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Have you ever felt like you don’t belong anywhere? When I was a child, I often thought I must have been adopted. I loved to read and preferred to stay in the house while the rest of my family loved the outdoors and rarely opened a book unless they had to. I was and am very blessed to have a wonderful family, but in some ways, I’ve always been and will always be the odd one out.
I felt the same way in school. I was smart and respected and had a close circle of friends, but I wasn’t athletic, and boys always liked me as a friend instead of a girlfriend, and I wasn’t a party-er and I didn’t dance because I was a Baptist. I read the Betsy Tacy books and wished more than anything that I would someday be part of The Crowd, but the truth was, I never really fit in. After I graduated, I went to Wheaton College, which might seem homogenous at first glance. But to me, it was a place of great diversity. I met people who were far odder than I, quirky individuals who bucked societal norms, did their own thing and didn’t care what anybody thought of them. Despite the occasional forays into uniqueness, there was still a typical Wheatonite – pre-med, ultra talented, superior intellect, old money or conversely, humbly raised children of pastors and missionaries – none of which fit me.
I got married to an officer in the army after two years of college. Our first duty assignment was in Augsburg, Germany. I won’t go into the mismatched marriage I was in at the time, except to say that in the midst of the ill-conceived mess I was in matrimonially, I felt very at home in Europe, and I found a great deal of acceptance within the military community. For the first time in my life, I started to feel like I belonged. Perhaps it was because the military attracted such a hodge podge of people. There were Okies from Oklahoma, hillbillies from Tennessee, southern belles from Charleston, South Carolina, proper to a fault West Point grads, gentle giants with black skin, and once I got there, a naive Midwest farmer’s daughter. I felt like I’d finally found my niche – and it lasted for all of about 10 minutes. Because the military is one of the most unstable, constantly shifting, always changing things in the world as far as places and spaces go. Command shifts, families transferring to different duty assignments, people staying in and getting out of the military, all set against the backdrop of a topsy turvy world where you’re always on alert, waiting for the next big things to happen – and it usually does.
I felt I’d finally found my place in the world, and that that place only existed for a few short months in the space time continuum. Here today, gone tomorrow. When my marriage met a similar fate and poof – one day didn’t exist any more, it was a very hard thing. My ex-husband’s family had become mine, and then suddenly, they weren’t anymore. Disconnecting from the marriage and my role as wife was hard enough, but severing myself from the extended family was far worse.
I’m a farmer’s daughter. I was never a particularly good farmer’s daughter, but I was raised to put down deep roots, to commit for life, to count on people and things being there for a good long time if not forever. But the reality is that the whole world is like the ocean, or the sky – constantly changing, shifting, eroding, becoming more and more unrecognizable with every day that passes. And me?
I’ve gone on to make my way in the world quite nicely. I’ve met with some successes, had a few dreams come true, and done quite well for myself. But in many ways, I still feel like I’m a misfit. I’m not a mother. I wear funky hats. I wouldn’t caught dead in nylons and can usually be found lazing around in Birkenstocks and slouch socks. I’m a far from perfect pastor’s wife. Each of the walls in my dining room a different color. I’m awake when most people are sleeping, and asleep when I should be awake. If left to my own devises, there are more weeds than flowers in my garden. I play the piano but never the notes that are on the music.
I make round pancakes instead of flat. I write books with steamy scenes and God sightings – in the same chapter. I raise eyebrows, and have my own quirks, and march to my own drummer. I’ve never quite fit in and have finally starting to realize that I kind of like it that way.
So Merry Christmas from the Island of Misfits. I rather like it here. If you’re ever inclined to visit, please pick up one of my books… Jensen from Night and Day, Rae from stormy Weather, Michelle from Water Lily, Tracy from Merry Go Round, Hope from Love Notes, and soon, Rose from Wild Rose… characters who are full of foibles, characters who are sometimes a little off kilter or at odds with the world, characters who desire more than anything to find someone to appreciate them and love them just the way they are.
Of course, there’s only one place in the world where we can truly find unconditional love, from someone who certainly knows what it felt like to be a misfit. That’s what makes Christmas such a grand celebration!
My husband and I were driving home from seeing the movie “Lincoln” last night when we drove over the rise that leads to our home and saw Zion Lutheran Church silhouetted behind the stand of pine trees – a sight that has become very familiar- and realized that it was almost exactly a year ago that we saw this beautiful view for the first time.
Since many of you were kind enough to listen to the tales of angst that proceeded our move and the grieving process that surrounded it, I thought I would offer a State of the Union address of sorts and catch you up on what’s been happening in my life since then. And although it’s a very “un-writerly” thing to do, I’m going to start with today’s news and go backwards.
I’m so excited to be nearly finished with a book called Wild Rose of Scotland. I set out to finish it for NaNoWriMo, and have almost met my goal. I love the way the characters and storyline have developed and think my readers will, too. It takes place at St. Conan’s Kirk on Loch Awe, in Scotland. Ted is a pastor and Rose is a bit of a wild woman with a questionable past. The church ladies are aghast! There’s even a jilted ex-fiancé who Rose left standing at the altar in his kilt. And I think you’ll love them all. I have only 3712 words left to write to make my goal of 50,000 words written in the month of November.
