Hearing Ourselves Think

dream-of-a-fall-dayYou’re reading on a beautiful fall day, maybe on the porch or by an open window–because the day is so lovely. Then your neighbor–the yard proud folks across the street–start up their leaf blower. Not to be outdone, the gal next to them has to do her weed whacking at the same time. What are beautiful fall days for, after all?

When the weed whacker and the leaf blower finally fall silent, you rejoice. You feel bodily and emotional relief, and will wish a Very Bad Fate on the next joker who fires up some piece of equipment.

blogxramxdassxsilenceYou’re experiencing the benefits of quiet, which are physiological and emotional. Silence helps lower our blood pressure and increase blood flow to our brains, it promotes the generation of new brain cells, reduces stress, and fosters creativity.

Noise, by contrast isn’t such a good thing. Loud noise wrecks our hearing of course, but even noise that’s not loud enough to hurt our hearing does damage. We learn to tune it out–which means we’re also tuning out things we should be listening to, like classroom teachers. We become “attentionally deaf” instead of aurally deaf.

blogxyourxwordsSudden noises (think of a jackhammer starting up, stopping, starting up; car horns; engine backfires), provokes our stress response, and if we endure too much of that, the results can affect our heart health, sleeping patterns, even our basal metabolic rates.

I didn’t start writing fiction until my daughter moved out. She’s a quiet person, but when she got her own apartment, the house became all but silent. A cat scampering across the kitchen, the well pump cutting on and off in the basement, a dog barking two farms over… that is the extent of the noise in my nest. I can daydream and compose stories in peace.

I’ve wondered if half the benefit of meditation isn’t simply that we tend to find quiet places to attempt it. Same for reading. We can read in noisy environments, but most often, we read where it’s quiet. We garden where it’s quiet. One of the reasons I do not like the gym is because it’s NEVER quiet.

bell_if-i-only-had-a-duke_smallWhen it comes to silence, I’m wealthy, compared to most people. My office is quiet, my house is quiet. I drive between the two for the most part in silence, or I might listen to traditional Scottish music, which is hardly truck-thumping stuff. I sit out on my front porch with my first cup of tea of the day, and often, not a single care goes by.

in this raucous, noisy, contentious season, where do you have silence? Where could you add some to your weekly routine? To one commenter, I’ll send a signed copy of Lenora Bell’s “If I Only Had a Duke,” which is about a lady who only seems quiet-natured….



Sorry, Ma.

blogxslippersOn of my earliest memories is of my mother’s heeled slippers clack-clack-clacking on the linoleum floor of the kitchen first thing in the morning. I slept downstairs on a sort of English-basement level, while upstairs, every morning, without fail clack-clack-clack. Clack-clack. Clack-clack-clack-clack-clack.

I couldn’t sleep through it, only in part because this was a loud noise with an unsteady rhythm. My mom also never stopped moving. Clack-clack. Clack-Clack-Clack. Clack. Mom kept moving to deal with uncomfortable emotions. She vacuumed off her frustration, folded laundry to gain a sense of order over anxiety. She cooked to compensate for the lack of nurturing in her own life. As a kid, all I knew was that she made a lot of noise.

blogxvacuumWell into her eighties, Mom walked several miles a day, and even at ninety, she was quite steady on her pins. My mom was the energizer bunny, while I’m the ultimate spud. I excel at sitting, though I know it’s a deadly skill unless moderated by frequent movement.

I love writing binges that go on so long, I can barely recall the last time I used the facilities. Mentally, I scurry around constantly–reading this, writing that, editing the other. I read in bed at night, and keep reading material in my purse, and in other Frequented Locations. But mostly, I love to write and write and write.

I’ve often said that in many ways, my mother and I just were not a good fit.

blogxlaundrySo…. this week, the book I’m working on demanded a break from me. While my Welsh duke was off brooding me up some more scenes, I got caught up in election coverage, in dire weather explanations, and in flame wars on matters about which I can do not one thing.

