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I grew up wrapping my baby doll in this soft, little quilt, made with scraps from dresses my mom and grandma sewed for my sister and I and themselves in the late 1950s and early 1960s. There’s a bit of the dress my mother made for her first class reunion and some of her curtains, too. My Great-Grandma, Mathilda Jensen Paulsen, from Blooming Prairie, Minnesota, stitched it together, along with a big quilt that matched. Later, when I was old enough to sew but still young enough to play with dolls – Barbie dolls instead of baby dolls by this time – my grandma and I made doll clothes out of more scraps from some of these same fabrics.

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My doll quilt, made by my Great Grandma Mathilda Jenny Paulsen.

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love quilts and the memories and history woven into them – or when I didn’t embrace the concept that nothing should be wasted – not the extra fabric after a pattern was cut out, or the few inches of lace or rickrack left over from a project, or the odd button on the button card, or even an empty feed sack.

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Quilt made by Mathilda Jensen Paulsen from dress scraps.

And thanks to Grandma Vic, who scraped out her bowls so clean that you couldn’t tell they had been used, I know that the batter that lingers in the pans of people who don’t scrape out their bowls is enough to make a whole extra muffin or two cookies – very probably the ones you will get to eat!

Quilt - fabrics

I grew up in a family of thrifty, hardworking, creative, and yes, stubborn Danes with a dash of Bohemian, German, English and Scottish thrown in for good value. And I mean that literally. The melting pot that was my family tree produced a bumper crop of large-boned, freckle-skinned, hardy folks who could do most anything they set their minds to – unless it was sports related. We weren’t athletically inclined, nor were we ones to waste time or energy on things that weren’t essential, necessary, or needed.

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Off to Bed, Sleepy Heads. This hung in my Mom’s room when she was a child.

When later generations grew up wanting to dabble in the arts – make pretty quilts from calicos bought from quilting shops instead of scraps (because they were in colors that matched a room or enhanced a decorating scheme), eyebrows were raised, prayers were said, and people wondered what the world was coming to. I was a part of the younger generation – I loved certain colors, and it was very important to me that everything matched. One year, my Grandma Victoria made rag rugs for us for Christmas, I dug through the pile until I found one with no red.

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A friendship crazy quilt from Blooming Prairie, MN made by Mathilda Paulsen and friends.

Bright red didn’t match the pastel pinks and roses I used in my house. To satisfy my artistic eye, even the threads the rugs were woven with had to be blue or green instead of red – or heaven forbid, orange. (Thankfully, someone had put an old pink bathrobe in the rag bag at some point, so I did get my color-coordinated rug.)

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A housewarming gift made by Barbara Daugherty.

It was clear. The writing was on the wall. Never ever would I sew a quilt out of old dresses or wool suits (or whatever leftover fabrics happened to be in the mending pile) in a mish mash of helter-skelter colors. I was a colorful prima-dona, a quilting artiste.

Quilt - mine

The quilt I made for the daughter I never had. Pieced by Sherrie Hansen.

Something else had changed over the generations. The hodgepodge, crazy quilts we slept under and covered our beds with and used to keep the dust off of the furniture were replaced by quilts that were so perfect and pretty that we didn’t want to ruin them by putting them on our beds or actually using them.

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Log Cabin Heart quilt pieced by Sherrie Hansen.

We hung them on the walls, put them in our hope chests, and lovingly guarded them for posterity’s sake so we could pass them down to future generations. We took them off our beds and put them in our cedar chests.

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My mom with a friendship quilt from Blooming Prairie that was in her cedar chest.

We collected old quilts at auction and estate sales and revered any family quilts that had survived said family. Sometimes people made numerous pillows or even teddy bears out of a grandma’s quilt so each grandchild could have a small piece of it. But we didn’t snuggle under them or swaddle our children in them, or cuddle in front of the fireplace wrapped up in them, or throw them on the ground and spread a picnic out on top of them.

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Detail of Blooming Prairie Friendship quilt.

So, how does this pertain to my books, Night & Day and Daybreak? Jensen Marie Christiansen comes from a long line of quilters to whom a quilt meant nothing more than something to keep you warm on a cold winter night. Jensen is a designer and creator of art quilts. In Night & Day, Ed has a pilly old bedspread in drab tones.  Anders sleeps under a sailboat quilt in bright blues and yellows that his mother made for him.

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Sunbonnet Sue and Wedding Ring quilts on a quilt rack made by my dad, Everett Hansen.

Quilts become the catalyst for the conflict of a family, generations of hopes and dreams, and the uncertainty of what lies ahead – a solid, predictable, convenient future with Ed or a wild ‘trip around the world’ with Anders?

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Quilt made by my Grandma Victoria.

In Daybreak, everything has changed and Jensen is searching for order in a world that has become all too crazy. The freeform, artistic quilts she has always designed are suddenly too flighty and fancy free to meet her needs. As her hopes and dreams swirl out of control, she needs the precision of perfectly aligned corners and points that come together the way they’re supposed to. When her family starts to fall apart, and she needs the constancy of her heritage. She even starts a quilt in a red and white Danish design (well, a pretty cherry red, almost burgundy in hue.)

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The imagery of quilts – a doll quilt that a young Mathilda wrapped her baby doll in, and then gave to Leif to wrap Maren’s newborn baby in, a quilt made by Jensen for the daughter she feared she would never have, a great-grandmother’s quilt that was Jensen’s most cherished possession – the tapestry of a family’s life, patched together in a way that unites the generations of my family for all times.

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Mathilda Jensen Paulsen’s initials on the Blooming Prairie quilt.

My life – I skipped a generation in Night & Day, so in real life, Maren was my great-great grandmother, Mathilda was my great-grandma, and baby Victoria was my grandma – but it’s all there.

