I don’t know who coined the phrase, “the joy in the journey”, but I do know that it almost always eludes me.  A few days ago, I was sitting in an airport in Toronto, Canada on my way to Glasgow, Scotland, the Highlands, and the Isles of Arran and Skye. Like most people, I hate flying and airports in general, and submit to the indignities of being crammed into miniscule seats with dozens of hot, sweaty strangers only because I have no choice if I want to get where I’m going.

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Why is it that we so desperately long to skip the getting there part and jump right to the arrival? Scotland is definitely worth the long flight – no doubt aboot that. But why is it that I can’t find anything to appreciate about the journey?

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My ancestors came to America on ships from England, Denmark, and Germany under deplorable conditions. Many came with barely a penny to their name. Some had to delay their journey to their ultimate destination until they had earned enough money working in New York or Pennsylvania to take the train to Minnesota or Iowa, where a homestead awaited them.

Unpleasant as flying can be, it’s quick, and relatively painless. Sometimes your luggage gets lost, but at least you get to bring things along. I can’t imagine leaving all my treasures behind and having to choose only 1 trunk full of possessions for an entire family.

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We may have an occasional bumpy landing in our modern day aircraft, but many of our ancestors lurched along on muddy, rock-pocked roads in covered wagons with hardwood wheels. Just thinking about it makes my back hurt. It makes me embarrassed to admit that I am traveling with a 1 ½” thick memory foam pad and my own, specially shaped pillow for neck support just the way I like it. (Yes, you can call me a Princess because I can feel a single pea under a bad mattress.)

Sweet William Front Cover

In Sweet William, Lyndsie has to decide between her precious home, career and country and a new life with William in Minnesota. There’s really no other option. When I met my husband almost 14 years ago, we both had established lives and our own homes and career paths. Instead of forcing one of us to give up what we had, we were able to find a way to merge our lives. I’m very thankful for that. Much as I love my husband, it would have been hard to choose between him and everyone and everything else I love. (You’ll have to read Sweet William to see what Lyndsie decides what to do.)

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As we traveled from Minneapolis to Toronto to Halifax, Nova Scotia to Glasgow, I tried to find things to be thankful for. I can’t say I found joy, but our journey so far has included an amazing house sitter who is a definite answer to prayer, some very polite and helpful Delta Airlines employees, a kind stranger or two who could tell I was struggling and offered to help, some prayer warriors on Facebook that encouraged me when our tickets were lost in the system and nowhere to be found, and even an ex-wife who stepped up in an emergency and made sure our car was taken care of. I didn’t seen any 360 degree rainbows from the airplane windows, but there was a handsome man sitting beside me who I’m awfully thankful for. There’s always something to be grateful for, even in the midst of the journey.

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That doesn’t mean I dinnae sometimes get grumpy on the journey. On our second day in Scotland, we hiked to see some ancient standing stones on the moors of the Isle of Arran. We were under the impression that the walk would be just a wee bit of a stroll, maybe 500 meters. Three long, hot miles later, we finally reached the standing stones. And we still had to get back to the car. We had no water, no sunscreen, and no food. It had been hours since we’d eaten breakfast and used a restroom, and it was already time for supper. As we listened to the plaintive “baaaaaaas” of the sheep in the pasture along the way, I wanted to hang my head and wail along with them. (I did a couple of times.) But then I turned around and saw what lay ahead.

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Joy in the journey? Are we there yet? I truly hope you have an easy time of it, and that the getting there goes quickly and is without pain. But if you experience delays, or unexpected trials along the way, or run into a thicket of thorny gorse, remember to look for the bright spots, and the kind hearts, and perhaps you will find joy in the journey after all.

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I may already be in Scotland by the time you read this, perhaps on the Isle of Arran, touring Brodick Castle or walking amongst the rhododendrons in the walled garden. Perhaps we’ll be checking out of Lilybank Guest House, or on the ferry, headed to Craig Villa Guest House, near Loch Awe and St. Conan’s Kirk. I was last in Scotland nine years ago, and have been longing to return for at least five. Thistle Down, Wild Rose, Blue Belle, Shy Violet and Sweet William have kept images of picturesque kirks and castles, hairy coo, grazing sheep, colorful villages, white sand beaches, stone cottages and heather-covered hills fresh in my mind, but I think the need to be there in person, experiencing it firsthand, is born of a more ancient connection.

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Mark and I recently signed up for Ancestry.com and  discovered that my DNA is 43% Great Britain, and only 20% Scandinavian, a slight surprise since I’ve always thought I was half Danish. (There’s also Western and Eastern European mixed in from my Bohemian and German great-grandparents, and a dash of Italian – where that came from, I have no idea.)

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Although my Mom’s family, the Lightlys, were from England, my grandma and now mother have long told me about a supposed Scottish great-great grandmother. My English ancestors lived in the north part of Lincolnshire, near a village called Scotton.  My family tree is leafed with names like Scullin, Maltby, Harrison, and Mcintyre, and in my searches of the generations, I just found a reference to the Shetland Islands. Scotland in my blood. I feel it when I hear the bagpipes, the drums, or a Scottish accent. I feel it when I see a parade of men in kilts marching down the field, when I look out over the sheep grazing, when I see fields of purple heather in the highlands.

