Meet Debut Author Kristina McMorris

Award-winning author Kristina McMorris sold her 2007 Golden Heart® finaling manuscript to Kensington in a two-book deal. Letters from Home (formerly Between the Lines) is a love story set against the emotionally charged backdrop of WWII, which has already begun to garner stellar reviews well before its tentative release date of Valentine’s Day 2011.

Kristina is creativity personified. She’s an actress, TV show host, entrepreneur, and public relations whiz, as well as an author. She hosted a children’s TV show for five years beginning at age nine, had a stint on Days of Our Lives and was in a comedy sketch with Jay Leno on The Tonight Show during college, and was the weekly host of the WB’s show Weddings Portland Style from 2001-2008. After earning a Marketing degree in three years at Pepperdine University, she founded her own company, Best Kept Secret, a full-service wedding and event planning business. She’s served as Director of Public Relations and Special Events for her family’s 18-company conglomerate, the Yoshida Group (perhaps most recognized for its line of Mr. Yoshida’s Gourmet Sauces) for over a decade.

The Pacific Northwest is home to Kristina, her husband, a Notre Dame/Green Bay Packer fan, and their two young sons. Having spent a year in Florence during college, she dreams of living in Italy in a villa purchased with her millions of royalty dollars, but for now her family is content to dine at Olive Garden. When Kristina’s not working, writing or caring for her family, she likes to swing dance and travel. And every now and then, this dynamo actually sleeps. 🙂

Join me as we follow Kristina’s writing journey from first story to first sale.
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Kristina McMorris .

Kristina Embarks on Her Journey

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•You didn’t begin writing novels until three years ago, but you’d been published before. Please share your previous writing background.

While running my event planning business, I quickly realized I could fill an entire book with entertaining stories of what NOT to do at a wedding. (Ooh, an idea for a future novel, perhaps?) After coordinating fourteen weddings per summer, I had accumulated a hefty amount of information that I felt could be helpful to many brides. I was able to pass along some matrimonial tips by working as a contributing writer to Portland Bride & Groom magazine.

My next literary venture came a few years later, when my baking/cooking-goddess grandmother asked if, in my “free time,” I could type out her favorite recipes and make copies for all the grandkids. “Sure,” I replied. After all, how many recipes could there be? Um….try over a thousand. Well, together we eliminated half and, as a Christmas gift for her, I designed a snazzy cover, composed a bio with vintage photos, and had the book spiral bound.

One thing led to another, and Grandma was bewildered to discover that her “little” cookbook was being sold at several retail stores, including Borders (proceeds benefiting her favorite charity), and she was slated for numerous cooking shows, as well as TV and print interviews. Thank goodness she had a healthy heart! (She hasn’t asked me for any favors since then, strangely enough.)

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Kristina McMorris and Gma Jean-KATU

Kristina McMorris (rt) and her Grandma Jean on KATU/ABC

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•Pregnancy can cause a woman to take a good look at her life. You did just that while carrying your second child. What happened during that hormone-induced exploration that led you to begin crafting your first story?

Clearly hormones had caused a glitch in my sanity, because I decided that being four-months pregnant was a fabulous time to start writing my first novel—and an historical one at that! Seeing as I wasn’t even a reader let alone a writer of fiction, this apparently made perfect sense in my scrambled prego brain. And why not? Getting published is such an easy feat (not). But I’m delighted I was so blissfully ignorant. Had I known what I was in for, I’m certain I would have run the other way screaming.

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•I understand your grandparents’ love story sparked the idea for Letters from Home. What was it from their experience that grabbed you and begged to be turned into a work of historical fiction?

Kristina McMorris' GrandparentsWhile interviewing my grandmother for the biographical section of her cookbook, she told me about her courtship with my late grandfather. Essentially they exchanged letters throughout his WWII Navy service, and after only meeting in person twice, they got married while he was on leave. Nearly fifty years later, he passed away at home, with his sweetheart by his side. Needless to say, I was deeply moved by their romantic story. And that was before she asked if I wanted to actually SEE the letters.

