September Song

I was coming home from my big day out–a sortie to the horse barn, followed by a grocery run, a bank stop, and a swing through the emissions inspection station, when I got stuck behind a school bus. I was on the windy mountain road that runs past my house, a glorified logging trail flanked on either side with big trees, and only an occasional homestead.

I had the thought that the leaves would soon be gone, and that I had best wallow in the greenery while I may. September sunlight is among my favorite, all golden and mellow, and as I tooled along enjoying the sense of autumn just around the corner, the school bus creaked to a stop.

Two kids got out, and in the fenced front yard, a golden retriever started barking and wagging his tail. Grandma hopped off the porch and the little girl ran right up to her and hugged her.

I had groceries in the back seat, and my house is a good forty-five minutes from the store. My frozen goods were thawing, the school bus makes bad time over the back roads, and I was tired from what, for me, is an ambitious day–to say nothing of the joys of the annual trek to the emissions station.

But that moment–the kids, the dog (a golden, of course), granny, the spontaneous hug, beautiful fall weather–was so powerfully sweet, that my groceries and fatigue, and the frustrations of why won’t a state employee wear a mask (why wont’ so many people in public places wear masks?) all fell away. The joy found me. The delight in a small scene of everyday love and wonder hit home and sank in.

I’m pretty sure I did not notice the beautiful sunlight last fall. I did not notice the silence resulting from a lack of school buses creaking along my windy back road this past year. I hid from the anxiety, but I also hid from many joys, and from much beauty and goodness. I am profoundly grateful for that moment behind the school bus, for that little girl running up to granny with her arms held wide and granny enfolding her in that special hug only grandparents can bestow.

I am profoundly grateful for all the folks who are doggedly masking up, all the folks who in the midst of this protracted stress and upheaval have sent me a little note–love the books, please keep writing. It helps. Thanks, from the bottom of my soul, to each of you who has read those books. It hasn’t just helped that my readers are still picking up the happily ever afters, it has saved my sanity.

As we put the long, hot summer behind us (or the long, cold winter for the southern contingent), I wish each of you a return of moments of love and wonder. If you had the fortitude to never lose sight of those moments, then I wish you more of them, and more ways to share those moments.

Tuesday marks the retail release of Miss Delightful, book two in the Mischief in Mayfair series, and that means I can give away signed copies to three commenters. Have any golden moments graced your life lately, or in the past months? Small, luminous times when the joy and wonder found you  and sank in?

 

Just Checking In

I have a writin’ buddy living in Louisiana, and when the deep freeze hit, she ended up without power for TWO WEEKS in a part of the world that is a stranger to insulation. When I saw Ida bearing down, I shot off  a quick email, “Writin’ buddy, CHECK IN SAFE as soon as you can!” (She did, she’s fine.)

Another writing buddy living in the mountains of Virginia also ended up without power for a couple weeks one recent winter, and big storms would see me pinging her too. (She’s back from the wilderness now, safely biding where storms mean stocking up that e-reader and waiting for the plows to come through.)

My nephew has been living in Lake Tahoe for the past few years, a very special place that’s gone through some very special wild fire hell. Same thing, “Nephoo, CHECK IN SAFE!” Though he beat me to it, and he’s fine… If you can call heartsore and exhausted fine.

I’m fine too, but I’m also noticing a pattern. First, my family needs better disaster preparedness, in the sense that all we have is a text thread among my siblings. How to get in touch with adult nieces and nephews, their spouses, my sibling’s spouses… pretty patchwork. My mother’s old, falling apart address book used to be the bible for points of contact. Mom has been gone for four years and we have not found a means of replacing that central node of connectivity.

Second, why “check in” mostly when my loved ones face a disaster? My daughter and I are pretty good about keeping a casual line of communication open, and my sisters and I have gotten better at Zooming, but there are a zillion authors I could email with a quick, “Hope the words are treating you well. Been thinking of you…” Or, I could Zoom with them for the heck of it…

If I’m only going to send up a flare when hurricanes and wildfires inspire me to appreciate my friends and family, it’s no wonder my middle-distance relationships tend to languish. I think some of this tendency is because the wildfires and hurricanes are getting so much worse, and some of it is social media sucking away our impulse to initiate communication with people we know casually.

