Readers Have Questions
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The Most Frequently Asked Question:
How can I keep track of all your books? When is the next one coming out?
There are two ways to keep track of all the books I have coming your way.
You can head over to my Coming Soon page, where I post books as soon as I have a publication date for them, or…
Or sign up for my Newsletter, where I often announce future projects first (and sometimes do giveaways, too)!
Questions About the Books:
At the very end of Lady Louisa’s Christmas Knight, Joseph Carrington is given the title Earl of Kesmore, and he’s referred to as Kesmore in subsequent Windham family stories. In The Trouble With Dukes, he’s referred to as the Earl of Keswick (also the Earl of Cowlick). What happened?
Author error! I hadn’t written Joseph into a story in some time, though he’s one of my faves (they’re all my faves). I did double-check his title in Louisa’s story, and right there on the page, it says Kesmore. I happily congratulated myself on my conscientiousness (if not my memory), sat back down at the computer, and wrote Keswick.
I have two associations with the name Keswick. The first is a town in Virginia where I’ve seen and participated in some really cool horse shows. Good memories! The second is a town in England’s Lake District where I’ve stayed for a long weekend—more good memories! Maybe the good memories decided to morph Joseph’s title? In any case, I’ll explain the confusion in an author’s note if Joseph shows up in another happily ever after. I have a feeling Louisa is laughing herself silly over this. She kinda liked that bit about Earl of Cowlick.
Are any of your novels available as audiobooks?
Glad you asked! I’m slowly building my audio list, and as it stands now, The Bridegroom Wore Plaid, Mary Fran and Matthew, Once Upon a Tartan, The MacGregor’s Lady, Darius, The Courtship, The Duke and His Duchess, and Morgan and Archer are all available from Tantor Media as audiobooks. I’d like to hear from my readers which book or books they think should be next in the audio queue.
Do you have a favorite book?
Yes–the one I’m working on now.
The published books are out of my hands–they belong to the readers. The Work in Progress is mine, mine, all mine… at least through the rough draft stage. As editorial revisions are made, copy edits happen, and proofreaders get in a few licks, the book becomes less and less mine, and more and more the readers’. By the on sale date, I have to let the book go, and the only way I know to cope with that loss is to write another book.
Your books set in the regency are in different series, but they’re in the same universe. How do I read them chronologically?
When I started writing, I had no idea my books would ever be published. As I finished one book, I’d start the next without much thought for how somebody might organize the stories into series or sub-subseries. My editor had the thankless task of picking a starting point, and chose The Heir, because with The Soldier and The Virtuoso it formed a good, strong, trilogy of brothers to launch my career.
But that left some loose ends—about twenty of them—before, during, and after the Windham brothers, and I kept writing more books around and in between the ones I’d started with. What follows is my attempt to lay out the Windhams, the True Gentlemen, the Jaded Gentlemen, and Lonely Lords in a reading order that makes sense. The difficulty is that some books are happening at the same time as other books. In the case of Darius, between the beginning and end of his story, five other books are going on. (Vivvie says some things can’t be rushed).
The Windham Brides technically fall outside the Regency (George IV had finally ascended to the throne), so they are not included here. They’d go at the end, after the last of the Windham sisters.
If I had it to do over, I’d start at the beginning, but I don’t, so here we go:
Hope that helps, and as more books find publication, I’ll integrate them into the list above.
Will you ever do a Windham spin-off for Uncle Tony and Aunt Gladys’s daughters?
Glad you asked!.
When I finished Lady Jenny’s book, I went into a period of Windham-moping. I think this is half the reason why Westhaven and Anna popped up The MacGregor’s Lady, though that’s a Scottish Victorian. I missed my Windham friends too badly to leave them entirely behind.
Then I began to get Ideas–about four daughters, and what sorts of devoted swains they might encounter. My mom was a blue-eyed red-head, and I thought it might be fun if all four Windhams shared that rarest of colorings… and then some story ideas began to materialize. The result is The Windham Brides series, which includes The Trouble With Dukes, Too Scot to Handle, No Other Duke Will Do, and A Rogue of Her Own.
