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In a few hours, I’ll be speaking at the Artworks Festival in Austin, MN, my hometown, also know as Spam Town USA (the kind in a can that’s good to eat).
Maybe it’s because Austin was the stage for most of my childhood dreams and wishes that I feel a little sentimental about the difference between how I hoped my life would turn out, and how it has. It was under the clear, blue skies of Austin that I dreamed of meeting my own tall, dark, mysterious Prince Charming, and living happily ever after in a house filled with babies and love, surrounded by a white picket fence and window boxes filled with pink geraniums. Given the era I grew up in, the happy young wife and mother I envisioned in my wishes probably looked like Gidget, Barbie, Cinderella, and Twiggy all rolled into one. My, how the world has changed in a few short decades. And my, how different my life has turned out to be than what I envisioned all those years ago.
Whether I was wishing upon a star or praying for the perfect man to come into my life and make my dreams come true, my life has been nothing like the way I imagined it would be. The things I’ve done, the places I’ve been, the things I’ve accomplished would have been incomprehensible to me back then. In some ways, I’ve far exceeded my hopes and dreams. I also have a handful of regrets, and a small part of me still mourns for the way things might have been.
One of the other Austin artists appearing at the festival is in a wheelchair. I’m told he was paralyzed in a football game in the late 80′s. He is exceptionally talented and has accomplished much in his life. I’m sure when he was growing up, he didn’t envision being injured. I wonder, would he have excelled at art in the way he has if that moment hadn’t redefined his life and shaped his perspective?
Things happen – often differently than we wish or hope - I believe God uses those things to take us from being rough pieces of coal to shining diamonds, to bring out the best in us.
The main character in my recently released, LOVE NOTES, is a woman named Hope Anderson whose youthful hopes and dreams died with her husband in an auto accident. Hope’s “Plan B” is to finish renovating and reopen Rainbow Lake Lodge, to see it bubbling with families, children, and laughter again – she believes, the perfect way to honor her late husband’s legacy. Due to an unfortunate set of circumstances, that dream is also about to die.
Sometimes it’s very hard to see the silver lining, to find the rainbow after the storm.
I did not live happily ever after. It took a few years for God to “work all things together for good” – I call it being blessed with “God’s Perfect Plan B”. I never did have children, but God gave me an extended family who loves me, brothers and sisters who are kind enough to share their children with me, nieces and nephews who love me and are a wonderful part of my life.
He gave me a Bed and Breakfast and a Tea House, music to lift my soul, friends and activities that I enjoy, a new chance at romance, and many books to write.
Romans 5:2-5says ” Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
Our youthful hopes and dreams may have to be altered and adapted over the years, but one thing that never changes is God – our strength, our comfort, and our hope. Jeremiah 29:11 says, For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. I like Romans 12:12, too. “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.”
Sherrie Hansen Decker lives in a 116 year old Victorian house in northern Iowa who, just like her, got a second chance when she rescued it from the bulldozers grips and turned it into a bed and breakfast and tea house, the Blue Belle Inn. Sherrie has enjoyed learning about hope and love, and the difference a little faith makes while telling the story of Hope Anderson and Tommy Love in “Love Notes”. “Love Notes” is Sherrie’s fifth book to be published by Second Wind Publishing (her debut Christian Inspirational novel). Sherrie attended Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL and University of Maryland, European Division, in Augsburg, Germany. Her husband, Rev. Mark Decker, is a pastor and Sherrie’s real life hero. She enjoys playing the piano with their worship team, needlepointing, renovating and decorating historic houses, traveling, and going on weekly adventures with her nieces and nephews.
