The Intergalactic (Weekly) Day of Grace

blog cat on a bathroom scaleWhen I got home from last month’s Romance Writers of America conference, the scale said… well, what my scale usually says, “Too much of a good thing here, Grace,” but it said so more loudly than usual. Not my all time high, but I could see the mountaintop, as it were. 

So… we know deprivation diets don’t work, and often slingshot us into worse trouble yet. To heck with that…. except with my metabolism, deprivation is a way of life. I’m never full, I never have any energy, and I eat a conscientiously clean, healthful menu in rigorous moderation. As my father has said, when the next Ice Age comes, everybody will wish they had my metabolism. 

blog wooly mammothBut obesity is bad news, in terms of health outcomes, much less mental health. So… back onto the tread desk I go, several miles a day, and the rigorous moderation became rigorous-er. I looked out across my immediate future, looked at my plans in terms of movement and caloric intake, and said unto myself, “Madam, this ain’t gonna work.” 

Helpful aside: Any commenter who implies that regular exercise results in an INCREASE in energy will find themselves dropped down the nearest privy hole–gently of course. You have your bodily reality, I blog outhousehave mine. 

So. I put up the usual hurdles (do more, eat less, even though I already don’t eat much and am always working), with one change: Saturday goes back to being a real Saturday, such as I survived on in my childhood. I HATED the school week. HATED IT, with a burning, unrelenting, and well justified passion (waves to Sister Jean Michael).

But Saturday was MY day. No structure AT ALL, until dinner at 6 pm. I could wander outside all day, sleep the afternoon away, sit in a tree and read, have five bowls of cereal, wear my jammies until noon… I had one day to be not what everybody else demanded of me, but what I wanted to be.  

blog cat in a treeNow, I’ve stopped setting the alarm on Saturdays. I don’t count calories, I rest from the tyranny of the tread desk. I’ve watched the results of this scheduled orgy, and yeah, I might eat a thousand more calories–Oh, the carbs! The sloth! Two whole cupcakes! I get less done, and I’m kinda stiff on Sunday from not moving as much. 

But I’m HAPPIER, because I got the day I needed to recharge in the ways I’m already badly underweight. Unstructured time, solitude, sensory pleasures, imaginative play… duke and his duchessI’m a person, not a dot on the insurance company’s profit management chart. Seems as long as I recall that, I can make progress on the more external indicators of well being. 

Two realizations so far: First, I’m more deprived and regimented than I realized, most of the time; and second, what I want in terms of periodic wild indulgence is woefully tame.

If you were going to kick over the traces one day a week, what would it look like–or what DOES it look like? To one commenter, I’ll send a signed copy of Tuesday’s print release, The Courtship/The Duke and His Duchess. 

 

 

Falling in Love

blog tree seasonsOne of the aspects of living in Western Maryland that I love are the changing seasons. Just when I think the drone of fans and AC will drive me ’round the bend, autumn whispers hello. Just when I think I’ve become the wood stove’s indentured servant, crocuses are smiling at me. Life with four seasons has a nice, forward rhythm that I’ve enjoyed since birth.

Here are ten things I can look forward to over the next six weeks:

1. Better sleep. Whether it’s the shorter daylight, or the cooler days (mblog better sleepore activity), or the cooler nights (better rest), I’ll wake up with more of a sense of being ready to seize the day.

2. Fewer bugs. Bugs makes the world go ’round, I get that, but one fly in my kitchen when I’m trying to write a tough scene, and all my focus goes buzzing out the window.

3. More light. Oddly enough, though the days are getting shorter, the maples around my house will also start losing their leaves. In my little log cabin, that means MORE natural during the day.

blog beautiful leaves4. Beautiful light. The angle to the sun changes this time of year, and I think the greater contrast is lovely.

5. BULBS!!!! I love flowers, and where I live is well suited to planting bulbs. The wonderful thing about the spring bulbs is they come up without needing to be in weeded, watered, fertilized, mulched beds. Stick ’em in the dirt, throw on some bone meal, and wait for the lovely.

