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February Reading and More!

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Guys, I love to read. I have ever since I started reading. But with work and kids and a house to maintain, there’s no doubt that finding time to read has been tricky for at least a decade. Tricky or not, I squeeze in time here and there. So far, 2018 has been a good year for reading. I signed up for a reading challenge on Goodreads and it’s so fun to keep track of what I’m reading for the year.

I just got back from a trip to Virginia and as soon as I realized I’d be flying somewhere by myself, I got all excited about having time to read. I managed to finish Next Year in Havana, Still Me, and start The Selection. IMG_0858I enjoyed all three books so much.

Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton drew me in with its dual storyline and intriguing look at Cuba. I loved getting what felt like an insider’s look at Cuba, past and present. (Also, it really made me appreciate the freedom we have in America.) Family secrets, danger, romance–there was a lot to enjoy in this story. For some reason, dual storylines always take me longer to read. Maybe because you’re trying to keep track of two stories and how they intersect. Regardless, it was a great read.

And I loved Still Me. To be honest, Me After You was not my favorite. I wanted to know what happened with Louisa Clark, but it just didn’t capture my heart the way Me Before You did. Louisa is such a delightful character that I wanted to know where her story ended up, after the sadness she, of course, went through in Me After You. Still Me (like Me After You) went in all kinds of directions I had not expected. (There were moments when I paused and thought, Where are we and how did we get here again?) But the story took hold of me and I was again rooting for Louisa. I like when stories keep me guessing (but I can get crazy and have to flip ahead when I can’t wait anymore!). This book kept me guessing and ended so well. I recommend it for fans of Me Before You.

And finally, I just finished The Selection by Kiera Cass. I really do love YA fantasy, but it’s been a while since I read a book from that genre. With book club choices and others on my TBR list–and so many popular YA fantasy stories that I can’t keep track of what I’m missing out on–I’ve been on a little break. But this cover stood out to me forever ago, and I’ve had it on my to-be-read list ever since. It was such a fast, easy read, I should have read it ages ago. (Plus side, I think the series may be finished so I can read them straight through.) I found the heroine to be likeable and relatable. And all the covers in the series are gorgeous! If you like YA fantasy and you’ve never tried this one, I recommend it.

February felt like Jane Austen month over here. Since the start of the year I’ve read Jane of Austin, The Austen Escape and Jane by the Sea. I either need my own vacation to Bath or a (very) temporary break from all-things-Austen. However, I did love all three books! Jane is the queen.

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I’m about to dive into a few freelance projects so my reading time may get squeezed even more over the next several weeks. And I have some exciting book news coming up soon in my next newsletter. If you haven’t signed up for that, hop over to https://brandybruce.blogspot.com and plug in your email to sign up. I can’t wait to share that with you!

What have you read so far this year that you’ve loved? Any recommendations?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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February is ALL THE LOVE (giveaway!)

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IMG_0197.jpgCan you believe it’s already February!? It’s a busy month at my house. Valentine’s Day and the Daddy/Daughter Ball and our anniversary–PLUS my little sister is having her first baby and the whole family is so excited. I truly love Valentine’s Day. We don’t go too crazy over here, but chocolate is a MUST and there are cards and usually some stuffed animals and the kids love all of it.

One thing I always think of around this time of the year is my novel Looks Like Love. Maybe because the cover is pink and white. Maybe because it’s a story of a girl seeking out adventure, and stumbling across a little romance along the way. It’s a novel that digs into the question What does love look like?  The main character, Kasey, has been dumped by her long-time boyfriend, so she heads off to visit her best friend, who just happens to be British. London is calling! So Kasey embarks on a trip of self-discovery, a touch of romance, and a lot of fun. When she gets back, things at work get crazy. The advertising firm where she works has finally landed LETA, a cosmetics company branching out with their first fragrance, called Love. Kasey’s tasked with finding out what love looks like, and then finding a way to sell it. From double-decker tour buses to glamorous galas–you’ll want to join Kasey on her journey to find out the truth about love.