Friends, I am humbled to report that on Tuesday of this week, I vacuumed my living room out of sheer desperation. I got out the contractor bags and went after anything I could trash. I did big laundry–throw rugs, pet blankets, you name it. In short, the day I couldn’t get on my mental hamster wheel to play with my toys of choice (dukes, draft newsletters, ad design software, blog posts, revisions), I turned into my mother.

sophiexaudibleI want to call up my mom and say, “I get it, Ma. I get it.” I suspect my mother is laughing her behonkis off, which is fine–our mother/daughter bond now includes connection by virtue of a vacuum cleaner cord. My living room looks a little better, and I came up with a holiday short story you’ll soon be able to download from the website for free.

Have you ever turned into the very person who used to pluck your last nerve? Ever said the same thing they used to say that you never wanted to hear again?

To one commenter, I’ll send an audiobook of Lady Sophie’s Christmas Wish, which went on sale this week, while I was busy vacuuming.




Not Just for Pretty

blogxbeachxresortI think I’ve mentioned the Rat Park Experiments at some point on this blog, but allow me summarize: Accepted science for decades has been that addiction to substances changes our brain chemistry, such that we’ll consume our substance of choice until it kills us. To prove this, some heartless soul (who has racked up a whole lotta bad karma) put a bunch of rats in a cage and gave them a choice: drink regular water, or take a hit off the water that’s laced with morphine.

Little beasts morphine-watered themselves to death in very short order.

blogxbeautifulxflowersAlong comes another scientist, maybe one who’d been living in his parents’ basement, and reasons, “Well, if all I had to do was stare at the walls or do morphine, I’d do morphine too. What if….” He set up what he called a Rat Park, with room to roam, raise little rat babies, hang out, work out, do the equivalent of rat-karaoke, solve little rat-puzzles, and otherwise, live the rat-life of Riley. These rats also had a choice of morphine water or the regular stuff, to go with their haute rat-cuisine.

No addicted rats at the Rat Park. Some of them would occasionally do a hit of the joy juice, but none became addicted.  Not any. None. Zero. We’re good.

blogxsevresxteaxpotIn other words, the difference between life and death for these rats, was not the availability of a powerfully addicting substance, but rather, the environment the rats lived in. When their environment was fit for kings, the rats eschewed the behavior of their brethren trapped in a world of crowding and boredom.

Malcolm Gladwell in, “The Tipping Point,” wrote about something called the Broken Window theory.

If a window is broken and left unrepaired, people walking by will conclude that no one cares and no one is in charge. Soon, more windows will be broken, and the sense of anarchy will spread from the building to the street on which it faces, sending a signal that anything goes.

blogxbeautifulxcatThe idea here is that nobody comes along and whispers in a kid’s ear, “Hey, let’s break some more windows.” The simple fact that the environment includes one broken window will result in more vandalism.

Environment matters in ways we probably don’t understand. If you go out to eat, you’ll make fewer trips to the buffet if you simply sit so your back is to the buffet itself.  What we see, hear, smell, taste, and tactilely encounter affects how we act and feel. Beauty, rest, recreation, and social pleasures aren’t selfish indulgences, at least in moderation. They are necessary for our wellbeing.

This is why, when you drive up to my house, you will see FLOWERS in my yard. Why I sleep on the lovely flannel sheets my sister gave me last Christmas, why I finish many of my days writing in my journal with a purring cat in my lap. I want loveliness around me, so I have more loveliness inside me.

How do you put a little loveliness in your day? To one commenter, I’ll send a Scotland With Grace dram glass–just for pretty.








Never Having to Say You’re Sorry

blogxcatxtreadmillsFor months, I’ve been telling myself, “When I get back from Scotland, I’m hitting the gym.” Toodling around castles and crannogs was fun, but I’m painfully aware that one of the curses of aging is loss of muscle mass. The cause is hormonal, the solution is to use the muscles if I don’t want to lose them.

The conversation with the gym manager went something like this: “So what are your goals, Grace?”

blogxcatxliftingxweightsI don’t set goals. “To get stronger, so I don’t end up going into assisted living twenty years too soon, where I will sit on the throne three times a day calling for help until somebody slouches over to the bathroom to deal with me.”

Blink. “You want to get stronger.”

“Yep.” And I was serious about the assisted living part, but this woman was at least twenty-five years my junior. Mustn’t scare the children.

blogxworkoutxcat“And… what about weight loss?”

“Nope. I’m not here to lose weight.”