6. I can wear all those gorgeous plaid scarves I pick up in Scoblog cat cozy woodstovetland. I splurged on a cashmere All Scotland on my last trip, and I shamelessly love the feel and look of it.

7. My big dogs are happier. They like the cooler weather too, particularly after the frosts hit regularly, and the flea and tick menace declines.

8. The woodstove gets me out of my writing chair. For the first couple months, before winter really locks down, the woodstove is cozy, fragrant, and blog knight catcheering. By late winter, putting the woodstove to bed for the year becomes something else to look forward to.

9. Porches festooned with mums–mine among them.

10. The return of the Besom. Beese is one of my several black cats, and at some point in spring, she removes to her summer quarters in the barn. At some point in the fall, she returns to the house, and more specifically, to my lap when I’m writing. She’s the softest cat in the world, and blog sylvesterhas a peacefulness about her that seems to settle me, the dogs, the other cats. I’m not sure what’s doing out in that barn all summer, but all winter, I’m loving having my Writer Kitty close by.

What changes are you looking forward to in the next six weeks? Richard Armitage was so popular last week, this week, I’ll give away a copy of him reading Sylvester, another Georgette Heyer favorite.

A Question of Rage

The first time I saw an internet lynch mob was with the Sandusky scandal at Penn State. People with no direct stake in the case were enraged and willing to act on their rage. Though they knew none of the parties, had never set foot on a Penn State campus, and grasped few of the relevant facts, they were using profanity, making death threats, and scorning reason.nittany lion

The next time was with Fifty Shades of Grey. People who had never read the book, never read erotica, or never read a New Adult story were foghorning all over the internet about consent, role models, how to write a romance (the first book doesn’t come close to meeting the definition of romance), and why the author should be locked up.

Passion and engagement are to me usually good things. We should care, about each other and about our world. When you uncouple passion from reason and facts, though, you can go two places with it, at least. You can turn to a world of fantasy, where gravity of any kind does not apply. Such worlds characterize the imagination of a young child, or a fiction writer at certain points in the creative process.FSOG

The other place you can fly on pure passion-minus-any-facts-or-realities is blind rage. When you’re in the midst of a passionate battle, you’re deaf, dumb and blind to reason.

Passion is sticky. When we’re confronted with somebody who’s hating all over the known cyber-universe, if we care about the same issue, we want to either pile on, or be the shaft of sweet reason that proves them to be the buffoons they are. Neither reaction will result in a problem solved, and both might very well result in a problem exacerbated.

The internet lynch mob terrifies me. It perpetuates the assumption that nobody shgood unicornould have to tolerate anything that offends them,ever. It makes reality and facts irrelevant in the face of strong emotion.

I’ve found a perspective that helps me resist the gravitational pull of the rant. In conflict studies, they tell you that anger is an emotion that usually sits on top of more vulnerable sentiments. Anger both connects us to people who share our anger, and distances us from what we view as the source of the problem. Getting angry, while not a solution, can feel like a pretty useful coping mechanism.rage unicorns

Anger, though, is mortally dangerous. Blind, hateful anger is how we end up with some of our worst horrors–genocide, lynch mobs, domestic violence. Anger is seldom a solution in itself, so I’ve started asking myself a question before I click “like,” or compose a rebuttal to somebody’s post.

“What are they afraid of?” Everybody should be afraid of young women falling into the clutches of handsome, charming, mentally unwell rich guys. It happens. Everybody should be afraid of their child becoming prey for a pedophile. Everybody should fear anything that tries to normalize genocide or domestic violence or infanticide.

The fears are legitimate. We really do have sociopathic CEOs, Richard Armitagepedophiles, and genocide. To fear them is not crazy. When I focus on somebody’s fears–and my own–oddly enough, reason remains within my grasp as well, as does compassion. The rage might look ugly, unjustified, stupid, and scary… the fear usually looks very human.Venetia

What’s your reaction to the mean, righteous, blind side of social media? Do you ever get sucked in? Next week’s post will be cheerier, I promise, and this week, in honor of Georgette Heyer’s birthday, I’ll give away an audio version of Venetia read by Richard Armitage… yeah, THAT Richard Armitage.