And before you ask, no, Tony does not have an illegitimate son… that I know of.
Tiberius Flynn, Earl of Spathfoy, has two more sisters–Mary Ellen and Pandora. Will they get stories?
I’m almost certain they will, for several reasons.
First, I love the MacGregor series and its close kin. I’m writing in the high Victorian, which isn’t that much different from the Regency. The population shift has barely, barely tipped, with about equal numbers living in the cities and in the country. Prince Albert is still alive, so the whole fascination with death, the occult, and mourning hasn’t caught on. Fashion is still fairly reasonable–those enormous twelve foot wide hoops (which Queen Victoria abhorred and never wore) only began in mid-1850s, and the awful excesses of corsetry are yet to come.
So I like the world a lot.
Second, I particularly like the Scottish world and I also like the tension between an English hero and a Scottish heroine, or vice versa. This builds in a layer of misunderstanding, if not antipathy, between the heroes and heroines, and that’s always lovely.
Third, I love Tiberius. He can pop up in as many stories as he pleases, confiding in Flying Rowan, doting on his countess, and putting crooked, droopy diapers on his heir. In fact, I wish he had more sisters so I could see more of him..
Will you ever write stories for Rose, Winnie, or Westhaven’s children?
Rose and Winnie beg for a post-Regency series, along with, Priscilla Jennings, and some of Winnie’s Windham cousins. Fifteen years on, their parents will still be plenty young and full of fun. Our heroines could well have a passel of younger siblings, and yet, we’re still not into the Victorian period, about which readers have many pre-conceived (and often erroneous) notions.
So yes, I can see a series for members of the next generation–probably two series, for that matter. I seem to recall that St. Clair’s oldest and Michael Brodie’s daughter have an entanglement, and you know how much I love to write about Scotland….
Then there are Matthew and Axel Belmont’s five boys, who fall into yet another cohort between the Regency generation and the very young ladies.. I am well blessed with characters to write for!
Will you ever write a story for Lord Bartholomew Windham?
Bart is reported to have died in a tavern imbroglio in Portugal. He’d been drinking, he did not understand the language, and he inadvertently insulted a decent woman. Before he realized how much trouble he was in, weapons had come into play.
The very senselessness of his death made his passing harder for his family to grieve. He was the next duke, vivacious, full of himself, dear, and a little hard to take sometimes. He should not have died like that.
Through every book in the eight siblings series, Bart functioned at some level as a specter, a sorrow, a guilt and a grief. I’m hesitant to mess with that, because whatever emotions my characters endure, to some extent, my readers endure them too. My editor’s vote is to leave Bart on the far side of the rainbow bridge.
That said, I do think about the what ifs. What if he staged his death to become a spy, fell in love with the enemy, and had to stage even his spy-death to avoid (unfair) accusations of treason? He’s doubly dead in the eyes of England, and can’t come back to life without a lot of sticky explanations…
I dunno. It could work, or maybe not. What do you think?
Questions About Writing:
If you had one piece of advice for aspiring writers, what would it be?
I DO have one piece of advice for aspiring writers: Write more than you aspire to write. Hammer away at a novel, a collection of short stories, a volume of poetry, until you have something completed in draft, and ignore all the noise. Then hammer away at the next project.
Story time: I’d been writing for a couple years, FOR FUN, because I enjoyed it, and I got tired of family and friends elbowing me about “when are you going to get that stuff published?” I hadn’t been writing for publication, but what the heck, why not give it a shot? People–me among them–had been known to pay money for books, and being a lawyer had become wearying.
So I joined RWA and I went to a small (about 150 people) conference. GAAAH! Everybody there knew each other, and they all had tremendous energy (I’m pretty uniformly whamped). They blathered on confidently about WIPs, and GMC charts, saving the cat, story mastering, and pitch appointments and I had NO CLUE what any of it meant. Eventually, some kind soul explained the Goal, Motivation and Conflict (GMC) chart to me, and immediately, my remaining joy and confidence spiraled down.
