In a Word

On the way to the horse barn this week, I found myself tooling along behind a cement truck. When I was a small child, I did not know the correct name for this vehicle, because the family term was, Putty-Putty-Ment-Mixer. I have no idea who coined that appellation, but my siblings all know what it means.

They similarly know that my mother, among others, used the term bombosity to refer to the backside, and she was also fond of the term ish-kabibbles to mean, “Oh, what nonsense.”

My father, when intent on sternly admonishing an errant child, began his tirades with, “Now look, chum…” and chum was accompanied by a downward poke of the index finger, extended from an otherwise closed fist. We don’t have come-to-Jesus moments in the Burrowes family, we have now-look-chum moments.

My siblings would also know who Tanya MacBride is. In our family she is legendary, also imaginary. My mom was at some academic cocktail party, widowed for the evening once again by that notorious strumpet Science (meaning my dad was off in the corner rhapsodizing to some colleague about tri-ethyl-methyl-butyl-mercaptan*), and a visiting professor asked Mom who she was. She was a pretty redhead, that’s who, but she told this guy she was Collen Burrowes, and her stage name had been Tanya MacBride.

Tanya, according to my mother, had been a prima ballerina in her heyday, and danced with all the major international companies. Swan Lake was her favorite from the classic repertoire, and I forget whether Nureyev ever partnered her. If he didn’t, his loss.

This was a complete fiction woven by my mother and a few servings of Old Blabbermouth. She never told her conversation partner that she was having him on, but the next day, in tones more bewildered than contrite, she explained to my father what she’d done. He thought her tale was hilarious. From that day forward, anybody in my family having an alcohol-inspired flight of grandiosity (or mendacity) was having a Tanya MacBride moment.

Authors are supposed to capitalize on the power of words to evoke associations and connections. The best example I can think of is Mary Balogh’s character, Wulfric, Duke of Bewscastle. He is described as  silver-eyed and elegant, and his signature word is “doubtless.” If Bewcastle opines that you will doubtless want to do such and such, he’s telling you in duke-speak: Do it, or get your affairs in order.

One of my alma maters is Penn State. If you stand at  a busy intersection in any major city and sing, “Fish Heads, fish heads, roly-poly fish heads!” loudly enough for twenty minutes, some Penn State alum of a certain age will yell back, “Eat ’em up, yum!” It’s a stupid little dark nursery-rhyme song, but it can also unite two strangers with a mere dozen words. Language, used skillfully can create bonds in seconds, and evoke memories from half a century ago.

Does your family or your workplace have unique vocabulary? Have you seen authors use signature words (or expletives) with particular skill? I’ll add three commenters to me ARC list for Lady Violet Pays a Call.

*the compound that gives skunk spray it’s distinctive odor, detectable by the human nose at the level of parts per billion, and thus used to scent natural gas so leaks are obvious.

 

 

Strike It Rich

I am not very keen on Thoroughbred racing. Just as publishing is now largely run by money-people rather than book-people, racing suffers from too much influence from the money-people, and not enough respect for the horse-people or for the horses, in my humble.

The sport is trying to improve from a humane perspective, and has come a long way in recent years, but I’m a still a skeptic. If you breed an animal for three hundred years to be fast, then a lot of not-so-keen traits are tolerated and even reinforced, provided fast individuals exhibit those traits. This is not fair to the many, many individuals who lack competitive speed. Enough said.

I did, though, happen to catch this YouTube drone video of Rich Strike winning the recent Kentucky Derby.  That colt came out of nowhere, fired up the turbo-jets, and VA-VOOM. When the favorites were all tuckered out, he was still pouring it on, and thus did an 80:1 long shot handily win the race.

It’s delightful to watch, in an edge-of-your-seat way. The horse from nowhere (well, Ohio), the last minute entry that wasn’t supposed to happen, the very worst starting position, the jockey who’d never won a Grade 1 stakes, the trainer who’d lost his barn to a fire a couple years back… On no planet was this the winning team.

And yet… win, they did, and my joy for them is enormous, and I got to thinking about long shots, generally. They are a part of American culture. Democracy was a long shot, but we’re still betting on it (albeit many of us nervously). Immigration is a long shot, but so many of us got here because our ancestors were willing to take that risk. Minorities in this country know all about long shots,

Authors depend on the long shot dynamic, on weaving stories where the happily ever after, the solution to the crime, the successful senior year, all become long shots. Readers come along for the ride, because if the long shot can win, anybody can win. Long shots give us hope, they give us the courage to take risks, they give us reassurance that even if the system is rigged, the lucky and the few can still beat it.