It’s been a good month – getting up early every morning and writing has been a good discipline for me at a time in my life when I’ve moved from being a night owl to falling asleep at my desk before ten o’clock. If I can keep up this new habit throughout the winter, you can expect two new releases in short order – Wild Rose of Scotland,and then, Blue Belle of Scotland – with the possibility of a third Celtic tale called – Sweet William of Scotland or Shy Violet of Scotland or… who knows?
After vacillating between publishing books meant for mainstream romance readers and inspirational fiction readers, RWA and ACFW, Sherrie Hansen (Night and Day, and my Maple Valley Trilogy – Stormy Weather, Water Lily and Merry Go Round) and Sherrie Hansen Decker (Love Notes), steamy scenes or no steamy scenes, I’ve decided to go back to being Sherrie Hansen and let my books be what they will be.
I’ve always felt that my books are very character driven. They also have a “slice of life” quality that includes characters who are good and evil, meek and bossy, nice and nasty, Christian and non-Christians (sometimes, to confuse matters, it’s the Christians who are nasty and the non-Christians who are nice), and so on. There are committed Christians whose faith means everything to them, as well as lukewarm and occasionally rebellious Christians. There are people who don’t know what they want – or believe. They live their lives and interact in a very real, sometimes gritty, occasionally very painful world, where there are conflicts, temptations, joys and struggles.
As a writer, I believe my faith and values come into play when a character has to confront the conflicts life throws in their paths. How they deal with the conflicts and how they interact with the other people in their world depends on how deep their faith is and where they’re at in their spiritual walk. As a Christian writer, I feel strongly that there are always consequences to actions, and that sin or evil should not be glorified. But even the Bible does not sugarcoat the actions and failings of its central characters as the stories are told of how they lived out their lives in their contemporary cultures. I don’t feel it’s my job to censure or shield my readers, only to let God’s grace shine through in the way the conflicts in my books are resolved.
So I’m done trying to label my books as one thing or another. Part of the reason I love my publishers and working with a mid-sized, independent press is that they’re supportive of me and what I write even when it’s something unique or a little outside the conventional boxes. In Wild Rose of Scotland, you can expect some faith talk, some Bible verses, and some heated discussions on topics like grace and forgiveness – Ted is a pastor, after all. You can also expect some steam. I think you’ll find that it’s a very candid, real, and refreshing mix.
Some other changes in my life – we love our new home, our new church family, and the group of folks our church has chosen to affiliate with (the LCMC – Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ). When I think of all the wonders God has brought about in our lives in the last 12 months, I’m amazed. On a very personal note, I’ve lost 80 pounds since the day after Mother’s Day – I think, an awesome reflection of the new, positive outlook these changes have brought about.
That’s where I’m at today. I hope you’ll watch for Wild Rose come spring! In the meantime, if you haven’t read Love Notes, this is a wonderful time of year to start. Hope Anderson and Tommy Love’s story – Love Notes – starts just as fall in turning to winter and ends on Christmas Eve with a very special Christmas song, “Hope, Joy, Peace, Love”.
You can get your copy here.
One of the parts I like best about starting a new book is choosing the location where my story will be set. Local traditions, distinctive scenery, and quirky bits of historical lore can all be used to enhance the plot and bring life to your characters. Layering and interweaving them together or using symbolism to enhance the plot is pure fun for me. Choosing the right season for your story is another fun exercise. My latest book, Love Notes, starts just about this time of year, when late summer / autumn is turning to winter. The conclusion of Hope Anderson and Tommy Love’s story falls on Christmas Eve with a tender carol about hope, joy, peace and love. Maybe that’s why I’ve been thinking about autumn and the images it brings to mind.
But first, I’m going to backtrack a bit. I have to admit that autumn is my second favorite season. My bed and breakfast, The Blue Belle Inn, is named after a spring flower, and painted in springtime colors, so you can probably guess what my favorite season is.
To me, spring is a season of hope, and new beginnings. Maybe that’s why I couldn’t start Love Notes in the spring. Because for Hope and Tommy, certain things had to come to an end – die – before any new growth could occur. Dreams, self, old business.
I love spring, when the first blossoms start to poke out of the brown, colorless, still-half-frozen ground.
Spring has humble beginnings, and finishes with a truly glorious display.
Fall, on the other hand, is slow and mellow. It sneaks up on you. Why is it that we think summer will never end? I mean, we know colder weather is coming. Fall is about denial.
Fall is the season of being finished, pleased with yourself, satisfied and content. Fall is the time of year when the fruits of your labors are seen to completion.
Now I sound like a farmer’s daughter, which I am.
Fall is nature’s last hurrah.
Fall is frisky squirrels scurrying frantically about, getting ready for winter.