 

Come Away With Me…

This week’s blog is posted on the Read-a-Romance-Month page, and describes WHY I write romance. (Has to do with mud and castles.) I’m giving away three signed copies of Tremaine’s True Love (sheep, mud, and castles), and in iPad. Come on over, and join the joy!

http://www.readaromancemonth.com/2015/08/grace-burrowes-writing-for-the-joy/

The Re-charge of the Light Brigade

Hot-ChocolateSo there I was, having one of my periodic, “Set the World to Rights” breakfasts with my friend Graham. As usual, I was playing my figurative violin when we first sat down. This is how I lull Graham into a false sense of security before his turn in the inquisatorial barrel begins.

Last week’s conference in New York CASA RWA 2015was good but grueling! The law office is yammering for my attention because end of month, quarter, and fiscal year reporting Must Be Done. Book deadlines left, right and center! My recent travels have been appallingly nutritious, which means at least two hours a day on the tread desk and Not Much Fodder. Then there’s Darling Child, who has decided to move now of all times, and that means–

mons megGraham quietly interrupted me–a skill at which he excels. “So what do you do to recharge?”

Erm. I swung my verbal cannons around, because I know to expect that sort of insight from this guy.

“Wallow in solitude, write, read my keepers, meditate, be patient, make lists and then DO them, make Got It Done lists, have breakfast with YOU…”

goodnight-moon-647x315But his question prompted a realization: I’ve lost some of my bounce. Thirty years ago, I could miss a night of sleep, as was often required by the job, and recover with a weekend nap. Motherhood arrived in my late twenties, and I could get up and down five times during the night, and still be productive at work the next day. A few years of that, though–and of weekends no longer devoted to rest and unstructured time–and a missed night of sleep took a greater toll.

Now I’m in my fifties. If I have a truly awful night of sleep, I take days to recover. Not QuiteA week-long conference that requires me to be Publicly Charming for hours each day, and I’m not going to bounce back after a nap. I can meditate diligently (a contradiction in terms, I know), I can tackle those deadlines (I love to write!), I can sleep, hibernate, cuddle up with my keepers… and a week just won’t put me entirely to rights any more.

I don’t think this is burnout–I’m pretty happy, most of the time–I think it’s aging. Everything has slowed down, except maybe the impulses to love and laugh. My wits and my heart remain in good repair. I also notice a compensatory skill developing, and that’s a patience with myself and with life.

enerbunny1Well, no, I don’t spend a week in a conference hotel without suffering an energy sink afterward. I’m not the energizer bunny I used to be, but what a frantic, self-centered, noisy creature she was. Now, I’m more patient–with myself, with life. Now I live and let live to try again another day. Now, I’m better at realizing, “I’m bushed. This will all still be here tomorrow, and I can be more efficient if I’m rested.”

The trade is energy for wisdom. So far, I like that trade pretty well. Many romancetremaine_450x2-274x450 novel characters get presented with opportunities to make trades–courage for loneliness, love for safety. Has life handed you any trades? Freedom in place of security? Privacy instead of popularity? Health instead of wealth?

To one commenter, I’ll send a signed copy of Tremaine’s True Love, which hits the shelves on Tuesday!

A Word to Our Sponsors

CASA times square (1)I am writing this blog in a hotel room at Times Square, New York City. This part of the Big Apple is noisy, busy, crowded, non-stop, and about as far from my kinda place as I can imagine.

And yet, at the Romance Writers of American annual conference, I am having a fine, fine time. How can this be? I have no tolerance for noise, but the two hours of my last book signing–hugely noisy–flew by. I’m generally what the Nice People call tactile-avoidant, that is, slow to offer affection, but here, I’ll hug practically anybody.

