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When I first began to write books, I remember saying that I would never write about murder and mayhem – that it just wasn’t in me to dwell on the grisly, gruesome details of such occurrences. These kinds of things were so foreign to my own life, that I couldn’t imagine the characters I concocted even remotely being in a situation where they’d encounter such experiences.  True to my intentions, the most traumatic things my characters in Night and Day, Stormy Weather, Water Lily, and Merry Go Round have to deal with are squabbling siblings, backstabbing friends, insensitive parents, nosy neighbors, troublesome children, minor medical problems, the rare encounter with a wild animal , the occasional disruptive weather emergency, and of course, broken hearts.  Not that lions and tigers and bears – oh, my – tornadoes, and bats in the house can’t  be unnerving, or that unplanned pregnancies, nasty exes, finding out your husband is gay or being betrayed by someone you trust  can’t be demoralizing, but you get my point. Nothing really bad or evil came close to touching my characters.  No one died. No one was hurt so badly that they couldn’t be fixed. Nothing unbearable happened.

With the release of Love Notes and Wild Rose, my readers saw a slight shift to a more suspenseful mode – bad guys that were truly bad, a kidnapping, gunshots, murder.  I’d crossed a line. I think that part of it was that my own reading tastes changed. Several of my favorite authors changed over from romance to suspense / thrillers and I went along for the ride. I read new authors, like Second Wind’s Christine Husom, who writes about comfortable, folksy Midwesterners like me who suddenly find themselves dealing with murdered parents and dismembered bodies in cornfields and cults in their backyards, and does it with dignity and aplomb.  Sadly, I think some of it is that the world has turned into such a crazy place that I can now clearly envision my characters having run-ins with evil, despite their best efforts to steer clear of it. As awful occurrences get more and more prevalent, it’s easier and easier for my imagination to “go there”.

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So what are your thoughts? How do you account for our fascination with the morbid? I hear over and over again from readers that they’re not “into” romance, but that they love to read gritty mysteries and thriller or suspense novels. If you’re one of my readers, are you glad I’m inching towards the unthinkable? (Not to worry – there are still plenty of sweet, romantic moments in my books for those of you with tender hearts. ) Any of you who have read all of my books probably also noticed a shift from steamy to not so much. When I made this switch, I expected accolades, and have instead heard from many who are disappointed that I stopped crossing that squiggly line.  It’s interesting to me that while some readers find my steamy scenes offensive, they seem to have no trouble with reading about violent, evil people and the situations that ensue because of their hatefulness. Personally, if I’m going to “clutter” my mind with one thing or another, I’d rather it be with something I think of as beautiful and natural rather than deeds and actions that are ugly and perverse.

What do you think? Have we opened a can of worms with our mysterious fascination with the morbid? Does the art of writing and reading about it quell our fears or feed them? Does it give you a sense of triumphing over evil, or give you pause for fear we are planting the seeds of further evil? Do you feel anxious and terrified after reading a book where horrible things happen to good people, or do you feel inspired by people who get life’s worst thrown at them and live to tell the story?

I always illustrate my blogs with appropriate photos, so here is the most dark, foreboding photo I could find with it’s cheery, upbeat counterpart. Which would you rather read about?

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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One of the first things I saw on Facebook this morning was a photo of 6 or 7 women of every shape and size (including some who are quite large) lined up in a  row, part of the “Real is Perfect” campaign presented by SKORCH and Lane Bryant.  I pressed like. When I was growing up, if you didn’t look like the excessively thin model, Twiggy, or have a figure like Barbie, you weren’t considered to be pretty, say nothing about perfect. I’m glad that I (and evidently others) have learned that beauty comes in all different shapes, colors, and sizes.

Part of the reason I chose to accept the contract that Second Wind Publishing offered me for my novel, “Night and Day”, a few years ago is that it seemed like bigger publishers were looking for a more standardized idea of “beauty” in the books they published, and that an independent press was more likely to be open to unique stories that didn’t fit the current mold embraced by the masses.

I felt that my books were “different” in two major respects – one, that my stories were about what the publishing industry considers to be older characters (30′s and 40′s as opposed to 20′s), and two, that my books contained aspects of both faith and a conservative Christian world-view, and  some fairly lusty, what I call steamy, scenes.

