired, use strips of aluminum foil to cover the edge of the crusts to keep them from becoming too brown. Place pies on cookie sheet as berry pies inevitably bubble over, making a mess. Bake c. 20 minutes. Reduce oven to 375° and bake c. 20 minutes more, or until pies looks light brown & bubbly.

*Blueberries, blackberries & raspberries, but other combinations should work.

**This is less than a standard pie recipe calls for, but it seemed to work very well. (I prefer Florida's raw sugar but standard white sugar is fine, if preferred.)

***Make egg wash by whisking one egg and adding a bit of water; whisk again. Apply with pastry brush. 

~ * ~
Grace Note:  Be sure you have plenty of people to share this one. (I gained two pounds on 3 slices over three days!)

~ * ~

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, April 11, 2015

My Golden Beach Books

Orlando Tidbit

 Last night's TV news announced that Orlando hosted 62,000,000 visitors in 2014, making it the most visited place in the United States. I've long called it "the Resort Capital of the World," and I guess this shows I'm not wrong. International Drive - known locally as I-Drive - is doing its best to rival Disney and Universal, topping off the fun soon by debuting the Orlando Eye, which was used as a training site this week for a special squad of rescue/firefighters being put together to deal with the very special demands of features like the Eye and our many towering rollercoasters. (Twelve people had to rescued from a coaster at Universal just last week.)

Blair's Golden Beach Books

 Although I am immensely grateful to all my Regency readers out there, regular readers of my blog know that every once in a while I like to feature my non-Regency books, which tend to be neglected by the majority of my fans. Sigh. (Hmm - I wonder if Georgette Heyer felt the same way about her mysteries . . .)

Today I'm featuring what I call my Golden Beach books, books set in that wonderful Gulf Coast community where I lived for 25 years, the town whose true name remains secret as the population triples every winter with the influx of snowbirds, and we really don't need any more people discovering this treasure, thank you very much. But I really, really hope you will enjoy "Golden Beach" vicariously through the books below. And yes, all geographical features are true (though the names are not), as well as the culture, and a remarkable amount of the action, particularly in Shadowed Paradise, which includes a number of actual events.

Blair Note: In a manner similar to Tarleton's Wife and The Sometime Bride, this is a book I wrote before I learned the so-called "rules" of writing, making it my personal favorite among my non-Regency books. It's natural and heart-felt. As well as truly scary and suspenseful.

When Claire Langdon, a product of Ivy League New England, meets a long-haired Florida cracker in a blue pickup in the middle of a flooded bridge, the attraction is instantaneous and powerful, the cultural shock resounding. Claire finds herself coping with a lover whose veneer of civilization is about as thin as that surrounding the Florida wilderness. She must also deal with her new job as a salesperson for a luxury housing development, an unwelcome visitor from her past, her new lover's ex-wife, and her lover's ex-lover. Not to mention a stalker, who may or may not be a serial killer.

Paradise Burning is a sequel to Shadowed Paradise and includes true incidents, although oddly enough the huge wildfire described in the book did not happen until several years after the book was finished. 

Amanda Armitage plays a vital role in her family's international investigations agency. Great job, great salary, great heartache, as she lives her life, eyes on the computer screen, fingers on the keyboard. When she loses an agent, a friend, on her watch, she is forced to examine the joylessness of her narrow existence.

Acknowledging her burnout, Mandy's resistance is minimal when asked to spend the winter season in Florida, working for Peter Pennington, who is writing a book about international trafficking in women and children. The same trafficking that just got her friend killed. There is, however, a slight glitch. Peter Pennington is the husband she hasn't seen in five years.

As Mandy and Peter juggle a rekindling romance with the dangers of international trafficking, the girl once known as Mandy Mouse metamorphoses into a dynamic, independent woman. Perhaps too much so, as the world around them literally goes up in flames, and Mandy, discovering how easily black and white can dissolve into shades of gray, is forced to make the second most difficult decision of her life. 

Blair Note:  This was my first attempt at writing in first person, and I loved it, finding it so much easier to be clever and amusing, as well as dramatic. 

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 in Peru, 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.

