Remember Who You Are, Grace

scotland screenYou 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 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 photo (9)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? 

morningI know part of what sustains me, what feeds my soul, is being close to mother nature and animals, and to the people who share those affinities. I hadn’t realized why.

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 tdante-heather-rainbow-206x300he 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.Mane Man 003

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.

andy beanThere’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.    wool and thorns tight crop

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. 


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19 comments on “Remember Who You Are, Grace

  1. I was the third of 6 children and felt invisible for a good portion of my childhood. Like you, I also took refuge with friends and found peace and happiness in the countryside. As I got older, I got the strange notion that I would be happier living in a big city with a cosmopolitan lifestyle, so I did just that. Working and living in Chicago quickly taught me that my soul is happiest in quiet, country air, not loud traffic and polluted skies. I’ve lived in several different areas of the country and have found that I can be “at home” anywhere that is outdoors and secluded.
    Animals are pretty great, aren’t they? My friend credits her beautiful cat with helping her out of a deep depression and my husband had a dog that quite literally saved his life. They instinctually know how to help in ways that most humans aren’t capable of.

    • I lived in downtown DC for a few years right after college. It’s a GREAT city to try out city-mouse wings, having good public transportation, plenty to see and do (much of it free, thanks to the taxpayer), and a lot of greenspace.

      Also incessant noise, crime (I was mugged twice), crummy air quality, expensive lousy food infrastructure outside the restaurants, lack of privacy…

      Trade-offs, I guess. I found things to enjoy about living there, but in the country, the things I enjoy seem to do a better job of finding me.

  2. I’ve always felt at home wherever I was planted. For the last 40 years it’s my tiny house with a big yard here in the suburbs.

    I love to sit on my porch surrounded by my flowers, watching the birds, bees, butterflies, squirrels and rabbits. The rabbit population is down right now due to a couple of hawks circling the neighborhood, and the squirrels are busy tearing up my potted plants trying to hide their acorns for the winter. But I love watching it all. And I’m sure the rabbits will make a come back once the mating season starts – they always do (smile).

    BTW, I wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed MATTHEW. I think I fell a little in love with him myself.

    • I loved Matthew, too.
      Such a nice man and it’s so enjoyable to read a story with an honorable hero.
      And Priscilla was darling!

    • He was a different sort of hero for me. He had issues, but enough life-courage to look them square in the eye. Note to self: The guy who sees clearly can make quiet courage go far.

      Matthew’s brother Axel is even more… different. A scholar-gardener, who surprised me in many scenes with both his ferocity and his tenderness. Can’t wait to see what the readers thing of him.

      • I fell a little in love with Matthew too. All the Belmont ‘boys’ are wonderful I’d love to see a series of the younger ones a bit later in their lives! I was already looking forward to reading Axel’s story but think I am even more intrigued after reading your comment, Grace.

  3. Twenty-seven years ago, my husband and I bought our house. We live in the neighborhood that I grew up in. We’ve shared joy, happiness and sadness here. Life, death….all that stuff. Our house has been remodeled and repainted. Somewhere during the past 27 years, our house became a home, not a house or a mortgage payment.

    I have a sense of peace when I pull in the driveway. I look forward to talking with my husband and seeing my dogs. I enjoy reading in my chair with Celeste and Rose. Celeste is a noisy bundle of energy while her Aunt Rose is quiet and shy. Celeste always wants to do something and Rose is happy to snuggle. Perfect companions.

    I love to listen to the birds and watch for the red tailed Hawks in the morning while having coffee on the deck. We heard geese this morning (someone barked at them ) and noticed that the leaves are changing colors in our woods.
    I look forward to spending my weekends at home- relaxing, reading, gardening or walking the dogs.

    Enjoy your week…Celeste is waiting patiently by the door as we are off to our obedience class.

    • Lovely description of a lovely haven for the soul and heart. I tell time by my woods too… time to get the chimney cleaned, time to order cord wood, time to buy more organize wool fuzzy socks… time to plant bulbs, time to rest.

      Who needs a watch or calendar?

  4. We’ve lived for 23 years in a very nice bedroom community of Chicago….a suburb with a long history of being a vacation land to the hoity-toity of the Chicago elite with more golf courses than grocery stores. But I am a city girl, born and raised in Chi-Town. We decided to live here for the wonderful education for our boys and the fact we are within walking distance of a great commuter train line…I can get on the train and be in the midst of a beautiful downtown on Lake Michigan.

    I grew up in a section of Chicago more like a traditional suburb than a city….and our present community reminds me of that. We have nature and (mostly) quiet.

    I am a musician and being able to get to great music is important to me and getting on that commuter train helps me get there without too much fuss. I’ve created a community of musicians here as well and I feel more like myself with them.

  5. My home is with my husband. I know how fortunate I am to have a man like him. Not everyone is fortunate enough to fine their true “Soul” mate in life but, I was and I am truly greatful.

