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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Sherrie and Mark 2013To friends and family on the occasion of Christmas 2015,

It’s been another exciting year – we have so much to be thankful for! Although we’ve resorted to a form letter once again, we hope to give you a little taste of what we’ve been up to in 2015.

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We both enjoy the awesome speakers and music at Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ gatherings. In May we participated in a continuing education event in OH, stopping at Sherrie’s nephew, Michael’s and Abby’s house in IN on the way back. In Oct, we drove to Dallas for the LCMC’s 15th annual gathering, staying with Mark’s cousin, Monte and wife Karen in OK on the way.

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We made two trips to Ely, MN; one in June for a few relaxing days with Mark’s Uncle Frank and Aunt Pat at their “cabin” on Bear Island Lake, and one in July with granddaughter Imix to see  cousins, aunts and uncles who were there to celebrate Pat and Frank’s 50th Anniversary.

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The next big event in our busy summer was Sherrie’s Mom and Dad’s 60th Anniversary Party, hosted by Corey and Kaye at Hansen Family Farms. Visiting nieces, nephews and cousins from all over the world (North Carolina to Seattle, and Boston to southern Brazil) made it a very special occasion, with great friends, good music, and a lot of delicious food all adding to the fun.

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After going a couple of years without a “real” vacation, we spent 17 days in Europe in July and August. We combined a visit to Romania to see Mark’s son, Erik, and his new wife with a stopover in the United Kingdom. Driving down narrow, hedge-lined byways on the “wrong” side of the road, enjoying plenty of caramel shortbread, eating at a pie pub with Sherrie’s cousin Sarah and family, visiting the quaint village where Doc Martin is filmed, climbing thousands of steps up to castles and down to the sea, and watching the sun set over the Atlantic Ocean while sheep grazed on the beach in Croyde, Devon, were all amazing adventures.

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The highlight of our 12 day trip to Romania was celebrating Erik’s wedding to Cristiana, or as Mark says, “chaperoning the honeymoon.” In Bucharest, we rented a car and circled the country with Erik and Cristiana as our personal Romanian-speaking tour guides. We spent an afternoon in Bacova, the ancestral hometown of Mark’s great grandmother as well as experiencing many beautiful castles, medieval towns, and the picturesque, traditional villages that dot the mountain valleys and countryside. Erik and Cristiana are well suited for each other and we enjoyed getting to know our newest member of the family and discovering a truly delightful corner of the world that we never would have thought to travel to if it weren’t for them.

Romania E&C

In addition to playing the piano at church, and working more hours at the Blue Belle than she has in years, Sherrie kept busy with the release of Shy Violet, her latest Wildflowers of Scotland novel, writing and casting numerous murder mysteries, and completing a 50,000 word writing challenge in November to finish the rough draft of Sweet William, her next book.

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Mark continues to find joy in his call at Zion Lutheran in Hudson, and enjoys watching our church family and Sunday School grow. In the midst of our busy, back and forth schedule, it’s an honor and a privilege to share our lives with and minister to the people at Zion.

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We are both thankful for the improvement in Mark’s mother’s health, and that Sherrie’s mom and dad have come through a trying year, medically speaking, and still continue to be active. It’s been fun to hear from each of you, too! Although we may not see you often, we continue to keep you close in our hearts and prayers. Until next year (or sooner if you travel our way!), we wish you a Merry Christmas and many blessings in the New Year.

Love, Mark and Sherrie

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

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

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

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

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

BBI Spring 2012

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

Food - Breakfast Palm Tree

 

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

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

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

BBInn - daffodils

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

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

Rainbow - Becky

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

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

Storm sun beams

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.

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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.

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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…

In Northern Iowa and Southern Minnesota, where I’ve lived the bulk of my life, the bluebells bloom around the first week of May and are usually at their peak on Mother’s Day. this year, we’ve had a long, hard winter, and it’s seemed like spring would never get here. But the bluebells in my yard are right on target, with clusters of tiny blue, pink, and purple buds ready to pop open on the next warm day.