She stared at her clipboard as if trying to recall the bonus question from the final in Difficult Clients 101. “Do you want your clothes to be looser?”

“Nope. Strength. That’s what I want. I had it once, I want it back.”

“Well! Strength is a part of any well-rounded fitness program…” And on it went.  I’d timed this get-acquainted session for when the gym was empty, and sure enough, when I embarked on my solo workout, the only other person on the equipment was the cleaning lady, who was goofing around with one of the personal trainers on the machines I wasn’t using. They were having a high old time, giggling, laughing, frolicking in my purgatory.

blogxfeelxthexburnWhen I finished, the cleaning lady (complete with bandana on her cleaning lady hair), asked me, “So how do you feel?”

Persecuted. Hopeless. Exhausted. Resentful. “Like crap.”

She beamed at me. “Like good crap? Like you just kicked it, y’all can’t touch this, good crap?”

“No. I. Feel. Like. Crap. Thank you for asking. I’ll see you Friday.”

After that exchange, I felt worse than crap. She was trying to be kind to a newcomer, and I snarled at her. True to my word, however, I went back Friday, did my circuit, and yes, it was just as un-fun on Friday as it was the first time, and the zillions of other times I’ve done weights. The cleaning lady did not ask me how I felt.

blogxcuteI approached her, though. “I owe you an apology. You asked how I felt last time I was here, and I was rude. I’m sorry.”

She beamed at me, though in a different way. “I’ve heard worse. I wished you a blessing and went about my day.  Don’t worry about it, we all have bad days.”

My body still felt like crap, and I wish, if modern science is going to create little blue pills for amorous old duffers, it would also create a safe, legal, cheap pill for people with slow metabolisms, but apologizing did lift a weight from my heart.

ashton_450x2-450x675I’d done wrong, I was ashamed of myself, and I apologized. Not complicated, but profound. How grateful I am that I could undo some of the emotional stink I’d left in that gym by a few sincere words.

When was the last time you apologized after making a boo-boo? Or maybe somebody surprised you with an apology? Did it help? Makes things worse? Fall flat but at least you tried?

To one commenter, I’ll send a signed copy of Ashton: Lord of Truth.




Back to the Blog!

blogxheathrowAs many of you know, I’ve been off on a mega-frolic for the past couple weeks on the Scotland with Grace 2016 tour. We should have called it the Scotland For Fun tour. I’ve never traveled with such a nice, considerate, convivial group of people.

And yet, all good things must end, so I’m back in the writing chair, moving on to other good things (like revisions for the second Windham Bride, and drafting book three in that series). Getting home from Scotland takes some doing. I hop the train down to London from Edinburgh (400 miles in four hours), then catch a cab out to a hotel at Heathrow Airport, if I’m not up to schlepping luggage via the London underground.

blogxsamAfter a night at the Hilton Terminal Four, I toodle over to Terminal Two (Heathrow is about 30,000 acres, and moves 75 million travelers a year), with the suitcase that decided its handle was done extending.

Did the boarding pass thing, and then moved on to the baggage drop. My head at this point is filled with “I am terrified of flying/Be brave, Grace/I don’t wanna be brave/I still have my passport, right?” and other travel-day chatter. The nice guy who’s wrangling the queue at the baggage drop goes down the line checking passports and asking a few questions of each traveler.

He gets to me. “Were you here on business or pleasure?”

“Business, but I had a lot of fun, too.”

blogxgerardxwalkerHe squints at my passport. “What sort of business?”

“I write romance novels, and I was traveling in Scotland with a group of readers and writers.”

“Who owns the company that produced this tour?”

“I do.” Except I don’t. Beltane Tours did the leg work for the tour. Grace Burrowes Publishing was just color commentary.

“For how long have you owned it?”

“25 years.” Grace Burrowes Publishing is a wholly owned subsidiary of my law office, which I’ve owned since I first dreaded flying.

“Who is the inspiration for your romance novels?”

HUH? The first thing that came to my mind was, “My readers,” but I didn’t think he’d get that. I had the sense he expected me to come back with, “Gerard Butler,” or “Sam Hueghan.”

I don’t even know those guys. This question utterly stumped me. Who inspires me to write? Who believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself? Who saw my potential when I was too busy locating the exits and not losing my passport?

