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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?
I hate thinking of myself or the romances I write as middle-aged. In many ways, I still think of myself as being young. Besides, age is relative. When my mom had my baby brother at age 37, I was mortified. To a sixteen year old girl, she seemed ancient – way too old to be having sex. At 54, I realize the error of my thinking.
When I was a young girl, the church I grew up in talked about something called God’s Perfect Will for Your Life. When I married the wrong man at age 20 and got divorced at age 27, I figured I’d missed the boat for good, and that whatever awful fate befell me from that point on was no one’s fault but my own.
Popular culture sent the same message. In Donna Summer’s hit song, “Last Dance”, she sings, “Last dance, last chance for love. Yes it’s my last chance for romance tonight.” Grab it now, while you can, when you’re young, in the prime of your life – or you may never have a second chance.
But our God is a God who forgives, who gives second chances, in His time… a God who promises, “All things work together for good to those who love God.” Even when things go awry along the way. Even when the unthinkable has happened.
There’s something sweet and magical about the naivety of our first love. But there’s also something rich and particularly satisfying about a second chance at love.
I wrote several novels about falling in love – fantasies all – while waiting for a second chance at real-life romance. It was hard to be patient. It was tempting to grab on to the first man who came along. Anything had to be better than being single, didn’t it? But eventually, with the council of many wise friends, I could admit that it was far better to be alone than to be married to the wrong man.
There was a song we used to sing in The Growing Edge, the Sunday School class for single adults aged 25 to 4o that I attended at First Pres in Colorado Springs, called “In His Time.”
IN HIS TIME, IN HIS TIME
HE MAKES ALL THINGS BEAUTIFUL IN HIS TIME
LORD, PLEASE SHOW ME EVERYDAY
AS YOU’RE TEACHING ME YOUR WAY
THAT YOU DO JUST WHAT YOU SAY
IN YOUR TIME.
IN YOUR TIME, IN YOUR TIME
YOU MAKE ALL THINGS BEAUTIFUL IN YOUR TIME
LORD, MY LIFE TO YOU I BRING
MAY EACH SONG I HAVE TO SING
BE TO YOU A LOVELY THING
IN YOUR TIME.
There were times that I was so tired of waiting, so frustrated with my circumstances, that I could barely make it through the song without crying – or feeling downright mad at God. I wanted to be in love, I wanted to be loved. I wanted to be married, to have a family before it was too late.
Almost 20 long years after my divorce, I was still waiting. I’d had a handful of relationships that weren’t meant to be for one reason or another, a couple of broken hearts, and a couple of terrifying near misses that – thank the Lord – never came to fruition.
I thought I’d missed my chance. The odds against a woman in her late forties finding love and remarrying were staggering, and I knew it.
And then one day, a nice (and very handsome) man asked me out on a date. He was a pastor. After our second or third date, he asked me to come to the church where he is a pastor, to hear him preach. Obviously, if our relationship was to progress, I had to be comfortable with his calling.
I drove an hour that Sunday to attend his church. When I entered the sanctuary the organist was playing the song… IN HIS TIME.
Yes, there is something very satisfying about a second chance at love. When you find love after 40, there’s a greater appreciation, a deeper joy, a more wonderful than ever love that envelops you – heart, soul, mind and body. When a man can love you when you’re – yes, I’ll say it – middle aged – with all the “imperfections” and attitudes that come along with living 4 or more decades, when you’re not nearly as cute and perky as you were at 20, it’s a joyous surprise, maybe even a miracle.
And that’s why I write books about second chances. That’s why Jensen in “Night and Day”, Rachael in “Stormy Weather”, Michelle in “Water Lily” and Tracy in “Merry Go Round” are all approaching 40. That’s why some of my heroines have been married and divorced, some are “old maids”, and one, Hope Anderson, in an upcoming novel, Love Notes, is widowed. That’s why some have baggage, one has a complex, and another, a huge chip on her shoulder. That’s why they’re tarnished and even a bit tattered.
The heroes of my novels are also older. Like my leading ladies, Anders, Mac, Jake, and Clay have lived, they’ve loved, they’ve lost, they’ve been crushed, and heartbroken and devastated. And they’ve survived. And because they’ve lived through the pain of life, they’re richer and more sensitive, and infinitely more loveable.
Here’s to second chances…
(Written by Sherrie Hansen, who lives in a 116 year old house who, just like her, got a second chance when she rescued it from the bulldozers grips and turned it into a bed and breakfast.)
I might as well get it out there right away. I’m the author of four somewhat steamy, very sensual, sometimes gritty romance novels, AND I’m a pastor’s wife – a combination that more than occasionally calls me into question.
