On Love

Bethesda couple have storied romance -- and the book to prove it

Sweet ending: Todd Bracken and Michelle Snow are the subjects of a romance novel.
Sweet ending: Todd Bracken and Michelle Snow are the subjects of a romance novel. (Mark Gail/the Washington Post)
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By Ellen McCarthy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 26, 2010

Todd Bracken and Michelle Snow were hitting a bit of a rough patch. Since their New Year's Eve wedding, written about on these pages in January, the couple's plans to open a cupcake shop had hit one snag after another.

Then an e-mail arrived on a Friday night, along with the first flakes of a snowstorm. It explained that Health Communications Inc., publishers of the "Chicken Soup for the Soul" series, was launching a line of reality-based romance novels. The editors of "True Vows" had read about Snow and Bracken in The Post and wanted to build a book around their story.

"We were pretty intrigued that they thought we were that intriguing," says Bracken, 36.

They were also taken aback. But after sleeping on it for a few nights and talking with Snow's parents, they signed on for the project, promising to help author Alison Kent write a novel that mirrored the truth as closely as possible.

Kent sent them a four-page list of questions just as the threat of an even bigger blizzard halted construction on their Chevy Chase bakery. Holed up in their Bethesda apartment, the couple jogged their memories for every detail of their early courtship, writing out more than 20 pages of notes. They unearthed old passwords and logged onto Match.com to find the online profiles that first attracted them to each other. They put together a package of love letters, cards, transcribed text messages and photos so Kent could visualize her subjects and fully understand the way Bracken encouraged Snow to give up an advertising career and pursue her dream of opening a boutique bakery.

They were a little nervous about putting their story into someone else's hands for the world to read. "When you reveal that much about yourself, you're putting yourself out there as far as being vulnerable to people trying to use that against you," says Bracken.

But the book also became a bright spot in their lives as headaches over the shop piled up.

"It really was kind of the highlight that got us through some of those dark moments before we opened," says Snow, 34.

For the next two months they e-mailed back and forth with the author, answering questions about specific places, experiences and conversations.

Galley copies of the book arrived just as the two were preparing for a soft opening of "Frosting, a Cupcakery" in late April. By then Bracken had quit his technology job to help run the business and both were working 20-hour days to prepare for the launch. Bracken stole hours here and there to read the draft and offer corrections, but Snow had to satisfy herself with his updates.

A month later, when she finally had time to read the book, titled "The Icing on the Cake," Snow "fell in love with it."

"It was very surreal," she says. "There were times I put down the book and started crying. . . . It was just really cool, like, 'Oh my gosh, I'm an outsider, peeping into my own life.' "

There were a few parts of the novel that veered from reality. Kent had to dream up all of the dialogue and made it seem that the distance between Bethesda and Springfield, where Bracken used to live, was much more than a couple of dozen miles. But on the whole, the couple says, the novel is remarkably close to the truth. (So much of the truth, in fact, that they asked their parents to kindly skip pages 118 to 120.)

The novel, now for sale alongside red velvet cupcakes and whoopie pies at their bake shop, was officially released on Sept. 13 -- exactly two years to the day since they first met.

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