“My mother.”

scotlandxwithxglassesHe smiled. “Have a nice flight, and come see us again soon.”

That question stuck with me across the entire ocean. Who inspires me? Who protects my creative flame when the winds are high? Who motivates me to keep going when I’m afraid to fly? Who inspires me? The answer I gave was certainly true–my mom loved me ferociously–but so was the answer I didn’t.

My readers inspire me.

Who inspires YOU?

To one reader, I’ll send a pair of engraved Scotland With Grace 2016 Glencairn glasses. You can drink whisky out of them, or use them for vases…


We Interrupt this Summer Hiatus to Bring You…

RWAX2016In the time since last I posted in this space, I’ve done a fair amount of traveling, both for business, and for family. Travel, predictably, makes me appreciate home and also gives me time to think. I thought I’d share some reflections by way of a mid-summer check in.

marriott-marinaFirst, I’m so grateful for the gathering in San Diego of the Romance Writers of America. This is one place where to be a woman succeeding in the writing game is normal, and the guys are the others, the exceptions, the odd people out (at least for now). I’m all for equality, but until the happy day when we achieve that milestone, the sheer relief of being in a place owned, operated, and celebrated by the ladies was an eye opener. So this is what normal feels like? It’s pretty sweet.

Mom and I, Ireland, 1981

Mom and I, Ireland, 1981

Second, I’m so grateful for family. We gathered this summer to celebrate my mom’s life, and each other, and thus fifty-six people related either to me or connected to somebody I love all got together to laugh, eat, drink, be merry, and mourn. To say good-bye to Mom in Burrowes-style was lovely, and a little less sad for being a shared endeavor.

Third, I’m sad for my father. As a scientist and university professor, my dad often sang the praises of “the life of the mind,” meaning the exercise of intellect. He was never bored, never at a loss for something to study, and his research resulted in substantial contributions to his field.

dylanthomas_do-not-go-gentle-into-that-good-night_BBut Dad was wrong. Now that he’s failing, now that he’s medicated for “anxiety,” which I suspect is a euphemism for distracting his in-home care providers from their cell phones, now that he’s feeble, needy, and vulnerable, all that intellectual accomplishment means nothing compared to the constant vigilance of my sisters, who are keeping Dad safe and protecting his quality of life.

Fourth, both of my parents lived into their nineties, so I’m warned: I could have a long twilight to deal with. Seems to me what makes that phase bearable is not good insurance (my dad has great insurance, which pays for almost nothing, because he’s not sick). It’s not a lot of letters after my name or plaques on the wall–Dad had a PhD by age 28, and ye gods, the plaques on his walls…

It’s not wealth. Dad can pay out of pocket (for a while) for people to sit with him (as they stare at their cell phones and resent his restlessness).

virtuoso_audioWhat makes that long, hard end of the road bearable is love, which we can all afford, and all have to give. If my dad had known what his life after age ninety would look like, I wonder what he might have done differently.

What are your thoughts about old age, dying well, or living well? To one commenter, I’ll send ALL THREE Windham audio books, in honor of the upcoming release of The Virtuoso.

You Know It’s Nap Time When…

freeXexpressionsI spent last week at a writers’ conference, because–as far as I’m concerned–I will never be done learning how to write. Then too, writing is a solitary undertaking. To spend time with my tribe was a great fun. We all got certain jokes, and we could all commiserate over the manuscript that won’t come right.

voltaireI learned tons, about prose and plot, and also about the writing process as mine compares to that of other authors. I learned about other genres–children’s and young adult, women’s fiction, and thrillers (why is there no such thing as men’s fiction?). I learned a few words of some publishing industry dialects I hadn’t heard before.

I also learned that I’m tired. Physically tired. Whooped. Whamped. In need of many naps.

This revelation came to me about Tuesday afternoon, after a day and a half of class. I was one of the most experienced writers in the room, and I was having trouble wrapping my head around what was presented. Worse, I was getting upset because it should have been making sense. I should have been able to integrate the material into my craft, I just didn’t get it…

cat-sleepingI dismissed the theory that I was tired, because all we were doing was sitting and listening. The whole week was to be mostly refresher and review. I wasn’t under any pressure to pitch new projects to agents or editors–I was an intellectual TOURIST.