The picture above includes a little “Book of Days.” I dug that out this morning when working on an Instagram photo post. This is one of my treasures. It’s the journal I filled out on my Europe trip, way back in college. I’m so thankful I wrote down even snippets of every day I was there. It was a trip of a lifetime and that little book helps me remember the details. The month I spent in Europe was the inspiration behind Looks Like Love. The places that Kasey visits–such as Westminster Abbey, Stonehenge, Bath, and more–are places I went to on my tour and that were stamped on my heart forever. The last week of the month was spent in Paris and Rome and Florence with my dad. The next year I would get married, so those days of just the two of us were extra special. (Though, I will say that admiring the Statue of David with your dad is an interesting experience! Ha! But we made it through and had an amazing time, from exploring Paris, to traveling via train in a sleeper car on our way to Rome (two little grannies shared our cabin!), to dinner in Florence. Those are moments I cherish.)

So, in some ways, Looks Like Love is imprinted with the heart memories of that trip. It’s one of my favorites and I hope you’ll check it out. Hop over to Amazon and read the first chapter!

The fun of Valentine’s isn’t just romance, and that’s part of what I love about the book. (Though romance is wonderful of course!) It’s exploring the many ways we see love in our lives–family and friends and so much more. Being loved by the people closest to us, and loving them well in return, makes all the difference.

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I thought I would do a little giveaway as my Happy Hearts Day gift to you! I’m offering one free Kindle e-book download for Looks Like Love. All you have to do is leave a comment (click on the rafflecopter link) telling us a vacation spot that’s on your bucket list, and for an extra ticket (not required), hop over and like my Facebook page . Since I want you to have this before Valentine’s Day, the raffle will run until February 9th. So spread the news, grab some white chocolate (Kasey’s favorite), maybe a little pink champagne, click on the link below, and get ready!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Starting Off Reading! From Sand and Ash by Amy Harmon

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IMG_0122Friends, we’ve almost made it through the first month of 2018! How are things going for you? Read any good books yet? Book club this month was my choice and I went for From Sand and Ash by Amy Harmon. I was introduced to this book by my friend Krista (always trust Krista with good book choices!) and it was such a good read that I picked it for my month for book club. It’s a WWII era story (which I don’t always go for, I usually avoid heavy reads, but this one manages to leave you feeling hopeful and satisfied despite doing a phenomenal job with the war/devastation aspects that are bound to accompany this kind of book). Here’s the book blurb from Amazon:

Italy, 1943—Germany occupies much of the country, placing the Jewish population in grave danger during World War II.

As children, Eva Rosselli and Angelo Bianco were raised like family but divided by circumstance and religion. As the years go by, the two find themselves falling in love. But the church calls to Angelo and, despite his deep feelings for Eva, he chooses the priesthood.

Now, more than a decade later, Angelo is a Catholic priest and Eva is a woman with nowhere to turn. With the Gestapo closing in, Angelo hides Eva within the walls of a convent, where Eva discovers she is just one of many Jews being sheltered by the Catholic Church.

But Eva can’t quietly hide, waiting for deliverance, while Angelo risks everything to keep her safe. With the world at war and so many in need, Angelo and Eva face trial after trial, choice after agonizing choice, until fate and fortune finally collide, leaving them with the most difficult decision of all.

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The writing just flows and the story flows with it, making this one enjoyable and fast-paced. I highly recommend for your book club or TBR this year! Our book club got together and discussed the story over snacks and wine at my friend Marina’s house. I love how book club discussion can go in any direction (we ended up talking about Prince Harry and Meghan Markle for a long time! Ha!). This is a great story with characters you care about, gripping moments where you can’t breathe, and an ending that leaves you satisfied. Loved it!

Holiday Chat with Author Meghan Gorecki!

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Loveys, I’m so excited that my friend Meghan Gorecki is visiting the blog today to talk shop on the holidays! Meghan is an amazing editor and writer and person and–she’s basically awesome. So let’s chat!

What’s one of your favorite aspects of the holiday season?

The music! From the holiday hymns honoring Jesus’ birth, to the pop classics old and new that you get stuck in your head instantly—it’s all so happy and bright. I just love the spirit it brings and the warmth it ushers in even through the stress and hustle and bustle.

