Grace's Mosaic Moments

Saturday, September 26, 2015


There's something strange, though wonderful, about deer calmly grazing in an area as perfectly landscaped as the homes off Markham Woods Road in Longwood. Obviously, the neighborhood cherishes its wildlife. Many residents are among the angry protesters demonstrating against next month's first bear hunt in decades. (Sparked by three women being mauled by bears this past year within a couple of miles of the scene below.)


 So much has been written about the power of the pen, I decided to go for a slightly different twist on the name for this week's blog. I'm not sure what brought this topic on - perhaps devouring Rose, an old but absolutely stunning, book by Martin Cruz Smith, set me off, I'm not sure. But I got to thinking about what incredible power we have when we write. The power to give life, not just to a child or three, as so many of us do, but to create heroes, heroines, villains, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, and myriad odd, funny, beloved, and/or diabolical secondary characters. 

We create worlds around these people - everything from a country village to a western ranch, from teeming city to completely alien cultures on planets far, far away. We create balmy nights of romance under the stars, raging storms, claustrophobic traps deep inside the earth, soaring wonder in airplanes, spaceships, even an angel's view of earth. 

Through nothing more than black type on a white page - whether on paper or on screen - we invent situations that would challenge the finest minds among us, some no more complicated than the joys and sorrows of everyday life, some that challenge us to follow a maze of clues to find a villain, some that grab us on the scale of a James Bond thriller, some that simply amaze. And, yes, some that seem to tip over into glorifying "blood & guts" far beyond what most of us want to read.

But whatever the words we create, they are ours. They come out of our heads, no one else's - though certainly with a nod to all writers who have gone before us. After all, writing Romance boils down to boy meets girl, they fall in love but must deal with some supposedly insurmountable problem before they finally reconcile. And there you have it, HEA once again. (That's Happily Ever After, for those who don't recognize the acronym.) It's what happens in the details of the three- or four-hundred pages that tells your version of this age-old tale that matters.

The same is true, no matter what genre you write. The author must provide the unique details that makes the story his or hers. You must provide not only characters so well detailed they leap off the page straight into readers' minds, but you must paint vivid backdrops as well. Whether it's the minutiae of a small town in the South or the broad vista of a planet on the far side of the Galaxy, you have to dig the details out of your head and find the right words to create a picture your readers can actually see. 

And then there's Plot. Fictional characters need something to sink their teeth into besides each other. If there wasn't something happening beyond boy meets girl, the book would be maybe fifty pages instead of four hundred. So there we go again - the ultimate challenge of thinking up new situations when you have only to check out to know that every variation of every possible plot must have been done a hundred times over. And yet, creativity flourishes. Somehow every story is different, for even if plots sometimes seem to overlap, each author's style manages to be unique. (Okay, yes, there are copycats out there, but they aren't worthy of our attention.)

I read a lot. (I'm often asked where I find the time.) The truth is, late at night I'm too tired to do anything else. And since I do not have a full-time job, I can also take breaks during the day - ten or fifteen minutes to put up my feet and sink into a good book. And I am constantly amazed by the level of creativity in the books I read. Authors seem to have an infinite well of imagination that springs to life in book after book. Case in point - Rose by Martin Cruz Smith. He stunned us way-back-when with a book set in Russia during the period when no American could travel to Russia. His research was so perfect both his Russian detective hero and the world he lived in came across as totally authentic. In Rose, he has done the same for an English coal town. I mean, I was positively shivering with both fear and claustrophobia as the hero crawled through the debris from an explosion a mile underground. The fight scenes had my stomach in knots. And the plot twist? I'm a pretty good plotter, but even I saw only a vague hint of what was to come.

Yes, some of us like to think we're good at what we do. But any time we get above ourselves, we can always read Martin Cruz Smith, and a very few others like him, to take us down a peg or two. Yet all authors have one thing in common - Imagination. The ability to start with a blank page and make it come alive with interesting characters, a well-drawn setting, and a good storyline (be it simple or complex). This is the great Gift. The wonder of it all. This is what makes us writers. (And I make no silly distinctions between being a Writer and being an Author. They are one and the same. Anyone who takes time to worry about an alleged difference surely lacks confidence in his/her abilities. Or is arrogant enough to want to find a word which distinguishes him or her from those who are not yet published. A truly unworthy sentiment.)

It is immensely exciting to sit down each day and ask myself, "Okay, what happens next?" And, astoundingly, the answers are to be found only in my head. In a sense, I get to play god day in and day out, creating something that has never existed before. Wow! I mean, how great is that?