A personal disaster in New York City sends promising clothing designer Gwyn Halliday fleeing home to the sleepy Gulf Coast resort and retirement community of Golden Beach, Florida, where she turns her talents to designing costumes. Five years later, her shop, DreamWear - Costumes and Creations, is a success, providing rental costumes to native Floridians, local retirees, and to the snowbirds and tourists who flock to the area each winter. Gwyn has come to terms with being an exotic blossom in a sea of seniors when one of her customers is killed (wearing DreamWear's best Santa suit), and she suspects the so-called "boating accident" was murder.

In rapid succession Gwyn meets the new Chief of Police (from landlocked Nebraska), runs into a former crush (now suffering from PTSD), and begins to suspect an elderly senior is being targeted by a series of scams (one possibly lethal). And then her brother becomes a suspect. Gwyn is well aware she should stick to costumes, but what's a girl to do when things get personal?

Special Note:  I'm considering having Gwyn and Laine team up for a sequel. Haven't made up my mind about that yet.

Florida Knight is a book close to my heart, as I lived it for a number of years as a member of Trident, the Florida chapter of the Society for Creative Anachronisms.

When Michael Turco's brother is injured in a tournament at a Medieval Fair, the Florida Highway Patrol lieutenant suspects it wasn't an accident and begins his own personal investigation. Which causes him considerable anguish when he has to enlist the aid of Kate Knight, who is his entree into the Lords and Ladies of Chivalry (LALOC), a Medieval re-enactment group. Kate, who has been fighting her way out of abuse for years, is equally appalled. Michael will pose as her boyfriend, and she, who has been celibate for years, will be forced to share a postage-stamp-size tent with him nearly every weekend until the mystery of a series of disasters at Medieval Fairs and LALOC events is solved.

Michael has his own problems, finding the adjustment to LALOC's Medieval lifestyle, including costumes he can't believe he's wearing - and bowing to a chair? - a severe trial. He must also cope with a multitude of quirky personalities among Medieval enthusiasts who take themselves very seriously indeed. Plus a rash of new, ever more serious, "accidents." And then there's Kate, who seems to be mellowing until she gets a look at him in full FHP uniform.

Thanks for taking a look at my Golden Beach books. Here's a hint: the real thing is not far south of Sarasota. And, no, it really doesn't have as many dire happenings as depicted in these books. It is truly one of this earth's most special places.

~ * ~

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, April 4, 2015

How Not to Write a Book

Happy 12th Birthday to our Ice Skater who won a 2nd & 3rd at her first major competition in Tampa
Woe is me, I'm moving. (In May.) Aargh! Bye-bye, Jellison Street


I had something else in mind for this week's Mosaic Moments, but I ran across a book I sent to my Kindle's Archives at the end of Chapter 3. Which has to be a new record. When encountering a book I don't like, I usually plow my way through to the very end, even though I know early on that I won't be downloading this particular author again. But this was a new low. And not because the writing was bad, or even badly presented. So I pass along my reaction as a lesson to us all. And as a warning about the Big Five Ws mentioned over the last few blogs. In an effort to follow the reporter's classic rules of Who, What, Where, When and Why, it is possible to overdo it. In fact, I couldn't help but wonder if this particular author - who shall, of course, remain anonymous - is a reporter, sticking to the newspaper and TV code of duly reporting "just the facts" from as many points of view as possible.

So what's wrong with that? 

In this particular book I quit after Chapter 3 because by that time I had learned all five of the Ws above. The facts had been presented by a variety of characters, each in his/her own point of view. Nothing had been left to the imagination. I had seen inside the heads of the heroine, the victim, multiple villains, and a witness. And then the POV went back to the victim, and the cycle of multiple POVs began all over again. But what was left to tell? The details of how all this happened could not be enough to catch my interest. Even the hunt for the villains had dulled as I knew exactly who they were and what skulduggery they were involved in.

Maybe if I'd continued to read, there would have been a surprise. For the sake of other readers, I certainly hope so. But for me the author had already slit his/her own throat. There was no mystery, no suspense. Just exposition. People reciting what they experienced, what they saw. (This was not a romance, so I didn't expect that except peripherally.) 

Yet this was a story with a good plot, interesting characters. It had enormous potential. But no-o-o, I beg you, please don't tell me everything up front! Give me clues, make me, as a reader, struggle as the heroine does to find the answers. Jack Higgins is one of the few writers I know who can show you a villain, even present sympathetic aspects of a villain, and a reader eats it up, not minding in the least. But in this case the villain was presented merely as a villain, a character without depth, a cardboard menace. Readers are also presented with the thoughts of his partners in crime. Again, "just the facts, ma'am." Here we are, the bad guys, all lined up in a row. 

