Grace's Mosaic Moments

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Creating a Heroine

Cassidy, Hailey, Riley - 2009

Mixing with dinosaurs at Leu Gardens, 2017

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What does it take to create the modern heroine (even if you write Historicals)?
To put it bluntly, "Barbara Cartland heroines" are out. (Ms Cartland was enormously popular in her day, but sweet young know-nothings who can't fend for themselves, or think for themselves, and have to be rescued by the big strong hero simply don't fly with today's readers.) 

Some of the more acerbic among us termed these heroines TSTL (Too Stupid To Live), and although I try to avoid being unkind, there are times I have to agree. But not all the dithering idiots were in Historical novels. Harlequin/Silhouette had more than their share of wilting heroines in that era, as did many other major New York publishers. And then there were all those Gothic novels where the heroine justifies the TSTL label by doing something like descending into a dark cellar by the light of nothing more than a single candle - and not a weapon in sight.

But just about the time I began writing in the mid-90s, attitudes began to change. When I wrote Tarleton's Wife, I never thought I was advocating for female independence, but a reviewer made a point of commenting on this aspect of my heroine who was making a life for herself after the death of her husband. And sure enough, the heroine of my first book, The Sometime Bride, which was published after Tarleton's Wife, was criticized by one viewer for being too passive; i.e., too close to an old-time heroine. (She is, however, only fourteen at the start of the book and later graduates to giving her husband a rather powerful kick where it hurts. I felt her portrayal was justified by her age and by the "acceptance" demanded of women of her day. But I made sure she got her vengeance in the end.)

Which brings me to my next point. (A familiar one to my readers.) If you explain, or at least give hints, why the heroine's personality is what it is, she can be forgiven a great deal. If, for example, she can graduate from passive to taking charge of her life, most readers will be fine with her earlier passivity. (In my contemporary novel, Florida Knight, my heroine has escaped from abuse (one of the most difficult things to justify - how can any woman tolerate this? - yet it is a constant and enormous problem). Her solution was perhaps unique: she joins a Medieval Reenactment group where she fights (with stout poles) men on a weekly basis. But, naturally, finding love again is going to be tough.

A good illustration of the above can be found in Jane Austen heroines (and yes, I know she lived 200 years ago. But her characterizations are the primary reason she is still read when most novelists of long ago have joined the pile of Great Unknowns.) 

1. Pride & Prejudice. There is a reason this book is the one almost everyone knows, the one that's been presented as a movie or TV series over and over again. The two oldest Bennett sisters are characters who belong to every age: Elizabeth, who is bright, spirited, takes no sass; yet Jane -  not so bright, but sweet and kind and thoughtful - is the perfect candidate to be hurt by love. Let's face it, most of us couldn't care less what happens to the three younger Bennett sisters, but Elizabeth and Jane are women for all times. We applaud Elizabeth's independence; we feel Jane's sorrow. We CARE.

2.  Mansfield Park.  I have made an effort to read articles by those who praise the character, Fanny Price. I can praise Ms Austen's characterization of Fanny Price, otherwise, frankly, I can't stand the girl. To me she is the epitome of everything we reject in a 21st century heroine. Yes, I realize Ms Austen was writing at the turn of the 19th c. when Fanny Prices abounded. It's just that I don't want to read about repressed little prigs like Fanny. Nor do I want to read about situations where it is considered scandalous when young people put on a play for their own enjoyment. No, indeed, Mansfield Park has no place on my bookshelf, genius of the author or not.

3.  Sense & Sensibility. As in Pride & Prejudice, the title is a clue to this story of two sisters with very different attitudes toward life. Another excellent contrast, with one sister a "doer," the other a mere "reactor" to life. Needless to say, a readers' sympathies are with the sister who copes with disaster rather than the sister whom life prostrates. Both, however, are personalities that exist as much in a our modern age as they did then. They are people we all know.