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Researching my novels (and watching Outlander – my guilty pleasure) has only fueled my passion for kilts, castles, highlanders, and all things Scottish. I’ve always known I come from hardy stock with a history of eking out a living in a part of the country that’s sometimes brutally cold and harsh. I love the sea, and rocks, and find a great affinity in the creative, yet no-nonsense foods, cottage décor, and crafts of Scotland. I love that the colorful wildflowers and woven plaids of the highlands are such a contrast to the gray and brown stone cottages lining the valleys and lochs. There is something primal and instinctual that binds me to the Scots.

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I have no idea if a new book will be born of this journey to the motherland. I’ve labeled Sweet William (coming soon from Indigo Sea Press) as the last of my Wildflowers of Scotland novels, but I named Violet’s baby Heather, leaving the door open for a look-ahead novel some two decades down the road. And there’s always Red Jasmine, Blue-eyed Mary, Cherry Primrose, Bee (Bea) Orchid, Golden Rod, Lily of the Valley, Seaside Daisy, Mountain Laurel, and other names I can use if I change my mind.

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My main goal is just to relax and enjoy Scotland’s magnificent scenery and history. Everyone keeps telling my husband and me to travel while we can, so we plan to keep returning to Europe as long as we’re able – hopefully every year.

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There’s something to be said for getting out of the country, for going so far away that you can’t be easily found. Years ago, when I lived in Germany, my mom and dad came to visit me, and I learned this very important lesson. When I was little, our family went to Florida, Colorado, and northern Minnesota into Canada. Our trips were fun while they lasted, but on all these adventures, my Dad was still close enough to home that he was a little tense and consumed with wondering what was going on at home. A few times, after hearing the weather, or the news, or the crop reports, 5 or 6 days into a 8-10 day vacation, he would get worried or frustrated and utter the dreaded words, “Get in the car. We’re going home.”

When he and Mom arrived in Germany, with expensive tickets and a locked in return date, he had no choice but to relax and enjoy himself. This was before the days of email, Skype, texting with international minutes, or cheap long distance. Dad had no idea what was happening on the farm, and even if he had known, there was absolutely nothing he could have done about it.

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I saw a completely different side of my Dad on that trip. His sense of humor shone – he laughed and smiled and chatted with strangers and truly relaxed. It was amazing. He was like a new person.

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The same kind of magical transformation occurs between me and my husband when we travel. We get to know each other all over again. We rediscover ourselves when we forget the stresses of being a frustrated business owner and a busy pastor. We set aside the issues we’re preoccupied with and reconnect. Our tired brains and downtrodden psyches rejuvenate. Our bodies start to thrive again.

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I hope you’ll come along on our journey. You can follow me on Facebook or Instagram to see my photos, or wait for my next installment at Indigo Sea’s blog. Sweet William should be ready to release just about the time I return from Scotland. I’ll do my best to bring it to life for you in the meantime.

Age old castles and blue-watered bays,White sandy beaches and quaint cottage stays.A rainbow of colors and chocolates, hand-dipped,A valley of bluebells and sheep, freshly clipped. Legends galore, buried treasure, and

Bon voyage!

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Twenty-five years ago, Sherrie rescued a dilapidated Victorian house in northern Iowa from the bulldozer’s grips and turned it into a bed and breakfast and tea house, the Blue Belle Inn.  After 12 years of writing romance novels, Sherrie met and married her real-life hero, Mark Decker, a pastor. They now split their time between 2 different houses, 85 miles apart, and Sherrie writes on the run whenever she has a spare minute. Sherrie enjoys playing the piano, photography, traveling, and going on weekly adventures with her nieces and nephew. “Sweet William”, Sherrie’s ninth book and the last of her Wildflowers of Scotland novels, is coming soon from Indigo Sea Press.
You can find more information about Sherrie Hansen here:

WEBSITE  http://BlueBelleBooks.com  or http://BlueBelleInn.com

BLOG  https://sherriehansen.wordpress.com/

Twitter https://twitter.com/SherrieHansen

Facebook http://www.facebook.com/SherrieHansenAuthor
Goodreads  http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/2870454.Sherrie_Hansen

Amazon Author Page https://www.amazon.com/author/sherriehansen

Pinterest  https://www.pinterest.com/sherriebluebell/

Have you ever noticed that in many novels, the mothers of the main characters are conveniently vacationing in some remote spot on the other side of the globe, or even dead? Having grown up in a family where my mother and grandmothers, even my aunts and cousins, were involved in almost every aspect of my life, I have a hard time relating to a world without a mother’s magic.

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When I was 9 years old, I joined 4-H and got sent to Aunt Shirley’s house (my dad’s sister, who is married to my mom’s brother) to learn how to sew. I remember getting into arguments with my mother when she told me a seam was crooked and had to be ripped out. When Aunt Shirley told me something needed to be redone, I very meekly said, “Okay,” and did it over until I got it right. From that time on, I made most of my own clothes.

Going to Dorothy’s Fabric Store in downtown Austin, Minnesota to pick out fabric and notions was an adventure that was shared with the extended family, too. The first thing Mom did when we found a time when we could go to town – preferably without my little sisters and brothers – was to call my grandmas and aunts and invite them to meet us at the fabric store. I can still remember them crowding around me, holding this and that bolt of fabric close to my face, giving their opinions on what color looked best on me and reminding me that vertical stripes were the most flattering to my figure. Which fabric would work well with the pattern we had selected and what kind of cloth would hang right and stand up well under repeated washings were important considerations, too. Dry-clean-only fabric wasn’t even considered because of the extra cost of upkeep. Anything on the clearance rack was given double consideration. Their favorite materials were the rainbow selection of polyester double knits, considered a modern miracle of inventions because the seams didn’t ravel, it didn’t have to be ironed, and it was practically indestructible. When the fun part came – deciding which buttons would accent the fabric to its best advantage and what kind of zipper was easiest to put in – options were discussed at length, a truly matriarchal affair.