My characters are real. They’re not perfect people living in an evangelical Christian bubble. They are touched by evil. Their temptations are much more than superficial , and  sometimes they give in to them.  When they do, they feel pleasure. When they do things that are opposed to what they believe is right, and when they do things in the wrong order, or at the wrong time, they also feel pain. There are consequences to actions, whether having sex before marriage or eating or drinking too much, or simply having the wrong focus and priorities in life.  Because my characters and situations are real, you see both. Diversity often brings dichotomies, and conflict, and I believe that makes for a good story.

Much to my delight, my books have been well-received, and garnered good reviews. Readers have been enthusiastic.  My publishers were supportive. I was thrilled that I was able to write the books of my heart without feeling pressure to color totally inside the lines. And then I tried to write a book for the Christian fiction market. “Love Notes” has no steamy scenes. Hope’s faith has remained strong even in the face of losing her husband, and almost losing her home. Tommy Love grows more and more convicted of his selfish ambitions and turns back to God. There is a clear Christian message.
In a review of “Love Notes”, Sheila Deeth says “Sherrie Hansen Decker’s Love Notes is Christian romance where fiction is lifted up, not bogged down by faith. Genuine hope kindles slowly in human hearts. Beautiful music soars. Trials come, not because the characters are sinners but because they’re human and the world around us is wounded. The bad guys are drawn with space awaiting healing grace, and the scenery, towns and countryside are vivid with beauty and darkness side by side, hope hiding in the shadows.”  And,  “This story kept me glued to the page, never knowing how I wanted the tale to end, but always sure the author would end it well. After all, she’s very clearly listening to the author of our lives as she writes these lives—Christian fiction indeed, where honest humanity meets heavenly hope.”

In the Timberjay newspaper out of Tower, Minnesota, a recent reviewer said “Anderson is struggling to reopen the resort owned by her late husband, who died in a car accident. Tommy Love is a local boy who found national fame in the music business, who is now looking for a peaceful spot to call home. Their two paths collide when a local banker tries to foreclose on the resort in order to sell the property to his old friend, Tommy Love. The book is an inspirational Christian romance, with plenty of intrigue and adventure. It is also a novel that explores the complications and hurdles when two middle-aged adults, with very different histories, fall in love. The weather, as in any novel set in northeastern Minnesota, also plays a significant role in the story. In an interview with author Pat Bertram earlier this year, Decker said “I hope each reader will have their faith in miracles renewed. I’m a firm believer in second chances. I know from personal experience that God can take the most adverse scenario and make something beautiful out of it – in His time.”
When “Love Notes” was first published, I joked that if every one who had griped about the steamy scenes in my previous books bought a copy of “Love Notes”, it would be a best seller. But I’m not laughing any more, because certain Christians evidently feel that “Love Notes” is not Christian enough. First, an “influencer” from American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW), declined to recommend the book to her friends because it contained the word bi-ch (uttered by the bad guy). Now, a Christian bookseller has declined to sell the book in her bookstore even though it has a “great story line”, because the main characters sleep under a shared blanket to stay warm in an ice storm after the power goes out, and the bad guy hopes to have sex with his ex-wife, and other characters have “sex thoughts”. Even more insulting was her assessment that “God is mentioned, but neither main character really knows God and who He is.”
So, what to do? I will not be writing any more books for the Christian market. I am going to write real books with real characters who struggle with issues of faith within a real world context. If their struggles lead to passion, some “steam” will be included. If that’s not where the story goes, you can join the ranks of those who were disappointed when I told them “Love Notes” didn’t have any steamy scenes. And as for the Christians who are so confident that their  particular brand of Christianity is so perfect, I would remind you that there was not one perfect disciple, who said one perfect set of words when he came to Christ and who lived a perfect life thereafter. There were 12 different disciples, each one unique, each of whom came to Christ from a different place, and in a different way. Each had different weaknesses and strengths, their own personal doubts and struggles, a different style of writing, and a unique ministry. Yet God used them all. There are also prostitutes and murderers and adulterers and and sex thoughts in the Bible.  It’s a  real book about real people living in a real world. And I think it’s the perfect book.
As for “Love Notes”, I’m sure it is far from perfect. But it is real and I hope you will read it and decided for yourself if you agree.