Kristina McMorris' Grandparents' LettersNo one in the family knew she had kept their beautiful stack of yellowed and wrinkled correspondence. Together we began to read his heartwarming pages, and not long after, that dreaded (or miraculous, depending on how you view it) “what if” question came to me: What if…a couple fell in love solely through letters during WWII, but the girl that the soldier was writing to was not the girl writing back? Just as in Cyrano de Bergerac, it begs the questions: Which person would you love? And more importantly, was it all a deception, or was any of it real?
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Kristina’s Process

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•We 2008 GH finalists, who proudly call ourselves the Pixie Chicks, know of your incredible gift of organization. I’m guessing your sense of order and attention to detail indicates a tendency to be a plotter as opposed to a pantser. Am I right? Do you create character sketches, perform oodles of research and have a color-coded outline before you begin writing?

Put it this way, I’ve never understood the point of a pregnant woman waiting to find out if she’s having a girl or boy. LOL. I suppose I find comfort in knowing the basics of what I’m getting into (as in, opting for baseball-covered sheets vs. the pink floral ones), yet am fully prepared to adjust and enjoy the surprises that come along. So to directly answer your question, I am certainly more of a plotter than a pantster, but fall somewhere in the medium range.

Because of my acting background, stories in my head play out like a full-length movie. So I write a sentence or two summarizing the gist of each scene/chapter I “see,” and since I write four to five POVs in each book, I have recently succumbed to the use of mini multi-colored Post-its. (Lord help me…) I found this to be very helpful in keeping the POVs rotating evenly while sticking with an accurate war timeline.

Other than that, I do loads and loads and, yes, loads of research, but the characters tend to pop into my head pretty well formed. (In other words, I’m just too lazy to write lengthy pages of detailed character sketches!)
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Mountaintop Experiences

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Success seems to come easily to you, Kristina. You’ve achieved it in the acting world, business world and now in the publishing world. And yet, you’re so humble. I’m duly impressed and pleased as can be for you.

•You’ve written two stories and racked up numerous contest wins, twenty in all. Which have stood out, and why?

First off, thank you so much for the kind words!

Regarding contests…I would have to say, my very first final was the most exciting, for obvious reasons. But the one that meant the most to me was when an excerpt of Letters from Home took first place in a large mainstream fiction contest sans categories. This one was particularly rewarding because at the awards banquet, famed screenwriter Mike Rich (The Rookie, Finding Forrester) just happened to be the keynote speaker. He had been generous enough to provide me with an endorsement blurb for an earlier version of the ms. the year before, so to be able to share that evening with him (and assure him the book really, truly had gotten better since he’d read it and he really, truly wouldn’t regret putting his stamp of approval on it) was even better than accepting the actual award!

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•On March 25, 2007, you received a special phone call from Romance Writers of America® with the news that Letters from Home was a Golden Heart finalist. What was your first thought? And after you hung up did you break into song, do a happy dance or stare at the phone in disbelief?

Oh, boy. I’m smiling at the memory—that is, of recalling my utter ignorance back then. Once the woman on the phone introduced herself as being with RWA®, I immediately thought, Did I forget to pay my dues? She then told me I was a GH finalist (joy filling her voice) and asked me if I was going to be at Nationals, to which I thought, What Nationals?! Diplomatically, I answered, “Unfortunately, no. But I’ll be jealous of everyone attending.” (Disappointment, or shock, abruptly replaced the joy in her voice.)

Not until three chapter mates sent me lengthy emails (enumerating all the reasons why I would be loony-tunes not to go) did I realize the GH was, um, sort of a big deal. In fact, I recall one of the persuading lines to be, “Girl, it’s the freakin’ Oscars! You have to go! Then again…if you don’t go, could I accept the award on your behalf if you win?” Within days, I had booked my airline ticket.