Are your characters driven – under a tight deadline? If so, maybe fall is their time.
Fall is yellow, orange and red… exactly what we expect, most of the time. But fall is also every color of the rainbow.
Fall is full of surprises.
Fall is hazy nights, full of dust and chaff, and beautiful sunsets.
If fall is hazy, summer is lazy. The time when we go on vacation, take siestas, and stop to smell the roses.
Summer can bring stormy weather.
Summer is unsettling, volatile. Things can blow up in a hurry.
Summer can be crazy.
Summer can be relaxed. Sweet. Wet. Wild.
Summer is a blaze of glory. Hot and humid. A time when things grow and burst into color. Everything is at it’s best in the summertime.
Summer is the perfect time to lean back and enjoy a day of basking in the sun or relaxing on a porch swing.
Summer is sentimental.
Summer is a time when I take nothing for granted, because I know it won’t be long before…
Fall. And fall is fleeting. The inevitable frost kills things, makes things colorless and grey.
And fall, after all, leads to winter. Winter… it’s icy cold. If you’re not careful, it will freeze your little tush off. The tip of my nose is always chilly in the winter.
Winter is a time of desolation. Isolation. Winter is beautiful, even majestic, in it’s own way, but so frigid and unyielding.
Crisp, clear. Blustery, blue.
Merry, dear. Winter has its own set of wishes, its own brittle warmth.
Which season is your favorite? What time of year were you born in? Have one or more seasons impacted your life? After all, we’re all characters living out a story line. Wild Rose of Scotland, the book I’m working on now, starts in the spring when the rhododendrons are in bloom. But there’s a long, hot, oppressive summer in store for Rose before she finally feels the graceful acceptance of fall.
One of the first things I saw on Facebook this morning was a photo of 6 or 7 women of every shape and size (including some who are quite large) lined up in a row, part of the “Real is Perfect” campaign presented by SKORCH and Lane Bryant. I pressed like. When I was growing up, if you didn’t look like the excessively thin model, Twiggy, or have a figure like Barbie, you weren’t considered to be pretty, say nothing about perfect. I’m glad that I (and evidently others) have learned that beauty comes in all different shapes, colors, and sizes.
Part of the reason I chose to accept the contract that Second Wind Publishing offered me for my novel, “Night and Day”, a few years ago is that it seemed like bigger publishers were looking for a more standardized idea of “beauty” in the books they published, and that an independent press was more likely to be open to unique stories that didn’t fit the current mold embraced by the masses.
I felt that my books were “different” in two major respects – one, that my stories were about what the publishing industry considers to be older characters (30′s and 40′s as opposed to 20′s), and two, that my books contained aspects of both faith and a conservative Christian world-view, and some fairly lusty, what I call steamy, scenes.
My characters are real. They’re not perfect people living in an evangelical Christian bubble. They are touched by evil. Their temptations are much more than superficial , and sometimes they give in to them. When they do, they feel pleasure. When they do things that are opposed to what they believe is right, and when they do things in the wrong order, or at the wrong time, they also feel pain. There are consequences to actions, whether having sex before marriage or eating or drinking too much, or simply having the wrong focus and priorities in life. Because my characters and situations are real, you see both. Diversity often brings dichotomies, and conflict, and I believe that makes for a good story.
Much to my delight, my books have been well-received, and garnered good reviews. Readers have been enthusiastic. My publishers were supportive. I was thrilled that I was able to write the books of my heart without feeling pressure to color totally inside the lines. And then I tried to write a book for the Christian fiction market. “Love Notes” has no steamy scenes. Hope’s faith has remained strong even in the face of losing her husband, and almost losing her home. Tommy Love grows more and more convicted of his selfish ambitions and turns back to God. There is a clear Christian message.
In a review of “Love Notes”, Sheila Deeth says “Sherrie Hansen Decker’s Love Notes is Christian romance where fiction is lifted up, not bogged down by faith. Genuine hope kindles slowly in human hearts. Beautiful music soars. Trials come, not because the characters are sinners but because they’re human and the world around us is wounded. The bad guys are drawn with space awaiting healing grace, and the scenery, towns and countryside are vivid with beauty and darkness side by side, hope hiding in the shadows.” And, “This story kept me glued to the page, never knowing how I wanted the tale to end, but always sure the author would end it well. After all, she’s very clearly listening to the author of our lives as she writes these lives—Christian fiction indeed, where honest humanity meets heavenly hope.”
In the Timberjay newspaper out of Tower, Minnesota, a recent reviewer said “Anderson is struggling to reopen the resort owned by her late husband, who died in a car accident. Tommy Love is a local boy who found national fame in the music business, who is now looking for a peaceful spot to call home. Their two paths collide when a local banker tries to foreclose on the resort in order to sell the property to his old friend, Tommy Love. The book is an inspirational Christian romance, with plenty of intrigue and adventure. It is also a novel that explores the complications and hurdles when two middle-aged adults, with very different histories, fall in love. The weather, as in any novel set in northeastern Minnesota, also plays a significant role in the story. In an interview with author Pat Bertram earlier this year, Decker said “I hope each reader will have their faith in miracles renewed. I’m a firm believer in second chances. I know from personal experience that God can take the most adverse scenario and make something beautiful out of it – in His time.”
