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Late summer is a golden time of year. Fields and ditches are full of goldenrod, tansy and black-eyed Susans blossoms shining bright in the sunlight. Springtime blues, lavenders and pinks gradually give way and are outshined by the yellow gold hues of early fall.

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… Just one reason why late summer is the perfect time to read Golden Rod, my latest Wildflowers of Scotland novel.

Golden Rod

When I first chose to name my new book Golden Rod, I had a flurry of people tell me that they were allergic to goldenrod, and associated  the flower with sneezing and feeling like their head was going to explode.

Golden Rod bird

My research shows that allergies to goldenrod are very rare, since it is not airborne, and that people who suffer allergy symptoms this time of year are more likely affected by ragweed, which blooms at the same time.

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Although I can truly promise you nothing by pleasant sensations if you read Golden Rod, this brings me to a related topic – why some of you think you are allergic to reading romance novels. Here are some of the reasons I hear from romance reading skeptics:

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Fallacy #1:  Romance novels are for women. I’m a guy.

My Response:  Don’t let my flowery titles fool you. My novels all have two perspectives, two point of view voices – one male and one female. My books are not about women living in a fantasy world – they’re about men and women struggling along in a very real world. Their differing attitudes, perspectives, feelings, needs and approaches to problem-solving provide my books with stimulating conflict, movement within the plotlines, and differences of opinion. I’ve had many men tell me how much they enjoyed my books, and one couple who even argued over who got to read it first.

Golden Rod 2017

Fallacy #2:  Romance novels are shallow, dumbed down versions of the literary novels I enjoy.

My Response: A reviewer who’s a very intelligent mathematician called my novels “the thinking women’s romance.” Doctors, lawyers, and professors have written telling me they enjoyed my books. My characters are complex and my novels include complicated situations and scenarios worthy of readers who like books that stimulate their intellect and emotions.

Golden Rod Cattails

Fallacy #3:  I like action and adventure novels, thrillers and mysteries.

My Response: Today’s romance novels can and do include all of the above. My books have included murders, sex-crimes, scams, thefts, kidnappings, and all kinds of deceitful goings on. They also include romance, but love definitely isn’t the only thing between the covers (no pun intended).

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Fallacy #4:  Romance novels are full of graphic sex scenes.

My Response: I’ve written on this topic previously. Some of my books have love scenes and some don’t. When love scenes are included, they’re not gratuitous, they’re there for a reason. They’re a necessary part of the plot. They’re also sweet, tender and satisfying. Sometimes, they’re even humorous. And just like real life, lovemaking is rife with consequences.

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Fallacy #5:  Romance novels are filled with overly dramatic, shirtless bodybuilders and low-bodiced, big-busted heroines who I can’t relate to.

My Response:  My books are set in modern times and my characters are as real as you are. Some are good-looking, others not. They have flaws and frustrations and quirks just like all of us do. That’s what makes them so lovable and most importantly, believable.

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So let me recommend this trusted cure for allergies. Expose yourself to just a little bit, then, gradually a little more, until your discomfort disappears. I’d be delighted if you’d try just one of my Wildflowers of Scotland novels, and Golden Rod is a great place to start. If you like it, you can read more.  Hopefully, you will find that you enjoy my romantic suspense novels.

Golden Rod Flood Bay 2017

What have you got to lose? Enjoy the goldtones of late summer, and don’t be afraid to read a new book or a new author.

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You’ll find beauty in all kind of unexpected locations.

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Although my Wildflowers of Scotland books are contemporary, I always find a way to weave in a wee bit of history… an old kirk with architectural and religious artifacts gone missing, a sunken Spanish galleon filled with gold that was never recovered, a castle with a melancholy history all its own, or the Isle of Skye’s magical Fairy Glen. In GOLDEN ROD, I incorporated a touch of history via a 500-year-old castle that was cursed by a traveling minister when the owners refused his blessing, preferring to wait for the prayers of a Catholic priest.  At least, that’s what legend holds, and it would seem the legends are true, since no eldest son has ever inherited Lachlan Castle – not once in 500 years.