I’ve been the long shot. My most memorable taste of that status happened when I wrote a proposal to the state of Maryland to provide legal services to children in foster care. I had little experience with that kind of law, I had no political connections with the procuring agency, and my team was up against the incumbent’s well oiled (and well funded) machine.

I still recall the day I learned that I’d written the winning proposal. I was a broke, increasingly exhausted single parent, terrified that my law practice would never gain any traction. The news that we’d won the contract literally dropped me to my knees. I lay on the ground, feeling the warm sun on my face, watching the blue summer sky overhead, unable to think anything but, “Thank you.”

Thank you, that I can afford to raise my daughter, make my house payments, and buy groceries, but also thank you, universe, for proof that my hope for a meaningful and manageable life has not been in vain. Thank you for I-can-breathe-now. Thank you for a moment of unalloyed joy, because we need those.

So, congratulations, to Rich Strike, and his team, and to everybody who bets on the long shots that come through.

Have you ever had a long shot moment? Been in a situation where you beat the odds or watched somebody else pull that off? I’m sending out the ARC files for Miss Desirable this week. If you want one and I don’t send one to you, please email me at [email protected] (And for my fellow print readers, the Amazon print version just went live.)

Food for Thought

Facebook’s spiffy artificial intelligence algorithms are sold to authors as the way to market books. Through the magic of surgical audience targeting, only those people panting for an HEA/duke book/holiday novella/dystopian shifter erotic Amish dinosaur menage romance will see the ad, and golly Ned, they are going click on that thing like  frosting on a cupcake.

I question the precision of that targeting. Facebook shows me–for the most part–two  kinds of ads.

The first category of ad, which I see most frequently, is for fat lady underwear (or old lady underwear, designed by a 70-year-old grandma to hold up what needs holding up!). The message is blatant: You are saggy, fat, bulgy and not OK the way you are, but if you buy this magic pair of skivvies you will be able to hide your flaws.

Don’t get me started on the whole hopeless, lying psychology of consumerism.

The second category of ad, which makes me question whether higher primates had any hand in the design of the FB algorithm, is for diet-oriented meal delivery services. If there is one service I hope to never, ever, ever, ever avail myself of, it’s a diet meal delivery service.

I use a browser extension called Facebook Container and an ad tracker/blocker called Ghostery. In theory, FB doesn’t know all that much about what I get up to on the internet. I suspect these ads are the default ads for my age, gender, and stage, but still…

For many people, meal delivery services are life savers. Part of the problem for me is that people in my immediate family have eating disorders. Somebody (usually female) dies of an eating disorder in this country every 52 minutes, and as mental health diagnoses go, only an opioid addiction carries a greater risk of death. Nearly one in ten of us will suffer an eating disorder at some point in our lives, and those stupid ads–whether they are flashing chubby ta-tas in lavender lace or skinny people rhapsodizing about egg-free mushroom quinoa watercress quiche–are triggering as heck.

There’s another reason I get so bent out of shape about the meal delivery ads FB bombards me with. When I’m having a particularly hard-starting morning, I will make a cup of the International black breakfast tea my sister picked up for me in Williamsburg. I avoid caffeine generally, so this is a last resort, and it also calls to mind my sister’s thoughtfulness. That John Kelly fudge from my niece is another way to convey love.

Food means more to me than shoving some calories in my face so I won’t be hungry. It means connections, history, culture, pleasure, and in some ways as is intimate and personal as a favorite nightie. I don’t make a big deal out of meals and cooking, but I’m still aware of what I eat, and what a privilege it is to eat what I want, when I want it.

I want FB to stop hijacking what should be a social experience to paw with particular crudeness at my privacy. I know–too late for that Grace–but it helps me to understand why I am so howlingly offended by the algorithm’s misfire in my case.

Are there ads that drive you nuts? Ads you actually enjoy seeing? (Why doesn’t Facebook show me adds for horses and garden flowers?) No give away this week, but I will donate some funds to my state food bank. (Don’t tell Facebook.)

