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!).

Still Not There Yet

In my years as a divorce mediator, I watched many families go through the struggle to find a “new normal.” As with any process involving grief, the usual experience was messy.

One factor contributing to the mess is the need to reassemble the production line of family functioning. Whereas in a combined household, the eleven year old might be the tech wizard, Dad the czar of tax filings, and Mom the person who made sure oil changes always happened on time, in separate households, those functions have to be reassigned or at least rescheduled. The shock for Dad of having his oil light come on, or for Mom having to drop everything to get the taxes filed can be enormous.

Those speed bumps can feel as if they symbolize a failed marriage, a failed adulthood, enormous loss, and an unkind universe. And there is shock after shock for all involved. The rule of thumb most counselors apply is that a divorce is a three-year quest for a new normal that actually feels normal.

And all of the adjustments must be negotiated while Life Goes On. It’s draining and bewildering, and as I try to get beyond fourteen months of living pandemically, I’m struggling with a lot of the symptoms divorcing families deal with.

For a long time, the only day of the week I had to keep track of was Tuesday, which was barn/bank/grocery day. Other than that, the day hovered somewhere between Saturday (I don’t have to go anywhere or do anything in particular), and Workday (the writing, Grace. Do the writing…). I learned to keep extra masks in the car and purse. I added hand sanitizer to those locations are well.

Now the masks and hand-san are on auto-pilot, but I’m struggling to keep track of a busier calendar. Not a busy calendar, not compared to Before-Before, but busier than I can handle without focused effort now.

At this time last year, I didn’t have to fret over whether I owed distant family a visit, because I could not visit. I didn’t have to decide whether to attend writer’ conferences, because there weren’t any except on Zoom. I didn’t have to fret much about the political news, because the pandemic shoved most of that baloney into the wings.

I feel like my sat nav is busted, the maps I can find are out of date, and I haven’t driven this route in years. I’m finding some comfort in the things that have not changed–I tended to my flower gardening Then, I’m tending to to it now. I rode my horse Then, I’m riding him now. I wrote books Then… I’m trying to write books now, or at least work on book stuff, but this is not how I imagined After This is Over.  It’s a lot messier, though tidying up the mess is a job I’m happy to have.

How are you doing? What’s helping? What’s a particular challenge? The first 20 people who comment get an ARC copy of Miss Delectable, because maybe that’s something I can do help.

Rest and Be Thankful

The title of this post is taken from a route in Scotland that passes over the Arrochar Alps in Argyll and Bute. The soldiers who built the original military road across this terrain in the 1750s erected a stone at the highest point, etched with the words, “Rest and be thankful.” The name stuck, and now the scenic overview is referred to “the” Rest and Be Thankful.*

I had occasion to rest and be thankful myself this week. I finished the rough draft for Miss Delightful, a September release. I’m a trifle ahead of schedule, but not as much as you might think. Between revisions, copy edits, proofreading, and formatting, the time will pass quickly.

And no sooner do I complete that draft, than I’m asking myself, “What about the sixth Lady Violet book? You can’t publish the series until you write that. Best be about it, Grace. Or you could write the third Mischief in Mayfair book, because there are THREE cousins that we know about so far. You could least find cover art for that story, come up with a title. Don’t just sit there looking dazed and bewildered!”

There is always another book to write or revise, always research to do, and many worthwhile undertakings have this treadmill-like quality. My mother had to figure out what to feed nine people at every meal for decades. She might send her dinner guests on their way after a spectacular feast, then turn around start defrosting tomorrow’s hamburgers. There’s always another performance, lecture, meal, sermon, or workday that will need our efforts.

But if I never pause to celebrate–another draft complete!–then I am missing a significant part of the joy of being a writer. I did something–I wrote a book! Well intended people work very hard toward that same objective and never achieve it, but Miss Delightful is in the starting blocks and headed for publication. Rest and be thankful!