Windham Family Duet by Grace BurrowesBut some of it is just me, being oblivious, because it’s Xavier’s Fournier’s turn to fall in love, and I will walk into walls and lose my glasses until I get him figured out. That is no excuse, though, for my lax attention to friends and family. (Though if anybody knows what’s going ON with that guy, please do let me know… I’m thinking of titling his book, Monsieur Disaster.)

How are you managing lately with the keeping-in-touch challenge? Does your family have a central address book? Are there friends you only hear from during hurricane/snowstorm/wildfire season?

This week, I’m sending some love to Baldwin and Co. a New Orleans bookstore and coffee shop, and to Tubby and Coos, another New Orleans independently owned bookstore. If there’s a charity you are particularly attached too, feel free to leave the link with your comment.

(And PS–finally got the last of the previously published  Windham novellas back into circulation. That only took me a year…)

 

Pandemic Punctuation

By now, we’ve all seen the grammar parable wherein a college English class is asked to punctuate the following: a woman without her man is nothing. The options vary, but men tend to come up with this result: A woman with her man is nothing. While women come up with: A woman–without her, man is nothing.

Punctuation is intricately tied up with meaning. I was reminded of this when last I Zoomed with my two sisters, one of whom is a few months away from retiring. Darling Sister has worked at the same medical institution for the past fourteen years, and she is absolutely ready to pass the baton to others. I asked how she planned to celebrate, and she… didn’t. Her big celebration would be to get up, not get in the car, and not drive to the office. Wheee!

Darling Other Sister and I both insisted there be more to remark the occasion than that. When I left the law office, there was no lunch with the bar association buddies, no farewell speech from the bench. I just passed over my files after 25 years and that was that.

BUT I did go to New Zealand shortly thereafter and I came home by way of Australia. The wonderful thing about crossing the equator is that not only did I move through a lot of time zones, but I also changed seasons. I went from summer to winter in a day. I changed cultures, I changed accents. I attended back-to-back romance writers’ conferences, put hugs with faces, made new connections, and talked book-shop on and off for three weeks. I got a surprising amount of writing done, and by the time I came home…

Law office? What law office? Oh, that. Well, I did the law office thing then. NOW I’m down to one full-time job–writing–and life is much lovelier. Traveling, attending annual conferences, making new associations, shifting my focus to my writer job, changing seasons and scenery, ALL helped me punctuate the inflection point between a not so pleasant professional then, and a better, more enjoyable professional now.

And this stupid pandemic has stolen so many of our means of punctuating our lives. Family reunions, annual conferences, vacations as opposed to stay-cations, retirement dinners, graduations–these are not simply rituals, they are a means of boxing up and making sense of our days and years. Of lightening the load of “now” by commending some parts of our experience to “then.”

When I consider how long it has been since I’ve attended a writers’ get-together of any kind, it’s no wonder I’m feeling some days that life has become a treadmill. No wonder some families are simply desperate to put school children on the bus. I may not agree with them in that particular, but I am very sympathetic to the need to punctuate life so now can progress into then, and someday soon can become now.

What major punctuation mark have you missed or been able to reinstate? To one commenter, I will send a $50 Amazon gift card, because until we can schedule those vacations and reunions and moves, we still have books!

And PS–In case you missed it, Miss Delightful is on sale on the web store and in print!

 

 

Blessed Are the Bored

I’ve come through the pandemic (not that we are through it) feeling a lack of creative momentum relative to what I enjoyed five years ago. I’m having great fun with the Mischief in Mayfair series, and the side  project is pair of novellas I’ll publish with Erica Ridley next spring–novellas are always a frolic–but the queue behind those two projects is not full of characters clamoring for their HEAs.

I have some ideas, though in the past few months story premises have  been slower to emerge, and my response to them has been less enthusiastic. Then I came across this article, about our collective loss of creativity and its fairly obvious causes. (Nod to Austin Kleon’s newsletter, and he IS creative, and the quotes are from his blog.) We are overscheduled and over-screen-timed, such that our minds have no time to breathe, wander, or explore how to connect distant dots. The lack of unstructured time has been getting worse for decades, and technology has accelerated the trend.

My Rogues to Riches series started one day when I was staring off into space, thinking about the glut of “duke books.” (Mind you, I love me a good duke book.) I asked myself: What is the farthest, most distant, different man from a duke? Being a lawyer, the answer that came to me was: A convicted murderer awaiting execution. No power, no hope, his privileges all down the jakes if any there ever were.