When “Love Notes” was first published, I joked that if every one who had griped about the steamy scenes in my previous books bought a copy of “Love Notes”, it would be a best seller. But I’m not laughing any more, because certain Christians evidently feel that “Love Notes” is not Christian enough. First, an “influencer” from American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW), declined to recommend the book to her friends because it contained the word bi-ch (uttered by the bad guy). Now, a Christian bookseller has declined to sell the book in her bookstore even though it has a “great story line”, because the main characters sleep under a shared blanket to stay warm in an ice storm after the power goes out, and the bad guy hopes to have sex with his ex-wife, and other characters have “sex thoughts”. Even more insulting was her assessment that “God is mentioned, but neither main character really knows God and who He is.”
So, what to do? I will not be writing any more books for the Christian market. I am going to write real books with real characters who struggle with issues of faith within a real world context. If their struggles lead to passion, some “steam” will be included. If that’s not where the story goes, you can join the ranks of those who were disappointed when I told them “Love Notes” didn’t have any steamy scenes. And as for the Christians who are so confident that their particular brand of Christianity is so perfect, I would remind you that there was not one perfect disciple, who said one perfect set of words when he came to Christ and who lived a perfect life thereafter. There were 12 different disciples, each one unique, each of whom came to Christ from a different place, and in a different way. Each had different weaknesses and strengths, their own personal doubts and struggles, a different style of writing, and a unique ministry. Yet God used them all. There are also prostitutes and murderers and adulterers and and sex thoughts in the Bible. It’s a real book about real people living in a real world. And I think it’s the perfect book.
As for “Love Notes”, I’m sure it is far from perfect. But it is real and I hope you will read it and decided for yourself if you agree.
Sometimes a story is born of a place – an exotic locale tugs at your heart, captures your imagination, and you are off and running. I had that experience at St. Conan’s Kirk on Loch Awe, in Argyle, Scotland a few years ago. The book I’m working on right now, Wild Rose of Scotland, practically plotted itself while I stood under the flying buttresses in the church yard and wandered through the lofty stone church.
The same thing happened to me in Florida a couple of winters ago. A trip to the Everglades followed by a brief excursion to the Pink Palace, a 1920′s era hotel on St. Pete’s Beach, and my mind started swimming with kidnapped heiresses and gangsters and missing ransom and a double cross and alligators and crocodiles and a canoe slipping through the swamp grasses and voila! A story was hatched.
At other times, a story comes void of a location. When I first started dreaming about Aileanna and Michael St. Dawndalyn in Blue Belle of Scotland, I had never been to Scotland. My characters were firmly etched in my mind, but they needed a home. I researched several different Scottish villages online and fell in love with Tobermory, Scotland, on the Isle of Mull. When I finally got to visit Tobermory, Blue Belle of Scotland was already written.
A strange sense of deja vu followed me around the island from the moment the ferry docked at Craignure and we drove our rental car out of the hull of the ship. Seeing places that I had researched and written about was thrilling – and a bit weird. There were odd circumstances come to life, things that I couldn’t possibly have known but nailed perfectly – a woman walking towards me on the street who looked exactly like my mental image of Aileanna. I loved it! In an odd sort of way, it felt like home.
Love Notes, my latest, released earlier this summer, was born of characters and stories of old lodges and honeymoon cabins and music and contentment, a jumble of experiences and tales told to me by my Aunt Pat and Uncle Frank when we were visiting them at their cabin on Bear Island Lake, in northern Minnesota.
Rainbow Lake Lodge, the fictional setting of Love Notes, is a figment of my imagination, a conglomerate of lodges I’ve visited in Yosemite National Park and on Prince Edward Island, Canada, with a good dose of Burntside Lodge, Ely, MN mixed in.
Tommy Love needed humble beginnings with a Mayberry RFD flavor, where everybody not only knows your name,but everything else about you – for 5 generations back. They needed to be Minnesota nice and a little quirky, too. Ely, bustling with tourists and newcomers panning for gold, was a little too big and upscale to be a good fit. That’s when I decided Embarrass, MN was a perfect match for my cast of characters. Love Notes was nearly finished by that time, so I went back and researched Embarrass, then changed the story until it fit.
This past week, I visited Embarrass for the first time in several decades. Again, I had a a sense of deja vu as I matched digital pictures to real locations. I had a few tense moments, too. It is about five miles from the “Welcome to Embarrass” sign and any semblance of the town. I was starting to feel – well, a little embarrassed, thinking I had written about a town that didn’t exist, when we finally found the town hall. From there, it was another 5 or so miles to the outskirts of the actual town, and another mile or two to the bank (credit union) and welcome center. The expression “Don’t blink, or you’ll miss it”, is very appropriate in the case of Embarrass.
