Alone Together

I pick up those check-out line ladies’ magazines from time to time, in part because they contain a surprising amount of this-just-in good science. Who knew that bergamot reduces cholesterol, for example? Each issue also has somebody’s as-told-to story of  a life-changing hack, usually how to beat obesity and/or fatigue.

The pattern in the articles is always the same: The author recounts her suffering–can’t play with the grandkids, forgets her bestie’s daughter’s name, is too tired for date night again–and always adds, “And I was letting down the people who count on me.”

That aspect of the stories bothers me. You mean a woman’s suffering doesn’t deserve attention simply because it’s making her miserable? We must always add a coefficient of guilt because Somebody is Disappointed In Me for Being Sick? Phooey on that.

But then I thought back to the thousands of foster care cases I’ve handled, many of which involved a parent struggling with addiction. Because Twelve-Step programs are free and ubiquitous, they became the treatment referral default  in my jurisdiction, despite little evidence that the programs work. (The evidence is, they tend to work about as well as doing nothing.)

One admonition those programs hand out frequently is, “You cannot get sober for the kids, your spouse, your team… You have to get sober for you.” But over and over, I’d hear mothers on the witness stand say, “The program says you have to get sober for you, but I only agreed to go to the meetings for my kids. I want to be there for them, and that’s what keeps me going.” And if anybody was getting sober, it was those moms.

So maybe, Grace Ann, there is something compelling about feeling your sense of connection threatened because a problem has gone unsolved for too long. (And maybe a treatment approach developed by guys born more than a century ago, when patriarchy and rugged-individualism were the answer to everything, needs some updating.)

The past year has been hard for me as an author. I am accustomed to putting on my writer hat, and conjuring happily ever afters from thin air. I do that regardless of family difficulties, my own frustrations, and whether the characters are making nice-nice with me. But in recent months, my determination hasn’t always been sufficient to subdue the Undertoads of isolation, despair, and anxiety.

That’s where my readers have come in. Just when I think, “Might have to, I dunno, hire out as an editor or something…” I will get an email from a reader telling me that the books have been a happy place for her in a dark time, that what I do matters. Writing is not only my job, it’s also my calling, and how I contribute.

And with those kind words fortifying my resolve, I can make another cup of jasmine green tea, and get back to my dukes and damsels. I’m not as isolated as I think, and that realization has been a tremendous comfort and inspiration.

What connections comfort you, however distant or virtual these days? To two commenters, I’ll send e-ARCs of The Last True Gentleman, due out on the web store Fed. 9 and on the retail platforms on Feb. 23.


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44 comments on “Alone Together

  1. Pre-Covid we joined a Fitness to Fit You class at our local senior center and really looked forward to the socializing more than the exercise! I even took a part time job at the senior center when it was offered to me, working just a couple of mornings a week. The hospitality work I was doing was mundane, but important, and the social interactions with my co-workers and other community members gave my life a meaning which had been missing since I had retired (again, falling into the “doing for others” trope).

    Of course, Covid changed everything. My part time job mostly evaporated due to in person activities at the senior center being shut down (though I still do some graphic design work from home). But we have made adjustments to make the best of a horrific situation. Once or twice a week we meet one couple who we met at the fitness class. Masked, we go for a hike in one of the many parks surrounding us. If the weather is warm enough, we get takeout from a local restaurant and sit in the sun outside, at opposite ends of a large table, sharing a meal and our concerns, (though our definition of “warm enough” has been tweaked as winter has set in). We now join our fitness classes via Zoom. Even if our connections look different in these crazy times, they are still connections than matter to us. Is it enough? Time will tell, but for now, we take comfort in the things we CAN do rather than dwell on the things we can’t.

    • A growth mindset is most useful in situations that seem to foster it the least. Hats off to you and your fitness buddies, for connecting safely and for connecting at all.