Sporing - bluebells

It seems appropriate that my new release, Blue Belle, the second of my Wildflowers of Scotland novels, should be released just in time for the first week of May. I received my proof copy about a week ago, and should have copies for sale at my B&B, the Blue Belle Inn, by May 1st.

Blue Belle, a contemporary romance by Sherrie Hansen

Yes, that’s a lot of Blue Belles – and bluebells. I’ve already started to think about what I’m going to say about Blue Belle, the book, to my customers at the Blue Belle B&B.

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Some authors sell their books almost exclusively online. Since I have a steady stream of people coming to the tea house at the Blue Belle Inn, I sell a lot of print books the old-fashioned way.

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Over the years, I’ve found that what you write about a book on the back cover, to be read by prospective buyers who might pick it up at a store or look at it on a website, is quite different than what I feel comfortable saying to people face to face. I even wrote a poem for the back blurb of Blue Belle, which expresses many elements of the book very well. But I would feel quite silly quoting poetry table-side to my luncheon guests.

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When I tell people about Thistle Down (a novella) and Wild Rose, my first Wildflowers of Scotland novel, I simply say, “In Thistle Down, Pastor Ian MacCraig has two sisters who are going to be married. Emily has found the perfect man to marry. There’s only one problem – she’s not in love with him. Chelsea is wildly, passionately, madly in love with her fiance – he’s a total jerk.  Pastor Ian has some unscrambling to do, especially when the church ladies get involved.”

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And – “When Wild Rose opens, someone has been stealing architectural relics from the church yard, so Pastor Ian installs a security camera to try to catch the thief in action. What he captures is Rose Wilson engaged in a passionate romp under the flying buttresses.  My tag line is – Wild Rose and Pastor Ian MacCraig – a match made in heaven or one hell of a predicament?”

Scotland Bashful Rose

The blurb on the back of Blue Belle reads:

Isabelle doesn’t want to be found. Michael doesn’t want to be found out. When Damon starts searching for the centuries-old gold he thinks is buried in Tobermory Bay, it won’t matter what walls they’re hiding behind. Rocks will fall. Castles will crumble. No secret will be safe.

Age-old castles and blue-watered bays,
White sandy beaches and quaint cottage stays.
A rainbow of colors, and chocolates, hand-dipped,
A valley of bluebells, and sheep, freshly clipped.
Legends galore, buried treasure, and more…
In Tobermory, Scotland, that’s what’s in store.

Blue Belle Promo Poem

What I’ll probably say about Blue Belle is:

“Isabelle is a reporter from Virgina who’s been burned. Now, all she wants is the truth – and one big story to help get her confidence back.  Michael is a psychologist from Wisconsin who’s not only lying about who he is, but why he’s in Scotland pretending to be a contractor.  What neither of them knows is that Isabelle’s story is buried in Tobermory Bay, practically writing itself, and that Michael’s finely crafted tale – and the castle he’s restoring – are about to come crumbling down around them.”Blue Belle - promo jump

As time goes by, I hope to get my verbal pitch trimmed in half, or to think of the perfect one-sentence tagline that says it all.  In the meantime, I hope that one or the other of my blurbs inspires you to give Blue Belle a look. Romance, suspense and mysteries aside, it’s about learning to trust – and I hope you will trust me to deliver another good story.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lately, everyone’s been asking when my next book is coming out. Blue Belle, the second of my Wildflowers of Scotland novels, should be ready in 60 – 90 days. All it needs is a serious going over and a new ending and it should be ready to send off to my publisher. In the meantime, I took advantage of NaNoWriMo to get 40,000 words into Shy Violet, the third in the series, so there should only be a short wait between the two books.
BBI Spring 2012
Some of you know that my primary distraction from writing is a bed and breakfast called the Blue Belle Inn B&B. For the past few months, my two passions have come together in a unique way.  In August, I decided to write a series of what I like to call fractured fairy tale style murder mysteries highlighting the storybook themes of each of our guest rooms at the B&B is named after.

