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wfyaInterviews: Marguerite Quantaine

Author of  Imogene's Eloise

Author of
Imogene’s Eloise

Q: Have you had a lot of rejection?
A: I have not. But then I haven’t submitted much of what I write to very many places. However, when I have submitted essays, I have had my writing rejected.

Q: For example?
A: A friend once told me that humor written by women is almost always tossed when submitted to The New Yorker for their Shouts and Murmurs column.

Q: You don’t aim low, do you?
A: Big dreamers never do. Anyhow, after hearing this I got on my high-horse one Saturday night and submitted a Shouts piece, thinking it would be at the top of the editors mailbox for consideration on Monday morning.

Q: And?
A: I got an instant — and when I say instant I mean within seconds — an instant rejection, followed by an email from the desk of Bob Mankoff offering me a subscription to The New Yorker at a discounted rate, the magazine’s shop to browse and books to buy.

Q: Ouch.
A: Actually, I burst out laughing and immediately thought about contacting Guinness to see if it set a world rejection record.

Q: Have you?
A: No. But the thought is still percolating. More important is, it put the magazine into perspective for me. It finally makes sense as to why The New Yorker is dying a slow death.

Q: Because?
A: Because writers are readers first and foremost, and when you alienate a writer — even a bad writer — you lose a reader.

Q: You stopped reading The New Yorker?
A: Except when someone gives me a copy, yes. But to be fair, I never understood most the articles or all the cartoons. Many a night, when suffering from insomnia, a story in The New Yorker has put me right to sleep.

Q: How about Imogene’s Eloise? Was that accepted right off?
A: No, it was rejected right off.

Q: Seriously?
A: Yes — and let me stress — thankfully.

Q: Can you elaborate?
A: I thought I knew one of the owners of a publishing house whom I regarded as a friend. I wasn’t really looking for a contract so much as a nod.

Q: Approval.
A: More like, I hoped to be told ‘it appears promising, but at 150,000 words it’s too long, resubmit it when you’ve edited it down by half’ — something of that nature.

Q: And you got, what?
A: After following the submission guidelines, I got a sloppily composed and executed email thanking me for my short story and saying they had no interest in it.

Q: You’re kidding.
A: I am not, but like the email from Bob Mankoff, I have greatly benefited by the rejection.

Q: Are you and the publisher still friends?
A: No, but not because of that.

Q: Because of…?
A: It’s not really relevant.

Q: It’s an interviewers prerogative.
A: Yes. Yes it is and I do so love the word, prerogative. Okay. A third party had told me she’d decided not to submit to my friend’s publishing house because she wanted to be represented by a suit.

Q: A suit?
A: Someone who always looked spit-shined and ironed and successful and worthy of her writing rather than disheveled and wrinkled and as crumpled as this publishing person had appeared in public. So, when the topic arose between us, I said I was privy to something that I thought would be beneficial for her to know, but made her promise not to tell, or ever identify me, should she choose to bring the issue up for discussion. When she agreed I related the impression her partner’s sloppiness made, and that I thought it valid for a writer to expect her publisher to always look professional.

Q: And she told?
A: Yes, but it wasn’t that she told. It was that, after she betrayed my confidence she lied to me about betraying me, repeatedly, until she finally admitted she lied, but in doing so, justified the betrayal and the lying, then compounded the lie by being deceitful about another author whom she decided had crossed her. I cut ties with her for that and it cost me the loss of at least 9 of her colleagues.

Q: Surely, that bothered you.
A: No it did not. I’m far better off because of it, and I believe it’s what people who allow themselves to be bullied don’t understand. Whatever you think you might lose in the short run, you gain in the long term, and the people you end up with are so much more valuable than those who turned away.

Q: Food for thought? Or, preachy?
A: My sisters would say preachy, and I’m certainly no stranger to bandwagons, but I’d prefer to think of myself as someone who sets an example by my actions speaking even louder than my words.

Q: That’s a perfect segway back to role models. What do you think of the way women are portrayed?
A: In?

Q: LesFic books and movies.
A: If you mean lump sum, all genres, that’s really too sweeping a question. Even then I’d be limited to the books I’ve read and the movies I’ve seen.

Q: Most movies are based on books, so let’s start with the movies.
A: I have trouble finding myself in them, of my experiences as a woman, as a friend, as a lover, as an employee, as a person.