  2. I just finished Truly Beloved. I regard all of your books as a lovely, quiet visit with a very dear friend – warmth, humor, familiarity. I so enjoy your series and the family connections within.
    Perhaps your characters have become more dear, as isolation from my children and grandchildren enters the second year. I don’t know why this story affected me so deeply – my husband of 50 years this August is loving and caring, and both of us are as healthy as people in their 70’s can be. Seeing your characters not only survive less than happy at all times marriages (and honestly, is anyone happily married all the time???), and move on with fond and understanding memories was somehow very comforting.
    Thank you again for all of the lovely friends you have brought into my life, and never doubt the positive impact you have on so very many people.

    • Christine, I do not know why, ten books into the series, Daisy had to tug on my sleeve and ask, “Why did they all get HEAs and I got …. meh?” She got more than that, but I did write her off fairly early in my acquaintance with the Dorning family (as in, the series prequel). I really liked her story though it was hard cutting Eric loose. He wasn’t a bad guy, but it wasn’t a great marriage at the time he exited the scene. So it was a little different kind of book for me to write, and I’m glad readers are enjoying it.
      MANY readers are telling me that this has been their year to re-read keepers. Always lovely to know the backlist is still in circulation!

  3. I have enjoyed all your stories and have reread them often. Thank you for writing them. I have been reading a lot since we have been social distancing. I love to read and I am thankful there are so many great authors out there keeping us supplied with great books.

    • Oh, meeeeeee too! I don’t know where I’d be without books to read. I watched Bridgerton, and after that, I was streamed out. Back to the book shelf I did go!

  4. I find that distant relatives or friends from long ago who maybe just sent a quick hello once a year now have the time to chat (even though it’s online)much more. Everyone actually is concerned about each other’s health and well being. Makes me feel a little better amidst the madness that is happening in our country.

    • I’ve noticed that same dynamic internationally. I buy a lot of my cover stock from a company in the UK, my web folks are in California, I have writing buddies Down Under… when I don’t hear back from somebody fairly promptly, my first thought is no longer, “DIDJA GET MY EMAIL? HELLO?!” but rather, “Yikes, I hope they and their loves ones are OK…” For all the wrong reasons, that’s a better response on my part.

  5. My connections have shifted during Covid. I text with my work friend that I walk with.We still chat but, it’s not the same.I miss seeing her. I am not going to my weekly dog class and I miss seeing and talking with my friends and the training piece. Am working with the dogs but, again it’s not the same.

    On the positive side, I have reconnected with my neighbor and we walk a couple of times a week. This morning, we got 4 miles in before 10am. We text during the week and I pop outside to chat when she and her grandson are out and about.

    I am reading a lot and enjoyed Truly Beloved. I am grateful that we have Netflix- have watched Bridgertons, Virgin River and Queens Gambit. And Hallmark- where every 2 hours there’s a HEA!

    I think you need to find your joy. My family, dogs and friends bring me smiles and laughter. Enjoyed watching the sun rise with Rose this morning — the perfect way start to the day.

    • Wise words, Susan… find your joy, and appreciate the livin’ peedywaddles out of it. I’m so glad I’ve reached a point in live where I can do what I love and pay the bills with it. For decades, that was not the case. I’m so grateful I can work from home. I LOVE working from home. Grateful I can work alone. I LOVE doing my thing… I’m mighty lucky, from many perspectives!

  6. Audiobooks are my self soothe in the wee hours of darkness when worries sneak in and gibber at me like a Hieronymus Bosch painting sprung to life. I tell my idiot speaker to play my audiobook (Hoopla from my library & Chirp from my indies have skills so I’m not limited to overpriced Audible) & let someone soothing read me back to sleep or at least keep me company. If James Langton knew the hours he’s shared my bed… *evil smirk*

    I also share an electronic connection to a trusted friend where we can leave snarky comments for each other or share particularly notable tidbits of the world’s idiocy for a mutual snort. I’m not sure what I’d do without that pressure relief valve given I otherwise have the human contact of an anchorite nun.

    • What? James has been sneaking from my bed to yours?! Naughty James!
      I meet one friend for outdoor distanced take-out every few weeks, and just to have the in person (well sorta), “So how are you doing?” convo is an invaluable re-set.
      And don’t get me started on Audible… GRRRRR.

  7. It’s been a very difficult time for me too, professionally. As a choral conductor, I CAN’T conduct or sing in public and it looks like it won’t be until later this year until I am able to. This has not been helpful for my mental health.