When a reader leaves a positive review, they are encouraging me to take a moment and be pleased with my books. When we send an appreciative word to the kitchen, we are asking the cooking staff to pause in their very busy work and take a bow. When we tell a kid they did a good job, we’re encouraging pride and joy. These things–joy, a sense of accomplish, permission to bask in a completed task–matter.

They are an antidote to burnout and an empty well. They are an honest and kind expression of appreciation. A verbal pat on the back says, “I see you, I see how hard you work, and I am grateful for your tenacity.”

Last week I wrote about the downsides of grit, but this week, I’m thinking of my own failure to appreciate what grit can produce. Rest, Grace, and be thankful–THEN write another book.

Who has appreciated you, whom do you appreciate? Is there an occasion to rest and be thankful in your life? Three commenters will go on the ARC list for Miss Delectable.

*Wikimedia attribution for that pretty photo: By Richard Harvey – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2725097

 

 

And Yet She Did Not Persist

I’ve always been a little leery of the praise heaped so lavishly on the concept of “grit,” stick-to-it-tiveness, persistence. I respect people who honor values that dignify life, especially in the face of adversity, but I also know that I tend to cling to my decisions a little too tenaciously.

If I said I’d graduate with two bachelor’s degrees, then wild unicorns could not stop me from bagging both sheepskins, even though I could plainly see the music history degree was a testament to a closed chapter of my life. I have never, in fact, overtly used it (Valentine Windham scowls at me).

I have stayed in relationships too long, stayed in jobs MUCH too long, and I will probably stay in this house too long, if I haven’t already. Sticking with the practice of law meant I missed the indie publishing gold rush. Living in this house means I spend thousands just managing the danged trees. The cost of a relationship beyond its expiration date is hard to even think about.

But I am “not a quitter.” Sometimes, that means I’ve been a fool instead, wasting my fire on people, institutions, and situations that are no longer a good use of my resources if they ever were.

I’m also leery of grit-is-the-answer because it supports two myths, the first being that of individual agency. If you just persist–climb every mountain, ford every stream!–if you are determined enough, you can move mountains. But if you’re Latina, you will be moving that mountain at a wage, on average, about 55 percent of what a white male would be paid. If you’re quite short, major league basketball is not going to make you an offer no matter how persistent you are.

Yes, you can be the first in your family to cart tons of dirt across the valley, but all the time and energy you spend moving that mountain is then not available to tackle the institutional barriers making your wheelbarrow much smaller than the other guy’s. As long as some people–by institutional design–get the tiny wheelbarrows, and other people get bulldozers, fewer mountains will be moved overall. The myth of grit, while professing to support the moving of mountains, can actually keep the biggest, highest mountains exactly where they are.

My other peeve with grit is that is valorizes suffering in place over the courage to admit a screw up, the courage to backtrack, or to rethink and assert the right to quit.  In some circumstances, grit prioritizes rigidity and stoicism over self-reflection, flexibility, and humility. This isn’t working, can be one of the scariest, most freeing admissions we can make–also one of the saddest–and I probably haven’t made it often enough or soon enough.

So how do you know when it’s time to rethink a decision, let go of a plan, or admit defeat? When does grit become more problem than solution for you? Chime in below, and I’ll put three more names on my ARC list for Miss Delectable.

 

Float This By You

As I resume some of my pre-pandemic life (riding the horse more, catching up on doc appointments), I have a sense of dwelling a short distance from my body.

I’ve already noted in this space that pandemic living resulted in some odd behavior changes for me. I stopped whistling, and I am a pretty dedicated whistler. I stopped stretching, even casually, as in touching my toes while waiting for my tea water to boil. I stopped laughing at the ridiculous antics of eight-week-old kittens.  Stopped wearing my most colorful socks and went instead for cozy pastels all year round.

My sense is that I withdrew into a state of low self-expression, and became emotionally non-permeable. Worry, anxiety, and anger were not going to get in, and courage was not going to leak out. I kept the hatches battened down, and now… the hatches are kinda stuck. Small challenges–might run out of milk!–are occasion for much strategizing even though I still have an entire gallon of milk in the fridge.

