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According to Ancestry dot com, my DNA is a mishmash of curious combinations. While the main classifications that they identified held no great surprises, after seeing my DNA pie chart, I’m left with unexplainable images of a debonair Italian troubadour sailing to Scandinavia to open a pizzeria and wedding a sweet Danish girl from a seaside village, or a Middle eastern orphan who was conscripted to be the cook on a Viking vessel and ended up married to a Dane. My imagination and my travels have taken me many places in the world, and so, evidently, it was with my ancestors.

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If you’ve read my novels Night and Day or Daybreak, you already know that I have a love for and a strong connection to Denmark. My mom is half Danish and so was my Dad. That makes me half Danish – but who knows what snippets of DNA filtered into the Danish Viking gene pool over the centuries.

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I grew up believing the other half of me was 25% English / Scots / Pennsylvania Dutch (which I thought meant Dutch}, and 25% Bohemian. A few years ago, after living in Germany for 3 years in the late 70’s and not having a clue that I had any German blood, I found out that my Bohemian quarter was actually half Bohemian and half German. When I was in grade school and researching family trees, my Great-Grandpa Miller was already dead and buried. My great-grandma’s Bohemian pride had carried on while the German part of our heritage had gone to the grave with him. I started asking questions when I realized that Miller was NOT a Bohemian surname, and my dad filled me in on the rest of the story. Finding out that we were part German certainly explained why I felt so at home in Deutschland – and my family’s love of the Jaegerschnitzel and homemade Spaetzle recipes I brought home from Germany!

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My love for and the connection I feel to Scotland is a little harder to explain. But then, I think I have not only explained it, but given many illustrations of it in Wild Rose, Blue Belle, Shy Violet, Sweet William, and Golden Rod. I feel at home in Scotland. The scenery and the lifestyle and the people call out to me. Yes, I supposedly had a great-great or great-great-great grandmother who was Scottish. My ancestors hailed from a little village in Lincolnshire called Scoton, which means Scott town. But my passion for Scotland is born of my heart somewhere deep in my soul, and is really quite unexplainable.

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My husband and I are currently in Arizona for a Spiritual Life Conference and later tonight, we’re going to attend a Burns Dinner with bagpipers, Scottish dancers, haggis and meat pies, addresses to honor the great poet, Robert Burns, and of course, some wee sips of whiskey. I can’t wait to meet others who love Scotland and relive various facets of the culture we fell in love with in the 9 weeks we’ve spent in the country – so far.

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Tomorrow, we’re heading to northern Arizona to visit the Painted Desert, the Petrified Forest and an Indian reservation – another culture that’s been precious to me ever since I read about Sacajawea in the 3rd grade. Yes, I’m a bit eclectic.

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This fall, we’re planning a trip to Prague and several villages in the Czech Republic to explore my Bohemian roots. A few years ago, we spent 2 weeks in Romania, where we followed up on leads regarding my husband’s ancestors. I’ve been to Denmark three times, England several times, and returned to Germany with a new appreciation for my heritage. The ties are there, the pull is strong. I can truly imagine living in any of those areas. Somehow, I’ve bonded with the people and places – in part, because of my heritage, and in part, because I listen and pay attention when places and things call out to me.

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There’s one other component of my DNA that is an integral part of my personal DNA, and that’s that I’m part of the family of God, adopted by grace, through faith in Jesus. Those roots go deep as well, impacting everything I think, do, and write.

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So take me as you find me, for who I am and who I will become as I deconstruct and explore the various niches and facets and colorful strands of my DNA. It’s reflected in my books – in my whole life. If you haven’t already, I hope one day you’ll join me in the journey.

 

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Have you ever wondered what happens after your favorite book comes to an end? We’ve all turned the last page of a novel, hoping and praying that there’s a epilogue, or as the musician in me likes to think of them, a postlude, so we can peek ahead and get a glimpse of what the future holds. I hate saying goodbye to characters I’ve come to love. Even better, is that moment when you talk to your librarian or do a search online and find out there’s a sequel! If you’re like me, we’re talking overnight express time!

