Grace's Mosaic Moments

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Recipes & Photo Gallery

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

Chicken Escabeche

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

*or a package of "chicken tenders"

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

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

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

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

 ~ * ~

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

Grace's Fruit Pie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ * ~

Thanks for stopping by.

For Grace's website, listing all books as Blair Bancroft, click here.

For a brochure for Grace's editing service, Best Foot Forward, click here.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

My Golden Beach Books

Orlando Tidbit

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

Blair's Golden Beach Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Want to get married in a hot air balloon? Have the bride step out of a Fabergé egg? Just call Fantascapes, the Halliday family business (ironically based in a sleepy Florida resort and retirement community). Fantascapes is also the right number for hiking the Inca Trail, a chalet in Switzerland, or a luxury journey to Angkor Wat.

Trouble in Fantasyland? It's Laine Halliday—well-dressed, well-toned, a sharpshooter in every sense of the word—to the rescue. But are fantasy weddings and vacations for the pampered rich enough to satisfy her?

Laine's options expand when bullets fly after she meets a mystery man on the Inca Trail in Peru, and she begins to fear there may be more to that Fabergé egg project than meets the eye. Amid the color and frantic pace of a luxury business, Laine finds herself involved in Russian mob warfare and law enforcement activity that ranges from the local SWAT team to Interpol. Can a wedding planner from Golden Beach, Florida, survive an encounter with the mob and juggle the two men in her life, as well as her job with Fantascapes and an offer from Interpol? Never fear, Laine Halliday is the kind of heroine who may be able to do it all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ * ~

Thanks for stopping by.

For Grace's website, listing all books as Blair Bancroft, click here.

For a brochure for Grace's editing service, Best Foot Forward, click here.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

How Not to Write a Book

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


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

So what's wrong with that? 

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

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

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

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

Telling all upfront kills the story.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So which book would you rather read? 

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

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

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

~ * ~

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

Thanks for stopping by.

For Grace's website, listing all books as Blair Bancroft, click here.

For a brochure for Grace's editing service, Best Foot Forward, click here.



Saturday, March 28, 2015

Settings - Addendum

A bit of nostalgia . March 12 would have been my Stephen's forty-ninth birthday. If a Charlotte County Deputy hadn't been driving on the wrong side of the road. (He later claimed he swerved because someone pulled out of a side road in front of him.) Below are two treasures my daughter found while sorting photos for our coming move to Longwood (about 20 miles north of 

In Memoriam

Left to right: Susie, neighbor Karin, Steve - at my mother's in Guilford, CT


Steve, front & center in the striped shirt, Susie on the right - her high school graduation party, I believe

Settings - Addendum

 I intended to end the Settings series last week, but it occurred to me that The Demons of Fenley Marsh was a good example of opening a book with a Dialogue setting, followed sometime later by a physical description setting. (And when quoting my own work, I can feel easy about using more than an snippet.) So here is the opening of Demons. Please note there is no physical setting - evidently I deemed an employment office unworthy of detailed description. Instead, I let the dialogue - and the minimal narration and introspection that go with it - reveal the location, a bit about the speakers' personalities, a hint of mystery, and hopefully a forewarning of the plot.