4.  Emma.  Again, Emma Woodhouse is a brilliant characterization, but I can't stand the girl. She is a busybody, manipulating other people's lives, while allowing her father's selfishness to dominate her own. She has a classic hero right under her nose - who dotes on her - and pays no attention whatsoever. Frankly, I always feel she has no right to get the hero in the end - some more worthy female should have Mr. Knightly. Yes, terrific story, but Emma needed a good swat in the seat.

And yet . . . Emma, too, is timeless, a character we know and recognize, even in the 21st century. Which is why Jane Austen's diverse heroines still make excellent illustrations of heroines, past and present.

So where do you begin to create a heroine who will appeal to readers in a time when we're discovering Women's Lib hasn't come as far as we hoped it had. (As the "Me too" movement, continued disparity in pay, and the disillusion of women who thought they were strong enough to do it all has revealed.) Let's look at some possible types:

1.  the Action heroine - secret agent, detective, stunt actress, president of a company (or country), etc. (If you haven't read Susan Elizabeth's Philips's tales of the runaway President's wife who becomes President, do so now. Among my all-time favorite series of dramedies.)

2.  the Romantic Suspense heroine - dragged into heroism by circumstances - this could be anyone from a medieval maiden in a castle to a contemporary female coping with challenging circumstances.

3.  the Career/Classic heroine - she tries to do it all - career, husband, children, PTA, charities - except . . . the possible pitfalls in this scenario are enormous.

4. the "Everywoman" heroine - a stay-at-home or part-time work-from-home Mom. She manages her family, including providing endless transportation to soccer practice, play rehearsals, doctors' appointments, school performances, etc. She cooks, attends church—we all know the drill. She's content with life until one day disaster happens - this could be a death, bad health diagnosis, a difficult child, husband loses his job, and so on - something that requires her to rise above her mundane existence and be something more.

4.  the Party Girl - the female equivalent of the male rogue - she charges head on at life, not ready to settle down; she has few ambitions beyond enjoying life to the hilt - again, until something blows up in her face and she is forced to become more. 

5.  the Beta heroine - the female equivalent of a Beta hero - the girl who doesn't stand out, does her job but never brilliantly. She obeys the rules, has few girlfriends, is shy of men. Loves children, animals, maybe daydreams of being something more - but it takes a major nudge, perhaps a challenge to her compassion, to get her up and moving into a person who can be a benefit to others instead of merely existing without making ripples in the world around her.

Other than steering clear of wimps and cry-babies, your heroine's personality is limited only by your imagination. But as with the heroes mentioned last week, there are certain conventions that definitely enhance the character of your heroine. First and foremost, she must be likable. Yes, she can have quirks,foibles, even faults that add to her character, but she can't be continually rude, unkind to children, kick animals, etc. Qualifier: it is my general impression from a wide range of reading that no matter how modern readers say they are, there is still a greater limit on what females can get away with and what men can do with little or no censure. For example, you can create a promiscuous heroine, but she'd better stay within the confines of admittedly erotic novels. [I repeat: this is my opinion - other opinions are most welcome.]

And as with heroes, a heroine should have vulnerabilities—ways she can be hurt, people or causes that are vital to her, insurmountable difficulties to overcome. (I recall reading a book that sticks in my mind: the heroine's mother was schizophrenic. Did she have a right to marry and risk passing on this genetic anomaly?) 

And finally, I looked at my own heroines, the ones I've created for nearly forty books over the last 25 years. I DO like variety, and here is what I found:

My heroines range from that 14-year-old—who comes closest of all my heroines to the innocent to whom things happen, rather than the more dynamic heroine who causes things to happen—to the pacifist princess in a distant future who turns rebel and is instrumental in taking down an empire. I've written light Regency heroines and strong Gothic heroines who must survive dire events before earning their Happily Ever After. I've written about a wife and mother who is stalked and nearly killed, a retiring type who, with the aid of a forest fire, breaks up a sex-trafficking ring. I've created a female FBI agent, wounded in body and spirit, who is forced back to life in order to help a friend. And so on . . . The possibilities are endless. And such fun to dream up. 

So go out there and let your imaginations soar! (Just don't make your heroine a wimp.)