 

 

 

 

When Only an HEA Will Do

I’ve been in the same house for more than thirty years, and one of few things I’ve done by way of major maintenance is have the two-story “sleeping” porch replaced. I must have hired the Daryl Brothers for that job, because within a year, my dog (weighed 65lbs wringing wet) had trashed the railings, nails were popping, and unsightliness was re-establishing itself at a tidy gallop.

Much bad language ensued on my part, and I did not attempt in ensuing years to remedy the situation because look how that turned out last time. Or something.

In any event, the porch deteriorated to the point that once again, I could no longer stand it. Then we had a pandemic, and I wasn’t about to let just anybody on the premises. Welp, the pandemic is subsiding, lumber prices are not, and George who recently painted the house (note to self: no more having the house painted) knew this other guy, JD, and JD is a porch whisperer.

“It is time, Simba,” says me, because I will never again get the legit phone number of a porch whisperer. I turned JD loose on the rebuilding, with George singing back up. You KNOW what happens next. Every time George tapped on the door and said, “Miss Grace, we wanna show you somthin’,” I got another lesson on how not to build a porch. The Daryl Brothers and their predecessors hadn’t used the right nails or staples, the main support beam was rotten, the house was not square, on and on and on.

The price of the job has nearly doubled, and while it will be a beautiful porch (eventually), it’s costing me dearly, all so the skunks under the porch can stay out of the wet.

I had just finished yet another one of these gotta-show-you-something tutorials with the porch whisperer when I received a notification from my bank that my balance was low. “That doesn’t make any sense…” says me.

Except it does make sense, if somebody has hacked my debit card, and drained my account to the penny. Fraud Protection promised to investigate all forty-leven-thousand charges for $105.53 from the Kroger in Richmond where I have never set foot…but first, Bank of America “had” to let all those charges go through, meaning the checks I wrote to the porch whisperer, lumber yard, and-and-and bounced, and…

And then the scale told me something I had suspected, which I can blame on a meds switch, but still, it’s not my meds standing on the scale. It’s darling little me.

And then the washing machine died.

In the grand scheme of things, these are not big problems. They are nuisance problems and I have the resources to solve them. But I was daunted by the day, and tired of looking on bright sides and being grateful and detaching and all that other grown up stuff.

I bought myself some flowers to plant. I downloaded a few more Happily Ever Afters, I had a bite of some really good John Kelly chocolate fudge sent to me by my niece (I could taste the love), and fixed myself a lovely hot cuppa tea. That did not make everything come right, but I was comforted and fortified, and ready to take on the world again come morning.

How do you indulge after a bad day (or during one)? I’ll add three names to my ARC list for Miss Desirable.

 

Fast Forward

I’m noshing my way through Johann Hari’s new release, Stolen Focus. This is a work of non-fiction that examines the attention economy, and what has happened to our ability to focus our minds in the directions of our choosing. Hari left mainstream journalism in disgrace more than ten years ago (he trolled competitors’ Wiki biographies), and appears to have learned his lesson. His books are punctiliously documented, well thought-out, and wonderfully readable.

One of the studies he cites early in the discussion is an investigation into the question: Is it just me, or are humans generally having a harder time paying attention to anything for meaningful periods of time?

Apparently, it’s not just me. (Is that good news or bad news?)

Smart folks took a look through the way-back machine to Google searches over the past twenty years, Twitter hashtags, Facebook topics and so forth. They were looking at how long a topic remained of interest. In just twenty years, the lifespan of a “trend” has shortened considerably. If you go back further, through newspapers, magazines, or books, to about 1800, the acceleration is apparent even 100 years ago.

The factor most closely related to how long we focus on a topic is… how many other stories are coming at us at the same time. The more newspapers on offer, the more books published, the more posts on Facebook, the less we drill down into any of them. Our little hunter-gatherer brains have only so much bandwidth, and we can cast a wide attentional net or a deep one, but not both.

There’s much more to the discussion (about which you will probably hear in subsequent blog posts), but I was inspired to think about what content I choose to consume. I’m mighty fussy about what I feed my mind, permitting myself one excursion onto Facebook daily, and then mostly for author purposes. I do subscribe to a few newsletters.

Dense Discovery is a short take on graphic design and architecture in an age of climate change and big tech. I don’t know anything about that stuff, and I learn a lot from the linked material.

Nick Kolenda’s newsletter focuses on the intersection of psychology and marketing. The myriad ways Wall Street manipulates us fascinate (and horrify) me.