You will recall that in my series on Settings, I pointed out "Why" doesn't have to be included in the Who, What, Where, and When of your book's opening paragraphs. You can leave the "Why" to be dealt with over the entire course of the book. Now, however, I have to add "Be careful" - don't overdo the first four Ws. Keep it simple. And for Heaven's sake, don't shoot yourself in the foot by allowing a whole host of characters to expound on his/her Point of View. It's not only boring to go over the same scene again and again, it destroys all mystery, the surprise of putting off certain revelations for the future.

Telling all upfront kills the story.

I can hear someone out there protesting, "But it's my book, I can do what I want." 

Fine. Go ahead. Just don't be surprised if no one comes back for seconds. We have all had to adapt over the years, and no, I didn't particularly like "writing down" to suit what the New York market wanted. But sometimes compromise is necessary.

Which, of course, is why I love the freedom offered by indie publishing. I embrace it, I profit from it. I am grateful for the opportunity it gives me to venture into realms NY would have rejected. But I want my readers to be satisfied. More than satisfied. I want them to thoroughly enjoy the tales I tell. Therefore, I hug a great many details close, whether in a simple romance like Lady Silence, which continues to sell year after year. its major revelation scene held to the very end,  Or Tarleton's Wife, which has had four incarnations (2 print, 2 e) and has continued to sell year after year for the past 15 years. TW is full of surprises - and clearly that's what readers cherish. I also suspect that's why my Regency Gothics sell well. In addition to the spice of romance, readers enjoy the challenge of attempting to figure out "who done it."

In romance, "telling all" is the equivalent of viewing the story through the eyes of not only the hero, heroine, and possibly a villain, but through the eyes of more than one of the villain's cronies, and the eyes of some of the hero's or heroine's friends. Of explaining all the details of the story's conflict—for example, what the stern father or ex-boyfriend thinks of the h/h's relationship, and what their friends think about it, including the details of how the couple broke up - all in the first 3 chapters. Again, leaving the story with absolutely nowhere to go. 

Plots and characters need to be developed step by step, thus catching and holding readers' attention. Who are these people? What's going to happen next? Wow, I can't wait to turn the page and find out.

Building character, building a plot, are key to creating a good book. Scatter intriguing bits right from page one, and keep on doing it to the very last page. Don't give it all away upfront and leave yourself hanging with no place to go. The gist of this week's Mosaic Moments:

Do not tell readers the entire story in the first three chapters!

Avoid too many Points of View. It's distracting and frequently reveals too much information. 

Post Script: In an interesting coincidence I just began to read a book which also takes the episodic approach - jumping from one set of characters to another, telling a mini tale in each chapter. Not until the end of Chapter 6 does the author begin to tie together the various events. And yet the book works because each chapter is left "hanging," presenting enough mystery to keep a reader turning the page. The physical settings are clearly identified, the characters clearly identified, except in the case where it's obvious the author intended the character to remain mysterious. I am beginning Chapter 7 and looking forward to seeing how it all comes together; i.e., the antithesis of the book described above where by Chapter 3 the story has been laid bare, with no questions left to ask.

So which book would you rather read? 

Update: At just past the half-way mark, the book above is suffering from multiple viewpoint syndrome - just too many stories to tell, which makes the book lag, keeping it from being the taut tale of suspense I suspect it was meant to be. Not a mystery, however, as the villain has been revealed well before the half-way mark. The author has, however, created such an intricate and complex plot that I will most certainly finish this book. But I am inclined to think it would have been a better book if it had not gone tearing off in so many different directions. (I haven't counted the Points of View, but I suspect it's at least ten.) My advice: don't do it!

Later: Just finished the book. It has a great plot, wonderful characters, and is well-written, with as harrowing a climax as one will ever read. But it was in sad need of a ruthless editor, who would have trimmed the "fat" and made the book into a sure-fire best-seller.

Repeated moral of the story: watch those multiple Points of View - don't let them lead you into the "rough," cluttering up the story you're trying to tell.

~ * ~

Next week - a look at Blair's Golden Beach books.

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.