So how, I wondered, can I connect those two seemly distant dots? And off I went…

But questions like that can’t occur to me if I’m ALWAYS playing Solitaire, Cribbage, Hearts, Spider, or jigsaw puzzles, all of which I do on my computer much more now than I did eighteen months ago. They can’t occur to me if I’m walking on the tread desk instead of in new surrounds. They can’t occur to me if I’m taking fewer showers because I never leave the house (sorry for the TMI,  but showers are magic for creativity). They can’t occur to me if I’m never in conversation with people who think differently from me.

And the pandemic has checked every one of those boxes in thick, stinky black magic marker. Oh. Oh, really.

I did not get into this low-creative RPMs situation over night, and I probably won’t pull out of it just because I went for a three-mile walk today (saw a deer!), but I can work at reversing the direction of my inertia, and hope some interesting premises sneak up on me in the shower soon (preferably involving lonely dukes or fellows of that ilk).

Has your relationship to screen time changed as a result of the pandemic? Are there ways the road back to normal isn’t following quite the path you’d envisioned? I will add three commenters to my ARC list for A Rogue in Winter!

Sum-sum-summertine!

Welp, I went on hiatus and that was fun, but now I’m back on the blog. Wheee!

I had a few insights while the blog was dark, one of which was an answer to why I’m so stiff and achy in the summertime. In summer, I still get my 10k steps five days a week. I still ride my pony a couple times a week, but friends, for the past eight weeks, I have not been pulling weeds, taking on the house projects, or walking outside nearly as much as I do when the weather is more temperate. It’s just too hot for too much of the day.

Heat does not create a higher activity level in this little molecule. I’m clearly a scientific  marvel. Heat (or humidity) inclines me to keep it low and slow… Part of that is because I try not to use AC. If it’s a truly hot, muggy night, I will crank up the window unit in my bedroom (think successive days 90F+), but other than that… I’m trying to reduce my carbon footprint, except–DUH–my property is powered exclusively by wind and solar energy. Might be time to rethink my sweltering house.

And this reduction in activity level has cascaded to create a more wobbly routine. I have bounced around my riding times to accommodate the oppressive weather. I have bounced around my writing times too, because some days, if I don’t get my steps in by 10 am, it’s not happening, and first thing in the day is my best writing time. The heat-induced jostling of routine has also resulted in a general sense of scatteredness, and that’s before we talk about the never-ending pandemic. Simple things like “I always take my vitamins between my second and third cuppa tea…” have gone widdershins, because my little sequence of habits has not held up to the hot weather.

I was not a complete spud, though. I gobbled up the first three titles in Jennifer Ashley’s Gladiator mystery series. Ancient Rome was a fascinating place, politically, socially, and technologically, and any story Jennifer Ashley/Ashley Gardner writes will be well told. I found some cool titles to pre-order, like Charles Foster’s Being a Human. I noshed my way through Kristine Hughes’ Waterloo Witnesses, which is an amazing book. I am almost done drafting my third Mischief in Mayfair story, Miss Dignified, and I’m making hay with the production effort on my Lady Violet mysteries.

ARC files for Miss Delightful go out this week. Tell me what you’ve been up to this summer and how you’re doing. I’ll add the first ten commenters to the ARC list who aren’t already on there. (And yes, I am looking forward to fall. I ALWAYS look forward to fall.)

 

Where in the World Is Grace Burrowes?

If you watch this space regularly, you know I usually publish a weekly post on Saturday evening/ Sunday morning. For July and the first week or two in August, I’ve put the blog on summer hiatus. I will spend those weeks getting the third Mischief in Mayfair title complete in draft, re-publishing some backlist novellas–more backlist novellas (who writes all these novellas…?), and getting Worth: Lord of Reckoning ready for audio production. (Worth says he’s ready for anything, and Jacaranda is rolling her eyes.)

I’m also into the production phase of my Lady Violet project, a series of a six Regency mysteries with a connecting romantic thread. I hope to publish the whole shebang first in the web store by the end of the year, then in the retail outlets. Wheee!

Until August, please stay cool and take good care of yourself.
Happy reading!
Grace Burrowes

Summertime!!!

The wild raspberries are ripe, the deer passing through my yard sport lovely red coats, and the lightning bugs are out. It’s summertime! I’m busy drafting the sixth book in my Lady Violet Mysteries series (look for publication of the whole series by the end of the year). I’m also percolating the third Mischief in Mayfair tale, revising Never a Duke (waves to the Wentworths), and hatching up a pair of novellas to published with author Erica Ridley next spring (something about bachelors at the beach?).