When I started introducing myself as an author who had written a book set in Embarrass, I was thrilled to find I’d made precisely the right choice of locations. I’d soon had lovely chats with Diane, the city clerk, who bought my last copy of Love Notes, the friendly hostesses and resident poet at the Nelimark Homestead House, and Pat, the delightful hostess at Homespun Acres – an antique and gift shop in a barn – and Northern Comfort B&B.
In true Minnesota fashion, in mere minutes of meeting these folks, I knew where they were from, what year their grandparents had homesteaded their farms, and how they arrived in Embarrass, among other fascinating tidbits. Definite material for a sequel should I ever choose to write one. I left with warm memories, new friends, a bond and a few treasures from the antique shop. I didn’t confess that I am half Danish instead of Finnish, but I felt a tie to Embarrass regardless.
Storybook settings, whether born in the first moments of inspiration or researched in retrospect, are a crucial element in any story. If you ever have the chance to visit Embarrass, Minnesota, I would urge you to go and immerse yourself in the local color for a day or two – or maybe take in a Finnish sauna at the Northern Comfort B&B. If it isn’t likely you’ll get up that way anytime soon, I hope you’ll read Love Notes. Better yet, I hope that when you turn the last page, you’ll feel like you’ve been to Embarrass. I’m happy to say I have been.
In a few hours, I’ll be speaking at the Artworks Festival in Austin, MN, my hometown, also know as Spam Town USA (the kind in a can that’s good to eat).
Maybe it’s because Austin was the stage for most of my childhood dreams and wishes that I feel a little sentimental about the difference between how I hoped my life would turn out, and how it has. It was under the clear, blue skies of Austin that I dreamed of meeting my own tall, dark, mysterious Prince Charming, and living happily ever after in a house filled with babies and love, surrounded by a white picket fence and window boxes filled with pink geraniums. Given the era I grew up in, the happy young wife and mother I envisioned in my wishes probably looked like Gidget, Barbie, Cinderella, and Twiggy all rolled into one. My, how the world has changed in a few short decades. And my, how different my life has turned out to be than what I envisioned all those years ago.
Whether I was wishing upon a star or praying for the perfect man to come into my life and make my dreams come true, my life has been nothing like the way I imagined it would be. The things I’ve done, the places I’ve been, the things I’ve accomplished would have been incomprehensible to me back then. In some ways, I’ve far exceeded my hopes and dreams. I also have a handful of regrets, and a small part of me still mourns for the way things might have been.
One of the other Austin artists appearing at the festival is in a wheelchair. I’m told he was paralyzed in a football game in the late 80′s. He is exceptionally talented and has accomplished much in his life. I’m sure when he was growing up, he didn’t envision being injured. I wonder, would he have excelled at art in the way he has if that moment hadn’t redefined his life and shaped his perspective?
Things happen – often differently than we wish or hope - I believe God uses those things to take us from being rough pieces of coal to shining diamonds, to bring out the best in us.
The main character in my recently released, LOVE NOTES, is a woman named Hope Anderson whose youthful hopes and dreams died with her husband in an auto accident. Hope’s “Plan B” is to finish renovating and reopen Rainbow Lake Lodge, to see it bubbling with families, children, and laughter again – she believes, the perfect way to honor her late husband’s legacy. Due to an unfortunate set of circumstances, that dream is also about to die.
Sometimes it’s very hard to see the silver lining, to find the rainbow after the storm.
I did not live happily ever after. It took a few years for God to “work all things together for good” – I call it being blessed with “God’s Perfect Plan B”. I never did have children, but God gave me an extended family who loves me, brothers and sisters who are kind enough to share their children with me, nieces and nephews who love me and are a wonderful part of my life.
He gave me a Bed and Breakfast and a Tea House, music to lift my soul, friends and activities that I enjoy, a new chance at romance, and many books to write.
Romans 5:2-5says ” Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
Our youthful hopes and dreams may have to be altered and adapted over the years, but one thing that never changes is God – our strength, our comfort, and our hope. Jeremiah 29:11 says, For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. I like Romans 12:12, too. “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.”
Sherrie Hansen Decker lives in a 116 year old Victorian house in northern Iowa who, just like her, got a second chance when she rescued it from the bulldozers grips and turned it into a bed and breakfast and tea house, the Blue Belle Inn. Sherrie has enjoyed learning about hope and love, and the difference a little faith makes while telling the story of Hope Anderson and Tommy Love in “Love Notes”. “Love Notes” is Sherrie’s fifth book to be published by Second Wind Publishing (her debut Christian Inspirational novel). Sherrie attended Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL and University of Maryland, European Division, in Augsburg, Germany. Her husband, Rev. Mark Decker, is a pastor and Sherrie’s real life hero. She enjoys playing the piano with their worship team, needlepointing, renovating and decorating historic houses, traveling, and going on weekly adventures with her nieces and nephews.
