Monday, June 6, 2011

A Woman to Admire by Grace Burrowes

Single parenting (like any kind of parenting) provided me with endless opportunities for self-pity, for feeling overwhelmed and inadequate. Working in the field of child welfare law provides many more, and that’s in addition to the usual complement of low moments, hard days and bleak nights life hands out to everybody.

But somewhere along the way, I put aside many of my tears. I think this is a natural progression in a woman’s life, as she learns to love not just as a girl, or as a life-partner, but as something akin to the archetype of the crone, like a grandmother. Love takes on the ability to be unstoppable, beady-eyed, ruthless and unsentimental later in a woman’s life.

So when I hitched up my courage and took myself to my first RWA National as an unpublished author, I read the advice of the Big Girls, “you will go to your room and cry at least once,” with something between scorn and amusement. That was for debutantes, and I would never be one of those again.

Except… while I was peering around in discreet terror at the frenzy of my first National, I got word someone I love very much was back in the hospital, struggling hard to hang on to enough mental health to maintain basic liberty and functionality. I considered ditching the conference—I hate crowds and I can’t do the sorority vibe—but decided my loved one was as safe at the hospital as a person can be, and that me flying in on a panic would not send a helpful message.

But oh, the guilt… the uh-oh feeling flooding back out from where I keep it stashed away, the dread every time my cell phone rang, the God-awful aloneness of dragging myself around that twittering, hopeful, busy crowd while someone I loved was at bottom again.

The meals were the worst, dealing with strangers and their well meant, predictable questions, but at lunch Eloisa James was speaking. I loved her dad’s poetry before I loved her books. I could sit through her talk. I felt I owed it to her.

She talked about being raised without TV—I was raised largely without TV as was my daughter. You’d be surprised how people react to such a disclosure. “What are you, some kind of freak?” was how one friend put it.

She talked about people at National throwing “EJ Bashing Parties,” though she did not linger on this shameful behavior.

She talked about trying to write the story of a woman dreading a miscarriage while Eloisa’s own daughter was struggling for life in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. She talked about crying her way through certain scenes, and about how that book was her first bestseller.

I lost it, friends. Started bawling right there at the dadgummed lunch table. Cried for women who cry, for women who can’t cry, for all the struggle in that gathering to realize our dreams, for all the children in all the NICUs. I was overdue, of course, and I’m happy to say all turned out well for the person I was so worried for (and for Eloisa’s daughter).

But what kind of heroine is that? A person who can pat me on the shoulder amid a crowd of 2000 strangers and connect that genuinely? A woman who can say out loud, “Love heals the shame.” That is not pithy, that is profound, it speaks to the place where romance novels brush up against wisdom literature, and I know of nobody else who can illuminate that juncture so convincingly.

This is not just an author to admire, or a woman to admire, this is a human being to admire. I am proud to say I write romance novels in part because it puts me in company with Eloisa James.


  1. What a beautiful tribute to Eloisa. What a beautifully written usual. You touch my heart with your words!

  2. I was tearing up right there with ya during Eloisa's speech, Grace. I had the great good fortune to take a creative writing class with Eloisa's mother, the ferociously talented Carol Bly, when I was a college student. Listening to Eloisa speak so poignantly about how her mother never fully accepted her choice of literary subject matter just broke my heart.

  3. Carolyn, thank you for the kind words. They are never offered in vain, particularly not to me.

    Tamara, Yeah, those parents who don't get us... probably half the room resonated to that one. I wonder what her mom would say if we asked her about it now, sixteen USA Today and 12 NYT bestsellers later (and counting).

  4. Super blog, Grace! I love Eloisa's books!

  5. Grace, what a lovely (and deserved) tribute to Eloisa James. I love her books and she's also touched me as a speaker.

  6. That was so extremely touching. I'm so glad I read it. And why are we women so totally guilty about everything (sigh). I feel my parents never approved of anything I did or wanted to do but the good news is that I then knew to let my children go for their dreams :)

  7. I missed RWA that year. I need to get that speech on CD. And I saw today Eloisa James mentioned The Soldier in her B&N article. Sounds like she is a fan of you, too!

  8. What a wonderful post, Grace. Sorry I missed that speech. The best speakers (and writers) are the ones who punch you in the gut with emotion, wring your heart out, grab you by the throat, yet leave you begging for more.

  9. Terry, I love them too, and I love that they're historically accurate without beaning you over the head with irrelevant tidbits.

    Joan, do you ever wonder what it must be like, to be that gifted as both a writer and a speaker? The two don't always go hand in hand, not at the level Eloisa writes at. Just leaves me dumbstruck. Cannot imagine sitting in her Shakespeare lectures must be like.

    Catslady, hats off to you for loving your children without conditions. You are going to have some very lucky and happy grandchildren.

    Shana, I actually had a blog together regarding my dear mother, then got word "The Soldier" was getting a nod in her column, and was reminded that Eloisa on my people to admire list--way high up. She said lovely things about my second book, and just that it's her saying them is a lot of validation.

    Olivia, what I was impressed with was that she could talk about hard things articulately. Somebody needed to drop a dime on any party that bashes one of our most successful PAN members, and coming right from her, over her professor-glasses, the room got appropriately quiet. I hope it's the last one of THOSE we hear about.

    Sara, thanks.

  10. What a touching post Grace. How wonderful when someone connects with us at that moment when we need it. I haven't heard Eloisa speak, but I've heard great things about her. And I think you're quite an admirable woman yourself.

  11. I loved hearing this story, Grace. EJ is an icon in the romance community, and a wonderful person as well. Thank you for sharing.