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I’ve been getting to know all kinds of colorful characters from Loch Awe, Scotland, as I put the finishing touches on my upcoming release, Wild Rose, and my eShort prequel, Thistle Down. In my spare time, I’ve been painting the parsonage where my husband and I live.
When we first moved in, everything was painted white.
I chose the colors for the first floor before we moved in, and the folks at church were kind enough to paint the walls in my somewhat funky color choices.
They offered to paint the second floor, too, but at the time, I didn’t have a clue what was going were and certainly not what colors would match what.
After living in the house for a year, the rooms have taken shape and acquired personalities of their own.
So a few weeks ago, I decided it was time to add some color. I painted a bathroom and one wall in my writing room “Berries and Cream”. I painted another bedroom “Wood Lily”. And just yesterday, I painted a guest room “French Violet”.
And what a difference it made! Plain, innocuous walls became warm, soothing, romantic, and inspiring. It’s amazing what a little dash of color can add to our experience.
When a writer – or a reader – begins a new story, it’s the interesting characters that draw us in, the colorful backdrops that make the story come alive. Characters and settings that are infused with color are infinitely more enticing.
So next time you open the door to a new book, let yourself dream in color. And if you like Scotland, watch for Thistle Down, Wild Rose, Blue Belle, and Shy Violet. Coming soon!
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!
How do you have faith when something horrible has happened to you? Is it possible to be content even when the circumstances in your life are far from ideal? And why, so often, when things are going great, do we so often feel unhappy and dissatisfied with our lives?
In Love Notes, my upcoming release, Hope Anderson has lost her husband in a tragic auto accident. She is about to lose Rainbow Lake Lodge, the resort where her late husband was raised. Yet her faith remains strong. She believes God is in control. When Tommy Love shows up on her doorstep (well, in the ditch at the end of her driveway), she immediately concludes that God is working in her life and Tommy’s and there is some purpose to events that Tommy considers bad luck or at the very least, random.
Tommy Lubinski, of Tommy Love and the Love Notes fame, seemingly has everything a person could want, but because he has no faith, he is not happy, and is constantly looking for more, telling himself that if he only had “blank” – a new hit, a new house, new fans, he would be happy.
A poem on a plate that sits on a hutch at my husband’s aunt and uncle’s cabin in northern Minnesota was part of my inspiration for Love Notes.
“As I was wandering over the green
Not knowing where I went
By chance I saw a pleasant scene
The cottage of content”
When Tommy Love stumbles on Hope’s cottage of content, his way of thinking about his life gradually starts to change and God eventually shows him what it means to be a man of faith. It’s not an easy journey. Why is it that it’s harder to have faith when we have everything than when we have nothing?
I’m interested to hear your thoughts – and I hope you’ll read Love Notes when it comes out and see whose perspective you can relate to more – Hope Anderson’s or Tommy Love’s.
Tommy Lubinski, aka Tommy Love and the Love Notes, is a fading star in the middle of a stellar mid-life crisis. Tommy needs one more big hit – hip-hop, to appeal to a new generation. Thanks to an old friend who’s a banker, he’s found the perfect spot to build his dream house. When Tommy starts nosing around Embarrass, Minnesota and ends up in the ditch in the middle of an ice storm, he discovers he’s not the only one with plans for the place.
Hope Anderson is determined to renovate Rainbow Lake Lodge, the Northwoods resort where her late husband grew up. Reopening the Lodge so the families who have come there for generations can fill it with life again is the only way she knows to honor his legacy. Then the health inspector informs her that her old kitchen no longer meets state codes, and Billy Bjorklund, the devious new bank president, starts foreclosure proceedings.
Sure, Tommy feels bad that Hope spent all of her late husband’s life insurance money fixing up a lodge he plans to bulldoze. Tommy has always prided himself on being the kind of man who makes women’s dreams come true. But this time, Hope Anderson’s goal is in direct conflict with his. Bottom line, he has the wherewithal to make his dream a reality. She does not. No sense both of them being frustrated.