Some people call it “going through a rough patch”.  Others, ” a bout of the blues”.

Last year, my life was a frozen tundra of bitter winds, harsh realities, and frosty receptions. My soul got nipped by the frost. The edges of my green things shriveled.

You’ve seen it just like I have – the weather is warm and springlike, so you poke your head out and let yourself grow.

You start to blossom, and then, when you’re basking in the crisp, clear sunlight of spring wonderfulness, you hear the forecast – or not. A freeze warning. You try to cover yourself, but when it suddenly gets cold – unexpectedly so – there is going to be some damage to your fragile blossoms no matter what you do.

When we go through extended periods of ungodly, cold temperatures, our soft, warm, trusting hearts can turn to ice. We stop feeling, stop caring, stop hoping. The concept of spring is inconceivable when you’re an ice sculpture.

And then, something or someone brings about a thaw. It always seems to happen – eventually, usually when you have given up hope of ever feeling warm, ever again.

Don’t get me wrong… a spring thaw can be a wonderful thing, but please beware of muddy puddles and and thin crusts of ice that look deceivingly strong, but won’t support your weight. There is a danger, if a spring thaw comes too fast – before you are ready – that you will fall through the ice and drown.

My new novel, Love Notes, will be blossoming sometime soon. Hope Anderson is trying to bring Rainbow Lake Lodge back to life again. It’s the only way she feels she can honor her late husband’s legacy.

She’s starting to thaw, painting cabins, sewing quilts and planting tulips, dreaming of spring, when an unexpected frost catches her off guard… a banker with evil intentions, a supposed friend with a secret… ice everywhere. Slippery, cold, ice.

Tommy Love of Tommy Love and the Love Notes fame has everything money can buy, and nothing that really matters. His heart has been an ice cube for  so long that it may never thaw. Then, he meets Hope, and gets reacquainted with God. Will his new-found faith cause a heat wave? Will Tommy give up everything he thinks he wants to find the only thing he has ever really wanted?

So bloom where you are planted. Let your blossoms shine in the sunlight. It’s always the right thing to do.

But never trust the weather.

It can change in an instant.

My life has changed drastically since I last blogged. My husband has resigned his call to the church where he’s been pastor for the last 11 years.  I knew his ministry there was coming to an end because of recent events within our church and the denomination that the church belongs to, but I did not know that it would happen so soon, or that it would be so sudden – or that the whole process of saying good-bye would be so painful.

One unfortunate consequence of this whole unfolding mess is that I have learned I am being cyber-stalked. Parts of my previous blogs, taken out of context, were read aloud at a church council meeting where my husband and I were then berated. This kind of thing hurts me deeply as a person and a writer.  I have always tried to be honest but discreet in my blog posts. My intention has never been to diss others, but to honestly express my own feelings about the impact of certain happenings and actions on me. I have never even thought a bad thing about the women who were upset with me. Quite the opposite! Knowing that my words were twisted and used against me, and my husband, is a horrible feeling.

So what to do from this point forward? Clam up? Shut down? Shut up? Stop writing at a time I most need to release my angst, vent my frustration, ask for prayers and gain support from friends and family, many of whom my only connection to is online?

I suspect I shouldn’t care what the people who criticized me because of what I wrote think of me (although I do), but a concern is that my husband is obviously looking for a new call, and I really, really don’t want to do anything to jeopardize his chances. But when I think of trying to live out the next however many years under a gag order, not able to say what I really think or be who I really am, is is so disheartening that I want to cry. Am crying.

A year and a half ago, I was in a group at Gather.com called Shedding Light, led by the wonderfully insightful Mariana T.  She asked us to make a list of the things we needed to shed, the things that are holding us back, and dragging us down. Among the things I listed were Clutter, Stress, Anxiety, Insecurity, Low Self-Esteem, Excess Weight, Inertia, Excessive Possessions,  Computer Games and other Time Wasters.

To the past and future church council members who may be reading this – there you have it. You now know all of my vices. Look no further. Dig no deeper. It’s all right here.