That was basic stuff and I didn’t know it. I hadn’t had an inkling what a pitch appointment was (you pitch your book to an agent or editor), I didn’t have a WIP (work in progress), I usually had several and that had to be a bad thing because nobody else worked that way. I left the conference a writing wreck.
Silly me. MANY of those energetic, knowledgeable, fast pitching, GMC’ing hot shots are still not published. I’ve stumbled my way onto bestseller’s lists, starred reviews, reviewer’s choice awards, and other honors. I’m convinced that part of my success is because I wrote and wrote and wrote rather than paid any attention to what people who were no more successful than I had to say about the process.
Don’t listen to the noise, don’t do it the way “they” do it just because it’s working for them. Listen to your characters, listen with your writer’s ear and your writer’s heart. Work on your craft–of course, always work on your craft–but leave the anxiety and subtle competition and posturing to others.
If you had a second piece of advice for aspiring writers, what would it be?
Writer’s write… but they don’t write ALL THE TIME.
Lawyers can go days, even years, without setting foot in a court room. Parents can go years without seeing the children they pray for nightly. A gardener must wait out the winter, subsisting on catalogs and web surfing.
An aspiring writer can feel great pressure to produce, to a quota, on a schedule, no matter what. Some people comforted by a highly structured approach to writing, but for most of us, there’s a danger that we’ll be tyrannized by somebody else’s definition of success.
So many writers I know are also raising children, tending a significant relationship, holding down a day job, keeping an eye on the elders, hitting the gym, keeping the house in order, and even nurturing a social life. On top of that they pressure themselves to make progress with writing goals AND get enough sleep.
Any writer who can wedge 250 words a day into a schedule like that is a superhero (and is producing a book every year with a few weeks off).
To me, the bedrock upon which a writing career must be built is not a word count goal, or measurable goals prominently displayed in a well ordered writing space. Of course, if you want to be published, creating a product at some point is important. To me, though, to create a product worth reading, the writer must have a passionately experienced life, an emotionally vibrant reality, from which fictional worlds can spring. All that parenting, partnering, and professional-ing is the golden grist for the writer’s imaginative mill.
So my second piece of advice would be, don’t let an obsession with writing productivity leach the joy from your writing soul. Whether you get out a book this year or not, whether you write one day a week or five, whether you have six outlines under the bed, or one monster rough draft…. writer is something you ARE, it’s an identity, not simply a job.
What’s the hardest part about writing a book for you?
This is a tough question, with an element of “answers may vary,” because every book faces slightly different challenges. I often struggle with figuring out WHAT exactly pushes the characters apart and how I can make it EVEN WORSE as the story progresses. If I get that nailed down, the ending can give me trouble. Not the “how do I solve this” part of the ending, but the “how do we say good-bye to these characters so we know they’ll be endlessly happy” part of the ending.
In revisions, the book fares best if I go over and over it, with several weeks down time between layers of varnish. The downside of that approach is that I get tired of the book, even as each review cycle reveals more to polish. This can produce anxiety, and buffing a book this way can take a long time.
If I had to put a finger on one aspect of writing for publication that’s most difficult, it’s that I must let the book go. Once the book is published, particularly if it’s traditionally published, it must stand or fall on whatever merits it had when it left my hands. If I wake up a week later with my head full of snappier dialogue, more imaginative settings, and cleverer symbolism (and I do), that’s too bad. The book has been released into the wild, and belongs to the readers now.
Letting go is so hard, that the only way I’ve found to deal with it, is to write another book.
Are you a plotter or a pantser?
First, what is a plotter, what is a pantser?
These are terms writers use to describe how they approach writing a manuscript. Some of us make an outline, some of us make a VERY DETAILED outline. Other of us have nothing more in our heads than an opening line or opening scene, and we crank up the computer and “see what happens.” We don’t know the story until we write it.
