What’s in a Name?

I have drafted Stephen’s Wentworth’s book (How to Catch a Duke), and unless Ned Wentworth has a big surprise in store for us, Stephen’s happily-ever-after will conclude that series. At the same time, I’m wrapping up Daisy Dorning’s story (working title, Truly Beloved) and preparing to tackle Sycamore Dorning’s tale (working title All Hell Truly Breaks Loose in Mayfair), which will take us to the end of the True Gentlemen.

Guess I’d better come up with a new series, huh? Readers have made suggestions. Noah, Duke of Anselm (The Duke’s Disaster) has four siblings, and they do need stories–probably for 2022 because I’ll have the rights back to Noah and Thea’s tale by then. Elijah Harrison (Lady Jenny’s Christmas Portrait), comes from a huge, boisterous family that’s now connected to the Windhams. Maybe I should pan for gold in that stream? (Prudhomme sends regards!)

But simply writing a bunch of sibling tales usually isn’t enough to build a strong series. For the Windham sons, whose trilogy traveled under the name The Duke’s Obsession, the issue was how to keep an ambitious and grieving father from making a muck of life for his surviving sons as they followed his example by fighting for their true loves.

For the Rogues to Riches series, the Wentworth siblings brought significant trauma with them up from the gutter, and had to find the partners who could help them resolve the trauma and turn wounds into superpowers.

The challenge for me is to not only to come up with a premise, but also to refine the series title until readers (and I) can tell in a few words what the fundamental struggle of the characters will be. Rogues to Riches does that, and the books have been fairly easy to write. I think Tessa Dare’s Castles Ever After is another brilliantly branded series–each heiress inherits a problematic castle, and each castle comes with a problematic man (and isn’t that always the case?).

The Lonely Lords, by contrast, have generated much reader email, asking me about continuity, sequencing, inter-relationships… ‘A bunch of lonely guys find true love’ isn’t  a strong organizing principle for a series, and if you’ve read the books, you know it’s really two series–sort of Darius Lindesy-and-friends, and the Worthington-family-plus-a-few-strays. Write and learn.

As I was ruminating on where my next inspiration might lie, I came across this blog post from Ozan Varol, a rocket scientist turned legal eagle turned idea guy at large. He’s noting the importance of names and labels. Is it his home office (blech), or his idea lab (cool!)? Are the people driving a company’s productivity employees (blah), or inventors (huh?)? How we frame a concept with words signals on a deep level what our minds are supposed to do with that concept.

So I will continue to cast around for a series premise that I can encapsulate into an elegant, engaging, and accurate title, while I ponder which problems or proclivities are substantial enough to unite a series of happily ever afters. The goal is to put a few precise words on a picture big enough to charm and intrigue–how hard can that be?

What series do you recall as being larger than the individual books? What about the stories, characters, or story-foundation made them memorable?  I’ll add three commenters to my ARC list for My Heart’s True Delight.



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55 comments on “What’s in a Name?

    • And, why? How the decisions/character of a couple of people shape the larger world and generations. Her Brother Cadfael books run on the fortunes of the conflict between contenders for the British throne, Maude & Stephen.

    • I have enjoyed some of the adaptations of Brother Cadfael’s adventures, for his character, and also for the world. A medieval mystery can’t quite turn on the same fulcrum as a modern mystery.
      As for the series length… I’m one of seven, but by the time I was in first grade, my oldest brother was married and headed for Vietnam. I think I try to recreate the sense of “everybody is safe, and warm, and happy,” when I spin out these big family series.

  1. My all time favorite series is Mary Balogh’s “Simply” Series about the Bedwyn siblings.

    Of all of your books that I have read, my favorite is still the “Windham” Series. There must be something about family relationships that appeals to me. But I think (for me) it really comes down to the authors ability to create characters that I care about, and then put those characters into situations that I care about.

    I prefer series that are limited to 6 or 8 books. But that is not a hard and fast rule for me.

    • The Simply’s were eye-openers for me. I don’t think MB gets enough credit for how much new ground she’s broken before inclusiveness or out-the-trope premises were popular. She writes with such style, you almost miss the big, equally impressive picture.
      I think for series I might have to call a tie between Simply’s and Slightly,’s but to pick one book, it would still be Slightly Dangerous–doubtless!