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For a link to Blair Bancroft's web site (updated 7/28/18), click here.

For a link to Blair's New Facebook Author post, click here.

Thanks for stopping by,

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Creating a Hero

One of the amazing desserts at Cinco's "soft opening" in Winter Park
Mike, my son-in-law, and his cousin Lionel have been involved in creating the space for Cinco's, a new Mexican restaurant in Winter Park. Here are photos from its first night of "trying out" its kitchen by hosting The Citrus Singers, families & friends.

Sample of the delicious food

Our Lionel painted this spectacular mural.

Mugging it up again - at Cinco's
(They did not have to sing for their suppers.)

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Grace Note:  I'm sure there are hundreds, if not thousands, of books about creating imagination-catching heroes and heroines. But as with all my blogs, I draw on what I personally have learned through a quarter century of writing fiction. Hopefully, as I begin a new series on my favorite topic, Characterization, you will find something helpful.


As mentioned previously in Mosaic Moments, the first thing you need to do when writing fiction is: Choose a genre. After that, some would say: Outline the plot. To me, beyond a vague concept of where the book is going, the next step is always: Create the Characters. I don't create characters to fit my plot, but a plot to fit my characters. I've spent a considerable amount of time talking about the importance of names, but even before naming your characters comes the type of person you want them to be. (And the choices are nearly endless.) Today I'm going to confine myself to Creating a Hero.

No matter what fiction genre you write, creating the primary dominant male character is always a challenge. (Even if you're writing Lesbian romance, there's usually one of the pair with more dominant characteristics than the other.) Female readers may prefer smart, independent heroines these days, but they absolutely adore their heroes—often men who, oddly enough, embody all those old virtues of able-bodied, protective, dashing, take-charge, etc., etc. Which, of course, frequently includes: dominating, arrogant, overbearing, bossy, thoughtless, insensitive . . .  

Hmm. Guess we should to broaden the concept of the Alpha hero. Sometimes I think,as I watch the Avengers, Vikings, sports stars, politicians, and other flamboyant types: "You'd be a Wow for an hour or so, but I doubt I'd like to live with you full time." Which leaves all kinds of room for other men, both real and those straight out of an over-the-top imagination.

Many readers insist on being able to see into the hero's head; i.e., a good deal of the story written in his Point of View. And so do I. BUT I also enjoy the challenge presented by the Gothic novels I write. By definition, most books of this genre are first person, female, forcing the hero's thoughts and actions to remain vague and leaving enough leeway so both heroine and readers can wonder if he might turn out to be a villain instead of a hero. Believe me, it's not easy to create a hero whose thoughts are barred to us. A man who can be seen only through the eyes of the heroine. A "hero" who might be a good guy or a bad guy.  A lover or a killer. A man whose Goals, Motivations, and Conflicts remain murky right up until the final chapter or two. Fortunately, my readers must appreciate the difficulty of the problem as my Regency Gothics remain my best-sellers.

So keep in mind that it is possible to create a hero who is not allowed a POV of his own.

Here are some of the choices we, as authors, have.

Alpha Heroes 

1.  Action hero (Thor, Captain Kirk, all those characters played by Van Diesel) 
2.  Questionable hero (as in the Gothic novels mentioned above)
3.  The Rogue or Wild Cannon (you're never sure what he's going to do next)
4.  Military Macho (reliable but inflexible, by the book)
5.  Mr. Real (reliable, hard-working, family-oriented, protective, but maybe not so exciting as an Action Hero)
6.  Mr. Ordinary (all the characteristics of #3, but being a hero doesn't come easy - he's on the brink of being a "Beta" hero)
7.  Determinedly Single (respects women)
8.  Determinedly Single (carefree roamer, harder to transform into a hero)
9.  Determinedly Single (discounts females except for his basic needs - more likely to be a secondary character or a villain - not a popular hero type in this day & age)

I'm sure there are a thousand variations of the above, but hopefully that's enough to point out just how varied a so-called "Alpha" hero can be.