I’m somewhere in between. I have OFTEN started a book with only a single line in my head. I hear a man’s voice, a Scottish accent, but an educated one, and he’s grousing about needing a rich wife. Somebody paraphrases Jane Austen, and I find out this guy needs a wealthy wife, but the whole idea makes his quietly sentimental and family-oriented heart ache.
That was all I needed to get started on The Bridegroom Wore Plaid.
With Nicholas: Lord of Secrets, I’d met Nick in earlier books, and he wasn’t making sense. He was a ladies man, sorta, and he loved horses, kids and old people, but he was loath to marry. Why? He’s a dear sweet, guy, handsome and charming, he needs an heir, and he won’t marry. He had a reason. I knew he had a reason and a valid reason (no reason-y, no book-y, dude), but he wouldn’t share his secret with even me until his book was half written.
That’s an extreme case of my usual approach: I write as much as I know, a few chapters, usually, and then I must perch on my croquet wicket, waiting, waiting, hoping, waiting, for the characters to let me in on the deal. Lady Louisa took half the book to tell me what exactly was plaguing her from her past, but in the middle of a conference of the American Librarians Association, she came clean.
Other books I have a sense going in where we’ll end up based on the character’s wounds–Lady Eve had to get back on the horse, so to speak; Gillian, in The Captive, had to reconcile herself to how far we’ll go to protect someone we love. Those were by far the easier books to write, so now I try to spend more time analyzing where a character hurts before I get too much of the book written.
A word of caution: I’ve been told, and I expect it’s true, that no matter what our preferred process is, a book will come along that refuses to be written unless we go over to whatever the dark side of the writing process is for us. For me that would probably be a detailed outline, for another writer, it’s the hold your nose and jump school of plotting. I haven’t hit that book…. yet.
What is your writing routine?
Erm, I don’t have one.
In one blog on craft after another, in one craft book after another, I see that writers who have a set writing time, who write every day, who have word count goals, written business plans, prominently displayed objectives, five-year plans, visible affirmations, and a bunch of other accoutrements of outwardly expressed purpose are the authors who attain success.
I don’t do any of that stuff and I never have. I write when I feel like it, I work on what clamors for my attention in that hour, and I write because I love to write, not because a deadline looms. Maybe I would get ten times more done, or write better quality prose, or sell more books if I were comfortable with more structure–it’s possible–but it’s highly improbable.
I thrive on unstructured time, on heeding an intuitive sense of what task I can do best in any given hour. For another writer my approach would be the death knell of their publication dreams, nothing would ever get finished, and a sense of chaos would defeat their creativity.
That said, I do think writing first thing in the day works best for a lot of people. Your brain is still enjoying the alpha waves, and Stephen King’s “boys in the basement’ are coming off their shift. But I’ve also written terrific scenes late at night and in the middle of the day, and I’ve written schlock right out of gate. To each his or her own.
What are you working on now?
After the Captive Hearts, I wanted to dine on some lighter writing fare, so the True Gentlemen emerged from the queue. His Lordship’s True Lady is my latest addition to that series (Hessian Kettering’s story), and I foresee tales in 2018 for Jonathan Tresham, Grey Dorning (the Earl of Casriel), and I am committed to writing a story for Valerian Dorning, which will come out next June (working title The Beowulf Book).
The drafting is done for the remaining Windham Brides, which means I get to start something entirely new in the Regency World, and the first book in that series will come out in Autumn 2018. I’m drawn to the premise of men who find titles thrust upon them, but we’ll see what my editor has to say about that.
And then there’s Scotland to the Max, the third story in my Trouble Wears Tartan contemporary series. I expect this novel will be published in Spring 2018, though I’m not sure it will be the last of the series. In addition, it seems I always have a novella or two up my sleeve….
Why do your stories so often involve families and sibling relationships?
The simple answer to this one is that I have six siblings, so family relationships are part of me. I’m also number six in the queue, so I was born into a situation where I had many sibling relationships to observe as I grew up. Then too, I love my brothers and sisters, and consider each one a friend, so that’s also an organic part of what I write.