 

Oh! I LOVE holiday music. Seriously. I listen to it in June sometimes. What’s your favorite holiday movie? Oh gosh. Not gonna lie I sat here for twenty minutes thinking of one. Favorite holiday movie is probably White Christmas, followed closely by Little Women if that can be considered a holiday movie (hey it opens at Christmas, right?). And we can’t forget all the Claymation classics like Rudolph or The Year without a Santa Claus.

White Christmas and Little Women are both classic Christmas movies to me. We watched Little Women as a family every year of my childhood. So…cider or cocoa? Cider, actually! Cocoa is delicious but so very rich. Warm cider with whipped cream and caramel? Sign me up, any day, any time.
 

I’m a fan of whipped cream and caramel on anything actually. Are you partial to Thanksgiving or Christmas and why? Thanksgiving, for sure. The stuffing(!), the parade—and the reminder to count our blessings. And it’s kind of like autumn’s last hurrah, my favorite season, but I do still love Christmas too. Just partial to Turkey Day.
 

I definitely love both holidays as well. My family usually makes the same traditional meal for both, so it’s turkey again (or maybe a glazed ham!) and dressing and all the fixings. Okay. I’m getting hungry! Tell us about your latest novel! So my latest novel is coming out this April, and it’s a historical romance. Amongst the Roses follows Margaret Bryant, and Connor and Adam Doyle—three people from opposite sides of the tracks, brought together when the Civil War overturns all their lives. It’s set in Chambersburg, a large Pennsylvania city very near the Mason-Dixon line that saw three Confederate invasions during the four years of war. Here’s the official blurb:

The War Between the States shakes Margaret Bryant out of her comfortable upper-class life when her father enlists in the Army of the Potomac. Despite being safely ensconced above the Mason-Dixon Line in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, Margaret finds her strength tested by opposition from familiar faces and Confederate threats. Will she let a young man from a lesser station into her heart even as war rages ever nearer to the home front?

Restless Connor Doyle sees the war as a way to escape from his family’s farm and his identity as a poor Irishman’s son. His brother, Adam, torn between duty to country and his family, enlists alongside Connor. Adam dares to hope in a future with Margaret when he begins a courtship correspondence from the war front. The two brothers make a vow to protect one another at all costs, but when faced with death and destruction from all sides—will they be able to uphold it?

The three bloodiest days in America’s history bring these three together at Gettysburg and tragedy’s cruelty threatens to tear two hearts apart—and bring two unlikely allies together.

That sounds so intriguing! Meghan, thank you SO much for stopping by! Loveys, check out her Christmas novella. (I love the cover so much!)

Meghan M. Gorecki is an author of inspirational fiction about what God can make beautiful from the ashes of history, and hearts. A lover and avid studier of people, times gone by, and fiction, she has been writing since childhood and now houses her books under Northern Belle Publishing. Coffee and red lipstick color her days as a redhead from a box, alongside her treasured tribe of family and friends in her beloved hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Connect with her on social media and at her blog/website at: http://www.northernbellemeg.com (http://www.northernbellemeg.com)

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A Steel City holiday romance sure to melt your heart.

The holidays haven’t been the easiest for Merry Grainger. Five years ago, she lost her grandfather and got dumped by her boyfriend right before Christmas. Each season since sees her determined to avoid getting hurt again, and so she keeps a steel-like grip on her hopeless romantic heart.

Music used to soothe Sam Shepard’s soul until the death of his biggest cheerleader broke his heart, family, and dreams into pieces. Now he’s focused on thriving in the city, and with the people, he’s grown to love—all to keep the hole in his heart from opening anew with every passing holiday season. Thrown together by a church play and meddlesome family armed with mistletoe, will Merry and Sam unwrap their guarded hearts to let in the true hope of Christmas—and each other?

 

Holiday Letter Writing by Susan Mathis (Guest Post!)

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714fDFjKCKL__UX250_Friends, I’m super excited to tell you that my wonderful author-friend Susan Mathis is stopping by today to talk about making Holiday Letter Writing fun. (I absolutely need this advice!) Susan, thank you SO much for visiting and sharing some ideas!