Beta Heroes

And then there are the so-called Beta Heroes, the men who don't fit comfortably into any of the above. (#6 comes closest.) These are the men who seldom, if ever, display dominant traits. They can be dour, charming, or just plain ordinary. They go to work, do their jobs, they don't make waves. (They're the quiet "prep" cook, not the egotistical Chef.) They're respectful of women, possibly shy of women; they're not the males most women are panting for. (Demonstrating that women can be as obtuse about men as men are about women.) They're the kid who doesn't raise his hand in class, who trudges, not struts, onto stage at graduation. They may not be the Movers & Shakers, but they're the men who make the world go round. 

The best illustration I've read of a Beta hero is a character created by Gail Carriger. Biffy designs and sells hats. He is charmingly, openly gay, and is a devotee of an aging vampire, expecting to be taken in as a full member of the vampire hive at some future date. And yet . . . instead of becoming a vampire, Biffy ends up as the Alpha of a pack of powerful werewolves. (But he still has his hat shop!) And as the series unfolds, Ms Carriger writes as touching a love story as can be found between Biffy and the Beta of his pack. 

Single Title Heroes vs. Series Heroes:
Let's face it, Single Title Heroes get the girl (or boy) in the end. Most series heroes do not. With the exception of a few series like Robert Parker's Spencer mysteries, the romance remains nebulous, following a rocky road that never quite gets there. But then the primary concept of a fixed hero in a series usually means Mystery or Adventure, with Romance only as a sub-plot. Certainly, the author of a series gets far more opportunity to develop his central character over a long series of books than does the single-title author. Which can be gratifying - or a pain in a neck. I would imagine it becomes very difficult to find any new quirks to spark the portrayal of a hero's character when you're on Book 20! Maybe that's why many series add new love interests here and there!

"Single Title" Heroes in a Series:

Some series have a central theme, but the main romantic couple changes with each novel This is easier on the author (not having to keep one central character interesting through multiple plots), and it is also more fun, as you can juggle different types of heroes within the setting of one series. For example, in my Sci Fi Adventure series, Blue Moon Rising . . .

Varied Heroes from my Blue Moon Rising series:

Rebel Princess: Tal Rigel is your classic action hero - bold, brave & smart. Women sigh over him, but he's so fixed on the rebellion he started, it's a wonder any female can penetrate his armor.

Sorcerer's Bride: Jagan Mondragon may be tall, dark & handsome, but he's also sarcastic, insensitive, and reluctant to stick his neck out far enough to become a hero.(Though, of course, in the end he manages it.)

The Bastard Prince:  K'kadi Amund is slight of build, with a face more fey than human. He cannot talk. When we first see him in Rebel Princess, he does not quite live in this world. You could call him the epitome of a Beta hero, but his love life has a surprisingly Alpha ending.

Royal Rebellion: The Alpha of his pack, T'kal Killiri is a werewolf. On a pacifist planet, he is the man everyone turns to when violence is needed. Quiet, self-effacing, but inwardly the toughest hero in the series.

What you need to remember: Heroes come in all sizes and personalities, some realistic, some we can only accept with "suspended disbelief." A hero must have enough good qualities so readers like him, but he must also have vulnerabilities. (Even Superman has krytonite!) The vulnerabilities make him more human, more appealing, touching a reader's heart. And yes, he can have faults. Readers enjoy nudging him along, jeering or groaning when he fails, or cheering him as he finally becomes the person we want him to be. 

The hero of your book is limited only by your imagination. (As I have pointed out before, Lori Sjoberg made a hero of the Grim Reaper.) No matter what you choose—Alpha, Beta, LGBTQ or who-knows-what—if you make your hero likable (kind to children & small animals, etc., etc.), you can get away with a remarkable number of eccentricities—some will make him more appealing (or intriguing); others, he is going to have to moderate by the final chapter. 