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My Grandma Victoria when she was 5 years old.

The scraps and memories, pieced together with bits and bobs from my imagination, all joined together in fiction form, misunderstandings and conflicting perceptions of the world – a completely different world than existed back then – smoothed out in a colorful pattern and stitched with love.

Quilt - Grandma Hansen

This pillow top matched a quilt and was made by my Great-Grandma Hansen.

Jensen and her family are very close to my heart, and I hope once you read Night & Day and Daybreak, you’ll feel the same way. I chose the design and colors for the quilt on the front cover of Night & Day to coordinate with the color palate in one of my guest rooms – On the Banks of Plum Creek – at my B&B, the Blue Belle Inn.

Quilt - bear

I wanted to use a Trip Around the World quilt – it would have matched the theme of Night & Day so perfectly, and if there’s anything I love more than coordinating colors, it’s perfectly synchronized symbolism – but my publisher liked this one, so that’s what we went with. If you come to stay at the Blue Belle one day, you can still snuggle up under this quilt and dream the night away.

Quilt - plum Creek

I saw and fell in love with the lovely quilt on the front cover of Daybreak online, which has a unique symbolism in and of itself. The colors were perfect, and the design, with sunrise and sea, spoke to me of oceans and time, and seemed perfectly suited for Jensen and Anders’ continuing story. I was able to weave the design into the story in ways that brought the whole tale to life. I hope you agree. (The cover art quilt for Daybreak is by Elena Stokes, and was photographed by the artist. You can visit her website to see more of her work at www.elenastokes.com and follow her at www.facebook.com/elena.stokes.art.)

Daybreak Elena Stokes - It Suddenly Dawned 300 ppi

“It Suddenly Dawned” – Quilt by Elena Stokes

I’m sure some folks wonder why I would put a quilt on the front of a fiction novel instead of a character or a sketch of Maren’s old house, Peter’s bonfire, or any one of the beautiful scenes from Minnesota or Denmark that unfold in the course of the book. But to me, the quilts say it all. Quilts were the inspiration for these stories. The plot revolves around them. The characters are defined by them and shine because of their existence. In both Night & Day and Daybreak, the quilts connect the generations across oceans and time through each precise stitch – a miraculous labor of love, and the gift of a special artistry known only to quilters.

Quilt - Danish flags  Quilt - DEnmark

Even after all these years, when it’s midnight in Minnesota and daybreak in Denmark, somewhere, a night owl like me is quilting.

Quilt - Maren

Quilt believed to have been made by my Great-great Grandma, Maren Jensen.

Someone else is fast asleep under a quilt stitched by a mother or grandmother who loved them. Someone on the other side of the world is crawling out from under the covers, ready to face the dawn of a new day, and someone else is sitting cross-legged on a quilt, writing in her journal, and falling in love. Crazy quilts of life – God makes beautiful things out of broken pieces, leftovers and scraps. So do the hands of quilters.

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Daybreak – Chapter 1

Anders Westerlund flipped over a packet of cucumber seeds and read out loud, “Plant after all danger of frost has passed.”

Even in April, daybreak in Danemark was a chilly affair. Jensen kept insisting that the Copenhagen winter they’d just experienced was mild compared to what she was used to in Minnesota, but there was still a good chance that the tender new shoots poking up from the ground could freeze before spring actually arrived.

Anders wished he had more time, but the brutal fact was, he did not. If he could just coax some summer flowers into blooming and get the garden greened up before he had to go, he would feel better about leaving Jensen. He wanted to do as much as he could to make her transition easy.

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Another gust of cold air swirled around his neck, then wormed its way under his collar to chill his shoulder blades. According to the Danish Meteorological Institute, the average date of the last frost was the 18th of April. To be absolutely sure, they recommended waiting until May 7th. But it had been a warmer than usual spring, and Anders was feeling lucky.

Why he felt so optimistic was beyond him. Everything in his life was uncertain, and at least one of the drastic changes about to unfold was not welcome. The only thing he knew for sure was that he was not going to be around when it was time to reap his harvest.

He planted one hill of cucumbers, one of eggplant, and another with one of Jensen’s favorites – zucchini squash, each at the base of their own trellis. He liked his vegetables planted amidst his flowers. There was no room in his tiny yard for a separate vegetable garden with long, well-spaced rows like Jensen’s sister-in-law had in America. Here in Danemark, every inch of land was precious and put to good use.

He moved to the south side of the house and dug in a row of corn just far enough out from the foundation so it would catch the rain. He tucked a few delicate, curly leafed basil that he’d seeded in the house into a window box with some geraniums and planted his fledgling tomato starts in a basket with multiple openings that was designed to hang over the fence.

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He’d put in the lettuce, potatoes, beets, carrots, kale, red cabbage, dill, broccoli and radishes almost two weeks ago, the day after the Christiansens had come. He hoped he had not seemed rude when he had ignored Jensen’s parents so soon after they had arrived, but the growing season was short in Danemark. If you did not work the ground as soon as the frost was out, your garden would not amount to much. Besides, when houseguests stayed for almost a month, you could not put your entire life on hold for the duration of their visit.

With Jensen expecting, and everything else that was going on, he was glad his onions, peas and spinach had been planted on schedule. He had not expected Jensen to help. With a belly so big she could hardly tie her own shoelaces, her only form of exercise was waddling around the neighborhood on their nightly walks. He loved pampering her, and doing for her so she could rest as much as possible. If he had not had so many things to get done at work before the baby came, he would gladly have driven her and her parents to Als.

The important thing was that Jensen would be here to water and weed the garden once he was gone. At least, he hoped so. It brought him joy to imagine Jensen picking the peas, digging out the potatoes, and enjoying a good spinach salad when the time came, especially since he would not be around to do it.