Austin Kleon calls himself “a writer who draws,” but he also learns voraciously about creativity in many media and is generous with recommendations.

Matt Clifford’s Thoughts in Between focuses on tech, public policy, and economics (about which I also know nothing), and also includes random links to interesting research. (Male hunter gatherers socialize more than their female counterparts, and work less, but both groups do nothing way more than modern cultures, and men and women in hunter gatherer cultures tend to do equal amounts of nothing.)

I notice that no women number among my newsletter sources, and I’d like to change that. In the great sea of material clamoring for our attention do you have any go-to sources for information? I’m not talking about news media (we could go on and on about that I’m sure), but rather for mental stimulation and education.

To two commenters, I will send signed print copies of Never a Duke. (C’mon, Tuesday!)

 

 

Ringing the Changes

“Change one thing at a time.”

This is an eternal verity with my current health care provider. I trust her because a) she listens, and b) she has been through some health care ordeals herself–like losing 100 pounds and keeping it off, for starts. So when I rolled through her door a few years ago, singing the battle cry of the older woman–“I am tired of being tired (and fat)!”–her preferred approach was frustrating.

I wanted to throw everything at the problem at once–supplements, lifestyle changes, meditation, acupuncture, bring it all (except for a gym membership, giving up all chocolate, or going to pep rallies, and I’m skeptical of a lot of meds). I had just quit the lawyer job, and I was ready to Get Better.

Except that a blitz rarely leads to sustained change, which is why the “rehab racket” does such disgustingly reliable repeat business. In conflict resolution classes, we’re told to “make haste slowly.” Focus long and hard on developing an inclusive, respectful process for neutrally defining the issue. Go to great lengths in the information-gathering phase to uncover every relevant fact bearing on the situation. Take a good, long while to consider potential solutions, and only when all that hard, tedious, collaborative work is done do you turn your focus to choosing a solution.

The pay-off to the tortoise approach is that problems a) tend to stay solved, and b) can be the basis for strengthening relationships, so that even bigger problems can be solved. Mediation has a good reputation in domestic law arenas not because the agreements devised are brilliant and innovative (some of them may be), but because they are arrived at collaboratively, in a respectful, inclusive process, that allows the participants time to ponder, fact-find, and re-adjust their thinking.

If we have a meaningful hand in how a problem is solved, the solution is more likely to work. The “change one thing” approach to improving health (or environment, finances, job stress…) puts the choice of where to start in my hands. That means I have to think about the whole situation: What changes are possible? Which one am I most likely to stick with? What shift am I most interested in bringing about? How long do I run the experiment before deciding whether it’s a success or a failure?

“Change one thing at a time,” works for the deep-seated part of me that loves being the boss of me. To tackle anxiety, I started with, “Social media only between the hours of 2 pm and 9 pm.” That helped. To address post-menopausal muscle loss, I put a set of hand weights beside the microwave. That helped. To push back against poor sleep, I set the alarm at 7 am five days a week. That helped.To start on the whole death-cleaning thing, I hired the junk haulers to empty out the summer kitchen. That helped.

Change one thing at a time isn’t a good fit for every situation or person, but I’m finding value in it… though it took me a while.

Have you tackled any micro-changes lately? Has a blitz stood you in good stead? Just how do you move the needle closer to where you want it to be? To three commenters, I’ll send ARCs of Miss Desirable, who has gone off to the final proofreader!

Once Upon a Time…

For much of my life, I have been a book-a-day reader. Particularly in adolescence and early adulthood, when sleep was an afterthought, and life an unending challenge. My genre of choice then was exclusively romance–all through my teens and twenties, into the single-parenting years, and certainly as I handled case after case of fractured families and heartsore children in foster care court.

I wanted my genre fiction to reassure me: Love will give us the courage and determination to conquer all, to heal all, to hold out for the joy and pleasure that are the brass rings of earthly existence. I still believe that. Love, on some level, is the answer to most questions. If we save our planet, it won’t be because that’s fun, profitable, or easy. We’ll do it because we love life, our earthly home, and one another.

