by Shirley Hailstock

Go get a box of tissues. This one is a tearjerker. I cried for weeks as this true story unfolded.

When I started writing, my goal was to tell a story and get those characters out of my head. They pushed at me night and day. What I didn't think about was how the story would be accepted by readers. After it was on the shelf, I was suddenly afraid. I expected readers to hate the book, to criticize it to death, to post reviews that said I could not write.

That didn't happen. I got great reviews and have gone on to write many more books. then the fan mail started to come in. I kept every single letter. Mostly, I was thrilled with what readers had to say about how my stories affected them. They fell in love with the series, the characters and some of the letters touched my heart deeply. One woman wrote that I'd helped her get over the loss of a child. (I cried.)

Earlier this year, in July I received a third fan letter from a woman who'd been reading romances since she was nineteen. Her name was Marion and she was in her 70's at the time I got her first letter.  I responded with a thrilled thank you that she loved my story.  Then another letter arrived about a year later where she asked for some information about me and author RaeAnn Thayne. She loved our books and wanted to send us a gift. It came and both RaeAnn and I sent her a thank you note.

Last July, I received a third letter saying she was dying. She weighed 89 pounds and was in hospice. The letter went on to tell me how much I had contributed to her life. How much my books meant to her. I started to cry before finishing the letter. Here is a woman dying, weighing only about as much as a child and she chose to write to me. In longhand. And she mailed the letter. No email.

I was so moved, I couldn't stop crying or even speak for several minutes. I had to talk to her. Going on a crusade to find her, I scoured the Internet under her name and address and finally found a phone number. I called and her daughter answered the phone. (My tears are flowing again as I write this.) I could hardly speak when I told her what was in the letter. Her mom, Marion, was asleep and had just taken her medication. She wouldn't be awake for several hours. I would be out of the house by then, but her daughter promised to call back when Marion was having a good day.

My heart went out to her because I understand what a good day and a bad day is when you're fighting a disease.  Two days later, she left me a voicemail. It was too late to call back when I got in. I had to leave for the Romance Writers of America Conference the next morning, so I would miss her and possibly never make contact before she died.

When I got home a week later, there was another voicemail, but again Marion was not having a good day when I called. I decided to take some action since as she was dying, she thought of me and my books. I sent her flowers and I wrote a card. The card gave me another idea. I sent an email to my local romance chapter and to one forum of writers and asked them to send her a card or a note. It didn't matter the paper. Time was the issue. Just tell her how much we appreciated someone who loves romance novels.

She died in early August. Her daughter called me afterward to tell me how much her mother loved the cards and all the attention. That she would ask every day if the mail had come and she'd take joy in reading the messages that romance writers sent to her. Of course, the two of us were leaning on each other's virtual shoulders as we cried together. They placed the cards around the window in her room, on the dressers and the hospital table, everywhere there was a surface.

Then her daughter said something that will stay with me forever. She said the power of the single letter caused so much joy for a woman who had little joy in her life. That her mother loved those books so much that she treasured them and nothing made her happier than finding another romance. That we authors could have done nothing better than sending her the cards and letting her know that she was a Rock Star to us.

Rest in peace Marion. You changed my life.


  1. What a wonderful post and what a wonderful experience. I forget that in our joy at response from readers, we have responsibility, too. Thanks for sharing this, Shirley.

  2. What a lovely story, Shirley, and how wonderful of you to start that chain of best wishes that gave her so much joy. It’s important and enriching for people to reach out to others however and extra special for us authors to do it through our books.

  3. Just a minute while I find a tissue...Such a beautiful story, Shirley, and a good reminder that little acts of kindness can make a huge difference, and so can your stories. I'm so glad you reached out to her.

  4. Lovely, lovely story. I, too, cherish the letters I receive from readers and make a point to reply to all of them. Mostly the readers who still write letters are older, many without family and sometimes I feel as if I've become their family. But correspondence all began with our shared love of reading. I know you did change Marion's life. Blessings to you.

  5. thanks so much for sharing this with us. It's changed my day! We can never forget how much just a single affirmative action or word can mean.

  6. What a beautiful post! Thank you so much for sharing. To think that your books meant so much to her is really wonderful. I'm glad she got the chance to be doted on by the authors she enjoyed so much! <3

  7. Okay. I am ugly crying now. What a beautiful story and God bless you for going the extra mile to comfort this woman. People really do underestimate the power of books.

  8. Wow, I have shivers. Thank you for sharing.

  9. So many tears. What a wonderful, sad, happy, story. And what a blessing that you took those extra steps to make sure that she knew she was cherished by writers.

  10. I ditto every comment here, Shirley. When a person impacts our lives like you did for her it is a blessing and a miracle. But in telling this story, Shirley, we also see how she impacted not just your life, but all of us here. You are a rock and a star for going the extra mile to do all that you did for her. You have an enormous heart as all my Heartwarming sisters do. It is that act of giving and kindness that I see here on our blog time after time that is revealing. Yes, we are romance writers but we are so much more. I have to go to the store and buy more tissues. God has blessed us all.

  11. Lovely story. We can have such an impact, without even knowing it. I hope I can follow your example to make my impact for good.

  12. Beautiful story. After my father passed away, my mother read a lot of romance novels. She said they helped her sleep and get her mind off other things.

  13. "Heartwarming" couldn't have a better definition than your post. Thank you for sharing.

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