Q: As opposed to, what? Finding yourself in straight movies?
A: Not really. I mean, I could see myself in the character of, say Norma Rae, when I was younger and involved in fighting for change, and in Kissing Jessica Stein, to the extent of her wanting something different than what she was being offered. Except for the opening, I enjoyed that film immensely by the way.

Q: The opening?
A: A leading female character having backroom sex with a man before she seduces a woman. It’s like a stamp of approval for all lesbian films — that, the film is only worthy of attention, or more worthy because a man staked his claim first and foremost.

Q: How about the L Word ?
A: I watched it for the first year but, again, couldn’t relate. Like 90% of Americans who feel there’s no one in Congress speaking for them, I think the vast majority of lesbians feel the same about movies. What’s on the screen bears little resemblance to their every day lives and much deeper emotions. It might be a gender gap trap to even say so, but I often think boomers represent the last great generation of romantic music and gestures, before nameless hookups and STDs became the norm.

Q: Do you miss that time?
A: I can’t miss what I’ve maintained for myself, but I miss it for younger women who never had a opportunity to experience it, or make an informed choice in favor of it over the fragility and transience of relationships now.

Q: Do you think younger women would be interested in the world of your youth?
A: I’d like to think they’d embrace the good of it and — like the remake of great songs by younger artists — choose to establish a romantic lifestyle for themselves.

Q: Your book, Imogene’s Eloise, is primarily a reminder of where we were isn’t it ?
A: No, it’s not just about where we’ve been. It’s about how we got to where we are in a patriarchal, primarily Christian identified, mostly divided society where women are now in the majority. It’s about discovering where our minds and hearts were then, in contrast with how our minds and hearts of today interpret back then. It’s about how our ‘in the life’ world within the overall world has changed dramatically.

Q: Through the journey of a single love affair?
A: Actually, there are many love affairs going on of varying intensities between numerous people. It’s about recognizing the differences between love and lust and understanding the degrees of friendship.

Q: Sex?
A: Romantic without being explicit. It also teaches history without the drudgery, and is entertaining without it having been written strictly for entertainment value.

Q: What do you think is most appealing about Imogene’s Eloise?
A: Readers decide that on an individual basis. But the intent is to expose the commonalities we share pertaining to those we love and how it’s what everyone, at some juncture in their lives wishes for — and is told they cannot have. I’m telling the reader — you can have it — and that on some level, to some extent you are in this book, and someone you know, and someone you want to know, and someone you long to meet is in this book. There are emotions you’ve felt, and thoughts you’ve had, and answers you seek to questions in the back of your mind. And, just like life, you’ll applaud some, and resist others, and ponder the rest.

Q: Any reactions?
A: It’s a marathon read at 391 pages, so the reviews have trickled in as people cross the finish line. But so far, mostly applause. Those who don’t like it admit they didn’t read it before leaving a review. It’s unfortunate, but such people are unavoidable.

Q: How about your beta readers?
A: I didn’t employ beta readers. I’m not certain I believe in writing as a team sport, but I did offer a peek to blog followers before I edited the book down for a final time.

Q: And?
A: Generally supportive. Except, ten months ago I had a person, I wish I could remember her name, she sampled the first ten chapters of my book and said — and I’m paraphrasing here — “The characters are weak. I only read books about strong women.” So, I thanked her for her opinion and moved on. But I wish, now, I’d reminded her that women weren’t born strong. It wasn’t a given for us. We didn’t have parents, or siblings, or magazines, or movies, or advertisements to encourage us, or fictionalized characters toting guns and giving men karate chops as our pacifiers.

We grew strong in spite of naysayers and obstacles.

And the women coming of age in the 50s and 60s — those women who grew up being denied loans and credit cards, denied the right to buy a house without a male co-sign, denied the right to sell inherited property without a man’s permission, denied jobs advertised as help wanted male, denied justice in our courts, denied protection from violence, denied entrance to colleges and clubs, denied the right to run for political office, denied the right to be heard, denied advancement in the workplace, denied equal pay, denied consideration or equality under the law by both government and religion — those women of a that second class American society who fought to guarantee your first class American citizenship — they’re the strong ones. Those are the characters that should serve as your role models. And until you understand that — honey — you haven’t a clue as to what the meaning of the word ‘strong’ truly is.