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Perhaps the fact that my mom, grandmas, and aunts were so involved in my life would have driven some teenagers to madness, but it made me feel surrounded by love, special, and deeply cared for. To this day, I have trouble making decisions by myself and almost always call my mom or dad to see what they think I should do before making a major purchase. I still think about calling my grandmas for advice when I’m stumped even though they’ve been gone for over a decade. I’m blessed to have both parents living and hope it stays that way for a good long time.

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As for writers who leave mothers out of their fictional equations and plotlines, I would say that they’re missing out on some of the best fodder for character development – and yes, conflict – there is. Mothers and daughters have a very unique relationship. They love, they adore, they disagree, they despise. The imprint our mothers make on us, good or bad, affects us more deeply than anything else in life. And what is more endearing and heroic than a son who loves and respects his mother? Mothers know their children inside and out. They meddle. They make us laugh – they break our hearts. Mothers are our biggest cheerleaders and our worst critics. They’re not afraid to say what they think, and they sometimes don’t approve of the choices we make. And they show us the true meaning of love, over and over and over again.

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In Sweet William, Lyndsie’s mother (Kelly, who you’ll remember from Wild Rose), and her Aunt Rose, are very influential figures who chide, defend, and lend a listening ear. William’s mother, who is convinced Lyndsie made everyone at their family gathering sick when she served them her homemade smoked haddock pies, takes an instant dislike to the lass her son is in love with, putting William in a very awkward position. To see how it all ends, you’ll have to read the book.

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Mothers really do make the world go round. Without them, nothing would be as it is – we wouldn’t exist. A mother’s magical presence, woven into the plotline of a novel, may not be as high intrigue or titillating as  murder and mayhem, but it can tear at the soul and tickle the heartstrings like no other relationship. Grandmas

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If you sometimes take your mother for granted, be sure to give her a hug and tell her how much you love her this Mother’s Day.  Next time you read a book, think about how much impact a mother has on what’s happening between the main characters. There are fictional mothers we love, and those we hate, and those we feel lukewarm about, but whatever their make-up, they’re one of the – maybe the most – pivotal, primal component in our lives.

Cherish your mom, today and always.

I received a message from another writer last week that said, “I am an author in the first round of edits with my publishing company. Luckily, they aren’t pushing for an erotic, yucky smut scene between my characters. I want Christian love scenes — your blogs and posts have inspired me to move forward. Thank you for your boldness.”

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My new release, Sweet William, which should be available in June 2016, is the first book I’ve written where both of the main characters are virgins. Most of my books are second chance at romance stories, and it’s no secret that I have steamy scenes in several – or that said love scenes co-exist alongside a Christian world view and struggles of faith. I don’t call any of my books Christian Fiction, but they are in every way Fiction by a Christian. Some who know me are fine with my integration of faith and the nitty gritty of life, including sex, when it is part of the story. Others are uncomfortable and think, as a Christian and a pastor’s wife, I should keep the bedroom door tightly shut. I was told by the owner of a Christian bookstore that my characters shouldn’t even think about sex.

The note I received got me thinking about the term Christian love scenes. Is there such a thing?

Love, and yes, sex, are two of the greatest motivators in life. Biological urge, temptation, taboo, obsession, pleasure, joy, disappointment, regret, – make no mistake that making love (or not) is a prime mover in the stories of our lives. Why wouldn’t it be included in the stories that we read? Before you write me off completely, take your Bible, turn to 2 Samuel 11, and  read about the love triangle between David, Bathsheba, and Uriah the Hittite. Then go to Psalms and Proverbs and think about some of the emotional and physical repercussions of  their actions. It’s the stuff stories – and life – are made of.

Writing realistic fiction is important to me. If a story is too far-fetched, out there, or unbelievable, I’m done. I can believe that there are a few people in the world who for whatever reason are not actively thinking about the desire to be held, the need to experience a physical manifestation of love, and enjoy the physical pleasures of making love. Most people have it on their radar. If I read a book that doesn’t acknowledge this basic fact of life, and the way it influences the things we do, the decisions we make, and the manner in which we act, you’ve lost me. It’s too important, too meaningful to be ignored. In my humble opinion, to pretend sex doesn’t exist casts an unrealistic aura over the whole book and lessons the believability of the characters to the point where it’s hard to bond with or care about them.

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Before I go any further, I want to make a disclaimer. Just because I write about sex and lovemaking does not mean that I endorse it in every time and circumstance that it occurs in my books. Authors write about murders, burglaries, terrorism, betrayals, lies, and all sorts of evil – the fact that these acts and occurrences are described through the eyes of a character, or pertinent to the plot in no way means that these authors endorse violence or deceitful acts, or recommend that you do them.

Teenagers and single men and women – please don’t have casual sex. There’s really no such thing. Sex is always serious, life-changing, and most-importantly, wrong when it’s done outside of a marital relationship. Save yourself for your wedding night. It’s the best and most beautiful form of lovemaking. Once you give yourself to someone, you can’t take it back. You can be forgiven and loved in the present, but the past is always there. I’ve never written about an adulterous affair, but again, I’ll go on record, in case it’s not already obvious – bad idea. Very bad. Don’t do it.

