Two Honest Serving Men Might Be Enough….

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 sixfavors, 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?)

Mane Man 003What 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

Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle, Scotland

Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle, Scotland

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.”


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49 comments on “Two Honest Serving Men Might Be Enough….

  1. I’ve had quite a few ‘what if’s’ in my life, some going the way I wanted, while some didn’t. But that’s what life is all about, taking the good with the bad and living to tell about it!

  2. What if I did not have to work at a job that was killing me? I changed careers 16 years ago and am happy helping others plan their futures.

    (As to something that did not materialize for you, check out Barbara Metzger’s The Wicked Ways of a True Hero).

  3. I’m contemplating a big “what if” right now. I’ve had a few others in my life and they’ve worked out just fine. So fingers crossed.
    I love your “what ifs” Grace. Your books are fabulous.

  4. I’ve been rather complacent with my life & tend to go with the flow. Unfortunately my what ifs usually remain as wistful thinking.

  5. “What If?” is such an incredibly powerful question. It can shatter my world — what if what I’ve always believed (about myself, about certain situations, about what grown-up life requires) isn’t really true??? — and it can fling open doors to new worlds — what if I try doing something THIS way, what if I say NO and do it MY way, what if someone’s opinion just doesn’t matter???

    “What If” has been a wonderful way to break me out of self-limiting ideas and attitudes, to become more self-aware, to learn who I really am. Thank heaven for those two honest serving men! And thank heaven they remain ready to serve!

  6. What if is the basis of how I create art. It’d start with the question and evolve decision by decision. VERY energizing. When I switched from wall to wearable art, and especially to everyday creative wear which is more practical than fantasy, sewing felt more paint by number than energetic BUT… I’m finally getting a feel for how to incorporate the same thinking. I’m about to start a series of t-shirts based on the thought what if I cut a curvy line down the front – how would I put it back together – how would I develop the rest of the garment around it. It has a similar energy so I’m eager to explore working like this. My learning to ask what if in my art evolved to asking what if in many areas of life.

    • It’s an equal opportunity question, one I ought to keep tacked up on my fridge, before my computer, on my scale… But the effectiveness of this question lies in the courage with which we answer it.

  7. I ask myself “What If” all the time. I used to love to ask that it would give me all kinds of story ideas I wish some of my stories had been written but I listened to people say I should leave stuff like that to the talented people. Since I have gotten older I have started to ask myself “What if” again and the most important “What If” of all, What if I just told all those negative people & voices to “Shut-up” and I could write those stories.

  8. About 15 years ago, I saw a picture of a beautiful southern style front porch and thought what if? I kept the photo and put it aside thinking that a southern style porch would work not with my traditional New England home.
    A few years later, my husband asked what if we got rid of the bushes in front of the house and built a porch? I showed him my photo and our porch was built the following Spring. We have enjoyed many Sunday afternoons with family and friends, watched 4 th of July fireworks and thunderstorms from our porch. I love to read and my husband enjoys watching birds on the porch– so many memories from one what if?

  9. “What if?” There have been so many of those in my life and even right now.
    “What if my husband got a new, better job?”
    “What if there was cure for my boys?” which I don’t believe there is. Would I even want them cured? Would they still be the funny, lovable, intelligent boys that we love or would they be completely different?
    “What if Seth could talk?”
    “What if he never talks?”
    “What if we have one or more of the boys living with us for the rest of our life?”

    Then there are the less serious “what ifs” like:
    “What if I start writing again?”
    “What if I took a chance on one of my dreams?”
    “What if I had never taken a chance and read The Heir?” I cannot imagine what this last year of my life would have been like if I hadn’t done that last one.

