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Sometimes a story is born of a place – an exotic locale tugs at your heart, captures your imagination, and you are off and running. I had that experience at St. Conan’s Kirk on Loch Awe, in Argyle, Scotland a few years ago.  The book I’m working on right now, Wild Rose of Scotland, practically plotted itself while I stood under the flying buttresses in the church yard and wandered through the lofty stone church.

The same thing happened to me in Florida a couple of winters ago. A trip to the Everglades followed by a brief excursion to the Pink Palace, a 1920’s era hotel on St. Pete’s Beach, and my mind started swimming with kidnapped heiresses and gangsters and missing ransom and a double cross and alligators and crocodiles and a canoe slipping through the swamp grasses and voila! A story was hatched.

At other times, a story comes void of a location. When I first started dreaming about Isabelle MacAllister and Michael St. Dawndalyn in Blue Belle of Scotland, I had never been to Scotland. My characters were firmly etched in my mind, but they needed a home. I researched several different Scottish villages online and fell in love with Tobermory, Scotland, on the Isle of Mull. When I finally got to visit Tobermory, Blue Belle of Scotland was already written.

A strange sense of deja vu followed me around the island from the moment the ferry docked at Craignure and we drove our rental car out of the hull of the ship. Seeing places that I had researched and written about was thrilling – and a bit weird. There were odd circumstances come to life, things that I couldn’t possibly have known but nailed perfectly – a woman walking towards me on the street who looked exactly like my mental image of Isabelle. I loved it! In an odd sort of way, it felt like home.

Love Notes, my latest, released earlier this summer, was born of characters and stories of old lodges and honeymoon cabins and music and contentment, a jumble of experiences and tales told to me by my Aunt Pat and Uncle Frank when we were visiting them at their cabin on Bear Island Lake, in northern Minnesota.

Rainbow Lake Lodge, the fictional setting of Love Notes, is a figment of my imagination, a conglomerate of lodges I’ve visited in Yosemite National Park and on Prince Edward Island, Canada, with a good dose of Burntside Lodge, Ely, MN mixed in.

Tommy Love needed humble beginnings with a Mayberry RFD flavor, where everybody not only knows your name,but everything else about you – for 5 generations back. They needed to be Minnesota nice and a little quirky, too. Ely, bustling with tourists and newcomers panning for gold, was a little too big and upscale to be a good fit. That’s when I decided Embarrass, MN was a perfect match for my cast of characters. Love Notes was nearly finished by that time, so I went back and researched Embarrass, then changed the story until it fit.

This past week, I visited Embarrass for the first time in several decades. Again, I had a a sense of deja vu as I matched digital pictures to real locations. I had a few tense moments, too. It is about five miles from the “Welcome to Embarrass” sign and any semblance of the town. I was starting to feel – well, a little embarrassed, thinking I had written about a town that didn’t exist, when we finally found the town hall. From there, it was another 5 or so miles to the outskirts of the actual town, and another mile or two to the  bank (credit union) and welcome center. The expression “Don’t blink, or you’ll miss it”, is very appropriate in the case of Embarrass.

When I started introducing myself as an author who had written a book set in Embarrass, I was thrilled to find I’d made precisely the right choice of locations. I’d soon had lovely chats with Diane, the city clerk, who bought my last copy of Love Notes, the friendly hostesses and resident poet at the Nelimark Homestead House, and Pat, the delightful hostess at Homespun Acres – an antique and gift shop in a barn – and Northern Comfort B&B.

In true Minnesota fashion, in mere minutes of meeting these folks, I knew where they were from, what year their grandparents had homesteaded their farms, and how they arrived in Embarrass, among other fascinating tidbits. Definite material for a sequel should I ever choose to write one. I left with warm memories, new friends, a bond and a few treasures from the antique shop. I didn’t confess that I am half Danish instead of Finnish, but I felt a tie to Embarrass regardless.

Storybook settings, whether born in the first moments of inspiration or researched  in retrospect, are a crucial element in any story. If you ever have the chance to visit Embarrass, Minnesota, I would urge you to go and immerse yourself in the local color for a day or two – or maybe take in a Finnish sauna at the Northern Comfort B&B. If it isn’t likely you’ll get up that way anytime soon, I hope you’ll read Love Notes. Better yet, I hope that when you turn the last page, you’ll feel like you’ve been to Embarrass. I’m happy to say I have been.

We recently returned from a mid-winter’s vacation to sunny Florida. I can’t tell you how fun it was to see water that was unfrozen, grass that was green, and flowers that were blooming after living in an all-white tundra for the past three months.

While we were there, we made a trip to the Everglades, which was described by our tour guide as a microcosm of life on earth. If all is well in the Everglades, all is evidently well on earth. Walking among the alligators and seeing hundreds of water birds living in the shallow swamp that is the Everglades did inspire many allegories in my mind, and my husband’s. So for my blog today, I’m borrowing a page from my husband’s sermon (he’s a pastor). He used my photos in his power point earlier today; I’m using his idea.

In this picture, the focus is on the leaves. They’re pretty, they’re green, they’re alive, they’re good, but as you can see in the second photo, they’re not what’s really important in this picture!

So often in life, we focus on the little things, to the detriment of what’s really important. As Christians, we may focus on squabbling denominations, political and religious issues, rites and rituals, and forget about what’s really important – grace, forgiveness, atonement, serving a Savior sent to die for our sins.   As people, we may focus on Facebook, checking our email, fixing dinner, getting our errands done and our bills paid and doing a million other things that may be good and well in their own right, but are distractions nonetheless. As writers, we may focus on promotions, classes, conferences, sales statistics, and current industry trends, and forget to write the best book we know how to write.

In today’s lesson at church, the Apostle Paul was so busy focusing on what he thought was important – sticking with the program, defending his religion against the new Christian zealots who claimed that Jesus was the Messiah, trying to keep things the way they’d always been – that he almost failed to see the alligator looming front and center, refusing to be ignored.

What are the leaves in your own life? What’s keeping you from seeing the alligator? If we open our eyes and look past the leaves that are cluttering our view and distracting us from seeing the bigger picture, we will be able to focus on what’s really important.

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Seaside Daisy – NEW RELEASE

NEW RELEASE!

Daybreak (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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