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There’s an old expression in our family – you didn’t learn that from strangers – that I’ve heard said many times over the course of my life.  Some people say, well, that nut didn’t fall far from the tree. Same idea. When I was 9 or 10, I thought I was so different from the rest of my family that I must surely be adopted. Now that I’m a bit older, I can see how closely certain personality traits passed down through generations of Hansens, Lightlys, Paulsons, and Millers are intertwined, and how much they’ve affected who I am and how I live my life.

Danish Girl

My family history and the tales of my growing up years may not be as story-worthy as Laura Ingalls Wilder’s, but our Little House on the Big Farm was bursting with colorful characters that have and continue to impact my life in ways I’m both oblivious to and very aware – the perfect storm of nature and nurture. I feel a great sense of connectedness to prior generations of my family, especially since moving back from Colorado Springs to northern Iowa / southern Minnesota where I grew up. Here are 10 things I didn’t learn from strangers.

Food - Black Forest

1. Cooking Up a Storm:  I started out the week making a big batch of Grandma Hansen’s Chicken Pie with Grandma Victoria’s Baking Powder Biscuits dropped on top for a church gathering at the Blue Belle Inn. Later in the week, I found a family recipe for Scottish Ginger Snaps in a cookbook and made them at a cooking seminar. Grandma had labeled them “Grandma’s Ginger Snaps” which means it was my great-great grandma’s recipe. Whether it was Grandma Vic’s famous Sunday roast beef dinners and homemade apple pie, or whatever goodies Grandma Hansen happened to be cooking up for her family, neighbors, or the occasional thrashing crew, I was taught how to cook it up right. And make lots of it. Besides, it was either stay inside and cook, or go out and drive tractor, which I did not like to do.

baby-blue-cinderella

2. No Matter How Tired You Are, There’s Always Time for a Bedtime Story – or Two, or Three:  Sitting around during the day, reading, when you should be working, is frowned upon in our family ;-), but at bedtime, that all changes. My Grandma Hansen was one of the best storytellers I know, and her funny voices for the Little Red Hen, the Big Bad Wolf, and the Three Little Pigs still play themselves over and over in my mind. I follow the lessons learned even today, working hard at my bed and breakfast all summer and fall, making hay while the sun shines, and telling stories – writing novels – in the winter when things are slow.

Iowa - sunset 2010

3. Being Stubborn Has Its Perks:  Danes (I’m half Danish) are a stubborn lot. But along with sheer willfulness, which can be a bad thing, comes tenacity and dodged persistence and stick-to-itiveness and the very building blocks that have helped me achieve my goals, get published, run a successful business and more. Don’t be a quitter. Never give up. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again. Remember the Little Engine That Could saying I think I can, I think I can, over and over again until he could and did? Zion - Sunflower 2013 Sun

4. Keep Looking Up:  My Great-Grandma Paulson wrote these profound words in my autograph book when I was ten or eleven. I knew what she meant – keep your eyes on Jesus. It’s the first rule, and the thing that makes everything else come together.

Mopar

5. Mopars Rule:  Okay, so I strayed from the fold when I was young and foolish. We try to forget those years… the Toyota Corolla, the Mazda 323. Today, I’m back where I belong. I drive a PT Cruiser. My brother drives a Dodge Ram. My parents are on their third or fourth Chrysler mini-van. What can I say? We all tend to vote the same way on election day, too.

Scotland flowers by the sea

6. Getting Something for Nothing is One of the Greatest Joys on Earth:  Found treasures, whether they be bargains or cast-offs nobody wanted bought for a little bit of nothing at a Crazy Day sale, or simple gifts from the earth like agates or fossils or a pretty red maple leaf pressed flat in a book or a little cluster of acorns, are some of the best things in life. If you haven’t tried it, you should – still. The Hansen way to thrill-seek.

Scotland Fishing Shack

7. One Man’s Trash is Another Man’s Treasure:  I can’t walk like an Egyptian (good dancing genes do not run in our family), but I can talk like an auctioneer, or at least I could when I was little. My Grandpa Hansen took me to so many auctions that I picked up the lingo. More importantly, I learned about repurposing and adaptive reuse, and refinishing, and respect for the past – all things that hold me in good stead even today. I grew up snuggling under quilts made from worn out wool suits, watching Grandma working in aprons and wearing dresses made from flour and feed sacks. Water was used at least five times before it was thrown out on the garden to make the strawberry patch grow. And yes, I firmly believe that tin foil has three or four lives. And you should ask me some day about the things my Dad makes with discarded doors. Waste not, want not.

KY - staircase

8. Worrying Doesn’t Help, But We Do It Anyway:  There are several genes that I wish I had gotten from my family, but didn’t – the Fix-It Gene, and the Green Thumb Gene, for example. I did, however, get the Worry Wart Gene. I try not to succumb, but if you’ve got it, you’ve got it.

Food - Cookies Noah

9.  The Compulsion To Have 10 of Something When You Really Only Have 9:  This one was my husband’s idea. I think the word he’s looking for is perfectionism. He’s right. In my world, everything needs to be just so. Neat. Tidy. Even Numbers. It’s a disease.  But seriously, if you’re going to do something, why not do it right?