So for those who haven’t yet figured it out, I’ll admit it right off. I’m not perfect. In fact, I have a confession to make. I just turned the heat on. It’s May 26th and I’m from Minnesota. I’m supposed to be tough. I’m supposed to be hot-blooded. When I was attending Wheaton College, near Chicago, I made fun of the locals for being wimps when it came to 40 below zero temperatures and Illinois’ supposed lake chill effect. I have no business turning the heat on in what’s practically summer.
At least I’m not at the parsonage (which is a whole different story, and one I should evidently also be feeling great guilt about), or I’d feel even guiltier, since my husband’s congregation pays the utility bill. But I’m not. I’m in my own house, it’s 44 degrees outside, the sun hasn’t shown for at least 24 hours, I got soaked by a cold rain and 33 mph winds 3 times yesterday, my husband was hogging the covers when I woke up, and I’m freezing. Some women my age get hot flashes. I get easily chilled. So there. How’s that for justifying my actions?
The truth is, I can feel the heat seeping out from the radiator under my desk even now. It’s warm. It’s wonderful. It’s creeping up my thighs. It’s making my toes tingle inside my soft pink slippers. It’s deliciously comforting. It’s decadent. It’s making me feel relaxed and warm and cozy…
But I regress. I’m not living up to the ideal of being the perfect pastor’s wife, and some of the ladies from church are in a snit. Advance readers are predicting that when the contents of my current release are made known, I’ll be in even bigger trouble.
It’s a sad situation when people can’t separate truth from fiction. But then, it comes as no surprise that I’m in trouble because of the words I’ve written.
I’ve always lived with a long list of expectations, some imposed by parents and other authority figures, some by my own finely-honed conscience and genetic tendency to perfectionism. I’ve always been rebellious, not so much in my actions, but with my words. Although I freely admit that I’ve done a couple of really bad things in my lifetime, my rebellion usually occurs not by deed but by thought.
I’m the sassy one, the very articulate one who isn’t afraid to speak up and say what she really thinks. The first time I got in trouble with the ladies at church because of certain words I’d written, I was 16 or 17 years old. I’d written a poem for creative writing class entitled Dear Pastor ____ (whose name I omit because I know he is on Facebook). My brutally honest, heartfelt, full of teenage passion poem railed against the hypocrisies of organized religion, and the failure of our prim, proper Sunday School class discussions to meet the needs of teenagers who acted perfect around their parents and the people from church but walked on the wild side (and I mean wild) the rest of the time. It contained the word “damn”. Several times. I thought the poem would only be seen by my teacher, a man I trusted with my private thoughts. But the next semester, it was selected by a group of students charged with picking out the best poems to be published in our school’s poetry and short story collection.
The ink was barely dry when a church lady spotted my poem in her son’s copy and ratted me out to the pastor, who called my parents, who said I wrote it, I had to bear the consequences. So I reluctantly trudged (well, drove really) into the pastor’s office and took my comeuppance like a man (well, a young woman, really).
I guess not much has changed in the last forty years. As a generation, we’re much more candid than we used to be. We can talk freely about all kinds of things that used to be “best left unspoken”. Unless you’re a pastor’s wife.
So here’s my disclaimer: Merry Go Round is about Tracy Jones Tomlinson, the youngest of three sisters in my Maple Valley trilogy. Tracy married her childhood sweetheart, is a minister’s wife, and has three lovely children. In the first two books, Rachael and Michelle’s mother brags about how perfect Tracy and her husband are. “Why can’t you be more like Tracy? Tracy never gives me this kind of trouble…” When Merry Go Round opens, it quickly becomes apparent that Tracy’s supposedly perfect life is anything but. When her husband leaves her for another man and she’s faced with moving out of the parsonage, she has no where to turn for help but to her older sisters.
Rachael, her oldest sister, from Stormy Weather, is none too eager to help, and frankly, feels that it’s about time that Tracy gets hers. Tender-hearted Michelle, from Water Lily, wants to help however she can and offers Tracy a job painting and wallpapering the home of Barclay Alexander III, the owner of the house she’s decorating. And so the plot thickens until Tracy has thought things and done things that a pastor’s wife should definitely not be thinking or doing. Everything Tracy has clung to is moving up and down and round and round and spinning out of control until all she can do is hang on for dear life.
So… Like Trevor, Tracy’s husband, who is gay, my husband of 7 years is a pastor. He is NOT gay. The first draft of this book was written before I even met Mark and became a pastor’s wife. So when I write about the drawbacks and privileges of being a pastor’s wife – specifically Trevor Tomlinson’s wife, I am speaking from Tracy’s point of view, NOT mine. I am NOT Tracy. Tracy is a fictional character. To any church ladies who might be reading this, please keep this in mind when Tracy meets Clay and things start to heat up. I am NOT Tracy. I repeat, Tracy is a fictional character. And give the poor girl a break. She’s at her sexual peak. She hasn’t had sex for 3 years. And before that, she’s been having sex with a man who wishes he were having sex with a man. She’s trying really hard to live up to her perfect pastor’s wife persona and her personal beliefs, but it’s hard, and she’s human, okay?