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From GOLDEN ROD:

A traveling Protestant minister who liked to speak in rhymes leveled the curse when the MacKenzie clan refused his blessing, preferring to wait until a Catholic priest could dedicate the newly built edifice.

Oh Lachlan, ye’re on shifting sand.

Nae eldest son shall have a hand

In furth’ring hist’ry on this land.

In the history of the castle, no eldest son has succeeded his father as heir of Lachlan Castle.

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All kinds of tragedies have transpired as a result of the minister’s curse, including ghosts Laird Valan MacKenzie and Lady Rosemary being stranded at Lachlan for over 500 years.

A ghost dressed in full Highland attire roams the castle and grounds at Lachlan, on the shores of Loch Carron. A favorite of locals, Laird Valan MacKenzie so desperately wanted a son to pass the castle on to that he may have taken his wife’s life when she bore him nothing but daughters. Laird Valan’s version of the event was that his wife tripped and fell to her death despite his best efforts to save her. Many a guest has seen Laird Valan’s kilt, plaid, and sporran. Legend has it that Valan will haunt the castle until an ancient curse is broken.

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I won’t ask if you believe in ghosts because it doesn’t matter. GOLDEN ROD is a work of fiction, so all I’m asking you to do is to suspend your disbelief while you’re reading the book. But whatever our beliefs, I think we all have thoughts on the subject of ghosts. Some of us are afraid of them, or would be afraid to stay in a place that’s haunted by ghosts. Others are fascinated or even intrigued by ghostly happenings and seek out places that are reputedly haunted. What about you? Maybe you’ve had your hair stand on end when you’ve been seated around a campfire listening to ghost stories. How do you react to the subject of ghosts?

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A ghost, known as the “Blue Lady” also frequents Lachlan Castle, on Loch Carron. She is thought to be the wife of Laird Valan MacKenzie, and mother to their five daughters. Her husband allegedly pushed her from a fourth floor window so he could take a new wife who might bear him a son. The ghost of Lady Rosemary MacKenzie, who ironically, was discovered to have been pregnant with a son at the time of her death, is said to have scratched the words, The Son You Always Wanted, upside down on the window sill outside the bedroom window where she fell. The inscription can still be seen there today. It is reported that the “Blue Lady” leaves the scent of rosemary and bluebells wherever she goes. Because her own life ended so tragically, legend holds that the “Blue Lady” will haunt the castle until a Lachlan love story ends with a happily-ever-after ending. Unfortunately, due to an old curse, the dreams of many a castle resident have ended tragically, perpetuating the haunting of the castle by Lady Rosemary.

BlueBelle 2016 I grew up watching tales of Casper the Friendly Ghost,  the classic Christmas Carol, and even Ghostbusters, so I’ve always been comfortable with the concept of ghosts. In church, we heard about the Holy Ghost, a comforting presence who was always with us. When I bought a house in St. Ansgar, Iowa and turned it into a B&B and tea house, locals told me about a friendly ghost who rescued the century old floor plans from the dump and returned them to the house when they were accidentally thrown away, among other adventures. So in one form or another, I’ve always accepted that ghosts are real.

In GOLDEN ROD, Rod MacKenzie has felt the presence of Laird Valan and Lady Rosemary since he was young, but never had a direct encounter with them – until Katelyn O’Neal arrives from America and stirs things up.

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Katelyn thinks the whole thing is a crock, and is convinced there has to be some sort of logical, scientific explanation for the odd things that are happening to her.

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Laird Valan and Lady Rosemary, the ghostly duo from GOLDEN ROD, have very distinctive personalities and a sometimes quirky sense of humor. As Laird Valan and Lady Rosemary get more and more desperate to break the 500 year old curse so they can finally rest in peace, the stakes grow higher.

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Once Rod discovers what they’re up to, he’s more than happy to comply, or at least humor them, except that Katelyn’s niece is dying, and if he has to choose who to help, a dying twelve year old or a pair of ghosts who’ve already been dead for five hundred years, the choice is clear. Except that nothing is clear – and Laird Valan and Lady Rosemary will do anything to change history and break the curse that binds them.