There are other reasons to build siblings into a story, though.
First, the hero and heroine need what are called reflection characters. These are the side kicks, mentors, sometimes the devil’s advocates, henchman/women, and other secondary roles who enrich the protagonists’ worlds and make their stories complicated Siblings fit well into these roles, and using siblings helps me get to know characters who may soon have books of their own.
Second, a lot of what troubles the hero or heroine probably comes from their past, and few people will know that past as well as siblings do. Think of Lady Eve, and how her sisters alone knew how hard she’d fought to recover from her fall. Only Westhaven’s brothers knew how much pressure he was under to marry. Ian MacGregor held Asher’s secrets, and was the one encouraging Asher to trust their siblings with those confidences.
Third, because the hero and heroine are carrying around old wounds, they often have to sort things out with family members before they can rise to the challenge presented by the romance. Ethan and Nicholas had to air old laundry before Ethan could move forward, same with Sara (Beckman) and Polonaise (Gabriel). The family of origin stuff will hold us back until we deal with it, and then our family ties can propel us forward into a happily ever after.
Fourth, part of what every romantic protagonist has to learn is that they are lovable, and worth being loved. It’s not enough to learn this only as it relates to their partner. That’s a life lesson, and means accepting the love and support of siblings as well.
Tons of reasons to build siblings into a romance!
When did you first sit down to write a book?
My parents gave me a manual typewriter for Christmas when I was eight years old. I wrote about forty pages of a story about cats, The Cat Council, but it didn’t have a plot that I can recall, and most of the names for the cats were the results of typos. Hissfur, for example, was what happened instead of “his father.”
My next effort to write a novel came from the master’s program I did in Conflict at Eastern Mennonite University. My advisor asked me what I wanted to do for my thesis, what I would do if I could choose any project in the whole world.
“Write a novel evaluating the American legal process as a conflict management system,” says me.
“Then do that,” he replied.
I had pages and pages of head-hopping, ranting, digressing, fun, without much of a sense of character arcs or even dramatic arcs, but I got the degree, and I could use a few elements of the book in my first published contemporary, A Single Kiss
As for writing a romance novel… I was in my late forties, a voracious reader of romance novels, but it had never occurred to me that I might write one. I was working late at the office, trying to finish up some legal motion or pleading that had be to filed at the courthouse the next day. I’d reached the point where I was so tired, progress was slow I decided to treat myself to one chapter of a romance novel I’d been saving back for a low moment. This was from one of my keeper authors, and like the last candy bar, I had held it back until I had no other ammunition in my emotional arsenal.
No author hits one out of the park every time, but this book was a disappointment. I didn’t throw it at the wall, but I certainly set it down and muttered to myself, “I could do better than that.”
I opened up a new document on my computer and wrote, “A Young Person to see you, my lord.” The book turned into Gareth and Felicity’s story, and from there flowed the entire Lonely Lords series as well as the Windhams. I had a signed publishing deal by the time I was fifty, and at age fifty-five had maybe thirty-five titles under contract. Best five years of my entire professional life!
Do you ever base your characters on real people?
That would be a qualified no. Sometimes, a real person’s inflection will catch my ear, the mischief in their smile will catch my eye Maybe they have some colorful turns of phrase that I can tweak to tuck into a scene I’m working on, but I haven’t used anybody’s direct experiences to form the basis for a major character—with one exception.
My books come from me, from my life, from my experiences. I could write about Lady Eve falling off a horse because I’ve come a cropper many times (never with the results she suffered). I could write about the horror of realizing your child is climbing a tree to within several feet of a large hornets nest because my daughter did that. I can write about courtroom experiences because I’ve sat at many a counsel table before many a judge.
So yes, to some extent there is a real live person inspiring many of my characters—me.
What do you love best about writing?
