Family is a hard word, wrapped in a soft idea. The word itself sounds cozy, with the airy F at the beginning, the warm M in the middle, and the sing-songy eeeeeeee at the end. Yet not all of us find the lightness and warmth in what constitutes a blood family. When I was a child, my own family had a bit of a split. When reconciliation occurred—my grandmother begrudgingly forgiving my mother for taking a Hispanic last name—I found a hardness in me that wouldn’t dislodge. I enjoyed those seven years creating our own new family, some blood some not, with our own meaningful traditions. I wanted to protect that haven we had created.
Blood does not a family make, in my experience. The fierce, protective love I have for a certain set of childhood friends is the potent lure of Found Family. We trust each other, show up for each other, share joys with each other precisely because the obligation is absent. The Found Family chooses each other.
This is something so deep inside my experience that it shows up in my books, particularly THE BOXER AND THE BLACKSMITH. Bess Abbott doesn’t have a family, but she makes one. Her “brother” is John Arthur, the hero of A LADY’S REVENGE. He loves her, would do anything for her, and wants her happiness more than anything. But Bess is slow to realize that just because John now has a wife and child, he hasn’t abandoned their friendship. And during a rough patch, when Bess acts on some of her violent impulses, her longtime manager, Tony calls her on her behavior. He tells her that she has to control herself, that he can’t have her in the ring if she’s not going to think. Bess sees this as a betrayal, unable to emotionally handle the disapproval of the man who has essentially been her “father.”
Bess creates a family out of thin air—she has to. Humans need love and acceptance because we are pack animals. She is stronger for it, having formed a motley family that will love her despite her unusual career as a female prizefighter. Not dissimilar from my mother, who married a good man, and took his name. She created a family from her friends who would be there for her, and she would be there for them.
In my next book, A LADY’S FINDER, Jack About Town has both a blood family and a found family, but neither can give him everything he needs. He is incomplete without both. Exploring those bonds is tricky, because as a writer, it’s so easy to say, see? They love each other because they are family. It’s much harder to show the emotion of a friendship that is so deep it should be family.
But it’s hard to show love—in real life and on the page. There are constant discussions in the media of love languages, showing up, and proper ways of communicating emotion. But there isn’t a right way. There is the relationship of two people, where the communication emerges from both sides and becomes the friendship itself. It’s built on learning each other, witnessing the good and the bad, and making an effort. Without that, kinship is just theory. I was fortunate to learn my lesson early—family means love, not blood.
Edie Cay writes award-winning feminist Regency Romance about women’s boxing and relatable misfits. She is a member of the Regency Fiction Writers, the Historical Novel Society, ALLi, and a founding member of Paper Lantern Writers. You can drop her a line on Facebook and Instagram @authorediecay.