 Chapter 1

   “You have a what?”
   I sat, stiff and belligerent in my chair, as Miss Emily Brightwell—an imposing woman on the far side of fifty and owner of one of London’s finest employment agencies for females—stared at me from the far side of her desk. “I beg your pardon, Mrs. Tyrell,” she continued, “but I must have misheard.”
   Losing a brief bout with my better judgment, I stared right back, making no effort to hide my annoyance. “I am a widow, Miss Brightwell. Surely there is nothing surprising about a widow having a child.” 
   “A widow may have a child, Mrs. Tyrell. A governess does not.”
   This time I bit back the hot words that demanded to be said, ordering my all-too-arrogant temper to lie dormant beneath a fragile façade of calm. “I do not expect to find a position in London, Miss Brightwell, nor in one of the great country houses of the aristocracy. But somewhere in this realm there must be someone in need who does not mind the addition of one small boy to the schoolroom. A house with several children, perhaps, hopefully one of them of an age with my Chas. I am, after all, willing to work for a mere pittance as long as my son may be accommodated as well.”
   Miss Brightwell flashed a glance that could almost be called pitying. “My dear Mrs. Tyrell, all governesses work for a mere pittance. Adding a child of your own to the mix is unheard of, a solecism of the first order. And a boy at that.” Miss Brightwell, in all fairness, paused to consider the matter. “A sweet young girl, perhaps . . . but a boy—so rumbustious, are they not? No, no, it would never do. I would risk the reputation of my agency if I even suggested such a thing.”
   I could not, would not, accept Miss Brightwell’s verdict. How dare she tell me I was unemployable? Every instinct urged me to bid Miss Emily Brightwell an icy farewell, deliver a biting apology for wasting her time, and stalk out of the office in high dudgeon. And yet I suspected that my reception at London’s other employment agencies would be similar. The truth was, I had married for love only to discover that happily-ever-after could be cut shockingly short, leaving me alone and unprotected when help was most needed. My dearest Avery, a neck-or-nothing rider, had taken one rasper too many, and now, two years later,  I faced a situation that required me to flee into obscurity. And surely little could be more obscure than the role of governess in a rural household.
   I could advertise for a position on my own, of course, but common sense dictated that Miss Brightwell had the far-reaching resources and experience which would ensure I was taking Chas to a place that offered the comforts and safety of a gentleman’s household. So, through jaws stiff with frustration, I admitted, “I fear I have burned my bridges, Miss Brightwell. I have leased our property in Kent and am currently staying with my Godmother on Bruton Street. A position is imperative. I simply have no choice. “The lease money,” I added hastily, “is to be set aside for my son’s education. Hence my need for a position.”
   Miss Brightwell’s gray eyes sharpened. “But surely your husband provided for you and the child?”
   “We lived quietly on a modest amount of acres,” I said, making an uncharacteristic show of diffidence.
   “We were a runaway match, you see, rejected by both families.”
   “Even in your present circumstances?” Miss Brightwell’s skepticism was all too clear.
   “I informed my husband’s parents of their son’s death. I heard no word in return. My own family had already left no doubt I was dead to them.”
   Miss Brightwell skewered me with a look that could have withered a rock. “I have run this agency for many years, Mrs. Tyrell, and heard many stories. Enough to suspect you are not telling me the whole. And I cannot possibly recommend you without understanding more fully why you have taken the drastic step of leaving a perfectly good home in Kent and undertaking the role of governess, particularly when I suspect you have no more aptitude for subservience than I.”
   My stomach roiled. Clearly, I should have prepared a better story. Another partial truth would have to do. "Let us say merely,” I offered, “that I am avoiding unwanted attentions.”
   “Ah, I see.” Miss Brightwell examined me more closely and nodded. “You are indeed a comely young woman, Mrs. Tyrell, yet another problem for someone seeking a position in a gentleman’s household.”
   Once again I bristled, even though I knew perfectly well she was right. Nicely arranged features marked by sky blue eyes and framed by waves of golden hair tended to attract gentlemen like flies to honey. Though that was not at all the reason Chas and I had abandoned our home in Kent.
   To my astonishment, Miss Brightwell’s posture suddenly deflated from autocratic disdain to something closer to sympathetic. “My dear girl, what a coil. Did you not realize that a woman with a child was unemployable?”
   Now that I’d found a crack in Miss Brightwell’s armor, I allowed myself a small sigh. “I was aware it was unusual, ma’am. I did not think it impossible.” I fixed a hopeful, and suitably modest, look on my face and waited.
   Miss Brightwell drummed her fingers on her desk, gazed frowningly at a considerable stack of papers—hopefully, letters from clients in search of a governess or companion. “There may be a possibility, Mrs. Tyrell, though I warn you it is possible I am doing you a grave disservice. Give me your direction, and I will see what I can manage.”
   When I stood to express my thanks and make my bow, I found my legs so wobbly I had to grasp the back of the chair. Dear God, I’d thought myself made of sterner stuff. But the looming possibility of no home, no place to go, short of begging the dubious charity of relations who had cast me off long since, was a more dire specter than I had anticipated. Whatever position Miss Brightwell offered, I must accept. Chas and I needed a home. A safe home.
   Fortunately, a rush of pride stiffened my legs. Thrusting up my chin, I thanked Miss Brightwell for deigning to consider my problem. At the least, I would be able to face Chas’s anxious gaze with some slim hope for our future.

Grace Note: The story does not come to a classic physical description of a setting until the opening of Chapter 2.

Chapter 2

   Naturally, after such revelations—even though I knew they must be nine-tenths rumor, if not outright slander—I fully expected Lunsford Hall to be Gothic and gloomy, a pile of dark stone rising in monolithic manner out of the flat green plain of Lincolnshire. It was, instead, a four-square, unimaginative structure of red brick with multi-paned windows framed in white. An unpretentious pediment topped the front door, which was unprotected by any semblance of a portico. A solid house, not unwelcoming. And yet . . .
   There were but three marble steps from ground to threshold, and as I ascended them, clutching Chas by the hand, my skin pricked as if eyes lurked behind every one of those multitude of windows. Curious eyes or inimical? No! I would not succumb to gossip. This was not some threatening ruin out of one of Mrs. Radcliffe’s novels. Lunsford Hall was the home of a gentleman. Ordinarily, I would hesitate to send one of my ladies to a bachelor establishment, Miss Brightwell had said, but with Lady Kempton and her mother in residence, I am confident there will be no nonsense.
   As if I would ever countenance such a thing! Yet Lunsford Hall seemed far more isolated than the houses in Kent. Though we had passed through a village a mile or so before the crossroads where the carriage from Lunsford had been waiting, it seemed little more than a few cottages clustered around a small stone church. And yet, in spite of Miss Brightwell’s hints that young Nicholas was the problem, could it be the master of Lunsford who was the actual threat, preying on the young women he hired?