  2. My best series to date has been the survivors books by Mary Balogh.The best series by Stephanie Laurens is the adventure books set in Seirra Leone.The Duchess books by Eloisa James and the Bridertons by Julia Quinn.Your Windham books were my introduction to you Grace and I have never looked back.I have read them all.I enjoy humour in characters and I can imagine a series about rich young men fresh from college who had formed a bond in the years of study and helped each other navigate the mayhem of life. Also the same for the women who had been sent to places of education for young ladies.Living is or can be a tricky business,growing up painful sometimes but a learning curve eventualy.I have enjoyed the Truly books and look forward to all you can create for us.Many thanks

    • Along those lines, I hope that Tabitha Dorning and Catherine do get to meet and flesh out their stories. Thank you Grace, for helping us get through this pandemic.

      • We are getting through this pandemic together–you, me, the Windhams, the Wentworths, and everybody in between.

    • If there’s one person responsible for busting editors and readers out of the trilogy, trilogy, trilogy mold, it’s JQ with her Bridgertons. She has said she felt like that series would never end, and now it’s breaking new ground again. Can’t wait to watch it!

  3. The premise of Mary Balogh’s Wescott series story foundation captured my interest. The Earl of Riverdale dies, there is a huge scandal that rocks the family to its core. Loved the characters and their stories. Wren’s was my favorite as her hero saw her,Who she was not her fortune or birthmark,
    Stephanie Laurens Cynster series is a favorite, too.

    For contemporary series, I adore Cindy Kirks Good Hope series- the foundation is the town of Good Hope and the Bloom family. Each story deals with contemporary issues which makes the characters and their struggles very relatable. Marigold’s struggles with infertility played out in several books. Her story is my favorite.

    The Windham series is my favorite GB series. Percy is quite the character – and his obsession for an heir drove his sons crazy. I have re read The Heir several times…it’s that good. And St Just…that was an excellent read.

    • Balogh’s Westcott is a favorite of mine as well. I thought the premise was brilliant, and I loved the way the family rallied around both Anna and the disinherited siblings.

      Agree with you about Percy. And Esther complements him so perfectly.

    • Thanks for those kind words, Sue. I think of John Forsythe when I think of a mature Percy and Sam Heugan is the younger version. Esther is Grace Kelly, with a little more fire. But the marital dynamic between them was purely my parents, who were married for more than seventy years. My dad once said that being married that long, you hardly had to talk anymore because you could so easily extrapolate what your spouse would say. My mom just rolled her eyes.

  4. Series that are larger than the individual books… huh. That’s super hard to narrow down. I think PNR or fantasy books where there is an overarching theme of fighting evil hit that button for me. Along with the very strong world building that the below-listed series provide
    Thea Harrison’s Other series
    Ilona Andrews- anything that duo writes, but especially the Kate Daniels series
    Nalini Singh’s Archangel series
    Anne Bishop The Ohters series
    Patricia Briggs, both the Mercy Thompson and Alpha and Omega series

    • I don’t read a LOT of paranormal but I did dip into the Archangel series, and felt an immediate, compelling sense of bonded community. And Nalini Singh is one of the NICEST people you’d ever want to meet, too!

  5. It hard to know where to start–there are many series I’ve enjoyed.

    I’ll start with the first series I ever read as a kid–Little Women, Jo’s Boys and Little Men. Many movies have been made of Little Women but none (as far as I know) of the other two.

    I like Lords of Vice, anything one of the series by Eloisa James and the Scottish series of Jennifer Ashley.

    And speaking of Scottish series, I LOVED your McGregor series, your Scottish Victorian. Perhaps a Prequel of the McGregors would be something you could try? I loved those characters and wondered where they came from and where they ended up.

    Have a wonderful week, Grace!

    • I second a Scottish prequel series, it is probably the series of yours I reread most. I will find myself specifically in the mood for one or another or them. Coincidentally, I am rereading The Duke’s Disaster right now and would enjoy more stories focused on the family, maybe next generation “sibling” series starting with Evvie and Nini.

      Alternately, maybe a series around friends who have gone into trade together for various reasons and in different family situations. I love learning historical details about trades or products (or botany or baking or transportation etc etc) and the political implications or legal idiosyncrasies that you weave through your books. Maybe Solicitors?

