Grace's Mosaic Moments

Saturday, September 28, 2019

RANTS - Old & New

This cake is just the "teaser." For the pièce de resistance, see below.

The creation* on the video below was made by Riley's dad Mike, his cousin Lionel (chief designer), and Riley's younger sister, Cassidy. Under the "sand mounds" was real cake, one strawberry, one chocolate. (Don't miss the airplanes on the runway.)

For a video of what has to be one of the world's most unusual 15th birthday cakes, click here.

*For my many foreign readers, Area 51 is allegedly where the remains of a spaceship and aliens that crashed in the desert in 1947 are kept. It's become something of a joke—a tongue-in-cheek "raid" was planned for 9/20/19. But when it became plain the government was not amused, the raid became a desert "party." The fact remains that Area 51 is very much a "secret" base. I, for one, believe the facts that made it to the newspaper when I was child—before the government turned the whole incident into a "weather balloon."

~ * ~


I scarcely know where to begin on this one! How to critique a book that has so much going for it? How to separate a flaw that was not the author's fault from those that, to my eyes, were?

This week I read a book by a new-to-me author, a book I suspect was the author's first novel. I came close to archiving it in the first chapter, but the setting was fascinating and I plowed on through the heavily "tell" manuscript, only to be shocked by anachronisms that fairly flew off the page, hitting me in the face. Huh? I put the book aside, selected Charles Todd's Inspector Rutledge, Book 5, and read a good quarter of it before forcing myself back to the newbie's book.

Fortunately, the style of the book became less "heavy," less academic, as it went along, and proved to be a well-thought-out "who dun' it" with a wide variety of refreshingly different characters. I ended up liking it enough to be willing to read another book by this author, though I hope he/she learns from the mistakes of the first before tackling a second.

So why was this book such a hard read?

Granted, I have spent a good many years studying the styles of U.S. and U.K. authors, particularly in the genres of Romance, Mystery, and Suspense. And it's possible these more "modern" styles are not popular in other European countries. For example, I may do enormous amounts of research on Regency England (the setting for so many of my books); I may work hard to get everything RIGHT from the language and clothing of the times to the mores and general atmosphere, but when I sit down to write, I do not write in the style prevalent in the 19th century. I try to keep my work "active." I make every effort to "show" my stories from the viewpoint of a few main characters, instead of acting as a storyteller of old and "telling" the story from the author's viewpoint.

Basically, in the U.S. and U. K. these days, even Historical novels are written in modern mode, not in the storyteller style so common in works of fiction until the mid 20th century. "Modern" style means that the action is seen through the eyes of the main characters, not told to us by a narrator standing on the sidelines. What I suspect happened with the novel I'm using as an example this week is that it is the work of an academic, very well versed in the time period of the novel, but not well enough versed in the demands of fiction. Here is what happened—at least from my point of view.

1. Style. The book I read this week was excruciatingly "tell." It only became "active" during scenes heavily laced with dialogue. There were times, later in the book, where the hero's introspection began to perk up, becoming more his thoughts rather than the author telling us about his thoughts. But all in all, this book was a perfect example of a novel told from the viewpoint of the Author, a book that did not take the readers inside the heads of the Main Characters and allow us to see what they see, hear what they hear, feel what they feel.

2. Point of View - everyone but the kitchen sink. As regular readers of this blog know, I am an advocate of multiple POV, as long as the author can handle it well; i.e., make it clear whose eyes we're looking through at any given moment. But I also advocate not overdoing it. The hero, the heroine, a villain, maybe a best friend or two. Perhaps a one-liner here and there by a minor character. But that's it. More than that becomes confusing and tends to distract from both plot and main characters.

This book, however, gave readers the viewpoint of just about every last character in the book. With great care the Author told us what each person was thinking, right down to the most minor character. The equivalent of using a shotgun when a rifle would have done the job so much more cleanly. A blatant case of "head-hopping" distracting from the flow of the story.

3.  History Dump.  The book in question was clearly written by a serious scholar of the period, the facts, the descriptions wonderfully done. But there were "information dumps" - long paragraphs of history that the Author clearly loved but which did not move the book forward. An absolute no-no for authors writing fiction in time periods not our own. 

4.  Story Arc.  There were many, many outstanding descriptions in this book, but the Author failed to recognize where the end should be. Yes, the Action ended before the Romance, bringing the book to a satisfactory conclusion. But, alas, the book did not end there. It went on and on, dumping page after page of exotic description that would have added greatly if inserted earlier in the book, but which, as a tag-on, was positively teeth-gnashing, bringing the book to a slow, stumbling finish instead of a triumphant end.

