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I grew up in a home where we were taught “If you can’t find something nice to say about something, don’t say anything at all.” This bit of wisdom seemed like good advice then – and still does now.

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But somewhere along the way, the world changed, and now, everybody’s a critic. I see it on shows like Chopped, The Taste, The Voice, and Dancing with the Stars, where judges nitpick over tiny imperfections, and criticize and compare what the contestants bring to the table ad nauseam.

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I grew up in a world where there were defined winners, but doing your best, and working as hard as you could to be the best you could be, was both admirable and praiseworthy.

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The generation that followed mine strayed in the direction of skipping rankings altogether, of not giving any grades beyond a satisfactory rating, and passing out participation ribbons instead of purple, blue, red and white. They didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings or damage anyone’s fragile self-esteem. Now, we’ve gone so far in the opposite direction – we’re so hyper competitive – that it’s scary. Nothing’s ever good enough. It’s all about being the best, better than, a notch above, a perfect 10, a fraction of a point ahead of the other competitors.

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Even more frightening is the fact that we routinely ditch the opinions of qualified judges, food critics, teachers and editors along with their years of experience and training, instead opting to give the vote to ordinary Joes. We vote to save the contender we like the best with live tweets and text messages and special apps. We, the people, hold the power.

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Consumers make decisions on which books to read, which hotel, B&B, or restaurants to stay at or eat at based on what unaccredited strangers post on Yelp, Trip Advisor, or Angie’s List. We review people’s performance on eBay and Airbnb. We rate products and services on Amazon.com and e-pinions and hundreds of other websites. Some of these posts are honest, genuine, thoughtfully written assessments. But there are also overly harsh reviews from drama queens, people trying to get hits, whiners, complainers, obnoxious know-it-alls and yes, liars. And we listen to them, take their advice to heart, and chart our course of action based on what they say.

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These days, every time I walk into my kitchen at the B&B and tea house I own and operate, I feel like I’m on an episode of Chopped… the stress, the clock ticking down, the feeling that if I don’t deliver a product that’s not only beyond reproach, but exemplary – in record time – I will be chopped from the list of restaurants my clients frequent and recommend. Is it just my imagination, or are my customers picking apart every detail of my culinary efforts, second guessing my choice of cheeses, the seasoning I used on my chicken breasts, and the amount of Parmesan I sprinkle on top of my casseroles? Did one flavor overpower another? Did I plate too hurriedly? Did I commit any one of a multitude of culinary sins when I envisioned and created my menu?

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I’ve had far more complimentary reviews than bad when it comes to my B&B and tea house, and my books, but every negative comment is like a dagger in my heart, sometimes because the remarks are unfair, untrue, and unjust, and other times, sadly, because what my critics have written is a valid criticism.

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Our expectations are so high, our standards so close to perfection that it’s almost impossible to please. I’ve read a few early works of my favorite, big-name authors and found in many cases that the writing is amateurish, lacking in basic writing skills, and what would generally be considered sub-standard in today’s world. To be frank, there is no way these books would ever be published in today’s hyper-critical world. And what a tragedy that would have been, to shoot them down before they had a chance to grow and bloom and shine.

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Is there a place in today’s world for a thin-skinned, people-pleasing author/restaurateur/ innkeeper who craves positive attention and compliments? My husband gets a yearly performance review – I get one every time someone opens one of my books or eats at my tea house or stays at my B&B. And the thing is, there’s not a pillow or mattress or book on earth that will please everyone, because some like it hot, and some like it cold, or firm or soft, or spicy or mild, or big or small. And no matter how wonderful our stories are, not everyone is going to resonate with our characters or get into our plot line.

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I was told early on that you had to have thick skin to survive as an author. I was also told that it takes 10 positive comments to make up for one negative. I get hundreds of verbal compliments and affirmations every week, in person, and on social media. Why is it that the people with complaints never seem to speak to you directly, or give you a chance to correct the problem, but instead, chose to publicly humiliate and damage your reputation online? And why is it that those dear people who pay me compliments tend to do it privately instead of shouting it from the rooftops, as I would selfishly prefer?

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What I’d like to suggest is that we all learn to look on the bright side. No situation – no traveling, dining or reading experience – is perfect. Most generally, the flaws lie in things that are beyond our control. Not to say that we shouldn’t speak up if something is grievously wrong, but in each situation we’re faced with, we have an option of focusing on the negative or the positive. If you choose the positive and look for the bright spots, the silver lining, and the good that can be found, you will be happier by far. So will I. 🙂 The negative? Try letting those irksome little foibles roll off your back. If you can’t find something good to say, then say nothing at all.

Now, if you have something good to say about me, my books, my tea house or my B&B, please consider posting a positive review at whatever online sites you frequent. In this Chopped world, the gift of praise is so appreciated, and much needed. Ever so humbly… Sherrie

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Shy Violet should be available in e-formats very shortly. Thank you for your patience!

Pat Bertram Introduces . . .

Shy VioletThis is my fourth interview with Pat Bertram, on the occasion of the release of my new Wildflowers of Scotland novel, Shy Violet, coming May 1st from Second Wind Publishing. Thanks so much for all you do to promote our work, Pat!

