It’s Only Love

ObsessionNora Roberts has had 191 New York Times bestsellers (and counting) among her 214+ published titles. Her books have spent a combined total of more than 200 weeks at the number one slot on the list (nearly four years), and 58 of her books debuted at No. 1. Her April 12 release, The Obsession, had, at last count, more than 1000 five star reviews.

How many of her books have been reviewed by The New York Times book reviews?

That would be…. two. .

Some of this is because book reviews are largely men reviewing the works of men, even though most readers, authors, and publishing industry professionals are women. There’s a glass wall in publishing, albeit things are slowly changing. I don’t think the primary barrier between romance and the rest of the (publishing?) world is about gender, though. Eighteen percent of romance readers are male, and increasingly, men are represented among romance authors, too.

cowardly-lion-ozI think the issue is courage. Romance novels are about courage, and about how love gives us the courage to be the best people we can be. Not the richest, not the handsomest, not the smartest, not the most popular, but the most highly evolved–morally and spiritually–that we can be, given our circumstances.

You can have a romance novel without sex, but you can’t bring that story to a satisfying happily ever after, unless somebody has dug down deep for the courage to grow, change, and take risks. Very often, those risks involve rejecting the values society embraces–being nice, playing it safe, remaining loyal to the company, clocking that overtime, maintaining appearances.

OfficeXmemeThe need to put romance down, and ignore its enormous commercial success (half of all paperback sold are romance), is because romance sends a scary message: You, little old you, are worth fighting for. Your happiness and your wholeness matter. You are worth sticking with. You are beautiful in the ways that count. You make a difference, taking the grandkids to the park, dragging your spouse to counseling, organizing the bake sale, changing your sister’s tire. That stuff matters, a lot.

Not your IQ, your bank account, your six-pack abs, but your heart.

eve_450If you derive your sense of self-worth from inside, from being comfortable in your own skin, and living by your own ethical standards, you can’t be bought. You can’t be controlled by criticism or shaming, you can’t be intimidated into putting in a sixty-hour work week. You might work those hours, but you’re doing it for love, not wealth or a corner office.

If you derive your sense of power from money, might, or great looks, then the romance novel’s subtext should threaten you. All the money, outward beauty, and power in the world doesn’t stand indefinitely against love.

That’s what I believe, and that’s why I write romance. Why do you read romance? To one commenter, I’ll send a copy of Lady Eve’s Indiscretion, a story about a woman who tried to hide from love behind a cloak of propriety–and found herself any way.

The House that Grace Built

HahnXcherryGrowing up, I adopted a pattern of behavior that I could only discern in hindsight. If my mom was good at something, if it was a priority for her, then I stayed away from it. Mom was a consummate homemaker, a great cook, terrific hostess, pretty, charming, petite, and devoted to maintaining a castle to be proud of. My older sisters came closer to sharing those priorities than I did, but even if I’d had those domesticating genes, if I wanted to be seen as an individual, I needed to find a different path.

I don’t know HOW to use make up, for example. Never learned, can’t see why I’d want to–unlike Mom, Maire, and Gail. I’m not much of a cook, though I’m way too good at baking, Mom, Maire, and Gail shared the cooking thing. To the extent I’m making lifestyle choices, that’s my business.

morningI’m finding though, as the day job ebbs, that I’m in my house more… and I’m in my house in a different way. I don’t plunge into a writing weekend knowing that come Monday, I’ll have to go back to the office. These days, I might not go back into the office until Tuesday. Or I might zip through on Monday, grab what I need, answer mail, and take most of Tuesday at home. My home is becoming more than my permanent camp site.

Years ago, when Darling Child was underfoot, I used to go nuts with flowers around the yard. I’m going nuts with flowers this year, in part because gardening is a good way to get out of the writing chair. I’m also doing it because I love to look out my window and see flowers. Love it.

I bought a rocking chair.

blog cat cozy woodstoveWhy did I buy a rocking chair? Because the late mastiff and the bull mastiff ate the rockers off the one given to me when my daughter was born, and the golden retriever has appropriated the couch. The only places to sit comfortably in my house have been the writing chair, and well, the, um, reading room.

Now there’s a literary symbol for ya. I hadn’t realized this until recently. I was only here to eat, sleep, write, and do laundry, in a sense. My office is prettier than my house… yikes!

louisa_244wIt’s time I made my nest affirmatively lovely. The yard is the immediate priority, because of the season, but I have ambitions for the house too. I’m going to pretty this place the heck up, maybe even invite some people over for a meal.

What a concept.