    • Sarah, your comment acknowledges the down side of What If. It’s a fine way to get the imagination going, but it can be a miserable place to live if all the scenarios envisioned are worse than the present situation.
      We will What If good things for you: The boys will be fine, they will graduate to other quarters after high school, Seth will soon start verbalizing, and you will lend The Heir to somebody else who needs and deserves a few hours of respite…

  10. Around the time of my divorce, I thought…What if I had never married?”. But quickly I realized that I wouldn’t have my two children! Some things were meant to be and many times those “what ifs” help us to grow and become better people. IO LOVR your “what ifs” Grace!!

    • Betty, I’m not sure my brief stint as a wife made much impact, but hooboy, what if I’d never had Beloved Offspring?! Game changer, that one. I feel in a lot of ways like my journey went nowhere until she arrived.

  11. I often ask myself, “what if I’d realized just how ill my Mum was, and made her go and see a Doctor. And, would she still be alive today?” I was young, and had no idea that she was so poorly. 🙁

    • She was your Mum, an adult who probably would not have gone to the doctor even if you’d nagged her. I’ve come across people who’ve lost multiple siblings to heart disease, and I ask them, “So, have you gone to the doc?”
      Their spouses, children and even grandchildren can’t make them go.

  12. My entire life I’ve wanted to be a veterinarian, but there came a point when I was about fifteen when I started thinking “what if I’m not cut out for that?” “What if every school turns me down?” Well THANK GOODNESS I did not listen to those What ifs and kept on pursuing my goal. I owe a lot to my parents for helping me ignore those What ifs. Now, I’ve just started my first year of vet school and my What ifs have turned into “what if I do a residency after vet school?” “What if I go into research and develop new vaccines!” I am SO excited about these new What ifs. It is amazing what a few years can do to your outlook on life. 🙂

    • Chelsea, so many competent people have given up on the vet school dream–we just don’t have enough vet schools, and it’s such an expensive proposition. Hats off to you for having faith in yourself and forging ahead undaunted. The world is a better place for your persistence and fortitude–my ponies, kitties, and pups are proud of you!

  13. Yes, sometimes I ask myself, “What if?” And the results are usually amazing, although not always what I imagined when I began to wonder what if. I hope I keep it up, because life is a lot more boring if I don’t make any changes to it.

    • You make me wonder where courage comes from. I think it’s tangled up with love, but I’ve seen some people make do on thin rations of love, and yet come up with courage. Change always takes courage, even if it’s change for the better, but you’re right: Change keeps life, and us, interesting!

  14. I often wonder ‘what if’ particularly about bad outcomes – I sometimes try to out-jinx myself by thinking if I imagine a possible bad outcome that it won’t happen – is that very pessimistic?

    Love those great lovely equines – do they have a Knight that goes with them?

  15. A couple years ago I saw an interview with a woman on television intelligently discussing the bank bailouts and asked myself, “What if I could work on some of these problems?” The thought inspired me to go back to school to study accounting, and so far I am succeeding! I would never have seen myself studying this 10 years ago.

  16. WHAT a magnificent horse! I have no doubt you’ll make those “what ifs” come true. You inspire so many. For me, it was Maggie. And then a special highlander and his lady.

    I saw a wonderful post last week that reminds me of this. The writer had the “Best Day Ever” and she looked back and said, “What if I’d never taken that first step, to lose weight, to write?

    Last month it was – what if I perform a Celtic wedding and create a video resume and send it off to find a gig at a Scottish pub? (Then the wedding was cancelled.) Now, I’m thinking what if Grace goes to live in Scotland and I could hire out as her assistant or horse caretaker or cook/slave 🙂

    “What if” i paint my kitchen in that Mexican cantina style even if I have to listen to DH complain the whole time? “What if” I start riding around the property for exercise? Last year’s “What if” is being addressed next weekend. Latin Dance lessons and then dancing and dining the rest of the evening!! This is the year of seeing to some what ifs. Thanks for always making me think.

  17. I need to ask more “what if”. My life is pretty much stagnating! Finding a new job has moved into the what if category to a necessity, so my choice has been made for me!