The sad thing, as I read this list, is that instead of shedding the things on the list, I seem to be attracting them like a magnet. I feel like I’m inside a huge snowball, gathering unwanted masses of the above items as I roll downhill. I feel like I’m about ready to hit a tree and explode into a million fragments of icy debris. I can’t concentrate.  I am terribly over-committed and way behind on everything, but I can’t seem to get anything done.

But maybe there is hope. I got my blog done, didn’t I?

I started reading romance novels in earnest about 18 years ago, while visiting friends on Prince Edward Island.  Before long, a pattern began to take shape… The heroines were almost always young, beautiful, career women, living in a big city. These women were most often naive, innocent virgins in their early twenties who were struggling financially and trying to succeed in a career dominated by men. Heroes were typically much older – in their late thirties, and rich, powerful, men of the world. The men were successful in their careers, experienced in lovemaking (having been with a multitude of partners), and often had a “bad boy” persona. Siblings were almost non-existent, and parents were distant, and at the time of the story, were often vacationing in Europe or conveniently dead.

While worlds filled with characters of this sort were fascinating at first (What woman hasn’t wished at some point in their life that they would get swept off their feet by a wickedly handsome, wealthy man with a mansion on the coast and an apartment in Paris? Who hasn’t dreamed of a world where you can do whatever you want to without having to worry about the fact that it’s probably going to break your parents heart, who will find out because your siblings ratted you out?)

But fun as these little fantasies were, I longed for stories about people who were more like me, plot lines that I could relate to, men and women whose happily ever endings were meaningful because, on some level, they were like me. At the time, I was single, in my mid to late thirties, divorced, slightly cynical, maybe even a little jaded. I was not a virgin, nor was I beautiful. I had gone on a few dates with a man who owned a BMW and a Mercedes convertible, but alas, he had neither an estate on the East or West Coast nor a summer home in Europe. My job was important to me, but family and friends were far more important. I had 2 brothers and 2 sisters and my parents – even two of my grandmothers – were alive and well. In fact, I had learned at the world-wise age of 22 while on a train to see the Passion Play in Oberamergau, Germany, when a man from the grain elevator in my hometown spotted me and said, “Aren’t you Everett Hansen’s daughter from Austin, Minnesota?” that wherever I went in the world, someone would always know who I was.  Which meant I couldn’t get by with anything.  I remain quite certain to this day that if I were ever to have a torrid affair with the a fore mentioned wickedly-handsome, sinfully-wealthy man of my occasional dreams, that one of my aunts, uncles, or many cousins would spot me, and my parents would know by nightfall.

While it was fun to periodically drift off to a fantasy-world filled with people totally different than I, it soon lost its luster. A friend recommended I read LaVyrle Spencer’s novels. She was from Minnesota, and her books were full of honest-to-goodness, down-to-earth, real-life characters with all kinds of small-town, Midwestern family twists and turns. Historical and contemporary – I could relate to and loved LaVyrle’s books.

When I eventually started to write my own novels, I followed suit.  For me, home is where your story begins. Living in the Midwest, surrounded by family-based accountability, love, interference, sharing, guilt trips, support, and yes, sometimes meddling, how could I possibly write a book that didn’t include those elements? What can I say? If one or both of your parents are on Facebook for the sole purpose of keeping tabs on you and other family members, you would probably like my books. If your family tree has many limbs and branches, and if you like realistic stories about struggles with family and faith by characters who aren’t perfect-looking or rich, you’re probably my reader. If you like characters who missed out on God’s perfect will for their life years ago and are down to Plan C, D or even E; if you can relate to men and women who are slightly disillusioned with how their lives have turned out but ever hopeful that miracles can happen, then you will probably like my books. If you’re from a small town, but have a big family, you’re probably my reader. If you know what “Heard it on the grapevine” means, if there are no secrets in your family (well, very few) and if you like the kind of tangled webs that result from brothers and sisters and moms and dads being an integral part of each others lives, then you’d probably enjoy reading my stories.