Busy, busy, busy, but also happy to be busy. Other matters on the agenda in upcoming weeks: Some socializing with friends I haven’t seen since Before. Progress with the never ending battle to Get this House Organized, and the start of an audio project that should see the more recent True Gents available in that format over the course of the next year (starting with Worth: Lord of Reckoning).

I also want to use the next few weeks to find some new places to go for my walks. Places I have not discovered in thirty years of living hereabouts. I want to ponder a new series, or a series that builds on a family I’ve already introduced. Hamish MacHugh’s siblings, perhaps? The enormous family that Lady Jenny Windham married into… I’m not sure, but I need to welcome the question into my imagination and see what germinates.

Meanwhile, I’m having great fun binging Tasha Alexander’s Lady Emily Mystery series.

All of which is to say… See you in early August. I’m putting the blog on summer hiatus until then, and will send out a newsletter when I’m back on the job. Miss Delightful, book two in the Mischief in Mayfair series,  is slated to go on sale in the web store August 24, and I must assemble my trusty team of ARC readers in anticipation of that date.

So what are your summer plans? Staycation? Connect with family? 1-800-Junk-Be-Gone? Maybe some reading??? What mischief will you get up to this summer? Do tell! This week’s donation goes to Heifer International, one of my fave charities because I can specify vegetarian projects, and projects that benefit women.

 

Meet Me in the Middle

I’ve heard from some people that being forced to stay home, and to work from home, actually resulted in a kind of relief. The casual socializing–lunch with co-workers,  neighborhood pot lucks, and other busyness that bumps us up against other people we don’t know all that well–just stopped.

For me, the traveling stopped. The writers conferences and workshops stopped. Visits to family members stopped. Oh, the peace and quiet! The free time! The money saved! The simplicity!

And yet, there are subtle downsides to a life circumscribed by a small domestic pod on the one hand, and fleeting, arms-length interactions with strangers on the other. Casual relationships are where we learn about most potential new jobs, for example. (Sorry, LinkedIn)  Casual relationships more likely to turn into meaningful friendships than chance encounters with strangers are (sorry, dating and friendship apps), and casual acquaintances are more likely to introduce us to people who become our good friends than are the folks our besties know. We’re also more likely to adopt a new idea when we pick it up from a casual acquaintance than if family and friends present it to us.

Having a wide circle of casual acquaintances–sometimes referred by the obnoxious term “social capital”–is a hallmark of successful innovators. Why? Because by interacting with all kinds of different people in various environments, the innovator gains the benefit of many perspectives at variance with her own. From sparking creative ideas to knowing somebody who knows somebody who can suggest great gluten free cakes recipes, the person with the wider circle of acquaintances is likely to be a more well rounded and creative thinker, and to have more resources to throw at any problem.

On an intuitive level, the benefits of casual socializing make sense to me. We know the social media silo has been toxic to civil discourse (for a lot of reasons), and I know that a change of scene does wonders for my imagination, but I hadn’t figured in the societal impact of mass-hermiting. I had not put my finger on the fact that it’s middle-distance relationships that took the biggest hit, and how that impoverishes us.

So I’m peering around at my life, and looking for a small conference I might attend if we continue to make progress toward a post-pandemic society. I’m wondering if maybe I shouldn’t volunteer at a few horse shows (I used to manage them), or heck, I dunno, join a book club? I don’t want to clutter up my idyllic life with noise, but I also don’t want to get narrow-minded and ossified, because that’s the path of least resistance.

Where are you on the continuum of middle-distance acquaintances? Done with them? Awash in too many? Or–as I am–looking for a small step in a friendly but not too burdensome direction? What step might that be?

This week’s donation will go to my local county library. It’s summer, and many a child (and parent) is relying on the county library to make the days more enjoyable.

 

 

Calendar Girl

One of the side effects of the pandemic was that I got de-calendared. The days were all the same, and my objective became, “Do three things every day.” The three things were usually writing new pages, doing 10,000 steps on the tread desk (five days a week), and… something else. If it was go-to-the-barn day, that was my third thing. I might have tackled a little housework, or maybe I wrote new pages AND read over three chapters of copy edits. Three things…

And that, with a few routine chores, an occasional Zoom, and a lot of reading, often made for a satisfying and productive, if not exactly busy, day.

