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When I first began to write books, I remember saying that I would never write about murder and mayhem – that it just wasn’t in me to dwell on the grisly, gruesome details of such occurrences. These kinds of things were so foreign to my own life, that I couldn’t imagine the characters I concocted even remotely being in a situation where they’d encounter such experiences.  True to my intentions, the most traumatic things my characters in Night and Day, Stormy Weather, Water Lily, and Merry Go Round have to deal with are squabbling siblings, backstabbing friends, insensitive parents, nosy neighbors, troublesome children, minor medical problems, the rare encounter with a wild animal , the occasional disruptive weather emergency, and of course, broken hearts.  Not that lions and tigers and bears – oh, my – tornadoes, and bats in the house can’t  be unnerving, or that unplanned pregnancies, nasty exes, finding out your husband is gay or being betrayed by someone you trust  can’t be demoralizing, but you get my point. Nothing really bad or evil came close to touching my characters.  No one died. No one was hurt so badly that they couldn’t be fixed. Nothing unbearable happened.

With the release of Love Notes and Wild Rose, my readers saw a slight shift to a more suspenseful mode – bad guys that were truly bad, a kidnapping, gunshots, murder.  I’d crossed a line. I think that part of it was that my own reading tastes changed. Several of my favorite authors changed over from romance to suspense / thrillers and I went along for the ride. I read new authors, like Second Wind’s Christine Husom, who writes about comfortable, folksy Midwesterners like me who suddenly find themselves dealing with murdered parents and dismembered bodies in cornfields and cults in their backyards, and does it with dignity and aplomb.  Sadly, I think some of it is that the world has turned into such a crazy place that I can now clearly envision my characters having run-ins with evil, despite their best efforts to steer clear of it. As awful occurrences get more and more prevalent, it’s easier and easier for my imagination to “go there”.

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So what are your thoughts? How do you account for our fascination with the morbid? I hear over and over again from readers that they’re not “into” romance, but that they love to read gritty mysteries and thriller or suspense novels. If you’re one of my readers, are you glad I’m inching towards the unthinkable? (Not to worry – there are still plenty of sweet, romantic moments in my books for those of you with tender hearts. ) Any of you who have read all of my books probably also noticed a shift from steamy to not so much. When I made this switch, I expected accolades, and have instead heard from many who are disappointed that I stopped crossing that squiggly line.  It’s interesting to me that while some readers find my steamy scenes offensive, they seem to have no trouble with reading about violent, evil people and the situations that ensue because of their hatefulness. Personally, if I’m going to “clutter” my mind with one thing or another, I’d rather it be with something I think of as beautiful and natural rather than deeds and actions that are ugly and perverse.

What do you think? Have we opened a can of worms with our mysterious fascination with the morbid? Does the art of writing and reading about it quell our fears or feed them? Does it give you a sense of triumphing over evil, or give you pause for fear we are planting the seeds of further evil? Do you feel anxious and terrified after reading a book where horrible things happen to good people, or do you feel inspired by people who get life’s worst thrown at them and live to tell the story?

I always illustrate my blogs with appropriate photos, so here is the most dark, foreboding photo I could find with it’s cheery, upbeat counterpart. Which would you rather read about?

Photo80Scotland - sheep

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Hard as I’ve tried to crop out my big, unsightly arms and hold my chin high and my stomach taut when posing for and posting photos on the world wide web, I’m sure it’s no secret that I struggle with my weight.

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Just last weekend, I posed for a photo on the front porch of the Blue Belle Inn, the B&B I’ve owned for 22 years, with a group of published authors who were here for a Writer’s Retreat, without putting on my trademark hat. Besides the fact that I love hats and I’m told they look particularly cute on me, I use them to camouflage a head of hair that I’m decidedly not fond of,  So there it is. There were at least 6 or 8 cameras being snapped as I stood, blissfully unaware of how I looked at that precise moment – I can hardly delete every instance of a photo that’s already appeared on Facebook, in blogs, and on the front page of at least one local newspaper.

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Being less than confident about the way we look is a familiar struggle for not only women, but men who are starting to inch past their prime. One of my heroines, Michelle from Water Lily, and the middle sister from my Maple Valley trilogy, is so down on the way she looks that it almost costs her the love of her life. But the vast majority of my female characters – Jensen from Night and Day, Rae from Stormy Weather, Tracy from Merry Go Round, and Hope from Love Notes – are quite comfortable in their skin, They’re not necessarily beauty queens, but most of the time, they feel pretty and confident about the way the world sees them.

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Tommy Love, in Love Notes, is in the midst of a full-blown mid life crisis, and hates that he’s no longer the teen idol, heart throb he was on his first album cover. Rose,  in Wild Rose, is mortified to have been inadvertently captured on Pastor Ian’s video in the midst of a passionate romp under the flying buttresses, but it’s more about half of Scotland seeing her next to naked than it is her BMI.

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Just as my characters feelings about themselves vary, I have readers who range from skinny to obese, young, with full heads of hair, to aging and half (or all the way) bald. I have readers who run marathons, climb mountains and bicycle across entire states, some who have had weight loss surgery to attain their desired weight, and those who range from pleasingly plump to hating the way they look – some for good reason, and others, because they simply can’t see how beautiful they really are.

So, my question for my readers as I sculpt characters for Blue Belle and Shy Violet (The next installments of my Wildflowers of Scotland novels) is – do you appreciate and empathize with a somewhat homely or otherwise flawed character who struggles with their weight or other physical attributes they’re not fond of, or when reading, do you prefer to escape into the world (dreamworld?) of a young or perfectly aged character who loves the way they look?

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Two of my favorite characters of all time from the Little House on the Prairie books, and Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy Tacy books, endeared themselves to me, at least in part, because of their physical foibles – the seemingly unable to stay tidy and prim and proper looking for longer than 10 minutes Laura, with her sunbonnet dangling around her neck and the resulting freckles she got from being out in the sunshine, and Betsy, with the much detested space between her front teeth that she so often rued. I could relate, and oh, how I loved them for their imperfections – because they mirrored my own.

To those of you who are beautiful people, or at least confident in the way you appear and unfazed by physical imperfections – do you lose patience with a character who periodically bemoans the way they look, or do you find yourself drawn to their insecurities and rooting for the underdog?

Just curious!

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Daybreak – New Release! (Sequel to Night & Day)

Night and Day

Golden Rod

Sweet William

Shy Violet

Blue Belle

Wild Rose

Thistle Down

Love Notes

Stormy Weather

Water Lily

Merry Go Round

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