  6. Wonderful blog post as usual Grace. First off let me say, don’t put me in the running for The Virtuoso. I’ve got a copy and even though the one you send out will probably be signed I’m happy with my unsigned copy, I think it’s my favorite out of that series of books. At present my home is in a trailer park and I’m quite content here as my daughter and her family live up in the front row of trailers so I get to see the grands as often as I want. What makes this a home is the nearness of my loved ones and the fact that I can have my cats inside and feed a bunch of cats outside also and the landlords dog he has penned outside, she’s my very vocal door bell/ watchdog.

  7. Oh, Grace, you know where home away from home is for me. 🙂 Too bad I didn’t find that home and family until I was in my mid-30s. But then again maybe that was when I was supposed to find it.

  8. As far as the complications of revising a website go, I have an idea. Several years ago I created the first Band Booster website for my kids’ high school band. We were a new organization with no money and very few members. It was a sad state of affairs when I was the most tech savvy of the volunteers… We were all very happy when we got enough money to pay someone to create and maintain a more professional website. 😉

    My people have always been my pets (dogs and cats – especially cats), a few close friends, and certain family members. My place? I’d be quite comfortable living out in the country for real, but have to settle for living in a suburban subdivision with a couple acres of land each to give a delusion of more space and country living. Because of all the construction around us we have an excess of wildlife which can make for some entertaining mornings and evenings watching the deer wander the neighborhood. But the most important thing is that I’ve still got my pets, my husband, my kids and my friends.

  9. My dad was a doctor, but he always wanted to be a cowboy. He did leisure riding and cutting. I can ride a little bit, nothing fancy. Once constant in my life has always been cats. There was: Sylvester, Delilah, Piffle, Perriwinkle, Bubba, Beatrice, and Chester- Curtis. They always make me laugh and calm me down. I am trying to exercise on a regular basis. When I put my mat out, Beatrice thinks I put it down for her. I may have to get her her own mat, not that she spoiled or anything.

  10. Grace, as the oldest of 6, I had the almost exact opposite experience. We have what we jokingly refer as two sets of kids. Me, my sister 13 months later and then 4 years later my brother. After the 3rd kid, my mom, somehow, became convinced she couldn’t have anymore. So, in the way of the Cosmos, 8 years after #3 she had boy #4, then 13 months later came girl #5 and finally, the year she turned 42 and 4 years after #5 came the final baby boy! I was old enough to be my baby brothers’ mother and it used to drive him crazy when he was young, that people thought I was his mother ,and that our mother was his grandmother…BTW mom never found that “grandmother ” thing funny either.

    My dad was in the Air Force during Vietnam, so we pretty much learned to “get in where we fit in”, because not only were we subject to move, but so were most of the people we knew.

    When my dad retired and we moved permanently to civilian life, I was 16 and couldn’t believe that most of the people I met had NEVER been out of the country or moved more than once.

    Ironically, once we moved to civilian life most of us stayed where we were planted. My sister (#2) still lives in the house my parents bought in 1969 and I’m not too far from her. Brother #3 is all the way on the other coast in California, and brother #4 is only one state away. I don’t know if that’s because of issues we have with moving, or that the place my parents’ planted us was so rich and fertile we thrived where we were planted.
    The only quibble I have ever had with your books had been with Maggie’s story. I was a little bit mad at you for having her push her parents/family away because of her problems with her birth mother. But I’m pretty sure I was reflecting on the fact that I am raising my great-nephew and would be WILD if he was having trouble with his birth mother and didn’t let me know, so I could kick her butt!!! And since I have no real clue what it feels like on Maggie’s side of the table I let it go and went with the story.

    I’ve already got “The Virtuoso” so no need to enter me to win, thank you.
    I’ve got your books on Kindle, paperback, trade size and re-read some of them yearly.
    So, I’ve said all this to say that home is pretty much where my family and friends are. The places in life where, when I belch too loudly, the people I’m with go with it. When the people I’m with know the same silly stories, and have been telling them to each other FOREVER and they are still as funny as the day they first happened. Where when in Sunday School one morning as I was teaching, my wig fell off, dropped on the floor behind me (as I was teaching,remember), I picked it up, fluffed up my real hair, put the wig on the table behind me and kept right on teaching. And the people who were in class that day remember it, and every once in a while it comes up, but I am not at all embarrassed, because they are my home, and love me with or without wig.

  11. My home is where my husband is; we just celebrated our 14th wedding anniversary this past week and the physical area where we live is not as important as us being together. My William left everything behind to emigrate to Canada, and I hope to do the same trip in the other direction with him within a few years. 😉
    As for my people, they are few; a handful of good friends – including some online like minds – a few select family members and my cat Bruce. It’s not the quantity, but the quality that counts! 🙂
    Loved your comments about horses; I haven’t straddled one in years, but it brought some happy memories to me!

  12. My love of horses is probably why St. Just is my favorite hero of yours. I no longer have a horse, I got my 2nd horse as a 4 year old when I was in college and had him 27 years, but have access to many when I need to pet one. I couldn’t live without a dog in my house. Our animals are always there for us. They make the house a home.

  13. I have wondered if I might be related to your husband. My maiden name is burrowes, which is not a common spelling.