He swallowed his frustrations, straightened his back and thrust his shovel into the ground between two clusters of late-blooming tulips. The crab-apples were in full bloom and each time the wind blew, a smattering of petals wafted down around him.

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Springtime. New life. Daybreak. His favorite time of day and his most cherished time of the year – although he had to admit that being snuggled up with Jensen over the course of this year’s long, icy winter had done much to improve his opinion of cold weather.

Even with spring well underway, the nights were cool enough to cuddle under Jensen’s quilts. But the days were warm enough to ride bicycle and work in his garden. Life was good – had been good, during their honeymoon period. Now, changes were in the wind.

Jensen and he were going to be parents together. He was so excited for the baby to arrive he could hardly bear it.

Everything would be perfect if he didn’t have to leave.

Daybreak in Denmark (3)

His cell phone jingled in his pocket. Probably Jensen. She knew his schedule, knew he wouldn’t have left for work yet. He flipped the top open and found Bjorn on the line.

They exchanged pleasantries for a few minutes before Bjorn asked the question that was on both of their minds.

“Have you made a decision yet?”

“Decision?” Anders made a clucking noise with his tongue and moved out of the way of a honey bee that was honing in on his tulips. “The only decision they gave me was Greenland or the Faroe Islands. I was given no choice about moving.”

“You could find another job. You could take early retirement. You could move to America.”

“None of these things are options, Bjorn. At least, not at this time. You’ve read the newspapers.”

“An occasional news bite on Facebook or Twitter.”

“The Euro is nearly worthless. The world’s economy is in shambles. My retirement funds have suffered greatly. I am blessed to have a job that pays me well. With a new baby on the way…”

“I get it,” Bjorn said.

Anders held his breath. He knew that Bjorn had mixed feelings about being displaced as his only child. He did not want to argue with Bjorn when he was halfway across the world. A good fight was not nearly as satisfying when you could not hug each other at the end of the fray.

“Have you told Jensen yet?”

Anders truly believed that Bjorn loved Jensen. Still, adjusting to having a new step-mother and all the changes that came along with her had been difficult for his son. He knew that. So when Anders heard a tinge of gloating in his son’s voice, he understood. Bjorn was still disappointed that he and Jensen had not settled in Minnesota, and somehow, the knowledge that he would soon be one of two offspring rankled on him.

Anders stabbed his shovel into the ground. “I will tell Jensen soon. And I will soften the blows by giving her a choice – she can stay here in Danemark, watch over the house and tend the garden while I am gone, or return to America to be with her family.”

“Good luck with that one,” Bjorn said.

“The situation is far from ideal. She will have to adapt.”

“So when are you going to tell her?”

“Tonight when she returns from Als. It has to be soon. My boss wanted me to leave next week, but I have told him I will not go until the baby is born.”

“Jensen’s not going to be happy.”

“Believe me, I am well aware of that fact. I did not want to cast a pall of sadness over her parent’s entire visit, but I am sure that telling her now, when her parents are still here to comfort her, is a good thing to do.”

“I hope you’re right. If it was me, and someone was going to hit me with some bad news, I wouldn’t want anybody around to watch the fireworks.”

“Jensen has very much respect for her parents. Perhaps they will even agree to delay their flight home and stay longer so they can help Jensen with the baby when she comes. She is very close to them. Having them here to help her consider her choices will make her feel much better. I am sure of it.”

Except that he was not. These days, he was not sure about anything.

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Daybreak is available as a paperback now. The Kindle version should be available any day.

If you want to read Night and Day to hear how the story begins, click here.

Night and Day (1)

Anyone who has read “Night and Day”, my first novel, will enjoy reading the letter I just received from a (not THE) real life Leif Unterschlag, who lives in Copenhagen.
Dear Sherrie Hansen,
I recently tried to “google” my own name, Leif Unterschlag.  To my surprise, I found out that you have written a book “Night and Day” with a person called exactly that (pages 98 and especially 299).
As it is clearly fiction, I am of course extremely curious to know where you found my name and how you decided to use it.
You use a lot of Danish names in the book, but Unterschlag is – as you probably know – neither a typical nor a common name in Denmark (nor in the U.S.). And especially in combination with “Leif” it cannot be a pure coincidence. So please share with me your deliberations etc.
It would be a nice (and appropriate) gesture to send me (see postal address below) a printed copy – of course with a handwritten greeting from the author*:) glad.
Have a nice Easter holiday!
Yours sincerely,
Leif Unterschlag,
København, Denmark
(The letter has been slightly edited.)
Night and Day (1)
The REAL (to me) Leif Christian Unterschlag from “Night and Day” would have died sometime in the 1940s (off the top of my head – I don’t have a copy of “Night and Day” in front of me) in Solvang, California. His gravestone would have read Chris Christiansen, as he simplified his name when he immigrated to the United States like so many did. If you read the soon to be released sequel, Daybreak, you’ll get reacquainted with MY Leif’s son, Charles Christiansen, and be able to read some newly discovered letters that MY Leif wrote to Maren Jensen before he left Denmark. I also interjected snippets of Danish culture that I’m familiar with, like our family’s tradition of enjoying Danish aebleskivers.
Danish Pancakes - Done
Although my selection of the name Leif Unterschlag was purely coincidental, there are some characters in “Night and Day” who bear a close resemblance to a real life counterpart. My great-great grandmother, Maren Jensen, who is buried in Blooming Prairie, Minnesota. was the inspiration for Night and Day, although the book is truly a work of my imagination. In the book, MY Maren was married to Frederik, and born an entire generation later. Because I skipped a generation, my grandmother, Victoria, became Maren’s daughter instead of her granddaughter.  It can be confusing to those who know my family, but I wanted to use family names for those characters with real family connections.
Night and Day - Maren Jensen Grave
I chose the name Leif for the owner of the bakery in Slangerup (a real Danish town, where some of our Danish cousins lived) where Maren worked, because it sounded Scandinavian but was familiar and pronounceable to American readers. And, I liked the name. To be honest, I can’t remember exactly where I found the name Unterschlag, but I know I was looking for a name that was used in Sweden or Germany, since MY Leif grew up in Sweden. I routinely Google things like Danish or Swedish surnames when looking for names for my characters and find lists that are very helpful. I was also specifically looking for a name that is hard to pronounce, so that someone immigrating to America might be inclined to revert to the Scandinavian tradition of taking their father’s name (in Leif’s case, Christian), as their last name and adding a sen (or son) on the end.
For those who have read “Night and Day”, you may remember that the only reason Maren suspected Charles Christiansen was Leif Unterschlag’s son was that he was a nearly exact image of his father when he was young.  Charles himself, and the rest of the family, didn’t make the connection for decades.
Daybreak in Denmark (3)
When Daybreak opens, Jensen, her mother and father, are looking for any surviving Unterschlag relatives who may still be in Sweden or Denmark.  You’ll have to read Daybreak to learn more about MY Leif Unterschlag. Now that I know there are REAL Unterschlags living in Denmark, I feel a little funny about that. Will the REAL Leif Unterschlag please stand up?
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My Danish cousin, Helle, me, Helle’s daughter, Anna-Sofie, and Boyda, her mother, who wrote letters to my Grandma Victoria for decades.