That brings me to my next point. How are love scenes written from a Christian perspective different from sex scenes written from a worldly point of view? Specifically, what can you expect from the love scenes that my characters participate in?

  1. The scenes are there for a reason. The love scenes in my book speak to the main characters worst fears, vulnerabilities, Achilles heels, and flaws. They progress the plot, derail or complicate a relationship, cause chaos, guilt, or confusion. They aren’t just a fun romp in the hay. They’re not there for no reason. They’re not inserted just for the sake of having sex.
  1. There are repercussions and consequences to making love. Giving our bodies to one another in an intimate setting is not a light matter. It changes us in both wonderful and detrimental ways depending on the person and the timing.
  1. My love scenes are respectful, tender, and considerate. There’s no foul language. They’re a thing of beauty, and appropriate to the character’s personality and issues. I was once told that a Christian writer should never glorify sex, murder, rape, or any kind of sin. Sex can be a sin, but it’s also one of the most glorious things in the world. Just like life, the trouble comes in sorting out when it’s right and when it’s not, and how far you can go without betraying your conscience. It’s a complex, often confusing, sometimes tender and sometimes heartbreaking matter, and one I try to deal with candidly and honestly.
  1. My love scenes often teach lessons. It’s sometimes subtle, but they have a point. Some of them end badly. Some seem wonderful on the surface but culminate in disaster at a later date. And some are just plain wonderful, done at the right time, for the right reasons. And no matter how things start out, or why, everything works out the way it’s supposed to in the end – another very Biblical perspective.

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Are love scenes compatible with fiction written by people of faith with a Christian perspective? I think they are. We’re human. We were designed for lovemaking. I also realize that all of us, regardless of our faith, have differing preferences for how explicit we like our sex scenes. I have readers who love some of my books because they have no love scenes. Others don’t care for those same books because they like things a little spicy. And there are some who hate love scenes but read my books anyway because they like everything else about them. (Thank you!) I don’t want to lose readers because they’re afraid they’ll encounter a steamy scene. I don’t want readers to pass up a great book because they think it’s lacking in a component they enjoy.

I could do as many authors do, and make sure I include a specific number of sex scenes in each book, or conversely, guarantee that there will be absolutely no sex scenes in any of my books, so readers know exactly what to expect. I don’t feel that would be fair to me and particularly to my characters, all of whom are unique.

I write honest fiction with honest characters, each of whom has a different personality. My stories aren’t cookie cutter. They go in different directions. They’re character driven. Characters do what they will, which often means they go in a direction I would never go. I write my stories to be faithful to the story as it unfolds and the psyche of my characters. Does that mean that God is in only some of my stories and not others? No. He’s there, in every word, and every outcome, just as He is present in my life, all the time, every moment, even when I’m running away from something (maybe even Him), or in deep denial, on the wrong track or doing something completely idiotic.

Sex is an integral part of the human condition. God created us to be sexual beings. Lovemaking scenes can be beautiful and powerful, or heartbreaking and misguided. That’s why I love to explore this complex facet of our beings in my writing. For those who don’t feel the same way I do, here’s a handy guide to where each of my books fits on the steaminess scale.

Night and Day (1)

Night and Day:  A few steamy scenes. Mild by today’s standards.

Maple Valley Trilogy (1)

Stormy Weather:  I’m told it’s one of my steamiest.

Water Lily:  Mildly steamy in a tender, beautiful way.

Merry Go Round:  Mildly steamy. Adult subject matter and strong Christian themes which clash and cause an extreme amount of tension.

Love Notes

Love Notes:  They don’t do it, but they (well, one of them) thinks about it and wishes they were. Strong Christian themes and adult themes set against a very wholesome, yet sometimes warped backdrop – all mixed together, just like life.

Age old castles and blue-watered bays,White sandy beaches and quaint cottage stays.A rainbow of colors and chocolates, hand-dipped,A valley of bluebells and sheep, freshly clipped. Legends galore, buried treasure, and

Thistle Down:  Totally tame except for one boyfriend who’s a jerk.

Wild Rose:  Adult subject matter, including sexual temptation and sex gone wrong. Strong Christian themes. One extremely mild lovemaking scene between husband and wife.

Blue Belle:  One of my very steamiest and best. Creepy bad guys.

Shy Violet:  So deliciously steamy that it makes you want to cry when it doesn’t end the way you want it to.

Sweet William:  No sex, but not for lack of wanting it. A wonderfully patient and chivalrous hero you will love.

I want to end by saying that I don’t wish to in any way offend those Christian writers who have made the decision to keep the bedroom door closed. I have read and loved many of your books and respect the way you handle romance in your writing – just as I hope you will respect and show understanding for mine.  Nor do I wish to offend those of my colleagues who write more explicitly erotic scenes than I. We’re not all the same, and I don’t mean to imply that we should be. I like some of your books, too.

While I’m at it, please don’t dishonor me and other authors who include steamy scenes in their novels by  categorizing our literary achievements as cheap, bodice-rippers, porn or smut. There are well-written, thoughtful, smart books that include sex, and horribly written books that don’t. Please don’t generalize.

Finally, a special thank you to my readers – no matter what your stance on this issue – for your enthusiasm and support for my endeavors to write in a way that glorifies God, yet is true to the world as I see it and the way He created me.