    • Ashley’s Scots are awesome. Another family saga, and Lord Ian Mackenzie is on my keeper shelf.

      Agree with you about the MacGregors as well. That series was way too short!

      I also recommend Suzanne Enoch’s Scandalous Highlanders series. It’s set in the Regency, featuring a trio of braw highlander brothers coming to London to rescue their sister.

      • Jennifer Ashley has said that part of the challenge with the MacKenzie series is figuring out how Lord Ian shows up in every story. His role might be small, but it’s critical, and always true to him. She says her readers pout if Ian doesn’t get a few scenes. Now THAT is successful writing!

    • I was bowled over by the first couple books, but then they got darker and darker… I did not finish the series in book or on film, but many librarian claim they taught a generation how to read for pleasure.

  6. Oh, there are so many! The Maiden Lane Series by Elizabeth Hoyt, The Pennyroyal Green Series by Julie Anne Long, and I love the family series – The Malloren Series by Jo Beverley, The Worthington Series by Celeste Bradley, and multiple by Mary Balogh, especially the Slightly / Bedwyn series. Wulfric, sigh!

    • And you know, you still don’t see many silver-eyed Regency heroes… but the PN authors sure picked up on that!

  7. Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles. The individual books are great, but the six books as a whole are overwhelming, even if you don’t know chess.

    • Some of my UK readers are big Lymond fans, and I did hear that BBC had optioned the books for film, but that was a couple years ago, and so far… not yet.

  8. I have told you before Grace, and I am telling you again I think The Captive Series is the most powerful writing you have ever done. I remain annoyed that those books have been eclipsed by the need to hide from … what? The third book? I stand by my belief that the end of The Laird was the best ending you have ever written.

    I love many of the other series mentioned, some of my faves are too obscure to mention, but I am a fan of of Mary Balogh, particularly the Slightly series (Bedowyns).

    I would like to end this by saying that the best Opening Lines you have ever written (in my opinion) are in Ashton. I love the whole book but the opening is the total best.

    • Oh yeah, I want to add that I loved “The Duke’s Disaster” and I thought it was a shame that it just stood there alone. I am going to dig it out and re-read it.

    • I agree with you about The Captive Hearts–I am proud of those books–but those were dark stories for me, and the advice I got at the time was, “You can write more of these, or you can have readers…” I did get some emails from readers who were unhappy with them, and that’s always daunting.

      • Your captive hearts series is in a class of its own; very exceptional writing. I wish you could have readers for that level of writing.

  9. Most of my favorite series have been mentioned, but here is another: Jo Beverley’s Company of Rogues. This series, set during the Napoleonic Wars, follows a group of friends who pledged to support and protect each other from the bullies at their school. Their leader Nicholas is working in intelligence for the Crown and brings in his trusted friends to assist. Threaded through the books are a master spy (and criminal) and a duke’s son who is MIA. The protagonists face difficulties that sometimes threaten their lives and the fate of the nation. The women are strong, intelligent partners and I love the network of friendships that form between the men and their wives.

    It’s hard to choose a favorite but I just re-read Mary Balogh’s Survivors’ Club series, and I am a total sucker for wounded warriors. In this case, a duke, himself suffering from the loss of his soldier son and his wife, turns his estate into a hospital for officers with emotional or psychological wounds as well as the more obvious physical damage. Several of them stay in this place of healing for several years and even after leaving they continue to support each other. Each of the survivors has suffered grievously and I love watching them find their way to happiness.

    During the pandemic, I re-read your Windham and related series in the “combined Regency order:” 54 works including novellas. (I included The Duke’s Disaster and Henrietta Whitlow’s novella in the Lonely Lords series when I realized their connections to Gareth and Andrew.) It’s hard to choose, as I love your characters so much, but I think my favorite sub-series is Captive Hearts (Captive, Traitor, Laird), which ties into my wounded warrior bent.

    And if any of you also like the Napoleonic Wars setting, you might enjoy Joanna Bourne’s Spymasters series. They are not light reading but again I love the characters and the work that they are doing, complete with danger, loss, and ambiguities.