Nowadays, I usually Google my character’s names and even book titles before I use them to make sure I’m not stepping on the toes of someone rich and famous. But then, there’s supposedly nothing new under the sun, so it is very likely impossible to find a name that hasn’t already belonged to someone at some point in history. I’ve even had readers tell me that they can’t believe how close one of my fictional stories is to what happened to them in their real life. I’m thinking of Merry Go Round and a reader who wrote me from Texas… it’s a little disconcerting! And, I had a woman approach me at a conference who told me I looked exactly like her daughter, and that every time she saw me across the room, she thought, what is my daughter doing here?
I guess it all goes to prove that truth is definitely stranger than fiction. Have you ever Googled your own name to see how many of you are out there, or if there are characters in a novel that have been inadvertently given your name?

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I wear a lot of different hats in my life as a writer, the owner and manager of the Blue Belle Inn B&B and Tea House, a pastor’s wife, and a daughter, sister and aunt. And I don’t get it from strangers. My Grandma Hansen loved wearing hats. During the depression, she and my Great-Grandma Danny used to make matching mother daughter dresses out of feed sacks. They would go to the feed store with Grandpa and root through the pile of feed sacks until they found enough in the right fabric to make two dresses. They sewed the dresses on a treadle sewing machine. I remember pumping my short legs back and forth on it when I was a girl. Grandma told me once that she never minded wearing a feed sack dress as long as she had a pretty hat to make it an outfit.

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So she would take a few pennies of the money she raised selling the eggs her chicken laid (their only source of cash during the depression) and drive to the Millinery Shoppe in St. Ansgar to buy a hat.

Zion - Hollyhocks

Grandma Hansen was a multi-tasker, and a wearer of many hats, just like I am. She cooked enough for a threshing crew even when there wasn’t one, had a huge garden, entertained family, friends and neighbors on a regular basis, taught a Sunday School class, and always seemed to find time for a game of Aggravation or Sorry with the grandchildren.  She taught us how to make hollyhock dolls (with pretty little hats) and pick eggs and butcher chickens. She was a woman of many talents. But no matter how busy she was, she always had time to tell us a story.

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When I think of how tired Grandma must have been at the end of a long hard day washing clothes on a wringer washer, sewing on a treadle machine, cooking over a wood cook stove and standing on her head out in the garden, it amazes me that she had the energy to tell us bedtime stories, And never just one… My favorites included Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, The Little Red Hen, The Three Little Pigs, and Chicken Little with Henny Penny, Ducky Lucky, Goosey Loosey, and Turkey Lurkey. There were also stories about our dad when he and his brother and sister were little. And there were stories from the Bible, stories about Jesus, and people he knew, like Nicodemus, Peter, and Mary, Martha and Lazarus. Grandma wove her stories with Billy Goat Gruff’s deep, scary voice, and Goldilocks sweet soprano. She held us spellbound for hours, telling stories that were new each time we heard them even though we had heard them hundreds of times.

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So it seems that I got not only my love of hats from my Grandma Hansen, but the gift of storytelling. As a writer of novels, I’ve spun tales of pure imagination in Night and Day, Stormy Weather, Water Lily, Merry Go Round, Love Notes, Thistle Down and Wild Rose that I hope would make her proud.

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When I put on my chef’s hat and go to work in the kitchen of my B&B, I tell people how the Blue Belle Inn came to be, and how I concocted their favorite recipes, how I met my husband and what interesting guests we’ve had that week.

Sherrie - Mark

I really do wear a hat to church most Sundays, when I dabble at being a pastor’s wife. And I tell the old, old story with my hands and voice, as I play the piano and help lead worship. When I’m with my nieces and sometimes my nephew, I tell stories about their daddy when he was a baby, and about what happened in our family before he was born. I’m 16 years older than my brother, and someone has to pass down the stories and legends and funny family tales. Who better than I, the oldest daughter of the oldest daughter of the oldest daughter for generations back? It’s a sacred calling.

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I used to wish I had one outstanding talent that would propel me to some sort of greatness. I play the piano plenty well enough for our small church, but a concert pianist, I’ll never be. I was a straight A student, but I’m no rocket scientist. I am good at a small dabbling of different things instead of being great at one thing.

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As I’ve gotten older, I’ve decided I like wearing different hats – my purple one to parties, my velvet one to church, my straw hat to tea and my floppy Florida hat with the big brim to the beach. What I once rued, I’m now thankful for. I’m a storyteller, a preserver of legends, a mind set free to fly anywhere in the world my imagination may take me.