5.  Translation Problems. Here we have a problem that no author can do anything about. In general, the translation of this book seemed to be excellent. But every once in a while—evidently in an effort to be truly idiomatic—the translator inserted language of the modern age into a setting several hundred years in the past. Each instance was a slap in the face - but then I'm fussy about such things. (I hasten to add that being able to translate an entire work of fiction is a remarkable feat, and I probably shouldn't be so demanding.)  

Regular readers of Mosaic Moments will note that Numbers 1-4 above have been frequent topics over the years. All are beginner mistakes. This book had so much going for it that I hope readers will do what I did and plow through the out-of-fashion style to find the "meat" of the story. I also hope that the author will get past the necessity of imparting Too Much Information, peeking inside too many heads, and learn to plunge readers into the thoughts and inner feelings of just a few main characters, rather than use a scatter-gun effect that never allows readers to truly empathize with the main characters.

Above all, I hope the author will avoid the deadly lure of telling the story entirely from the Author's Point of View and adopt the modern style of allowing the main characters to tell the story from their points of view.

I suspect this book was Number One in a series, and I look forward to seeing if the author grows into a more modern style in the next book.

~ * ~

 Two Bargains

The boxed sets of The Aphrodite Academy 
and the SciFi Saga, Blue Moon Rising

For a link to Amazon, click here.

For a link to Amazon, click here.

~ * ~

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

For a link to The Abominable Major on Amazon,  click here.

For a link to The Abominable Major on Smashwords,  click here.   

Thanks for stopping by,

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Where Do You Get Your Ideas? - 2

Swan Inn, Bilbury, Gloucestershire
Posted to Facebook by Regina Jeffers


To continue last week's themes - Travel.
Traveling certainly helps spawn ideas right and left—as well as filling in all those pesky details you can't see on Google Earth. I don't know how I would have managed all the Regency novels I've written without my travels through England, Wales, Scotland, and both Irelands. (Although the one night I spent in Belfast was proof that the "troubles" weren't over. I wouldn't even venture out of the hotel far enough to visit the intriguing-looking pub across the street. And as we were leaving town the next day, our guide informed us we'd just spent the night in the "most bombed" hotel in Northern Ireland! Believe me, I breathed a sigh of relief when we crossed the border. Seeing tall walls topped with barbed wire around elementary schools—as well as learning of the drive-by shooting of an innocent child in her bed the night I was there—was enough to make me understand why my father's family—Scottish emigrants to the U. S. after a brief sojourn in Northern Ireland were agnostics for a hundred-plus years.)

My two trips to Peru, followed by a good deal of online research about the Inca Trail, were used in my tale of Suspense, Orange Blossoms & Mayhem. Believe me, that book is authentic, even though I've never developed the readership for my Mystery/Suspense that my Regencies have. 

FYI, I have reason to believe I may have started the hiking craze for the Inca Trail. Yale anthropologist Mike Coe—the expert on our Yale tour— and I ended up at the top of Machu Picchu at the same time one afternoon, discovering we were at what was once the main entrance to the city—an arched gateway high above the ruins. Mike explained that the Incas traveled from city to city along the mountaintops, rather than along the Urubamba River far below (where the train now runs). After the arrival of the Spanish, the Incas "cut" the trail so the Spanish would not find the city, believed to have been a religious haven. Mike and I idly wondered if the trail could be restored, if people could once again hike all the way to Machu Picchu. A fascinating topic we brought up to the group at supper that night. And, lo & behold, the very next year, our tour guide led the first hiking tour along the Inca Trail. A hike that became a "must" for hikers everywhere—so much so, hikers had to get a permit and make reservations! 

Grace note:  The trail from Cuzco has not been restored. Modern hikers join the Inca Trail at neighboring Ollantaytambo, one of the way stations between the two ancient cities of Cuzco and Machu Picchu.)

So where else do ideas come from?