You can learn more about Sherrie’s books at:
I decided to write about my online aura bright and early this morning. As I lay in bed, slowly waking up, I had the words all planned out… clever words, put together with onomatopoeia and alliteration and all kinds of good “stuff”. And then my day began. My husband had an early morning doctor’s appointment at Mayo Clinic in Rochester. I tried to go back to sleep after he left, but the phone rang several times in a row. I took room reservations for my B&B for a total of 16 nights and started processing the paperwork. I found out a friend had just gotten out of the hospital – and I didn’t know she’d been in. I answered an email about a do-it-yourself murder mystery party. I checked my email, facebooked for a few minutes, then got another phone call reminding me to email some photos to my ad rep at the Minneapolis Star Tribune. I followed Kaila’s instructions, had to resend one photo, and minutes later, proofed the ad. I had barely enough time for a quick shower and then it was off to the Blue Belle to fix lunch for several customers and throw together food, party games and prizes for Tanya’s baby shower. The party was a hit and Tanya liked the gift my husband picked out last night in the big city. My husband and I climbed into the car as soon as it was over and headed for Thompson, where we scrubbed out the refrigerator, returned some folding chairs that mistakenly got moved to Hudson, and reclaimed a few odds and ends that didn’t make it into the moving trucks last weekend. While Mark finished up at the house and said a few last goodbyes, I and my portable keyboard went to Merle’s house with Mary Ann so the three of us could practice for my upcoming birthday / Blue Belle 20th anniversary party. We drove the hour long drive home with a quick dinner stop at Subway in Lake Mills. Thank goodness they’re open until 10 p.m. Now, it’s after 11 p.m. and I and my aura are shot.
I was going to talk about the fact that some people have an encouraging online aura, others a humorous aura, and others still, an aura that’s sexy, cute or funky. Some of my online friends have a bitter, cynical aura. Some come across as being crabby, complaining and whiny. Some have a faithful aura out of which shines a love for God and their fellow man. What kind of silent vibes do you transmit over the internet? Does your online aura personify the kind of person you are in real life, or do you use the internet as an opportunity to set your alter-ego free? If you met an online friend in real life, would they immediately recognize you?
Your words and the things you post, twitter, share and like, all make a statement about who you are – what’s important to you. In cyber space, all we have are words. Make each one count! Let your words shine with the essence of you!
If the subject of internet romance / relationship fascinates you like it does me, get a copy of my first book, Night and Day, and find out how a chance online meeting when it’s midnight in Minnesota and daybreak in Denmark transforms the lives of Jensen Marie Christiansen and Anders Westerlund.
My goal this morning was to write a blog that made me sound perky and pleasant… the kind of person you’d want to buy a book from. Instead, I probably sound exhausted – because I am! (But in the best way possible.) Keep smiling.
My life has changed drastically since I last blogged. My husband has resigned his call to the church where he’s been pastor for the last 11 years. I knew his ministry there was coming to an end because of recent events within our church and the denomination that the church belongs to, but I did not know that it would happen so soon, or that it would be so sudden – or that the whole process of saying good-bye would be so painful.
One unfortunate consequence of this whole unfolding mess is that I have learned I am being cyber-stalked. Parts of my previous blogs, taken out of context, were read aloud at a church council meeting where my husband and I were then berated. This kind of thing hurts me deeply as a person and a writer. I have always tried to be honest but discreet in my blog posts. My intention has never been to diss others, but to honestly express my own feelings about the impact of certain happenings and actions on me. I have never even thought a bad thing about the women who were upset with me. Quite the opposite! Knowing that my words were twisted and used against me, and my husband, is a horrible feeling.
So what to do from this point forward? Clam up? Shut down? Shut up? Stop writing at a time I most need to release my angst, vent my frustration, ask for prayers and gain support from friends and family, many of whom my only connection to is online?
I suspect I shouldn’t care what the people who criticized me because of what I wrote think of me (although I do), but a concern is that my husband is obviously looking for a new call, and I really, really don’t want to do anything to jeopardize his chances. But when I think of trying to live out the next however many years under a gag order, not able to say what I really think or be who I really am, is is so disheartening that I want to cry. Am crying.
A year and a half ago, I was in a group at Gather.com called Shedding Light, led by the wonderfully insightful Mariana T. She asked us to make a list of the things we needed to shed, the things that are holding us back, and dragging us down. Among the things I listed were Clutter, Stress, Anxiety, Insecurity, Low Self-Esteem, Excess Weight, Inertia, Excessive Possessions, Computer Games and other Time Wasters.
To the past and future church council members who may be reading this – there you have it. You now know all of my vices. Look no further. Dig no deeper. It’s all right here.
The sad thing, as I read this list, is that instead of shedding the things on the list, I seem to be attracting them like a magnet. I feel like I’m inside a huge snowball, gathering unwanted masses of the above items as I roll downhill. I feel like I’m about ready to hit a tree and explode into a million fragments of icy debris. I can’t concentrate. I am terribly over-committed and way behind on everything, but I can’t seem to get anything done.