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For more than a decade, I’ve heard from readers who have wanted to know what happened to Jensen and Anders after Night and Day came to an end. They’ll be thrilled to know that now, the story goes on. I just finished a rough draft of Daybreak in Denmark, a sequel to Night and Day. It should be ready for release by mid-summer.

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In the almost, but not quite as good category, are cameo appearances by the characters of the previous book in the next. I love linking story lines together in my Wildflowers of Scotland books, although, much as we love getting reacquainted with old friends in a new book, it’s not the same as a true sequel. When old characters are resurrected in a new character’s book, they can’t be allowed to steal the show or take over the plot. After introducing Lyndsie, Rose’s teenaged niece, in Wild Rose, and bringing her back as a spunky young woman in Shy Violet, it was amazing to write her story in Sweet William. I knew Lyndsie so well by the time William came into her life – her background, her hopes and dreams, her foibles, her family – that the scenes in her point of view practically wrote themselves.

I also find that emotions evoked by familiar, beloved characters are deeper, richer, and have a greater capacity to draw us into the story. When readers learn that the same lovely breasts that captivated Pastor Ian, and made Rose something of a scarlet woman, have been invaded by cancer, we truly get it. We weep with Rose and grieve with Ian and pledge to support them both to the bitter end, just like Lyndsie did.

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Or maybe you didn’t want to know that Rose and Ian adopt her young, immature nephew’s child, who then decides, some years later, that he wants his baby, now toddler, back… maybe you prefer that Rose and Ian stay forever young, their hopes and dreams for a fairy tale future bright and shiny and untarnished for all time.

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I had similar feelings once upon a long time ago when I first read the Little House on the Prairie books. If the series had ended with On the Banks of Plum Creek – if I had never opened By the Shores of Silver Lake, I could have continued to imagine Mary’s beautiful blue eyes seeing the world around her, for years to come. But had I not read on and dealt with the heartbreak of Mary’s blindness, I would have missed out on all the pleasure I gained in reading The Long Winter, Little Town on the Prairie, and These Happy Golden Years.

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It’s no secret that rarely does anyone live happily ever after. When you turn the first page of a sequel, there are bound to be disappointments – romantic notions lost – along with the delight of seeing what old friends are up to. The important thing is, joy of joys, we get to turn the page and see what happens next! Does that mean the mystery is gone? If you’ve read Night and Day, there will be no wondering who Jensen is going to end up with when you begin reading Daybreak in Denmark. But her future, Anders’, Ed’s, her family’s – what happens next, beyond the pages of Night and Day – will still be a complete enigma.

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So read on! In a sequel, the complexities of first falling in love are replaced by trying to adjust to a new life and overwhelming changes – some good and some unwanted.  There may be disillusionment and disappointment. Things may or may not turn out the way you hope they will. Because, as Jensen soon finds out, the happily ever after endings that romance novels are famous for are, in reality, nothing but a fairy tale, and even if you have the most wonderful husband in the world, things don’t always turn out the way you hope, dream, plan, wish they will.

Intrigue, drama, conflict and black moments – they’re all there waiting for you in a sequel. But so does joy come in the morning, after even the blackest of nights. Even sequels can have happy endings.

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One reviewer called Night and Day “the thinking woman’s romance.” I can’t tell you what they’ll say about Daybreak in Denmark, but I can promise you it was thoughtfully written from a perspective of deep, abiding love for Minnesota, my home state, Denmark, my ancestral home, and the Jensen, Christiansen, and Westerlund families, my fictional first loves.

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A few days ago, at a funeral, a woman I didn’t know said in passing, “Keep those books coming! I love every one!” I nodded and smiled, because I fully intend to do just that – and something tells me she’s really going to love Daybreak in Denmark.