Which brings me to my next disclaimer. The subject of homosexuality and the church, nature or nurture, sin or absolutely okay, deviant or perfectly normal behavior, etc. is a touchy issue for many right now. I tried very hard NOT to let this book become a forum for my beliefs and thoughts on the issue, but to accurately reflect the feelings, emotions and conflicts my characters go through as they struggle through the implications of Trevor admitting he is gay, and dealing with the ramifications to his children, extended family, and church. I have been told by my advance readers, whose opinions on the subject probably vary from mine, that I was successful - that they finished the book not knowing what I, the author, thought about the subject. I took that as high praise and hope my readers agree.
I was raised in a very conservative Christian home. I am a Christian. My personal beliefs color everything I do and think. Although my books do not fit into the Inspirational Fiction category because they contain previously mentioned steamy scenes, they definitely have a Christian world view which includes characters honestly strugggling through issues of faith. While people I’ve loved, mistakes I’ve made and life lessons I’ve learned over the years have become fodder for many interesting characters and scenarios in my books, I am NOT Tracy. I am NOT perfect.
I almost deleted this daffodil photo yesterday because its pretty white petals were splattered with mud from a heavy rain storm we had a few days ago. But I saved it, because even though it was flawed, I thought I might find a use for it some day.
On May 22, Merry Go Round, the third book in my Maple Valley Trilogy, will be released. It’s my favorite of the three books, in part, because there are several scenes that include all three sisters. (Stormy Weather is about Rachael – the headstrong oldest sister. Water Lily starts on the night of shy, middle sister, Michelle’s 20th class reunion.)
I’ve loved revisiting Maple Valley and the Jones family in these three books. If you have sisters, or enjoy family dynamics, I think you’ll love this trilogy.
In Merry Go Round, Tracy, the youngest sister, who has been a bit judgmental and cranky in the previous books, finds herself in trouble, and has to turn to her sisters for help. Rachael, quite frankly, doesn’t feel much sympathy for her sister, and thinks it’s about time Tracy “gets hers”. Kindhearted Michelle is determined to help however she can.
Their mother is still reeling from the shock of finding out that the daughter who has always been her pride and joy (with the emphasis on pride) has fallen from her pedestal. In fact, for years, when confronted with the life choices her two oldest daughters have made, their mother has moaned, “Why can’t you be more like Tracy? Tracy never gives me this kind of trouble.”
Now, Tracy is in trouble – some of her own doing – some not. Her three children are caught in the crossfire. The roles and expectations the family hierarchy is built on have been hit by a tsunami. Everything is changing. Up and down, round and round, the merry go round is shuffling the Jones family’s preconceived notions until no one knows anything for sure.
It’s not only a wild ride on the merry go round, it’s a hornet’s nest. Have you ever noticed that sisters sometimes say things to you that a friend, or even a spouse, never would? For years, I deluded myself into believing that the gray streaks in my light brown hair made my hair look platinum blond. Enter my middle sister – who told me in no uncertain terms that I was indeed gray and needed to visit the hair dresser – immediately. Sisters can cut to the chase like no one else. They can hurt you to the core. They also love you like no one else. Sometimes it just takes a little shake up to get them to admit it!
And finally, the question everyone asks, since there are three sisters in my family – is the Maple Valley trilogy about my sisters and I?
Although there are certainly a few, “somewhat true” facts and incidents relayed in the books (no, I won’t tell which ones), the answer is no. In a very real sense, I think Rachael, Michelle and Tracy are all “me”, or characters that reflect a different facet of my own personality and life experiences… although I’ve certainly learned a lot about sisters from my own two sisters, my cousins, my mother and my aunts, and even my grandmothers and their sisters. I’m learning afresh by watching my 6 and 9 year old nieces, and listening to the things they say to one another. It’s a complex set of factors that comes into play when you have a sister.
My college roommate just lost her only sister to ovarian cancer. It breaks my heart to think about what their family is going through. And it makes me appreciate my own sisters all the more – yes, even when they let me know what they really think of me, and yes, even when they’re being pains in the butt.
I hope you’ll enjoy my Maple Valley Trilogy. Please start at the beginning – read Stormy Weather first. Water Lily will be much more meaningful if you’ve gotten to know Rachael and been introduced to the family first. By the time you get your hands on Merry Go Round and experience all three sisters coming apart at the seams – and finally, coming together – hang on for dear life!