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You’ll have to read GOLDEN ROD to learn how the story ends. Here are the Buy Links for GOLDEN ROD at Amazon:
Kindle: http://a.co/3zRGCpF
Paperback: http://a.co/8oJpv4Q

In the meantime, I hope the ghosts that may haunt you are friendly ones.                                                                                                                                                                     Ghosts - blur of blue

What started it all was a stretch of wind-swept, treeless terrain and a bright blue cottage built from timber washed ashore after a shipwreck. I’ve always loved the notion of “if these walls could speak”. And building a house out of second-hand lumber sounds just like something a Hansen would do.

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How many men died aboard the ship this cottage used to be, trying to navigate the churning waters of the Atlantic, I’ll never know, but these much-treasured, repurposed boards live on as part of their legacy.

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Have I made my case? Writing a book set in Ireland is a perfectly fine thing to do. Still, I felt like I was cheating on Scotland the whole time we were in Ireland, Wales and southern England. Everyone who reads my blog knows that my love affair with Scotland has taken me through over five weeks of exploration of the bonnie country (in both 2007 and 2016) and five Wildflowers of Scotland novels – WILD ROSE and THISTLE DOWN, a prequel novella, set at St. Conan’s Kirk on Loch Awe, BLUE BELLE, in and around Tobermory’s rainbow tinted harbor and cottages, castles and white sand beaches on the Isle of Mull, SHY VIOLET, set in Dornie at the magnificent Eilean Donan Castle, SWEET WILLIAM, in the nearby highlands and on the Isle of Skye, and now, GOLDEN ROD, set against the backdrop of Wester-Ross and lovely Lochcarron’s wooded shores.

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GOLDEN ROD is almost ready for the press. I’m very excited to know that soon, people will be holding freshly printed copies in their hands and reading the story of  Katelyn O’Neal, a well-intentioned but naïve American who inherits a castle in Scotland. Katelyn is thrilled to have an opportunity to sell Lachlan Castle to a wealthy bidder who is a client at the PR firm where she words because her twelve-year-old niece is dying and needs a very expensive, specialized treatment. Then she meets the “rightful” heir, Rod MacKenzie. As the “legal” heir, she has every right to cast Rod out of his home, and to destroy the beloved garden that is his legacy. She has no other choice if she wants to save Kacie’s life. But when a desperate pair of 500-year-old ghosts intervene, the whole course of history could change.  GOLDEN ROD is a two-week romp through a lifetime of legends that I think you’ll find both amusing and uplifting.

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But now, even as GOLDEN ROD is being birthed, a lass named SEASIDE DAISY is calling out to me. She hails from Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way in a town named Dingle. My fickle heart has already fallen in love with the people and places of Ireland’s western-most peninsula.

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Sea caves and standing stones dotting the shoreline, pale lavender and white seaside daisies with yellow centers bent almost flat from the pounding rain and wind – but still blossoming, and even thriving – tell a story of perseverance and determination that captivates my imagination.

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Colourful shoppes filled with driftwood sculptures, fuchsia fairies dangling from lacy branches, and sea glass and beach pottery made into jewelry, call out to me.

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Constantly changing, ever dramatic skies and rainbows appearing and disappearing in the mist stoke my curiosity until I know I cannot NOT tell this story.

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Bicycles. Black-faced sheep with curly horns. Hidden beaches, abandoned bothies, and crumbling battlements… The Wild Atlantic Way. Wild in what way?

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Overgrown rose gardens, fuchsia hedgerows, quirky hat hires, seafood chowder and Irish stew…  It may be a bunch of blarney, but it’s all so exciting and new!

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Scotland, it’s been swell. You know I’ll be back. There’s Aberfeldy, Dornoch, St. Andrews and Portree – and many more amazing castles waiting to be explored.

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But I need to find out about this new place and its wild, wonderful ways.

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Read GOLDEN ROD. You’ll agree with me when I say that after all they’ve been through, Rod and Katelyn need a vacation – or might it be a honeymoon? Perhaps they’ll find themselves on a ferry boat traveling across the Irish Sea? Michael and Isabelle from BLUE BELLE might be there, too, on a bicycle built for two, because Isabelle loves to pedal and Michael needs to know if Daisy will give Cavan Donaghue her answer true. Don’t you?  Only eight pages in and I’m already crazy over the likes of these two.