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Today, I had the opportunity and pleasure of updating my novel, Love Notes, before its re-release from Indigo Sea Press. Love Notes is one of my favorites. I’m very proud of it just the way it is, but it was fun to be able to make a good book even better.

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Love Notes is set in Embarrass, in the far north of Minnesota, which among other claims to fame, is know for being the coldest place in the lower 48 states. Embarrass fell to 64 degrees below zero in 1996.

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In the article Finding Embarrass, I learned that the word Embarrass is French for obstacle. The realization only convinced me anew that Embarrass was the perfect setting for Love Notes. Just as many obstacles – inopportune cold weather being a common denominator – deterred the Finns who settled Embarrass, Hope and Tommy faced a multitude of conflicting goals and stumbling blocks that had to be overcome before their relationship began to heat up.

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Logistically speaking, I changed several of the last names of secondary characters to Finnish surnames, and added a bit or two about the wonderful Finnish saunas that Embarrass is known for. And of course, my more mature writer’s eyes spotted a few tiny changes that also needed to be made in the text. Hopefully I’ve taken Love Notes from good to better to the best!

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Love Notes will be available as a new release from Indigo Sea Press in a week or two. If you haven’t already read it, I hope you will. Love Notes has no steamy scenes, but plenty of passion. Don’t be deterred in your search on Amazon, as the book was originally published under my married name, Sherrie Hansen Decker, but is now listed by Sherrie Hansen.

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If I haven’t already intrigued you, here’s what a couple Amazon readers said about Love Notes:

“This is a great story to curl up with and be nice and warm while you read about folks who are battling the cold… the frozen lake… the snow storm… the heartless banker… all while finding love in all sorts of different places and sometimes in surprising ways. Sherrie Hansen will keep you turning the pages as you are drawn in for a marvelous journey of two people discovering first of all themselves – their weaknesses, but also their strengths – and, inevitably, each other.”

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“Sherrie Hansen has given her readers another gift from her heart with Love Notes. Although much of the story is set in a frigid Minnesota winter, sparks fly between Hope Anderson, a widow and Tommy Love, an aging pop star. The book jump starts with a suspenseful water rescue and I was caught up in both the ensuing struggles and the growing romantic relationship between Hope and Tommy against the backdrop of the their opposing life visions and unexpected growing attraction. Add to that an unsavory backwoods man, and the financial problems Hope is working to resolve and it is a page turner with a heartwarming ending. Thanks, Sherrie Hansen!”

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“Sherrie describes the setting so well that I could see and feel the near frozen temperatures and the cold water of the Lake. I could see the fog coming off the water and feel the fear of the character as they struggle to start the boat that is stranded on the Lake. I could feel the coldness in the air so much that I went outside and read the next few chapters just to get warm again.”

“An opening scene with winter coming, a dark storm brewing on the lake, paints assumptions that time will surely pull apart… And two great characters, both proudly, fiercely independent, slowly learn to see through different eyes. Forgiveness of others and self, acceptance of unwelcome advice, and finding what to stay true to when others guide you away, all these and more form a backdrop to Hope’s desire to keep Rainbow Lodge afloat and Tommy Love’s search for a song to revive his life and career.

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Meanwhile each is freed from the past as God writes his Love Notes on their hearts, through song, through beauty, through faithful community, and through hope. The balance of finance and tradition in small towns is complicated. As well, “It’s complicated when two mature adults go into a relationship,” as one of the characters says. But complications can be anchored on solid ground and new life can be forged. 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.”

 

I’m not sure why, but all of the sudden, I’m starting to feel like an old fogy. (Definition:  an extremely fussy, old-fashioned, or conservative person.) It started last summer when my mom and dad celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary and their 80th birthdays. My parents have always seemed quite young to me, and they are compared to many of my classmates and peers, since I’m the oldest child in our family. (They only waited a couple of years before they had me, so that tells you about how old I am.) When did they get to be so old?

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Suddenly, my little niece is taller than I am, and most likely smarter, too.

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This winter, the house my dad built when I was 16 suddenly needed a lot of updating because it was over 40 years old. When did that happen? Earlier this month, a video of the house I renovated and turned into a bed and breakfast almost 25 years ago started to recirculate, and as I looked at a young, energetic, spry-looking version of myself smiling on the video, I realized that my staff, neighbors, nieces and nephews, and half the people in town have no idea how horrible the property used to look, and how absolutely heroic I was to rescue the place from the bulldozing it probably deserved. They either weren’t born yet, or were about 5 years old.

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Yes, that’s me in the middle.

I’ve always prided myself on being pretty with it. I play with a contemporary Christian band and there’s nothing I like more than rocking out with the volume on my keyboard at full blast. I pound out a mean bass line and I’ve got the rhythm. I write steamy novels, wear funky clothes and hats, and work circles around many of my years younger staff members. I may be a little gray; I may be getting a little stiff in the joints, but I like to think I’ve still got it. Well, part of it anyway.

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But lately… well, I’ve started to feel more and more irked with the way the younger generation thinks and does things. I routinely say things like, “What is this world coming to?”, and “Back in my day, we used to…”, and “When I was your age…” When I watch the Grammies, the only musicians I’m familiar with are those being inducted into the Hall of Fame.  To be honest, most of what we call contemporary music at our church are songs written 30 or 40 years ago. And when I visit churches with truly contemporary music and smoke machines and light shows, I cringe and probably feel the way my parents did the first time I sang Ralph Carmichael’s “He’s Everything to Me”.