Q: You published on Kindle. Why?
A: Two reasons. First, 85% of all books sold are on Kindle or other electronic device. And Amazon now offers a free app that turns every computer, tablet and phone into a Kindle. So that’s a big incentive.

Q: To earn more money?
A: To reach a wider audience. Imogene’s Eloise is nearly twice as long at half the price by comparison to other books for Kindle readers.

Q: Will it be out in paperback?
A: It’s available in paperback.

Q: The genre is romance.
A: More because Amazon and Bowkers require it.

Q: Given more of a choice?
A: It’s a dramedyherstoryromance.

Q: Imogene’s Eloise is subtitled as inspired by a true-love story. Tell me, how much of it is true?
A: All the best parts.

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IMOGENE’S ELOISE : Inspired by a true-love story.
by Marguerite Quantaine

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ONE INCOMPARABLE CHRISTMAS

There was this dog we loved and lost on Christmas morning, 1951.

The Clancy Christmas

It changed everything.

We lived in a clapboard farmhouse then, built a hundred years earlier and insulated with Civil War era newspapers layered between the rafters and floorboards. It was a rickety-rackety place that sweltered in the summer and shivered in the winter when no amount of coal heaved into the basement furnace could sufficiently heat the cast iron radiators, or warm the boiler of bath water. The windows rasped with the wind, the floors creaked with the rain and the back door flew open unexpectedly.

“It’s just a spirit visiting,” mom would say, having given up on getting my father to replace the antiquated latch.

We were born in that house; three brothers, two sisters and I. Our childhood was spent clamoring up and down its winding stairs, playing board games on its covered porch, wishing on the first seen stars in the night sky from its roof, and never suspecting life would be any different than it was each day we were living it.

Advertised as a White Elephant for three thousand dollars with nothing down, my folks bought the house because it was the only place they could afford. Ours was a life of necessities: three meals a day, twice removed hand-me-downs, a block ice icebox, a single extension phone, broomstick horses, pillowcase capes, corrugated carton sleds and summer vacations camping in a W.W.II army surplus tent at state parks where mom boiled coffee and cooked meals over an open flame while we faux-fished with safety pins tied to kite string, scouted butterflies and floated on boats made from inner tubes wrapped in clotheslines to resemble canoes.

They were wondrous years made better by the presence of a ninth member of our family adopted on the morning of my birth. Her name was Clancy. She was our family dog.

“It’s written,” said my mother, “that the original Irish setter wasn’t the pure mahogany color we see now, but a burnished red with a snow white bib and matching diamond set in the center of its head.” Clancy was born with both and – even though we boasted about the markings of her ancient pedigree – we secretly believed she possessed the heart of an angel.

Clancy was our comrade and confidante. She accompanied us on errands and watched over us when chores needed doing. She got us to school on time and waited there to greet us at the end of each day. When we ate she sat near the table. When we bathed she stood near the tub.

When we read she rested her head at our feet. When we played she kept watch over our safety. Games were intensified by her barking approval, birthdays were celebrated with her howling accompaniment, sorrows were soothed by the gentle touch of her cold nose on salt-streaked cheeks and many a bitter winter night was made warm by her body filling the cold void at the bottom of one of our beds.

But my best memory of Clancy is of the Christmas morning in 1951 when we awoke to find her gone.

• • •

A fortnight before my father made his instructions clear. “Each of you is to make a list of everything you want for Christmas.”

“Everything?” I asked, eyes wide with surprise.

“What did I just say?”

I winced. My father was a disciplinarian who expected to be obeyed without question. That wasn’t hard, since he worked eighty miles away and often forgot to check for compliance whenever he came home on alternate weekends.

“Everything,” he reiterated, “no matter how ridiculous. Is that clear?” He stood glaring at our frozen forms before taking a Chesterfield from it’s crumple-pack, lighting it, removing a stray tobacco bit from the tip of his tongue and continuing on. “In one week you’ll each give me your list in an envelope with your name on it and I’ll mail them. Dismissed.”

My mom was as affectionate as my father was aloof. It was she who encouraged us to always make amends after arguments and share our few possessions.