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An almost full moon reflected off a pond hugged by beds of flowers in blues, yellows and violets of various heights. In the center, a fountain trickled down the neck and breasts of a stone statue of a woman with full hips and voluptuous curves. The scene was framed by walls of stone and brick, etched with pink climbing roses and lavender wisteria. This is what they were going to destroy?

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As Mark and I head off on another trip to indulge our love affair with Great Britain and research settings of future books, I’m anticipating the release of GOLDEN ROD, the book inspired by last year’s journey to Scotland.

One of the things I most love about writing is the chance to scope out new locations – and with them, the likeable qualities and legends that give the place its charm. And when we get home, my pleasure is doubled when I get to sit down with my thoughts, reminisce about our experiences, and craft a story with word pictures about the places we’ve seen.

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Although Rod MacKenzie’s exquisite walled garden and the unique castle pictured on the front cover of GOLDEN ROD are fictional in the sense that they’re not located along the shores of Loch Carron, many of the other spots mentioned in the book are as real as you and me. In the text below, I’m going to share a snippet from GOLDEN ROD followed by a photo of the real life image that inspired it. Craigievar Castle, Leith Hall Garden and Crarae Garden, which I magically transported to the Lochcarron and the Wester Ross area of Western Scotland, are actually located to the east in Aberdeenshire and Argyll. Enjoy!

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The blue waters of Loch Carron disappeared, then reappeared. The road widened. Katelyn glanced out the window and caught sight of a rusty old gate surrounding a cemetery. The stones were all but covered with moldy-looking splotches of who knew what and some sort of green slime that looked straight from the pages of a horror flick.

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A few blocks later, a large white building appeared. The huge black letters on its side wall spelled LOCHCA, followed by an R dangling precariously from what looked to be one nail, and a tenuous RON. Which is exactly what she wished she’d done the second she set foot in Scotland – run. Rod might have fanciful – make that delusional – images of the town where he’d been raised, but all she could see was a place that needed a good PR person to improve and update its sad, sorry, broken down image.

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The town was comprised of a long row of houses on one side, with a sidewalk, a greenbelt, and the lake on the other.

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Rod pulled into a parking spot and came around to open the door for her. The sign on the front of the whitewashed building with blue trim and a slate roof said Waterside Café, Tearoom Takeaway. There were round picnic tables with bright blue umbrellas over the top in front. Rod straddled the bench of one, and motioned for her to have a seat.

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“Ye can go in and look at the menu board on the wall if ye like, or wait. They’ll bring ye a menu in a minute.”

“You don’t need one?”

“Nae. They know what I want.”

“How could they?”

“I’m a regular.”

“And you have the same thing every time?”

“For lunch, Stornoway Black Pudding Stack. It’s layered with apples and Stilton cheese. Pure dead brilliant.”

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 “M’Lady? M’Lady? Are ye here?” Valan MacKenzie stood at the window where his wife had fallen to her death 500 years earlier and started to sing her favorite song in the hope she would come to him.

When bluebells start to bloom each spring, I’ll come to ye. My love I’ll bring.

My heart for ye, it always breaks. But sadness will nae overtake.

For hope lives on in each new day. My love for ye will find its way.

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Rod was holding two large china plates. “I took the liberty of getting some essentials since ye were asleep when we reached the grocery. I thought ye’d enjoy trying a full Scottish breakfast – eggs, bacon, sausages, potatoes, mushrooms, tomatoes and toast. I skipped the haggis and the black pudding on yer plate since ye seemed a bit squeamish about them yesterday, but the rest should be-”

Her stomach had started to roil at the word eggs. It wasn’t that she disliked eggs, but the thought of eating such a huge breakfast when she was stressed out and in an unfamiliar place and it wasn’t even breakfast time where she was from…

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They walked through the laburnum archway he and his da had planted a decade earlier. The slender yellow fronds were just starting to fade.