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And don’t even get me started on the fact that many of the obituaries in the paper are for people my age or even younger. It’s scary to think that I’m in the twilight years of my life, or that it’s all downhill from here. And to quote a comedian three-fourths of you have probably never heard of, “I don’t get no respect.”

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Suddenly, I understand all the fuss about bucket lists, because time is running out, and if I’m going to do it, it needs to be now, while I still can. My goal has been to leave the country every three to five years to go on a dream vacation, but suddenly, it makes more sense to take a good long trip to somewhere far away and exotic every year, before it’s too late. Even then, you’ll probably find me on a cruise ship or one of peering out the windows of one of those big buses with really comfy seats. I hate the thought of missing out on anything.

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Because today I noticed something. Sunsets are just as beautiful as sunrises. Maybe even more so. I have wisdom, and grace, and the kind of polish and beauty that a rock gets from being in a rock tumbler. I’ve worked hard for what I have, and now, I get to enjoy it (well, whatever the government doesn’t take first). But that’s another thing I shouldn’t get started on.

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Sunrises are just fine. But watching the sun sink into the horizon in a blazing display of color and class… All I can say is, I’m going to enjoy every last minute of the show. Sometimes, the sky is at it’s most brilliant when the sun has already set, and the truth is, I’ve always been a night owl.

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I firmly believe that each book I write is better than the last, and besides, it’s great fun to put my characters up to things I would never do now that I’m… And that I’m so in the groove at my B&B that the food we turn out only gets better and better. And, like all of us, my music – my generation’s – is the best. So there.

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Smile if you will, but think of me next time you see the sun setting, and remember, one day, you’ll be an old fogy, too.

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It’s finally springtime, and there are signs of new life all around – green shoots poking out of the earth, flowers bursting into bloom, and streams flowing merrily along, celebrating their newfound freedom from the frozen captivity of snow and ice. Resurrections and new beginnings and second chances all proclaim the abundance of life!

It’s a perfect time to start a new novel, whether you’re a reader or a writer. Springtime is ideal for making new friends, exploring new places and experiencing new adventures.

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So, in this time of new beginnings, why am I celebrating an ending? My Wildflowers of Scotland novels are finished! It’s time for me to say goodbye to Rose and Ian, Isabelle and Michael, Violet and Nathan, and William and Lyndsie. Within the next few weeks, I’ll be choosing a new setting for a new novel, imagining brand new characters, and breathing life into my next story.

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I may have written The End on the last of my Wildflowers of Scotland novels, but for you, the story is just beginning.

Sweet William

I can’t wait for people to read Sweet William! It’s all I can think about. I’m hoping a lot of people will binge read the Wildflowers of Scotland novels now that the entire series is complete. I’m excited to read those first reviews, and get feedback from people whose opinions I trust. I’m geared up to throw a release party and embark on a blog tour that will infuse my enthusiasm for these characters and my love of Scotland to readers far and wide.

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You’ll be happy to know I will be running some special sales on the Wildflowers of Scotland novels that have been released for awhile. I’ll also be offering a few advanced reader copies of Sweet William to selected people to read, review and generate a little buzz among their friends and social media networks. If you’re interested in being on my street team, please let me know.

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I also enjoy speaking at libraries and bookstores, and am happy to come to book club meetings, social gatherings, ladies groups, and church meetings. If you’re lucky, I may even bring along some Scottish dainties to enjoy afterwards. I have multi-media presentations available on a variety of topics (Scotland, Celtic Cooking, Denmark, Mosaics, Quilts, Gardening, Hats, and Stormy Weather) relating to each of my books, and am happy to tailor a discussion to individually serve your group and its interests.  If you live near the Blue Belle Inn, you may want to come to lunch at the tea house and enjoy a short program or Q&A sessions afterwards.

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Some of you have read each of my books, and can’t wait to feast your eyes on Sweet William. I’ve heard from others that they don’t like to start a series until it’s done because they hate waiting between installments. If that’s your feeling, now is the perfect time to get a free copy of Thistle Down (available at Smashwords.com) and read your way through Wild Rose, Blue Belle and Shy Violet. In about 3 months, Sweet William will be ready for you to read!

Age old castles and blue-watered bays,White sandy beaches and quaint cottage stays.A rainbow of colors and chocolates, hand-dipped,A valley of bluebells and sheep, freshly clipped. Legends galore, buried treasure, and

Happy Spring – here’s to new beginnings, and a few happy endings, too!

More than one person thought we were nuts to head to Death Valley this January when we could have stayed a few more days at the beach.

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You may agree. Or you see why we love the desert after you’ve read a few of the life lessons I learned in Death Valley.

  1. Your greatest flaw may be the thing that makes you beautiful.

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These photos are from the Artist’s Palate, one of the most scenic areas of Death Valley. If Death Valley had enough moisture to support vegetation like the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevadas and the Appalachians do, these mountains would be covered with trees and underbrush and grasses just like they are, and we would never see the splendor of the colors underneath.

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  1. If not for the darkness, you can’t see the stars.

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If Death Valley was bordered by a beach, people would flock there, and the absolute darkness, the brilliant starlight that we experienced there would be gone. Not that there’s anything wrong with the bright lights of nearby Las Vegas, or even great cities like Paris, the City of Lights, but I’m glad there’s a place where we can experience complete darkness and see the Milky Way. Starlight has a way of settling the soul.