~ * ~

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, March 21, 2015

More on Settings

Riley, Cassidy & baby gator
We had a grand time last Saturday afternoon fulfilling a long-promised birthday present to Riley. We went airboating on the St. John's River, which included not only gators but two half-grown bald eagles, a myriad other birds, including egrets, great blue herons, and gallinules. There was also an amazing number of cows and calves grazing along the flood plain. We also visited a cypress swamp, a surprise as I had not known we had one here in Central Florida. All in all, a real treat. And, oh yes, Midway Airboat Rides (about ten miles west of the Kennedy Space Center) also has its own "zoo," including a pet pig named Porkchop who simply lay on the screen porch doing his best to keep visitors from closing the door without hitting his snout. As an extra added attraction, in the distance we could see the Blue Angels performing somewhere along the coastline near Titusville.

More Examples of Settings That Work

Grace Note:  All examples below are opening paragraphs.

 From Rogue Spy by Joanna Bourne:

    The end of her own particular world arrived early on a Tuesday morning, wrapped in brown paper and twine, sealed with a blog of red wax. She found it at the bottom of the pile of the morning's mail.
   She sat at her desk in the library, pleasantly full of breakfast, opening letters, ready to be brisk with the contents. Camille Leyland—Cami—dutiful niece, British subject, codebreaker, French spy, read to deal with the morning post.
   The Fluffy Aunts didn't believe in opening mail at the breakfast table. "A barbarous custom," Aunt Lily called it.
   Books filled the room she sat in and most of the rest of the substantial cottage. They ran floor to ceiling along every wall of the front parlor, the entry hall, the back parlor, what had originally been a bedroom, and this little study at the back of the house. Books, plump with pages of notes and bristling with bookmarks, stuffed the shelves two deep and wedged in every available space on top.

 So what do we learn from the above? The author could have said merely that Camille Leyland, who lived with two ladies she called "the Fluffy Aunts," encountered her doom while opening the morning mail. A fairly dramatic opening without all the embellishment. But instead Ms Bourne brings the scene to life by mentioning such details as it being a Tuesday morning, how the item was wrapped & where she found it. She then introduces the main character by name and by revealing in just a few terse words that this is no ordinary heroine. And then a dash of dialogue from "the Fluffy aunts." Followed by a description that leaves no doubt that Camille is not the only intellectual in the house. Ah-ha. It would seem the aunts might not be so fluffy after all. Colorful description and character introduction - and all in four very short paragraphs. 

And let's not forget the Paranormal. 

From No Ghouls Allowed by Victoria Laurie: 

   "This is where you grew up?" my boyfriend, Heath, asked me as our van came to a stop.
   I stared up at the large plantation home of my childhood and tried to see it through Heath's eyes. The stately six-bedroom, five-bath home sat atop a large hill that I used to roll down when I was little. I had found such joy rolling down that hill. And the grand, ancient sixty-foot oak tree that dominated the far right side of the yard, where I'd had a swing that I used to ride for hours. And the long wraparound porch where I'd spent lazy summer days cuddled up with a good book and glass after glass of pink lemonade.
   Of course all of that was before my mother died. Before all the joy went right out of my life and right out of that house.

Here we have a classic house description, yet it doesn't linger on details - just enough to paint a picture of a plantation house not much different from everyone's vision of Tara. We learn that our heroine has a boyfriend, she had a happy childhood, and then the zinger about her mother makes it clear this is not a simple romance and that her mother may possibly play an important role in this tale of the paranormal. In addition, those who have read the previous books in this series instantly recognize that her boyfriend could also be a problem as he comes from a much more humble background. An amazing amount of information in six sentences.

From T's Trial by Kay Sisk:

   It was the music. Always the music. It started somewhere deep in his soul and coursed through his body in a mad rush to explode on the surface. He had felt it as a small child, this urgent need to touch the piano keys, to hear the notes, to reach inside the old upright in his grandmother's parlor, close his eyes and feel the strings and make the vibrations. To release the music from within himself and then take it back inside, remold it and start all over again.
   He felt it now. Eyes closed, hands splayed on a keyboard, his foot pumped, his head moved, his body swayed. He felt the music, was the music and both started and stopped with the music. Smoke, lights, crowd, video screens, revolving stage—all enhanced his music, helped others feel it. But no one knew the music as he did. No one was the music as he was. 