Maybe it’s my Viking blood, but I’ve always had a case of wanderlust. I grew up on a farm in Minnesota, We farmers put down deep roots. But in addition to the solid, stable grounding I had as a child, I was also taught that it was fun to travel. My parents took us on camping trips to Colorado, Florida, Canada, and everywhere in between. My Dad loved (still does) to pull off the main road and see what lay down each little lane and byway. No staying in the same cabin at the same lake every summer of every year of our lives – we camped at a different State Park or campground every night so we could see as much as we possibly could.

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I’m a firm believer that there’s all kind of beauty right in our own backyards, but I’m still curious about what’s around the corner.

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When I was in high school, I signed up for mission trips, choir trips and journalism and poetry workshops on various college campuses so I could see as many little corners of the world as I could. When my Great-Grandpa Lightly died (I was 15), I hitched a ride down to San Antonio, Texas with my Uncle Kenny and Aunt Cathy, who had driven home for the funeral, and spent a week exploring the Texas Hill Country, the River Walk, and the air force base where they lived. At the end of the week, I flew home to Rochester, MN. I was the first of our family to fly on an airplane. I still have the little packets of sugar, salt and pepper and the napkin imprinted with the airline’s logo that I got on that flight.

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When it came time to choose a college, I couldn’t wait to leave home and explore the Great World. I selected Wheaton College, in Wheaton, IL, and for the next two years, hopped on the “L” and explored downtown Chicago every chance I got. At the end of my sophomore year, a friend from Maine suggested that we look for jobs in Bar Harbor. I got engaged while I was there and after a military wedding in Lawton, OK. and a brief visits to Minnesota and St. Louis, I ended up living in Germany for 3 years. All of Europe was at my back door. I took advantage of opportunities to see Budapest, Hungary, Salzburg, Austria, Lucerne, Switzerland, Paris, France, London and the Cotswolds in England, Florence, Italy, and Gouda and Amsterdam in the Netherlands, and loved every second of it! From there, it was back to Oklahoma, and then Colorado Springs. Every time I had enough money saved up, I took off to see another part of the world – Dallas, Santa Fe, Durango and Telluride, Colorado, Banff National Park, Lake Louise and  Calgary in Canada, Disney World in Florida, Wales, England, Prince Edward Island, Bainbridge Island and Victoria, Canada, the Blue Ridge Mountains, old Virginia, and Washington, DC, Denmark and Norway. I lived for (and worked hard to pay for) the times when I could explore the world and satisfy my wanderlust.

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After years of being single and sometimes short a traveling partner, I was very blessed to find a husband who shares my passion for exploring. Since Mark and I have been married (almost 10 years ago), we’ve taken trips to his home state of California,  seen Death Valley, the Grand Canyon, and Yellowstone National Park  (all firsts for me), gone to Scotland, Germany, southern France, Italy, Denmark, the Amish area of Indiana, Florida, and most recently, Louisville, Kentucky. Next week, we’re off to Wisconsin to catch a ferry across Lake Michigan, where we’ll explore yet another area of the country.

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Some writers (and people in general) never stray far from home. There are authors who set all their books in England, Scotland, the northeast, Northern MN, Texas, or the South.  And I have to admit that I’ll go anywhere with my favorite authors, including staying in the same small town with the same characters. But my books are a lot like my life. I like to explore different places, see different sights, and experience a change of scenery as often as I can. It’s refreshing. It renews your perspective. It reminds me that there’s a whole big wide world out there, and that the universe doesn’t revolve around me. Traveling, experiencing different cultures, broadens us and grows us and changes us. It promotes understanding and empathy. It enriches us in countless ways.

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Part of my wanderlust is no doubt a part of my genetic make-up. But I truly believe that another very important part of my thirst to experience new places, people and things is a result of the books I read as a child.

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I was there when Betsy Ray headed out to have her Great Adventure in Europe, when Laura and Mary helped Ma and Pa pack up the covered wagon and set out for a new territory, when Daniel Boone went exploring, and when Lewis and Clark and Sacajawea set out to find the Pacific Ocean.