    • Joanna Bourne is simply a genius. Anything she writes has sparkle and wit and charm and subtlety and and and. If somebody scoffs at romance as mommy porn, I get them a copy of The Spymaster’s Lady or The Black Hawk. No more scoffing.

      • OK I’m totally lost here – what is the title of Henrietta Whitlow’s novella? Is it an anthology? My brain isn’t working well these days but I don’t remember seeing anything about it. Please enlighten me!

  10. Oh, there are so many. I’m brain dead most of the time right now, but notice that a series may be about members of a family, a group of friends, a conflict between groups, a war such as the Napoleonic Wars, or a time period and location, such as Regency England or Scotland in the 1800’s. I’m listing some of my favorite series.

    Of your series, the two series I’ve re-read most frequently are the Windham series and the Lonely Lords since they’ve been around longer and I liked them so much. For favorite books so far and off the top of my head, I’ll mention The Courtship, The Duke’s Disaster, and Tremaine’s True Love and I’m sure I’ve left some out there. Newer books must wait their turn to be added to the re-read list. If I’m still reading a series for the first time, series re-reads come later.

    Carla Kelly’s Channel series, her Scofield Mine series (2 books – My Loving Vigil Keeping and One Step Enough) and her Borrowed Light series. Her many books set during and in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars aren’t considered a series but I’m including them since the conflict is a common factor. Out of those, the Lady’s Companion and One Good Turn are two of my favorites. Most of her characters tend to be decent and honorable, and even the villains sometimes turn out not to always be villains, just not coping well. That happened in ‘Doing No Harm’, a book I just re-read, which addressed what happened to a group of people displaced during the Highland clearances who landed in the same fishing village. It was heartbreaking.

    Eloisa James – Desperate Duchesses, the Essex Sisters, and the Duchess Quartet. Lots of humor.

    Georgette Heyer, love her romances – favorites were These Old Shades, The Devil’s Cub, The Black Sheep, Frederica, etc.

    Mary Balogh’s Bedwyn and Survivor series. Bedwyns – Family by birth with an autocratic brother riding herd and trying to protect his siblings. Survivor series – men and one woman who came to stay at a man’s estate to heal in body and spirit, in the course of the Napoleonic War.

    Lisa Kleypas, the Hathaways and the Wallflowers – family and friends, belonging, acceptance, financial problems.

    Pennyroyal Green series by Julie Anne Long.

    I just finished Loretta Chase’s first book in her Difficult Dukes series and it was amazing and amazingly funny. Unifying factor is these men who are all dukes, friends and so very disreputable. I’ve also read most if not all of her books.

    I’m sure I’ve left many out. For urban fantasy: the Alex Verus series by Benedict Jacka, Anne Bishop’s The Others, Thea Harrison’s Elder Races, Terry Pratchett’s DiscWorld series, Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels and Hidden Legacy series, Patricia Briggs’ Alpha and Omega series, Jim Butcher’s Dresden series. Lord of the Rings, naturally. This unique series recently ended: the Tufa series by Alex Bledsoe. Some of these contain romance and some don’t. Thea Harrison’s Elder Races are some of the best romances around and a fascinating world. Patricia Briggs and Kate Daniels also have good romance. In Anne Bishop’s Others’ series, people are not the dominant species on this alternate earth.

    • Thanks for your suggestions! If I read two historical series in a row I can get confused about which duke is which, so I like to alternate historical series with fantasy. I’ll look for some of those series!

      You might also like Lindsay Buroker. Her Dragon Blood and Emperor’s Edge series are favorites of mine. If you like character-driven science fiction, you might enjoy Buroker’s Star Kingdom series or Lois McMaster Bujold’s Barrayar series.

    • Pennyroyal Green is a high-water mark for me. Each book is a gem, and the tensions between the two families are so well done. I was sorry to see that series end. Loretta Chase’s Carsington series is also an embarrassment of riches… Not Quite a Lady is one of my all time desert island, don’t you touch my copy, keepers.