Movies, without a doubt. For example, the worlds of Star Trek and Star Wars have permeated our lives, changed our vocabularies, become the guideposts for the far away worlds we write about. 
Books. Of course, we get ideas from other people's books. From Jules Verne to Anne McCaffrey. From Jane Austen to Georgette Heyer. From a small "read" that only a few people found to blockbusters like the Harry Potter series.
Plays & Musicals. What would we do without Shakespeare? Or Rodgers & Hammerstein? The drama, love, tragedy, the glorious sounds—all have the power to inspire.
Music. Perhaps, oddly enough, because I have a degree in Music, I have seldom looked to music for inspiration. But my love of folk music and my study of the vocal classics have certainly come in handy in a number of my novels.
Newspapers & TV news.  Although newspaper readership is diminishing, this is still the best place to find those news tidbits that don't make it to TV—the minor headlines that spark your imagination and make you say, "What if . . ."
Pictures (like the one above) - paintings, photos, cartoons, etc., can easily inspire an idea. Just give them a chance.
People-Watching. Not everyone can be the handsome hero and beautiful heroine of your dreams. Every book needs a lot of support from those Secondary Characters, and there's a whole world of inspiration around you. Take you blinders off and see what's right there before you.

And . . . back to Sheer Imagination.

Sometimes it just comes pouring out—the setting, characters, plot & action bursting out of some misty cloud of pure imagination.  That's okay too. 
All of which leads us back to my Stock Answer:  Everywhere.

From inside your head to the world around you, Ideas are everywhere. Some are subtle; some so strong, they stand up and scream, "Use me, use me!" 

Just this week in Central Florida:  a 3-year-old boy from my own town of Longwood was found 1200 miles from home, curled up in a box on a stranger's front porch in Buffalo, NY. All he could say was: "Car. Fire." And sure enough, a car suspected of being his parents' was found totally burned out not far away (with bodies inside, ID pending). If that doesn't inspire a thousand questions and more than one book, I don't know what would. In a second story, a man in the second county west of here killed his wife and four children and drove their bodies around in his car for the last six weeks, before he was caught in a routine traffic stop in Georgia (when he immediately poured out a confession). Now there's a challenge for those who write about the darker mysteries of life! (And yes, both those stories are from this week's Central Florida news—admittedly top headlines, not obscure news from page 10.)

On a vastly smaller scale, I was thinking just today that if I'd broken my foot before writing The Abominable Major, I'm almost certain I would have had even greater empathy for a man with one leg! 

So keep your wits about you. I believe it was Shakespeare who said, "All the world's a stage." From tiny nothings to in-your-face headlines, from coping with a broken foot to the loss of a loved one, from listening to your favorite song to tearing up over the heart-warming tale newscasters save to close their broadcasts, from the child who comes hungry to school to the canned goods provided by local churches and food pantries to assuage that need, Ideas are all around us. We only have to put out our hand and grab the brass ring.

~ * ~

Blair's Mystery/Suspense Books

Shadowed Paradise
Paradise Burning
The Art of Evil
Orange Blossoms & Mayhem
Death by Marriage
Limbo Man
Hidden Danger, Hidden Heart
Florida Wild (late 2019)

~ * ~

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

For a link to The Abominable Major on Amazon,  click here.

For a link to The Abominable Major on Smashwords,  click here.  

Background information on The Abominable Major can be found on my Facebook Author Page. To read it, click here.

Thanks for stopping by,


Saturday, September 14, 2019

Where Do You Get Your Ideas?



For the Budweiser commercial made to commemorate 9/11, please click here.
Even after eighteen years, it brought tears to my eyes.

Perth, Scotland - photo by author, Regan Walker


I've touched on this briefly in the past, but this week when I was asked that question for thousandth time, it occurred to me that, instead of groaning, perhaps a longer look might be a worthwhile blog topic.

My stock, public answer to that question is a vague wave of my hand, a shrug, and the response:  "Everywhere." But really, speaking to other authors, where do we get our ideas?

So I thought back to The Sometime Bride, Tarleton's Wife, Shadowed Paradise, and was scribbling notes when I recalled those really weren't my first books, just the first books that were published. I wrote two previous novels, both with strong Russian elements. One actually landed an agent and made the rounds in New York. I still have the manuscripts of both books in a box in the garage. There are no computer copies—they were hacked out on an IBM Selectric! The very first book?* Well, that's the one read by my mother, the highly successful author of close to fifty children's books, who gently suggested that perhaps writing wasn't for me. (Happily, she changed her mind some years later.)

*Perhaps not at total loss. I sent it to an agency in New York for a "paid" critique. It was returned with very little said. But two or three years later a movie came out, with very nearly the same plot. Hmmm?