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Kristina with her mom, Kaylin McFarren

Kristina with her mom, Kaylin McFarren

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•Last year you received a second call from RWA informing you that once again you were a Golden Heart finalist. Was the thrill as great?

I admit, the second time around I had figured out what was at stake, and given that I had attended my very first Nationals as GH royalty, I didn’t really relish the idea of, say, being bumped from First Class to Coach. LOL. In contrast to my oblivious nonchalance during my call the year before, my excitement level was definitely in the appropriate range that second year.
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•Another call eclipsed even these two. The Call. Your agent, Jenn Shober, shared the BIG news that John Scognamiglio, editor-in-chief from Kensington, had offered you a two-book deal. You’d sold the first novel you ever wrote! What was your reaction? Please share your Call Story complete with all the sensory details we writers enjoy.

My sale story actually came in two waves. Less than a week after my agent, the lovely Jenn Schober, had sent out my submissions, she called to tell me that John had read it over the weekend, loved it, and was taking it to acquisitions. Naturally, I was excited, but as a product of my Hollywood background, I’ve learned to celebrate only when the deal is concrete…and even then, not to pop champagne until the night of the premiere.

Anyhow, after seven very, very long weeks of waiting for a response, Jenn called to say that due to questions on marketing a WWII novel, my poor little manuscript had endured several additional reads, and thankfully, in the end, had passed the test. Going against my Hollywood know-how, I did literally squee on the phone with my agent. When I called my mom to share the news, she answered in a frustratingly calm tone, “Oh, honey, that’s wonderful. See, I always knew it would sell.” That’s what I get for living in a family of overachievers. Ha!
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Partners on Kristina’s Journey

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•Many have already read and enjoyed Letters from Home, but there were a special few who got to see it in all its rough draft glory–your CPs and head cheerleaders. What were the greatest insights and contributions you received from them?

Two of my greatest assets have been my tough CPs and unyielding cheerleaders—my husband and my author-mother, Kaylin McFarren, topping the list. My mom’s constant belief in my story and writing skills (even when they, um, weren’t all that skillful) has been invaluable! Without confidence that what you’re working on is worthwhile, I don’t know how any author perseveres, particularly by the fifth round of revisions. And my husband’s knack for calling out any lack of truth to a character or scene has been incredibly insightful.
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Kristina’s Journey Continues

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•Kensington purchased two books, so you must be hard at work on the second. Is it a sequel to Letters from Home or something brand new?

It’s another WWII love story, though completely unrelated to Letters from Home—in fact, it relies very little on the research I compiled for the first book. (Apparently I enjoy torturing myself.)

In what is tentatively titled The Sparrow’s Song, a Caucasian aspiring violinist secretly elopes with her Japanese-American boyfriend—defying societal molds and families’ wishes—the night before Pearl Harbor is bombed.

It’s a complex story told from four interwoven points of view (my brain is tired just thinking about it), featuring love, loss, historical surprises, and even a few explosions for those male readers out there! Given my Japanese heritage, I’m looking forward to sharing a unique perspective and story.
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•Do you have any other projects in the works?

No rest for the wicked, right? My agent is currently pursuing film option avenues for Letters from Home and is about to start submitting a children’s picture book ms. for me. My fingers are crossed equally for both, as I would love for my kids to be able to read a book Mommy wrote, without having to wait another ten years. (Actually, with my novels’ love scenes, tame though they are, make that twenty years!)
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Your First Book

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•Please tell us a little about your debut novel, Letters from Home.

Set against the emotionally charged backdrop of WWII, poetic university student Liz Stephens falls deeply in love through a yearlong letter exchange with infantryman Morgan McClain. Equally enamored, the Midwest soldier stationed in Europe relies solely on their correspondence to survive the gruesome realities of war. Yet between the scrawled lines of familial hardships and heartrending tragedies lies the one secret Liz must keep, or risk losing everyone she holds dear. As the nation nears victory, and its troops return home, each will learn the price of freedom while uncovering the deceptions of love and war.
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Five Fun Facts About Kristina

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~ During my college years, I became friends with such celebrities as Kenny G, John McGinley and Woody Harrelson (yet no tell-all book is planned in my future).