You’re welcome, Sherrie. I’m always glad to do what I can to help. But we’re here to talk about you and your new book. What is Shy Violet about?

When a poor choice and some wild fluctuations in the space time continuum leave school teacher Violet Johansen stranded in the car park of Eilean Donan Castle in Scotland, Violet wonders if she’ll ever find her way back to her comfort zone. She has two choices – to trust a piper who looks exactly like someone she dated a decade ago, or a band of nefarious pirates. Pirates. Pipers. People and mistakes from the past that threaten to haunt…

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Some asked me a few days ago whatever made me want to write books set in Scotland.

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Night and Day, my first book, is set in Minnesota and Denmark. (It’s midnight in Minnesota and Daybreak in Denmark…)

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My next three books, Stormy Weather, Water Lily and Merry Go Round, the Maple Valley trilogy, were set in Iowa, my adopted state, and Minnesota, my home state. The backdrops for these stories required no research, since I grew up here and have lived here most of my life. Love Notes is set in Embarrass and Ely, Minnesota, where Mark’s aunt and uncle own a cabin on a lake that we often visited.

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And then, I took a long,very out-of-the way detour to Loch Awe, Argyle (Thistle Down and Wild Rose), Tobermory, Isle of Mull (Blue Belle), and Eilean Donan Castle, near Skye (Shy Violet) all in Scotland.

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So, why the fascination with Scotland? Why do I write books set in Scotland, and more important, why should you read a book set in Scotland? If you’ve been across the pond to visit Bonnie Scotland, I probably don’t need to say another word. You understand. Or, perhaps I should just say Sean Connery or “Jamie Fraser” and leave it at that. For those of you who still need convincing, I’ll do my best.

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The History:  A sunken Spanish galleon, fully loaded with gold, castles – ravaged and rebuilt, crumbling and re-crafted, standing stones and shifting borders, Roman ruins and Viking invaders, Celtic legends, kilts and clans. No offense to the dear Iowans I live amongst, but these things are a wee bit more intriguing to me than cornfields and cattle. Scotland’s multi-faceted history lays the groundwork for tantalizing plot lines.

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The People:  The thing about people is that they’re very likely the same no matter where they live. Sure, people have their quirks, and those quirks may be different depending on the place you live, but there are basics of the human condition that are consistent no matter where you go in the world. Read Wild Rose and tell me that church ladies aren’t church ladies no matter where you go. That said, Scots are much like the Minnesotans I grew up with – hardy and able to thrive despite harsh climates, caring, generous and giving, friendly, thrifty and a bit stubborn at times. Maybe it’s our common Nordic and Celtic ancestry?

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The Scenery:  Mountains, seashores with white, sandy beaches, lighthouses, age-old castles, half-timbered buildings, ancient ruins, formal and quaint cottage gardens, birds, wildlife and wildflowers, ancient villages, grazing sheep, green pastures, lochs, heather in the highlands, rainbow-colored waterfronts reflected in the harbors… I could go on… You may not have been to Scotland, may never be able to go, but trust me – it’s a beautiful corner of the world and you’ll enjoy seeing it through my eyes or the eyes of another writer of Scottish novels. Have a wee nip and come along for the ride.

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Why Not? Who knows exactly what prompts a writer to write a particular character, storyline or setting? When it happens, you don’t argue. You bask in the sweet passion of inspiration, thank your muse for what he or she has laid on your heart to write about, and go with it.

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I could go on about the food, the delightful Scottish accent, pubs, teahouses, the cute names Scots have for everything, and all the other reasons I love Scotland, but I think you get the picture. The fact is, I love going on a little mini-vacation in my mind each and every time I return to the Isle of Mull, Argyle, or Skye for another Wildflowers of Scotland novel.

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Part of my fascination with Scotland is probably a form of escape. I know about the problems, deficiencies, and irksome idiosyncrasies of my own country, state, town, and backyard. It’s much easier to paint an idyllic scene of my own imagination with only the problems I want included in my plot than to face the boring, mundane conditions of my own world. I can ignore pesky things that might drag me down and let my imagination run wild. It’s easier to do that when I’m writing about Scotland.

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Coming Soon from Second Wind Publishing

Once, when I showed someone I’d met in Scotland a photo of the B&B I own in northern Iowa, they said, “It looks like something straight from the pages of a fairytale, like a place I’ve always dreamed of.” Well, for me, Scotland is the place I’ve always dreamed of – the land of my fathers, the place where I can run to and embrace with my imagination. Reach out your arms and think Celtic love knots, fairy glens and stone cottages with thatched roofs. Start with Thistle Down, and then read Wild Rose, Blue Belle, and Shy Violet. Common wildflowers in an uncommon land. I hope you’ll join me!

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From Author Sheila Deeth, on the Wildflowers of Scotland novels:  A cool blend of mystery, humor, suspense and romance, and wholly believable, delightfully flawed characters is genuinely enticing in this wild romp through the Scottish countryside with Sherrie Hansen.  Evocative, sensitive, sensible and sweet, these are tales with plenty of action and adventure, making a truly lovely read.

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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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