    • Sharlene, will send you all the good juju in the world on the job hunt. My daughter is going through the same challenge, and getting a job IS a job. I was laid off twice, both times with a mortgage to pay and a child to provide for. After about six weeks on unemployment, I began to go sideways in terms of self-worth and self-image. Fortunately, the good angels took pity on me both times.

      The third time my job evaporated (moved to Halliburton headquarters in Texas, in truth), I decided hanging out my own shingle wouldn’t be any more precarious than my Fortune 100 jobs.
      VERY best of luck to you!

  18. When I was in junior high “what if..” really got me thru to the next day. “What if tomorrow is better?” was always circling my head when I thought I’d hit the worst and didn’t want to see what tomorrow would bring.

    Now my “what if’s” are more about what kind of future my husband and I will have..

    What if we have children?
    What if we don’t have children?
    What if we stay in Northern Virginia?
    What if we move to North Carolina?

    Lots of questions but lots of possibilities!

    • I believe what you think about expands, (despite the fact that Dr. Wayne Dyer also propounds this theory). If you focus on the worries, they loom larger. If you focus on how beautiful North Carolina is, then maybe that door cracks open a bit wider… not saying reality is plastic, just that the mind is incredibly powerful. My two.

  19. I’ve had many, many “what if’s” in my life and most of the time I wouldn’t change the decisions I’ve made. My daughter is one of the best “what if’s” I’ve ever had and I realize that if she hadn’t been born I wouldn’t have the 5 wonderful grandchildren I now have and love dearly. I can only think of one “what if” where I didn’t go with my “gut instinct” and will dearly regret that decision until the day I die. I think our “what if’s” add to our lives and most of them enrich it.

    • I just realized I’ve got a big “what if” facing me in the short term future and this has made me decide to go ahead and do it. “What if” I listen to my 11 year old practice her flute? It isn’t going to kill me and I might actually enjoy it. DD and I worked together to rent the flute so that her oldest can actually have one of her “what if’s” come true. It’s amazing what it feels like to be able to help the grandkids do something since I never had the money when DD was growing up for her to do much of what she wanted to do. Sorry to run on this way but I think I will put this statement up several places in my home and will think on it long and hard.

      • I never progressed very far on the flute, but my oldest sister became quite proficient. It was a way for her to be different from her older twin brothers–who made a lot of noise and got a lot of attention–and a way for her to make something pretty in our otherwise not very artistic house. You did a wonderful thing making it possible for that child to have this experience Molly, even if she only plays for a year or two.

    • I hope everybody’s children are as great a blessing to them as your daughter and mine are to us, and yet, I know that’s not true. Children can demand more than we have, take advantage, and break our hearts past mending.

      You and I are lucky, Molly–we’re blessed in our daughters.

  20. Absolutely! Usually with ingredients, ie. what if I add some chocolate to this meat dish? In younger days it was more what if I do (x) crazy thing on my horse or in my car. Lately I’ve been asking, ‘What if I just trust this and move forward?’ The results have been spectacularly GOOD.
    Keep asking What if! We love the results when you do!

  21. What if I changed jobs now when none seem to be around is the one I am struggling with. Do I stay with a job I hate or actually take something with even less hours and less pay with a job I love? Thanks to your What IF’s I can escape mine for a short time!

    • Melissa, I’m Old School enough to believe you don’t quit a job unless you have a job, and yet… I did. I quit a Fortune 100 management job to start my law practice, and have never regretted it. Spent more time with Beloved Offspring, less time on the road, NO time around corporate suits who wanted to get me out of my little black dress (back when it was little)…. quality of life went up, though for a time, income did go down. Took me a long time to reach that point, and what pushed me around the bend was when I was told I could keep my big salary and benefits, if and only if I moved to either Houston or Philly. Um…. nope. If I was going to give up that much control over my life, I was at least going to give it up for a good reasons.

  22. Like most people I’ve had many “what if’s”, but the most important one was “What if I take this temporary job offer in Austin, TX?” Turns out I met my husband of almost 22 years.