Interview & Giveaway: With Kisses from Cécile by Jan Agnello & Anne Armistead

Hello, dear readers! Today on the blog I am super excited to be hosting the co-authors of With Kisses From Cecile, Jan Agnello & Anne Armistead! Today kicks off their blog tour so be sure to check out the blogs that will be hosting them. My review will be up later today. It was a wonderful read! And don't forget to enter to win a copy at the end of this post.

I hope you enjoy getting to know these two fascinating women writers! Have you ever had a pen pal? Let us know in the comments!

Hello Jan & Anne and welcome to Passages to the Past! Thanks so much for stopping by today to talk about With Kisses from Cécile!

To begin, can you please tell us a little about yourself and your writing?

Jan: My first job after graduating college from Washington State University was in advertising sales for KIRO Newsradio followed by KMPS radio. After that I brokered Cable television advertising. Then two babies came along with a corporate move for my husband to Bucks County Pennsylvania, an area that has been home to some of our great writers, Pearl Buck, James Michener, and musical lyricist Oscar Hammerstein to name a few. Many snowy evenings gave me the opportunity to read a lot of great books. When I wasn't working for the local newspaper, I loved antiquing and learning about the areas rich history. Then, you guessed it, another corporate move to Atlanta. For many years I substitute taught Language Arts and Social Studies to Middle School students. I started my antique and designer heirloom jewelry business, Storyology Design, and have a devoted following in the antique community, especially for my antique coin purses. With Kisses from Cécile marks the first of a series of novels planned for publishing by Storyology Design and Publication, merging my love of historical fiction with my love of designing jewelry!

Sandra: I am a native Georgian who attended the University of Georgia and married a “Jersey” boy who attended the rival Georgia Tech. Somehow, our “house divided” has worked out! We have two grown daughters and one rescue dog, Jackpot (so named because we hit the jackpot when he rescued us!). My career after college was with AT&T as a project manager, trainer, and writer of documentation. After having my two daughters, I resuscitated my dormant teaching certificate and taught English at the middle, high, and college levels, until my retirement this past spring. I completed my MFA in Creative Writing at Spalding University’s program under the administration of the wonderful award-winning author Sena Naslund (Ahab’s Wife). Now, I am thrilled to fill my days with my creative writing instead of lesson planning and grading essays! I have been published in Highlights Magazine and have won or placed in several writing contests sponsored by the Romance Writers of American chapters, The Atlanta Writers Club, the Alabama Writers Conclave, Society of Children Writers and Illustrators, and WOW! Women on Writing. My debut historical novel is Dangerous Conjurings (Soul Mate Publishing, April 2018), followed by With Kisses from Cécile as my second.

How did the idea to co-write With Kisses from Cécile come to be?

Jan & Sandra: We met over a decade ago at an Atlanta Writers Club meeting where we read from our works in progress at the time, which for Jan was a draft of With Kisses from Cécile. Sandra was so intrigued with the background of Jan’s story, and we decided to meet for lunch so Jan could share more about the pen pal letters her grandmother Ruth received from Cécile, and from that moment forward, we decided we had to collaborate to introduce others to Cécile.

What research did you undertake when writing With Kisses from Cécile?

Jan & Sandra: The “then” part of the story is framed by Cécile’s letters which created the timeline for Ruth’s story, meaning we had to research the 1919-1922 timeframe. Cécile’s letters guided our research of World War I historical events and locations in France. Jan’s family mementoes of that era’s rail schedule, brochures, and maps helped us dramatize Ruth’s travel from Oakland, California, to Colorado Springs, Colorado. We learned more about Cragmor Sanatorium in Colorado Springs, Colorado, which plays a significant role in the story, by reading the book The Asylum of the Gilded Pill: The Story of Cragmor Sanatorium by Douglas R. McKay. We learned more about tea rooms of the era by reading Jan Whitaker’s Tea at the Blue Lantern Inn, A Social History of the Tea, Room Craze in America, which helped us with the scenes of the runaway Ruth at the Busy Bees Tea House in Salt Lake City, Utah. Jan traveled to Paris and visited where Cécile lived and traveled and her grave in the Gentilly Cemetery, which deepened the emotional resonance of the story. We added in our Author Notes details of our research which we felt would help the reader.

What would you like readers to take away from reading With Kisses from Cécile?

