Writing and painting, although both creative expressions, are often viewed as being on opposite ends of the spectrum.

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Writers paint pictures with their words. Artfully crafted descriptions help readers visualize the setting of each scene, the appearance of the main characters, and movement within the scene.

Artists take a scene from their imagination and bring it to life with vividly colored paints, textiles or other mediums that you can see, touch, and feel. The only verbal expression that may come into play is a suggestive title of one or two words.

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Both mediums communicate emotion and tell a story. Both require the reader to bring their own interpretation and understanding to fully experience what the author or artist has conveyed through the words or visual expression they’ve chosen to convey.

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As a writer who’s always labeled myself as a visual learner, I think there’s good reason to combine word art and visual art.

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Some writers compile a storyboard to look at and refer to while writing a book.  Whether they tag related visual images on Pinterest or actually make an old-fashioned collage with cutouts from a magazine, these writers find it helpful to surround themselves with tangible images of their characters and setting. It’s become increasingly popular for authors to create a trailer to use in marketing their books – just one more way of pairing visual cues with the written word to enrich the reading experience.

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I’ve long taken photos to use in tandem with my books, even used my photographs on the front cover of my books for a creative tie-in.

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Then, a friend who’s an artist and the leader of an online group called Shedding Light, challenged the members of the group to paint. I resisted for awhile, thinking I didn’t have the time or the talent. But I’ve always been attracted to artistic expression, collected painting that called out to me, and found peace in having beautiful images in my home. Finally, I gave into my fascination and picked up a brush. The paintings I’ve done so far are all reminiscent of Scotland, the setting of my last 5 books. In June, my husband and I visited several castles in Aberdeenshire, and saw hundreds of sheep and boothies dotting the hills of Skye, so I’m fortunate to be able to paint images that are fresh in my mind. When I start writing Golden Rod, my next Wildflowers of Scotland novel, in earnest, I’ll look back at the paintings I’ve done and let my imagination travel back in time.

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When I’m writing, I’m required to be acutely aware of the pitfalls of using poor grammar, being overly wordy or cliché, not structuring my scenes just so, and a million other infractions that contradict the way a writer is “supposed to write”. When I paint, there are no rules – the more unique, creative, or even bizarre, the better. Painting is my time to let loose, relax, and spontaneously create what I see in my mind’s eye – with no restraints.

 

Which calls out to your heart – visual images or the written word? The ability to use one medium to enhance the other is a gift – and an opportunity not to be missed. The possibilities are as limitless as your imagination.

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(All photos and paintings used in this blog are Sherrie Hansen originals. The credit for my title goes to Michael Card, from his song, That’s What Faith Must Be.)

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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, divide their time between two 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, Shy Violet and Sweet William, her Wildflowers of Scotland novels.

 You can see what Sherrie is up to at: 

https://www.facebook.com/BlueBelleInn

 https://sherriehansen.wordpress.com/

www.BlueBelleInn.com or www.BlueBelleBooks.com

https://twitter.com/SherrieHansen

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

http://www.amazon.com/Sherrie-Hansen/e/B007YXQJ4W/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1

Sherrie’s new release is Sweet William. https://amzn.com/B01H2TUD3U

He’s a real sweetheart. She’s a wee bit tart. When Minnesota farm boy, William McKnight, and sassy Scot, Lyndsie Morris, are forced to work together in the kitchen of Rabbit Hill Lodge, the atmosphere is as charged as an episode of Chopped. Will someone get cut, or will they find a recipe that works? Things just start to get spicy when an angry bull butts his way into the picture, and Lyndsie has to decide if she loves William more than everyone and everything she holds dear.

I think by now, anyone who has followed my travels to Europe or read my Wildflowers of Scotland novels has figured out how I feel about castles. Although it’s a wee bit unusual to see a man in a kilt in the Midwest where I live, I saw an abundance of them at the Minnesota Scottish Fair and Highland Games earlier this month.

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Cows dot the hillsides and valleys all over the countryside in the rural areas of southern Minnesota and northern Iowa that I frequent – castles, not so much.

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While castles and kilts are one of the main reasons I set my most recent novels in Scotland, in Sweet William, I also came home to my Minnesota roots and Midwest connections. And the common denominator is the cow.

My first introduction to the Highlander breed of cows, commonly called Hairy Coo in Scotland, was 9 years ago at a B&B alongside Loch Ness.