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Every year most of us read “’Twas the Night Before Christmas.” I knew friends and family expected to hear from us at Christmas, but I was so busy. I knew that a simple Christmas card wouldn’t be enough. Then I had an idea. I simply changed the words and created “’Twas a Year of Adventure.” I rhymed a story of the whole year’s family events, and it was a hit.

I didn’t mean for it to become a tradition, but it did. A few years ago I grew tired of writing one more version of the poem, so instead I wrote a regular letter. Wrong move! There was mutiny in my Christmas card list—I had a dozen family and friends complain that reading the poem had become a tradition in their family! Now I know it has meaning to others, I take much more pleasure in writing it each year. You can, too.

Though it comes at a busy time in family life, writing your annual family letter doesn’t have to be a chore. It can be a fun family event, and become a family tradition. Here are some ideas to get you started.

  • Throughout the year, keep a family calendar that records events of the year. Then simply review it and form your ideas. If funny sayings are important to you, record them and use them as a basis of your letter. If sports, events, activities, growth milestones or achievements are highlights in your family life, record them.
  • Review the year as a special “Family Memory Night.” Read through your record and enjoy the power of sharing memories.
  • If you’re not a writer, don’t worry. People aren’t looking for polished works of art; they want to connect with you and know more about your family life.
  • Be sure to include information about every family member.
  • Save money. Use snapshots instead of expensive studio photography. Email your letter instead of snail mailing it. Remember, it’s the connection that matters.
  • Include an opening and a conclusion. It could be as simple as, “This Christmas we wanted to share more about our family by telling you about our ‘Family Firsts” as an introduction and “May the Lord bless you as you celebrate His birth” as a conclusion.

Tweak the timing

Too busy to even think about writing a letter at Christmastime? Make Thanksgiving, New Year’s, or even Valentine’s Day your special time to connect with family and friends. Establish it as a tradition, and your loved ones will look forward to it with love and anticipation.

Mix it up

There are lots of ways to format your letter. If your children are young, photos or simple drawings with captions may be a hit. A theme letter can be fun with older children. Choose a theme, let everyone contribute to the ideas and make it a family project.

A few ideas include:

  • Name Acrostic: Use the letters of your name to tell about your year
  • Family News: let everyone be a journalist and write an article for your newspaper.
  • The Top 10 Family events or funny sayings or moments to remember
  • Family Firsts
  • Family Statistics

History in the making

Whether you choose a different holiday, a certain format or both, try to stick to it. Not only will you make it easier and easier for you, your loved ones will look forward to it each year. Your letters will become a record of your family history, and maybe you’ll create a family tradition for others, too.

Susan G Mathis is a versatile writer and author of The Fabric of Hope: An Irish Family Legacy. Susan has two Tyndale nonfiction books, Countdown for Couples: Preparing for the Adventure of Marriage and The ReMarriage Adventure: Preparing for a Life of Love and Happiness. She is also the author of two published picture books, Lexie’s Adventure in Kenya: Love is Patient and Princess Madison’s Rainbow Adventure. Please visit www.SusanGMathis.com. 

P.S. Susan’s novel The Fabric of Hope: An Irish Family Legacy released this year and I recommend it! A dual storyline weaves together a family’s past and present. Hop over to Amazon and check out Susan’s books. https://www.amazon.com/Susan-G.-Mathis/e/B001JP31DI/ref=dp_byline_cont_book_1)

 

Love, Lace, and Minor Alterations by V. Joy Palmer

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weddingphoto.jpgI’m super excited to chat with Joy Palmer today about her novel, Love, Lace, and Minor Alterations, her writing process, and how she drinks her coffee!  Just as a heads up, the girl is hilarious and I have loved getting to know her.

Here’s the rundown on Joy: V. Joy Palmer is an avid blogger and co-founder of Snack Time Devotions. She is a youth leader at her church, and loves acting crazy and drinking coffee with the teens. When Joy isn’t urging the elves that live in her computer to write, she’s hanging out with her husband, their adorable baby girl, and their socially awkward pets.

So let’s chat!!