    I began working with a community arts organization several years before March of 2020 and those folks have been a Lifeline to me–really, we have been Lifelines to each other. We Zoom once a month, visit and share information about what we are doing to keep doing what we do AFTER and support and cry together. I am blessed to have those folks in my life!

    My spouse and children are all doing ALMOST their usual jobs. My Hubby, a physician, recently had his second COVID-19 vaccine inoculation and he’s seeing patients of his regular sort as well as COVID-19 patients. Son #2 works in the legal department of a Healthcare organization, is working from home and is BUSIER than usual. Son #3 is playing for social distanced worship services, is NOT directing his choir, but is almost doing what he usually does while waiting to begin a Sacred Music DMA program a year later than he originally planned. Son #1 has autism and is pretty much happy being home instead of his Day Program which is making me re-think what he was doing. I am happy they are able to stay working but, unfortunately, they don’t really understand what I am going through.

    To stay sane, I am rereading my Fav Historical Romances (I recently dragged out *The Heir* and am LOVING it all over again) alternating with newer books. I’ve recently found out several of my PROFESSIONAL contacts are also HR fans and we’ve been emailing and texting and gossiping about our favorite authors (among them, YOU)and commiserating about our situations. It’s been nice to have something else in common.

    We’ll get through this, I know, but sometimes it’s time hard to believe. 🙁

    • We will get through this…. we ARE getting through this. I know it’s not the case everywhere, but in Maryland, new cases are dropping, positivity is back down in the 5 percent range, hospitalizations are dropping… if Maryland can do it, so can the rest of the country. Of course, we have a very high mask compliance ratio, and I wish somebody would figure out why. This is typical purple state, with the rural counties voting one way, and the urban areas another, but we’re wearing our danged masks.

      Wishing you a Messiah sing in…. soon.

  8. Weekly phone calls with family, and socially distanced coffee on the porch with a few friends who are also being safe in their behavior. We’ll hang out until someone has to sue the bathroom, then drive home to use our own facilities!
    Thank goodness for these few connections that have been helping to keep me sane.
    And books. Lordy, I feel I get a lot of connection with fictional characters through books. Thank you, Grace, for your writing, which can cheer up the gloomiest day.

    • That is cute–the potty break drives the schedule. Simplifies life considerably.
      I’m reading a social history of Britain during the Napoleonic wars. Twenty years of astronomical taxes, famine, death, disease, corruption… but people still wrote their chatty letters, still gossiped in the church yard, still enjoyed a pint of summer ale. Here’s good coffee, good friends, and good books!

  9. The isolation of this winter is difficult. I have never spent the holidays alone, now my mountain in New Hampshire is covered with ice. I have fallen twice, but no harm was done. Now I know I really have to stay inside. The news makes me think there is a new Civil war starting.
    I have been reading a lot. I am an antique doll dealer and I’ve written articles for Antique Doll Collector. I’m sewing costumes for dolls I want to sell when the shows start up again. I have a group of friends who meet every Wednesday on Zoom to sew together. We are from all over join, the furthest away is Rosemarie who lives in Germany. Now I’m working on a project combining Doll’s and Valentines.
    Being in isolation has made me at 73 get to know myself better. I had an abusive childhood and now 70 years later I’m trying to sort things out. I’m talking on the phone to a therapist I knew when I lived in California. Normally I just keep moving forward and sweep the past under the carpet, but I’m hoping when this is all over, I will emerge from the chrysalis like a butterfly.

    • What a beautiful analogy. I hope we can apply it on a societal level. Meanwhile, some of my crafty buddies have opened up Etsy shops…

  10. I still rely on family and friends for comfort, fellow commiseration, and figuring things out. The last year I have had to work at it a bit differently, but it still works.

    Phone calls, texts, messaging, cards (always have done that), Zoom meetings (new! so proud that I have figured it out), and talking to my husband and son with them in the house more. While I have been in isolation the last week to prepare to go see first grandbaby to be born soon, I have even called my husband on our cellphones to visit while in the same house, different rooms. It felt silly at first, but it means we have to pay attention to what we are saying more. Communicating has felt more intentional, even when folks don’t have much to say from being isolated at home. Peace be with you!