You can learn more about Sherrie’s books at:
A friend of mine at Gather.com posted a photo today of her peach tree, laden with fruit almost ready to pick. Thoughts of enjoying juicy, ripe peaches fresh from the tree, still warm from the sunshine, made me mourn all over again for our own lost crop.
Our cherry, pear and apple trees at the new parsonage in Hudson, IA burst into bloom early this spring, each delicate blossom filling my head with thoughts of spiced pear jelly, fresh-baked apple pies and sitting on the back steps eating dark, sweet cherries and spitting out the seeds.
The trees were still in bloom, along with two rows of raspberry bushes, when we had a hard frost. We hoped it wouldn’t matter, but now it is summer, and there is not a single piece of fruit to be found on any of our trees. Nipped in the bud, literally. Thanks to a drought this summer, and to many excessively hot days, our corn crop doesn’t look much better.
It’s painful to watch hope turn into disappointment. When hopes are crushed by random acts of nature, it’s one thing, but I especially hate it when something you’re excited about fizzles and dies because someone purposely takes a pin and pops your balloon.
I recently felt this way when I got a note about my new Christian Inspirational novel, Love Notes. The caller had read Love Notes, and was distressed because she didn’t feel she could recommend it to her friends, even though she liked the book very much, because it contained a word that is evidently not allowable in Christian fiction. I immediately deduced that the word was spoken by Billy Bjorklund, the vulgar, hate-crazed bad guy of Embarrass. On doing a search later that day, I discovered that I used the word 8 – 12 times. I will be the first to admit that the word is probably considered offensive, but I personally do not consider it a swear word, or I never would have used it. Her suggestion was that instead of using the word, I should have said “He swore profusely,” or “He called her every bad name he could think of,” or “He uttered a string of expletives.” Both my husband and I agreed that if we read any of these phrases in a book, we would think of words far worse than what currently comes out of Billy’s mouth, which starts with a b and ends with a ch.
So, as Barney Fife always said, “We’ve got a situation on our hands.” The logical action, since the last thing I want to do is to offend the very readers I’m trying to attract, is to (also compliments of good, oldBarney) Nip it in the bud!” I spoke to my editor, and they agreed that I could edit the word out of future copies if I wanted to. (Oh, the joys of POD publishing.)
So my dilemma is this: I truly feel like I am da..ed if I do and da..ed if I don’t remove the word. Here’s why: Some of the Christians I know will never even pick up a copy of Love Notes because I have previously written books that include steamy scenes. I’ve already been judged, pegged and deemed irredeemable. Others, even if they are not offended by the word Billy utters 8-12 times, or even if I take it out, will find something else to be offended about. Tommy Love, my hero, has been divorced twice. He encounters groupies. He’s going through a midlife crisis and thinks he wants to write hip hop. Billy, the bad guy, has a beer in one scene. He does several wicked and dastardly things. He thinks heinous thoughts. Evil is not glorified in this book, but it is present, an adversary to be overcome.
And if I leave the word in? As we’ve learned this past week, a person can also get into trouble for simply being open about their faith and beliefs. It’s certainly possible that other readers, some of whom do not share my Christian beliefs, may conversely be offended by certain God things and events in this book. God is at work in the lives of the characters in Love Notes, convicting, guiding, making things of beauty out of chaos. This may not sit well with some. Being openly Christian is not exactly a popular thing in today’s culture.
My conclusion is that if I try to re-write the book with the intent of offending no one, it would very probably end up so watered down and without heart that no one would want to read it.
So, I guess what I’m saying is, take me as I am or leave me. My books have always been honest, candid and character-driven. Each of my books, steamy or inspirational, contains references to faith and old-fashioned, traditional values, and Scripture-based wisdom. I have always tried not to unduly offend while at the same time being true to my characters and the story as it comes to me.
My closing thoughts. Christians, be careful that you are not the hard frost that freezes the blossoms off the fruit trees. Sadly, at this point, I think the best thing for me to do may be to stop labeling Love Notes as a Christian inspirational, which I think is a shame, as it has a beautiful Christian message about the God-given gifts of hope, joy, peace and true love. I will say that if you are a Christian reader, it’s your loss if you let one somewhat offensive word ruin a perfectly lovely love story.
Now the song Accentuate the Positive is running through my head. Personally, I prefer its attitude to Barney’s “Nip it in the Bud.” So take me or leave me, just as I am. Thankfully, God does.
One of the most nerve-wracking things for an author to do is to wait until the first reviews of their new release start appearing. Not only is it gratifying when people affirm your work, but there’s a very real and wonderful kind of connection that occurs when you find that a book you’ve written alone, and characters that have, up until this time, existed only in your mind, have spoken to and touched other people. It’s not that I don’t have confidence in my own work and a strong belief in myself (yes, it does lurk somewhere deep inside me), but when that magical connection occurs… it’s a joyous thing. I don’t know how else to describe it, and for an author, that’s very telling!