“You six are the only people on earth you’ll ever know your entire lifetime,” she’d remind us. “Cherish that.”

What began with cooperative glee quickly turned into the drudgery of pencil shavings, eraser residue, wadded-up paper and the sweet smell of spent crayons. Each night before bedtime we’d meet to exchange ideas, promising no duplicates would be recorded and agreeing that the first person to list an item would own it and regulate borrowing times.

“It’s the perfect plan for maximizing returns,” the eldest of us assured.

“Who’s Max?” I asked.

“Just do as you’re told!” he demanded, knowing I rarely did.

During our final review of lists I noticed my brother Kit had added a P.S. to his. “Dear Santa Claus,” he wrote, “I’m tired of sharing Clancy. Please bring me a puppy.”

Certain I was the only sibling who felt the same, I promptly drew a puppy on my list.

The next morning our signed letters in sealed envelopes were handed over. As we stood at attention accepting praise from my father for this mission accomplished, none of us knew that each of us copied the request for a puppy originated by Kit.

• • •

Every Christmas Eve Clancy accompanied us on our journey to find the sweet smelling blue spruce my father had tagged in a tree camp, chop it down with a Boy Scout axe, tie it to the roof of our maroon Ford station wagon and cart it home for trimming to the sound of carols playing on the Victrola and the comfort of Big Top peanut butter on toast dunked in mugs of Ovaltine. The trips were always cold and cramped and ripe for disagreement, but especially so that year when the predicted ‘light flurries’ became a heavier downfall. Even Clancy was agitated. She wailed with the whipping wind all the way home.

Tree trimming included hanging aluminum-hinged Shiny Brite glass ornaments, thumb thick multicolored Royalites, peppermint canes, silver tinsel and a garland of popcorn and cranberries draped under a white plastic angel with spun glass hair and a die-cut skirt of stars that glowed from a small yellow bulb tucked inside.

That angel was near and dear to my mom. Each year she watched my father teeter on a chair to place it on the treetop, signaling our time for bed. On the way upstairs we’d stop at our red brick cardboard fireplace to thumbtack our stockings to its flimsy black mantle where mom had balanced a glass of milk, molasses cookies and carrots for Santa and his reindeer.

Even though Clancy scratched at each of our bedroom doors, no love would jump onto our beds to guard our hearts that fateful night. We all ignored her pleas by forgetting her faithfulness, preferring the promise of a puppy.

• • •

A blizzard engulfed the house while we slept. The weight of its drifts barricaded the downstairs windows and forced open the back door.

Most mornings, the first boy up would check the fire in the furnace and shovel in more coal as needed. By the time he finished, the gas stove would be warming the kitchen and momma would have oatmeal ready to quell our chant, “Food for the inner-man!”

But that Christmas morning was different.

We six awoke and sprang from our beds as one, fueled by anticipation and oblivious to the unusual cold as we felt our way down the darkened stairs, huddling close until Kit flipped the switch turning on the overhead globe and illuminating a living room piled high with gifts.

There were bikes and baseball mitts, sleds and skates, trumpets and teddy bears, dolls and drums, trains and planes, chemistry sets and butterfly nets, kites and cowboy hats, battery operated cars and trucks, books and balls, and clothes and caps arranged around our very first television set!

It was as if all my wishes on first seen stars had been granted in one felt swoop and – by possession of them – I’d never again enjoy the luxury of wishful thinking.

My siblings sensed it, too. Somehow we knew we’d committed the crime of excess; having everything we’d ever imagined as glorious within our reach. And yet – instead of joy – we felt a collective emptiness.

“Where’s Clancy?” I wondered aloud, not noticing the absence of puppies. Twelve eyes darted in six directions.

“Here Clancy, here girl,” Kit called out, whistling for her to come. We joined him in calling her. “Come, Clancy. Come!”

“She’s gone,” my father declared, already dressed to leave the house through a second floor window, hoping to spot a sign of her from the porch rooftop. “She got out the kitchen door last night and was caught in the blizzard. She couldn’t get back.”

“It’s my fault,” I blurted, my lips curled and quivering with regret. “I asked Santa for a puppy. That’s why Clancy ran away. Oh momma,” I blubbered, burying my face in her lap, “I didn’t mean to do it.”