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A minute later, Katelyn came flouncing down the steps of the blue and white house where Colin’s office was located. He’d never met anyone – man or woman – with so much attitude.

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The taller one smiled. “Is Sea Worthy booked for the rest of the afternoon or are you free? We were hoping to see Kilt Rock and Portree from the sea.”

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“Do ye like fish? I’ve two nicely smoked haddock filets that I picked up in Portree this afternoon. My mother used to make something called Haddock Mornay. It’s been years, but I think I can remember how to make the sauce.”

Katelyn looked up and smiled faintly. Aye, the lass was warming up to him awright.

“My mum would make a roux and then stir a wee bit of garlic salt and some buttery, soft white Cheddar from the Isle of Arran into the cream. If ye’re a fan of fish, the taste of the Mornay sauce, o’er a bit of mash, is pure dead brilliant.”

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Rod tried to put Katelyn out of his mind as he walked back to the cottage. The deep, mossy scents of the forest floor, the sun-warmed pine needles, and the last remnants of the bluebells filled his nostrils with the familiar scents he loved so much. He could have spent all evening in the woods.

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Katelyn twirled slowly, not willing to miss a single degree of the panorama spread out in front of her. “Thank you so much for bringing me here. I can’t imagine a place more beautiful than this one.” She peeked through the lacey fronds of Scotch pines and Douglas firs that stretched from blue waters to bluer skies.

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Rod put one arm around her shoulder and pointed with the other. “See the big white house on the other side of the loch? That’s Stromeferry, where my grandpa’s ferry used to operate.”

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Katelyn looked past the feathery fir trees and the hillside covered in bluebells, and the buttercups in bloom, and caught a glimpse of the sky. Moody, grey, towering clouds cast shadows into each valley, every fold of the hillside, turning sunshine to gloom. She felt as unsettled as a changeling, which she might as well believe in now that she’d met a pair of ghosts and God.

She could have stood with her neck arched, looking up at the roiling clouds, forever. It wasn’t because they were beautiful, or even captivating. They were on the move, ever-changing. They were frighteningly unpredictable. They were out of control, so various and sundry that one couldn’t be sure what was going to happen from minute to minute say nothing about tomorrow. Just like her life.

 

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I hope you’ll read GOLDEN ROD when it comes out next month! Although you’ll see a few familiar faces from my first four Wildflowers of Scotland novels, it’s not necessary to read any of them to enjoy GOLDEN ROD.

The only way Katelyn O’Neal can save her niece’s life is to ruin Rod Mackenzie’s. One 600-year-old Scottish castle. A rightful heir. A legal heir. Two desperate ghosts. GOLDEN ROD by Sherrie Hansen. Coming from Indigo Sea Press in June 2017.

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If Prince Rod of Lachlan sounds like something straight from the pages of a fairy tale, you’re right.

Golden Rod painting

When Katelyn O’Neal, a reluctant “princess” from Minnesota, inherits a castle from a great uncle she met only once, she views the whole ordeal as a huge bother, except that selling the castle to a rich developer will pay for a very expensive, experimental cancer treatment for her 12 year old niece, Kacie.

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Rod MacKenzie, the illegitimate but rightful heir to Lachlan, has used his own time and money to take care of the castle and its magnificent gardens for years – despite the fact that his grandfather wrote him out of his will. Rod would love to live happily ever after in the land of his ancestors even though he’s always known it was an impossibility.

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Add Laird Valan MacKenzie and the lovely Lady Rosemary, a pair of 500 year old ghosts who are bound to the castle by age-old curses, and would do anything to escape the place, and you have GOLDEN ROD, a two-week romp through a lifetime of legends that turns everything upside down.

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Lachlan – a centuries old castle on Loch Carron in Scotland. Kacie – a twelve year old girl whose dying wish is to see it. Laird Valan and Lady Rosemary – 500 year old ghosts who desperately want to escape it. Golden-Haired, Most Fair, Prince Rod MacKenzie – the rightful heir who loves Lachlan and its gardens even though he will never inherit.  Katelyn O’Neal – the legal heir who unwitting sold the castle to a low life scum at a high price.