Jan & Sandra: One of the main themes of our story is the strength we gain from those who came before us in our families. The lineage chart we included in the book was not only provided to help understand the women’s relationships to each other but to also highlight how we inherit resilience from stories of those in our family who triumphed over sadness and sorrow. Maggie is a composite of both Jan and Sandra, in that she represents a woman facing an event in her life that has derailed her, yet learning what her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother, as well as Cécile, had to overcome inspires her to move forward in her life with grace, courage, and forgiveness. We hope the readers will be encouraged to uncover similar stories in their own families from which they may gain inspiration and courage.

You co-wrote With Kisses from Cécile together, what did that process look like?

Jan & Sandra: The history of this story goes back actually to a non-fiction article Jan’s daughter Marie wrote and submitted to Stone Soup, and it was published in the May/June 2002 edition of the magazine. A NYC agent saw the article and contacted Jan asking if she and her daughter had considered writing the story as a middle grade novel. That was when Jan began drafting the first manuscript, and when she met Sandra in 2010, together they worked on completing and polishing that draft for submission. Unfortunately, the agent who requested it had moved on from representing middle grade. Life events intervened and the project was dropped. Sandra moved into writing historical romance, and her debut novel Dangerous Conjurings was published in April 2018 from Soul Mate Publishing. By that time, Jan had created Storyology Design, her antique and heirloom quality jewelry business, and had built a clientele who enjoyed not only Jan’s antiques and jewelry but also her stories she relayed behind each item. Jan contacted Sandra with the idea of taking their beloved With Kisses from Cécile in the direction of the historical romance genre and jewelry collection, targeting adult readers this time. She expanded Storyology Design into Storyology Design and Publication with the plan to publish a series of historical romances, each with a jewelry collection names after the protagonists. With Kisses from Cécile became reframed as a historic romance with the dual narrative timeline embedding Cécile’s letters. So, over a decade after Jan and Sandra’s initial meeting, the world can now meet and fall in love with Cécile!

What was your favorite scene to write?

Jan & Sandra: In Ruth’s narrative, I loved writing the scenes with the rooster Herkimer, as well as the poignant scene with Ruth and Clinton with his homing pigeons at Lake Merritt. In Maggie’s narrative, I enjoyed writing Chapter Nineteen. Grams reads to Maggie Cécile’s letter in which Cécile writes of sitting in Park Montsouris and worries that the boy sitting in the park thinks of her as a “fast girl.” This chapter includes humor and pathos and deepens the reader’s appreciation of the sweet relationship between Maggie and Grams.

What was the most difficult scene to write?

Jan & Sandra: In Ruth’s narrative, the most difficult scene by far was when Ruth confides her “secret” and comes to an understanding and forgiveness of herself. In Maggie’s narrative, the most difficult to write was Chapter Thirty-Seven, after Maggie has learned of Ruth’s secret and of Cécile’s illness and begins to experience a turning point in how she views her own hurt and betrayal.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

Sandra: I cannot remember a moment in my life when stories have not been a part of my life and my desire to write and share stories with others has not been a dream! My dad was the consummate storyteller, and I loved hearing him share his stories from growing up during the Depression. I turned one of his stories about hobos visiting his home for food into my first published piece in Highlights Magazine (“The Sign of the Cat”). I ran my mother ragged when I was a child, carting me back and forth from the library multiple times a week for me to keep a stack of books at the ready. My most favorites including Anne of Green Gables, Nancy Drew Mysteries, and Little Women, Victoria Holt Gothic romances, and of course, Gone with the Wind.

What does your daily writing routine look like?

Sandra: I spend my morning working on my work-in-progress, researching, outlining, writing scenes, as well as revising after the first draft of a manuscript is completed I spend the afternoons outlining my next WIP, checking in on blogs I follow, posting across my social media accounts, and volunteering time with the writing community (judging entries for contests, developing and delivering workshops, and mentoring other writers). One morning every two weeks is spent with my writing group. We have been together for almost a decade and provide each other not only support in our writing but emotional support in life! I devote time each evening and on weekends to reading books in the historical romance genre as well as contemporary romance and romantic suspense. I believe a writer must be a voracious reader!

What has been your greatest challenge as a writer? Have you been able to overcome it?