I still read a ton of romance, but somewhere along the way, I stumbled across historical mysteries, and after gobbling down enough of them, I’ve started to write those stories too. A well written mystery tells us that wrongdoers, no matter how clever or powerful, can always be held accountable. Miss Marple with her knitting bag, keen mind, and determination, is the equal to every criminal mastermind she meets. The over-the-hill detective, the earl’s illegitimate and marginalized son, the outspoken Victorian widow… they can all hold corrupt power accountable, and see justice done. The mystery tells us that truth and justice matter, and are within our reach.

I like that message and see it as complementary to the theme romance puts forth: Love conquers all. Maybe Miss Marple loves her little community in St. Mary Meade, maybe she loves a just world, but her motivation is not that far from the protagonist of a romance who refuses to compromise her honor for the easy solutions. The two genres are great reading companions.

In recent years, I have also become a fan of biographies. The good ones convey not only historical context, but also sketch a character contending with that context. I suspect I’m drawn to biographies because they tell me that joyous, meaningful life will never look the same up close as it does from a distance. A big impact can result from a small decision, and our worst laid plans sometimes come right despite ourselves.

I like that message too, I like the hope in it, and the respect and curiosity inherent in the decision to chronicle any life. Mostly, I am just so glad for the sustenance and comfort books–both the reading of them and the writing of them–have provided me throughout my life.

I’ve also read a few thrillers, and I like their theme too: One person can save the world, despite all the odds, personal and otherwise, stacked against her. I like Young Adult for its insistence that truth and real community are often found at the margins and through self-acceptance, among other messages.

What do you like to read? Why do you read it? Are there genres you’ve put aside or recently picked up? Genres you won’t touch with a ten foot pole?

To three commenters, I’ll send an ARC of Miss Desirable, which I hope to have on sale in the web store by mid-May.

PS: The Duke’s Disaster is now available in the web store, with a new Lonely Lords-style cover. Welcome home, Noah and Thea!

Revisiting Resilience

I have been tapped to give a talk to some writin’ buddies on the topic of resilience. The general theme suggested was persistence, but I can get more fired up about resilience because I think it’s over-sold and over-promised.

First, resilience as a quality is positive. It’s stubbornness with a halo, and stubbornness is not always a good thing. The purslane that so resiliently regrows in my flowerbeds after I rip up as much as I can, would be better advised to spend that resilience sending some shoots out along the roadside, where I would leave it alone. Give up and move on, in other words, and to blazes with unthinking resilience.

Second, resilience inherently places on the individual (or church, business, school…) responsibility for rebounding from what might well be a societally approved harm. After Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans was supposed to be resilient (and it was). All the resilience in the world won’t stop another major flood if the politicians in charge don’t build a better levee system. There’s a line between, “I didn’t get into my A-school so I will keep applying elsewhere,” and, “The game is rigged against me, and I alone cannot fix that.” Relentless cheerleading for resilience obscures that line.

Keep trying! Never give up! A winner is a loser who didn’t quit! Grit is the answer!

Meh. Third, if we value resilience, we are inherently valuing the status quo ante, the status to which we are trying to return, which–possibly for good reasons–blew up in our faces.  The employer exhorting us to “get back to the office to revitalize our downtown…” is forgetting that downtown in many cases was polluted, congested, expensive, ugly, and unsafe. Moreover, for many women the commute to downtown was full of sexual harassment or worse. Downtown didn’t work so very well in many cases, and by insisting we rebound to that norm, we’re missing a splendid opportunity to do better.

So I turn a jaundiced eye on the blanket positivity resilience is supposed to conjure. I’m much more likely to encourage people to re-evaluate their expectations, to hand back to society at large responsibility for systemic problems, to think of ways to swerve the whole resilience mindset, and envision a new normal that simply works for now. I’m aware that my attitude might mean my life is smaller and less impressive than it could be–but also less frustrating and exhausting.

If, after a period of stress and trouble, I have the resources to reach for more distant stars, lectures on resilience aren’t likely to inspire me to capture them. But that’s just me.

Where does the concept of resilience leave you? (And do you have any advice for burned out writers who all just want to go a conference and hang out in person with each other?) No give away this week. I’m instead donating to the World Food Program.

 

Wiser for the Win

I was toodling about on Santa today, and bethought myself: You cannot ride from toughness and strength anymore, Grace Ann. You have to ride from lightness and quiet. (I listened to my blog buddies and did not hang up my spurs.)

