Why Name Your Blog “Her Grace Notes?”

Most historical romance readers grasp that a duchess is respectfully referred to in the third person as “her grace.” My pen name is Grace, so I thought that was a lovely little play on words. I’m indebted to my brother Tom for the suggestion to name the blog, “Her Grace Notes.” The plain meaning of such a title could be, “the duchess takes notice,” or “the duchess’s list of short, written, asides.” Either one works, but Tom’s suggestion is even clever than that.

In music, a grace note, as Lord Valentine would tell us, is defined as “an additional note introduced as an embellishment and not essential to either the harmony or melody or a piece,” or, “decoration, adornment, embellishment; a finishing touch.”  My first profession was musician, and I put myself through college by accompanying ballet classes at the piano. The sense of the blog posts as little extras to go with the books delights me.

Whether I’m making observations about life in general, or the craft of writing, or something in between (there’s a lot in between), the notion of a grace note works wonderfully. Thanks, brother Tom!


What is it with you and Scotland?

Like a lot of Americans, I share an abiding affection for Scotland, and sociologically, there’s a reason for this.

The Scottish Highlands are among the least populous regions of any developed nation, in part because the terrain is challenging, but also because for centuries, Scotland has suffered a diasporo (or dispersion) of its people. From the 1700s onward, when hardier breeds of sheep developed, large landowners realized that sheep would be more profitable than continuing to allow small tenancies.

Entire villages were evicted (cleared), the only recourse left to the people to walk to the coastal cities and there find employment, starve, or immigrate. Then too, Scotland was prone to periodic potato famines, much like Ireland, and British politics weighed against a Scot who was too outspoken in support of democracy or a Jacobite (Stuart) monarchy.  Finally, the Scottish regiments, traditionally deployed where the fighting was worst, created a portion of the population who’d seen the world–and seen the New World.

For the first hundred and fifty years of European colonization of the New World, the incoming population remained concentrated along the Eastern seaboard. Following the Battle of Culloden (1746), Scottish immigration into North American picked up velocity, including immigration by Scots who’d tried settling in Ireland in the early 18th century.

By 1800, the Scottish immigrants had a name, “The Disposable People.” So hungry for land of their own (something nearly impossible in Scotland) and a life of self-determination were the displaced Scots that they were usually the first to settle the westward wilderness. Hardship, isolation, hostile natives, thin rations, hard winters, nothing deterred the immigrant Scots from their quest for lives of freedom and self-sufficiency. By 1850, settlement stretched coast to coast.

Americans pride themselves on a number of characteristics–a willingness to work hard, attachment to family, honesty, resourcefulness and thrift among them. We refer to Yankee ingenuity and a Protestant work ethic, when in fact, these are the values brought to our shores by Scottish immigrants (among many others) and spread across our land by them and their children.

While the Scots are certainly not the exclusive progenitors of those values in our society, their role is significant. I think that accounts for why most Americans will look upon all things Scottish with a certain–deserved–fondness.

Did you always want to be a romance writer?

I NEVER wanted to be a romance writer. Nobody is more surprised than I am to see my name on published books.

What I do know, is that I’ve always written, and always loved to write–at least I know it in hindsight. I started keeping a journal before I could write cursive. I never struggled with English classes, I enjoyed foreign languages and never found them particularly difficult. My verbal SAT was–altogether now–more than 200 points higher than my math score, and in college I delighted in working for the university newspaper.

Never once did it occur to me to be a writer.

After college I got a job in Washington, DC, as a technical editor and proposal coordinator. I’d honcho up the production of a 300 page document, with illustrations, index, table of contents and cross references in about a week flat. After a few years of that, I added night law school to my routine, and shifted into the contract administration end of the federal contracting business.

And still, I had not clue I might enjoy writing for a living. I was, however, reading like a house afire. For much of my adult life, I’ve limited myself to reading one romance novel a day. I’ve also not had a TV in my house. My daughter came along, I opened my own law practice, I pursued a master’s degree in conflict…. still no writing aspirations.