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So thank you, Grandma Hansen, for telling me about Indians and horse-drawn sleighs and one room schoolhouses and eloping to the Little Brown Church in the Vail, and all the stories of your life. My hat’s off to you.

My first published book – Night and Day – is set in Blooming Prairie, Minnesota and Copenhagen, Denmark with a brief interlude on Prince Edward Island, Canada. My tagline, “It’s midnight in Minnesota and Daybreak in Denmark”, speaks to the fact that Jensen and Anders connect via the internet, each from their own corner of the world.

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My latest release, Wild Rose of Scotland, is set at St. Conan’s Kirk on Loch Awe.

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The second book in my Wildflowers of Scotland series, Blue Belle, takes place in Tobermory, a picturesque old village whose rainbow-colored storefronts are reflected in the waters off the Isle of Mull.

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For a writer / innkeeper / restaurateur / pastor’s wife whose life is too busy and complicated to plan a vacation anytime in the foreseeable future, “traveling” to these exotic locales in my mind is like taking a mini-vacation. Hopefully, my readers will also enjoy visiting the quaint spots that provide a backdrop to the adventures of Jensen and Anders, Ian and Rose, and any other of my characters who are lucky enough to find their homes in such beautiful places.

But we all can’t live in Colorado. Nor can we go on vacation all the time. My Maple Valley trilogy – Stormy Weather, Waterlily, and Merry-Go-Round – are all set in a fictional town patterned after Osage, Iowa, just 11 miles from where I live. The stage for these books is set with cornfields, cabbage patches, and contented cows grazing in pastures. The secondary characters are small town… well… characters. And it’s not one bit boring. To the contrary, writing about my hometown and the area surrounding it has been very enlightening.

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Looking at my very ordinary world through the eyes of my characters has shed a whole new light on what was once deemed plain. These people see things in my world that I never would have noticed. With their help, I’ve discovered a whole new meaning to the phrase, Beauty in Your Own Backyard. It’s amazing, the things I see when looking through the rose-colored glasses of the three Jones sisters.

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So, wherever it is you find yourself, take a look around. Whether you’re reading – or writing – a book set in Windermere, England, Apple Valley, Minnesota, Moonstone Beach, or Weedpatch, California, there are beautiful sights to behold no matter where you go in the world – a simple wildflower, a spectacular sunset, the moon glinting off a lake (or maybe even a mud puddle).

And next time you’re lucky enough to be able to take a vacation to some lovely new location, by all means, take your camera, your moleskin journal, your steno pad, or your Alphasmart. Take photos, record each memory, soak in every ounce of scenic beauty that you can.

All I’m suggesting is that when you come home, keep your camera out. Try looking at your own, everyday world through the eyes of someone who’s seeing those same, familiar haunts for the very first time. Take notice of the extraordinary, and you’ll discover all kinds of unique beauty – right in your own backyard. Learning to see the Cinderella side of your soot and ashes world, to appreciate the sights you take for granted, will make you a better writer, a better mother, a better lover, a better everything under the sun.

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Sherrie Hansen

http://www.SecondWindPublishing.com

Have you ever felt like you don’t belong anywhere? When I was a child, I often thought I must have been adopted. I loved to read and preferred to stay in the house while the rest of my family loved the outdoors and rarely opened a book unless they had to. I was and am very blessed to have a wonderful family, but in some ways, I’ve always been and will always be the odd one out.

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I felt the same way in school. I was smart and respected and had a close circle of friends, but I wasn’t athletic, and boys always liked me as a friend instead of a girlfriend, and I wasn’t a party-er and I didn’t dance because I was a Baptist. I read the Betsy Tacy books and wished more than anything that I would someday be part of The Crowd, but the truth was, I never really fit in. After I graduated, I went to Wheaton College, which might seem homogenous at first glance. But to me, it was a place of great diversity. I met people who were far odder than I, quirky individuals who bucked societal norms, did their own thing and didn’t care what anybody thought of them. Despite the occasional forays into uniqueness, there was still a typical Wheatonite – pre-med, ultra talented, superior intellect, old money or conversely, humbly raised children of pastors and missionaries – none of which fit me.

I got married to an officer in the army after two years of college. Our first duty assignment was in Augsburg, Germany. I won’t go into the mismatched marriage I was in at the time, except to say that in the midst of the ill-conceived mess I was in matrimonially, I felt very at home in Europe, and I found a great deal of acceptance within the military community. For the first time in my life, I started to feel like I belonged. Perhaps it was because the military attracted such a hodge podge of people. There were Okies from Oklahoma, hillbillies from Tennessee, southern belles from Charleston, South Carolina, proper to a fault West Point grads, gentle giants with black skin, and once I got there, a naive Midwest farmer’s daughter. I felt like I’d finally found my niche – and it lasted for all of about 10 minutes. Because the military is one of the most unstable, constantly shifting, always changing things in the world as far as places and spaces go. Command shifts, families transferring to different duty assignments, people staying in and getting out of the military, all set against the backdrop of a topsy turvy world where you’re always on alert, waiting for the next big things to happen – and it usually does.

Cal - Rachel SS

I felt I’d finally found my place in the world, and that that place only existed for a few short months in the space time continuum. Here today, gone tomorrow. When my marriage met a similar fate and poof – one day didn’t exist any more, it was a very hard thing. My ex-husband’s family had become mine, and then suddenly, they weren’t anymore. Disconnecting from the marriage and my role as wife was hard enough, but severing myself from the extended family was far worse.

I’m a farmer’s daughter. I was never a particularly good farmer’s daughter, but I was raised to put down deep roots, to commit for life, to count on people and things being there for a good long time if not forever. But the reality is that the whole world is like the ocean, or the sky – constantly changing, shifting, eroding, becoming more and more unrecognizable with every day that passes. And me?

