Grace's Mosaic Moments

Saturday, May 25, 2019

When "Suspended Disbelief" Doesn't Work


After promising myself I'd be sure to watch the launch at 10:30 p.m. on Thursday night, I watched a movie on TV and forgot. Am still grinding my teeth. But my daughter got several good photos from her front yard. (Two posted below.) This was the third Falcon Heavy launch, all with the same booster. It contained 60 "starlink" satellites intended to improve high-speed internet communication. 

The launch as seen from my daughter's front driveway

Streaking away over the Atlantic

Also a more mundane photo gallery:

For starters, another lovely, and complex, creation by a Crochet Club member:

Yet another addition to my Lousy Editing Collection. Sigh.

Gator stealing a watermelon in Hendry County, Florida

And for a video of an egret riding a gator, click here.


I read a contest entry this week which stunned me by how well it was done. (Believe me, I've seen a lot of clinkers over twenty years of being a judge.) And then, when I got down to the nitty gritty of judging, a horrid thought occurred to me:  there was an error in the manuscript so basic that it was impossible for "suspended disbelief" to work. No matter how well the manuscript was written, the author has missed a point so vital there was no way around it. And as I struggled to suggest a way to fix the problem, I also wondered how to convey this "no-no" to my blog readers. 

So, first of all, what is "Suspended Disbelief"?

I admit the first examples that came to mind were movies and television programs: the world of Storybrook in Once Upon a Time, the Whitewalkers and dragons in Games of Thrones, the entire Avengers movie series. In books, I vividly recall an Historical Romance about a London rat catcher who turned out to be duke—a genuine, legitimate duke. Every SciFi and Steampunk novel, every dystopian Young Adult requires Suspended Disbelief. In Lindsay Buroker's Chain of Honor series, a boy of eighteen becomes leader of his people, even though for the first three and three-quarters of the four books he has no idea he is courageous, compassionate, wise, or talented enough in magic to be selected as ruler of his war-torn country. Yet another example:  Susan Elizabeth Philips has a First Lady running away in a beat-up RV with some of society's lesser lights.

All the above are examples of Suspended Disbelief that works. The authors have written their stories in such a way that we swallow the most improbable events whole. You could also say, we "lap up the impossible and love it." 

So when does our inventiveness fail?

When you ask readers to accept something that is absolutely wrong. Something that cannot be justified by the author. The examples that most readily leap to mind are  anachronisms—a zipper in a gown in 1803; an illegitimate son inheriting an English title; a rifle in a Medieval romance, etc.

Even worse—situations where a blind person speculates about something he sees, a deaf person overhears a conversation. And then there's what was mentioned in my last blog: characters in an Historical Romance whose speech and attitudes are right out of the 21st century.

STOP, think! What did you just write? 

Yes, murderers can be redeemed, hate can turn to love, but some things are truly impossible. Don't shoot yourself in the foot by being so caught up in your story that you ignore reality. Suspended Disbelief only goes so far. 

~ * ~

For a link to Blair's Facebook Author page, 
with a whimsical Prequel to the Blue Moon Rising series,
click here.
For a link to Blair's website, click here. 

Thanks for stopping by,



Saturday, May 11, 2019

A Few Words on Diversity


My children, actually in the same place at the same time - NYC.

David, Becka, Susie, Mike & cousin Lionel
Mike & Lionel were in NY on business, Susie a tag-a-long.
 David & Becka in from Connecticut, 
meeting at the Jekyll & Hyde restaurant.


Years ago, I decided there was a limit to the emails I could handle, so I opted out of the two primary email loops sponsored by the Romance Writers of America. Therefore, when controversy erupted in more recent times, I was totally unaware of it until it spilled over onto Facebook (where so many of my FB friends are authors). Frankly, even though hate-mongering seems to have become so much more prevalent under the present administration, I could not believe what I was hearing about the Romance industry. I mean, ROMANCE, people. How can books about Love spark hatred?

But it seems that's exactly what's happening. And this time the shoe was on the other foot, so to speak. The hate-speech was coming from those who felt under-represented in the Romance market. An absolutely valid point. A just cause that needs warriors for change, but not warriors spouting vitriol at anyone who does not include Diversity in their books

There are many Historical authors, for example, who are writing about eras where society did not allow for diversity. And yet these authors are being vilified, even persecuted by those unwilling to accept the realities of the time period. One author even stated on Facebook that she had completely given up writing Historicals because of the vitriol on this subject.

Now, this is just plain sad. As well as wrong. All authors need to be faithful to the manners, mores, and events of the period of history they use for a setting. Just as contemporary authors need to reflect the attitudes of modern times. But wait! Are you writing a book set in 2019 or 1959? The change in attitudes over the period between those dates is mind-boggling. Even my own daughter (turned 50) is not old enough to remember the Civil Rights movement.And in 1959, just over a decade after WWII, considering Nazis role-models was tantamount to treason. As for LGBTQ . . . forgetaboutit. So . . . message to those who spout hate: "We've come a long way, baby." We're still in an era of transition, but a lot of people are trying hard to make improvements. Don't kick us in the teeth while we're doing it.