I decided to steal a cat nap on Tuesday, and crashed harder than I’ve crashed in years. As the week went on, I realized that what I probably needed was a vacation, not a mental workout. My body is tired, my mind is tired, my imagination is tired. I suspect this has to do with losing my mom in February and my lawyer job in March, and my dad receiving hospice care. I’m doing emotional work that saps my energy reserves in ways I don’t entirely grasp.

sad-puppyFoster kids often come into care without knowing when they’re hungry, thirsty, tired, or upset. They’ve been so focused on managing a challenging environment that they no longer self-monitor. The results aren’t pretty–tantrums, food hoarding, illness, injury, and  trouble in school. We can become oblivious to our own internal states. If I hadn’t seen it over and over again in those foster children, I’d probably not believe we can be that cut off from our own reality.

soldier_audio-1-350x350In any case, I’d like permission to take a break from this blog, for at least the next few weeks. I have a lot of writing to do (I’m looking at you, Asher Fenwick), and I love to write. I always want to be ABLE to write in quantity and quality, and the blog–while great fun for me, and I hope for you–is one demand I can temporarily step back from.

How do you know you’re tired? Has fatigue ever taken you by surprise? To one commenter, I’ll send an audio book copy of The Soldier, a story about a guy who needed to reconnect with his own heart.

Getting Out of Click-town

blogXtwoXroses Had lunch with my friend Graham, which is a good thing, because lately, the news feed has me just about shooting around the room backward with frustration, anger, and a sense of betrayal. What’s wrong with our political system? What’s wrong with our media? What’s wrong with our… (blank of your choice here).

Graham made a profound point: We’re nose down in social media, clicking nineteen-to-the-dozen. Our attention spans are getting shorter, our memories less functional. We seem to be both hypervigilant (when was the last time you were more than a mile away from your phone and were OK with that?), and yet, we’re also unable to concentrate.

blogXlilyXofXtheXvalleyThose are symptoms of trauma, by the way, but Graham had another explanation: We’re awash in a sea of content, information, apps, and chats, but at the cost of the sort of wisdom that feedeth the intellect, heart, and conscience. We’re starving for wisdom and perspective. Not rants, click bait, or viral memes that are–at best–a laugh or a groan. The seldom resonate with wisdom, reason, perspective, and relief from the isolation of trying to live a meaningful life and being just one person.

Bet you wish you could have lunch with Graham occasionally, too, huh? His point was timely for me, because I get soooooo upset with what I see on social media, and in the news. And yet, I have been fortunate to have come across some people whose compassion, intelligence, shrewdness, and creativity have stuck with me. I have been given some wisdom, though I haven’t always heeded it as quickly as I should. Some of the life lessons I hope I don’t have learn all over:

blogXtwoXpinksBe kind, tell the truth. (Ram Dass)

Steer clear of people who can’t take responsibility for their shortcomings and mistakes. They are People of the Lie (Scott Peck’s term), and they don’t care who’s hurt while they preserve their myth of competence and virtue, as long as it isn’t them.

Don’t make tough decisions when you’re tired. (My mom.)

When you’re facing something intimidating, try to take it on a little at a time with the support of people who love you. (boyfriend from decades ago)61DdZUdVVcL

If you’re faced with a tough choice, sometimes the best you can do is select the option that you’re less unhappy about, and sometimes, all of your options will stink. (My dad.)

Dream BIG. It could happen. (My daughter.)

There is wisdom out there, and good people, and reason to hope. Share some of yours.

To one commenter, I’ll send an audio version of “The Heir,” the book that started my Big Dream coming true.





Make Hay…. Later

blogXmakingXhayGrowing up in central Pennsylvania, I spent a lot of time on my godparents’ farm. I learned the true meaning of the phrase, “Make hay while the sun shines.”

Making hay is brutally intense manual labor. Summertime is hot, of course, and hay is itchy. If you don’t want to get a zillion cuts and scrapes, or a Defcon 5 sunburn, you make hay wearing jeans, boots, gloves, a hat, and a shirt. Making hay wore me out to the point that I fell asleep standing up in the shower.

blogXcowXhayThe entire farm’s welfare can rest on whether the hay crop is good quality–which means it absolutely cannot be rained on, and must be cut at peak nutritional value–no matter what. I’ve made hay with a migraine, sick, exhausted, and sporting blisters on my blisters.  Make hay while the sun shines, or else.