I also got de-watched. Didn’t matter at what hour I got up, when I went to bed, when I finished my pages for the day, when I got on that tread desk. Didn’t matter, because tomorrow was just another day.

A minimally-structured approach to time is a good fit with my intrinsically motivated style. I have always liked being the boss of me, and not being the boss of anybody else. I don’t make lists, I don’t have schedules, I just kinda do the next thing, and it all works out. Mostly. I jot appointments down on the calendar because next week is part of one undifferentiated mass of “later.”

I remained temporally oriented at the level of the season and the weather. Did my flower gardening the same as always, put in my fall bulbs, stockpiled some firewood on the porch for when the power went out in cold weather. I was aware of shortening and lengthening of days. The daffodils came up, then the forsythia bloomed, followed by tulips, irises, and so forth. Then it got hot. Hello, magic lilies!

Then the days weren’t so long, and the last flourish of flowers was from the dahlias, which go right up until a hard frost, and then it’s time to plant more bulbs.

My horse grew his winter coat, or shed out, depending on the season; the feral cats had kittens, or not, depending on the season.

And that worked well for me. Now I’m having to “manage myself” back into a more structured existence. People want to meet at specific times on specific dates in specific places, and that requires effort on my part. It’s not a relief, it’s discipline–for me–to go back into a time-clock-and-calendar driven life.

And I’m lucky. I’m self-employed, I like my little tumbledown farmhouse, I love my job. The degree to which I must re-enter a structured world is minimal compared to the adjustments many others are making. I am taking it slowly, still trying to do just three things per day, and to spend most of my days at home.

Are there aspects of pandemic-time that worked better for you than the time-clock-and-calendar approach? I’m not doing a give away this week, but I am making a donation to the Maryland Food Bank. For me, life is getting back to some version of normal, but for a lot of my neighbors… not so much, and not yet.

Sumer is icumen in

We’ve had some hot days lately, and in my neck of the woods, that means hot, humid days. The kind of weather where you break a sticky sweat just walking, there’s no breeze, and you wonder how civilization arose without air conditioning. This is not my fave season, as most of you know, and after the third hot day in a row, I started down my usual gripe: The bugs! The heat! The lousy sleep! The rubbishing, hellishing bugs!

Science supports the side-eye I give summer. When it’s sweltering, we’re not as good at quick thinking, we’re more prone to violent crime, and we’re dealing with higher levels of stress hormones. Hot muggy environments (like, say, most prisons) in addition to reducing cognitive function, upping the cortisol, and shortening our fuses, also make us less kind.

Considering that climate change is a thing, this is not good news.

But how many of us know people who adore summer? As a kid I lived for those long summer vacations, and if I stop kvetching about summer’s shortcomings for even thirty seconds, I can think of a ton of things I delight in about summer.

Sounds: Crickets, songbirds, Santana’s Smooth (because you only hear it in the summer and it makes you move), rain pattering against leaves, hoot owls, good food sizzling on the grill, “Marco! Polo!”

Scents: Honeysuckle (found some blooming today), peonies (also in bloom), roses, cut fields of hay, ozone, rain on hot asphalt, funnel cakes.

Sights: Lightning bugs (yes, I know… bugs), baby cows, baby horses, baby anything, leafy trees, yard flowers, blooming chicory, early sunrises, late sunsets, moonrises, the greenery, the greenery, and the greenery.

Sensations: Light weight clothing and not much of it, grass under my bare feet, my horse’s silky summer coat, a cold glass of iced tea held against my forehead, gentle breezes, a friendly kitty brushing against my bare legs.

Yums: Cold, juicy, sweet watermelon. Fresh strawberries, sun-warmed blue berries, chip-and-dip on the patio, make-your-own taco and burrito bars, umbrella drinks, and home made peach ice cream…

The best thing about summer though, for me, is the sense that I don’t have brace myself for the cold whenever I set toe upon floor, or butt upon saddle. Cold is invigorating, but it’s also lovely to get out of bed and be able to just toddle around without bundling up to go downstairs.

So I can, if I make the effort, talk myself into appreciating summer. Or I can just grouse about the bugs. Are there darknesses you are prone to cursing? Times when you have to jolly yourself into a more balanced attitude? To two commenters, I’ll send signed print copies of Miss Delectable (c’mon next Tuesday!).