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The owner hadn’t fed the coos their dinner for the day, so they were all gathered by the fence, waiting patiently, when we arrived to check in. When I started taking photos, she told me to pay close attention to how thick their hides were. She said they’d had heavy snow a few months earlier, during the cold of winter, and that the 7 or 8 inches that had accumulated on the backs of each coo during the storm stayed exactly where it fell for 2 or 3 weeks, until a stiff wind and warming temperatures finally blew and melted off their white winter coats. Their hides are so thick that not even their body heat melted the snow away. That was my first glimpse into why many hardy breeds of cattle come from the highlands of Scotland.

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I started watching for hairy coo wherever we drove from that point on, and included a scene with a toppled coo in Blue Belle. Michael St. Dawndalyn was embarrassed that he didn’t know more about coo even though he was from Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, deep in the heart of the dairy state.

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That’s only one of the Midwest Connections in the Wildflowers of Scotland novels. Although each of the characters in Wild Rose is native to the UK, beginning with Blue Belle, many of the main characters are from the Midwest.

 

Wisconsinite Michael and Virginia blue belle Isabelle are hiding out, hoping to escape their troubles by settling in a place far, far away from waging tongues and family dramas in their hometowns. When they discover that the world is a much smaller place than they’d thought, and it’s next to impossible to lose yourself in today’s electronic age, they end up back in the US to own up to the messes they were fleeing from.

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Both Violet and Nathan are from America, Nathan on a teacher exchange and Violet, on an ill-fated European Adventure. When they’re both haunted and very nearly destroyed by the past – despite their wish to create a new life for themselves in Scotland – they find that they’re made of stronger stuff than they’d once imagined.

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William, Michael’s cousin from southern Minnesota, appears at the very end of Shy Violet and steals the show with his buttery soft potato rolls and sweet Farm Boy BBQ sauce. The only one who’s not impressed is Rose’s niece, Violet’s friend, Lyndsie, who doesn’t like her meat – or her men – sweet. What happens next is like an episode of Chopped come to life, as sweet William and sassy Lyndsie spar in a charged cook-off.

Calamity strikes just when everything finally seems to come together, and on the other side of the globe, a whole new set of troubles present themselves.

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Scenes set in fictional Blue River, Minnesota and at the Minnesota State Fair will make Midwestern readers feel right at home. Fancy castle or farm house comfortable, there are quirky characters that readers can relate to in each of my Wildflowers of Scotland books.

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When I started researching cattle for Sweet William, I not only learned a lot about Highland cows, but French Charolais, and two other breeds that originated in Scotland – Belted Galloway and Aberdeen Angus. Without really intending it, cows became the unifying factor between Scotland and the United States.

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My nieces and nephew raise cattle and show heifers at their county fair in southern Minnesota, so I had expert advice to draw on. My niece, Victoria, educated me about the different personality traits of various breeds – which are skittish, gentle, or aggressive and likely to be mean, which have horns, and which are polled (hornless), which are able to withstand poor soil, rocky terrains and wet climates, and which produce lean meat and best care for their calves.

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When it comes right down to it, there are likely more differences in cattle than there are in people. Although living conditions, traditions and perspectives may vary from culture and country, I think human nature is pretty consistent from one part of the world to another. A reader recently wrote to me and said, “Boy, you know people. I have been practicing psychology and social work for 45 years and you must have been sitting in the office next to me. You know your stuff!” Whether I’m traveling in or writing about France, Romania, Germany, Denmark, or Scotland, I love observing interactions between people.

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I’ve been told by several readers that when I started writing my Wildflowers of Scotland novels, they missed the local color, familiar places, and quirky Midwestern characters from my first five books, which are all set in Minnesota or Iowa. If you doubt that people are the same everywhere, check out the church ladies in Wild Rose. In the meantime, I hope my local readers are pleased that Sweet William is partially set on a farm in Southern Minnesota. Wherever you’re from in the world, I hope you’ll feel “at home” when you’re reading my books.

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I’ve been hearing Scottish accents in my head for over a decade, and now, after returning from my second trip to Bonnie Scotland, my mind’s eye is just as steeped in images of the highlands and islands I’ve been writing about.

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Our trip was a flurry of wildflowers and walled gardens, castles and keeps, and lochs and legends. My mind is whirling with the characters and construct of a new story, ancient ghosts and curses, and modern day longings and desires set to clash like pitchforks and swords at Culloden.

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One of my characters is the “rightful” heir of a castle and as fascinated and enamored of Scotland as I am, the other is there only because she could find no other way to wiggle out of her duties as the legal heir of a castle she cares nothing about.

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Even more exciting is the sense of déjà vu I feel about the Wildflowers of Scotland books I’ve already written.

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As I spotted each of the wildflowers I’ve featured in Thistle Down, Wild Rose, Blue Belle, Shy Violet, and Sweet William, and the castles and kirks that provide a backdrop for each of the stories, the characters have come to life for me all over again.