LOVE NOTES… Hope Anderson set out to preserve a legacy and found Love. Tommy Love wanted to make it big in hip-hop and found Hope. If they ever hope to understand the mystery of love, they’re going to need a little faith.
I’ve been thinking a lot about unconditional love lately. Little girls and boys dream of it, young women wish for it under the nearest star, and people who have had a failed relationship pray that they will be granted a second chance at finding it. It’s something we all want – to be accepted and adored for who we are and what we are – just the way we are, an inherent need / desire that never seems to go away no matter how old we get.
One of my favorite songs – a true oldie from the Disco era sung by Donna Summer – says it well.
Unconditional love is a theme that’s interwoven into almost every romance novel – whether the hero and heroine are kick-ass contemporary or an old-order Amish. Who doesn’t want to find that certain, one-in-a-million dream mate who’s a perfect fit for us?
We look for unconditional love in our non-romantic relationships, too. We want our teachers to “get us”. We hope our parents will accept our choices and admire our chosen path in life even if we don’t embrace 100% of their values or do things exactly they way they do. We crave compliments from our bosses and acceptance from our peers.
Unconditional love is the model of Christ’s love for us – Just As I Am, unworthy, guilty, with no defense – yet God’s love for us was so great that he sent His Son to die for us so that we could live and be loved, so that we could experience His abundant life.
I am blessed to have a husband who loves me even when I screw up or say things I shouldn’t. He may not like every single little thing about me, but he accepts and loves me nonetheless. He is supportive of who I am and helps me attain my dreams and goals. I have parents who are proud of me. I have friends and siblings who I can talk to and confide in, who are there for me when I’m in trouble.
I also have relationships that I’m not so secure in. As a boss / owner / manager of The Blue Belle Inn, a busy B&B and Tea House, I hope that my staff, employees, and customers all like me, and think that each of my edicts and decisions is wise, fair, and commendable. That doesn’t always happen. I’m currently meeting new people and making new friends at the church where my husband is the new pastor. Of course, I’d be thrilled if every single person who attends the church adores me and thinks I’m the perfect pastor’s wife. Realistically, that’s not likely to happen, because people (at work or church, in families, and otherwise) can be nit-picky, critical, and hypersensitive about certain things. Add that to the fact that I (and I’m assuming you) am far from perfect and voila… We all have our own quirks and idiosyncrasies, and yes, faults. The people who are around us are bound to discover them eventually.
I’ve been nervous for the last couple of weeks because some of the people I’ve recently met are just finding out that I’m an author, and others, that my books contain some steamy scenes. For the record, my next book, Love Notes, which will hopefully be released later this spring, is a Christian Inspirational romance (hopefully the same sizzle you love in my books, but no sex). But to be truthful, I haven’t had a great conversion experience, and I can’t promise I’ll never write another steamy romance. Because each of my characters is unique, and I believe as an author that it is my job to respect each and every one of them for who they are, and write their story to the best of my ability. Some of them think about sex all the time, some hardly ever; some are bold and go after what they want; some are shy and reticent. Some are laden with guilt and shame, some tied in knots because they’re grieving. There are no cookie cutter characters in my books. Hopefully each of them has a unique personality of their own, complete with their own foibles and brilliant streaks – just like me!
When I joined the American Fiction Christian Writers last year, I worried about being judged, about not being Christian enough, about being rejected because not all of my books are “Christian”. Conversely, I’ve often felt like I didn’t quite fit in over at the Romance Writer’s of America either. I’m a lot more conservative that many of them, and even when I’m writing straight contemporary romance, thoughts of God, family, home, and religion often creep into my work, something that is sometimes frowned upon.
Some authors take on a pen name and assume two separate identities when they write – one for one kind of story, whether is be erotica, mystery, suspense, or literary fiction, and another for romance, inspirational, or non-fiction. But I am stubborn. I want my friends and readers to give me their unconditional love. I am proud of all my stories, no matter what genre they fall into. You will find common themes of family, home and faith in each of my books. The ones with steamy scenes will be published under the name Sherrie Hansen (my maiden name). The ones with no sex will be published under the name Sherrie Hansen Decker, my married name.