HansenFamily2

10.  The Family That Prays Together, Stays Together:  It was very important to my Grandma Hansen that we cousins got to play together. She facilitated countless family get-togethers and events where we were all together. Our family isn’t perfect – we have our share of black sheep, and family members who go their own way. But when we go to Mom and Dad’s for Thanksgiving and Christmas, it’s a joyous occasion, sharing not only food, but memories, and laughing about things we did when we were kids. The more nieces and nephews who show up, the better. I’m thankful that the glue that holds our family together is good and sticky. I think it’s called love, and I come by it naturally.

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Okay – I’ll be honest. Part of the reason I write contemporary romantic suspense as opposed to historical is that I don’t have the time or inclination to do research. It’s not that I don’t enjoy history or investigating the past. And it’s not that I’m lazy – really. It’s simply that I’m already stretched so thin that I simply don’t have time. I own and operate a B&B and Tea House called the Blue Belle Inn, and I’m a pastor’s wife in a different town, 85 miles away. I play the piano at church with a traveling band of musicians, and I’m very involved in the lives of my family. I write on the run whenever I have a spare second, often with my laptop propped on the door of the glove compartment while my husband drives us between our two homes. If I had to stop and do extensive research on a specific time period or worry about maintaining historical accuracy, I’m convinced I’d never finish anything.

BBI - Spring 2012  Zion 2013 Sunset shadows

To keep things simple, I try to write about locations I’ve been to or lived in, and occupations or fields I’ve worked in or been trained to do. I’m less likely to make silly mistakes that way. I’ve had characters who are Realtors (I’m licensed in the state of Colorado), interior designers, quilters, farmers, pastors, home renovators, and business owners in Minnesota, Iowa, California and Colorado – all things and places that are intimately familiar to me. No matter – it still takes an immense amount of time to research and validate facts, even for familiar scenarios.

Iowa - sunset 2010

Part of the problem is that my characters somehow seem to acquire minds of their own. Tommy Love giving up on building his dream house in northern Minnesota and buying a beachfront property in central California in “Love Notes” is one good example of a character who went traipsing off in different directions, pulling “my” story and stretching “my” plotline to include things that I never would have thought of on my own, and attempting actions and activities I’d never dare try. What could I do? I was invariably forced to follow his lead, searching for those tidbits of knowledge I was lacking to keep the story grounded and authentic.

Cal - Rachel SS

When I started writing “Blue Belle”, I had never been to Tobermory or the Isle of Mull, or even Scotland. When I finally set foot on the island, I had a strange sense of déjà vu because I was already so well acquainted with the place via the internet. One night, while I was sitting on a bench near the harbor, a woman walked by that looked exactly like I’d always envisioned Isabelle, my main character. It was eerie! I also had to change an entire scene that had Isabelle blithely scooting around Mull on her bicycle when I discovered how hilly the island is. It’s a very steep climb from the harbor street to the top of the hill where our B&B was!

67 Scotland - Tobermory 5

Scoping out a location is only the beginning. I spent almost an entire day researching European chocolates for Blue Belle. When I was in Mull, I even had to go to Tobermory Chocolates to taste their famous Rose and Violet Cream Chocolates. You know, so I could describe them accurately. I had to take tea at the Willow Tea Room in Glasgow, try Victoria Sponge with buttercream and berries and Mini-Battenbergs layered with almond paste, moist cake, and apricot jam, and sample Sticky Toffee Pudding with Caramel Whiskey Sauce.  Not that it stops with the sweets. I had to taste pub grub – things like Cumberland Mash and Cottage Pie with  Thatched Roof  and Smoked Haddock Pie with Mashed Potatoes – at locations all over Scotland. And, I had to stay at several B&B’s so I could experience an authentic Scottish breakfast. Yes, we authors are forced to spend our time laboring over many such unsavory tasks. I spent a huge amount of time looking for Scottish slang, phrases, and speech idioms that would define and give depth and reality to my characters and their conversations, yet be understandable to the average American reader. I researched castles and keeps, Cromwell’s practice of slighting, and the art of building with stones in both Scotland and Oconomowoc, Wisconsin.

73 Scotland - Tobermory Chocolate

Isabelle is a journalist, so part of my research involved investigating the facts behind each of the stories she was working on in the book, from Mad Cow and hoof and mouth to puffins and vultures, a Celtic bathing pool, and the centuries-old gold some people believe is still buried on a sunken Spanish galleon in Tobermory Bay.

82 Scotland Bathing Pool

The thing I like least about research is that I’ve already learned some things the hard way, which, sadly, means I already know everything I need to know about them without doing a single Google search. The thing I love most about researching is that once you start looking for specific answers to certain questions, you discover amazing things that lead you in completely new directions that then become fodder for your plot, and on and on in an explosive chain reaction of knowledge. It’s fascinating!

WI2 - Thistle

One of the things I’ve always loved about reading books is the new worlds that are opened up to me as I see a place or situation through the eyes of each character. Being an author has stretched me even more. Research can seem like a necessary evil at times, and a thrill at others. But no matter how hectic my schedule is or how bad my attitude about having to jump out of the story and take the time to chase down facts and figures, research is a great opportunity to learn more things, broaden your perspective, and see the world in a different light.

117 Scotland Castle Statue

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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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