~ At around age six, I told my parents that when I grew up I was going to be either a nun or belly dancer. The reason behind both? Because I loved their outfits.

~ I am on a constant mission to find the world’s best Tiramisu—and believe me, I’ve sampled a lot of them across the globe. Even after living in Italy for a year, I can’t help but crown (don’t laugh) Olive Garden as the reigning champ. But California Pizza Kitchen is a close runner-up. (I’m not kidding.)

~ I’m a firm believer that if you don’t eat the last bite of a plated dessert, the calories you consumed don’t count. And if you get someone else to eat that last bite for you, those calories are reduced from your own tally.

~ I spent my childhood to teen years traveling in a dance performing troupe, and to this day, I still love an occasional evening of swing dancing with my hubby or dropping in on a local hip-hop class. Thus, in light of my maiden name, Yoshida, feel free to call me “K.Yo” (as in the Asian version of J.Lo…a wedding planner too, right?).
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Kristina’s Question for You

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•I’ve enjoyed having you as my guest, Kristina. Thanks for your great answers to my questions. And now it’s your turn to ask a question of your visitors. What would you like to know?

I’m curious if anyone here has ever had their heart touched by their grandparent’s or other elderly relative’s story. They all have such amazing tales to tell, if only someone bothers to ask. Please share a special memory involving a loved one of the Greatest Generation.
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Learn More About Kristina

Visit her Web site: http://www.kristinamcmorris.com

Friend her on Facebook: Kristina McMorris
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Leave a Comment for Two Chances to Win

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My Regular Drawing

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My next drawing will take place July 10th.

The winner will receive a $10 gift card for Jamba Juice.

To enter the drawing, just leave a comment on any blog post by July 10th and enter your email address when prompted. (I don’t share your information or add it to any mailing lists.) On July 11th, I’ll post the winner’s name in the Welcome post at the top of the blog.
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You could also win a First Sale Scrapbook!

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If you’d like to have a chance at winning a First Sale Scrapbook created by me, your blog hostess Keli Gwyn, leave a comment on any post between now and July 31st. Be sure to include your name and email address when prompted if you want to be entered in the drawing. (Your information will not be shared.) Click red link above to see samples of covers and pages.

On August 1st, I will choose one person who will have her/his choice of several covers on an 8×8 inch, twenty-page scrapbook in which s/he can document that long-awaited first sale. The pages will cover various milestones including The Call, signing the contract, receiving the first advance payment and holding your debut novel in your hands.

(No scrapbooking skills required. You just add your photos and journaling.)

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About Keli Gwyn

I'm an award-winning author of inspirational historical romance smitten with the Victorian Era. I'm currently writing for Harlequin's Love Inspired Historical line of wholesome, faith-filled romances. My debut novel, A Bride Opens Shop in El Dorado, California, was released July 1, 2012. I'm represented by Rachelle Gardner of Book & Such Literary. I live in a Gold Rush-era town at the foot of the majestic Sierras. My favorite places to visit are my fictional worlds, other Gold Country towns and historical museums. When I'm not writing I enjoy taking walks, working out at Curves™ and reading.
This entry was posted in author interview, first sale story, Golden Heart, Romance Writers of America, RWA Nationals, writing, writing contests and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to Meet Debut Author Kristina McMorris

  1. Kelly says:

    Having read part of Letters From Home as a Golden Heart judge (in 2007 I think) I’m happy, but not surprised by your success.

    Kelly

  2. Susan Mason says:

    Hi Kristina,

    Wow! I didn’t realize how mulit-talented you are! What’s your secret? Positive thinking? Visualization? Or sheer determination?

    We’re all so proud and happy that your book is being published. Have a drink in DC for me!