Naturally, all this controversy made me look at my own work. And, to my surprise, I discovered I'd been working in a bit of diversity here and there without really thinking about it. Firstly, I have to admit the most prominently "diverse" book I ever wrote is still tucked away on a disk somewhere. It featured a heroine who was half English, half Indian (from India, not the U. S.), and was written shortly after I moved to Orlando in 2007—a traumatic move after 25 years and a family of five in the same house, and the book simply didn't gel. I may take a look at it again one of these days . . . I may not. But I like to think my heart was in the right place, even if my head didn't follow through.

Thinking back, in my very first Romance, The Sometime Bride, I had a hero of mixed English-Spanish heritage, plus Spanish and Portuguese secondary characters. (And this was years before my daughter married an Argentinian!) In my first Regency Gothic, Brides of Falconfell, I included two secondary characters who were gay. In The Mists of Moorhead Manor, an important secondary character is a wheelchair-bound invalid. In The Welshman's Bride the heroine is the daughter of a merchant. And yes, that too is diversity. So many Regency novels portray the daughter of "cits" as nothing more than air-headed or vulgar social climbers. The Ghosts of Rushton Court brings the whole problem of race relations to the forefront, an important part of the plot. And in my current work-in-progress—tentatively titled The Abominable Major—I'm attempting to meet the biggest challenge of all, portraying a hero who lost a leg at Waterloo. And, believe me, I'm struggling. (Though reaching the age where I have to lever myself up out of a chair has helped!)

Am I militantly waving the flag for Diversity? I admit I'm not. But I applaud those who are, as long as they do not denigrate authors where diversity simply does not fit with history. I understand the latest thing is labeling the entire Medieval period "racist." Well, of course it was. To our eternal shame, the Crusades were not the glorious surge to "free" the Holy Land that we were taught in school but a religious nightmare that has come back to haunt us. But that does not condemn the entire of Age of Chivalry any more than it requires a blanket condemnation of the Catholic church.

Grace note:  Mentioning the Age of Chivalry reminds me that one of my ancestors wrote the first book on chivalry way back in the 13th century. In Catalan. I've always wondered if there's a translation somewhere.*

*I no sooner wrote the sentences above than I said to myself, "Do you suppose it's happened—a translation at long last? I zipped over to Amazon, and there it was. Ramon Llull's book on chivalry. In English. I'm stunned. Wow! Though far from cheap, this is a book I have to add to the family collection. (My grandmother Grace was a "Lull," from an English branch of the family, her father a Nebraska doctor, but his father before him was a "remittance" man—perhaps harking back to the days when Ramon Llull was more naughty knight than the religious leader he later became. He founded the University of Majorca and died at the hands of people he was trying to convert.)

To get back on topic:

To advance a very just cause, I urge you to add diversity when and if it fits your story. But I also beg the more militant advocates of Diversity to avoid becoming as hate-filled and prejudiced as the people who still subscribe to the seemingly endless cycle of "not us, so we hate you." We are changing—not as fast as many hope, but it is happening. Please do not plunge us back into darkness when we are struggling toward the light. 

~ * ~ 

If you think you might want to read The Abominable Major, I suggest reading The Lady Takes a Risk first. Each is a stand-alone book, but the Major features a lot of references to characters and events in Risk.

For a link to Amazon Kindle, click here.

For a link to Smashwords, click here.

~ * ~

For a link to Blair's Facebook Author page, 
with a whimsical Prequel to the Blue Moon Rising series,
click here.
For a link to Blair's website, click here. 

Thanks for stopping by,


Saturday, May 4, 2019

Ranting on Subtleties

Reminder: my Blue Moon Rising series is now available as a boxed set.

For a link to Amazon Kindle, click here.


Most of my rants—as I've noted while compiling the long-promised compilation of my blogs on Writing and Editing—concern blatant mistakes authors make, but today's post is more of a challenge. I can't give examples as the problem usually ranges over the whole book, and also because I would never single out any author's work as a bad example! But two books I read this week (or in one case sent to Archives around page twenty) inspired me to attempt to describe how easily an author can shoot himself/herself in the foot. Myself included.

Let's call Problem One: 

Too Many Words (or Too Much Repetition)

This is something I've been accused of. For example, when I wrote my Blue Moon Rising series, I thought of it in a manner similar to my other books: at heart, it emphasized romance and was intended for a female audience. Imagine my surprise to discover reviews by males! And they, of course, were not charmed by all that female introspection, agony, etc. The emotions that Romance readers love. Sigh. Fortunately, most of the reviews were more favorable, but it made me more conscious of that basic need to carefully consider one's audience when sitting down to write!