  1. It’s good to be able to hear yourself think.

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If Death Valley was a place where people wanted to settle and live, its airspace would soon be cluttered with the same intrusive sounds we hear in our day to day lives. It’s amazing what being alone, and enjoying a little peace and quiet can do. Stripping things down to the basics help you focus in a way that we rarely have the opportunity to do.

  1. Things don’t equal happiness.

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Having no services, no fast-food places, no internet access, and no cell phone reception makes you realize very quickly that you can survive quite well with very little. The important things come into focus without the distractions that so often occupy our time. Suddenly, you start seeing beauty all around and noticing things that likely would have gone by unappreciated… like a picnic under the stars,  We’ve all heard stories of pioneer families who had only what their covered wagons would hold, if that much, who were happy. We have so much, and are so often unhappy and dissatisfied. It was great to be reminded that without our toys, there is all kinds of old-fashioned fun to be had.

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  1. You won’t believe what a few little sprinkles will do.

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All it takes is a little shower and the desert bursts into a flowery oasis of color. Give someone the slightest encouragement and they will bloom. Those of us who live in places where there are dozens of inches of rainfall every year think it takes a deluge to make things grow, but when you’re in the desert, you learn that just a little bit of rain or kindness or love goes a very long way and can make all kinds of surprising things happen.

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  1. Trust your instincts and wander where you will.

 

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When we first realized we were totally off the grid and that our GPS didn’t work, I’ll admit I was a little worried. I really don’t like the feeling of being lost and I guess I’ve gotten used to the magic voice pointing me in the direction of my destination and telling me where to turn. What I rediscovered was the joy of wandering down this road and that to see what we would find. It’s something my Dad used to do when we were on family vacations. I had forgotten how freeing it is to flex your wings, trust your instincts, and fly.

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  1. Be patient – some things are worth the wait.

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A canyon lit by sunlight looks completely different than a canyon shrouded in shadows. In His Time. God makes all things beautiful in His time. This is a lesson I’ve had to be reminded of over and over again in my lifetime. If you try to manipulate things to fit your timeline, you’re bound to be disappointed. Being patient and waiting for the right time, when the lighting is perfect and everything lines up the way it’s meant to brings dazzling results. A little sunshine makes a big difference.

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  1. When you’re at the lowest spot on earth, there’s no place to go but up.

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Being two hundred plus feet below sea level gave me an eerie feeling. And when we left the lowlands to climb up the canyons, my muscles were painfully stretched. It’s hard to transition from low to high. I’ve been thinking about high points and low points a lot as I’ve worked on my novel, Sweet William, this winter. One of the characters is dealing with the death of someone very dear, and trying to work their way back from deep despair to some sense of normalcy. Another character is living a perfectly grand life at a time when she’s at the pinnacle of her dreams. The only catch is, if she wants to be with the man she loves, she will have to give it all up.

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Is he dragging her down? Can she lift him up? From the heather- colored highlands of Scotland to the flat, black fields of Minnesota’s farm country – which way will she go?

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And the moral of the story? I said I learned some life lessons in Death Valley – I didn’t say I had all the answers. Never fear. I hope to have them soon. In the meantime, be patient with me. Oh, and please be quiet so I can think. I can’t seem to connect to Google Search right now so I’m looking for a star to guide me.

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A few days ago, I left behind the cold and snow of the Midwest for the surf and sand of the California coast. We even followed the Ventura Highway. We’re here to visit my husband’s mother, but I can’t deny I’m grateful she lives in a climate that’s filled with flowers and colorful scenery, even in January.

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I always feel a surge of inspiration when I visit new places, and today is no exception. I love the adventure of seeing new things and enjoying the beauty in someone else’s backyard. But I also miss the people and things I love back home.

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I take my nieces and nephew on a mini-adventure every Wednesday afternoon – a joy I missed this week because I was on my way to the airport. Maybe that’s why I dreamed about them last night. In my dream, I remembered being their current ages – 9, 11, and 13 – and realized that I have the same interests and passions that I had way back then even though almost half a century has flown by.

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I started cooking for 4-H, and then, because I preferred fixing dinner for my family and whatever farm crew was helping out to driving tractor, and then, because I loved hearing compliments from friends and family about how delicious and cute my food tasted and looked. It seems I had an artistic eye that manifested itself in culinary delights. Entertaining friends, catering special events, and cooking at my B&B and tea house for the last 25 years isn’t all that far a stretch.

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I started piano and trombone when I was in grade school and junior high, as they were called back then. My love of music hasn’t diminished in all this time either. The trombone didn’t last, and my taste in artists (John Denver, Bread, Gordon Lightfoot) may have evolved in different directions, but I still play piano with a contemporary worship team and even write an occasional melody. And I love rocking out with drummer and keyboard friends.

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My bright lavender bedroom with sculpted, bronze carpet and lime green love beads may not have had the refined look of any of my current decorating projects, but I was clearly interested in color and design, even as a young teenager. And truthfully, my tastes  – and my passion for wild color combinations and quirky furnishings – haven’t changed all that much over the years.

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My favorite books when I was the age Victoria and Gloria are now were the Betsy Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace (a series set in the Victorian era that follows Betsy and her Crowd of friends from childhood to marriage, much like Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books.) Betsy was a writer, so that’s what I wanted to be, too. I loved to read, write poems, plays and stories, and spent hours dreaming about characters for the books I would write one day. Voila!