Keep in mind that quirks, faults, and character flaws are better understood by readers if some explanation is given, at least a hint of the backstory that made him the way he is. And it's always a good idea to offer enough information so readers see how he acquired his good qualities as well. In other words, give us a hero who is not simply plunked, fully formed, into your book—"there he is, take it or leave it." To me that smacks of "Blah": no Past, no Present, no possibility of a satisfying Future. And, oh yes, try to find a way for your hero to explain what he sees in the heroine. Readers' love of the "strong, silent type" only goes so far.

Whatever your Hero's personality, he needs good qualities, quirks and/or faults, and vulnerabilities (ways he can be hurt; i.e., an Achilles' heel, kryptonite, etc.), before he can win through, get the girl, solve a mystery, polish off the bad guys, or accomplish whatever task you've set for him.

So there he is: your hero in a nutshell: classic, over-the-top, or shy and retiring, it's up to you to make him someone your readers will love and root for.

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For a link to Blair Bancroft's web site, click here.

Thanks for stopping by,


Saturday, July 14, 2018

Civility lives!


In the past decade—particularly over the last two years—we've all asked ourselves if Civility is dead, if caring, graciousness, and good manners are now lost in the mists of time. I am fortunate enough to live in an area where I experience civility on a daily basis, but frankly, I'd truly begun to wonder if Longwood and Lake Mary (Florida) were oases in the wilderness.

I am happy to announce that after my recent cruise, I can say that my personal optimism about people in general has been justified. Civility not only lives among members of the cruise ship crew—who are, of course, trained how to behave—but among the passengers on board. And among the people we encountered on shore. 

Example:  Evidently Royal Caribbean trains its people to make a special effort to greet those who are alone, particularly the elderly. Every time I went to breakfast, I was not only wished a good morning but asked if I needed coffee, juice, could they carry my plate, etc. One young man even raced to a different floor to find me a paper cup for "to go" coffee. The servers in the dining room went out of their way to provide what our fussy eaters asked for at dinner, even scaring up crême brulée on a night it wasn't on the menu. Another amused the girls—adults too—with napkin folding and little fun tricks. Everywhere we turned, someone was willing to go the extra mile. (We were, by the way, aboard Majesty of the Seas.)

This attitude did not end with crew. Graciousness ruled everywhere. People complimented perfect strangers on their clothes, laughed together at little incidents, held elevators, went out of their way to be helpful. For example, holding a place in line for me at Guest Relations so I, clearly a senior citizen, could sit in comfort while I waited. And then there was the lady who saw my cane while at the Mexico in a Nutshell museum and made sure I got safely down a steep ramp.

No, of course things were not always idyllic. For example, Cassidy, almost 12, and two young friends encountered a drunk on an elevator. They were ordered off the elevator by the young drunk's companion in no uncertain terms, but it seems likely the companion did so to protect the children from something they should not have to see or hear. At least that was Cassidy's interpretation, along with speculating that the drunk's brother was also trying to protect him from being seen in that condition. (Evidently, one can drink at 16 in Mexico, and the young man had taken full advantage of drinking legally.)

I have, however, saved the best story for last. Here, copied from Facebook, is Susie's story of how our cruise started—or almost did not start at all.