Look around your house and your yard. What would your mom think of it? What would your younger self think of it? If you were stuck there for six straight months, would you change anything?

To one commenter, I’ll send a signed copy of Lady Louisa’s Christmas Knight, a story about a daughter who thought she wasn’t that much like her mom.

 

 

The Best is Yet to Be

Grace on Delray the Wonder Pony

Grace on Delray the Wonder Pony

I stopped riding horses about six years ago, purely as a function of economics, and bad things started happening to me immediately. I was lonely for my riding buddies, I gained weight, my joints hurt worse than when I’d been riding, my outlook became less sanguine. I was no longer a horse girl, and I’d loved that part of my life.

I wrote, which I also love. I lawyered, and when the finances picked up, I started visiting the UK. But my health took a hit when I stopped riding that I still haven’t recovered from…. Sitting for long periods is lethal, I’m an overweight, post-menopausal, hypothryoid poster granny, and my jobs involve a lot of sitting.

This is a problem.

blogXrunningXshoesWhen it comes to my wellbeing, the stakes go up from here on out. If you’ve seen this short video by fitness coach Mike Vicanti, you know what I mean. At my age, flexibility, strength, and aerobic endurance, become life or death, and certainly quality of life, matters. If you can’t get in and out of the tub on your own, if you can’t touch your toes, you’re not that far from assisted living. Yikes!!!

blogXlavenderI am determined to be healthier at sixty than I was at fifty-three, and you know what? It’s looking good so far. I am getting on that stupid, dratted, perishing, rotten tread desk. I’m more conscious of what I eat, I have less work stress (buh-bye courthouse!), and all along the way, I keep an eye out for wisdom that fits my circumstances.

The scent of lavender helps us sleep better–I’ll try that!

The benefits of exercise are cumulative–I’ll try walking in fifteen minutes sets!

Quiet helps the brain recharge and even grow new cells–I’m good at quiet!

The older I get, the larger my collection becomes of insights and information that boost me in the right direction. The older I get, the less I’m plagued by other people’s expectations for me, and the more I can fashion a life that works on my terms. The older I get, the less I’m willing to let anybody steal my fire.

blogXmaggieI don’t much care what I weigh or how I look–though I’d rather not scare small children with my appearance. I care that I have good enough health to look after myself and do the things I love with the people I love. I have little energy compared to many, and time will take a toll. But I’m determined as all get out, creative, persistent, and motivated.

Better, healthier days coming–wish me luck!

In what ways are you in a better place than you were a few years ago? In what directions do you aspire to make more progress? To one commenter, I’ll send a signed copy of Lady Maggie’s Secret Scandal, a story about a lady who thought she was all out of options–when the fun part was just about to begin.

 

 

 

Snowflakes on Roses…

blogXsnowXonXrosesSnowflakes on daffodils, rather. And tulips. As I write this, it’s danged snowing–not flurrying, not spitting, not nothing but the real deal. Two to four inches of No Lilacs for You, Grace. Well, dadgummit.

BUT, it’s a great day for writing. I love weekends for writing because none of the day-job world intrudes, my editors won’t email me, the phone is very unlikely to ring. Just me and His Grace (Hamish MacHugh was promoted to a duke last week. poor schmuck). To be able to write with little likelihood of interruption is bliss.

blogXpansiesAnd while the weather might be a little wonky, it’s also the case that spring is under way. The oak leaves are in that red, fuzzy, here-we-come phase; I picked a big vase of tulips from my yard yesterday; and this week I AM PLANTING PANSIES. That’s not all I’m looking forward to. Other rainbows on the horizon:

I’ve signed a three-book deal with Hachette/Grand Central. Hamish’s story will probably be out toward the end of the year, and I’m also working on a novella that will take advantage of his Scottish connections.

OnceXUponXFinalXCoverOnce Upon a Dream comes out next week–Sedgemere and Anne are a terrific couple (and Josephine is a terrific duck). That my name is appearing on the same cover with Mary Balogh boggles my mind and warms my heart. That’s just one big wow, for me.

My two families are getting together–sorta. My dad and two sisters live in San Diego, and my Burrowes-family is planning a major reunion there this summer. I’m one of seven children, and there are great-grandchildren–do the math. Big party. What makes it even more special is that the Romance Writers of America annual conference is in San Diego the same week. I’ve already started filling out my dance card in terms of brekkie with writin’ buddies, lunch with writin’ buddies, and so forth. Might even get to a workshop or two… maybe.blogXsamXinXaXkilt

Later in the summer, my Scotland with Grace tour heads to SCOTLAND!!! (What a coincidence?) I am so very, very much looking forward to sharing Scotland with some reading and writing friends. That’s like… I don’t know, the Duke of Bewcastle inviting me over to share chocolate cupcakes for breakfast? I can’t find the analogy happy enough to convey what a combination of good folks and good times in Scotland means to me. I hope it at least becomes an annual event, and I’ve already gotten interest in next year’s tour.