So why on earth, Russia?
But, wait, how did it come about that those first two books had Russian themes? The very solid answer: they were the direct result of an interest in Russia and Russian history that began for no known reason while I was in college. I suppose there was a dichotomy in my mind. I'd grown up during World War II when the Russians were allies, when our merchant seamen were risking their all to deliver supplies to Russia via the Siberian port of Murmansk. Years later, I was fascinated by Russia's colorful history, its monarchy ending with a hemophiliac heir, the empress's bizarre fascination with Rasputin, and a firing squad in an obscure shed. And finally, after WWII, the rise of Communism and the spectre of the Cold War. 

I had to see this place, so much greater in size than even US & Canada together. This place we feared, as they feared us, each possessed of enough nukes to wipe us all off the face of the earth. So my husband asked around at Yale and found me a tutor, the female of a couple who had somehow managed to leave Russia at a time when travel was forbidden. (One did not ask how anyone got out.) I studied hard, learning to read and write Cyrillic, as well as speak the language enough to get by. And in August 1972, smack in the middle of the Cold War, I was one of the first group of tourists (along with 9 other adults & 2 children) to tour the Soviet Union. We traveled 10,000 miles—from Moscow to Novosibirsk andTashken;, Samarkand to Irkutsk, Siberia, Lake Baikal, and north to the Bratsk Dam before returning to St. Petersburg.

So how could I write about anything else? It was one of the great experiences of my life. To this day, I think my second book was worthy of publication, but I suspect the Cold War atmosphere simply wasn't right for a book with sympathetic Russian characters. Which is truly sad, as we were treated so well over there. (One of our twelve travelers had been a sailor on the Murmansk run. All he had to do was say, "Murmansk," and he was a hero. The Russians loved him. And this a quarter century after the war.) I came away with the conviction that it was a shame our governments were so at odds, because I really liked the people.

So there you have the first place an author garners ideas:  personal experience.

But what about my first three published books? Where did those ideas come from?
Looking back on The Sometime Bride, I have to say:  "I have no idea." It came out of nowhere, the original beginning, a fourteen-year-old English girl looking out a second-story window in Lisbon, Portugal, and watching a carter go by, singing a bawdy son. The saga moves from Portugal to Spain to England to France, spans eight years, and takes a 140,000+ words to tell. And I simply do not know where it all came from. Though I later visited all the sites, including La Coruña by special plea to our tour director, I wrote the whole thing sight unseen (except London) in a time before Google Earth. And yet it works. And will always be my special favorite. 

But how could I write about war? Yes, I was brought up in the solemn atmosphere of WWII, but I have never actually known war, never lost a close member of the family. I do not consider myself intrepid or adventurous. But I was most certainly a scholar, a determined research buff (though not an "academic"). I had read about war and romance and all the nuances in between—which most certainly helped. Seen all those WWII movies on Saturday afternoons. And I was married, with children of my own—a state that almost guarantees a wide knowledge of just about every emotion there is. The rest came straight out of my imagination, and I never expect to achieve that height again. Books like The Sometime Bride are a one-time event.

My second published book, Tarleton's Wife*, could almost be called a spin-off from Bride. I was so caught up in my research into the Peninsular War that I absolutely had to put the British march to Corunna (La Coruña) and the battle that followed into a book. (In January 1809 the entire British army was forced into retreat by the French, slogging through freezing mountain passes in the dead of winter, then forced to stand and fight when the ships sent to evacuate them had not yet arrived.) Who could resist drama like that?

*Although Tarleton's Wife was published first (in December 1999), The Sometime Bride (August 2000) was written first.

Next up was Shadowed Paradise, my first Romantic Suspense. Now here it really gets personal. And real. An amazing amount of actual events went into this book, plus my own cultural shock as a New Englander transplanted to Florida's Gulf Coast. The resort/retirement community, the rustic restaurant on a jungle river, the land stretching from the beach to cattle ranches, an almost deserted town that looks like a city on plat maps - including roads to nowhere. A washed-out bridge, an airplane diving into the sea, a series of murders (some, real estate agents). The grandmother, a famous author, borrowed from my own mother.

Paradise Burning, a sequel to Shadowed Paradise, also borrowed from actual events, if not so heavily. Alas, human trafficking is all too common in Florida, as is wildfire. About three years after I wrote the sweeping fire in Paradise Burning, the actual area suffered a burn even more catastrophic. And once again, research helped. I was greatly aided by several books on contemporary Bangkok, Thailand.

Since I still have an entire page of notes on my yellow pad, I'll continue this topic next week.