    Cheers,

    Sue

  3. Aw, thank you, gals!

    Kelly – I sincerely appreciate the high (and thus obviously generous) score you awarded the entry back then. And congrats again on your GH final! You’re going to have sooo much fun!

    Sue – The secret? Um, I’d have to say obsession and insanity. Definitely insanity. 🙂 Sorry we won’t be seeing you in DC, but more than happy to chug, I mean, sip down that cocktail for you!

  4. You are one busy lady, my friend! And I couldn’t be happier for you.

    Growing up, I don’t recall any stories of the hardships of war. Only when I got older did I hear some of the tales, and those well edited. Too many of them brought tears to my eyes, but despite that, both sets of grandparents continued to love each other until the end. Perhaps that is why I’m such a firm believer in HEA.

  5. I hear you, Pat. Some days research doesn’t leave me in the highest of spirits (right now I’m reading about the brutality endured by Allied POWs in the Pacific). But at least I feel good about being able to share some of their experiences with readers who might not otherwise have learned about them.

    I’m a fan of HEA too! 🙂

  6. Anne Barton says:

    Hi Kris! What a great interview and what a FABULOUS picture of you and your mom from the GH ceremony.

    Your drive and positive outlook are so inspiring. Congrats on the recent book deal, and may it be the first of many. 🙂

    –Anne

  7. Thanks, Anne! And thank you for stopping by!

  8. Liz H. says:

    Hi Kristina,

    Congratulations again on your first sale! 🙂

    And fantastic interview – I like your reasoning behind your childhood profession choices. Not to mention the story behind Letters from Home. I can’t wait to read it!

  9. Shelley says:

    Kristina, I am in awe of your organization and energy. It will serve you well as you make your way to the top of all the bestseller lists. 🙂 I have such incredible memories of my grandmother, who endured an impoverished, brutal childhood. I spent most of my childhood summers with this amazingly strong, humble woman. She taught me how to grow prize-winning hollyhocks and make blackberry jam. I can still taste it.

  10. Kaylin says:

    What can I possibly say except you’re simply amazing! A woman who manages to do it all while surviving on 3 hours of sleep every night. Can’t tell you how pumped I am about Kensington picking you up and the very REAL likelihood that LETTERS FROM HOME will be made into an incredible movie for all to enjoy! 🙂

    (Lifting a glass) Here’s to my darlin’ daughter who tolerates all my crazy questions, weird mood swings, and mounding obsessions that tend to take over my life. Thank goodness I have you to keep me in line…:-)

    -Kaylin

  11. Liz – Hey, it’s all about the outfit. Ha. Thanks for the kind words!

    Shelley – Thanks so much for your enthusiasm. And, nobody makes homemade jam like a grandmother! My own grandma makes a killer Strawberry jam, so good you can eat it by the spoonful. 🙂

    Kaylin – Are you still playing on Facebook today, or did you get ANY writing done? LOL. Thanks for the toast! It’s a holiday weekend, after all, so it’s almost time to enjoy a cocktail!

    Happy 4th, everyone!

  12. July 2, 2009 at 6:12 am
    Kristina, I love your stories about your Grandmother. My grandmother and I were very close too. I’ll tell you about the Carebear (me) on Ski sometime.

    And you know Woody. You didn’t tell me that. Wow! He plays such a great bad boy besides the comic.

    Letters From Home sounds wonderful. I will be watching for it’s release.

    I hope to meet you in DC?

    Autumn Jordon
    2009 Golden Heart Finalist
    http://www.autumnjordon.

  13. Quilt Lady says:

    Hellos Kristina, nice to meet you. You are one talented women, whats your secret? Your books sound fabulous and I will have to put you on my wish list.

