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I started reading romance novels in earnest about 18 years ago, while visiting friends on Prince Edward Island. Before long, a pattern began to take shape… The heroines were almost always young, beautiful, career women, living in a big city. These women were most often naive, innocent virgins in their early twenties who were struggling financially and trying to succeed in a career dominated by men. Heroes were typically much older – in their late thirties, and rich, powerful, men of the world. The men were successful in their careers, experienced in lovemaking (having been with a multitude of partners), and often had a “bad boy” persona. Siblings were almost non-existent, and parents were distant, and at the time of the story, were often vacationing in Europe or conveniently dead.
While worlds filled with characters of this sort were fascinating at first (What woman hasn’t wished at some point in their life that they would get swept off their feet by a wickedly handsome, wealthy man with a mansion on the coast and an apartment in Paris? Who hasn’t dreamed of a world where you can do whatever you want to without having to worry about the fact that it’s probably going to break your parents heart, who will find out because your siblings ratted you out?)
But fun as these little fantasies were, I longed for stories about people who were more like me, plot lines that I could relate to, men and women whose happily ever endings were meaningful because, on some level, they were like me. At the time, I was single, in my mid to late thirties, divorced, slightly cynical, maybe even a little jaded. I was not a virgin, nor was I beautiful. I had gone on a few dates with a man who owned a BMW and a Mercedes convertible, but alas, he had neither an estate on the East or West Coast nor a summer home in Europe. My job was important to me, but family and friends were far more important. I had 2 brothers and 2 sisters and my parents – even two of my grandmothers – were alive and well. In fact, I had learned at the world-wise age of 22 while on a train to see the Passion Play in Oberamergau, Germany, when a man from the grain elevator in my hometown spotted me and said, “Aren’t you Everett Hansen’s daughter from Austin, Minnesota?” that wherever I went in the world, someone would always know who I was. Which meant I couldn’t get by with anything. I remain quite certain to this day that if I were ever to have a torrid affair with the a fore mentioned wickedly-handsome, sinfully-wealthy man of my occasional dreams, that one of my aunts, uncles, or many cousins would spot me, and my parents would know by nightfall.
While it was fun to periodically drift off to a fantasy-world filled with people totally different than I, it soon lost its luster. A friend recommended I read LaVyrle Spencer’s novels. She was from Minnesota, and her books were full of honest-to-goodness, down-to-earth, real-life characters with all kinds of small-town, Midwestern family twists and turns. Historical and contemporary – I could relate to and loved LaVyrle’s books.
When I eventually started to write my own novels, I followed suit. For me, home is where your story begins. Living in the Midwest, surrounded by family-based accountability, love, interference, sharing, guilt trips, support, and yes, sometimes meddling, how could I possibly write a book that didn’t include those elements? What can I say? If one or both of your parents are on Facebook for the sole purpose of keeping tabs on you and other family members, you would probably like my books. If your family tree has many limbs and branches, and if you like realistic stories about struggles with family and faith by characters who aren’t perfect-looking or rich, you’re probably my reader. If you like characters who missed out on God’s perfect will for their life years ago and are down to Plan C, D or even E; if you can relate to men and women who are slightly disillusioned with how their lives have turned out but ever hopeful that miracles can happen, then you will probably like my books. If you’re from a small town, but have a big family, you’re probably my reader. If you know what “Heard it on the grapevine” means, if there are no secrets in your family (well, very few) and if you like the kind of tangled webs that result from brothers and sisters and moms and dads being an integral part of each others lives, then you’d probably enjoy reading my stories.
Night and Day, Stormy Weather, Water Lily, and Merry Go Round are all full of local color, family interactions, and honest, this-could-really-happen situations. In my humble opinion, when someone like me – and probably you – believable people – find true happiness in the midst of their everyday and occasionally extraordinary problems, it fills me with hope. If it can happen to them, it can happen to me. What is more exciting, more comforting, more thrilling?
I’m at my desk, looking at a picture frame that includes the graduation photos of my Grandma Victoria and her sweetheart, my Grandpa (Harold) Lightly, and my Grandma (Lorna) Hansen and her dapper beau, my Grandpa (Albert) Hansen. Love stories that beget love stories that inspired love stories. Home is definitely where my story started. How about you?
My nephew is getting married tonight. In fact, I’m posting my blog from a hotel in Des Moines, awaiting the big event. My husband, who is a minister, is performing the ceremony. But not because Cole is his nephew. Kayla, the beautiful woman Cole is marrying, grew up in my husband’s church in Thompson, Iowa.
For the first and only time in my life (so far), I played matchmaker. And it worked!
One day, in the church basement after church, Kayla’s mother and I started chatting. She was lamenting that her daughter, who is such a sweetheart, couldn’t seem to meet a nice, goodhearted man. I’d thought for years that my nephew, Cole, and Kayla would be a good match, but had never found the right time to bring it up. Cole was in between relationships. It seemed the perfect time to put the wheels in motion, which we proceeded to do.
To be honest, I never really expected anything to come of it. Neither, I’m sure, did Cole, when I first mentioned sending him some digital photos of a girl from our church who I thought he might enjoy getting to know. What young 20-something thinks his fat, grey-haired old aunt is going to be the one to pick out his future bride?
But God had plans for Cole and Kayla (Cola, as we now affectionly call them). I, of course, was delighted when they fell in love, and later, announced their engagement. And I truly do believe they’re a match made in heaven.
As a writer of romance novels, I get to play matchmaker in my imagination all the time. Even as a child, I spent hours spinning romantic fantasies in my mind, all starring me, of course, and whatever handsome young man had captured my fancy at the time. None of them ever worked out, although the silver lining is that I got so practiced imagining these steamy, “what-if” scenarios that it led to a writing career.
I feel a great deal of satisfaction in my writing life when the love affair I’ve orchestrated comes to a good fruition. But I have to say, it is even more fulfilling to see a tiny seed that I planted grow and blossom into a real-life romance, now marriage. On this, their wedding day, I feel a deep, intense sense of satisfaction. I did good.
Early on in Cole and Kayla’s relationship, I invited Cole’s mother (my sister) to have lunch with me. When she arrived, she said, “Cole thinks you asked me to lunch so you could pump me for information. But he says not to tell you anything – he thinks you’ll put it in your next romance novel.”
I promised I wouldn’t, and my sister filled me in on what sketchy details she knew. It made me smile. And I’m still smiling today. And while I won’t crow about my excellent matchmaking skills in a book, I never said I wouldn’t blog about it. Besides this isn’t a fictional romance, it’s the real thing.