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I started out with our “On the Banks of Plum Creek” room and wrote (with apologies to Laura Ingalls Wilder), “Little Oops On The Prairie”. It begins when Nellie Olafson’s somewhat eccentric, mean-spirited cousin, Nutty Olafson, is found face down at the supper table. My tagline read: Something smells fishy on the banks of Plum Creek – is there a wolf in sheep’s clothing lurking in the Big Woods or a little killer loose on the Prairie? Suspects Nellie Olafson, Visiting Professor Jerald Jill of Iowa, Quick Draw McNutt, local football hero Big Brawny, and the much loved but tragically flat-footed Insoles family are all in for a Long Winter in the pokey unless the true murderer can be uncovered. I also planned a theme dinner which included Ma’s Bean Soup with Bacon, Chicken Pie with Baking Powder Biscuit Crust, New England Pot Roast with Potatoes and Carrots, and Roast Pork with Milk Gravy and Mashed Potatoes.

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We’ve been doing murder mysteries at the Blue Belle Inn for over 20 years now, at the rate of 4 to 9 times a year. Although I have several sources for purchasing the “whodunit” mystery games that become the basis for our dinner theater productions, it’s become increasingly harder to find fresh material that’s well-written.  The actors would often complain about how flimsy the plots were, or that there just wasn’t enough material to work with. Often times, I would spend hours fleshing out the plays I bought online with an opening  dialog, opening and closing statements, and so on, while the actors frequently had to unscramble plot elements that just didn’t make sense.

When I first started writing books, they were pure romance. I thought I’d never write novels that contained murder and mayhem, but in my last two books (Love Notes and Wild Rose) and the ones I’m presently working on (Blue Belle and Shy Violet), there are bad guys who are truly twisted, evil and bent on hurting people, a kidnapping, gunshots, and even a murder. As I worked on the motivation and chaotic situations caused by the suspense element in my novels, it occurred to me that I could just as well try my hand at a murder mystery. (Not to worry, there are still plenty of sweet, romantic moments in my novels, too.)

I also thought, if I wrote my own mysteries, that it would be fun to incorporate some local color. Some of our local spoofs include the World Famous Miracle Whip Clinic in Rochester, MN, where miracle cures abound, and our locally manufactured breakfast cereals with a pirate named Captain Crunch. Because murder mysteries are tongue in cheek, humorous and very irreverent, you can really toss in whomever and whatever you feel like. It’s also great fun writing parts that specifically match our actor’s best (and worst?) features. If we can’t laugh at ourselves once in awhile, what fun are we?

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In September, we performed our second original mystery, “Footloose in Never Ever Land”. The intro read: Who will be next to walk the plank in Never Ever Land? One thing is sure – it won’t be poor Woody Stuck, an old hippie who was stuck in the 60’s, because he was found belly up in the Lagoon a few hours ago. Now the clock is ticking and we hope you’ll help Peter Pun and the Lost Boyz find out who is guilty – is it Captain Crunch, the pirate with the biggest chompers ever, Rev. Hal Fyre and his crony, The Church Lady, free-spirit Windy, Fancy Free Willow Tree, Crocodile Rock, who has a scaly skin condition, or Stinker Belle, the church secretary? The theme meal included Gems of the Sea Puffs Mornay with Shrimp & Crab on Scallop Shells, “But Spinach is Good for You, Peter” Chicken with Spinach Artichoke Dip & Italian Cheeses, and The Church Lady’s Sunday Roast Beef with Mashed Potatoes.
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In October, we did “Shenanigans in Sherwood Forest with Robin Love & His Band of Unmarried Men”. The write-up says:  Relationships are complicated in UnTie the Knotingham, a small but wealthy kingdom where the divorce rate is extremely high. Thus, it came as no surprise when Richie Rich, a philandering playboy, was found dead on his wedding day. The question is, who killed him? Wife #7 – the former Maid Mary Ann, Ginger Root, wealthy nobleman Henry the Eighth, Friar Luck, Viking warrior Little Johnson, or Robin Love – a poor, mild-mannered attorney who has devoted his life to championing the underdog in divorce cases far and wide? It’s up to you to unravel the mystery before anyone else loses their head and does something crazy, like getting married. SHERWOOD FOREST CUISINE featured Cottage Pie with a Thatched Roof, and Fruits of the Forest Chicken with Mushrooms, Apples, Berries and a Splash of Brandy.

