Romance authors might be expected to exude sensuality, while lawyers are no-nonsense and tough. Grace Burrowes is both, but even amid the bustle and noise of the annual Romance Writers of America conference, she’s a model of mellowness and... well, grace.
Beneath the mellow veneer, though, her razor-sharp mind is working at top speed. “Usually I write four or five books a year,” she says casually, as though this weren’t unusual even in a field noted for its prolific authors. “I have 11 romance novels in contract and 20 manuscripts at home.” Each of her books clocks in at nearly 500 pages, hefty by Regency romance standards—and she’s done all that writing in just six years.
A single mother and a practicing family law attorney, Burrowes, now 52, always loved writing and telling stories, but put off tackling a novel until she was 46 and her daughter was somewhat independent. One novel turned into several, and soon she was itching to publish. “Once I went looking for a publisher, it all happened very quickly,” she says, “which was a bad thing in some ways. I have a thick skin for mothering and lawyering, but I never piled up the rejection slips, so when I get a negative review, it hurts. I expect I’ll get better about that with another 10 years of practice.”
Burrowes may be a fast writer, but her books are deliciously languid, drawing in readers with lush descriptions of the Regency-era English countryside and downright domestic heroes who, unlike the usual crop of debauched rakes and stuffy nobles, enjoy baking pastries and playing the piano. Her first published romance novel, The Heir, came out from Sourcebooks Casablanca in late 2010 to great acclaim, including a spot on PW’s Best Books list, and her subsequent publications have cemented her reputation for writing novels packed with endearing characters whose lives include plenty of familial affection and friendship as well as surpassingly tender romance.
Burrowes loves writing about life in a big family, and the complex relationships of siblings and their adoring but often overbearing parents. “I was the sixth of seven children,” she explains. “That let me see the gravity that keeps the family together and the centrifugal force that pulls it apart.” That focus is very apparent in her first trilogy of The Heir, The Soldier, and The Virtuoso, starring a duke’s three eponymous sons. Lady Sophie’s Christmas Wish, her latest, begins a series of five books about the same duke’s five daughters. Each of His Grace’s children merrily intrudes upon the others; Lady Sophie’s brothers, having found their own romantic happiness, can’t resist meddling extensively in hers.
Children often play significant roles in Burrowes’s books—especially children whose parents don’t want them or can’t afford them. This draws on another part of her life: her career in family law. “The Napoleonic Wars left lots of abandoned and orphaned children all over Europe,” she says. “The foster kids I work with have taught me that if you survive that kind of experience, it makes you willing to do whatever you need to do to have a stable home.”
Burrowes grew up in rural homes, occasionally going without electricity or hot water. “I could ride my horse to the grocery store,” she recalls, smiling. The sounds and scents of low-tech country life—as well as the gossip and social jockeying—pervade her books, giving them an authentic historical flavor. This marries surprisingly well with plot conflicts and difficulties that modern readers will find all too familiar, including recovery from chronic injury, post-traumatic stress, and caring for aging relatives. “People dismiss romance as light and fluffy, but think about what goes into it,” Burrowes says. “Two character studies, all the conflict of a thriller, and with a multibook series you need a mystery as well.”
Despite these heavy themes, love is at the heart of any good romance novel, and Burrowes, a longtime romance fan, always makes sure to give readers the escapism and happy endings they crave. “When I was raising my daughter alone and working full-time, a romance by Loretta Chase or Mary Balogh could make a whole bad day disappear,” she says. “That’s what I want to do for my readers.”