All of which is to say, yes, it’s snowing. That’s today. The bigger sophie_244wpicture is good times, good friends, good travels, and good books.

What’s ahead on the calendar that delights you? What do you wish you could put on the calendar, or–there are snow days in life–what do you wish you could eliminate from your calendar?

To one commenter, I’ll send a copy of Lady Sophie’s Christmas Wish. Sophie desperately wanted some peace and quiet, but what she ended up with was MUCH better than that.

 

 

Freedom’s Just Another Word

HappyXBesomIn the past ninety days, I’ve lost two cats, a kitten, a dog, a large part of my lawyer-job.. and my mom. My grown-up brain knows that most pets have shorter lives than their owners, parents in their 90s probably aren’t going to be around another ten years, and lawyer jobs come and go. Of all these losses, my mom’s death is the one I could see coming the best, and it still wrecks me.

peteyXcroppedI’m weepy, irritable, restless, foggy, sad… you know the drill.

There is probably a gift in all this loss, especially in being told that the foster children in my county will soon be represented by somebody else.  For nearly 23 years, that job broke my heart–not only for the children and families, but also for the social workers, and even for the folks in the state office. They were usually barking at me for this or that undotted i or uncrossed t, but I also know the program office was harassed by clueless politicians and nincompoop audit requirements. Their jobs weren’t any easier than mine–and they had to wear office attire and punch a time clock every day.

And in each case of loss, the patient wasn’t going to get any better. The job wasn’t going to ease up, Mom wasn’t going to ever dance again, Sarge wasn’t going to beat lymphosarcoma. Say bad words here.

sargeXandXteapotWhen I’m not grumping and grieving, I’m left with the hope that I’m facing opportunities behind the grief. Travel to Scotland is easier when I have only three animals instead of seven. To be gone for a month is much simpler when I don’t have to mother-may-I every trip with the program office, and know–just know in my bones–that at 2 am on some fine Scottish night, I’m going to get a call from a foster kid who’s run off, and my number was the only one still in her phone.

I’ll have more time to write if I’m not lawyering–lordy, will I!–and as my first editor put it, when I have a bad day as an author, no babies die.

Now there’s a heck of a perspective.

virtuoso_244wAnd yet, I want Sarge, Petey, Button, and Besom back. I want my mom to have a few more good years. I want to be the one to say when the lawyering is done… and I’m not getting what I want.

I might be getting what I need, though. We’ll see. I still have animal friends, including an elderly horse in Florida. He’d better watch out for stray alligators.

How do you cope with unexpected losses? I’ve done some big de-cluttering, I’m walking more, and I’ll see more of my family later this year–all of my family. Any do’s or don’t occur to you? I’m all ears, and giving away a signed copy of The Virtuoso, a story about a guy who lost the one thing that he thought made him special. (He was wrong.)

 

Peace and Quiet Wisdom

blogXarthurWhen I read diaries, letters, and memoirs from the Regency period, I’m always struck by how erudite the prose is. Whether it’s a soldier’s memoir from the Napoleonic wars, a woman’s letter to her daughter, or Wellington’s dispatches, they had a thoughtful, articulate, considered turn of phrase–and mind–that I surely do not find in most emails.

I think part of the difference between a Regency essay and the emails I send out by the dozen has to do with the modern brain, or what’s left of it. We pop from answering emails to texting our kids, to consulting the weather app, to taking a call from the vet, to adding pet food to the shopping list on our phone, to resetting our fit bit, to…. We might feel as if we’re being productive and Getting Stuff Done, but the neuro-scientists tell us our frenzy comes at a high price.

blogXphoneThree quarters of the world has access to a smart phone. This percentage is higher than the number of people who have access to potable water. Phones can make us safer–they function as 911 on the go, 24-7 roadside assistance, flashlights, emergency contact lists when we’re in distress… all good stuff.

But what we call multi-tasking is not good stuff, from a physiological standpoint. To the extent that we’re never safe from our phones, tablets and computers, we’re constantly goosing our levels of adrenaline and cortisol. Our poor brains can’t focus, can’t recall, and are all too easily nudged toward irritability and aggression. When we stare at a screen all day, we don’t sleep as well–more cortisol and adrenalin.

readingXbyXcandlelightOur brains on iBusy come to resemble the brains of people suffering PTSD. Humor flattens, relationships suffer, and the go-to palliative–social media–can actually make us more lonely.