Sandra: My greatest challenge is to harness all the stories I want to write and actually write one of them to arrive at that ever-elusive THE END! My writing group helps keep me moving forward, as does keeping setting self-imposed deadlines and celebrating each I meet a deadline by munching on my favorite snack of popcorn with M&M’s while watching an episode of my latest British show I am binging. Right now I’m re-watching all of Downton Abbey to prepare for the movie!

Who are your writing inspirations?

Jan: I read antique books for fun. I love the voices in the old novels and regularly compare them to how books are different today. Books I loved as a child are Charlotte's Web, The Secret Garden, and Anne of Green Gables. As a teenager I loved all the Bronte novels, all of Jane Austin's novels, The Great Gatsby, To Kill A Mockingbird, and The Prime of Miss Jean Brody. This year I have enjoyed The Lost Girls of Paris and The Only Woman In The Room.

Sandra: As an undergraduate, I chose American Literature as my major because of my American Literature high school teacher, who introduced me to Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, Eugene O’Neill, Tennessee Williams, Flannery O’Connor, among other genius writers. I have always said that if I could author any sentences as gorgeous and perfect as those that make up Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby or Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, I would die happy. Other than these famous “classic” writers of the American canon, I probably have been most inspired by Margaret Mitchell’ Gone with the Wind. Scarlet. Rhett. Melanie. Ashley. “Tomorrow is another day.” These are the story elements that ”dreams are made of” (to paraphrase the end line of The Maltese Falcon movie—I am an incurable Turner Classic Movies devotee). I also am inspired by Nina George’s exquisite The Little Paris Bookshop. My family and friends are getting tired of me talking about and quoting from that book incessantly!

What was the first historical novel you read?

Sandra: I was eleven when I read Gone with the Wind, so I would have to say that was my first “adult” historical novel that I voraciously consumed. I also remember being introduced to Philippa Carr’s historical novels around that age. (It totally blew my mind when I realized Victoria Holt and Philippa Carr were the same writer!) I also was captivated by Leon Uris (favorite: Exodus) and James Michener (favorite: Shogun).

What is the last historical novel you read?

Jan: It All Comes Back To You by Beth Duke. I didn't want it to end. Duke is the best wordsmith of classic Southern Fiction!

Sandra: The Gown by Jennifer Robson—how could I pass up a glorious story about Queen Elizabeth’s wedding gown? And that sumptuous cover drew me in.

What are three things people may not know about you?

Jan: 1) I grew up in Okinawa, Taiwan, and Washington State. 2) I adore my fur baby Westie, Beaux. 3) I am a Francophile! My Zen place is to imagine walking the streets in the 5th and 6th arrondissements in Paris.

Sandra: 1) While growing up, I played songs on the piano for my brother to sing along while we pretended to be a famous sister-brother act. 2) As a devotee of old movies and the TCM channel, I can quote Casablanca line by line and tear up every time I see the “La Marseillaise” scene. 3) Sometime before his death in 1818, my ancestor Lieutenant Colonel George Armistead acquired the flag that was immortalized in Key’s poem as the “Star-Spangled Banner” from the War of 1812, and the family eventually in 1912 offered the flag as a permanent gift to the country. It is on display in the Smithsonian Museum in DC. My other ancestor is the Civil War Confederate General Lewis Armistead, who was killed while leading Pickett’s Charge in the Battle of Gettysburg. His friendship with the Union General Winfield Scott Hancock was immortalized in Michael Shaara’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Killer Angels and was a significant storyline in the movie made from that book, Gettysburg.

What historical time period do you gravitate towards the most with your personal reading?

Jan: The historic time period I love is the Belle Epoch. I am a huge fan of French antiques from that Era. And I love the Victorian Era. I made a point of visiting the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The collection of Queen Victoria's jewelry is exquisite. Also, I love novels set in WWI.

Sandra: My background in studying American Literature and teaching it honed my keen interest in the American Civil War period, and I am intensely drawn to the time period of World War I and World War II.

What do you like to do when you aren't writing?

Jan: I watch PBS, BBC, Fox News, and HGTV. I love on my sweet Westie, Beaux, refurbish antiques, design jewelry, and fly to LA and Ft. Lauderdale to visit by three granddaughters.
Sandra: When not writing, I’m reading tales conjured by others, torturing myself at my Pilates classes, and watching BBC shows, to which I am hopelessly addicted.