Blue Belle winter

I’ve gone on to make my way in the world quite nicely. I’ve met with some successes, had a few dreams come true, and done quite well for myself. But in many ways, I still feel like I’m a misfit. I’m not a mother. I wear funky hats. I wouldn’t caught dead in nylons and can usually be found lazing around in Birkenstocks and slouch socks.  I’m a far from perfect pastor’s wife. Each of the walls in my dining room a different color. I’m awake when most people are sleeping, and asleep when I should be awake. If left to my own devises, there are more weeds than flowers in my garden. I play the piano but never the notes that are on the music.

Danish Pancakes - Done

I make round pancakes instead of flat. I write books with steamy scenes and God sightings – in the same chapter. I raise eyebrows, and have my own quirks, and march to my own drummer. I’ve never quite fit in and have finally starting to realize that I kind of like it that way.

Scotland - Rainbow 7

So Merry Christmas from the Island of Misfits. I rather like it here.  If you’re ever inclined to visit, please pick up one of my books… Jensen from Night and Day, Rae from stormy Weather, Michelle from Water Lily, Tracy from Merry Go Round, Hope from Love Notes, and soon, Rose from Wild Rose… characters who are full of foibles, characters who are sometimes a little off kilter or at odds with the world, characters who desire more than anything to find someone to appreciate them and love them just the way they are.

Scotland Duart Castle - Mull

Of course, there’s only one place in the world where we can truly find unconditional love, from someone who certainly knows what it felt like to be a misfit.  That’s what makes Christmas such a grand celebration!

believe

A couple of my friends were chatting on Facebook the other night. The first one asked for recommendations on what books to read this summer. At the end of one of her comments, she said, “Don’t bother to recommend romances, they’re a waste of time.”  When I responded, another friend said they weren’t referring to the kind of romances I write, but the ones that have no plot, and are just an excuse to include one sex scene after another. (I’m paraphrasing as best I can remember… but bottom line, they were not being complimentary to the romance genre.)

Forgive me if I confess to being a bit offended. And forgive me again when I say, I know exactly what they mean.

I’m reading a romance novel right now that’s written by a best selling author and published by a major house.  It has no plot to speak of.  Basically, something bad happened, long before the book began, and the book is spent reliving the past and discussing its implications on the present and future – ad nauseum. I like the characters, but all they ever do is go to work, go on dates, and make love. They sit and think about things – a lot. They talk about things, but they have no real goals, no motivation. No one is trying to keep them from attaining their non-existent goals. They are surrounded by friends – loving, supportive allies who want them to resolve their problems and be happy. They rehash the same old things again and again. I must care enough about the characters to find out what happens to them, because I’m still reading, but I find myself skimming over entire scenes because I am bored.  This is not a good thing.

It irritates me that authors who have the honor of being published by major houses write such drivel. It irritates me that readers, who are obviously buying their books by the thousands, don’t have higher expectations. It irritates me that their publishers don’t demand more from them. But most of all, it irritates me that I am being lumped into the same category as these writers, and writers who write the literary equivalent of porn flicks, just because I write romance.

To assume that my books have no worth simply because they end happily, and include a love story, is just plain insulting.   Reviewer Sheila Deeth called my first book, Night and Day, a thinking woman’s romance. I love that phrase. I have much to learn as an author, and Night and Day is certainly not perfect, but it’s also not trite, mindless, or a waste of time. Here’s what Sheila said:

“Some romances, you know exactly which protagonists are going to get together. You know it will be perfect. You’re just waiting for the characters to work it out for themselves. But Sherrie Hansen’s Night and Day isn’t that kind of romance. These characters are all too real and too flawed for a perfect world. They’re stubborn. They cling to dreams and don’t want to compromise. Their relationships struggle to pass each all-too-human hurdle, and even as the story nears its close, it’s not clear which lives will stay entwined and which connections will quietly unravel. Is love just an idealized dream after all, or are dreams the stuff of love?

Sherrie Hansen creates sprawling farm and comfortable home, American countryside, Danish streets, wobbling bicycles, squabbling siblings, lovers’ arguments… Her scenery and her characters are all equally real, from Anders despising all things American, to Jensen delighting in all things historical, to practical Ed and misunderstood Tara, and parents who’ve moved away to Arizona. The love in these pages isn’t syrupy sweet, the characters aren’t cutouts chasing after dreams, the internet’s not perfect and neither is love, or homeland. But the mysteries of a hundred-year-old romance have messages for an all-too-modern internet relationship, and the lessons of lilacs cut to make them bloom are relevant to all.

I loved following these characters as their relationships grew. I loved wondering what choices Jensen would make, and whether she and Anders could ever turn fairy-tale into reality. I loved the side characters. I loved the conversations. I loved the world…

Sherrie Hansen’s created a thinking woman’s romance, as full of depth and feeling and love as any other, but seasoned with history, internet, real relationships, common sense and hope; a wonderful novel, highly recommended.”

And one more thing, while I’m on the subject of romance. You could do worse. My husband and I just finished listening to all three books in the Hunger Games trilogy. Despair, disillusionment, detachment, and depression – from beginning to end. I’m of the opinion that this world needs a few more happy endings. I believe the world needs a little more love.  And if people find a little hope, joy, peace and love – a little romance – in the midst of all the negative things that pervade our world, is there anything so wrong with that? Take a chance on romance. Look for a novel by Lyn Cote, Pamela Morsi, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Jennifer Crusie, Julie Garwood, Jill Marie Landis, LaVyrle Spencer, or Debbie Macomber, to name a few. You’ll find plenty to hold your interest… action, adventure, worthy protagonists and antagonists, symbolism, meaning, depth.

