I wonder if you're as thankful as I am at the promise of a more typical summer this year. For most of us, the past fourteen months haven’t passed without considerable trauma, and many are moving forward with a life that will never be the same after losing loved ones during the pandemic. I read all your comments and emails, and my heart goes out to you. When we least expect it, life can have a way of handing us what we aren’t prepared for. It certainly did for me earlier this year, which I’ve shared a bit about on social media and in my newsletter.
I’ve long been a sucker for a good love story. Not only is crafting them what I do for a living, but they’re also the first books I reach for and movies I watch. With that being said, I’m dedicating this blog to my parents, who recently celebrated their 52nd wedding anniversary. They met in the late sixties at a drinking fountain at work in a large company, and six months later (yes, only six months…a sign of different times!), they were married. Like most real-life love stories, life wasn’t always perfect, but it was good. They loved each other, raised children, and eventually became empty nesters and grandparents.
This year on Valentine’s Day, the day before their anniversary, they came as close as they’ve been to their love story coming to an end. A week prior, my father underwent surgery to have a knee replacement. With him still bed ridden, Valentine’s Day and their anniversary celebrations were minimal. As a giant snow storm pressed in, promising to blast the Midwest in near-record snows, at some point while my dad dozed, my mom started not feeling well. Her symptoms—which she doesn’t remember but which we’ve since pieced together—included a headache, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Not knowing her condition was far more serious than she could conceive, my mom lost precious hours caring for herself in one of their spare bedrooms. She was having a stroke and didn’t know it. Her brain was bleeding, and her body was shutting down.
With my dad confined to bed, and my mom having a stroke and not knowing she needed help until it was too late to seek it, these uncertain hours could’ve led to a Shakespearean-level tragedy for my family. But, dear reader, I’m sharing this story because in the midst of Covid-19 isolation, a massive snow storm, a knee placement, and a stroke, some bigger force won out that day: love. By the time my mom finally sought out my dad, she wasn’t looking for his help. Her body had begun shutting down, and she’d lost her ability to speak. Somehow, she still made it into their bed, curled up alongside him, and snuggled next to him as she fell to sleep. It was at this time that my father realized something was terribly wrong. My mom was rushed by ambulance to the nearest hospital. The next month was the most trying one of my family's lives so far. In the hours and days that followed, she was given 50/50 odds of surviving and spent the next 17 days in ICU.
That night, while fishtailing in deep snow, I drove to the hospital and later to my dad’s to care for him, leaving my youngest (17) to fend for himself at home for several days. This trying time was filled with prayers, tears, and connection. The days were surreal and exhausting, but we made it through. All of us. After 39 days in the hospital and rehab, my mom was finally able to go home. She could both talk and walk (after we’d been told neither might be possible for her again). While she still had a long road to healing ahead, it has been one we’ve been grateful for every day.
During this uncertain time, I was working on developmental edits for To Be Loved By You (Rescue Me #6, releasing January 2022). While the type of love featured in romance novels is new, uncertain, and exciting, I found myself relating the book’s title to the love that develops over a lifetime of togetherness, and I salute my parents for all the work they’ve done to take this beautiful journey of life together. They married young and have grown together over decades. As with many long-married couples, their love has morphed into the quiet kind that might not sell books but brings families together over the holidays and leaves a mark on the heart like a long-traveled path--the kind that brings lovers together when words, and sometimes even bodies, fail.
Thanks in part to the heartfelt emotion which led my mom back to my dad that night, my parents’ love story continues. In the words of Audrey Hepburn, “The best thing to hold onto in life is each other.”
I suspect you’re equally excited to begin this fresh new year. I'm quite thankful that those I'm closest to haven't been too adversely affected by the pandemic and were able to spend some of last year exploring new hobbies and knocking out house projects. As a writer, I’m naturally introverted, and many of my favorite pastimes like hiking, gardening, and cooking were there to fall back on when I needed solace from the weighty news rocking the world in so many different ways. So, too, were the stories I was working on.
Last spring, as I completed revisions on Summer by the River (releasing March 2), I was immersed in the fictional world set in a midwestern tea garden in the historic town of Galena, Illinois. In addition to taking twenty-five-year-old Josie Waterhill, the lead character, through her journey as she makes peace with her past and learns to embrace the life she’s created for herself, my thoughts were filled with Galena history, calming tea blends, mouth-watering quiche, and dense, salty scones that helped make the story’s setting come to life. It probably goes without saying I found it necessary to bake my share of quiches and scones while writing this book. As a happy consequence, I have a few favorite new recipes. If you like to bake, be sure to sign up for my newsletter as I’ll be sharing some of the ones mentioned in the book as we near the March 2nd release date.
If you’ve never been, Galena is a quaint midwestern town tucked into the hillsides and bluffs along the Galena River. I highly recommend adding it to your list of places to visit as it becomes time to make travel plans again. One thing I love about Galena is that eighty-five percent of the buildings are on the historic register. You’re surrounded by Victorian mansions, cobblestone streets, and old red brick shops, restaurants, and homes.
While walking through the town, it was if I was stepping back into history. Swept away as I was, I was inspired to work a bit of fictional Galena history into Summer by the River. Carter O’Brien, a freelance journalist from New York, arrives in Galena in hopes of learning the reason behind his grandfather’s disappearance in the town in 1940. While researching an unsolved murder which occurred that same year, he’s directed to speak with Myra Moore, the elderly owner of the tea garden where Josie works. Once there, not only does he unearth some unexpected history, but he also falls quite heavily for Josie, and an unlikely chain of events ensue.
I hope you love this story as much as I do. I’m pleased to share that Main Street Books (a charming independent bookstore in St. Charles, Missouri, another historic town I adore) is taking orders for signed copies now through February 20th.
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Thanks readers for ALL your encouragement to keep this series coming! I'm SUPER excited to share that not only has the Rescue Me series been extended to a full 8 books, I've also signed with Sourcebooks for two single-titled works of Women's Fiction that will be interspersed between Rescue Me releases. And never fear, these new titles will have happy endings for both the two and four-legged kind, just like in Rescue Me series books.
Look out for Head Over Paws (Rescue Me book 5) to be released April 28, 2020, and check back here for future release information. Until then, I hope you love my newest release, Love at First Bark (Rescue Me book 4), as much as I loved writing it!
Midwest readers, I'll be signing Sit, Stay, Love in Cincinnati at Books by the Banks.
If you live in the area, stop by! I'd love to meet you!
Big news! To celebrate the release of Sit, Stay, Love, I'll be at The Ripped Bodice on Saturday, April 7th for a "Rescue Dogs and Romance" event. Adoptable dogs from A Purposeful Rescue will be on site, and I'll be there signing Sit, Stay, Love, Book 2 in the Rescue Me series. If you are in the LA area, please join us! If not, you can still order your own signed copy to be shipped April 10th.