CASA RWA 2015This conference is the only place I’m with people who get what I do as a writer. They understand the infinitely variable process of wrestling a 100,000-word story from a single line of prose. They grasp the never-ending challenge of maintaining good health while pursuing a sedentary livelihood. My RWA sisters and brothers know the terror and glee of a business that makes a rollercoaster look as adventurous as a porch swing.

 At this conference, they get me. And yet, that’s not a complete explanation for what’s going on here.
 CASA RITA awardsWhen I’m a child welfare attorney, I’m often in the same courtroom with other lawyers. They do what I do. They’re often advocating for the same outcomes I am, and their clients can challenge them as mine do me. Those lawyers and I don’t squeal with glee at the sight of each other, we don’t light up with joy when one of us wins an appeal. We’re professionally cordial (most of the time), no more.

Part of the difference is the subject matter of the two professions, of course. Lawyers… well, they lawyer. If lawyers are involved, then some relationship–a marriage, a business, a social contract–is falling part. If a romance writer is on the scene, a happily ever after story is in the making.

tremaine_450x2-274x450That doesn’t explain the utter delight I see on so many faces at this conference. Something else is at work here, and I think it has to do with our readers. Somebody can love my books, read every one the day it comes out, and also love Emily Greenwood’s books–reading each of those the day they come out.

They can also love the books written by Susanna Ives, Samantha Grace, Roseanne Bittner… and fourteen other authors, too. As a result, romance authors are not only free of a sense of competition with each other, we shamelessly, gleefully, promote one another’s work.

The passion our readers bring to the genre makes writing romance a joyous undertaking, one in which every author can pull for every other author, and challenges and triumphs are shared among us all.

So thank you readers, from the bottom of my heart, for creating this wondrous place for me and for so many others to write. To three commenters, I’ll send signed copies of my August release, Tremaine’s True Love.

Who are your people? What does it look like when you get together with them?

 

Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a….

SEP give a damnAfter yesterday’s signing at Turn the Page, the guest authors got together for dinner along with some staff, friends, and author spouses. Somebody (not an author) raised the topic of negativity on Facebook, and a chorus of, “I’m unfriending left and right too!” rose up around the table.

I started thinking about the psychological term “cut off,” meaning when, between members of one SEP robinhoodfamily or tribe, disowning occurs. In a biblical context, the disowned was sometimes forced out into the wilderness, smeared with blood (symbolic guilt) to attract the notice of predators. In the days of Robinhood, the “outlaw” was not a person who had committed crimes, necessarily, but rather, a person cast out of the protection of the laws.

SEP toto and dorothyMy great-grandfather went west from New York in the late 1800s to prospect for oil. He was never heard from after a certain point, and we presumed he’d met with a Bad End. My sister is an avid genealogist, and discovered that no, Gramps had simply taken up with a second wife, and put down bigamist roots in Oklahoma. He’d cut himself off from SEP running away from homehis first wife and two little daughters, who managed as best they could.

The cut off can be freeing or terrifying, but it’s never simple or easy. I would have said my immediate family never cut anybody off…. but there I was in high school, dating somebody my mother thought was inappropriate. Out of the house she did throw me, and out of the house I did go, never to entirely return. When the relationship ended  a couple years later (he was truly awful), my mother deigned to speak to me again–and I to her.

A cut off always involves a heroes are my weaknessre-balancing of shame, freedom, and safety for those involved. My mother wanted distance from the disgrace surrounding my choice of boyfriend, and I was willing to take the freedom of separation from my family over the relative safety they offered. Eventually, my mother and I worked it out, sorta.

Susan Elizabeth Phillips is BRILLIANT at using the dynamics of a cut off to haul readers straight into the heart of her novels. Heroes–even those whose livelihoods rely on team work–cut themselves off from emotional support, heroines cut themselves off from their small town roots. Love comes along, and the stakes of playing the cut off game go way, way up.

tremaine_450x2-274x450We can be cut off as a result of status (AIDS patient), bad luck (foster child), behavior (convicted felon), addiction (alcoholism, gambling), other mental illnesses (depression, agoraphobia), or choice (a SEP protagonist, a much younger Grace Burrowes). Love and time will often bring us home, if we want to be brought home.