BUT, today it got so hot in my little farmhouse that my computer went wonky. So I shut off the wee beast even though I was well short of my usual word count, and… recalled something else I’d come across recently, about procrastination.

blogXgoodXexecsProcrastinating is bad, right? Git ‘er done, we’re burning daylight. No time like the present! Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today!  Find me an English language aphorism that celebrates procrastinating and I’ll show you ironic humor.

Except… the English language is wrong. People who are moderate procrastinators are better at coming up with innovative, high quality, results than people who leap right in and get the job done early. There is value in pausing to consider, in allowing the subconscious to take a swat at our assignments, in sitting on a toadstool and watching the world go by even when the laundry hasn’t been folded. (Try telling your boss this.)

Jack-275x413I do a fairly good job of “productively procrastinating” in my writing. I’ve learned that I can’t “make a baby in one month with nine women,” when it comes to writing a book. I have to let the ideas marinate, then let the manuscript marinate. Back-to-back revisions don’t yield anywhere near the polish that the same effort, with breathing room between rounds, will yield, and to heck with the deadlines.

But in life… I’m not as successful at putting off until tomorrow what I might tear into today, just so I can say I got it knocked off the list. What about you? How do you build in time to ponder, or does hitting pause on task drive you nuts? Maybe it drives your boss or coworkers nuts?

To one commenter, I’ll send a signed copy of Jack–The Jaded Gentlemen, Book IV, a story about people who had to wait quite a while for the right happily ever after.




Home Again, Home Again

blogXdenverI recently spent a couple of weeks in Denver, pet-sitting for my daughter and her beloved swain while they took a honeymoon/ roadtrip to Oregon. I got tons of writing done, like half a book’s worth, and I also walked several miles a day. The trip reminded me of something a writing buddy told me a few months ago: “There are other places to be happy, Grace, besides the place you’ve been happy for the past twenty-five years.”

blogXalbuquequeMy friend had upped stakes and moved from Maryland to Albuquerque, in part for business reasons, but also because she’d always loved the Southwest. For her, the wide open spaces, low humidity, fresh start, and new sights, were a big boost to her creativity and well being. She’s happier than a pig in a dumpster, and a yet, a couple years before the move, her goal in life was to “hang onto the house” in Maryland.

blogXtorreyXpinesWhen my dad was fifty-five, he retired from teaching and moved from Pennsylvania to San Diego, where he had adjunct professor status and research privileges. He was tired of miserable winters, broiling summers, a big/aging house (seven kids), mowing grass, cleaning gutters, and raking leaves.

I love my little property, and have been so happy surrounded by big trees, farms, peace and quiet. My late pets are buried across the stream, I’ve written forty books at my kitchen table, and I raised my daughter in this house.

blogXheatXwaveBut you know what? Maryland has bugs on top of bugs inside of bugs, and I do not like bugs. Maryland can have several feet of snow on the ground at once, and stretches of 100 degree days that are as muggy as purgatory in July. Where I live, the main employers are the school system, the hospital, and… the prison complex. There’s no four-year institution of higher education anywhere in the county, and adult illiteracy is stuck near 20 percent. The only place the homeless in our county seat have to go on a bitter winter day is the main library despite the jurisdiction having more churches per capita than 99 percent of US counties.

Denver, by contrast, does not have bugs on top of bugs, humidity that results in mold overnight, or a lack of cultural diversity. Denver figured out that by dollars and cents, it costs the city far more (about $38,000 a year) to leave the chronically homeless on the street than to find them long-term housing and case management. The proJack-275x413blem is far from solved, but there’s progress.

I’m not moving to Denver any time soon, but the change of scenery got me thinking. Home is home, but it’s not paradise. It was a great place to raise a kid and write the first forty books. Now that I’m not confined by membership in a state bar association, maybe it’s time to look for the next great place to call home.

What is wonderful about where you live? What could you honestly do without? Would you still live there if you could live anywhere in the world? Why or why not? To one commenter, I’ll send a signed copy of Jack–The Jaded Gentlemen, Book IV.