1. Tell me about your publishing history! How did Love, Lace, and Minor Alterations come to be?

I’ve always been obsessed with weddings, and I was single and frustrated with the man who is now my husband (that is a long story) when I first started writing and brainstorming. I started venting writing, and suddenly I just heard Izze chattering in my head. The idea of a single woman in the wedding business who wanted to get married and was fed up with the leading man fascinated me. I’ve really struggled with trusting God (especially with the events that inspired this story), so my heart is really for readers to see that they can trust God with their hearts. Because He has the very best in store for them. He loves to give us beauty for ashes.

  1. Give me a little rundown of your main character and what you love about her.

I largely based Isabel “Izze” Vez on myself. Very original, I know. 😉 However, I made her quite a bit feistier than I am. I’m an introverted bookworm. I tend to keep my adamant opinions to myself. It takes a ridiculous amount of internal arguing and anti-nausea medication for me to even broach the outside rink of social. Izze doesn’t really have those problems. In a lot of ways, she’s the bold person I wish I could be.

However, Izze also tends to be more of a loose cannon. She struggles with acting first, then thinking. While this makes for fun dialogue, it also is very eye-opening since this is something most of us struggle with in one way or another, at one time or another. I guess what I really love about Izze are her flaws! She’s imperfect. But those imperfections are a wonderful stage showcasing God’s awesomeness! All His forgiving, merciful, gracious, and loving awesomeness.

And we both like our coffee to resemble a liquid candy bar. ❤ I love that.

  1. Liquid candy bar! Lol! I love that. So what authors are you reading right now? Anything you recommend?

Oh, so many books! Haha! Since I also review books, that can be and dangerous question, and I’ll read almost anything if there’s a romance.

Right now, I’m finishing up Unraveling by Sara Ella, which is AMAZING! Then I’ll be reading The Memory of You by Cathy West, A Matter of Trust by Susan May Warren, and Solo by Kwame Alexander and Mary Rand Hess.

I’m pretty proud of myself for not listing twenty books. *eats brownie as a reward*

  1. I should eat a brownie too. Just thinking out loud here… 🙂 What’s your writing process? Outline? Fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kinda girl? Scenes in order or out of order?

While I’m an everything-in-its-place perfectionist in most areas, I’d say I’m more of a pantser with my writing. When I started writing LLaMA, I wrote the scenes in order, and it was killing my creativity, not to mention I overexplained every mundane detail in the setting. Unsurprisingly, stuff came to a screeching halt. Then I went to my first American Christian Fiction Writer’s conference, and I heard seasoned authors talk about different techniques, including jumping from scene to scene. I wholeheartedly embraced that technique! So much so that I even came up with a major plot twist at that conference while chatting with an editor! “What’s the big conflict?” “Oh, this is going to happen!” Voila! 😉

I had to write some basic plot outlines recently, and it was SO hard! However, even with a basic plot written, I still allowed myself plenty of room to be creative with the scenes while I type my way to “The End.”

  1. I’m the same, but sometimes scenes come to me out of order. (Usually when I’m sitting in church! Ha! Then I’m scribbling down everything.) What book or series made you fall in love with stories?

I’d say there are four different books/series that have shaped me as a reader and a writer. I’ll just tell you about them in the order that I discovered and read them…

Wings of the Morning by Lori Wick. This story gave me a fresh love for reading. I can’t tell you how many times I have read this beautiful story. I stopped counting after thirty. LOL. Pirates. Adventure on the high seas. Romance. Mystery. This story has it all!

The Christy Miller Series (and all of the spin off stories!!!) by Robin Jones Gunn. I’ve always related to Christy. I started reading these stories when I was eleven, and since Robin Jones Gunn is amazing and keeps continuing the story, I get to go through life, marriage, and children with this dear friend. Christy and I even have baby girls!

The Dragon Keep Chronicles by Donita K. Paul. Speaking of characters I can relate to!! Kale!!! She is one of my favorite characters ever! I’ll think something, turn the page, and Kale is thinking the same thing. My husband relates to Kale’s husband, Bardon, and we would swap these books back and forth when we were teenagers. ❤ I see these books as another facet of our love story. ❤

Match Point by Erynn Mangum. ❤ I love, love, love Laurie. I get her, I relate to her, and I share her sense of humor. Yet I want to as bold as she is. Plus, we have the same married name! (That wasn’t planned. 😉 ) But I also owe my writing career to this story and author. I’ve heard so many writers talk about a book that changed things for them. Well, this is that book for me. Once I read Match Point, I knew what kind of stories I wanted to write. Funny. Real, flawed, lovable characters. Filled with God.