I write novels that are commonly known as romance novels. Because romance novels have negative connotations for so many people, I chose to use the word love in the title of my blog, fearing if I used the word romance, most people wouldn’t even read the article. But don’t be mistaken. I’m proud to be a writer of love stories. I’m a thinking woman, and the romances I write are well worth a few hours of your time. Try one – you’ll be surprised at what you might learn.

I’ve been thinking a lot about unconditional love lately. Little girls and boys dream of it, young women wish for it under the nearest star, and people who have had a failed relationship pray that they will be granted a second chance at finding it. It’s something we all want – to be accepted and adored for who we are and what we are – just the way we are, an inherent  need / desire that never seems to go away no matter how old we get.

One of my favorite songs – a true oldie from the Disco era sung by Donna Summer – says it well.

Unconditional love is a theme that’s interwoven into almost every romance novel – whether the hero and heroine are kick-ass contemporary or an old-order Amish. Who doesn’t want to find that certain, one-in-a-million dream mate who’s a perfect fit for us?

We look for unconditional love in our non-romantic relationships, too. We want our teachers to “get us”. We hope our parents will accept our choices and admire our chosen path in life even if we don’t embrace 100% of their values or do things exactly they way they do. We crave compliments from our bosses and acceptance from our peers.

Unconditional love is the model of Christ’s love for us – Just As I Am, unworthy, guilty, with no defense – yet God’s love for us was so great that he sent His Son to die for us so that we could live and be loved, so that we could experience His abundant life.

I am blessed to have a husband who loves me even when I screw up or say things I shouldn’t. He may not like every single little thing about me, but he accepts and loves me nonetheless. He is supportive of who I am and helps me attain my dreams and goals. I have parents who are proud of me. I have friends and siblings who I can talk to and confide in, who are there for me when I’m in trouble.

I also have relationships that I’m not so secure in. As a boss / owner / manager of The Blue Belle Inn, a busy B&B and Tea House, I hope that my staff,  employees, and customers all like me, and think that each of my edicts and decisions is wise, fair, and commendable. That doesn’t always happen. I’m currently meeting new people and making new friends at the church where my husband is the new pastor. Of course, I’d be thrilled if every single person who attends the church adores me and thinks I’m the perfect pastor’s wife. Realistically, that’s not likely to happen, because people (at work or church, in families, and otherwise) can be nit-picky, critical, and hypersensitive about certain things. Add that to the fact that I (and I’m assuming you) am far from perfect and voila… We all have our own quirks and idiosyncrasies, and yes, faults. The people who are around us are bound to discover them eventually.

I’ve been nervous for the last couple of weeks because some of the people I’ve recently met are just finding out that I’m an author, and others, that my books contain some steamy scenes. For the record, my next book, Love Notes, which will hopefully be released later this spring, is a Christian Inspirational romance (hopefully the same sizzle you love in my books, but no sex). But to be truthful, I haven’t had a great conversion experience, and I can’t promise I’ll never write another steamy romance. Because each of my characters is unique, and I believe as an author that it is my job to respect each and every one of them for who they are, and write their story to the best of my ability. Some of them think about sex all the time, some hardly ever; some are bold and go after what they want; some are shy and reticent. Some are laden with guilt and shame, some tied in knots because they’re grieving. There are no cookie cutter characters in my books. Hopefully each of them has a unique personality of their own, complete with their own foibles and brilliant streaks – just like me!

When I joined the American Fiction Christian Writers last year, I worried about being judged, about not being Christian enough, about being rejected because not all of my books are “Christian”. Conversely, I’ve often felt like I didn’t quite fit in over at the  Romance Writer’s of America either. I’m a lot more conservative that many of them, and even when I’m writing straight contemporary romance, thoughts of God, family, home, and religion often creep into my work, something that is sometimes frowned upon.

Some authors take on a pen name and assume two separate identities when they write – one for one kind of story, whether is be erotica, mystery, suspense, or literary fiction, and another for romance, inspirational, or non-fiction. But I am stubborn. I want my friends and readers to give me their unconditional love. I am proud of all my stories, no matter what genre they fall into. You will find common themes of family, home and faith in each of my books. The ones with steamy scenes will be published under the name Sherrie Hansen (my maiden name). The ones with no sex will be published under the name Sherrie Hansen Decker, my married name.

No matter which of my books you choose to read, I hope that you will accept me for who I am – innkeeper / author / pastor’s wife / Everett Hansen’s daughter / Auntie Sherrie / sometimes sweet, sometimes silly, sometimes bossy, sometimes, shy, with a rare bit of a wild streak thrown in for good measure. I am uniquely me. I am not a cookie cutter anything.  And to the friends and relatives and acquaintances who would like me to fit into their ideal mold, who think I should be a bit more or less of this or that, please remember that the characters in the Bible were all pretty unique as well — Moses, Ruth, Esther, Joshua, Elijah, Peter, Paul, John, David,  Solomon — God used all kinds of unique people to accomplish His will – and still does. So please try to accept me for who I am even though you may like some things about me and not others.