So lemme tell ya what happened today..... Mike almost didn't get on this cruise.
We were checking in at the cruise terminal in Tampa, 90+ minutes from home with no traffic. The boarding cutoff deadline is 3:30p, boat leaving at 4p. At 1:30pm Mike realizes that he BROUGHT HIS EXPIRED PASSPORT, not the new one. He's not allowed to board at all without a valid passport. We freak out. There's no time to go home and come back. Who can we get to go to our house, grab the passport and run to Tampa???
Lionel to the rescue! But he's in Winter Park and not answering his phone! Finally Mike reaches Lionel who goes and gets the passport. We now have just over 90 minutes till they pull the ramp away from the boat!
Lionel hits lots of rain and holiday traffic causing delays. Mike is insisting that we go on without him. My mom is hungry and upset. I'm crying. The girls are keeping it together..... Finally...... we reluctantly go on board and hope for the best.
3:17p...... mike texts that Lionel is not there and is in traffic. Doesn't look good.
3:30p..... We're at the muster stations and I tell the girls that evidently he's not going to make it. We are so sad, guilty, upset, concerned. Everyone around us is excited about starting their vacations! Not us.
3:40p I've heard nothing from mike and the deadline has passed. I'm assuming that Lionel will be Mike's ride back to Orlando. How will we get on without him?? What will he do for 5 days? Back to work? Who will interpret for us gringas in Cuba and Mexico??
Back at the check-in where he'd been for 2 hours, several customer service people got personally involved in his saga. As Lionel frantically pulled up at 3:35pm, they radioed the gangway people to hold on. A security guard outside grabbed the passport from Lionel thru the car window and hopped on his bicycle to deliver it to another guy at the entrance who then ran it up the stairs yelling "I got it! I got it!". It was like a relay race!
Stamp, sign, photo, run!!!!
3:46pm Mike texts me a photo of himself inside of the ship! We are ecstatic!!!!!!!!
We ran to meet him and the ship set sail. Whew!!!!!!!!! What a roller coaster way to start a vacation! We're so glad to all be together......

Tense moments? You bet. But what a relief when Mike made it. He says they pulled up the gangway the moment he was aboard. (Frankly, looking back, it was more like a scene in a movie than something that was actually happening.) So a special thanks to Royal Caribbean for being so helpful under difficult circumstances.

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Mugging it up in Savannah (7/13/18). Riley, center; Cassidy, front right.

Below are some of my photos from our cruise. Susie took great photos of back streets in  Cuba where few, if any, of the passengers found their way. (Courtesy of Mike being at home in a Spanish-speaking country.) At the moment she is in Savannah again, where the Citrus Singers are performing for QuestFest, a national conclave of Girl Scouts. When she gets back, I hope to get some of those Cuba photos to pass along (many taken by young photographer extraordinaire, Riley). 

Susie, Tampa Bay, still grinning over Mike making the boat.

Would you believe Hailey's lunch? Olives, pickles & French fries.

Military helicopter checking us out in Key West - making sure our ship hadn't been taken over by terrorists?

We were blown away by the treasure at the Atocha Museum in Key West. It was found in 1985, three years after I moved to Florida, and was a huge story at the time.  Long-time treasure-hunter, Mel Fisher, offered the state a third of it but Florida claimed it all. Eight years later, the Supreme Court declared the entire treasure was his. It's the single greatest treasure ever found, and not far off the Key West coast. If you're in Key West, don't miss this! Here are some examples:

Necklace & earrings
Gold & emerald crucifix
Gold chains
Silver ingots
Solid gold
Grapeshot (not from Atocha)
These bows are the "before & after" of treasure-hunting - how all items looked before cleaning

Went to a restaurant for a cooling drink & encountered a 2-footed crumb vacuum

Doing the tourist thing - that's Riley hidden behind Cassidy

Havana Harbor

Eastern Orthodox cathedral, glowing on the Havana skyline

Odd dragonfly that flew on board in Havana

Ancient fortress guarding Havana Harbor

Sand painting at Mexico in a Nutshell, Cozumel

Chichenitza - one of c. 20 ¼-size replicas of Mexican ruins (Mexico in a Nutshell)


Flyers at Mexico in a Nutshell
  We were told the man at the top represents the sun, and the four flyers represent the four seasons, the four directions, and the four elements (earth, air, fire, water). The men kept circling all the way to the ground, accompanied by a drum being played by the man at the top while spinning the square with his feet.

For someone like me, who walked the real ruins on a previous trip (when I was younger!), Mexico in a Nutshell was a perfect tour. I heartily recommend bypassing shopping and the beach for this well-done peek at Mexico, past and present.

The "swansong" of our cruise

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 To view the Citrus Singers' new video, click here.

For a link to the re-edited version of The Courtesan's Letters, please click here. 

For a link to Royal Rebellion, Book 4 of the Blue Moon Rising series, click here.  

For a link to Blair Bancroft's web site, click here.

~ * ~ 

Next week (hopefully) - a new series on Characterization

Thanks for stopping by,