What does that mean to ride from lightness? It means that if you are tough and strong and can go forever, you can in some moments “arm wrestle” the horse into doing what you want. You might use a firm hand on the bit, repetition, or a stout leg aid to figuratively shout at the horse when himself is ignoring your cues. Of course, that can inspire many horses to shout right back.

Most equines, though, are pretty willing to do as you ask, if you ask so they can hear the question. Present one question at a time, give the beast a moment to consider how to answer. If he guesses wrong, ask again–nicely–and so on. Don’t shout. Getting into a power struggle with a horse is never a good idea, but for me, now, that has ceased to be even a momentary option.

The challenge has become to see how quietly and precisely I can ask–for a canter depart, for change of direction, for a halt–and get the desired result in an organized, balanced fashion. We’re going for subtlety here, folks, and the irony is, this is how I should have been riding all along. I tried to–honest, I did–but when you know the horse will respond to figurative bellowing, finding the patience and determination to whisper is challenging.

This encounter with the horse led me to consider all the skills I’ve acquired later in life that would have stood me in good stead earlier. I’m much better about saying no to commitments that have the potential to snowball, and no to people who show a tendency to become difficult. I’m no longer as prone to doing my F. Lee Bailey impersonation, turning every discussion into a Supreme Court closing argument. The legal-beagle nerve endings still fire, but I don’t get as wound up for the sake of hearing my own foghorn.

I am more likely to consider strategic questions: Who benefits in the short term, and who benefits in the long term? Is this important or just urgent? Is it my urgency or somebody else’s? How does privilege play into this situation? Why am I talking? (Thanks to Austin Kleon for that last one… acronym WAIT).

We lose a little as we age. I cannot recall where I put my riding helmet half the time, and my ability to gain and maintain physical strength is a fond memory. But what I have instead is substantial in a different way, and at least as useful.

How has your store of wisdom and skills changed over time? Any new skills edging their way into the picture? Any new approaches to longstanding challenges that might have stood you in good stead earlier in life?

To three commenters, I will send e-ARC’s of Miss Desirable, or–if I get my print ARCs–advanced copies of Never a Duke, because April is coming!

 

Hope Blooms

For the past few years, I have felt like the sorcerer’s apprentice managing my anxiety. I learned in the run-up to the 2016 election to never, ever go on social media at the beginning or the end of the day. I learned where to get my news (and the many places where not to get it). I learned to expect that a lot of otherwise decent and reasonable people will check their rationality at the door when it comes to some issues.

During the pandemic, I learned how to stay virtually connected to friends and loved ones, and how to put a higher degree of isolation to productive use. I learned not to expect the grocery store to have everything on my list, and I learned to appreciate little restaurants with outdoor seating.

If life isn’t handing us the lemons of divisive politics, privacy-pillaging social media, or two Zoom meetings a day, then we’re dealing with variants, climate disasters, Big Oil baloney, or–why, oh why now? Why ever?–war.

I am not powerless. I know this. I give to certain charities, I limit how much doom I allow into my life. I start most days writing tales about love prevailing despite the odds, because I know our hope as a species lies in that direction. I just feel powerless sometimes. I feel powerless rather too much of the time, lately.

When my resolve to be kind and tell the truth wavers, when I just want to collapse into a quivering mass of gelatinous protoplasm (as my dad used to day), I can sometimes light a candle in the darkness by asking myself, “What is the smallest step you can take, in the right-est direction, at this moment?”

Sometimes that step is ridiculously unambitious: I can assert a little more positive control over my environment by putting a bouquet of yard-daffodils on the counter. Or scrubbing the bathroom sink. Folding clothes (echoes of last week’s post, Grace Ann?). I can go to Bookbub and leave a complimentary recommendation on a book I just finished because I am always finishing a book. I can do fifteen minutes on the tread desk (three games of cribbage). I can read from the stack of articles, TED talks, and YouTube videos I’ve bookmarked.

I can send an email to a friend, just checking in. Text my daughter that I’m thinking of her. I can plant some irises or lilies of the valley that I hope will be blooming every spring long after I’m gone. I can read history, and reassure myself that as a species, we have endured much and prevailed over the unthinkable, time and again.

So that’s my pep-talk to myself, when I’m losing my grip on hope: What’s the smallest step I can take in the right-est direction, at this moment? Do that, Grace Ann.

What is giving you hope these days, or keeping you from despair if hope is too much to ask? To three commenters, I’ll send an ARC of Miss Desirable.