Night and Day, Stormy Weather, Water Lily, and Merry Go Round are all full of local color, family interactions, and honest, this-could-really-happen situations.  In my humble opinion, when someone like me – and probably you – believable people – find true happiness in the midst of  their everyday and occasionally extraordinary problems,  it fills me with hope. If it can happen to them, it can happen to me. What is more exciting, more comforting, more thrilling?

I’m at my desk, looking at a picture frame that includes the graduation photos of my Grandma Victoria and her sweetheart, my Grandpa (Harold) Lightly, and my Grandma (Lorna) Hansen and her dapper beau, my Grandpa (Albert) Hansen. Love stories that beget love stories that inspired love stories.   Home is definitely where my story started. How about you?

In the little town of Saint Ansgar, Iowa, where I’ve lived for 20 years, a conscientious Christian has posted a sign on the way into town that announces “The wages of sin is death.” Not exactly the greeting you might expect…

On the back of the sign, which you can’t possibly see until you leave town (unless you can spin your head around and drive at the same time – I can’t), is the rest of the story:  “But the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ Our Lord.”

The Bible verse (Romans 3:23) is one of my favorites. When read in its entirety, it has a beautiful message. But I hate the way the sign leaves me dangling. What if I don’t leave town for several days, two weeks, or a month? What if I leave town by a different route? What if it’s dark? I might never get to the good part. I might never know the rest of the story.

As a reader – of signs and books, I don’t like to be kept waiting too long. If the beginning of a book is too depressing or slow-paced, I might not keep reading long enough to get to the good part. If a climax builds too slowly or drags on for too long, I might stop caring before I get there. If a book contains too many cliff hangers, I’m going to be very frustrated, especially if I have to wait a year or two to finally find out what happens. Even in a series where each book comes to a complete end, with the next installment starting up with a new character or generation of the same family, I don’t like to be kept waiting too long. I forget pertinent details, names and relationships and connections between characters.

And what about those books that have multiple story lines about several different characters and so many sub-plots going all at once that by the time you get six chapters down the road and are finally taken back to the main storyline, you can’t even remember what was going on? Next time I pick one of them up, I’m going to read Chapters 1, 5, 9, 13, 17 and 21, then go back and hit Chapters 2, 6, 10, 14, 18, and 22… and so on. It’ll be much less irritating.

Am I the only one who gets impatient if I’m left dangling too long?

The third and final book in my Maple Valley Trilogy, Merry Go Round, was released about a month ago, and it’s been surprising to me how many people have bought all three books at once. “We’ve been waiting until the trilogy was complete”, they’ve claimed. “We hate having to wait between books, so we don’t even start a series until we can read the whole thing from start to finish.”

I wrote as fast as I could when I was working on Stormy Weather, Water Lily, and Merry Go Round, knowing that those who had started the series were clamoring for the next in line. My publisher worked with me as much as possible to get each subsequent book out quickly. I do understand where those readers were coming from, and am glad I could oblige without leaving anybody waiting for too long.

If the owner of the “Wages of Sin is Death” message is reading this, my advice is to get a second banner and post them like the old-fashioned Burma Shave signs… “The wages of sin is death,” and then a few yards up the road, a second sign with the hope-filled conclusion, “The gift of God is eternal life…” I don’t mind being left hanging for a few yards, but I don’t like to be left waiting for too terribly long, or the point is lost on me.

A little suspense is great, but don’t keep me on the edge of my seat forever. A nice, slow build up to a tender love scene is very sensual, but don’t dash my hopes too many times or I may not even enjoy the happy ending when it comes. As a reader and a writer, my opinion is that once you have the momentum going, it’s best to keep on climbing at as brisk a pace as you can manage.

And as for my neighbor, if you’re going to tell me the bad news, you’d better find a way to share the good news now – not later!

My husband, the pastor, has been working on a sermon this week about Peter walking on the water… and then, a few minutes later, sinking like a stone. I’m marveled with him at Peter’s exuberance, his willingness to get out of the boat and attempt something that seemed impossible. And I’ve been humbled right along with him when Peter’s enthusiasm turned to panic, when he took his eyes off Jesus and focused on the waves crashing all around, when he started to sink.