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GOLDEN ROD, a Wildflowers of Scotland novel by Sherrie Hansen – coming from Indigo Sea Press in June 2017.

 

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Sweet Man or Bad Boy – Who’s the Sexiest? Can a sweet man – a servant – be sexy? The hero of a book?

Woman may pick a sweet man over a bad boy in real life, but in the books they read, it’s an established assumption that most women are attracted to the alpha male prototype. The alpha male demands, takes, plunders, and is strong, cocky and unyielding. The alpha male is a conqueror, a warrior, the stereotypical hero. As I think about men I most admire, I wonder why it is that women so often desire thrills over security; a sense of danger, excitement and adventure over someone who gives us comfort and protection. Is it true that women crave a man who acts aloof and indifferent instead of eager and polite? Is it a turn-off when a man lavishes a woman with attention or acts like a perfect gentlemen? Do women really prefer a bad boy whose lifestyle is a roller-coaster of excitement, rather than the steady positive force of a good guy? Why is it that women view sweet men as less-desirable and relegate them to a comfortable but dull status?

Sweet William Front Cover

In my new release, Sweet William, William is strongly male, but he’s wired with an intense desire to serve others. There are plenty of cranky servants out there, reluctant heroes who help others because they have to, or get paid to do it, or because they’d feel guilty if they didn’t. It’s questionable if these people are true servants, but I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt, especially since they often grow into the role, especially in a book, where all good characters have a growth arc. But William truly is a sweetheart.

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When Violet goes into labor, and all her help falls through, William changes his plans to help Lyndsie at Rabbit Hill Lodge. He sets aside his own wishes and desires when his mother needs him at home on the farm. He opens his arms to his brothers when they need help. William exhibits selfless behavior over and over again, from the moment he wishes Lyndsie would win their unofficial Chopped competition to the day in the haymow when he keeps his pants zipped despite the fact that Lyndsie is ready and willing.

 

What is it about a sweet man that can be a turn-off to some women?  A sweet man can be an introvert or an extrovert. He can be a powerful executive, or like William, a farmer. He can be rugged and masculine, or studious and intellectual. It’s less about looks or occupation, and more about a mindset, a world view that permeates everything he says and does. So why, despite the obvious advantages of being with a sweet man, do sweet men irk some women no end?

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Does the fact that those men are considerate and thoughtful make them weak, or less desirable? I think William is the sexiest hero I’ve ever written. And at the end of a long, tiring day, my husband is far more desirable to me than any alpha male. Maybe part of the reason I think sweet men are sexy is that I’m married to one. My husband is a pastor, and he not only serves his congregation, he serves me in hundreds of little ways through every day. I’ve always believed that for a man to be attractive to me, he has to be my equal at the very least – intellectually, spiritually, emotionally, physically. There’s nothing stronger, sweeter, or sexier, than a man who draws a warm bath for his exhausted lady at the end of the day, fixes her breakfast in bed, or takes care of the laundry or the kids or the dishes so his partner can relax, write, or have some time to herself.

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Many of my male characters tend to be caring men – Pastor Ian in Wild Rose, Michael St. Dawndalyn, the psychologist in Blue Belle, Nathan, the school teacher, in Shy Violet.  I’ve written a few alpha males – Anders in Night and Day, Tommy Love, the rock star, in Love Notes, and Clay Alexander in Merry Go Round. I adore them in their own way, especially toward the end of their character arcs.

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But there’s something about a sweet man, a man who puts others’ needs ahead of his own, that melts my heart. I hope William, Sweet William, will endear himself to you, too.

If you’re not sure how you feel, try reading Sweet William and see if you agree.

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.

Scotland Urquart Castle on Loch Ness

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.

135 Scotland - Rainbow 5

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.

BBI - Spring 2012

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.

SHY VIOLET BY SHERRIE HANSEN… Coming May 1, 2015…

ShyViolet Final Front CoverFood - violet tarts

Violet looked at Nathan, asleep in his cold, sterile, hospital bed, and something inside her just snapped. What was she doing? Fighting in front of Nathan at a time like this, when venom and vinegar were the absolute last things on her mind and love was all that mattered.