  11. I remember a series on TV a while back. It was modern. There were maybe 6 women that all lived on the same street. There was friendship, lots of secrets, families, divorced, drama, drama, drama…. Anyway, I can’t recall a series focusing on neighbors as opposed to siblings or relatives. Just a thought.
    I love Tessa Dare. But I have not read that series. I love her humor and style.
    Actually, I don’t have a book or audio book going. The weekend was a little busy. I will have to see what’s up next. Just as soon as I start something, a request from the library will come thru. Ha ha

    • Tessa Dare is a rare talent. She has a light, warm touch, and yet her stories always end up being substantial. I love that! Liane Moriarty seems to have cashed in enormously on the well done ensemble story, and what a talent SHE has for moving the chess pieces in unexpected directions. I get a big case of plotting envy when I read her stories.

  12. I love a series so I can just keep going and then go back to savor the nuances. Joanna Bourne’s Spymaster series is compelling and masterful – the ambiguities of life are very clear there. I also enjoy Mary Jo Putney and her Lost Lords series which ties into the Rogues Redeemed series. Her stories go very deep, leavened with wit and humor and tie in accurately to the events of the time. My favorite of yours Grace, right now, is Will’s True Wish. I am in love the the dogs I think! But oh goodness, Devlin St. Just – sigh, swoon. Any place he appears, even for a moment, is a good one! Good luck with thinking up your next tour de force. We will all be waiting with great anticipation and affection.

    • Another vote for anything by Mary Jo Putney, especially her Fallen Angels series, set during the Napoleonic Wars and featuring several high-ranking spies plus lots of adventure. I’ve read the series twice, and Angel Rogue at least three times! I read the Lost Lords many years ago but never finished Rogues Redeemed so those two series are on my TBR shelf.

      I agree that Will’s dogs are the best. I also love all the horses that Grace introduces us to: Andrew’s Magic, David Fairly’s Honey, Westhaven’s Pericles, Nicholas’s Buttercup, Daniel’s Zubbie, and so many more.

    • St. Just gets a lot of top-hero votes, for some reason. I guess because he’s the outsider who comes in from the cold, and the best big brother at the same time. He surprised me. There I was, writing along, trotting Westhaven up a foggy bridle path, and this guy with a rumbly bass-baritone voice, dark-hair, and a hint of a brogue rides out of the mist. “Who you?” I asked.
      “Excuse me,” says he. “I need to have a word with my brother.”
      I sat down and took good notes.

  13. Noah is one of my favorite guys and I would love to know what is going on in his world. I have to say, the not directly related aspect of the lonely lords still intrigues me and it made me want to know all about the other people who were touched on. Some of the overlapping was a little confusing, but not bad. Darius was surprising and endearing even though his path was unconventional to say the least. You just got a little insight surprise when you least expected it in the next story. In real life, your friends and family don’t wait to have a drama because yours hasn’t finished yet. Because of all the overlapping, it seems that a lot of the children from these families will be within a reasonable rage of the same age. I think Windham cousins in Wales and the sister-in-law had children within months of each other and their Scottish sisters did the same. Now there could be “kissing cousins” across the board and who’s to say the cousins are related to each other, Also, so many of the peerage as well as the younger siblings were getting into commercial business and their associates now involved those not in the peerage more and more, but still sporting large pocketbooks. It seems like many paths could pass and intersect in a path that “isn’t all business”. We seem to have lawyers, financial/banker guys, casino operators, perfumiers, sheep & horse breeders, florists/botanists, polyglot foreign traders, coal mine owners, printers, bakers, musicians, artists, teachers and a scientist/inventor or two. I can’t wait to hear about all of them.

  14. Just getting things straight in my head. Is Max Haddonfield the brother formerly known as Adolphus? Inquiring minds and all that…

    • Yes, but because he was the youngest, going by Maximus earlier in life was a bad joke, so he traveled under Adolphus (a middle name), and that worked better in his youth. Now his brothers are all heading for middle age, and he’s still in his prime (NEENER NEENER) so Maximus it is!

  15. I have read Mary Balough’s series. Stephanie Laurens ever growing Cynster series. I look forward to a Ravenel book from Lisa Kleypas. I enjoyed the Maiden Lane series by Elizabeth Hoyt. The Lonely Lords series has had a wide variety of men, without Worth, there wouldn’t have been all the Dornings. These men all have some family or friends that need exploration. I like a series giving more insight into characters. The title to link them doesn’t need to be thematic, it just needs to let me know it is a series, so I know what to look for as new books come out. I understand the thematic hook, but it isn’t that necessary for me to know what the struggles will be, I like to read the book to find that out. I picked up The Heir and liked what I read on the back cover. If the next book hadn’t been part of a series I would have read it anyway. I like the writing style that you have that much.