    • That’s an interesting perspective–that talking on the phone room to room has made for more intentional discussion. I tend to be a tech skeptic (euphemism font), but you’ve given me something to think about!

  11. I have found that many things are worse, but some things are better during COVID. I’ve made more of an effort to connect with people I love both locally and further afield. I’m working harder, albeit at home, and I’ve reaffirmed that reading helps me relax and wind down after a taxing day. You are my favorite author (and I read a lot). I’ve reread your books many times. You bring such reality and life to the characters that I really feel as if they are friends. Don’t be discouraged! You are providing a lifeline to so many people.

    Are you interested in having some new friends? Perhaps you could pick a few of your fans to correspond directly with. It might help to hear the actual situations of people who already feel a connection to you through your books and your blogs.

    • Natalie, some things ARE better during COVID aren’t they? For the first time in years, I’m scheduled to spend 12 straight months at home, no travel. I’m getting after big projects on my property–trees that have to come down, trees to plant–that I’d put off, and I’m saving a ton of money by avoiding the friendly skies.

      A time to make lemonade, for sure!

  12. A group of us who used to work together and had fallen away from get togethers have been really good about group chats during covid times. I do talk to my father and step-mother more often than before – in part to check in with them about their health since they are both around 80 years old and several states away. Along the same lines, my kids check in with us much more often than pre-covid (since early 50s is elderly to those in their mid 20s 😉 )

    Grace, never doubt that your books make a massive difference in the mental health of so many of your readers! They are definitely my main set of comfort reading.

    • Thanks for those kind words. I know what my keeper authors mean to me, but I recall crossing paths with Loretta Chase at a conference years ago. I went all fan girl on her, telling her how much her books sustained me in those grueling early-single-parent years… I know now why she seemed surprised. “It’s just a book.”
      But if the author is lucky and does her job well, it’s not just a book. Thanks for the reminder!

  13. Talking on the phone has definitely increased during this time! And we’ve been so grateful for video calls – especially for the kids to be able to see their grandparents regularly

    • I’ve figured out basic Zoom. If you’d told me a year ago… But to see my sisters and hear their voices has been the best emotional nutrition. Facebook can take a powder, as far as I’m concerned, but Zoom has been an unexpected comfort.

  14. I enjoy a phone call and letters through the post.I like to speak rather than text.My friends and I have covered a vast amount of different subjects and topics.Some from the past but mainly from the here and now.We end up in stitches sometimes.It seems the world is going crazy around us but we manage to find a gem that brings a smile and laughter to our faces.A way that helps us cope can’t be a bad thing can it.We do understand we are in a very dire situation and sadness,but humour shared is a tonic.A letter,written by hand to me means someone has taken the time to sit down and write their thoughts.I enjoy writing letters to friends this way,it seems more personal.I am just an old fashioned gal at heart.Keep safe,keep smiling and be nice.Life is one big lottery.All things are not equal and never will be,but we can try our very best to make things better.We are all human.

    • Odd, I was just thinking of sending my daughter a “hand” letter this morning. I want her to have my words to keep, in my handwriting. I keep a few of her Mother’s Day cards and notes on display, and I love looking at them. She can’t put my notes on the fridge if I don’t SEND ’em, right?

  15. Reading has been a great comfort to me historically, but it has become even more important to me during quarantine. The Dornings have become my treat to myself after hard days and I expect by the end of quarantine I will have reread pretty much everything of yours, Grace.

    I walk most weeks with my best friend, and I get to hang out with my work friends so I have mostly been avoiding zoom fatigue. Winters feel much longer as I age (so much ice!) and this one already feels endless, so I try to be really grateful to have a happy home life and remind myself spring is on its way, and with it more outdoor social time.

    • I’ve been holding out for the end of January. “By the end of the January, the days will be longer. I wont’ be waking up in pitch darkness. Make it through January…” Because I know historically for me, January is the Slough of Despond, and it is a looooong month. Once the light starts coming back, I can put up with pretty much anything (knock wood).

