From Courtroom to Courtship (in 343 pages)

I am very fortunate that single motherhood befell me at a time when that didn’t mean my ruin and my child’s doom. It did mean a lot of hardship for my daughter, and some stress for me, but I was in good health, had access to good medical care, had good earning capability, and–most important of all–had and have the love of a wonderful family to support me.

So, a-mothering I did go and I have never regretted it.

Every week in the courtroom, I see other single moms who aren’t as lucky. Maybe they’re too young to have developed any earning capability, maybe they don’t have loving family, maybe they have mental illness and low cognitive functioning and a history of trauma… I represent their children, but I also feel for those moms.

This is part of what motivated me to write Charlotte Windham’s character for A Rogue of Her Own, though I won’t spoil the specifics. Charlotte cares too, and at time when her concern sets her apart from her peers in an inconvenient way.

In the same courtroom, I see Dads fallen on hard times. They didn’t control their tempers, or their drinking, when control was imperative. They are serving time. They are behind on child support payments, or they simply remained distant from their own children because of conflict with Mom. Every one of these guys would say they love their kids, and I believe them.

When it comes time to visit those children, though, the local Department of Social Services has no after hours visitation facilities. Working parents must visit during working hours… This can be impossible. As low-wage workers just starting a new job, with no leave, no seniority, no money for transportation, cutting out work a few hours every week to ‘see the kids’ can mean losing the job.

Losing the job can mean going back to jail, losing the apartment, losing the chance to ever parent those children. Missing visits ALSO means losing the chance to ever parent those children. What’s a parent to do?

And this conundrum too, informed my developed of Lucas Sherbourne. He’s so convinced that his responsibility as Charlotte’s husband is to be a financial mover and shaker, somebody who brings prosperity to the whole valley so Charlotte’s ducal family won’t look down on her for marrying him. He really is a sweet guy, but his version of partnering Charlotte–and her version of partnering Shebourne–needs about 343 pages of work.

I don’t always get such meaty themes to give my books substance. Some books are mostly for fun, others have gone a little too dark (looking at you, Michael and Brenna). A Rogue of Her Own is by no means a dark tale–not at all. But the books where I know what my theme is, what values conflict is keeping my characters apart, tend to be the easier books to write, and the ones the readers both like and remember.

So I hope you enjoy A Rogue of Her Own (comes out Tuesday), because authoring this story was very satisfying. To one commenter, I’ll send an audio version of Charlotte and Sherbourne’s story. If you were going to write a novel, what theme or conundrum would you want to explore? What social question might your characters view from conflicting perspectives?

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25 comments on “From Courtroom to Courtship (in 343 pages)

  1. I am a mechanical engineer working in construction. I would like to read a romance about a female engineer. So far, I’ve read romances featuring female doctors and scientists. It’s quite interesting and inspiring to read about how other ladies overcome obstacles and succeed in a male dominated field 🙂

    • I might have a story percolating that features a female engineer. If you read Elias in Love, you know his castle is much in need of repairs. What you don’t know is that the expert in the “falling down castle restoration” biz is a lady. That’s about all I know at this point.
      I was general counsel to a civil engineering firm a long, long time ago. Nicest bunch of people I’ve ever met, very hard working, and most of them had a wonderful sense of humor. I’ll have to channel them if I write the castle renovation story….

  2. Life’s A great big melting pot and we are all in it bubbling away with all the complexities that human life bring,we grow up we make decisions that takes on a certain course for the better or not but we carry on.Sometimes we feel the happiness of falling in love and it makes us complete but for many it turns into a unhappiness we find hard to shake off especially if the person who is causing the unhappiness fails to admit to having a serious problem and seek help.Violent jealousy and bullying is unacceptable and for a father to behave this way toward his wife and children can only destroy the family.I love HEA endings I can’t wait till Tuesday but I must.Grace please keep writing all about the many characters and their loves and struggles before they reach their happy ending.What about a story about two painfully shy people who miss so many chances that it frustrates every one around them just a thought.I know what theme you choose will take us on a ride of different emotions and conclude with HEA.Great.

    • You know, Brenda, Jennifer Ashley did a terrific job with The Madness of Lord Ian MacKenzie, where she portrayed a Victorian courtesy lord with Asperger’s. I haven’t seen an ASD heroine yet, and most of the Aspie girls are I know are VERY shy. I will think about this, because it could be a wonderful book.

  3. The availability of effective birth control greatly improved the lives of women at every economic level and stage of life by making it possible for a woman to achieve financial stability before conceiving a child or to limit the size of her family to maximize her children’s futures. That alone won’t guarantee a “perfect” family life. The unforeseen is always there. But it is a significant difference between the lives prior to the 1960s and today.