Our grandparents, and my Regency sources, didn’t have these ailments. True, they had tetanus, rabies, cholera, plague, and worse, but their minds enjoyed a kind of health we likely can’t reproduce outside of spiritual retreats. Their mail came once a day, if that. Communication happened most of the time face-to-face. Quiet–dense, deep, quiet–was the norm for most households outside daylight hours.

soldier_244wThey could focus, on a task, on a question, on the person at the table with them. They could plan their response to any epistle for hours, if not days. They could blow out the candle at night, secure in the knowledge that nobody four time zones away would send a text which–come fire, flood, or famine–the phone will display while it beeps and glows to make sure we give it our attention that very instant.

Where do you find peace and quiet? When do you unplug, or when could you start building some unplugged time into your week?

To one commenter, I’ll send a signed copy of The Soldier, because what Devlin St. Just suffered a result of war–bad sleep, irritability, inability to focus, memory problems–is what too much iTasking can do to us.

A Friend Indeed

blogXnestWe hear about empty nest, that phase of life when the kids are grown, the career has topped out below where we thought it would, and the house isn’t nearly as paid off as we’d hoped. By our mid-forties, we can be dealing with a lot of disappointment, and unmet expectations. 

Turns out, we might also be dealing with more loneliness between the age of 45-65 than at any other time in life. Think about that. Think about how horrendously isolated we felt in middle school, how hard the first freshman term was, how tough moving to a new city was… and that stretch between 45-65 can be even harder. 

blogXholdingXhandsThe reasons include a spike in divorces when marriages hit 17 years, a lousy economy that keeps us working more and socializing less, smaller families, a job market that means we move frequently to remain employed or climb the career ladder, among other factors. Our peers start to die on us as we’re pushing fifty, and our energy for anything–much less being social–can start to decline.

But letting friendships lapse is not smart, according some of the science on the subject. Loneliness can be as bad for our physical and mental health as smoking fifteen cigarettes a day, carrying significant extra weight, or drinking too much. Lonely people are more likely to die early, suffer a heart attack or stroke, or suffer compromised immunity than are people who have friends.

Ginger kitten, Butch, 9 weeks old, with Cavapoo pup and Lionhead rabbit We’ve long known that having a support network is critical in recovery from many major illnesses, and that the stereotype of the entirely self-reliant rugged individual is a set-up for all kinds of misery if taken to extremes. Lonely people are prey to feelings of anxiety and hostility, and social withdrawal can become a downward spiral.

All very daunting… and for most of us, avoidable. Meeting a writin’ buddy or a reader for a cup of tea might be just as important for my wellbeing as getting on that old tread desk, and it’s a lot more fun. Dropping an email to my sister takes five minutes, and probably does me as much good as some of those supplements I buy. Taking yard flowgarethXnewXcoverers to the neighbor costs me nothing, but gives us both a smile. 

I’m not naturally social, but when I read these studies, and consider that I might live to be 100, the importance of creating and maintaining friendships become obvious. 

Who is your best friend? Are there good friends you haven’t heard from in a while? Have your friends ever come through for you in a way that surprised you? To one commenter, I’ll send a signed copy of Gareth: Lord of Rakes  (seen here sporting his new print cover). His lordship desperately needed a few good friends…. and it only took him 400 pages to find them.

 

Beat the Clock (to smithereens)

blogXhorseXraceI’ve come across authors who say they can only write on deadline. The reality of having to produce by a date certain motivates them to get the words onto the page like nothing else–so they say. These authors forget, apparently, all the years they wrote prior to becoming published, when they honed their craft and came up with something so delightful, an editor chose THAT BOOK to put in one of very few precious publishing slots.

blogXpocketXwatchI can write on deadline, but I don’t prefer it, and this little video explains why. To summarize, an advertising agency grew tired explaining to clients why coming up with a single meme, ad, book cover or other visual was so time consuming. So the agency did a demonstration. They drew a simple picture, and gave a room full of kids 10 seconds to copy the picture.

blogXstickXhorseEvery kid drew pretty much the same thing, no bells or whistles, nothing remarkable–but they got the drawing done in ten seconds! Then the agency gave the kids a lot more time to render the same image, and…. magic. Tigers and butterflies, flags, and flowers. The same assignment became an exercise in creativity rather than beating the clock.