Kit immediately confessed to asking for a puppy, too. And then, one by one, the others exposed what proved to be our family folly.

Momma comforted us as best she could while watching the day die in our eyes. It was more hurt than she could bear.

“Kit,” she urged, “check the bin to see if we have enough coal to last. It could be days before we get dug out of here and no telling of what’s going on with the neighbors until your father returns. Take your sister along. Let her help you.”

The steps to the cellar were thick-pitted pine, worn smooth on the edges from a century of use. I slid butt-to-step down them into the pitch black, whimpering, until seized by the sound of a soft, steady thumping.

“Is that the monster you said lives down here?” I whispered to Kit as he fumbled for the lights.

“I was just teasing about that,” he hushed back.

He grabbed my hand as the lone light from a hanging, 40 watt bulb flickered on, shedding a soft glow directly below it. And there, in its corrugated remains of the television box was our tail-wagging best friend, Clancy, proudly nursing her six newborn puppies.

• • •

By the time the puppies were weaned, we’d assured my folks we were happy to share our one red setter. But it wasn’t until the last of the litter was adopted that we realized we’d been promised and given everything we’d wanted for Christmas – yet none of us could recall what we’d gotten, except for those puppies that we gave away.

Nine years later Clancy died. We buried her in the back yard, her grave shaded by a pear tree my father planted when she, the tree, and I were all the same size.

Thirty years would pass before the pang of joy replaced the pain of loss and I adopted another Irish setter. She looked a lot like Clancy. She had the same white diamond on her head and white vest on her chest. She was as loyal and as loving and as totally trusting of me as Clancy was. I adored her in every way.

But somehow, come December there’d be those bittersweet moments when she’d remind me of a Christmas tree with only old ornaments and popcorn streamers, a cardboard fireplace with Orlon socks dangling, a hard plastic angel, six little kids and the joy of a solitary present to pine over.The Clancy Christmas

The holidays are – and will always be – a beautiful time of year.

A time I remember that giving is its own reward, sharing is the truest joy, and love is the greatest gift.

A time and a spirit likened to, but never quite the same as it was – as we were – that one incomparable Christmas.

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This freshly edited essay was first published in 1976 in The Antiquarian Magazine. Copyright by Marguerite Quantaine © 1976 & 2013.

Do you have a favorite holiday memory?

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I’m all eyes and heart.

IT COULD HAPPEN TO YOU (TOO)

Birthday Greetings - Woman in White Dress, FlowersWere I to write my epitaph, it would read, “She lived a charmed life.” Those who have only known of me might not agree — but those who’ve known me well, would.

Consider this as evidence of that.

August often stifles New York, as it did forty years ago, with temperatures so high and rain so scarce a brownout swept over all five boroughs, leaving the city sweltering in virtual darkness from dusk until dawn.

We were living in Bensonhurst by then, renting the upper two floors of a 1925 three story duplex; a stucco, fort-like house located on a tree-lined street between Avenues O and P, not far from a rumored underboss residence. It was a neighborhood where no one locked their doors at night and old-country madonnas garbed in basic-black sat in fold-out lawn chairs on cement sidewalks, waiting for the intense fragrances of Sicilian sausage, fennel seed biscotti, and basil-based sauces to waft through their kitchen windows, signaling meals had simmered to perfection and were ready for serving.

Our home’s private entrance had four steps up to the front door. Once inside there was another seven steps up to the hallway landing leading to a bedroom, living room, dining room, and bathroom, with a second flight of stairs to two more bedrooms. A doorway leading off the dining room opened to an eat-in kitchen. Another opened from the living room onto a second floor veranda stretching 25 feet long and 15 feet deep, with a 4-foot high wall leveling off just below the treetops.

We loved that place and porch, especially in August when sleeping outside beat the heat of the house by thirty degrees, and the starlit sky with its dreamsicle moon overhead was about as romantic as any heart could wish for, or mind could imagine.

It was after 10 one night when we were out there, lying on army surplus canvas and wood framed cots, listening to the neighbors battery operated radios synchronized to Casey Kasem naming, And I Love You So, by America’s favorite barber as “holding at 38” on the Top 40 charts when we heard a knock on the door and Liz called out, “Who’s there?”

“I’m looking for Marge,” came a baritone response.

“Who are you?”

“Mike Kelly.”