    • And THAT is why there are more children now on earth than there will ever be again. We’re getting population stabilized, and country by country, it’s happening faster and faster. The US and UK took decades after the advent of birth control to achieve population stability. Thailand did it in seventeen years, Iran in less than ten.
      To me, what this means is that we’ll have more and more resources to look after the children we do have, and that is a good thing.

  4. As someone who is disabled, I am very uncomfortably dependent on my husband. Before we were married I was financially independent and had we not married I could have supported our daughter, but it would have been tight. Not impossible, but tight. I had a great employer, benefits (including health care) that were incredible, great friends etc. Now, my level of functioning has diminished, we have a second child who is special needs, we moved across the country, and I work part-time in a job that has low pay and no benefits (but that I love). I identify so strongly with the women in regency romance that have few choices, that are dependent on the kindness and good will of family or husbands etc. Despite having a husband and children I love, relative financial stability, including insurance etc., and no reason to expect being forced to support the family, I still fear it constantly. One illness/death etc. away from real trouble, I am so conscious of that fact and that I am unable to work full-time, I am incapable of it physically and mentally.

    So maybe I would explore the stresses of having to earn and support dependents with other side of the equation- the stress of vulnerability and dependency. How each side’s own fears and insecurities impact the relationship. Even in a good relationship, vulnerability is hard and to be forced to accept that as a permanent state is difficult. Being the one to then have to shoulder the responsibility without the back up of a meaningful second income is also stressful. I just think there is potential for a good story of misunderstandings based on fears of the other person’s expectations or assessments with a HEA that acknowledges it is always a balancing act.

    • Unpacking your comment would take a book… and it would be an interesting books, too. I am sorry that disability has befallen you, and that it means a diminished professional life and diminished earning capability. That purely stinks, and I can see how it could create a lot of anxiety around finances and functionality.
      I’ve been a single mom since Darling Child was conceived, and you’ve put your finger on a fear that haunts me still: Who will look after my baby if anything happens to me? And as I age: Who will look after me if anything happens to her? I like to say that love is the answer to most significant challenges, but love won’t make sure my nursing home has a cat.
      Women in Regency society did have some low cards in terms of legal status (none), domestic violence (entirely legal), lousy medicine (safer until the male physicians got involved), but they also had some advantages. A man who did not support his wife was subject to legal consequences, and a woman could divorce a man for cruelty (but not the other way around).
      We also don’t write stories about the women who amassed great fortunes on their own in Regency society. A gal by the name of Mrs. Mountain owned a string of coaching inns and something like 2500 horses. She did OK for herself!

  5. I am a woman with a career not usually associated with women (a conductor and ended up a choral conductor because it was a little bit more acceptable for a woman…..but still my road is not easy because of my gender) so those sorts of stories interest me. I would probably write about someone I know, whose story should be told.

    This is a woman so talented and so gifted she HAD to be a physician and would base her on my own great-grandmother who was a physician. Yep, you read that right; my GREAT-grandmother was a physician! This was the mid 19th century, so she had to be chaperoned in anatomy class and ended being the valedictorian. She went into practice with her uncles (they were Lady Doctors) and her husband (my great-grandfather) was a Methodist minister and Dean of Theology of a long ago school of Theology (college is still there, but not the Divinity School).

    One day, Great-Grandpa came home and said, “Florence, pack up the house (including my grandpa and his sisters), we’re going to India to be missionaries in two weeks.” True story. Her practice and his children didn’t matter, just what he wanted to do. They were in India for about ten years, and she lost three babies girls due to *Second Summer Sickness*. My grandfather and two sisters were the children they went to India with, and those were the children they came home to Kansas with. 🙁

    • And I don’t know where to come down on a story like that. Florence could have told him, “Dearest, we’ll just wait for you here at home…” But she married a guy who believed in traditional Christian domestic hierarchy in the home. My mom did the same thing. If Dad wanted to disappear for six weeks to study Galapagos Island turtles, and leave her at home with seven kids and radio silence… off he went. If he said, “Pack up the house, we’re moving to San Diego, where you have no friends or family but I have lots of science-buddies…” She packed up the house and never saw some of those friends again.
      I cannot imagine a relationship where my only route to happiness was to subjugate my wishes to those of another adult. But then, that was what society preached, and the alternatives were few and fraught.

  6. I want to write a contemporary novel about a US citizen who falls in love with an undocumented immigrant. It would closely align with the drama that is my life right now and would be non fiction but would seem fictional to anyone who doesn’t have personal experience with our current immigration system and process. I honestly cannot believe that our country is treating any human this way.

    • One of my writin’ buddies spent years working with our Foreign Service. She says internationally, our ICE and CBP are held in universal contempt, for being violent, stupid, and corrupt… and that was before the present administration got out its dog-whistle.
      I hope you write your story, and I fervently hope it has a happy ending. I’m hopeful that matters will swing back in a reasonable direction, particularly as the citizen demographic moves away from any one ethnicity having a majority.

