Posted by Literary Titan
With Kisses From Cécile tells the story of a friendship separated by an ocean but connected through letters. What was the inspiration for the setup to this enthralling story?
My co-author Jan’s family has carefully preserved the letters Cécile Cosqueric wrote to Jan’s grandmother Ruth over the course of 1919 to 1922, and when she shared them with me, I fell in love with both Cécile and Ruth. I could not get Cécile’s voice out of my mind! The letters are gorgeous, and Cécile included art work and souvenirs for Ruth in her postings. You are totally swept away into Cécile’s Paris, post-World War 1. Jan and I knew we could not get all of Cécile’s letters embedded into a story arc, and we did not have Ruth’s letters, of course. We decided to create a fictional framework for the story, creating the character of Maggie who learns about her great-grandmother Ruth while she accompanies Ruth’s daughter, Maggie’s grandmother, to Paris. Maggie has experienced the trauma of a marriage coming apart because of her husband’s infidelity. Learning about the strong women of her own lineage who have faced tragedy encourages Maggie’s resolve to face her own trauma and sense of loss. Our story arc has Maggie coming to acceptance and forgiveness, similar to how Ruth did, supported by her confidante Cécile’ who is facing her own mortality.
Cécile and Ruth are intriguing and well-developed characters. What were some driving ideals behind their character development?
With Kisses from Cécile is a coming of age one for both Cécile and Ruth, who were 18 and 13 at the time of the story. Their mothers are very much products of their own Victorian era and are not supportive of the changes happening after World War 1 which allow girls more freedom than they had experience themselves. For Cécile, the loss of so many men in the War meant opportunities for young women to enter the work force and travel unchaperoned in the work world. Cécile embraced being employed, commuting on the metro, meeting American soldiers still in Paris, and learning as much as she could about American culture. Her words dance off the pages of her letters that are imbued with her extraverted approach to life. She loved flirting, dancing, drawing, and anything celebrity, especially American celebrity. We wanted to be sure to do her justice in the book, to let the reader realize Cécile’s youth and vitality and faith. She was determined to live her life as fully as possible while fighting against the consumption that cut it short. Her life experiences were shaped by her as a child surviving with her family the Paris bombings during World War 1 and her illness. We wanted to show how her strength and resolve helped Ruth survive her own traumatic experience.
We had insight personally into Ruth because Jan knew her grandmother, and her personal relationship with her helped us craft the Ruth you meet in the book. Although we fictionalized some of Ruth’s real story, we did relay the main event serving as the catalyst for the plot as it did happen. As a young girl, Ruth must face the personal consequences of her own actions that change her and her family forever. Her sensitivity and devotion to her father and her mother are tested while she attempts to live a lie crafted for her own protection. When she strikes out to travel to see her father, from whom her mother and sisters have been separated, she learns how strong she can be and what possibilities exist for independent women, as illustrated to her when she meets and works for the two women who own their own tea room. We crafted scenes to show Ruth’s tenacity, stubbornness, loyalty, and intelligence so the reader would grow not just to sympathize and empathize with her but come to admire her, as well. The real Ruth did marry Clinton, and she cherished both her life with him and her letters from Cécile. At Ruth’s death, the letters passed to Jan.
What was the writing collaboration like between the two of you?
When I met Jan, she had written a draft of a middle grade story telling Ruth’s story, but merging in Cécile’s letters had become problematic. Jan had tried to include all of the letters, that in actuality span over four years. Because I had fallen desperately in love with Cécile, I wanted her letters and Ruth’s story to be in readers’ hands, so I asked Jan if she might consider a collaboration with me. I write historical romance, and I thought of an idea to create a contemporary framework of the story using the character of Maggie. By approaching the story within this framework, we could weave in the four years of letters by allowing Maggie to be the one who reads the letters while hearing her grandmother tell her Ruth’s story, thereby the reader reads the letters within Maggie’s point of view. The draft of this approach felt like a winning one, so we proceeded to revise until we felt the story was ready to publish. Reader feedback asking for more about both Ruth and Maggie is thrilling, making Jan and I feel that all the years and drafts we spent on trying to write this story was well worth it!
The other major part of our collaboration is how we capitalize on each other’s strengths: mine is the actual writing and Jan’s is the creative marketing/jewelry design part of our brand. Jan, owner of Storyology Design, is well known for her antique coin purse necklaces, for which she has gained a following. She has booths at the two large antique markets in the Southeast: Scott’s Antique Market and Lakewood 400 Antiques. When we neared the publication phase for With Kisses From Cécile, we decided to publish it ourselves, expanding Jan’s company to Storyology Design & Publication, and Jan created a jewelry line called The Cécile Collection, giving us a unique marketing angle where we could reach the target audience of readers and jewelry customers. So far, we have met with success, with the books and jewelry selling out at each market!
What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?
I am writing a time travel romance, THE CAROUSEL TRAVELER, in which my protagonist Mirabelle Montgomery travels to 1900 Paris. It will be published by Storyology Design & Publication and for which Jan is designing the Mirabelle Jewelry Collection. We are planning a December 2020 release.
Posted by Literary Titan
With Kisses From Cécile follows two young women, Ruth and her French pen pal, Cécile. Through their letters we get a glimpse of their lives and the beautiful bond that is shared between two friends. Authors Anne Armistead and Jan Agnello have written a historical novel of friendship, loss, and forgiveness.
This book is a delightfully sweet historical fiction novel. The story between Ruth and Cecile is wonderful to follow. The book follows two timelines, one in the present and one in the past. The authors did a fantastic job distinguishing the two timelines. The characters are skillfully crafted and well developed. You admire both women and their strength and admire their friendship. The history in the book does not take away from the story, if anything it adds to it. Reading the historical events that each character witnessed you begin to understand and appreciate them. I would’ve liked to have read more about Clinton and Ruth. Ruth had so much more going on in her life that I would have liked to see loose ends tied up. I came to care for Ruth and the trials she faced, her emotions, and the way she lived life.
While I enjoyed the emotional depth of the book, I felt that the pacing of the story was slow when it came to Gran and Maggie but I pushed on because I wanted to read more about Ruth. The authors included pictures at the end of the book which was an added bonus. With Kisses From Cécile is a heart warming read that explores a beautiful friendship of two women who live worlds apart.
Pages: 269 | ASIN: B07WNY78W6