That’s not a PR answer, either. I love the struggle to find a plot that really works for the characters emerging from my imagination. I love the creation of prose that tells their tale their way. I love the follow-up detail work, buffing the words, spackling in tighter structure, sanding down the pacing. I love the unplanned twinkles, when parts of a book resonate with each other all without my planning it. I love the research, from figuring out which words are anachronistic, to digging into entire biographies to mine a single, priceless detail of the period.
I love it all, and I’m happy when I’m working on a book. When a book can also brighten a reader’s day, then I have joy to go with my happiness, and that just makes me want to write MORE.
Where do you get your ideas?
I get my ideas from the dark place under the bed where nameless groaning monsters once lurked, turning every night into a battle between terror and the demands of a full bladder.
I slept with the light on until well into adulthood. I am not proud of this, but it’s indicative of some wiring I was born with that makes writing fiction easier for me than it might be for some other people: I have a busy imagination. The question “What if?” has long been my bosom companion, and the petty inconveniences of reality and logic do not bound the answers that come to me in response to “what if?”
You are glowering at your screen, perhaps, because that’s all lovely, but it’s not very helpful in terms of the question. I’ll try again. Romance is character-driven fiction, so what I’m stalking in the world of ideas, are characters who have unhealed wounds. Characters who are emotionally stuck fast, usually because they’re clinging to coping mechanisms that once served them well, or at least allowed them to survive, but are now consigning them a lonely, fearful, half-life.
To find these characters, I think about how we hurt, how we get stuck. I pay attention to the stuck people I meet, I pay attention to the times in my life when I was stuck, or when I did something REALLY stupid, because I’d confused avoiding pain with living life. I also look at when I’ve felt the most torn.
I asked my brother Dick once how to make a man really, really suffer, and his response was brilliant, “Make him choose between the competing demands of honor.” Make a hero choose between protecting his mother or his legitimate younger brother, the title’s sole heir. Make him choose between his duty as a soldier and his duty as a son, between telling the truth and protecting the innocent. Tear his heart in two. Works for any character.
If I dwell on those questions long enough, some feckless character usually come stumbling up from the imagination’s root cellar, and off we go. I get my ideas by dwelling on how we suffer, and then figuring out to make the suffering go away.
What do you find most difficult about being an author?
Fraught question! If the research is going well (big if), sometimes I have trouble determining a story’s “throughline.” I know what story I need to tell, but I’m less sure what scenes are required to tell it best.
The plot can give me fits, especially what’s called the external conflict. This is the real, interesting, substantial factor that’s driving the protagonists apart, or that pits them against an antagonist. Occasionally, I find I’m writing a character whose wounds and ways I don’t grasp as well as I’d like to, or I’ve assembled all the required parts–plot, conflict, characters–and the prose just isn’t singing to me.
So a manuscript presents many opportunities to become frustrated. If one of my books upsets or disappoints a reader, that’s difficult too.
But I’d have to say the hardest part about being a published author is that I didn’t foresee that I’d have to grow a new kind of thick skin. As an attorney, I’ve developed a certain kind of thick skin. Opposing counsel can be bratty, the judge cranky, and clients very demanding. My area of expertise is child welfare law, and that requires a special subset of thick-skin skills, because the cases are often break-your-heart tragic. None of the options before the judge will put Humpty together again, ever.
I expected all of that real life experience would stand me in good stead as a published author. Downright ugly reviews (as opposed to honestly negative ones, which I have no problem with), the occasional snippy author, sales anxiety, deadline pressure… I didn’t expect any of that to get to me because I’m supposed to be tough.
I’m about as tough as a fresh marshmallow when it comes to the writing. Over time, I’m less easily knocked off my horse, but the process is gradual, and bad days still take me by surprise. I expected that learning the craft and the business would be ongoing challenges, but I didn’t expect to have to also be vigilant about developing resilience and perspective.
Questions About Grace:
Why Name Your Blog “Her Grace Notes?”
Most historical romance readers grasp that a duchess is respectfully referred to in the third person as “her grace.” My pen name is Grace, so I thought that was a lovely little play on words. I’m indebted to my brother Tom for the suggestion to name the blog, “Her Grace Notes.” The plain meaning of such a title could be, “the duchess takes notice,” or “the duchess’s list of short, written, asides.” Either one works, but Tom’s suggestion is even clever than that.