  7. Are you still checking responses this late in the day? I adamantly disagree that Michael and Brenna’s story is “too dark”! Does the romance industry think that because I enjoy their better authors I lack intelligence? That I can’t handle tough subjects? That trilogy was your (Grace’s) best writing ever!. OK I am done ranting.

    I would write about people who are “nothing” and who thrive anyway. No riches saving them from a life of self accountability. Lots of happiness and satisfaction without being at the top of the heap. Maybe they could hide a threatened dukes heir or something and the Duke learns boat loads about life from them and comes away better … oh I don’t know. And I confess I love all the Dukes Arms, Streets, and Disguises. Especially your duke in esquires!

    I think I am going to take some of your minor characters and write you some fan fiction with them. Maybe you will read them and laugh.

    • Sue, thanks for those kind words about The Captive Hearts–I like those books too. They each were driven by a theme that was clear to me from the first scene, which is rare.
      Don’t write fan fiction (unless you want to), as much as you read, why not just leap off into the abyss of drafting a novel? Your premise is terrific–a prince and pauper twist–and could make a great romance. I dare ya!

  8. Oh, you have some good suggestions! Write them all!

    Historically, when an Irish Catholic marries a Protestant. It can still be a big deal. The French nuns who married during the Revolution. The women left without due to mismanagement of dowries and/or primogeniture. Military service and a Quaker, or someone who identifies with them, esp. if the woman is all for the sacred duty of war.

    And, Grace, a woman I know who fostered many, many children, some whose own kids call her “Grandma,” said she never met a mother who wasn’t doing the best she could.

    • I am a Mennonite, which is another faith tradition that does not believe violence solves conflicts. They take the “thou shalt not kill” business seriously (until hunting season–go figure). I’ve often thought about how I could take “High Noon” and give it a better ending. I think Witness did that–improved on High Noon, and got to the heart of how the single-combat hero and his opponent can come to resemble each other very, very closely.

      It would not be a light, warm-hearted book, though, which tends to give editors the squicks. I’ll think about though, because the moral dilemmas posed by pacifism are endless.

  9. Studying Middle and Old English left my wanting to retell the story of Troilus and Criseyde, focusing on Criseyde and her separation from her people (a popular theme in OE poetry). Her return in a prisoner exchange breaks up her romance with Troilus, so the conflict between different types of love will get a good reversal.

    Probably best not to tell it in alliterative verse, however.

    Every time I hear more about a Rogue of Her Own, my expectations are substantially altered. Looking forward to learning all of its secrets.

    • Their story strikes me as unsatisfying. Nobody’s happy at the end, and Troy falls anyway, so… what was that all about? I can’t read OE, so maybe it’s one of those, “Oh, but the prose…” stories, but what I know of the tale doesn’t really have a character arc for anybody either.
      It’s nearly impossible, with my modern sensibilities, to grasp the pleasure audiences in former times took from hearing what was simply, “a good yarn.”
      I’d like HEAR some OE, though.

      • When originally conceived, I assumed that there would still be a tragic ending rather than a HEA. I expect that it would have been something like Elias in Love without the happy resolution. Perhaps Romeo and Juliet wouldn’t sell in this day, but I could try for something more like the movie Before Sunrise. Much older than when this idea was conceived, I’m more worried about romancing a prisoner of war.

        Thanks to YouTube, we don’t lack for chances to hear OE read aloud. Caedmon’s Hymn is the oldest recorded English poem. It is only a few lines long and was preserved in a work that explained how divine inspiration took Caedmon from nothing to the greatest English poet. Two very different readings with translation:

        The OE poetry I had in mind was pretty depressing:

  10. How beautifully written. I was a foster kid myself. Married, had my own child and divorced. Went on to become a licensed therapeutic foster home and worked for many years as an adolescent psychiatric caseworker. Our system is filled with good intentions yet double full of staff burn out, high turn over and the never-ending budget cuts for the very programs and staffing that can help change this crisis. I applaud you for your work and now will look forward to finding this book.

    • And I return your applause, because if the system ever does work, it’s because the foster families made it work. I wish I could round up the data to do for foster children what somebody did for homeless people in Denver. They crunched the numbers–emergency room visits, arrests, jail stays, vagrancy complaints, more emergency room visits–and proved that leaving people on the street who don’t want to be there is costing us more than providing them housing and support.
      If I could follow the cost to society of turning its back on children in need of assistance, and on their families, year after year, and track how those children evolve into delinquents, teen parents, inmates, non-support cases, residential treatment patients, and the next generation of child in need cases… maybe then we’d get serious about building a meaningful safety net.
      Until that day, we bail against the tide with teaspoons, and it’s a wonder any foster child ever has an HEA.