You would not believe how complicated refreshing the look and organization of a website is. An entire team is working, working, working on my website, buffing everything from the magical code I will never comprehend, to the organization of the material, to the visuals that decorate a graceburrowes.com web page.
This exercise has yielded some surprising insights, about the books, but also about ME. As we’re working through what connects all of the books and stories, what images fit for each sub-genre, I have to think about why I write what I do. Why my heroes talk to their horses, why so many of my books are set in the countryside, the gardens, the conservatories and parks…
Of all the settings a writer can choose, why do I go back to those, regardless of whether we’re in the Victorian Highlands, contemporary Maryland, or Regency England?
When I was an adolescent, emerging from childhood into those fraught teen years, my parents were absolutely overwhelmed with the five children older than me, and the rambunctious boy coming along behind me. I found a refuge on my godparents’ farm, where instead of being an easily overlooked sub-sub-sub-sub-middle child, I was valued for myself.
I was one of the “big kids,” rather than an awkward sixth in line, and on the farm I was expected to work hard and make a contribution… which I did. I also had endless, enormous fun, much of it on the back of a horse.
Fast forward to my mid-thirties, seven years into single-parenting. I was sick with an auto-immune disorder, exhausted, lonely and bowed under by a constant diet of child abuse cases. I recall my little daughter standing beside my bed one Saturday morning, waiting patiently for me to GET UP. I didn’t care if I ever got up again, but I cared very much about her. “When was the last time you were happy?” I asked myself.
The answer came back: “When I was a teenager on a horse, half my lifetime ago.” I got a horse. I got back to the barn, to the fresh air, to what keeps me sane. I’m not talking about a casual affection for pretty horses, either.
An example: I recall a riding lesson that went just awfully. My usually lovely horse had turned up stubborn and contrary. He would not listen to me! My instructor was bumfuzzled because there didn’t appear to be any reason for all this contention between horse and rider.
We agreed to give up and try again another day, then I–who “never” cry except at romance novels–started to cry… not about the riding, but about the heroin-addicted parent I’d interviewed the day before, who’d been responsible for his four-year-old’s death. Got off and hugged the hell out of my horse for taking care of me, even when I’d been riding like a tantruming idiot.
There’s a reason Thomas and Matthew first show their gallantry in the stables, Tremaine proposes in a sheep byre, Penelope and Levi’s first kiss is among the fluffy rabbits, Westhaven’s only ally in courtship is old Pericles, and Noah and Thea become a couple only when she keeps a vigil with him all night in the barn.
I know where my home is, I know who my people are. Some of them are four-legged people, and parts of my home are losing their leaves about now, but from these foundations, I can believe in happily ever afters, and in the power of love. When I can write that belief into my stories, straight up from the roots that sustain me, you get some of my best work.
Where is your home, who are your people? To one commenter, I’ll send a copy of The Virtuoso, another story about somebody who healed his heart by taking refuge in the countryside.