I’m still cutting the haters out of my FB feed, but I’m also promising myself I’ll work harder on keeping the true friends and family I have. An ounce of prevention, ya know?

Have you ever cut somebody off? Have you been cut off? Was it the right decision, and were there other choices? To one commenter, I’ll send a signed copy of Tremaine’s True Love, which I snabbled from yesterday’s signing.

 

 

 

Facing Off

 

kitty in the windowWriting is a solitary undertaking, and I enjoy solitude for the most part. I can frolic with my imagination for hours, and enjoy every minute of it… but even I need some social interaction. In that regard, social media has been a godsend. I can pop onto Facebook, drop a post, and have a semblance of human contact all without leaving my writing chair.

I can tweet about the ring-necked pheasant hen I saw in my yard, and Mrs. Pheasantknow that somebody somewhere will get why seeing that bird made me so happy. I can feel like my readers are enjoying Scotland with me, and that was just lovely.

What’s not to like?

Well… plenty. The phenomenon of online bullying is well documented. cat fightWe get into a situation where we’re all but anonymous, and our opinions become rants. We see an inflammatory click-bait post, and even though we KNOW it’s simply there to collect data and generate traffic, there we are, leaving an impassioned comment that provokes somebody else to an impassioned reply.

Pretty soon, I’m arguing with some guy in Denmark about the ethics of Germany’s austerity demands on Greece, ’cause, see,  post-WWII, Germany was shown enormous debt forgiveness and rebuilt pew pew pewthrough the Marshall Plan, because the example from WWI was that austerity creates fertile grounds for facism, so we know that a bottom-up approach to restructuring the….

As if I know anything about international monetary policy? As if a single elected official will give a rooty-toot-toot about what I posted on Facebook? And yet, there I am… cat w megaphoneblathering on, about Greece, about Amazon’s thoroughly compromised review policy, about why telling little girls they’re beautiful might be a mistake… C’mon, Grace Burrowes.cat novel

So I’m setting some limits for myself. I will post on my page, about the stuff that I think might be interesting or fun for my readers. I will skim my feed no more than once a day, but this business of foghorning all over creation when I have books to write… no mas, Grace Ann. That’s just hot tremaine_450x2-274x450air, not social interaction, and in the grand scheme of things, it’s simply time wasted.

I have books to write, family and friends to stay in touch with, more trips to Scotland to plan, and flowers to plant. If you see me leaving one of my War and Peace comments one somebody’s post about the Exxon CEO who claims fracking is safe, but is suing to enjoin fracking near his horse farm… just tell me you hear Matthew Belmont calling me, or Hamish MacHugh, or Daniel Banks, or–this guy really intrigues me–Elias Brodie, Earl of Strathdee.

Am I the only one who views social media as a mixed blessing? Do you have any rules of thumb for how much is enough, and what lines not to cross?

To one commenter, I’ll send a copy of Tremaine’s True Love.

 

Leave, American Style

View up the valley from Farleyer Lodge

View up the valley from Farleyer Lodge

So there I was in beautiful Scotland, the Highlands in view, snow-dotted hills just up the valley, my little holiday cottage all cozy and welcoming… Bliss awaited.

But back in the law office five times zones away, the program office that issues my contracts wanted some immediate answers tremaine_450x2-204x335to questions I’m responsible for answering. Yes, I had put in writing to them that I was out of office, and off duty. I had  named my replacement and provided his phone number.

My publicist chose my vacation week to send me the publicity plan for my August release, though it had been promised two weeks earlier. A PR plan usually involves thousands of words of blog posts, and hours and hours hunting through the manuscript for excerpts, each of which must be “exclusive” to the site that hosts it.

What’s an American to do?

