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For the past year, I’ve been living in a fantasy world. The scene is Loch Awe, Scotland, at a magical place called St. Conan’s Kirk.
It’s a very real place, one that really exists – and not just in my mind.
It’s made of stones and timbers, spires and cloisters, flying buttresses and secret abbeys with curved staircases carved in stone.
The water on the loch is glassy smooth, so still that clouds float in the water and the stray rhododendron petals gliding over the surface never sink.
Bad things happen in my fantasy world, just like they do in the real world, but something good always comes out of them, and not twenty years later, when you’ve forgotten all about the inciting incident and are too old to care, but in short order.
Because in my fantasy world, there are only happy endings. And they occur in a reasonable amount of time – less than 400 pages.
I should know – I’ve been living there for months. It’s a bit like slipping off on a vacation. You can sleep until noon if you want to, and you get to decide what it is you want to do every morning – which can be whatever in the world you want it to be. You can eat whatever it is that you want to, because you’re on vacation. There are no restrictive diets or rules or deadlines or obligations. Anything goes. Anything can happen, and usually does. Whatever yer fancy.
You see, in my fantasy world, I’m the Captain of the Starship Enterprise, and when I say, “Make it so,” it is.
So a day ago, when I wrote the last page of Wild Rose, the first in my Scottish Wildflower Trilogy, I felt like I was sinking into the bottomless abyss of Nothing. The story ended and now, I’ve got nothing to do (well, really I do, but nothing I want to).
I miss Rose already, and Ian MacCraig, and their dilemmas, and wondering what they’re going to do, and how they’re going to feel. I even have a hankering to see Digby again, and Torey MacDougal, and the church ladies. How I’m going to get on without them, I really don’t know.
It’s a magical place – a book, that is – and once you’ve been to a good one, you never want to leave. At least I don’t.
So I’ll tell you a secret… Wild Rose has a surprise ending, and it happens in Tobermory, on the Isle of Mull, off the west coast of Scotland – another favorite place of mine.
I can’t tell you exactly how, because I’ve only just gone there, but the story will live on, and I’ll get to see Rose and Ian again. So will you, if you take the ferry and come to visit.
You see, there’s a bonny lass called Isabelle, and a gent who calls himself Michael St. Dawndalyn, and an evil, evil man named Damien who’s about to cause all kinds of trouble for them. And they’re going to need Rose and Ian’s help.
There’s also a castle, and an old Celtic cemetery, and a keep that’s in ruins, and so many secrets… deep, dark secrets that are bound to come to light…
And the story lives on.
(Watch for Wild Rose by Sherrie Hansen, coming in April 2013 from Second Wind Publishing, Blue Belle by Sherrie Hansen, coming in November 2013?, and Shy Violet by Sherrie Hansen, coming in… nobody knows…)
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.
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?
What story is your life telling? A new friend on Twitter asked this question in a tweet this morning. Who says a few word can’t be powerful?
This is a question that seems to be of more importance to me as I get older, as it becomes apparent that my most productive years are probably more than half gone, and that if I want to make a name for myself or accomplish something that I have yet to do, it’s time to get with it and get it done. One of the main characters in my book, Tommy Love, is in his mid/late forties, and in the middle of a stellar mid-life crisis. He’s had a successful career as a musician, gotten the star treatment from millions of adorning fans… most of whom are baby boomers and dying off faster than fruit flies. What Tommy wants – or thinks he wants, is one more big hit – hip hop – to appeal to a new generation of fans. Can you blame him for not wanting to fade into oblivion, for not wanting to be pegged as an oldie-but-goodie? As perhaps all of us would like, Tommy wants to go out in a blaze of glory, to see his legacy live on for at least another 20 to 30 years.
Some of us accomplish this with our children, but in Love Notes, neither Hope or Tommy has children. Neither do I. It’s been suggested before that my books are my way of passing on the secrets of my heart, and I think that’s probably very true. The story my life has been told, continues to be told, and hopefully, will be passed along one day, through my creation of the Blue Belle Inn B&B and tea House (my baby in a very real sense), and in my writing.
I was recently approached about answering some questions for an article because I was an author who was over 50, a writer whose career as an author didn’t begin until I was past 50 years old. The question’s implication resulted in a lot of things floating through my evidently half-addled, 55 year old brain: What does she think I am, older than dirt? That it’s a miracle I can still write, old as I am? Once I got over my indignation, however, I started to think about what it is really like being 55, and how life is different now than when I was 25, 35 or even 45.