But maybe there is hope. I got my blog done, didn’t I?
Have you ever had Blog Fog – that sinking feeling that you have nothing blog-worthy to say?
That moment when you’re looking for the inspiration of a starburst and all you get is fizzle?
When you’re looking for a burst of life and all you get is thistles?
I’ve definitely been there… that moment when you’re craving bright sunshine, and what you get is a sunset in Death Valley…
When you’re convinced you’ll find crystal clear waters and all you see is rusty old crud…
When you desperately need a lighthouse to guide your way and what you see in front of you is a long, low, dark tunnel…
When you need a gushing waterfall of inspiration and all that bubbles up is mud.
Blog Fog is unlike Writer’s Block in that the words flow quite freely. But when you have Blog Fog, your brain is so bogged down in minutia that you can’t think of anything significant to say. It doesn’t work just to write, because all that comes out is drivel. There’s no comforting knowledge that you’ll re-write it twenty times before it goes to press anyway, so it doesn’t matter. When you blog, it’s out there immediately. As soon as you post it – and you have to, because it’s your day to blog – everyone will know that you’re not really brilliant after all, that your brain is just a pile of mush.
It’s hard to be clever when you’re under a lot of stress – when things are so busy at work that you’re putting in 12 hour days and still not making a dent in your pile of papers to file and things to be done. It’s difficult to think of a topic when a new first line for your book is running through your head and there are bills to pay and people coming for lunch and rooms to be cleaned and new employees who need to be told what to do.
But you have to try. You don’t want to gain a reputation as a difficult blogger – someone who misses their day or doesn’t attract the numbers the site is accustomed to. And you can forget about getting Freshly Pressed or Creating a Buzz, or getting Re-Tweeted or even Liked – not unless the fog clears.
You check your spam digest – maybe something will trigger an idea. Febreze Air Freshener… I’ll Help You… I Quit My Job and I’ve Never Been Happier. Hard to do when you own your own business. Although, there have been times I’ve been tempted. But maybe someday, someone will invent a pill that floods your brain with hard facts and novel ideas. It’s certainly possible.
Did you know that if you Google “blog ideas” you will get a list of helpful articles like “Need Ideas for Your Blog?”, “101+ Ideas That Will Make Your Blog Sizzle!”, “12 Typical Blog Post Types to Kick Start Ideas”, “Blog Post Ideas That Generate Buzz”, “How to Create Viral Blog Posts”, and “Killer Blog Posts” will inundate your screen. Unfortunately, when you have Blog Fog, it’s going to take more than a bunch of stagnant, stodgy old lists to make the fog clear. What you need is a stiff breeze to blow the fog out to sea.
Maybe if I turned the ceiling fan on high…
I started reading romance novels in earnest about 18 years ago, while visiting friends on Prince Edward Island. Before long, a pattern began to take shape… The heroines were almost always young, beautiful, career women, living in a big city. These women were most often naive, innocent virgins in their early twenties who were struggling financially and trying to succeed in a career dominated by men. Heroes were typically much older – in their late thirties, and rich, powerful, men of the world. The men were successful in their careers, experienced in lovemaking (having been with a multitude of partners), and often had a “bad boy” persona. Siblings were almost non-existent, and parents were distant, and at the time of the story, were often vacationing in Europe or conveniently dead.
While worlds filled with characters of this sort were fascinating at first (What woman hasn’t wished at some point in their life that they would get swept off their feet by a wickedly handsome, wealthy man with a mansion on the coast and an apartment in Paris? Who hasn’t dreamed of a world where you can do whatever you want to without having to worry about the fact that it’s probably going to break your parents heart, who will find out because your siblings ratted you out?)