She shrunk back against the wall. Because violets are beautiful, but they have fragile, thin-skinned petals and short little stems and they can only survive in sheltered, shady spots in the forest. They’re not made to weather fierce storms or a powerful sun. And if someone steps on them and tramples then into the ground, that’s probably where they’ll stay – crushed for all eternity.

“Violet?” Lyndsie knew her well enough to know that something was wrong.

Violet opened her mouth and tried to find the words to express what she was feeling. And failed. Who did she think she was, anyway? Sure, she could stand up to Stacy for – what had it been? Like two minutes? The mouse looking the lion in the eye for a nanosecond before scampering away, fearful for its life.

Nathan had known Stacy for years. He’d loved her enough to ask her to marry him. He may have realized it was a mistake to proceed with the marriage, but they had a history – a long, deep, trusting, evolving relationship. He and Violet had shared a couple of weeks of wild lovemaking and a handful of heart-to-hearts. That was it.

Nathan might think he loved her – who really knew? They certainly didn’t have the all-important communication thing down or he would have known she hadn’t been kidnapped and they wouldn’t be in the mess they were in. Even if Nathan did love her on some level, he didn’t trust her. Lyndsie had told her Nathan believed she had taken a $10,000 bribe from his father and left drugs in his apartment, then tipped off the police to get him in trouble.

There was no way she could go head to head with Stacy over Nathan. She didn’t have the courage. She didn’t have the resolve. She didn’t have the guts. She didn’t have the right.

Stacy gave her a look – a mere look – and she could feel what little bravado she had left withering like a shade-loving wildflower in a hot desert sun. Impossible.

From Shy Violet by Sherrie Hansen

Flower - violet sunshine

I’ve been watching back to back episodes of the TV show Chopped on the Food Network this week because I’m working on a murder mystery called “A Taste of Murder:  The Galloping Gourmet Gets the Trots”. The simple, three act murder mysteries I write for the Blue Belle Inn B&B’s acting troupe are fun, mostly silly, crowd pleasers. They always end where they’re supposed to, because someone invariably confesses at the end of Round 3. As simple a format as they are, I’ve learned several things while researching and working on them.

MM - Taste of Murder

On the show, Chopped, the contestants have 20 – 30 minutes to prepare an appetizer, main course, or dessert from the often odd and usually unrelated mystery ingredients in their baskets. When the countdown ends, they immediately put their hands in the air, step back from their work stations, and hope that what’s on their plate is good enough to avoid being axed on the chopping block. No matter that your delicious milk chocolate sauce – the one you infused with melted gummy bears because that’s what was in the basket – is still on the stove, momentarily forgotten, never to be drizzled over your hastily made Chantilly crepes. When the time is up, there’s no chance to fuss, make corrections, re-plate, or change your mind about this or that. You’re done. Finished. The end has come.

Food - Cupcakes

Sometimes, I wish knowing where to end my novel was as structured and simple as that. Hands in the air. Step back from your laptop. The end.

Zion - 2013 Sunset

This week I heard back from one of my beta readers, who told me she didn’t like the ending of my soon-to-be-released Wildflowers of Scotland novel, Shy Violet. What she said – and I think she’s absolutely right – is that I had a tight strand of a story with characters and drama masterfully braided in to a focused story line when all of a sudden, about 50 pages from the end, the story started to fray apart.

Sunset 2014 Grass

What I’d done was to introduce William, who’s going to be the hero of the next book in the series – Sweet William, and pull back the characters from the previous book in the series, Blue Belle, so I could use their wedding as a backdrop for the last few scenes of Shy Violet. In doing so, I stole the thunder from Violet and Nathan’s story and left Shy Violet with a weak, disconnected ending instead of a strong finish.

228 Fence - Hairy Coo babies

Although I didn’t realize it consciously at the time, I wasn’t sure how Shy Violet should end. Although I love my characters and the premise of the book, I was ready to be done with the story. I’d been working on it for over a year, and I’d already moved on emotionally. As I read back over the ending, I could see that I was scrambling to make my word count by adding scenes that never should have been part of the story.