~ * ~

For a link to Blair's website, click here.
Blair's Regency Warrior series (in order)
The Sometime Bride
Tarleton's Wife
O'Rourke's Heiress
Rogue's Destiny
The Lady Takes a Risk
The Abominable Major

Thanks for stopping by,

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Freak Accident

At the doctor's office (9/28/19)


On Wednesday afternoon, August 21, I pulled up to the cluster of mailboxes at the end of the cul-de-sac where I live - as I do almost every day of the week as I come home from errands, choir, kid transport, etc. I got out of the car, was standing behind the open door looking through my keys for the post box key when WHAM! my car rocked back, the door toppling me over. Fortunately, I ended up on the grass next to the mailboxes and seemingly in pretty good shape. My elbow was skinned by the cement curb, but that appeared to be it.

A young woman came rushing over to pick me up, apologizing about a hundred times in the next five minutes. She'd backed out of her driveway (perpendicular to my car), backed around into the street and hit my front bumper straight on. There were a few more scratches than it had before, but not enough to make a big fuss. I did not want to pursue the matter; I just wanted drive the half block home.

BUT I soon discovered my foot seemed "sensitive," but it did not pain me and there was little swelling, so I figured it was only bruised. I got out my cane and began using it for more than long-distance walking, and that was it. And then . . .

A couple days later, I noticed the AC on my car - usually freezing on the lowest setting - was not acting right. Had something vital been loosened or damaged in the accident - could I be losing Freon? I was planning to take it to Toyota on the Friday nine days after the accident when on Wednesday, and again on Thursday, I stepped down, and for the first time felt true shafts of pain. I suspect that up to that point I'd had only a hairline fracture and when I put my full weight on the foot, it finally broke.

Anyway, there I was with businesses closing down right and left, including my GP's office, because at that point we thought Dorian was going to make landfall in Central Florida, yet I knew it was time to have my foot X-rayed. Sigh.

My GP recommended Centra-Care, a walk-in clinic with many branches in our area. I went to the one in Lake Mary and was just about their only patient that morning when everyone was home "battening down the hatches," as the saying goes. I knew I was in trouble when the technician took her first look at the X-ray and said, "You've been walking around on this for a week!"

Centra-Care made a CD of the X-ray and sent me to an orthopedic clinic about two miles away. Naturally, by this time, I was dragging. Fortunately, Susie was able to join me and be with me when I was ordered into an orthopedic boot and to use a walker and keep off the foot for SIX weeks. Believe me, I was in shock. 

Susie went out and found a wheeled walker (at Walmart), and her husband's cousin came over to put it together - NOT the easiest task. Lionel is extremely handy and still got the left arm in the right slot & vice versa the first time around. He also rolled up rugs, moved furniture, etc., so my wheels would have room to run.

But oh, the agony of learning to get around at a snail's pace. There's no way to picture what the effort and frustration one has to go through unless you've had to do it. Making coffee, feeding the cat, putting together a sandwich, and oh horrors, using an above-stove microwave become hurdles as challenging as a steeplechase.

Fortunately Squeak (my cat) doesn't seem to mind eating off the floor.

After nearly a week of this torturous snail-like pace, I am happy to say that my ease of locomotion is improving. I can only hope my foot is, as well. But it's perfectly horrid to depend on others for everything, from moving my hanging baskets and birdfeeder before the storm - and then putting them back. To picking up my mail, buying groceries, cleaning, etc. (I did manage to unload, reload, & run the dishwasher, a major accomplishment.)

This morning I looked at the lovely clean kitchen tiles Susie just mopped and saw coffee drips. Sigh. Just try transporting even half a cup of coffee while sitting on a walker seat & trying to make it turn a corner - over raised molding. Aargh!

But I'm getting quite a bit of work done on my new Gothic, plus more editing on the blog posts going into the compilation of all my articles on Writing & Editing since January 2011. No running off to buy fabric or yarn at Jo-Ann's. Or to the Post Office, grocery store, or garden outlet. No constant demand for transport for the grandgirls.

Okay, one week I can manage, but SIX???

I'm hoping for a bit more mobility after my check-up on Sept. 17th. Encouraging thoughts are welcome!

~ * ~

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

For a link to The Abominable Major on Amazon,  click here.

For a link to The Abominable Major on Smashwords,  click here.  

Background information on The Abominable Major can be found on my Facebook Author Page. To read it, click here.

Thanks for stopping by,