On and off, as I created my latest Regency Historical (now tentatively titled The Abominable Major), I found myself wondering if I was once again indulging in that tendency to "emote." To wring all the nuances out of my main characters' heads while not having enough dialogue or action to keep things moving. This is certainly something I will have to keep in mind as I go back and edit from the top.

Regular readers may recall that I've blogged a bit on this topic before. That time, a well-known author completely ruined a book for me by dropping into a long, unbroken narrative of emotions that was not only boring and repetitious but stopped the book dead in its tracks.

So what set me off on this topic for a second time?  

This past week I read a book by a relatively new author whose work I admire. (It's so rare to find a name to add to my list of favorites!) She has the history, manners, and mores of the time down pat. Her characters are well drawn and different from run-of-the-mill heroes and heroines. She actually finds a unique take on the same old, same old, romance plots. She expresses herself in lovely sentences. But this time round . . . I wanted to take her h/h and knock their heads together. (The heroine was particularly annoying.) Yes, the conflict that kept them apart was genuine and cleverly thought out. But the same points were hammered at over and over and over again (reminiscent of that old expression - "Johnny One Note"). And even though the author made an attempt to justify the reasons for this stuck record, if I'd been reading a paperback instead of my Kindle, I might have thrown it at the wall. I truly could not like the heroine. Every time the author let us look inside her head, I was appalled by what I saw there. For me, her behavior was simply too aberrant.

As I read over what I just wrote, I realize I had two problems with the book: not only too many words saying the same thing, but I could not feel the heroine's attitude was well enough justified. Nonetheless, in most ways the writing was excellent, the research outstanding, the feel for the period good. So yes, I finished the book and read another by the same author, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Moral of this small rant: ANY author, no matter how experienced, can slip up. No matter how many books you've written, you need to be constantly watchful for that fine line between revealing your h/h's emotions and droning on ad nauseum, not moving the book forward. You also need to make sure you adequately justify any behavior that goes beyond the norm.

Ignoring the "Flavor" of an Era

I confess I did not finish the second book that inspired this week's rant. It seemed to have an intriguing plot (both in the blurb and the opening pages). The heroine had a genuine problem (if mysterious), the hero was suitably rugged. So what went wrong?

As I got past the first few pages, I began to feel uneasy. The era was Regency England, yet the manners and the dialogue were more like a 21st century American female speaking to a very nasty pirate captain (instead of a lord). I kept going, becoming more and more queasy as the heroine, supposedly a well-brought-up 19th c. lady, used language totally inappropriate for her time and position in life. And then she was treated so badly by the so-called hero that that too rang false. In short, the situations, the speech, the characterizations were simply wrong for their time and place. I ended up disliking both main characters, as well as being offended by the lack of Regency "flavor," and soon consigned the book to Archives without finishing it.

WHY? I ask. Why would anyone set a book in an historical period they knew nothing about? Sheer laziness, I suppose. But it hurts, oh how it hurts when someone does this. If you want to write about modern characters, then choose a setting in the 20th or 21st centuries. Don't fly under false colors. It might be daring if you're a privateer in the 17th century, but as an author, it's just not nice. Please do not attempt to fool readers into thinking you know what you're writing about. Regency readers, including me, are very particular about what they read. This author is now on my DO NOT READ list and will remain so forever. 

After writing the above, I came across a paragraph I wrote a long time ago. I'm going to paste it below, as it covers the subject at hand so well.

From Writer's Dictionary - 3, March 3, 2013:

Please keep in mind that if you are tempted to have either one of your two main characters do something illegal or mean, make sure you have a very good reason for it. Readers want to love the hero and heroine; they don’t want them to have feet of clay. Yes, they can both be stupid, particularly in their relationship with each other, but they’re not supposed to do something that might hurt other people, show greed, prejudice, or other negative traits. And if they do, it has to be clear that they are destined to learn from these mistakes by the end of the book. In romance, readers want characters they can admire and identify with, not characters who are being mean to their spouses, their relatives, their children, etc. Then again, secondary characters can be as venal and downright nasty as you want!

Moral of this tale:
Do your research. Write about what you know, what you've learned (through plenty of hard work and attention to detail). Do not sit down at the keyboard and simply say, "I'm going to write a Medieval today." (A Regency, Victorian, Science Fiction, Medical, etc.) A serious author puts in hours and hours learning his/her subject matter before setting Word One to the page. Do not end up with egg on your face. Steep yourself in the "flavor" of the time period you're writing about. Do not go off "half cocked," as happened in the book mentioned above. 

~ * ~ 

This seems a good time to mention my other boxed set, The Aphrodite Academy series, four rather frank novellas about young women who did not have the easy lives of the young ladies we usually find in Regency novels. 

For a link to Amazon Kindle, click here.

For a link to Blair's Facebook Author page, 
with a whimsical Prequel to the Blue Moon Rising series,
click here.

For a link to Blair's website, click here. 

Thanks for stopping by,