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Perhaps it’s presumptuous of me, but I hope that my books create the same kind of stirrings in you. If you haven’t already, I hope you’ll take a trip to Scotland with Rose and Ian in Wild Rose, the first of my Wildflowers of Scotland novels, that you’ll join Anders and Jensen in Copenhagen, or Hope and Tommy in Embarrass, the coldest town in the USA, or see what the Midwest is really like in my Maple Valley trilogy, A change of scenery is a good thing. It refreshes. It restores. It renews. Come along for the ride and you’ll see!

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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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LOVE NOTES has been released and let loose in the world, and I am ready to move on. But to where? And to what? I am lost and don’t know where to go.

To Scotland?

To Florida?

To Denmark and the Faroe Islands?

Do I revisit Anders and Bjorn, Jensen and the Christiansens in Daybreak in Denmark?

Do I get to know Rose, who is wild, and Ted, the vicar, who is not, but so wants to be, in Wild Rose of Scotland?

I have plenty of inspiration to write about a host of quirky church ladies, should I decide to visit St. Conan’s Kirk on Loch Awe.

Or should I finish Blue Belle of Scotland? I already know Aileana, the blue belle from Virginia, lost, like me, in Tobermory, Scotland.

I know Damen and his secrets. I know Micheal St. Dawndelyn and his. Believe me, he has more than a few. Not as dark as Damen’s, but shady enough. Blue Belle of Scotland scares me. Too much nakedness, too frightening, too close to home.

If I go to Florida, I have my setting, the sand swells of the beach, the Pink Palace rising up from sea level like a treasure chest half swamped in sand, but overflowing with gems.

I know the Everglades – birds of every color, plants, water.

Alligators lurking everywhere you look.

But that is it. This book has no name. I have a plot, a conflict, and I know who the characters will be, but I don’t know them. They are also nameless.

I don’t know what they’re like, what they like to do, what they like to eat, if they’re on Facebook, what they wear, what color hair and eyes they have. They are strangers to me.

So do I want to spend some time with strangers, and hopefully, make some new friends, or do I want to see what my dear old friends are up to. There is comfort in the familiar. Do I feel brave and gregarious, or timid and shy?

I am lost. I have no idea which way to turn. The friendly folks of Embarrass, Minnesota have opened their arms to me in a warm welcome, but I cannot stay there. I must go out into the world, explore new places, see new things. It is what it is.

Will it be warm, balmy Florida, cool ocean breezes, palm trees and swamps, sand and seashells?

Or is it the stiff winds and nippy breezes, rhododendrons and wild roses, bluebells and cool, deep, waters of the highlands that call out to me?

Hairy coos and tidal pools, stolen loot and whiskeyed-up fools. Kilts and bagpipes and monsters lurking in the depths. That’s what Scotland is made of.

But then, there are those tall, magnificently blond Danes with sun-washed eyes of blue, oceans and time, still keeping lovers at bay. Babies and boys and a whole new world… Denmark calls me. It is the land of my ancestors.

Each place has its allure. So many stories waiting to be told. I don’t know which way to turn. I need more time, an extra set of hands, a spare brain.

I know Cristina wants to go to Florida. She loves it there. We were there, together, when the plot hatched.

Helle and Villiam want me to come to Denmark. They know me well. It is where my heart is. Ancient ties.

Mark wants to go back to Scotland. It’s golf. Always has been, always will be. His mistress. And I so loved the tea houses, the castles, the history, the shoppes. It is the perfect place to be with Mark, so appealing to each of us.

So what will it be? At the moment, I just want some Swedish meatballs, with a big old scoop of mashed potatoes and gravy. Hold the Lingonberry jelly, please.

But a good Scottish breakfast sounds good, too. Cumberland sausages, and that wonderful smoked haddock pie with mashed potatoes and shredded cheese on top.

Or some chocolates, hand made in Tobermory.