So take heart. Even if you're having an "off" day, those words are still yours. Even if you revise them until the paragraphs are almost unrecognizable, the work remains yours. Your idea. Your effort. Your end result. Yours to edit until it flows as smoothly as an English canal.

So, with due respect to the God who has gifted us with our talent, be proud of your creations. Never hesitate to lay it all out there and then declare, "Let there be light!" Whether you're finishing a novel, a short story, an essay, or a report for school, crafting words into sentences, sentences into paragraphs, and organizing the whole into a finished product is a major accomplishment. You can pat yourself on the back, right before you go back and edit and polish and edit and polish until you feel it's finally come right. 

Hold your head high. You've done it. Even if your great opus is only two pages and read by no one other than a teacher, you have made a unique contribution to the World of Writing, one that is totally yours. 

Writing is empowering. Writing places you among the rare few who can make worlds dance to their own tune. Revel in it. Be proud. We are so very fortunate to have been granted the special gift of not only creating  brave new worlds but the privilege of sharing these worlds with others.

~ * ~

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, September 19, 2015


My daughter was doing make-up for a TV talk show pilot featuring her father-in-law when she was asked to make a man look like "someone's evil conscience." I think it turned out pretty well. Not someone I'd care to meet in a dark alley. 

"Evil Conscience"


Choosing teams for the Treasure Hunt

The birthday girl, taking an eyes-closed swing at the piñata

This is one of those off-beat Mosaic Moments weeks, with two family parties and other obligations that have nothing to do with writing eating up my time.  So I'm chronicling the steps I had to take to create a Treasure Hunt for Riley's 11th birthday party. (Something I've been doing since the girls were old enough to read, but somehow this year it seemed more work. Maybe because the new house is bigger, more clues, etc., or maybe because I'm busier - I really don't know - but here's how it went this week.

Grace Note: Although my experience has been with children's birthday parties, including my own way back when, this process can be adapted to adults as well.


1. Scout out the territory. In my case, this meant spending time with a legal pad and pen at my daughter's new home, making copious notes on possible places to hide clues.

2.  Write the clues. This meant sitting down with my notes and writing out clues that could be understood by children, ages 8-13. (I gave up rhyming couplets long ago, settling for sentences like, "Big fish, little fish but not a story by Dr. Seuss" (the family's side-by-side fish tanks) or "I'm the family workhorse, 200,000 miles and still going strong" (my daughter's Honda Pilot). Or a question about which pet cage has eight legs inside (the two guinea pigs).

3.  Go out and buy items for 21 prize bags - rub-on-tattoos, candy, etc., plus something extra for the 7-member winning team.

4.  Buy bags (in a pack of 20)to put everything in. (If everyone shows up, someone is going to get a Baggie instead of a pretty plastic party bag.)

5.  Go over 40-some possible clues and pick 12 or 13 for each of 3 teams. This is a TOUGH job, as I try to gauge the clues by the general ages of each team, plus making sure that each clue is far from the next one, keeping the kids running from one side of the house to the other, from the front yard to the back. 

6.  Using scissors, separate each clue from the next, which allows me to make three stacks in exact order of 1-13, checking to make sure the clues are properly scattered and age effective. (I've tried Cut/Copy & Paste in the past and found that old-fashioned hands-on works best for me.)

7.  Re-type clues for each team, numbering them from 1-13. (If you use Cut & Paste, you can avoid this step, but I found it way too confusing.)

8.  Print clues for each team on different colored paper. (This allows me to place more than one clue in the same place, though this year there's only one place with clues for two different teams.)

9.  Write out the Rules for the game, which are rather lengthy. I've "winged it" in the past but decided to write them down this year so I wouldn't have to keep remembering what I needed to say.

     Rules include the leader reading the clue out loud, so it isn't just a case of one person seeing the clue and everyone else playing "follow the leader."  Making sure they watch their step on the many ups and downs in the new house so no one gets hurt. And making sure they do all the clues in order, no cheating by grabbing a clue just because it's their team's color! And telling them they can come to me for an additional hint if they get stuck.

9.  Cut the clues apart, arranging them in order. Clip securely.

10.  Fill all the goodie bags.

11.  Make sure you have enough masking tape to attach the clues where you want them.

12.  Spend considerable time fastening each clue in place - a sometimes tricky job as #1 is kept out to give as a "Starter." Clue #2 is for Place # 3, etc., etc., for THREE different teams. [This turned out to be close to one hour!]

13.  Place 21 goodie bags in 3 different final destinations.

14.  Read the Rules to kids, mothers, onlookers, kibbitzers, etc.

15.  Do a countdown from 10, then stand back and quiver while the thundering herd charges off. (I spend hours and hours preparing for a hunt that takes not much more than five minutes flat. Sigh.)