But fun as these little fantasies were, I longed for stories about people who were more like me, plot lines that I could relate to, men and women whose happily ever endings were meaningful because, on some level, they were like me. At the time, I was single, in my mid to late thirties, divorced, slightly cynical, maybe even a little jaded. I was not a virgin, nor was I beautiful. I had gone on a few dates with a man who owned a BMW and a Mercedes convertible, but alas, he had neither an estate on the East or West Coast nor a summer home in Europe. My job was important to me, but family and friends were far more important. I had 2 brothers and 2 sisters and my parents – even two of my grandmothers – were alive and well. In fact, I had learned at the world-wise age of 22 while on a train to see the Passion Play in Oberamergau, Germany, when a man from the grain elevator in my hometown spotted me and said, “Aren’t you Everett Hansen’s daughter from Austin, Minnesota?” that wherever I went in the world, someone would always know who I was. Which meant I couldn’t get by with anything. I remain quite certain to this day that if I were ever to have a torrid affair with the a fore mentioned wickedly-handsome, sinfully-wealthy man of my occasional dreams, that one of my aunts, uncles, or many cousins would spot me, and my parents would know by nightfall.
While it was fun to periodically drift off to a fantasy-world filled with people totally different than I, it soon lost its luster. A friend recommended I read LaVyrle Spencer’s novels. She was from Minnesota, and her books were full of honest-to-goodness, down-to-earth, real-life characters with all kinds of small-town, Midwestern family twists and turns. Historical and contemporary – I could relate to and loved LaVyrle’s books.
When I eventually started to write my own novels, I followed suit. For me, home is where your story begins. Living in the Midwest, surrounded by family-based accountability, love, interference, sharing, guilt trips, support, and yes, sometimes meddling, how could I possibly write a book that didn’t include those elements? What can I say? If one or both of your parents are on Facebook for the sole purpose of keeping tabs on you and other family members, you would probably like my books. If your family tree has many limbs and branches, and if you like realistic stories about struggles with family and faith by characters who aren’t perfect-looking or rich, you’re probably my reader. If you like characters who missed out on God’s perfect will for their life years ago and are down to Plan C, D or even E; if you can relate to men and women who are slightly disillusioned with how their lives have turned out but ever hopeful that miracles can happen, then you will probably like my books. If you’re from a small town, but have a big family, you’re probably my reader. If you know what “Heard it on the grapevine” means, if there are no secrets in your family (well, very few) and if you like the kind of tangled webs that result from brothers and sisters and moms and dads being an integral part of each others lives, then you’d probably enjoy reading my stories.
Night and Day, Stormy Weather, Water Lily, and Merry Go Round are all full of local color, family interactions, and honest, this-could-really-happen situations. In my humble opinion, when someone like me – and probably you – believable people – find true happiness in the midst of their everyday and occasionally extraordinary problems, it fills me with hope. If it can happen to them, it can happen to me. What is more exciting, more comforting, more thrilling?
I’m at my desk, looking at a picture frame that includes the graduation photos of my Grandma Victoria and her sweetheart, my Grandpa (Harold) Lightly, and my Grandma (Lorna) Hansen and her dapper beau, my Grandpa (Albert) Hansen. Love stories that beget love stories that inspired love stories. Home is definitely where my story started. How about you?
My nephew is getting married tonight. In fact, I’m posting my blog from a hotel in Des Moines, awaiting the big event. My husband, who is a minister, is performing the ceremony. But not because Cole is his nephew. Kayla, the beautiful woman Cole is marrying, grew up in my husband’s church in Thompson, Iowa.
For the first and only time in my life (so far), I played matchmaker. And it worked!
One day, in the church basement after church, Kayla’s mother and I started chatting. She was lamenting that her daughter, who is such a sweetheart, couldn’t seem to meet a nice, goodhearted man. I’d thought for years that my nephew, Cole, and Kayla would be a good match, but had never found the right time to bring it up. Cole was in between relationships. It seemed the perfect time to put the wheels in motion, which we proceeded to do.
To be honest, I never really expected anything to come of it. Neither, I’m sure, did Cole, when I first mentioned sending him some digital photos of a girl from our church who I thought he might enjoy getting to know. What young 20-something thinks his fat, grey-haired old aunt is going to be the one to pick out his future bride?
But God had plans for Cole and Kayla (Cola, as we now affectionly call them). I, of course, was delighted when they fell in love, and later, announced their engagement. And I truly do believe they’re a match made in heaven.
As a writer of romance novels, I get to play matchmaker in my imagination all the time. Even as a child, I spent hours spinning romantic fantasies in my mind, all starring me, of course, and whatever handsome young man had captured my fancy at the time. None of them ever worked out, although the silver lining is that I got so practiced imagining these steamy, “what-if” scenarios that it led to a writing career.