Here are my answers to her questions:
What prompted you to take up writing as a career at this time in your life?
When I was 35 years old, I opened a B&B and Tea House called the Blue Belle Inn. During those early days I worked until 10 p.m. every night, serving or cleaning up after dinner and trying to keep up the laundry and bookkeeping. When I got off work and went home (a basement apartment in the same big Victorian inn) I was keyed up and too wide awake to go to sleep. I needed someone to talk to so I could unwind. Being single, and living in a largely rural area where the rest of the world was early to bed and early to rise, I had no one to talk to and no where to go. So I wrote. I made up characters and conversations and situations and poured my pent up emotions and needs for personal interactions into my books.
For over a decade, I was so busy that I never found time to query or submit. Soon after I turned 50, I was approached by a publisher who had read the first chapter of Night and Day in an online contest I’d entered at Gather.com. He loved my voice and related to my characters and wanted to publish my book.
Do you think your age in any way hindered your writing success?
I suspect it has, for a couple of different reasons. I attended an American Christian Writer’s Conference last fall, and felt decidedly old, fat, and gray (comparatively speaking), even though I cheated a bit and added some color to my hair just for the occasion. Why, I wondered, would an editor or agent take a chance on me, when there were so many youthful, energetic people waiting in line on either side of me? The editors I spoke to were all in their 20′s or 30′s, looking for books that would engage a new, younger generation of readers. What did I have to offer them, with my stories of 30 and 40 year old characters – still a decade or two younger than me, but so ancient to them, that, as one editor put it, they would work as secondary characters, but not hero and heroine? Another said that they felt their readers would not be able to relate to stories about older characters, with the implication that they would be turned off, that the “ick factor” of a bunch of old fogies finding love would be too great for them to get get past.
The second reason I feel my writing has been impacted by my age is much scarier – and more personal, and that is that everything people say about menopause is true. Your brain turns to mush. It’s harder to focus, multitask and concentrate. My most productive time of the day – formerly from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., now finds me falling asleep at my computer. Now, I’m awake at 5 a.m. but I’m not productive, I’m crabby. It takes me longer to get the same amount of work done, so there is less time for writing. Worst of all, your interest in romance diminishes. So does your passion for life and people. It’s sad. It’s a reality. Some people tell me it will pass. Others just shake their heads and wish me the best.
Do you believe you could have written the same type of books at a different point in your life?
No. My books are about second chances, people who have learned by their mistakes, men and women who have failed and been forgiven, and thanks to God’s grace and love, have found a sweet love that they would most likely not have appreciated when they were younger. They see beauty in places they would have rushed right by when they were younger.
When I was young, before I fell flat on my face and learned a lot of life’s bittersweet lessons, I never could written the books I have. An author can imagine plots lines and character profiles, but you can’t conjure up the richness and fullness of life you find in your 50′s!
What have been the biggest advantages to pursuing a writing career at your age?
See above! I’m older, wiser, more accepting, more forgiving, more understanding, more savvy. I have more to offer, greater insights into what makes characters tick. I’ve been there, done that. Add my experience to my still active imagination, and you get richer, deeper characters, conflicts that are heart-wrenching, and scenarios that are intensely real.
And, I have the zillions of baby boomers who are tired of reading books about naive, 18 year old Amish girls, as potential readers.
What have been the greatest obstacles?
Finding a publisher who agrees with me. Three years ago, at the moderately “old” age of 52, I opted to sign on with a medium sized, independent publishing firm who are more interested in finding a good story that they are the age of the hero and heroine – or the author. Second Wind Publishing has been a great place for me to grow as an author and a wonderful venue for getting my books in print. I’ve had to modify my dreams and expectations, a bit, but then, isn’t that what aging gracefully is all about?
Whatever story your life is telling… and whatever age you are, I would urge you to keep sharing yourself – through your children, with your friends and family, in your careers or second careers – or third, or fourth – and if you like to write, through the stories you put on paper.
Here’s to the stories of our lives.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the “old days” this week. My bed and breakfast, the Blue Belle Inn B&B and Tea House, in St. Ansgar, Iowa, has been open for 20 years as of February 1st, which was also my 55th birthday. It’s definitely a time to think back, to remember what things were like those many years ago.