16.  Declare the winner (the first to find their prize bags). 

17.  Award the "extra" prize to the winning team.

18.  Collapse, a week's work finally accomplished.

~ * ~

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, September 12, 2015

Copyediting Challenges - 3

We've all come to expect such perfection of UPS. Well, alas, I have evidence it isn't always so. Below find pictures of the Etagère I ordered from Target, a perfect way, I thought, to display family photos and special knick-knacks. 

When UPS knocked on my door, I was so excited - until I tried to lift one of the two boxes and had to call for help. When my daughter dragged the boxes inside, she discovered they were fastened together by bubblewrap, which seemed a bit odd. The next day when I removed the wrap, all ready to assemble my lovely new furniture, I discovered with horror that the two boxes were meant to be one. My beautiful etagère had snapped in half somewhere along the way. (Fell off the truck?) Below are photos of what actually arrived at my house.

In close-up, you can see where the wood, as well as the Styrofoam, has snapped. Aargh! I SO wanted to get the boxes of framed photos off the living room floor.

 Copyediting Challenges - 3

Grace Note:

I'd like to add a bit more about last week's #4, Introductory PhrasesI noticed in my own work this week that I put a comma after opening words, such as "Fortunately," "unfortunately," and "However," even though a comma after "But" and "So" are no-nos. In attempting to figure out why this is so, I realized these words are more like interjections than introductory phrases and are treated as such. But again, this is a gray area. How do you distinguish between a one-word introductory phrase and an interjection? This is one of copyediting's many challenges. In the end, I believe, each author must decide what feels right for his/her personal style.  I would never correct an author who preferred to leave the comma out after the above words unless I felt the drama of the sentence needed a more obvious pause. For myself, however, I will continue to use the comma.

1.  Introductory words requiring commas, as named by The Chicago Manual of Style
Yes, No, Well, Well then. 

Yes, I am going home tomorrow.
No, you may not have any more candy.
Well, that's just plain stupid!

2.  Interjections
Interjections are similar to Direct Address. They require commas on both side. 

This, indeed, is what the book is all about.
The only conclusion, therefore, is that the man is mad.
I will, however, take the exam next year.
3.  Restrictive & Nonrestrictive Phrases
If the descriptive phrase is essential to the meaning of the sentence, you do not use commas.

Examples from CMS:
The woman wearing the red coat is my sister. (Restrictive)
 My sister, wearing a red coat, set off for the city. (Nonrestrictive - you could eliminate the descriptive clause and it would not change the meaning of the sentence.)

4.  Restrictive & Nonrestrictive Clauses
A dependent clause following a main clause should NOT be followed by a comma if the meaning of the dependent clause is restrictive (essential to its meaning). 

Examples from CMS:
We will agree to the proposal if you accept our conditions.
Paul was astonished when he heard the news.

But . . .

 She ought to be promoted, if you want my opinion.
At last she arrived, when the food was cold.

I find the CMS's last example a bit harder to understand. I personally think I might omit the comma, as to me the second clause seems essential to the sense of the sentence. Another example of a copyediting challenge. I would call this one a "your choice."

He didn't run, because he was afraid to move.

5.  Relative Clauses
 To be honest, I don't recall learning about Relative Clauses in school, at least not by that name. To me, they're just another kind of restrictive or nonrestrictive clause. 

Examples from CMS.
The report that the committee submitted was well documented.
That is the woman who mistook my coat for hers.

But . . .

The report, which was well documented, was submitted to the committee.The book, which I finished last night, is due back tomorrow.

More on "that" and "which" next time.
~ * ~

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, September 5, 2015

Copyediting Challenges - 2

I hadn't yet found a photo for this week's blog when, lo and behold, my daughter tagged me on Facebook with this one. How incredibly appropriate for a blog on Copyediting! Poor pitcher, it's a wonder he didn't drown. I do hope that headline is not from my old favorite newspaper, The Boston Globe.

This week's Breaking News:
I understand Orlando's lost king cobra (NOT one of our home-grown threats) is already international news, but I thought editorial writer Scott Maxwell expressed the situation so well in The Orlando Sentinel that I am copying his words here.