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So, when is it time to say, The End? How do you know when your story is finished? What makes a good ending? Most of us are taught to focus on the beginning of our story – the magical first scene, first page, first line – the all-important hook. After all, if you don’t get the beginning right, it won’t matter how the book ends because no one will read it. But there’s a lot to be said for a satisfying ending, too. In the restaurant business, it’s commonly held that customers base their tip on how full their waiter keeps their coffee cups at the end of the meal. Sweet, well-timed endings are what make a customer – reader – leave satisfied and eager to come back. What makes a great ending?

A good ending ties up all your loose ends quickly and concisely. No need to endlessly linger – if you haven’t made your case for inclusion of the thread by now, it probably shouldn’t be there in the first place.

No need to micromanage every little detail. Find a good balance and wrap things up.

A satisfying ending may include a teaser or leave you wondering what happened next. Embrace the mystery and let your reader fill in a few of the blanks. Imaginative readers like feeling that they’re part of the story.

Think hard and long about introducing new characters or themes toward the end of a book. If you’re writing a series, it’s tempting to move things in the direction you’re planning to go in your next book, but it may not serve the story and can be a serious distraction.

Scotland Sunset

Don’t be too predictable. A wonderful ending may include a surprise, or a twist that no one saw coming. Now is not the time to throw in something way out of the blue, but being startled or caught off guard can be intriguing if it builds naturally from a multi-dimensional, sometimes unpredictable character.

Endings can be happy, sad, maudlin, or inconclusive. They can leave you hanging or satisfy you on a deeply personal level. Asking yourself what kind of ending fits the theme and characters in your book will steer you in the right direction.

Let your characters tell you how and when the book should end. If your characters aren’t talking to you, maybe they’re not ready to end the book. Give them a little time, let things settle and sink in, and they’ll eventually tell you where they want to go. I often need a little time to absorb things and make sense of something that’s happened, especially after a very climactic scene or event. Your characters do, too.

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Focus on the things that really matter. A good ending reflects the crux of your book, the theme or common thread that runs throughout the entire book. Ask yourself what the book is really about. The answer may surprise you, and it may be different than whatever the book was supposed to be about. That’s what your ending should be about, too. Addressing the things your readers have come to care about while reading the book creates a comforting consistency.

If you’re still stuck, go back and read the first two scenes of your book. Think of the beginning and ending as bookends to the story in between. The ending should be a mirror image of the start.

If you’re still not sure you ended the book at the right time or in the right place, let it sit for at least a few days. Read the last few scenes of the book out loud. If the end of your book evokes emotions in you, and gives you a deeper understanding of your self and the world you live in, then raise your hands in the air and step back from the table. Your book is done.

Food - violet tarts

If you’re dissatisfied or bored, or left feeling cold or confused, then be glad that as writers, no one holds a stopwatch over our heads and demands that we deliver a hot, perfectly-plated, artistic-looking, delicious-tasting product in 20 minutes or less. Be glad you’re a writer and not a chef.

Endings are complex, and they’re just as important as beginnings, because once you have a reader, you want to keep them, move them on to your next book, and the next, and the next. That’s what a good ending does. Questions asked demand answers. The world is full of symmetry, and I believe that finding it in the pages of your book will eventually give you the perfect ending.

ShyViolet Final Front Cover

You’ll be happy to hear that I’ve re-written the ending of Shy Violet twice now, and from all indications, I finally got it right. Hopefully, in a few weeks, you can read it and be the judge!

Happy endings, whether you like things nice and tidy and tied with a ribbon, or helter-skelter, with a few loose ends left dangling…

Which Wildflower of Scotland do you most closely identify with and why?

WI2 - Thistle

Thistle Down?

Ely - roses

Wild Rose?

Bluebells

Blue Belle?

Flower - violet sunshine

Shy Violet?

Sweet William

Or, for you men, Sweet William?

Blue Belle Front Cover Draft

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Golden Rod – New Release!

Sweet William

Shy Violet

Blue Belle

Wild Rose

Thistle Down

Love Notes

Night and Day

Stormy Weather

Water Lily

Merry Go Round

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