And yet, I kept a journal year in and year out. I submitted a column to Runner’s World on being a fat runner and boom–it got published. For my master’s degree, I rapped out a 400 page novel that analyzed the American legal process as a conflict management system–that was kinda fun!

But become a professional writer? Why would I do that? Meanwhile, I’m still reading, reading, reading…. and by this time, my daughter has moved out. I’m in my late forties, I never acquired the TV habit, I’m not house proud or yard proud…. When one of my keeper authors disappointed me with an “off” book, I decided to give the romance novel writing schtick a try.

I had SUCH FUN. I wrote about a million words in a year flat. Manuscripts of 200,000 words flowed like wine–Gone With the Wind is 418,000 and that seemed to work OK, right? I wrote some more and wrote some more after that, like the sorcerer’s apprentice. Finished Gareth, but that lead to Andrew, and that lead to Douglas AND David, and that lead to Thomas and that Westhaven fellow–who is he and what does he want?–but Nicholas Haddonfield had also popped up in Thomas’s story and Nick needed a story….

Still, I did not consider that I might earn a living as a writer. Friends and family nudged me one too many times, though, to “get that stuff published,” and so I signed up for a writer’s conference. The first person I pitched offered me a deal, and still…. what me, a writer?

What has convinced me that I AM a writer is how much I love doing it. Never was mortal woman happier than I am when I’m cranking on a scene. I’m blissin’, I don’t know what time it is, forget what season it is, and my heart is an incandescent center of joy. This happens about twice a year. The rest of the time, I’m still pretty happy.

A bad day writing is usually much better than an average day doing a lot of other things I’ve considered “my profession,” so here’s hoping I get many more years to write!

What’s the best part of being a published author?

This one is easy: The best part of being a published author is knowing that the books I write can make a positive difference in a reader’s life. Sometimes, that can be a pretty big difference. I’ve received emails from readers who read their way through depression or grief, through chemo, through a bad break up. If a book you paid a few bucks for can do that, that’s a mighty book

But I’m happy about the tiny differences too. If reading a romance novel helped you get to sleep on Wednesday night, so you could tackle the to-do list more energetically on Thursday, that’s making a difference. If being able to slip away to Regency England for a few hours means the weekend with your in-laws was a little more bearable, that’s a difference.

So I get to do what I love, and it can help other people. WOW.

How does your day job relate to your writing?

My day job, for the past twenty-plus years, has been providing legal representation to children in abuse and neglect proceedings in Circuit Court.

I guarantee you, when it’s Career Day in fifth grade, not a single kid in any school anywhere ever thought, “I want to be a child abuse lawyer!” I backed into this work because the state was hiring child welfare attorneys through a competitive procurement, and that involves writing a proposal. I DO enjoy writing proposals, and I had a child of my own to look after. When the work became available, I grabbed it with both hands.

It’s honorable work. My job is (usually) to advocate for what the child wants, provided the child has some reasons for the position they take. Just the fact that the child HAS a voice in the courtroom proceedings speaks well for us as a society, and often results in the judge making a wiser decision.

But there are bad days. Families I was sure had made it out of the woods fall back into spectacular trouble. Toddlers play with guns. You get the picture.

On those bad days, what has often sustained me is the certain knowledge that I have a new Loretta Chase, or Mary Balogh waiting by my bedside. Some years, I was in the habit of reading a book a day, every day. This means that before I started writing romance novels, I had read THOUSANDS of them. I attribute that to the day job, and what remaining functional on the day job required.

The day job has also shown me the variety of ways we cope with, ignore, rise above, and are brought low by the wounds we suffer. I’ve had a front row seat on a lot of suffering, and on a lot of healing and courage. This is the stuff of a good romance, particularly the courage and the love, and I have the day job to thank for letting me see so much of it in action.

Finally, the day job shows me miracles. The children I work with have been dealt such low cards–genetically, socially, intellectually, economically, politically–that by rights, very, very few of them should lead successful lives. I’ve been doing this long enough, though, to know that many of them do. They beat the tremendous odds stacked against them from birth, they triumph over adversity, bigotry, poverty, institutional injustice, disability and just about every other curse a baby can be born under, and they live contributing happy lives. If that’s not heroic, I don’t know what is.