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One of the highlights of the trip was the day I left a copy of Shy Violet with a random staff member at Eilean Donan’s Castle Café, where many scenes in the book take place. A few days later, on our way back from the Isle of Skye, we stopped once more to eat lunch. The recipient pulled me aside, and in her delightful Scottish accent, said “I’ve begun to read yer book, and I’m loving it! Ye’re a very good author, and I thank ye so much.”

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The whole time we were at Eilean Donan Castle, I kept catching glimpse of people who looked like Nathan or Violet.

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William and Lyndsie, the stars of Sweet William, felt very close to me when we were on Skye – walking around the mysterious Fairy Glen at Uig, watching the cows graze on Claigon Coral Beach near Dunvegan and dipping a toe in the Fairy Pools at Glenbrittle. Because I know what happens to William while he’s on Skye, I had a deep, sense of foreboding until we were on our way home, and I knew everything was okay.

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There’s a magical connection between Scotland and me. I’m a Blue Belle, and always will be. (For those of you who don’t know me, I have a B&B and Tea House called the Blue Belle Inn.)

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Loving the blue and white Saltire of Scotland is a natural extension of my love of blue.

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If you’ve yet to fall in love with Scotland, I hope you’ll pick up a copy of one of my Wildflowers of Scotland novels and see if the highlands and islands of Scotland resonate with you like they do me.

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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.

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Legends galore, buried treasure, and more…

In the Wildflowers of Scotland novels, that’s what’s in store.

Twenty-four years ago, Sherrie Hansen Decker 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, Shy Violet and Sweet William, her Wildflowers of Scotland novels.

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You can see what’s she’s up to at: 

https://www.facebook.com/BlueBelleInn

 https://sherriehansen.wordpress.com/

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

https://twitter.com/SherrieHansen

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

Sherrie’s new release is Sweet William.

He’s a real sweetheart. She’s a wee bit tart. When Minnesota farm boy, William McKnight, and sassy Scot, Lyndsie Morris, are forced to work together in the kitchen of Rabbit Hill Lodge, the atmosphere is as charged as an episode of Chopped. Will someone get cut, or will they find a recipe that works? Things just start to get spicy when an angry bull butts his way into the picture, and Lyndsie has to decide if she loves William more than everyone and everything she holds dear.

Sweet William Front Cover

Mark and I just returned from a wonderful vacation to Scotland and my mind is reeling with all the things I need to do and catch up on.

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For starters, I approved the cover for Sweet William in the wee hours the night before we left, and it has now been released in both paperback and Kindle versions.

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I will be hosting a online release party for Sweet William on Friday, June 24 on Facebook with prizes and contests. If you’re not already a friend, please join me for a fun virtual celebration. I’m inviting guests from Hawaii, Romania, Scotland, England, Brazil, Germany, Minnesota and more, so you’ll feel right at home no matter where in the world you are.

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If you haven’t already read Thistle Down, Wild Rose, Blue Belle and Shy Violet, now would be a great time to read the whole set!

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I will be guest blogging at Eliza Knight’s blog, For the Love of Books, on Wednesday, June 22, at my publisher’s blog, Indigo Sea Press, on Sunday, June 26, and for Vonda Sinclair at Fierce Romance on Tuesday, June 28.  Watch for my upcoming interview with Author Pat Bertram, too!

I currently have real life book signings, appearances and speaking events set up at the following places:

Thursday, June 23, 2:30 – 6 p.m. Thompson Public Library, Thompson, IA

Saturday, July 9 – Minnesota Scottish Fair and Highland Games, Eagan, MN ?

Sunday, August 28 – 1:30 p.m. Austin Artworks Festival, Austin, MN

Monday, September 12 – 6 – 8 p.m. Hudson Public Library, Hudson, IA

Tuesday, September 20 – Austin Public Library, Austin, MN

Date to be Announced – Sweet Reads, Austin, MN

Sweet William Front Cover

 

 

 

A friend of mine, Iowa author Elaine Marie Cooper, is celebrating the release of her new book today, Promise of Deer Run (Book 2 of Deer Run Saga). I had a chance to read an advance copy, and it’s wonderful!  Here’s my review:

Genuine Characters with Believable Struggles Met With Strong Faith and Hardy Spirits

Promise of Deer Run is a wonderfully written slice of life story set against the backdrop of post-Revolutionary War, colonial America. The characters are loveable and endearing, with very real problems and feelings, concerns, and fears common to any era. Their strong faith and hardy spirits take them through a multitude of struggles. I found myself caring very deeply for Sarah and Nathaniel and their families, and reading quickly to discover the outcome of their trials and see what would happen next. The author gives just enough details and background to make each scene clear and vivid, while keeping the pace moving along at a nice speed. Most important, the characters are genuine and real, and captured my heart. 