Oh girl! The Christy Miller series basically helped shape my worldview in middle school and made all the difference in my life going forward. Not to mention, made me want to be a writer! Robin’s writing made me realize that one good novel can actually make an impression for a lifetime. And I’m such a fan of Erynn as well! I especially love the Paige Alder series.

Thank you SO much for sharing with us today, Joy! I’m so glad to know you.

Here are all the ways to connect with Joy and to check out her novel:

joy

 

 

Stories of Our Lives: Origins of The Last Summer

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Confession, loveys: I watched Days of Our Lives back in high school, and college, and I loved it. (The school I went to had half days on Fridays, so I’d watch every Friday and get caught up on the week.) Stefano DiMera, Sami and Carrie and Austin, Marlena and John–all of it. And at the beginning, I remember the intro saying, Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives. Later in college, I swapped Days for General Hospital and watched that through the rest of college–coming home at lunch and turning it on–and I dragged Jeff into the story during our first few years of marriage. No regrets. Those were good times. Jeff may not admit it, but he was just as hooked on finding out if Carly and Sonny would make it as I was.

The days of our lives really do go fast. And they tell a story. Our stories.

The Last Summer Front Cover

We’re five days out from the release of The Last Summer. (Eek! I’m SO excited!) I told you that I wrote the first draft of this twenty years ago, my first year of college. In fact, I still have the original spiral notebook.

Here’s a cool story, lovey. It’s just incredible to me.

After I’d written this last draft and sent it off to editors and publishers and finally heard back that it was going to be published–I realized something. In that first spiral notebook, I’d written the story of seven friends who love each other like family. The story has reshaped since then, but the plot has remained the same. The friends have remained true to their characters, but names changed over the years as I rewrote the story. In that spiral notebook are the original names that I came up with when I was eighteen years old.

Three of those names are Ashton, Lillian, and Everett.

My three children are named Ashtyn, Lillian, and Lincoln Everett.

The crazy thing is that this story never even came into my mind during my pregnancies. I was twenty-eight when I was pregnant for the first time. Ten years and a long way from the eighteen year old girl who’d gone away to college.

When I was pregnant with Ashtyn, my first child, I sometimes scribbled names on a notepad (usually during staff meetings!). Someone suggested Ashton to me, but at that time, it looked a bit masculine to me. I scribbled the name over and over on a notepad, and suddenly wrote Ashtyn, and it clicked. I loved it. Lillian never changed, I’ve always loved it. And I’ve loved the name Everett since I saw the movie With Honors way back in the 90s.

When I first realized that the names I came up with as a teenager are the names of my children–I’m not kidding when I say it sent chills over me. The truth that those names have been in my heart–in me–since I was just a girl . . . And have stayed with me for all these years, and have been passed on to the most important people in my life . . . without me even realizing it–well, I guess it’s just the connecting of all the days of my life.

Ashtyn and Lily and Lincoln Everett were always meant to be. They were always part of me. From years ago when I was a girl myself, spilling out a story that would hold pieces of me forever. (Before I even met Jeff!)

It makes me cry.

Their names were there–at the shaping of a story, at the shaping of my life. Little hints of who I would be and the children who would make my life wonderful. And I didn’t realize it, but it all came together.

I’ve been asked before about how I write my stories, lovey. For me, it’s just like that. They come together. A bit mysterious. The story unfolds and you see the connections later–and then you get it.

And I cry.

Our stories are being pieced together like puzzles–at the end you see the picture and you smile and you realize, Oh, that went there. Oh, right, of course that fit there. I see it now.

Loveys . . . stories–fictional and real–are amazing. They’ve been shaping me since I was a young thing. They’ve captivated me.

And this story I’m about to share with you–it’s a piece of the story of my life.

I’ll treasure it forever.