    • I think histrom-land went into a collective decline when the Maiden Lane series ended. Just one more duke, pul-eeze, one more duke… But all good things can be re-read as many times as we please!

    • She is widowed in a tragic riding accident, alas. Apologies to Squire Fromm, but he was just not cuttin’ the mustard. That’ll teach him to be drunk at the reins…

  16. Ha! I meant the Slightly series, although I love the Simply series also. And yes, Slightly Dangerous is also my most favorite comfort read ever.

  17. All of your series meet this critera for me, Grace. I appreciate how so many characters make appearances in other series since they are all part of society and people often have many friends and acquaintances. The main characters are heros and heroines for the excellent reason that they are interesting and good people and willing to lend a hand when their help is needed. I really enjoy reading about different generations of families – such as the Brody clan appearng in your contemporaries. Even though they were not as easy to read as most of your books because of the subject matter, I really loved the Captive Hearts series.

    There are so many authors with series that transcend the individual books, I’m not going to try to list them all. One of the first ones that came to mind is Dianne Duvall’s Immortal Guardians series a contemporary paranormal. There’s a huge cast of characters and each story builds on the previous one, yet each book still manages to be a stand alone. The heros and heroines, grow and learn; redemption is a theme as is good vs evil; and the heros and heroines work together, helping each other when ever possible.

    • I agree that the reappearance of beloved characters is what draws me to Grace’s books. They feel like old friends. During this pandemic, I’ve been re-reading them for some comfort with all these characters. While the Captive Hearts series is very dark (especially the last book), they were my second favorite series, right behind the Windham siblings (Sophie and Vim’s story is my all time favorite).

  18. An author that I haven’t noticed mentioned yet is Victoria Alexander-loved all her series. Then depending on your mood there’s Amanda Quick (historical)/Jayne Ann Krentz (contemporary)/Jayne Castle (futuristic).
    But you Grace are at the top of that authors list!

  19. Wallflowers!some of my favorite books are about wallflowers/outcasts/older heroines.(I can’t do 18 yrsold any more)

    • Authors I also enjoy Kleypas, Chase, Calloway, Ranney.. Anne Stuart, Delilah Marvelle have some of my favorite rereads and write outside of “normal” with some dark hero’s.

  20. Sarah Dunant’s 3 novels set in the Renaissance about intelligent strong women during times of great change
    “In the Company of the Courtesan”. A Cardinal’s mistress Fiametta and her dwarf/pimp escape the sack of Rome 1527 to Venice where they survive by their wits and her beauty.”Sacred Hearts” C16 Ferrara, a 16 year old girl is locked away in an enclosed convent, her dowry is her golden voice. Huge change is hovering with the Council of Trent.” The Birth of Venus” After the death of Lorenzo Di Medici, political turbulence flamed by Savonarola threatens the stability of late C15 Florence At 14 years of age, Alessandra has to survive where women have little power.
    After this trilogy, Sarah wrote a series on the Medici….in all her books she shows a strong commitment to feminism and history from a woman’s perspective

  21. I first came upon the entire series of your books in a Barnes and Nobles store in Dallas, where I was visiting my brother over a Christmas holiday years ago. I’d read the first Windham heir…and lo and behold, this store had the next two. (My Michigan B&N only had the first, and this was before I had a Nook). I remember being so excited, grabbing those next books as if someone would come up behind me and say: Sorry, lady, you only get one book at a time. I’m pretty sure I can still smell the coffee from the Starbucks inside the store.

    That was my introduction to your work. I think the Windham series has a special place in my heart because at the core, the love affair of the duke and duchess was a ‘through-line’ in each of their children’s lives: they wanted that true love (although manipulation from the duke was always a given and they rebelled against that). Percy is such a lovable knot head and his duchess is…sigh. She is so wonderful. Who would not want a life of love as they had?

    Anyway, just my thoughts, and I want to again thank you for so many hours of enjoyment. I can’t recall any other time standing in a book store and being so excited and I just wanted to share that with you.