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Here’s a little teaser.

The year is 1790.

The American Revolution is long since over, yet the battles still live in the hearts of the survivors.

One young veteran is haunted by the painful memories of war. He still awaits a father who has never returned from battle and feels the sting of betrayal from a former love. He withdraws into his own world, clinging to one hope: Perhaps his father still lives.

Only one person in Deer Run seems to understand him: Nineteen-year-old Sarah Thomsen, who feels a kinship with the loner veteran. She senses the wounds in his spirit as much as she struggles to bury her own traumatic memories of war. And the veteran’s search for his father touches a chord of empathy in Sarah, as she feels the loss of a father she never knew.

While the couple begins to find hope in a mutual affection, others determine to destroy it. Slander and misunderstandings ignite a fire of doubt and mistrust, destroying whatever faith they had in each other.

Can two souls longing for healing and trust love again? Can faith—and a family—be restored?

Author Bio:

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Award winning author Elaine Marie Cooper is the author of Fields of the Fatherless, Bethany’s Calendar and the historical trilogy called the Deer Run Saga. Her passions are her family, her faith in Christ, and the history of the American Revolution. She grew up in Massachusetts, the setting for many of her historical novels.

Her upcoming releases include Saratoga Letters (Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas, October 2016) and Legacy of Deer Run (CrossRiver Media, Dec, 2016)

Cooper has been writing since she penned her first short story at age eleven. She began researching for her first novel in 2007. Her writing has also appeared in Fighting Fear, Winning the War at Home by Edie Melson and the romance anthology, I Choose You. She has also written articles for Prayer Connect Magazine, Splickety Prime Magazine, Better Homes & Gardens, and Life: Beautiful Magazine. She began her professional writing career as a newspaper freelancer.

A guest post from Elaine:

I will never forget my childhood friend named DeDe. She was smart and had a great sense of humor. But that is not the main reason I remember DeDe. She is the one friend in elementary school who taught me about being a friend to the friendless.

There was a girl in our class—I’ll call her Jennifer—who was afflicted with a congenital problem that left her with difficulty speaking, an awkward gait, and an odd look to her face. Jennifer was shunned by most in the school, except for DeDe. She was totally unafraid of what others thought and she made every effort to be kind to Jennifer.  Her bravery caused me to be kind to the shy classmate as well. I admit I was still a bit uncomfortable hanging out with Jennifer, and it took patience on my part to wait until Jennifer could painstakingly speak even just a few words. But DeDe always cheered Jennifer on in her attempts to communicate.  It was such a lesson in kindness to me.

In Promise of Deer Run, the character of Sarah Thomsen befriends the social outcast of the village—Nathaniel Stearns. The young veteran is seven years her senior, but Sarah has memories of the kindness that Nathaniel had extended to her when she was a little girl. It was a kindness never forgotten. Sarah looked past the recluse who seemed so different awaiting the return of his father from war. Many in the town laughed behind Nathaniel’s back. Why would this veteran who frequented the local tavern on a regular basis and who still believed his father was alive, be of a sound mind? Even the churchgoers snickered and avoided him like the plague.

But not Sarah. She saw past the exterior to the heart and soul of Nathaniel Stearns. She dared to speak to him. She dared to befriend the friendless.

It reminds me of DeDe looking past the physical anomalies of Jennifer.

A few years ago a friend from high school told me they found out Jennifer had become a nurse, helping others in their need. I was amazed but pleased—and I remembered DeDe leaving her comfort zone of hanging out with the “cool” kids. I sometimes wonder if DeDe was the one who had given Jennifer hope for a future, years before on the playground at school.

I wonder how many other lives can be changed for the better by befriending the friendless. I pray that I will be the brave one.

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.

Sweet William

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.

Scotland Lighthouse

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.

Baldners Dad

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.

Scotland Bagpipes castle

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/

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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.

Gloria Grandma

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.

Grandma Victoria and Auntie Lu

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.

Blog - KY - Mom and Dad

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.

Pansy

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.

Sweet William

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.”

Sweet William

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.

Backyard - beautiful   BBInn - daffodils

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.

Pictures from phone 9Sept2015 008   Ely - roses

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.

Sherrie library

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.”

love notes dock

“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!”

Sunset - sun

“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.”

 

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Sweet William – New Release!

Shy Violet

Blue Belle

Wild Rose

Thistle Down

Love Notes

Night and Day

Stormy Weather

Water Lily

Merry Go Round

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