  14. Wow. My life is BORING compared to yours. 🙂 What a great interview. You are an amazing woman. If you weren’t so darn nice, I’d be really, really jealous of you. Okay, so maybe I’m still a bit green…

    I have lots of stories from elderly relatives, but some advice from my elderly great aunt (she’s 95 or 96) stands out. My mom asked her recently what was her secret to a long marriage (she was married 50+ years before her husband’s death). She said, “He tells me what to do and I do it.”
    Yeah, like that would fly in my household. But I love it.

    Have fun in D.C. Say hi to all my fellow Pixies.

    And CONGRATS again on your recent sales. So well deserved.

    :)Becky

  15. Susan Lute says:

    Kristina… I love your ‘getting sold’ story 🙂 Interesting enough, I never knew my grandparents, but I have to say, in my job as a nurse, I am touch every day by the women I meet at the office. Your generation has an astonishing optimism that warms my heart and keeps me going.

    Congratulations again! Can’t wait to be the first in line to buy LETTERS 😀

  16. Autumn – Carebear and Ski?! My interest is fully piqued. Yep, I’ll be in DC, where you will HAVE to share the story. Congrats on your GH final! It’s such a fun ride. Enjoy every minute!

    Quilt Lady – Nice to “meet” you too! Thanks for the sweet words and for adding me — or my book, rather — to your wish list. (Of course, if it means a sale, you can add ME too.) As for my secret? Most definitely, without a doubt, really, really, really patient kids and hubby. 🙂

  17. Becky – Aw, girl, can you send me emails like that EVERY day? What a confidence booster you are. Although, I happen to know enough about you to know that your life is FAR from boring! 🙂 I love your great aunt’s quote. What a coincidence — that’s exactly what my hubby’s motto is. He just doesn’t know it yet. Ha.

    Su – You’re so sweet. I’m happy to be among those who touch your amazingly enormous and giving heart. And let me tell ya, I can’t wait to SELL you a book in that line at the store. LOL.

  18. Jessica says:

    I always loved hearing my grandparents’ stories. 🙂
    What a cool journey you’ve been on! Congrats on your book deal. Hopefully you’re background can give your book some extra oomph, even though it sounds so good that I doubt you’d need it! LOL Very cool idea.
    I loved the interview!

  19. Tatia Talbot says:

    Hi, Kristina,

    Great interview! I swear, the more I get to know about you, the more astonished I am by all you’ve done. And here I thought *I* was busy!

    Congrats on your two book deal; I can’t wait to read LETTERS. You should also know that your grandmother’s cheesy potatoes recipe has been a smash hit with my family! Thanks for sharing!

    I have very few warm and fuzzy memories of my grandparents, alas. I think they were one of the few couples to divorce sixty years ago, and I didn’t learn the reasons why until well into my twenties. Apparently, my grandfather grew up in a roaring 20s equivalent of a brothel, as his mother was a courtesan. It left him with a somewhat, shall I say, compromised moral compass that drove my grandmother batty. Interesting story and possible fodder for a novel at some point, but not QUITE the heartwarming tale of love we typically hear!

    See you in DC!
    Tatia

  20. Jessica – Hey, I’ll take all the oomph I can get! LOL. Thanks for stopping by!

    Tatia – I completely forgot about loaning out her fabulous recipe. Glad it’s such a hit! Ooh, now you’ve made me hungry, and sadly I’ll have to settle for cereal today. As for your grandparents, OMG! I had to read it twice to make sure I understood correctly. Are you kidding? Of course, this is a story for a novel. I tell ya, stranger than fiction… 🙂

  21. C.J. Redwine says:

    I’m so excited about your sale. Can’t wait to snatch it off the shelves!

    My grandparents on my mom’s side have a wonderful love story. They fell in love but my grandpa was shipping out for WWII and refused to marry her before he left. He didn’t want to burden her with widow status, just in case. He spent four long years fighting in France and Africa (even fixed General Eisenhower’s car one day) before returning home. She waited. They were married soon after he returned.

  22. Oh, CJ, you just gave me chills with that beautiful story. What a great way to start a Saturday. Thanks for your support!! Pixies rock. 🙂

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