I want to make a distinction here: I don’t equate speed of production with sophie_244wquality, or with lack of quality. One of my most popular books–and my first RITA nomination–is Lady Sophie’s Christmas Wish. I wrote it in a little over six weeks. Taking three times that long to write a book has resulted in other RITA nominated books, and a lot of books that weren’t nominated for anything (though I love them ALL). 

Speed of production isn’t the same thing as urgency of production. I could have taken another few weeks with old Sophie, but she was ready to be written, so boom. Here’s your book. The point I’m struggling toward is that necessity might be the mother of invention, but freedom is the mother of creativity. Freedom to experiment, to fail, to tinker, to take a break, to ruminate.

pegasusSo as the year gets out of the starting blocks and prepares to roar around the first turn, I wish you all the freedom you need to be creative in the face of your challenges. I wish you the strength to ignore the false urgency others try to press upon us, and I wish you the courage to frolic when you have the time.

Do deadlines help you? Have you ever missed a deadline and had the ceiling fall in? To one commenter, I’ll send a signed copy of Lady Sophie’s Christmas Wish.

 

 

Spring Forward

BlogXdaffodilI really enjoy living in a temperate climate. Just about the time I get fed up with the cold, or the bugs, or the heat, or the pollen, the season changes, and my world is new. I’m waiting for the first robin, the first lightning bug, the first frost, the first snow flurries. The real weather channel helps define the rhythms and rests in my list, and this time of year, is one of my favorites. So much to look forward to!

Spring flowers, including my beloved bulbs.

The return of the song birds.

blogXcalfNew life in the fields. Never again will those calves be so clean! 

Having the windows open, even at night.

Turning the heaters off–geez, are they noisy!

Not freezing for the first five miles when I drive away from home.

Lower electric bills.

Reese’s Peanut Butter Eggs (one a year)

Going for more walks OUTSIDE.

Longer light, and that special spring morning light. 

What do you look forward to this time of year? What will you miss about winter ending for another year? 

To one commenter, I’ll send a copy of The MacGregor’s Lady, a book set in the time when winter gives way to spring.

All Creatures, Great and Wonderful

purseI’m in what I call a compression phase. Big, plenty stress. I’m waiting to hear from two different publishing houses about book contracts, the situation in the law office is very much up in the air, and oh yeah, my mom died earlier this month. Under circumstances like these, when I hear that Amazon is trying to patent a used ebook marketplace, I about lose my buttons.

I left my purse in the bank. 

blogXbesomXchloeI’m taking all day to get out 2500 words that should be done easily before noon.

I’m forgetting half my groceries, even when I make a list AND remember to bring it into the store with me.  

Fun times, these are not. 

And yet… I live with animals. As I blogXlymperstype this, Besom Black Cat is in my lap, purring like a jet engine. Lately, she even follows me into the bathroom and waits among the clean laundery until I leave. Chloe and Teapot are two feet left of the computer on the heated throw my mom sent me for Christmas. (Sent us, rather). At my feet, Sarge is dozing contently on the throw rug. 

Long time ago, I was grooming for somebody at a horse show. It was the kind of show where the exact time of each competitor’s test was posted well in advance, so depending on the horse’s temperament, the rider could do a long warm-up, a short warm-up, something in between.

andyXbeanI got the test time wrong. 

Not awfully wrong–by about ten or fifteen minutes–and that meant the horse wasn’t at his best when he went into the arena. The rider was furious, and just missed being in the ribbons. As I was untacking the horse, an enormous beast with tons of talent, he wrapped his neck and head around me. 

An eighteen hand horse’s neck easily weighs 200 pounds, and it’s all muscle. I couldn’t move, and it was the oddest moment I’ve ever had with the horse, until I figured out, “He’s hugging me.” 

Grace on Delray the Wonder Pony

Grace on Delray the Wonder Pony

From down the shed row we could hear the celebration of the rider who had grabbed that last ribbon; meanwhile, my rider was moping around, tsk-tsking, blaming me for the low score. That big old horse gave me the best, “There, There. I understand. It’s one score, it’s one ride. Everybody makes mistakes.” 

He’d never done that before–not ever–but I am convinced the horse knew exactly what I was feeling. I think the cats and dogs know too, and their reaction has been to stay by me even more than they usually do.

allXcreaturesYou are all on notice. When I’m geezing in the nursing home, you will please smuggle in cats and bunnies and guinea pigs to visit me. Doesn’t matter if I can speak, move, or communicate, you bring my friends to see me, and I’ll know.

Has an animal comforted you, or shown an uncanny reaction to you? I could add story after story to this post, but I want to hear your stories.

To one commenter, I’ll send a copy of one of my favorite, favorite books, “All Creatures Great and Small,” by James Herriot.