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That left “Anne of Green Gables”, “Sleeping Beauty”, “The Secret Garden”, Madeleine L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time”, and “Heaven to Betsy”, from Maud Hart Lovelace’s Victorian era Betsy Tacy books, for future mystery dinner themes. At the rate of one every 3 – 4 weeks, by the time we finished one mystery, my brain has already been working on the next, envisioning characters who tesseract, wear pompadour hair styles and floppy hats and climb big hills with the Crowd, or hob knob with princes and princesses and wicked witches and maybe a giant bunny rabbit or two.

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In November, for our Anne of Green Gables Fans, we premiered a mash up Lucy Montgomery’s Anne books and Gone with the Wind. “Anne Green and Dianna Dingleberry’s Most Excellent Adventure”. The lead-in read: When cold-hearted Rachel Bag O’ Wynde, the neighbor from down the lane, is found dead, every one thinks she choked on an artichoke heart. But one person knows how she really died, and it was no accident. Help Anne Green and Dianna Dingleberry find out who is guilty. Is it sour old Marilla Lemon, Matthew Chokecherry, obsessed with being best Gilbert Plum, Southern belle Scarlett Pimpernel, the pasty faced schoolteacher Ashley Grey, or Rhett, the Butler? Dudley Do-Right of the Canadian Mounted Police even made a guest appearance.The custom menu included PEI Potato Soup, Ingleside Inn’s Fried Steak with Cheesy Onion Gravy and Red Potatoes, and Anne and Dianna’s Most Resplendent Raspberry Cordial Chicken served with Cavendish Creamed Potatoes and Peas. The featured dessert was Bread Pudding with Caramel Whiskey Sauce – sans the mouse.

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In December, we tackled Sleeping Beauty with “Will the Real Prince Charming Please Stand Up?” My teaser read:  When game show host Alec Quebec is found dead, everyone on the latest episode of “To Twist the Truth!” is a suspect. Who is guilty? Is it one of the esteemed panel of judges – Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, wicked stepmother Eveele O’Gress, or Glimmer, the Good Fairy? Or is it one of the contestants – dashing Prince Charming, Hermie, the Outcast Elf wannabe dentist, or Dopey the Dwarf, who was last seen clutching a ruby red slipper and looking for Cinderella? Or is it Kermit, a spirited frog that keeps hopping around the stage? The made-to-fit menu included Bavarian Hunter Schnitzel on Homemade Spaetzle Noodles, Cinderella’s Pumpkin with Pork and Parmesan Filling, and Snow White’s Special Apple Pie.

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Our January premier was “Who? Whatsit? Which Wicked Witch is Dead?” a mash up that featured childhood favorites “A Wrinkle in Time” and the “Wizard of Oz”. My teaser read: When a Wrinkle in Time causes Camazotz and the Emerald City to collide, the witch is accidentally squished. Or was it Mrs. Which? And was it really an accident? Follow the yellow brick road with Meg Dorothea Ditz, Charles Wallace Wiz, Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, the creepy computer guy nobody likes – Jay I.T. Bug, Glinda the Good, scary mafia man Scarface Crow from Central Intelligence, and nice guy Calvin Tim Mann, who wears his heart on his sleeve, to find out which one really did it. I had fun with this meun – Emerald City Soup with Green Broccoli & Garlic Herb Toasts, Over the Rainbow Fruit Wand, Starry, Starry Night Steak with Green Peppercorn Sauce, Aunt Beast’s Best Ever Vegetable Cheese Puff, Out of this World Salmon with Seafood Stuffing, and Mrs. Murry’s Bunsen Burner Beef Stew with Biscuits on Top.