This is a different kind of Setting. A Character Introduction that is also the Set-up for the Plot and the Set-up for an entire Series.  In the next few paragraphs things go rapidly downhill, projecting "T" and readers into one of my favorite series, tales of a Rock Band vs. a downhome Texas town, stories rife with humor, anguish, and love. 

Although the opening rock concert setting above is not used again, the powerful description of how much music means to "T" is the driving force behind the book. Therefore those opening paragraphs set the tone for the book, making them a different kind of "Setting."

From The Hot Zone by Jayne Castle*:
   *aka Jane Ann Krentz

    The dust bunny was back.
   Sedona heard the soft, muffled chortle and rushed to the barred door of the small, windowless chamber. The lab was deserted for the night but there was ample illumination. The Aliens had vanished a few thousand years ago but they had built their maze of underworld catacombs to last. And they had left the lights on. The quartz walls of the small cell and the chamber that housed Dr. Blankenship's research equipment glowed with an acid-green radiance.
   Because of the constant light it was impossible to tell whether it was day or night up on the surface, but she was pretty sure it was night because Blankenship's two seriously bulked-up assistants had left a while ago, talking about dinner.

In these opening lines of yet another book in her Ghost Hunter/Rainshadow/Arcane series, Ms Castle immediately mentions one of the series' favorite characters, a dust bunny, catching readers' attention whether they know what a dust bunny is or not. She then offers hints that our heroine might be in trouble, while at the same time sketching in a brief background of the far away planet now inhabited by humans that has been the setting for her multiple SF series.  And as in T's Trial, this opening scene is highly significant to the plot. And again, Ms Castle does all this in just a few sentences.


As you've seen in the two blogs on Setting, a Setting can be more than a simple description. My editing clients and those whose contests I've judged already know that I'm a great believer in Identification, in making sure you give your readers the classic Who, What, Where, and When right up front. (You can, however, take the rest of the book to explain the Why.)

Below is a list of four types of opening Settings. There are more, of course, such as the all-action-explain everything-later scene and the all-dialogue-explain-everything-later scene. Frankly, most of the time these openings make me gnash my teeth in frustration. I don't like not having the slightest idea what is going on, not knowing who these formless people are, etc. Use these opening approaches only if you can do it really well and don't drag the confusion out too long. Personally, I recommend one of the following Settings to open your book.

1.  Paint a Picture. This covers the WHERE and WHEN. Using color and style, offer readers enough description to intrigue their interest but not overwhelm them.

Note:  This kind of description can also occur anywhere in a book where added color will enhance the story without slowing it to a crawl.

2.  Setting with Character Introduction.  This is the WHO, an absolutely vital ingredient in any story. Ideally, the opening paragraphs of a book provide both physical setting and at least a peek into the personality of one of the main characters. 

Note: Opening a book in the Point of View of a secondary character almost always leads to disaster.

3.  Setting with Plot Hint.  This is the WHAT.  You see an example of this in Ms Laurie's No Ghouls Allowed

Note:  The best openings usually include a combination of 1 and 2 or 1 and 3. (Or as in the Jack Higgins' example from Settings #1, all three of the above.

4.  Setting with Ambiance (Atmosphere).  This is also a WHO. In the case of T's Trial, we see straight into the hero's soul. Though the description is amorphous, it provides an atmosphere intriguing enough to inspire readers to keep going in search of more concrete details. In only a few paragraphs, this scene sets up everything that happens, not only in this book but in the rest of the books in the series.

So what does an author need to do to create a good Setting? 

Create the Setting that feels right for you, but as you do it, ask yourself: 

Have I  identified where my characters are, and indicated when? (Painted a colorful but not lengthy sketch of the backdrop & set it into the proper time-frame.)

Have I identified who my characters are? (No talking heads against a blank backdrop, please.)

Have I given a hint of personality about at least one main character?  (More Who.)

Have I given a hint of the plot? (Not absolutely necessary to include the What in the opening paragraphs, but great if you can get it in there.)

Have I written a great action scene but left my readers totally confused without so much as a hint of Who, What, Where, and When?

Have I written a lot of clever dialogue but left my readers totally confused about the W-W-W-W?

~ * ~

I hope these two blogs on Setting have been helpful. If you have any questions (or arguments), please don't hesitate to Comment.

Thanks for stopping by.

For Grace's website, listing all books as Blair Bancroft, click here.

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