Memories are a funny thing. I learned in Childhood Psych that 90% of a child’s brain and 85% of their social skills and personality develop before they are 5 years old. Yet most of us have very few memories of anything that happened to us in this time period.
Some of my earliest childhood memories are sleeping out under the stars with my dad and my sister Becky, on the farm where we lived in Grand Meadow, Minnesota, when we were little. I can remember Marty Hedstrom, a teenager who worked for my Dad one summer, singing “Sherry Baby” to me and rescuing me from the bumblebees who were after me in the haymow of the barn where I used to play. I can remember standing next to my Great Grandma Matilda Paulson and my Grandma Victoria at First Baptist Church singing “Holy Holy Holy”. I can remember climbing on the school bus on the first day I went to school, the day my baby brother and sister were born, and the day my Grandpa Hansen died. Some of these experiences have already ended up in or certainly may one day find themselves into books I’ve written – in one form or another.
My 25 year old nephew and his pretty wife, Kayla, sang “Sherry Baby” to me this weekend at my birthday / anniversary party. What a flood of memories it brought back! Because I don’t have children of my own, my nieces and nephews are very special to me. I hope that I have made an impact on their lives as well, and that they will carry memories of me and the fun times we’ve shared at the Blue Belle Inn and our family gatherings with them long after I’m gone.
My 5, 7 and 10 year old nieces and nephews were at my party, too. The girls helped get people registered for the door prizes. The two youngest were waitress and waiter and helped clear plates and take them to the kitchen. They were very intense about collecting the dirty plates (Will you please hurry up and finish eating your food so I can take your plate?) and did their jobs well.
I will have to give them some tips next time I see them. (They had to leave early because it was past their bedtime.) Right before they left, the girls entertained us by singing our favorite song, “He Knows My Name,” while I played the piano.
My hope is that they will retain their memories of the very special night they shared with their old Aunt Sherrie at the Blue Belle Inn. Maybe one of them will blog about it one day when they’ve heard “Sherry Baby” played on the radio… er… computer.
Maybe it’s because I don’t have children, but it’s important to me that someone remembers that I’m not just Blue Belle Sherrie (the main hat I’ve worn for the past 20 years). I want someone to know and remember that I climbed Pike’s Peak when I was younger, that I learned to disco dance when I lived in Germany back in the late seventies at the height of the Saturday Night Fever era. I want someone to remember that I went to Wheaton College, and saw Michael Jackson’s Thriller concert at Mile High Stadium in Denver and spent a night at a Benedictine Monastery in Bavaria. And that I made the best Jaeger Schnitzel and Spaetzle noodles this side of the great pond.
I hope you have some sweet memories, too – perhaps something you’ve read in one of my books has evoked a recollection or brought tears to your eyes. I also wish for each of you someone who knows you and loves you enough to remember unique things about you.
Thanks for letting me be nostalgic on the occasion of my big birthday and anniversary. Andrew Lloyd Webber says it well…
All alone in the moonlight
I can dream of the old days
Life was beautiful then
I remember the time I knew what happiness was
Let the memory live again.
And if you’re a child of the seventies like I am, I’m sure this song conjurers up the very thing it talks about…
Memories, pressed between the pages of my mind
Memories, sweetened through the ages just like wine
Quiet thoughts come floating down
And settle softly to the ground
Like golden autumn leaves around my feet
I touched them and they burst apart with sweet memories,
Of holding hands and red bouquets
And twilights trimmed in purple haze
And laughing eyes and simple ways
And quiet nights and gentle days with you.
Some of my favorite memories – and ones that will almost certainly die with me, since all my friends from that era are my age or older – are of the 12 years I lived in Colorado Springs. During that time, I heard Amy Grant sing this song in concerts three or four times. From I Will Remember You…
When this fire is an ember
When the night’s not so tender
Though it’s hard to remember darlin’
I will be holding
I’ll still be holding to you
I will remember you
So many years come and gone
And yet the memory is strong
One word we never could learn
True love is frozen in time
I’ll be your champion and you will be mine
I will remember you
Being a writer, I’ve always thought that stories are the best way to share memories. I hope one day, you’ll read mine.
Happy Birthday to me. Cheers to 20 years at the Blue Belle Inn. And a toast to memories that live on forever in the minds of the those who love us.
(Sherrie Hansen is the author of 4 books: Night and Day, Stormy Weather, Water Lily, and Merry Go Round.)