Like everyone else, all I really want is your unconditional love. And, I really hope you like Love Notes! And Night and Day, Stormy Weather, Water Lily, and Merry Go Round. :-)

I decided to write about my online aura bright and early this morning. As I lay in bed, slowly waking up, I had the words all planned out… clever words, put together with onomatopoeia and alliteration and all kinds of good “stuff”.  And then my day began. My husband had an early morning doctor’s appointment at Mayo Clinic in Rochester. I tried to go back to sleep after he left, but the phone rang several times in a row. I took room reservations for my B&B for a total of 16 nights and started processing the paperwork. I found out a friend had just gotten out of the hospital – and I didn’t know she’d been in. I answered an email about a do-it-yourself murder mystery party. I checked my email, facebooked for a few minutes, then got another phone call reminding me to email some photos to my ad rep at the Minneapolis Star Tribune. I followed Kaila’s instructions,  had to resend one photo, and minutes later, proofed the ad. I had barely enough time for a quick shower and then it was off to the Blue Belle to fix lunch for several customers and throw together food, party games and prizes for Tanya’s baby shower. The party was a hit and Tanya liked the gift my husband picked out last night in the big city.  My husband and I climbed into the car as soon as it was over and headed for Thompson, where we scrubbed out the refrigerator, returned some folding chairs that mistakenly got moved to Hudson, and reclaimed a few odds and ends that didn’t make it into the moving trucks last weekend. While Mark finished up at the house and said a few last goodbyes, I and my portable keyboard went to Merle’s house with Mary Ann so the three of us could practice for my upcoming birthday / Blue Belle 20th anniversary party.  We drove the hour long drive home with a quick dinner stop at Subway in Lake Mills. Thank goodness they’re open until 10 p.m. Now, it’s after 11 p.m. and I and my aura are shot.

I was going to talk about the fact that some people have an encouraging online aura, others a humorous aura, and others still, an aura that’s sexy, cute or funky.  Some of my online friends have a bitter, cynical aura. Some come across as being crabby, complaining and whiny. Some have a faithful aura out of which shines a love for God and their fellow man. What kind of silent vibes do you transmit over the internet? Does your online aura personify the kind of person you are in real life, or do you use the internet as an opportunity to set your alter-ego free? If you met an online friend in real life, would they immediately recognize you?

Your words and the things you post, twitter, share and like, all make a statement about who you are – what’s important to you. In cyber space, all we have are words. Make each one count! Let your words shine with the essence of you!

If the subject of internet romance / relationship fascinates you like it does me, get a copy of my first book, Night and Day, and find out how a chance online meeting when it’s midnight in Minnesota and daybreak in Denmark transforms the lives of Jensen Marie Christiansen and Anders Westerlund.

My goal this morning was to write a blog that made me sound perky and pleasant… the kind of person you’d want to buy a book from. Instead, I probably sound exhausted – because I am! (But in the best way possible.) Keep smiling.

I can’t remember if my husband said it in his sermon on Christmas Eve at Zion Lutheran Church in Hudson, or if it was Pastor Mike from Faith E-Free Church in Austin, MN where we worshiped with my family on Sunday morning, but somewhere in the last two days I heard the phrase “Christmas is a time of new beginnings”.
Granted, there are aspects of the Christmas spirit that we should hold on to all year long – love, joy, peace, a spirit of generosity – but in many ways, Christmas is a spearhead that jump starts a whole host of events – a time to move on.
We all love a well-told story full of conflict followed by a happy ending, and certainly the Christmas story has it all… a tenuous engagement in which Joseph learned his virgin bride was pregnant with God’s son, a long, arduous, inconveniently timed journey to Bethlehem, the inability to find a place to stay the night, the stress of Mary’s impending delivery… and the grand culmination:  A baby born, a star shining in the night, a heavenly host singing “Alleluia,” shepherds bowing down in adoration, animals lowing, God’s incarnate presence in the flesh… The Christmas story is a masterpiece loved by all.
But the story does not end there. There is a sequel, and a great one at that.
Fast forward two years, and Mary and Joseph are visited by wise men, then warned in a dream that they should flee to Egypt. An evil King Herod is bent on killing Jesus – and is willing to go to great lengths to accomplish his goal. Perhaps an omen of things to come? The Bible says Mary pondered all of these things in her heart – I can only imagine what must have gone through her head – and Joseph’s – as these events unfolded. I love the song, “Mary, Did You Know?” because it looks past the Christmas story and forward to the miraculous transformation Jesus would bring into our lives as an adult, the Son of God.
If we only come to church at Christmastime – if we don’t ever read – and live out – the sequel to the Christmas story, we have missed the best part. If we don’t move on, past the sweet, little babe laying in a manger, to getting to know Jesus as a friend and Savior, we have missed the real story.
This Christmas season is also a time of moving on for my husband and I as he transitions to a new call at a new church, full of new possibilities, new growth, and new life. Although we hardly have King Herod hot on our tails, there have been some traumatic scenarios surrounding our decision to move. We’ve also said a lot of bittersweet good-byes in the last few weeks as we leave behind a church, a home and friends that we love dearly. But because we believe that God is calling us to live out a new chapter in our lives, we’re also excited and joyful about the sequel that is about to be written.
I am working on my own sequel, too. Almost three years ago, I wrote the last lines of my soon-to-be published book, Night and Day, and left Anders and Jensen in a happy place, planning a life together in either Denmark or Minnesota – maybe both. Hopes were high. Their future looked bright. A happy ending to their story was delivered as promised, and all was well.
But many of my readers wondered what happened next. They wanted to know the rest of the story. They wanted more.
For a long time, I was content, in my mind, to leave Anders and Jensen where they were. And then, a call from Pat Bertram, one of my fellow authors at Second Wind Publishing, for stories about springtime and renewal, got my mind going, and suddenly, I, too, felt a need to revisit Anders and Jensen, to find out what they were up to, and where they had been since I left off.
And so, Daybreak in Denmark was born, and the happily ever after has morphed into a complex new situation fraught with conflicts and less than perfect situations and — wondrous, magnificent, new life. Because life moves on, whether we want it to or not. At this Christmas season, let’s not forget the past – the sweet, inspirational message of the Christmas story – but let us also remember that seasonal sentimentality only goes so far, and that new life and growth will only thrive in our lives if we have the courage to move on and see what happens when we turn the next page, write a new chapter, and fully immerse ourselves in the sequel to the story.

It’s the day after Christmas, and it’s time to move on!

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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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