“Are you Irish?”

“I am.”

“Then the door’s open. Come on up.”

At the time, I was still recovering from a crash that left me chronically disabled the year before. As predicted, I’d regained my ability to walk, but still needed a wheelchair or walker, occasionally, and a cane, always. As I struggled up and into a lightweight, summer robe, Liz donned hers and, with a Coleman lantern in tow, greeted the fellow, leading him out onto the porch, and offering him a seat at the fold-out card table stationed there for Canasta and Hearts competitions whenever family or friends visited. Then she excused herself to get us all some iced lemonade while I tried to read his face by candlelight.

I liked what I saw. Mike Kelly had a crinkle-eyed smile plastered to his super-sized mug, with a pencil mustache complementing his noggin of silky grey hair.

“I’m sorry to bother you so late,” he began, “but you never contacted us. I had to take the Long Island Railroad from Port Washington after work and two subways — then got lost while walking here from the El.

“Why should I have contacted you, Mr. Kelly?”

“Mike, please.”

“Mike.”

“Didn’t you get our telegram about winning Publisher’s Clearing House?”

I laughed out loud. “Come now. You can do better. Although, I must admit, I’ve never heard that line before.”

He grinned. “Darn. I wish I’d thought of it before I got too old and too happily married for come-ons to matter anymore.”

“What’s so funny,” Liz chimed in, sliding a tin tray of refreshments onto the table.

“I was just telling Mike here about my last encounter with Publisher’s Clearing House.”

“You had one?”

“Sort of. While I was partially paralyzed for a few months last summer I passed the time by answering all those ridiculous Cosmos questionnaires before playing wastebasket wad-ball. I confess. One of the wads was a Publishers Clearing House entry.”

“She’d ordered a photography and a camping magazine,” added Liz.

“True, but I figured I’d never be going camping again, and wouldn’t be anywhere interesting to shoot photographs for a while — so I wadded it up and made the basket.”

“Well, that explains that,” chuckled Mike.

“What?”

“Your wrinkled entry.”

“But I didn’t . . .”

“I did,” Liz interjected. We both turned towards her. “I took it out of the wastebasket and smoothed it out the best I could and mailed it in. Whenever a magazine came in the mail I hid it. I thought I’d give them all to you on your birthday. I guess I was hoping, by then, maybe, you’d feel like camping and taking pictures again.”

I turned to syrup inside.

Mike Kelly beamed. “This is where I tell you – again – you’ve won Publisher’s Clearing House.”

I’ll end this on that high note — but not because there isn’t more to tell about the trip around Manhattan included with the monetary prize; our suite at the Waldorf Astoria, the nights on the town, dinner at the Rainbow Room, orchestra seats to A Little Night Music, the yacht ride to Port Washington, the catered brunch, a tour of the PCH facility, the awards ceremony, the photographer and limousine at our disposal for the weekend, the parties, the clubs we closed, the new friends made, the fun and the fanfare. It’s just because — you really had to be there. (And I’d rather not ruin the surprise.)

Receiving the 1973 Mystery Prize check from the President of PCH.

Receiving the 1973 Mystery Prize check from the President of PCH.

The following year I agreed to make (what I was told was) the first televised commercial for PCH. It ran between 11:30 a.m. and 11:30 p.m. on all three of the only networks back then. If you were watching television in December of 1974 and saw a news program, soap opera, game show, sports event, or family favorite like The Rockford Files, The Waltons, Kojak, Medical Center, Mash, and Chico And The Man — yep. That was me saying it could happen to you (too).

There’s no drawback to the entire Publisher’s Clearing House experience except in one, small respect, and that is — no matter what I’ve done with my life, who I am, where I live, whom I love, what I’ve accomplished, or contributed — each time I meet those from my very distant past, the first thing they mention is that I won Publisher’s Clearing House, followed by the implication that my life has been “easy” because of it.

And, I always let it pass.

Because — even though the $17,500.00 was before taxes were deducted, and the balance went in one lump sum to pay off past-due medical bills — I’ve led a charmed life.

I know it.

And for this I am, truly, grateful.

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Copyright by Marguerite Quantaine © 2013.
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Did you ever with a sweepstakes, contest, or anything at all? How did it affect your life?
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I’m all eyes and heart.

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