Being  a writer is a little like being Peter. One minute, you’re walking on air, a local celebrity. You can do anything you set your mind to! The creative juices are flowing. People can’t wait to get their hands on your new book, a woman you don’t even know drives miles to get you to sign a copy of your book, and the morning show on Channel 3 asks you to speak about your successful writing career on their next show. The next, the local grocery store doesn’t want to carry your books any more, and the library in the town were your book is set only wants your latest release on their shelves if you donate a copy, and a handful of family members conspire to disown you because your books are too steamy.  I mean, what did you expect? Your publisher is small beans and your book is 300,000 millionth on Amazon.com. You’re not exactly Janet Evanovich.

And never will be, a little voice says.

I’m a lot more timid than Peter was. I’m the one that most likely stayed in the boat, clutching the gunwale,  half envying Peter for having the guts to do what he did, the other half absolutely sure that Peter was going to die.

It’s not that I don’t trust. It’s not that I don’t have faith, but I’m also pretty practical and inclined to pessimism at times. I’m scared to death of stormy weather.  Although there was that one time when I was a kid, when my sister talked me into climbing up on a ladder to the roof, to watch for tornadoes – in the middle of a tornado warning. I should have been in the basement. But it was so fun to take a chance and live on the wild side – just that once.

Every time I “let” you read one of my books, I’m taking a chance, stepping out of the boat,  climbing up on the roof to look for tornadoes. You may like me. You may think I’m a loser who should have stuck with running a bed and breakfast. Although, come to think of it, I take a chance every time I open the doors of my tea house, dish up a meal that I’ve created, and invite you into my B&B. You may like my cooking. You may hate it. You may love my taste in art and covet my antiques. You may think my house is a cluttery mess.

Every day of my life, I have to make a choice. Do I listen to the voice that says, “Get out of the boat. Reach out and take Jesus’ hand.  Have faith. Go for it.” Or, I can hunker down in the bottom of the boat and hang on for dear life, afraid to poke my head up and live.

Here’s to walking on water.

In closing, I’d like to share the words of a song called “Voice of Truth”. The Christian rock group Casting Crowns says what’s on my heart more perfectly than I ever could.

Voice of Truth by Casting Crowns

Oh,what I would do to have
the kind of faith it takes
To climb out of this boat I’m in
Onto the crashing waves
To step out of my comfort zone
Into the realm of the unknown
Where Jesus is,
And he’s holding out his hand

But the waves are calling out my name
and they laugh at me
Reminding me of all the times
I’ve tried before and failed
The waves they keep on telling me
time and time again
“Boy, you’ll never win,
You you’ll never win

But the Voice of truth tells me a different story
the Voice of truth says “do not be afraid!”
and the Voice of truth says “this is for My glory”
Out of all the voices calling out to me
I will choose to listen and believe the Voice of truth

Oh, what I would do
to have the kind of strength it takes
To stand before a giant
with just a sling and a stone
Surrounded by the sound
of a thousand warriors
shaking in their armor
Wishing they’d have had the strength to stand

But the giant’s calling out
my name and he laughs at me
Reminding me of all the times
I’ve tried before and failed
The giant keeps on telling me
time and time again
“Boy you’ll never win,
you’ll never win.”

But the voice of truth tells me a different story
the Voice of truth says “do not be afraid!”
and the Voice of truth says “this is for My glory”
Out of all the voices calling out to me
I will choose to listen and believe the Voice of truth

But the stone was just the right size
to put the giant on the ground
and the waves they don’t seem so high
from on top of them looking down
I will soar with the wings of eagles
when I stop and listen to the sound of Jesus
singing over me

But the Voice of truth tells me a different story
The Voice of truth says “do not be afraid!”
And the Voice of truth says “this is for my glory”
Out of all the voices calling out to me (calling out to me)
I will choose to listen and believe (I will choose to listen and believe)
I will choose to listen and believe the Voice of truth

I will listen and believe
I will listen and believe the Voice of truth
I will listen and believe
‘Cause Jesus you are the Voice of truth
And I will listen to you.. oh you are the Voice of truth

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Golden Rod – New Release!

Sweet William

Shy Violet

Blue Belle

Wild Rose

Thistle Down

Love Notes

Night and Day

Stormy Weather

Water Lily

Merry Go Round

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