   "Sometimes I wonder if God just likes messing with Florida.
   It's like he was looking down at us this week thinking: OK, alligators, sinkholes, hurricanes, spiders, brain-eating amoeba, tornadoes, lightning .... what else can I throw at those people?
   Ooh, I know—a king cobra!
   Yes, the latest only-in-Florida story has an Orlando man losing track of his deadly, fanged snake.
   Some people worry about snake bites. That's a valid fear ... especially if your kids attend one of the two nearby elementary schools.
   But my worries are bigger than that.
   I'm worred about breeding.
   I mean, it happened before with pythons. A few got loose, started making snake eyes with each other, popping out serpent babies and—voilà—no more rabbits in the Everglades.
   Even worse, what if our cobra has a snake sexcapade with one of those pythons?
   They'd breed something terrible and new—a cobrathon.
   The Syfy channel wouldn't need CGI to create its next mutant-creature film ... it could just head down to Apopka-Vineland Road [where the snake made its getaway].
   I know it sounds ridiculous. But ridiculous is this state's motto. We reel in it, elect it and generate news stories about it most every day.
   So come on, Orlando, let's catch this thing fast, before storm season hits ... and we have a cobracane on our hands."

Copyediting Challenges - Part 2

1.  Parenthetical clauses. 
I'm putting this at the top as it came up in a question after last week's list of copyediting problems. (Interestingly from someone in Greece.) Technically, parenthetical remarks should be offset by commas (a comma on either side), but actual practice varies, another one of those pesky subjective decisions a copy editor needs to make (unless you work exclusively for a publisher with a handy-dandy style sheet).

 The questioner had developed her own rule for compound sentences with parenthetical clauses. Her examples:  "He called my name and, well aware that everybody was staring, I turned to him." Or "I knew it was a stupid move but, so help me God, I ran after her." 
In the strict punctuation I was taught in school, the sentence should read: "He called my name, and, well aware that everybody was staring, I turned to him." but losing the first comma makes a "cleaner" and more readable sentence. Another alternative would be to use an M-dash:  "He called my name, and—well aware that everybody was staring—I turned to him." I'm inclined to believe, however, that the M-dash gives a bit too much emphasis to this rather innocuous parenthetical statement. Save its impact for more important moments.

I personally follow the example in The Chicago Manual of Style which eliminates the second comma around the conjunction, not the first, which makes our initial example read: "He called my name, and well aware that everybody was staring, I turned to him."

The important thing is to be aware that there can be more than one acceptable way to deal with parenthetical clauses. Whichever one you choose, stick with it. Do not toss in a comma here and there just because you feel like it. Know what you're doing.

2.  Adjectives preceding a noun.
I've run into copy editors who have no idea of this rule, which is well illustrated in The Chicago Manual of Style (14th edition not 15th). Most of us are familiar with putting a comma between two adjectives before a noun.  Example: She has a challenging, difficult job.
But if the first adjective modifies the second, as well as the noun, then no comma is required. This rule was omitted in the next edition of the Manual, but I believe it still holds true.  For example: "tall blue spruce" and "traditional political institutions." Yet another subjective decision that has to be made by author and/or copy editor.  

3.  Direct Address.
There is no room for subjective decisions with this one. I include it simply because I see so many mistakes in the punctuation of Direct Address. The rules have always been clear. The name of the person being addressed - or phrases such as "Ladies and gentlemen," must be set off by commas on either side. The only exceptions, the beginning and end of a sentence, where only one comma is used. Examples:

a.  "Hey, Bill, where do you think you're going?"
b.  "Mary, are you driving into town today?" 
c.  "That's all, Folks."

Whether your characters are speaking directly to a friend, a gang, Mom, Grampa, a professor - to any single person or group of persons - the person(s) being addressed must be set off by commas.

 4. Introductory Word or Phrases.
 From The Chicago Manual of Style:
"An adverbial or participial phrase at the beginning of a sentence is usually followed by a comma, especially if a slight pause is intended. A single word or a very short introductory phrase does not require a comma except to avoid misreading." Examples (also from CMS):

After reading the note, Henrietta turned pale.
On Tuesday he tried to see the mayor.
Before eating, the members of the committee met in the assembly rooms.

Grace notes:  
1.  That last sentence is a perfect example of an obligatory comma. If you don't put one there, wow!

2.  I tend to follow the general rule of thumb I read somewhere along the way: If an opening phrase is more than three words, follow it by a comma. I also tend to put a comma after opening phrases that indicate time or place, probably following a rule held over since schools days. For example:

Two days later, I went shopping.  
(See also #3 below.)
The above is a "subjective" comma, perhaps because I feel a pause there. But this one is definitely an author's or copy editor's choice.

3.  Somewhere out there, there are teachers instructing students to put commas after single introductory words like "So" and "But." Perhaps this is punctuation taught in Canada or Great Britain. It is not correct in the U.S.

~ * ~
 More examples next week.

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.