Kipling had six honest serving men, but I have only two—or one pair of serving men: What if? Every book I’ve written came from a What If set loose in the wilds of my imagination. What if an aging duke was determined to see his sons married, and his sons were determined to thwart him? What if a Regency swain was reduced to selling favors, then fell in love with a woman who deserved only a true gentleman by her side? What if a lord of the realm were born with the ability to discern when somebody was lying, and the military got wind of his talent?
That last notion never became a book. As What Ifs often do, it morphed into something related: What if a man half-French and half-English ended up serving in the French army, and was given the task of extracting truth from English officers captured out of uniform? What if he was the last of his English baronial line, and ended up back in England after the war? What if he had no heirs? (And what if we titled this book “The Traitor,” second in next year’s Captive Hearts trilogy?)
What If is useful for more than conjuring plot lines. Once upon a time, I asked myself: What if I could keep a couple of horses on my property? What followed thereafter was much pushing of the pencil (would I save enough on boarding bills to justify the improvements needed to my barn?) and then much animal companionship as I moved two of my pensioners into my barn.
When my daughter was at her wits end after a year of high school, ready to drop out rather than endure another day of public school, I asked her, “What if we home schooled from here on out?”
What If is a question that can open doors and windows, but it calls for courage too, because it can lead to uncharted territory, and unintended consequences. Home schooling the prodigy was a big pain in the behonkis—though far preferable to dropping
out!—and having equines on the property was an enormous commitment of time and energy.
And yet, I will keep asking What If? What if one of my books took off? What if I could move to Scotland for most of each year? What if I quit that lawyer job? What if I could set up a romance writers’ tour of Scotland? What if I could finally, finally dump twenty pounds?
So many dreams, and what if they all came true?
Do you ask what if? Has it ever been a useful way to get your imagination into first gear? To one commenter, I’ll send a signed copy of “Lady Jenny’s Christmas Portrait.”