I’ve listed below some of the ever so nice things people are saying about Love Notes. If you want to read the full reviews, check them out at Amazon or Goodreads. And next time you read a book you like, consider posting a review, however short or lengthy. Your kind words and the fact that you “get” the author’s characters or theme will mean the world to them.
Here we go:
“Sherrie Hansen Decker’s Love Notes is Christian romance where fiction is lifted up, not bogged down by faith… This story kept me glued to the page, never knowing how I wanted the tale to end, but always sure the author would end it well. After all, she’s very clearly listening to the author of our lives as she writes these lives—Christian fiction indeed, where honest humanity meets heavenly hope.” (from a review by Sheila Deeth)
“Sherrie Hansen will keep you turning the pages as you are drawn in for a marvelous journey of two people discovering first of all themselves – their weaknesses, but also their strengths – and, inevitably, each other.” (from a review by Gabriela Scholter)
Ever since I read the next review, I’ve been telling people that Love Notes is better than air conditioning!
“Sherrie describes the setting so well that I could see and feel the near frozen temperatures and the cold water of the Lake. I could see the fog coming off the water and feel the fear of the character as they struggle to start the boat that is stranded on the Lake. I could feel the coldness in the air so much that I went outside and read the next few chapters just to get warm again.” (from a review by Connie Cowger)
"I would subtitle Sherrie Hansen Decker's inspirational romance, *Love Notes*, 'When Dreams Collide.' The hero, a famous pop singer-songwriter, and the heroine, an owner of a failing MN resort are both burdened with the "dead" past. But neither see it that way--until forced to. A cast of interesting and very alive characters and plenty of intriguing plot twists make for a satisfying read." (from an endorsement by Lyn Cote, author of the Women of Ivy Manor series.)
You can purchase Love Notes, form your own opinion, and even write a review at Second Wind Publishing.
And if you’re awaiting the first review on your new book, a nod from your boss, or whatever, try a Daily Affirmation with Stuart Smalley. It will make you smile!
A couple of my friends were chatting on Facebook the other night. The first one asked for recommendations on what books to read this summer. At the end of one of her comments, she said, “Don’t bother to recommend romances, they’re a waste of time.” When I responded, another friend said they weren’t referring to the kind of romances I write, but the ones that have no plot, and are just an excuse to include one sex scene after another. (I’m paraphrasing as best I can remember… but bottom line, they were not being complimentary to the romance genre.)
Forgive me if I confess to being a bit offended. And forgive me again when I say, I know exactly what they mean.
I’m reading a romance novel right now that’s written by a best selling author and published by a major house. It has no plot to speak of. Basically, something bad happened, long before the book began, and the book is spent reliving the past and discussing its implications on the present and future – ad nauseum. I like the characters, but all they ever do is go to work, go on dates, and make love. They sit and think about things – a lot. They talk about things, but they have no real goals, no motivation. No one is trying to keep them from attaining their non-existent goals. They are surrounded by friends – loving, supportive allies who want them to resolve their problems and be happy. They rehash the same old things again and again. I must care enough about the characters to find out what happens to them, because I’m still reading, but I find myself skimming over entire scenes because I am bored. This is not a good thing.
It irritates me that authors who have the honor of being published by major houses write such drivel. It irritates me that readers, who are obviously buying their books by the thousands, don’t have higher expectations. It irritates me that their publishers don’t demand more from them. But most of all, it irritates me that I am being lumped into the same category as these writers, and writers who write the literary equivalent of porn flicks, just because I write romance.
To assume that my books have no worth simply because they end happily, and include a love story, is just plain insulting. Reviewer Sheila Deeth called my first book, Night and Day, a thinking woman’s romance. I love that phrase. I have much to learn as an author, and Night and Day is certainly not perfect, but it’s also not trite, mindless, or a waste of time. Here’s what Sheila said:
“Some romances, you know exactly which protagonists are going to get together. You know it will be perfect. You’re just waiting for the characters to work it out for themselves. But Sherrie Hansen’s Night and Day isn’t that kind of romance. These characters are all too real and too flawed for a perfect world. They’re stubborn. They cling to dreams and don’t want to compromise. Their relationships struggle to pass each all-too-human hurdle, and even as the story nears its close, it’s not clear which lives will stay entwined and which connections will quietly unravel. Is love just an idealized dream after all, or are dreams the stuff of love?
Sherrie Hansen creates sprawling farm and comfortable home, American countryside, Danish streets, wobbling bicycles, squabbling siblings, lovers’ arguments… Her scenery and her characters are all equally real, from Anders despising all things American, to Jensen delighting in all things historical, to practical Ed and misunderstood Tara, and parents who’ve moved away to Arizona. The love in these pages isn’t syrupy sweet, the characters aren’t cutouts chasing after dreams, the internet’s not perfect and neither is love, or homeland. But the mysteries of a hundred-year-old romance have messages for an all-too-modern internet relationship, and the lessons of lilacs cut to make them bloom are relevant to all.