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On February 7 and 8, we’re looking forward to presenting another original murder mystery entitled “Betsy and Tacy Go Downton” – a mash up of my favorite books, the Betsy Tacy books by Minnesota author Maud Hart Lovelace, and the popular British TV series, Downton Abbey. Here’s what guests have to look forward to: When Betsy Ray’s British cousin, Matthew Crawley, fakes his death in a car accident and comes to Deep Valley, MN because he needs a break from Downton Abbey, a round of parties is planned to introduce him to the Crowd. When Lord Grantham and the Dowager Countess cross the pond to put an end to his lark, the unthinkable happens and Matthew is murdered. (Yes, this time, he’s really dead.) Did someone tamper with his dance card, hot wire his motor car, or spike his punch? Or could he simply not tolerate the caterwauling during the Cat Duet? Betsy, Tacy, Tib, Bad Boy Tony, Busty Bonnie the Minister’s Daughter (who we’ve never quite trusted), Joe Schmo, and Thomas, the Valet are all suspects. The menu includes “Onion Sandwich” Soup a la Mr. Ray, Betsy’s Heart of My Heart Chicken with Garlic Rosemary Cream Sauce and Artichoke Hearts,  Tib’s Beef Rouladen with Bacon & Onion Gravy on Homemade Spaetzle Noodles, Tacy’s Irish Meat Pie with Pork and Potatoes, and Lady Violet’s Elegant Roast Beef with Chardonnay Cream Sauce, Gorgonzola Cheese and Red Potatoes – and of course, a bite of the Crowd’s Famous Fudge for dessert.

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A tale based on the book “The Secret Garden” is next, in March or April, and will probably feature a mad Farmer MaGregor and that rascal, Peter Cottontail. After that – who knows? It’s been an absolute thrill to see the creative costumes the actors have come up with for each of my mysteries and watch the way they’ve brought my characters and words to life. My only regret is that I’m usually working in the kitchen and don’t get to see much of the performances. Our actors are some of the best and so creative! John Deyo’s portrayal of a hopping, green frog / Prince Charming and Lisa Deyo’s rendition of Sleeping Beauty were amazing and very memorable. Mel Schroeder has done everything from A to Z including a one-legged pirate. My favorite of Deb Stickney’s roles to date is The Church Lady but she also does a great German accent. My husband, Mark Decker, makes foaming at the mouth and dying look so realistic that it’s scary. Neil and Terri Hernan, Mark and Ken Borchardt, Phyllis Ruehlow, Brenda and Michael Esdohr, Julia Crail, Tiffany Adams, and so many more who have filled in for us on occasion are some of the most versatile, slightly crazy, very silly actors ever.

 I’m thrilled to say that our new, original mysteries have been getting rave reviews from our customers, including my mother, who said, “Are all those crazy things really in your head?”, to which I replied, “They kinda are.”

If you live in northern Iowa or southern Minnesota and haven’t been to one f the Blue Belle’s mystery dinners yet, it’s high time! Like I always say, at what other event does the guilty perpetrator of a dastardly deed get a round of applause? And as always, if you guess correctly or solve the mystery, you could get your dinner free.

One of these days, I’ll get around to finishing Blue Belle and Shy Violet, but in the meantime, if you’ve wondered what I’m up to – this is it! I hope you’ll also watch for another instance when my innkeeping and writing worlds are scheduled to collide… Second Wind Publishing will be hosting a Pitch the Publisher event at the Blue Belle Inn B&B sometime this summer or fall. Stay tuned for further details!

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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.

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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.

Danish Girl

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.