I need time to get my groove back, but I also need to do the things I know to do to be me. One of those things is to invite novelty into my life. My imagination cannot think new thoughts if I never give myself new experiences or perspectives to chew on. This week, I rode a different horse, for example. Santa boogered up not one but two of his feet, so I did a lesson on Waldo, a handsome bay Hanoverian gelding whom I have known for fifteen years…. but never taken a lesson on.

My take away from that lesson was, as long as I focused on listening to the horse instead of anticipating a spook, bolt, buck, earthquake, market crash, new pandemic, or meteor collisions, we had a fine time.

And then I tried something called floating, which is essentially sensory deprivation in a warm bath of concentrated Epsom salts. Somebody at the barn recommended it for stress relief and reduction of inflammation. I like a good massage, but cannot find a massage therapist I click with, and besides… a massage in a mask has little appeal. So a-floating I did go.

I did not reunite with my missing soul, or think up the best story premise ever. I tried a little something new. My myriad small aches and pains might be somewhat mollified for the present, and I did enjoy it. I also had to find my way to a new location (I do not use Sat Nav), had to deal with people I’d never met, had to manage when I left my towel in the car (What, me? Distracted?), and generally had to be present to my own life. It’s a step in the right direction.

Are you having to treat yourself any differently lately? Planning any new adventures? I’ll put three names on my ARC list for Miss Delectable, which launches in the web store in May, and on the retail outlets in June.

I Will Book No Complaint…

My oldest sister and I got to emailing about books. She recommended Children of Ash and Elm, an exceptionally engaging history of the Viking Golden Age, by Neil Price. This tome caught her eye  because the author is such a protean thinker. He’s interested in everything from the maritime Silk Road (never heard of such a thing), to the Viking diaspora (never heard of that either), to paradigms of piracy (who knew?), to the socio-political ramifications of opium addiction then and now, to… Yikes already!

I passed along to my sister one of my favorite books, Being a Beast, by Charles Foster, because he strikes me as having the same sort of enormous, busy, elastic mind as Mr. Price. Foster is a lawyer, veterinarian, and PhD expert on medical ethics. He synthesizes all that stuff through the lenses of various wild species, and comes up with an eloquent prayer for the planet and for his own species.

This ability to leap across apparently unrelated topics and find connections just awes the livin’ peedywhaddles out of me. This is vision and creativity and insight. I marvel at such gifts and wish the people who have them long, joyous, well documented (and well compensated) careers.

The discussion with my sister led me to remark that our own father had often insisted that the life of the mind was the one most profitably cultivated, because it was “all you’re left with,” in the end. This was a guy who was still sitting on PhD committees into his eighties, and who was winning cribbage games the day he died at age 96.

I honestly found that comment a little sad–Dad, what about the love? What about the love for those of us who don’t get to keep our minds until the end? What about the love from my two sisters, who upended their lives to look after you and Mom when you couldn’t look after yourselves? You were left with that too, Ph-Dude.

But I also realized that never once–not one time in my whole life–had I heard either of my parents complain of boredom. They were both always reading. Mom read “good books,” Dad read science, science, and more science. Time and National Geographic were scattered around the house from my infancy. For two people who didn’t travel much beyond the Lower 48, my parents went on many literary flights. I’m sure there’s much they could have whinged and whined about, but their choice was to stay interested in the greater world, and creatively nourished with reading material.

Through books and reading and other people, they were fascinated by the wonders of creation rather than by the temptation to  lament Mom’s rheumatiz or Dad’s research funding problems. I need to give them credit for that example, both as it relates to having a constructive outlook, and as it relates to feeding the soul with the written word. They got that spectacularly right, and I have had both a bearable pandemic and a delightful livelihood to show for it. As we approach the Mother’s Day and Father’s Day observances: Thanks, Mom and Dad for the books and the good example.

Two questions: What did you or your parents get right, without any fanfare or drama? Also: Read any good books lately? To two commenters, I’ll send signed copies of the very pretty large print edition of How to Catch a Duke. The books are surprisingly lightweight and compact, and I do like that cover!