No matter which of my books you choose to read, I hope that you will accept me for who I am – innkeeper / author / pastor’s wife / Everett Hansen’s daughter / Auntie Sherrie / sometimes sweet, sometimes silly, sometimes bossy, sometimes, shy, with a rare bit of a wild streak thrown in for good measure. I am uniquely me. I am not a cookie cutter anything. And to the friends and relatives and acquaintances who would like me to fit into their ideal mold, who think I should be a bit more or less of this or that, please remember that the characters in the Bible were all pretty unique as well — Moses, Ruth, Esther, Joshua, Elijah, Peter, Paul, John, David, Solomon — God used all kinds of unique people to accomplish His will – and still does. So please try to accept me for who I am even though you may like some things about me and not others.
Like everyone else, all I really want is your unconditional love. And, I really hope you like Love Notes! And Night and Day, Stormy Weather, Water Lily, and Merry Go Round.
I’m in St. Louis for the first time in almost 30 years.
There is no way Louis and Clark could have envisioned this city, arch racing up and over the sky, one skyscraper reflected in the windows of another for blocks and blocks on end. And what about the parking garages and interstate highways that crisscross the land like spider webs?
We can see the old courthouse from our room, and there is a white, horse-drawn carriage lingering at the corner, ready to take me down the cobblestone streets of Laclede’s Landing, a reminder of days gone by (except for the price tag should I want to go for a spin).
Being here is causing a jumble of memories to resurface. My ex is from Saint Louis – is here still – along with his mother and father, his new, pretty, skinny young wife and six children. Enough said. (Read Water Lily if you want to know the rest of the story – in fiction form, of course.)
Even without the visions of ex associations, joys and traumas, it’s an emotionally wrought weekend. Our church (where my husband is the pastor) is scheduled to vote to leaving the ELCA this Sunday. I will not be there, as unfortunately, I cannot be two places at once. If the vote fails by one vote, I fear I will feel eternally terrible. If it fails, it will be the end of life as I’ve known it for almost 8 years. My time at Bethany has been the honeymoon period in my life as a wife, and a pastor’s wife, and will always hold a special place in my heart. I’m not ready for it to end. I am trying to leave things in God’s hands, knowing that the God of the universe does not need my stress, anxiety or exhaustion to accomplish his plan in the world. But it is hard to let go and trust, to believe that after months of stress and worry, arguments, threats and political maneuvering by the ELCA and those in our church who are in bed with them, that this whole terrible mess will suddenly be all better. And the truth is, that although joy is promised at the end of the journey, some of the wounds caused by this battle may never heal.
I am trying not to let my general disillusionment with the world and the church color my experience at the American Christian Fiction Writers Conference (the reason I’m in St. Louis). I’m here with two multi-published authors and another aspiring author who have a great deal of wisdom to impart to me. I’m privileged to have the honor of getting to know them better. I will soon have the opportunity to sit in workshops, as well as meeting editors, agents and authors who can teach me much about how to reach my goals re: my writing career. I want to share with them the pride I feel for the books I have written for Second Wind (Night and Day, Stormy Weather, Water Lily, and Merry Go Round). I want to be filled with enthusiasm, overflowing with passion for my work, to impress them as a vibrant, high energy person who can write the next break-out novel. Can I do this when my back is aching from 8 hours in a car and a fitful night’s sleep on a hotel room cot? Can I come across in a positive manner when my heart is with my husband in Thompson? We won’t even talk about my worries that things won’t go well at the Blue Belle Inn while I’m gone, that I have left almost new staff-members in charge because my faithful employee of the past 4 years is off at college and too busy to help out in my absence as promised.
And then, there’s the fear that I shouldn’t be here. That I’m not good enough to write Christian fiction. Not “not good” enough – I have the talent, the gifts, the ideas, the track record –but “not GOOD” enough. That if they knew what I’d done and with who, they’d be so shocked that they’d forget the fact that I’m forgiven and run me out of town on a rail. Or maybe a riverboat.