About 10 pm, I left work. My last words were, “I’m going to blog, and then I’m going to bed.” I’ve not been getting enough sleep lately and I have to be back at work at 7 a.m. tomorrow morning to receive a shipment.

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It’s now almost 2 am. I fell asleep in my chair.

So the moral of the story is…

Sometimes I think it would be nice to be Superwoman – to do everything I want to do and be everything for everyone I love.  But it just doesn’t work that way.

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I’m more Supernova than Superwoman.

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So get it while you can. Read “Wild Rose”.

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Just as the night is darkest just before the dawn, perhaps the light is brightest just before it fades from view .

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I’ll admit that I occasionally dream that the book I’m writing might just be “The Next Big Thing”.
I’ve known fellow Second Wind author, Pat Bertram, for several years and admired her not only for her storytelling abilities but for her savvy social media and marketing skills. So when Pat offered to tag me in an ongoing blog chain, “The Next Big Thing”, in which authors get to talk about their current Work in Progress, I jumped at the chance.
If you follow me on Facebook, you know that I just took advantage of NaNoWriMo to complete the rough draft of my current work-in-progress and  that it’s set in Scotland – I’ve been posting photos from our trip to Scotland to help get me – and you – in the mood for a visit to one of the most beautiful, intriguing places on earth. Here are a few more details:
What is your working title of your book?
Wild Rose of Scotland
Where did the idea come from for the book?
A few years after I married my husband, who is a pastor, we went on a dream vacation to Scotland, where we stumbled upon a beautiful old church along Loch Awe called St. Conan’s Kirk. I was new to being a pastor’s wife, and having a lot of “eye-opening” experiences. In the midst of my “adjustment period”, Rose’s character came to life.
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What genre does your book fall under?
Contemporary Romance
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
My husband, who has read snippets of Wild Rose, thinks Rose should be played by Kate Walsh from Private Practice. Although I’m not wild about her character or the role she plays in that show, she’s stunning, and looks the part. Emma Thompson’s quirky, upbeat personality and accent would make her a good match. I envision Ted as a young Sean Connery or Richard Chamberlain (think Thorn Birds) – or maybe Liam Neeson?
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Can the church ladies of St. Conan’s forgive and forget Rose’s ill-advised romp with a common criminal when it’s  captured for all time on Pastor Ted’s surveillance video – more importantly, can he?
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Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
My publisher is Second Wind Publishing. Although they haven’t yet read the book or set a release date, I’m told they are eagerly awaiting the completion of my manuscript.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
I’ve played with Wild Rose for the last 3 years and somehow managed to get 40,000 words written here and there along the way. I wrote the last 50,000 words in 30 days thanks to this year’s NaNoWriMo challenge.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Theme-wise, I have no idea. I’m sure there are some, but I don’t know of anything similar. Although my book does not have the paranormal aspects hers does, I hope I’ve captured the Celtic cadence and voice even half as well as Nora Robert did in her Irish Jewels Trilogy – Jewels of the Sun, Tears of the Moon, and Heart of the Sea.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Since it was God who led me to my husband and”made me a pastor’s wife when I felt like I was probably the least suited, most unlikely person for the role, I would have to credit Him.  And, since God is also the master designer of this whole forgiving and forgetting concept… well, you get the idea.
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What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
Wild Rose is the first of a Wildflowers of Scotland trilogy and will be followed by Blue Belle of Scotland, set in the picturesque  village of Tobermory, on the Isle of Mull, and… I’m tossing around Shy Violet or Sweet William of Scotland. We’ll see what happens!
And now, I’d like to tag Maggie Rivers, the writer who’s trying to get you to buy her a shoe! A very big shoe…  Who will be agged next in “The Next Big Thing” blog chain?  Maybe you? Coming soon – more great authors! (How’s that for a cliff hanger?)

I had a book I made at Shutterfly on the coffee table at the Blue Belle Inn B&B – a guest fell in love with it and asked me to order a copy for a friend of hers. Hope you enjoy it, too.   Sherrie

The Long and Winding Road

 

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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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