I feel a great deal of satisfaction in my writing life when the love affair I’ve orchestrated comes to a good fruition. But I have to say, it is even more fulfilling to see a tiny seed that I planted grow and blossom into a real-life romance, now marriage. On this, their wedding day, I feel a deep, intense sense of satisfaction. I did good.
Early on in Cole and Kayla’s relationship, I invited Cole’s mother (my sister) to have lunch with me. When she arrived, she said, “Cole thinks you asked me to lunch so you could pump me for information. But he says not to tell you anything – he thinks you’ll put it in your next romance novel.”
I promised I wouldn’t, and my sister filled me in on what sketchy details she knew. It made me smile. And I’m still smiling today. And while I won’t crow about my excellent matchmaking skills in a book, I never said I wouldn’t blog about it. Besides this isn’t a fictional romance, it’s the real thing.
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.
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.
Someone recently asked me how I started to write.
I was already a night owl before I opened the Blue Belle Inn B&B and Tea House almost 20 years ago. Opening the Inn had been precipitated by a move “back home” to a town of 1000 people after 11 years in bustling Colorado Springs, CO.
Opening the Inn, establishing a business, training new employees, sustaining financial credibility, and everything else that went along with being a first time business owner sapped my strength, sucked the life out of my relationships, and took 16 out of every 24 hours. I loved what I was doing, there was just no time for anything else.
I was working every night until 10 pm – my night owl tendency’s worsened. Probably not a good thing for the owner of a bed and BREAKFAST. I was soon exhausted – between checking in honeymooners at 2 am and serving breakfast to business travelers at 6 am.
My “home” was in the basement of the Blue Belle, so I never really went home from work, but when I went downstairs at the end of the night, I was tired. But just because it was bedtime didn’t mean I could go to sleep. Like anyone, I came home from work pumped up with adrenalin, sometimes frustrated, sometimes happy, charged and ready to go after flying around, being busy for hours – I needed to talk to someone, to vent, to spend a few hours unwinding before I could go to sleep.
Problem is, who do you call to talk to at that time of night? (No one – they’re all asleep.) Where do you go if you feel like doing something, or need to run errands (Nowhere – everything is closed.) So what’s a person to do? Sometimes life thrusts you into situations where you’re forced to to adapt. I did. I started writing. Late into the night.
My first published book, Night and Day (it’s midnight in Minnesota and daybreak in Denmark), was no mistake.
When the internet caught on, I made friends in every corner of the world – friends who were on the same schedule I was. While my real-life friends and family slept, I carried on a “imaginary life” with my online friends. And I wrote. In essence, I made up a few dozen “imaginary friends” and started writing about what was going on in their lives, weaving them together into relationships, imagining “what if” – and writing about it.
A friend of mine, Deborah Scafferi Rohne, writes a blog called “Life Is Too Short to Fold Underwear”. In her latest entry, she writes that life is too short to sleep when everyone else is awake. Her theory is that you miss out on too much when your schedule is contrary to the rest of the world’s. She is absolutely right. In my case, however, I wasn’t sleeping when everyone else was awake, I was working. And when everyone else was asleep, I was living – and writing – and engaging and interacting with my imaginary friends.
In my case, my imaginary, after-hours, everybody-else-I-know-is-sound-asleep world changed my real life.
And twenty years later? I work less (well, sometimes), play more (okay, occasionally), and have better relationship in the real world (with at least a few people – I’ve been married to a wonderful man for 7 years now). I still have many friends online who inspire, encourage, and cheer me on. I try to find a good balance, which is probably the key to everything in life.
And then, irony of ironies, when I hit 51, my body clock started to change. Suddenly, I found myself falling asleep in front of my computer at 9 pm. My most prolific hours – 10 pm to 2 pm, found me zombie-like and bobbing my head in front of the words on my screen. After finally giving up and succumbing to sleep, I would wake up at 6 am. But I wasn’t productive, I was crabby.
So. . . such is life. I’m trying to adapt – again, carve out a new niche in my busy schedule for my writing, make time for me and my imaginary friends, and still get a good night’s sleep! And guess when this was written? 6:30 am.