St. Louis… one of many places in the world where I’ve done things that I’m not proud of. But that’s why I think I have the potential to be a Great Fiction Writer… and yes, a Great Christian Fiction Writer… because I’m living proof that God forgives, and gives second chances. I’m a walking Ode to Redemption – a testament to the fact that All Things Work Together For Good.
God would forgive the ELCA and lead them back to His ways, too, if they would let him. For the record, I hope one day they will.
In a few minutes, I’m going to wonder down to the river and walk along the banks of the Mississippi. Perhaps Old Man River will take my concerns and lazily float them down-river, never to be seen again. Perhaps God will respond to my prayers by giving me peace of mind about the events that will be transpiring in the next few days. Perhaps if I pray hard enough, God will even make the zit on my nose go away by morning so I don’t have to meet important people for the first time looking like a geek. Or, maybe God is trying to keep me humble. Or maybe, it’s better this way – to let people know I have a few quirks right from the start.
A girl can dream. Has to. And pray. Definitely pray.
UPDATE: My weekend in St. Louis was inspiring and as hoped, very beneficial. Turns out I am good enough. The zit never materialized. Thank you, God. My friend, Lyn Cote, won a prestigious Carol Award for her book, Her Healing Ways. I talked to a friend who had lunch at the Blue Belle while I was gone and she said the food and the service were excellent. Sadly, our church’s vote to leave the ELCA failed by 18 votes due to the fact that several people who haven’t attended church in at least 2 years showed up to vote. The honeymoon is over. I am reminded that when God closes a door, he opens a window. Think of us as we find (hopefully soon) the window and climb out into the sunshine.
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!
I’ve sold a rash of books recently, to new and old acquaintances who are excited to meet a real, live author in person, and curious to know what prompted me – an otherwise ordinary person – to write a book.
“Are the books true?” I’m often asked. “Are they about you? Did you really…?”
My answer usually depends on whether or not my mother is around.
The truth (well, part of the truth) is that some of the things that happen in my books really have happened to me – in one form or another. Yes, Virginia, there really is an Anders. Although I have never met him in real life (and he is not from Denmark), our online friendship had a big impact on my life, and resulted in one of the main characters in my first book, Night and Day.
In Stormy Weather, there are several inciting incidents in the book that did really happened, not exactly as they occurred in the novel, but in such a way that the characters of Rachael, Mac and Luke were born. Luke is probably a combination of two or three different men I’ve known. And yes, I really am terrified of tornadoes. And I really do love rainbows.
In Water Lily, the main character, Michelle, struggles with issues of low self-esteem, something I’ve grappled with all of my life. And my ex-husband really is from St. Louis, and he really does have absolutely perfect, very white teeth.
The characters and plot of my new novel, Merry Go Round, due to be released on May 22, are distinctly different from and very far removed from my actual life experience. I’ve never had children. As fate would have it, I am married to a minister now, but I had not even met Mark when the book was written. Tracy and Clay, the main characters, are complete and total figments of my imagination.
But even in Merry Go Round, there is a snippet of something that really did happen to me, and that is that I once loved a man who turned out to be gay.
In my experience, life’s little disappointments often turn out to be the fodder for great and wonderful things… the kick in the pants that catapults you to a new level of maturity, the catalyst that spurs you to move onward and upward to a new personal best, the lost job that leads you to a new, twice-as-rewarding career, the heartbreak that leads you to discover the true love of your life…
There was also a boy, when I was about sixteen, that I knew well, and had a huge crush on. One day, he called my house, presumably to talk to me. Instead, he falteringly asked to speak to my younger sister, who he asked out on a date. They did not end up married. He did not turn out to be gay. Their first date was a trip to the county fair. Knowing my sister, they probably rode the Zipper instead of the merry-go-round. But a little disappointment (which at the time seemed great), made a big enough impact on me that almost forty years later, it became part of a story called Merry Go Round.
I see two of my nieces every Wednesday. They are six and nine. Sometimes, when they tell me what happened at school, as I listen and watch them fight and tease and live out the little dramas that make up their lives, I wonder which of these events they will remember when they are fifty-four, which of their little disappointments will one day weave themselves into the stories that make them who they are, or even change the course of their lives.