In music, a grace note, as Lord Valentine would tell us, is defined as “an additional note introduced as an embellishment and not essential to either the harmony or melody or a piece,” or, “decoration, adornment, embellishment; a finishing touch.” My first profession was musician, and I put myself through college by accompanying ballet classes at the piano. The sense of the blog posts as little extras to go with the books delights me.
Whether I’m making observations about life in general, or the craft of writing, or something in between (there’s a lot in between), the notion of a grace note works wonderfully. Thanks, brother Tom!
What is it with you and Scotland?
Like a lot of Americans, I share an abiding affection for Scotland, and sociologically, there’s a reason for this.
The Scottish Highlands are among the least populous regions of any developed nation, in part because the terrain is challenging, but also because for centuries, Scotland has suffered a diasporo (or dispersion) of its people. From the 1700s onward, when hardier breeds of sheep developed, large landowners realized that sheep would be more profitable than continuing to allow small tenancies.
Entire villages were evicted (cleared), the only recourse left to the people to walk to the coastal cities and there find employment, starve, or immigrate. Then too, Scotland was prone to periodic potato famines, much like Ireland, and British politics weighed against a Scot who was too outspoken in support of democracy or a Jacobite (Stuart) monarchy. Finally, the Scottish regiments, traditionally deployed where the fighting was worst, created a portion of the population who’d seen the world–and seen the New World.
For the first hundred and fifty years of European colonization of the New World, the incoming population remained concentrated along the Eastern seaboard. Following the Battle of Culloden (1746), Scottish immigration into North American picked up velocity, including immigration by Scots who’d tried settling in Ireland in the early 18th century.
By 1800, the Scottish immigrants had a name, “The Disposable People.” So hungry for land of their own (something nearly impossible in Scotland) and a life of self-determination were the displaced Scots that they were usually the first to settle the westward wilderness. Hardship, isolation, hostile natives, thin rations, hard winters, nothing deterred the immigrant Scots from their quest for lives of freedom and self-sufficiency. By 1850, settlement stretched coast to coast.
Americans pride themselves on a number of characteristics–a willingness to work hard, attachment to family, honesty, resourcefulness and thrift among them. We refer to Yankee ingenuity and a Protestant work ethic, when in fact, these are the values brought to our shores by Scottish immigrants (among many others) and spread across our land by them and their children.
While the Scots are certainly not the exclusive progenitors of those values in our society, their role is significant. I think that accounts for why most Americans will look upon all things Scottish with a certain–deserved–fondness.
Did you always want to be a romance writer?
I NEVER wanted to be a romance writer. Nobody is more surprised than I am to see my name on published books.
What I do know, is that I’ve always written, and always loved to write–at least I know it in hindsight. I started keeping a journal before I could write cursive. I never struggled with English classes, I enjoyed foreign languages and never found them particularly difficult. My verbal SAT was–altogether now–more than 200 points higher than my math score, and in college I delighted in working for the university newspaper.
Never once did it occur to me to be a writer.
After college I got a job in Washington, DC, as a technical editor and proposal coordinator. I’d honcho up the production of a 300 page document, with illustrations, index, table of contents and cross references in about a week flat. After a few years of that, I added night law school to my routine, and shifted into the contract administration end of the federal contracting business.
And still, I had not clue I might enjoy writing for a living. I was, however, reading like a house afire. For much of my adult life, I’ve limited myself to reading one romance novel a day. I’ve also not had a TV in my house. My daughter came along, I opened my own law practice, I pursued a master’s degree in conflict…. still no writing aspirations.
And yet, I kept a journal year in and year out. I submitted a column to Runner’s World on being a fat runner and boom–it got published. For my master’s degree, I rapped out a 400 page novel that analyzed the American legal process as a conflict management system–that was kinda fun!