Lastly, what are you working on next?

Jan & Sandra: We are researching the era of the turn of the last Century and the “Grand Tour” that American teen girls would take as part of their rite of passage into “adult” society as a basis for the next Storyology Design and Publication historical romance, which will be released with another jewelry collection!

Sandra: I am working on a contemporary heartwarming series, marking a departure from historical fiction for me. However, it is set in a small Southern town, so I am sticking to my Southern roots!

I am so excited for both of these upcoming books! Thank you for taking the time to let us know more about you! Good luck with your new book!

With Kisses from Cécile by Jan Agnello & Anne Armistead

Publication Date: September 12, 2019
eBook & Paperback

Genre: Historical Fiction

A heartbroken Maggie travels to Paris to visit the grave of her great-grandmother’s French pen pal Cécile and uncovers 100-year-old secrets that give her courage to rebuild her own life.


Maggie Ruth Mitchell’s failed attempt at reconciliation with her unfaithful husband has left her more confused than ever—and with a consequence that will change her life forever. Heartbroken, Maggie travels to Paris to visit the grave of Cécile, the French pen pal of her great-grandmother Ruth. Reading Cécile's letters and learning about Ruth’s past gives Maggie not only an understanding of the strength and courage of the women in her family—all sharing the name Ruth—but also allows Maggie to find her way forward.


In the year 1919 following World War 1, two young girls, Ruth and Cécile, find each other through a Pen Pal program between American and French students. In their letters they share their dreams and bare their heartaches. A tragic death of a loved one has torn Ruth’s family apart, leaving her with a dark secret to hide. Cécile, having survived the bombs that devastated Paris, is battling against consumption. Ruth draws courage from her pen pal’s inspiring letters, each signed With Kisses from Cécile, to face what fate brings.

Available on Amazon

About the Authors

Photo Credit: Sitting Pretty Photos

JAN AGNELLO comes from several generations of hobbiest antiquers. Her love of stories behind the antiques inspired her in 2013 to form Storyology Design, now Storyology Design and Publication. The necklaces Jan crafts from antique coin purses have generated a loyal customer following and garnered attention from the Atlanta Journal Constitution, jewelry network executives, and TV and film costume designers. Her love of books, romance, history, and unique jewelry design led her to collaborate with author Anne Armistead to offer a series of historical novels, each paired with heirloom quality jewelry named for the female protagonist. The first in the series, WITH KISSES FROM CÉCILE, is a story of love and redemption drawn from Jan’s family history. It is paired with THE CÉCILE JEWELRY COLLECTION. Visit to learn more about Jan and Storyology.

ANNE ARMISTEAD is a writer of historical romance. She earned her English literature degree from the University of Georgia and her MFA in creative writing from Spalding University. Her background includes project management with AT&T and teaching English at the middle, high, and college levels. She is a member of the Romance Writers of America and the Georgia Writers of Romance. WITH KISSES FROM CÉCILE is her second romance, following the publication of DANGEROUS CONJURINGS (Soul Mate Publishing, April 2018). Anne writes for and serves as an editor for Storyology Design and Publication. Visit to learn more about Anne and her novels.

Blog Tour Schedule

Saturday, September 7
Feature at I'm All About Books
Review & Interview at Passages to the Past

Monday, September 9
Review at
Excerpt at A Darn Good Read

Tuesday, September 10
Review at Gwendalyn's Books

Wednesday, September 11
Excerpt at Historical Fiction with Spirit

Thursday, September 12
Review at Maiden of the Pages
Excerpt at Short Book and Scribes
Excerpt at Books In Their Natural Habitat

Friday, September 13
Review at Amy's Booket List
Excerpt at Chicks, Rogues and Scandals

Monday, September 16
Review at Jessica Belmont
Excerpt at What Is That Book About

Tuesday, September 17
Review at Melissa Reads


During the Blog Tour, we are giving away a paperback copy of With Kisses From Cecile! To enter, please use the Gleam form below.

Giveaway Rules

– Giveaway ends at 11:59 pm EST on September 17th. You must be 18 or older to enter.
– Giveaway is open to the US only.
– Only one entry per household.
– All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspicion of fraud will be decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion.
– The winner has 48 hours to claim prize or a new winner is chosen.

With Kisses From Cecile

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