I loved following these characters as their relationships grew. I loved wondering what choices Jensen would make, and whether she and Anders could ever turn fairy-tale into reality. I loved the side characters. I loved the conversations. I loved the world…
Sherrie Hansen’s created a thinking woman’s romance, as full of depth and feeling and love as any other, but seasoned with history, internet, real relationships, common sense and hope; a wonderful novel, highly recommended.”
And one more thing, while I’m on the subject of romance. You could do worse. My husband and I just finished listening to all three books in the Hunger Games trilogy. Despair, disillusionment, detachment, and depression – from beginning to end. I’m of the opinion that this world needs a few more happy endings. I believe the world needs a little more love. And if people find a little hope, joy, peace and love – a little romance – in the midst of all the negative things that pervade our world, is there anything so wrong with that? Take a chance on romance. Look for a novel by Lyn Cote, Pamela Morsi, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Jennifer Crusie, Julie Garwood, Jill Marie Landis, LaVyrle Spencer, or Debbie Macomber, to name a few. You’ll find plenty to hold your interest… action, adventure, worthy protagonists and antagonists, symbolism, meaning, depth.
I write novels that are commonly known as romance novels. Because romance novels have negative connotations for so many people, I chose to use the word love in the title of my blog, fearing if I used the word romance, most people wouldn’t even read the article. But don’t be mistaken. I’m proud to be a writer of love stories. I’m a thinking woman, and the romances I write are well worth a few hours of your time. Try one – you’ll be surprised at what you might learn.
LOVE NOTES has been released and let loose in the world, and I am ready to move on. But to where? And to what? I am lost and don’t know where to go.
To Denmark and the Faroe Islands?
Do I revisit Anders and Bjorn, Jensen and the Christiansens in Daybreak in Denmark?
Do I get to know Rose, who is wild, and Ted, the vicar, who is not, but so wants to be, in Wild Rose of Scotland?
I have plenty of inspiration to write about a host of quirky church ladies, should I decide to visit St. Conan’s Kirk on Loch Awe.
Or should I finish Blue Belle of Scotland? I already know Aileana, the blue belle from Virginia, lost, like me, in Tobermory, Scotland.
I know Damen and his secrets. I know Micheal St. Dawndelyn and his. Believe me, he has more than a few. Not as dark as Damen’s, but shady enough. Blue Belle of Scotland scares me. Too much nakedness, too frightening, too close to home.
If I go to Florida, I have my setting, the sand swells of the beach, the Pink Palace rising up from sea level like a treasure chest half swamped in sand, but overflowing with gems.
I know the Everglades – birds of every color, plants, water.
Alligators lurking everywhere you look.
But that is it. This book has no name. I have a plot, a conflict, and I know who the characters will be, but I don’t know them. They are also nameless.
I don’t know what they’re like, what they like to do, what they like to eat, if they’re on Facebook, what they wear, what color hair and eyes they have. They are strangers to me.
So do I want to spend some time with strangers, and hopefully, make some new friends, or do I want to see what my dear old friends are up to. There is comfort in the familiar. Do I feel brave and gregarious, or timid and shy?
I am lost. I have no idea which way to turn. The friendly folks of Embarrass, Minnesota have opened their arms to me in a warm welcome, but I cannot stay there. I must go out into the world, explore new places, see new things. It is what it is.
Will it be warm, balmy Florida, cool ocean breezes, palm trees and swamps, sand and seashells?
Or is it the stiff winds and nippy breezes, rhododendrons and wild roses, bluebells and cool, deep, waters of the highlands that call out to me?
Hairy coos and tidal pools, stolen loot and whiskeyed-up fools. Kilts and bagpipes and monsters lurking in the depths. That’s what Scotland is made of.
But then, there are those tall, magnificently blond Danes with sun-washed eyes of blue, oceans and time, still keeping lovers at bay. Babies and boys and a whole new world… Denmark calls me. It is the land of my ancestors.
Each place has its allure. So many stories waiting to be told. I don’t know which way to turn. I need more time, an extra set of hands, a spare brain.
I know Cristina wants to go to Florida. She loves it there. We were there, together, when the plot hatched.
Helle and Villiam want me to come to Denmark. They know me well. It is where my heart is. Ancient ties.
Mark wants to go back to Scotland. It’s golf. Always has been, always will be. His mistress. And I so loved the tea houses, the castles, the history, the shoppes. It is the perfect place to be with Mark, so appealing to each of us.
So what will it be? At the moment, I just want some Swedish meatballs, with a big old scoop of mashed potatoes and gravy. Hold the Lingonberry jelly, please.
But a good Scottish breakfast sounds good, too. Cumberland sausages, and that wonderful smoked haddock pie with mashed potatoes and shredded cheese on top.
Or some chocolates, hand made in Tobermory.
But Florida has healthy, Whole Foods. Key Lime Pie. And fresh oranges.
It all sounds so good! Can you see why I’m confused?
Please share your thoughts. Where, oh, where, should I go?