All over Scotland, I crossed paths with people who were going “on holiday” to Turkey’s Black Sea coast (“So much safer than America, dear.”), popping over tour eiffelto Paris for some sightseeing and to brush up their youngest child’s French, or taking time to go hill walking in Cumbria. Mind you, these were cab drivers, check out ladies, and college students.

Here’s a little Harvard Study, comparing America’s approach to paid vacation to 20 other wealthy nations (not all of them European). In short, we suck at protecting our leisure time. In every other nation studied, the work year includes TWENTY DAYS minimum paid leave, for everybody–full-time, part-time–from day one, and that doesn’t include from 5-13 paid national holidays. France, Germany, Denmark, they all guarantee thirty days of paid leave.

We Can Do It! Rosie the RiveterWhat do we do? We don’t guarantee anything, we give less leave to the people who earn less even though many of them work very hard. But what about productivity? Surely, we work harder than other other guys, and we have more to show for it as a nation?

Right. In the first place, I couldn’t find productivity comparisons that were less than five years old (which struck me as really odd), and in the second, why is productivity the burning question” What about worker satisfaction? Quality of life (where we’re falling behind)? Happiness? Post-retirement standard of living?

hamsterTo a significant extent, Americans are the descendants of people who would work themselves to death rather than stay back in the Old Country putting up with an established religion or a lack of economic freedom. If we’re African American, we’re likely descended from people for whom brutal hard work was the only alternative to death. We’re Americans, we work.

Consider this: By some fine October day, you have already worked as many hours as your European, Australian or Canadian counterpart. What would you do if every year, in addition to your two weeks of paid vacation (assuming you get that), you also had TWO MONTHS more paid leave?

To one commenter, I’ll send a copy of Tremaine’s True Love (though not until about July 20th, the soonest I can get hold of one).

Look Homeward, Grace

Doune shoppedAfter a month of rambling around Scotland, the time is upon me to return home. The trip did not do what I’d hoped it would–cram my head with romance plots, all tidily worked out to the last, fascinating detail–but it did leave me with many gifts.

A few of these gifts, I will spend the next few months walking off on my treadmill desk.

strathlyon sutherland castleI may not have plots, but I have ideas I could never have come across at home. The Pictish warriors were jealous of those old Viking guys, for example, because the Vikings, with their saunas and impressive battle dress, did so much better with the ladies. I’m left to ponder: Is it the land that was conquered, or the ladies’ hearts? The amount of Norse blood in many parts of the UK suggests the latter.

Strathlyon viewAnother gift, a big one, is motivation. For a week, I stayed in a lovely, tidy, beautifully maintained holiday cottage. The writing just flowed. I need to take a greater interest in how my house looks and feels when I walk in the door. Two big dogs and I need to have a talk about who’s allowed on what furniture, and I need to stock up on vacuum cleaner bags. I know my environment impacts my mood and energy, but the reminder was timely.

The Birnam Oak, of Birnam Forest fame.

The Birnam Oak, of Birnam Forest fame.

I’m also impressed by Scottish society. When they faced an independence referendum last September, voter turnout was 90 percent, and it was the old people whose opinion carried the day. Yes, election day was a holiday, and public transportation far exceeds what we, with our great distances can offer, but 90 percent?! We can’t even hit 50 percent. We need to do better.

Maesehowe Dragon

Maesehowe Dragon

I’m excited, too, about the group tour I’m organizing for next September. There is so MUCH to see and do here, that even if you’re not a writer, for ten days, I’m confident I can show you a great time. (More on this tour later…)

 

So travel has again done what I rely on it to do: Refreshed my perspective, cheered me up, given me ideas, and helped me see how home can be made more appealing. But I also met with folks at the University of Stirling to

Guess where?

Guess where?

discuss their master’s program in creative writing. Scotland is on notice: I’m coming back Soon and often.

Was there a trip that shifted your perspective on home, on yourself? If you could travel back to one place, where would it be? To one commenter, I’ll send a copy of Dancing in the Duke’s Arms, now on sale in both ebook and print formats.