  16. Thank you for your writings. I enjoy every book of yours I have read; some (e.g. Daniel’s True Desire) I have read multiple times. Again, thank you. Your words brighten the world.

    • Norine, as it happens, I’m getting David and Letty’s story ready for re-issuing in March, and that’s the prequel to Daniel’s story. BOY, did he need and deserve a happily ever after. Yikes! I’m glad the Haddonfields came along to make sure he got one!

  17. Don’t need an Arc but just wanted to share a bit. My youngest 22 wants to try HR because Bridgerton. Lent her Duke and I. Then I told her while I enjoyed it when I read it all those years ago if I was going to recommend to a newbie, your The Heir was on the list. Your stories have been such a constant! Thank you!

    • That book… that is probably the biggest book I’ve published, lumbering across the finish line at something like 113,000 words. Maybe I didn’t want it to end?

  18. I’ve been reaching comfort zone by connecting online with friends of friends who don’t share my politics or religion. I’m trying to create some understanding in my corner of the virtual world so I can learn to like and respect people I disagree with and, perhaps, they can like and respect me. It’s a balancing act of empathy and truth.

    • What you’re doing is important–creating connections across political divides. In conflict management classes, they told us to look for common ground, for shared values. That is no easy task when facts themselves are in dispute. Keep up the good work!

  19. I agree that the guilt that I’m never doing _enough_ despite my challenges is there. It is hard when those you love do not understand one’s limitations/boundaries.

    But, my connection that keeps me sane is my best friend. Very simple answer, but she is so important to me!

    My hope for everyone is to _know_ deep down that they are doing the best that they can! And that others are doing the best that they can.

    • I like how Ram Dass put it: We’re all just walking each other home.
      Why not make the walk as loving and gracious as possible?

  20. Along with the pleasure I get from your stories, your books always make me think, reflect, and consider, which is not always “first in line” for me. Being “in the moment” is a phrase popular these days, but many periods in “the moment” haven’t been so great in 2020. I am a former horsewoman, dog breeder, and gardener, with major fibromyalgia & arthritis problems now. So, your accurate and familiar references to horses, dogs, and horsemanship, while walking through the gardens with your words, sometimes make all the difference for me. Time and time again I pull one of your books off the shelf to revisit a favorite couple. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Best wishes to you and happy 2021!

    • You are EXCEEDINGLY welcome!
      Sorry about the ailments. They are the very devil. I recall my dad saying over and over as he aged through his eighties and well into his nineties, “The life of the mind is what keeps you going…” For me, it’s the life of the imagination and the heart.

  21. This blog breaks my heart. You are the person who has pulled me through many difficult times for years. In my mind, you are perpetually creative and nothing is difficult. I suppose we create these images of those who are our heroes. You are a hero in my life and I apologize for thinking of you in super human form; for forgetting you are also human like the rest of us.

    I read dozens of authors, but only because I’m waiting for your next book. When you recommend an author, I immediately go to Amazon and start reading that author, but truly none reach me the way your books do.

    This week marked the fifth anniversary of the passing of my father. The fifth anniversary of his funeral. I find myself easily upset and overreacting to small things. Then I recognize I’m still missing him and I need to take a moment to just deal with it so I can spare everyone else my sharp tongue. I need a Grace book to fall into. To lose myself and my troubles a few hours at a time. Seven years ago my father suffered a stroke that eventually led to his death in 2016. Through the two years he lived in a dark, debilitating place, I found solace in your books. While I was managing all aspects of my parents’ financial life, dealing with my mother’s complete inability to handle her household finances without my father’s guidance, sorting through piles of mail she ignored, and constantly knowing I NEVER WANTED TO DO THIS, I had your books. I read my first Grace Burrowes book during that time and devoured everything you wrote, book after book until I’d read them all.

    I want you to know that while we’ve never met and probably never will, you have made an enormous positive contribution to my life. Keep the faith. You make a difference in the lives of so many, many people. We love you.

    • You know, they tell us in writer classes, “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.” In other words, we’re supposed to write the stuff that gets to us. We’re supposed to “go there.”
      All I can say is, thanks. Thanks to all of you, for being who you are, and for taking the time to comment here. It means everything.