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I also dreamed of finding my very own, perfect for me, “Joe” (Betsy’s beau) and one day, having my own little Bettina. While that didn’t work out the way I hoped, I’ve certainly seen the Great World and accomplished abundantly more than I ever dreamed possible.

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I’ve thankful that I had people in my life who encouraged me to dream, live large, and think outside the box. When my dream life didn’t materialize quite the way I expected, I’m glad for friends who helped me pick up the pieces and start over. I’m grateful that my family loved and accepted me no matter what crazy things I was up to at any given time.

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If you have children or grandchildren or nieces and nephews who are a part of your life, please cheer them on when they try out new things, and discover their own passions. You never know what might become of it. Little acorns grow up to be mighty oak trees.

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The excitement and bright lights of the holiday season have come and gone, and for me, the temptation to hunker down, eat a lot of fattening food, and hibernate for the rest of the winter is strong. If I’m not careful, dreary winter days, void of sunshine, can lull me into a lazy, lackadaisical mode that can last half the year. So I’m here today to challenge you – and me, too. There’s a rhythm to writing, and it’s time to get in sync!

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Because I live in the upper Midwest, my New Year starts out much like the Wizard of Oz – in black and white. Long nights, winter snow, fog, and ice, and shades of gray, overcast skies dominate our landscape. But the flipside is, the slow, boring days of January are a great time to start a new book or finish editing your old one. Like Dorothy, I spend my days dreaming of colorful characters and enchanted places, typing black words on a white screen to create worlds where flowers are blooming and the sunshine is golden.

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February is a time of romance. At my B&B, we lavish our customers with red strawberries dipped in chocolate fondue, seafood served in scallop shells on puff pastry hearts, and steaks topped with herbs de Provence and Roquefort cream. Yes, romance. You know what to do. Take a long soak in a bubble bath, let yourself dream a little, and start writing.

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March brings the winds of change. March is a time of new life – daffodils, kites and newborn lambs. But March is full of false starts and hopes dashed – thin crusts of ice with rushing water underneath, Easter snowstorms, cuteness and treachery all rolled into one. Sounds like the perfect time to hatch a plot, doesn’t it?

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With April showers and May flowers, come refreshment and a rainbow of colors. Rinse the cobwebs out of your mind and let yourself participate in the rebirth of the earth. Write with newly kindled passion. Step back, let go, and allow your characters to spring to life. Follow them and see where they take you.

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June and July are colored with the vibrant greens, pinks, purples, and yellows of summer. Hot and steamy, summer is filled with fireworks and fizzled relationships and a heightened sense of being. Let the hazy, lazy days of summer infuse your novel with short-term craziness. No need to commit to a specific plot. Just run with it. Feel the cool breezes – really feel them. Let yourself get a little sultry.

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Depending on where you live, August or September is a time of re-structuring. We’re forced to buckle down, go back to our studies, and get serious about finishing our summer projects. September is a month when forced disciplines and alarm clocks dominate out lives. What better time to start out fresh, wake up early and get an extra hour of writing worked into the schedule?

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The brilliant reds and oranges of October are a last hurrah that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Get your fill of color – and write – all you can. For the past several years, I’ve tried to have my novel half done by the end of October in hopes of being able to finish the rough draft during NaNoWriMo. Because my goal is to release one book a year, I have the first 10 months of the year to write the first half of the book. The end of the year is drawing near. Let October’s brilliance propel you into high gear. Do whatever you need to do to stay on track.

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By the time November rolls around, I’m ready for the challenge of writing 1667 words a day to write 50,000 words in November. I wrote large portions of Love Notes, Wild Rose, Blue Belle, and Shy Violet in November because of NaNoWriMo. There’s no time to edit, rewrite or perfect. Just get the words on the paper. No matter how crazy or erratic your schedule, just get it done. There’s plenty of time to get picky come December or January.

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December is a prelude to winter, a time to tie up loose ends. Give your readers the gift of yourself, shining through the pages of your novel. December can be exhilarating, or for some, a downer. But there’s no need to drown in the dismal, sometimes depressing days. Let your writing be your Star in the East. Save on therapy sessions and write your heart out. Take those horrid or hilarious family gatherings and craft them into a scene. Make lemonade.

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And then, because you’re in the groove, the rhythm repeats. You get with the beat. Yes, Virginia, there is a time for every season. I do my edits and rewrites in December, January and February so I can send my manuscript to my publisher in March. They typically have it ready for release in July. For me, it’s a good rhythm. Write no matter what’s going on around you, and in a matter of time, the cycle of writing will come full circle.

Twenty-four years ago, Sherrie Hansen rescued a dilapidated Victorian house from the bulldozer’s grips and turned it into a B&B and tea house, the Blue Belle Inn. Sherrie and her husband, Mark, who is a pastor, live in 2 different houses, 85 miles apart. Sherrie writes murder mysteries and novels whenever she’s not working at her B&B or trying to be a good pastor’s wife. Her contemporary romantic suspense novels include Night and Day, Love Notes, and Thistle Down, Wild Rose, Blue Belle, and Shy Violet, her Wildflowers of Scotland novels. Watch for Sweet William coming soon! You can see what’s she’s up to at: 

https://www.facebook.com/SherrieHansenAuthor/ 

https://sherriehansen.wordpress.com/

www.BlueBelleInn.com

https://twitter.com/SherrieHansen

https://www.pinterest.com/sherriebluebell/

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