But become a professional writer? Why would I do that? Meanwhile, I’m still reading, reading, reading…. and by this time, my daughter has moved out. I’m in my late forties, I never acquired the TV habit, I’m not house proud or yard proud…. When one of my keeper authors disappointed me with an “off” book, I decided to give the romance novel writing schtick a try.
I had SUCH FUN. I wrote about a million words in a year flat. Manuscripts of 200,000 words flowed like wine–Gone With the Wind is 418,000 and that seemed to work OK, right? I wrote some more and wrote some more after that, like the sorcerer’s apprentice. Finished Gareth, but that lead to Andrew, and that lead to Douglas AND David, and that lead to Thomas and that Westhaven fellow–who is he and what does he want?–but Nicholas Haddonfield had also popped up in Thomas’s story and Nick needed a story….
Still, I did not consider that I might earn a living as a writer. Friends and family nudged me one too many times, though, to “get that stuff published,” and so I signed up for a writer’s conference. The first person I pitched offered me a deal, and still…. what me, a writer?
What has convinced me that I AM a writer is how much I love doing it. Never was mortal woman happier than I am when I’m cranking on a scene. I’m blissin’, I don’t know what time it is, forget what season it is, and my heart is an incandescent center of joy. This happens about twice a year. The rest of the time, I’m still pretty happy.
A bad day writing is usually much better than an average day doing a lot of other things I’ve considered “my profession,” so here’s hoping I get many more years to write!
What’s the best part of being a published author?
This one is easy: The best part of being a published author is knowing that the books I write can make a positive difference in a reader’s life. Sometimes, that can be a pretty big difference. I’ve received emails from readers who read their way through depression or grief, through chemo, through a bad break up. If a book you paid a few bucks for can do that, that’s a mighty book
But I’m happy about the tiny differences too. If reading a romance novel helped you get to sleep on Wednesday night, so you could tackle the to-do list more energetically on Thursday, that’s making a difference. If being able to slip away to Regency England for a few hours means the weekend with your in-laws was a little more bearable, that’s a difference.
So I get to do what I love, and it can help other people. WOW.
How does your day job relate to your writing?
My day job, for the past twenty-plus years, has been providing legal representation to children in abuse and neglect proceedings in Circuit Court.
I guarantee you, when it’s Career Day in fifth grade, not a single kid in any school anywhere ever thought, “I want to be a child abuse lawyer!” I backed into this work because the state was hiring child welfare attorneys through a competitive procurement, and that involves writing a proposal. I DO enjoy writing proposals, and I had a child of my own to look after. When the work became available, I grabbed it with both hands.
It’s honorable work. My job is (usually) to advocate for what the child wants, provided the child has some reasons for the position they take. Just the fact that the child HAS a voice in the courtroom proceedings speaks well for us as a society, and often results in the judge making a wiser decision.
But there are bad days. Families I was sure had made it out of the woods fall back into spectacular trouble. Toddlers play with guns. You get the picture.
On those bad days, what has often sustained me is the certain knowledge that I have a new Loretta Chase, or Mary Balogh waiting by my bedside. Some years, I was in the habit of reading a book a day, every day. This means that before I started writing romance novels, I had read THOUSANDS of them. I attribute that to the day job, and what remaining functional on the day job required.
The day job has also shown me the variety of ways we cope with, ignore, rise above, and are brought low by the wounds we suffer. I’ve had a front row seat on a lot of suffering, and on a lot of healing and courage. This is the stuff of a good romance, particularly the courage and the love, and I have the day job to thank for letting me see so much of it in action.
Finally, the day job shows me miracles. The children I work with have been dealt such low cards–genetically, socially, intellectually, economically, politically–that by rights, very, very few of them should lead successful lives. I’ve been doing this long enough, though, to know that many of them do. They beat the tremendous odds stacked against them from birth, they triumph over adversity, bigotry, poverty, institutional injustice, disability and just about every other curse a baby can be born under, and they live contributing happy lives. If that’s not heroic, I don’t know what is.