But Florida has healthy, Whole Foods. Key Lime Pie. And fresh oranges.

It all sounds so good! Can you see why I’m confused?

Please share your thoughts. Where, oh, where, should I go?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ve been thinking a lot about love letters lately. For the last few weeks, I’ve been working on an inspirational novel I wrote a few years ago called Love Notes. This week, I started writing a sequel to Night and Day called Daybreak in Denmark.

Night and Day, my first book, contained some very special – and revealing – letters from Maren Jensen, who had recently immigrated to Blooming Prairie, Minnesota, written to her cousin, Sophie, back in Slagerup, Denmark.  Night and Day also contains some beautiful love notes from Anders Westerlund, sent from Denmark to Minnesota to Jensen Marie Christiansen, via email. One of my favorite scenes in Night and Day is when Jensen changes the font of an email she received from Anders to one that looks like handwriting, prints his letter on parchment paper, and lays it and a rose she picked from her garden on her pillow.

This morning on Facebook, my second cousin, Marcia, mentioned some letters that she received years ago from her Aunt Vic (my Grandma Victoria, who died at age 93, about 7 years ago). Her comment brought back a flood of memories, as I too used to get letters from my Grandma, special notes in birthday cards, then full-fledged, rambling epistles full of vignettes from her life and stories about aunts and uncles and cousins, even a few relatives I didn’t even know. The letters started when, at age 18, I went off to Wheaton College in Illinois, and followed me when I moved to Bar Harbor, Maine, Augsburg, Germany, Lawton, Oklahoma, and finally, Colorado Springs, Colorado. She stopped writing only when I stopped wandering and came home to northern Iowa / southern Minnesota. From that time on, I saw her and talked to her face to face almost every week.

Letters are a very interesting form of communication. In them, people sometimes dare to say things they would never say to someone were they talking to in person. An expression of love, a passionate – or angry – response, an accusation, a confession — why is it that many of us can say with our pen what we can’t with our lips?

Sometimes letters are simply a matter of practicality. Much as we wish never to be separated from the ones we love, it’s impossible to be two places at once, and sometimes we have to resort to letter writing to communicate. While cell phones, Skype and live chats on Facebook may have eradicated some of the impetus we used to have for writing letters, there is still a time and a place for a thoughtfully written, old-fashioned letter.

When I was in 5th grade, Roy Anderson and I got into trouble for writing love notes in class. We had to sit in the hall – together, on a small bench, just the two of us – over recess. We were so embarrassed by the end of the lunch period that I don’t think we spoke to each other again until graduation day.

The summer between my 7th and 8th grade years I wrote and re-wrote and re-wrote and finally mailed a love letter to a boy I had a crush on. Nothing ever came of it – I honestly can’t remember if I even signed it, but there was something very significant about the fact that I admitted my feelings.

When I was going through First Presbyterian’s Divorce Recovery Workshop, we were asked to write a letter to our ex-spouse, saying whatever we wanted or needed to say. At the end of the exercise, the letters were destroyed. Over 25 years later, I have no idea what I wrote, but I do remember that it was a very therapeutic way to clear the air.

When computers became the rage and internet dating- internet everything –  came of age, I had a good advantage in that I knew how to write. E-mails were suddenly key, and I excelled at them. I was lousy at flirting, and awkward as all get out when it came to first dates, job interviews and loan applications, but I knew how to write, and because of it, many doors opened to me that might not have.  I’ve always been better with words written than words said, and that simple fact has helped to shape my life.

There are everyday, run of the mill letters, and there are famous, life-changing  letters that are known worldwide. Thomas Jefferson’s letters helped shape the course of our country. The Apostle Paul’s letters to the Galatians, Ephesians, Corinthians, and Philippians and to a young  Timothy, written in the first century, still deeply influence the way many of us live our lives today.

My Grandma’s Danish cousin, Boyda, still has the real letters in which Maren Jensen poured out her heart to her cousin back in Denmark. They’re written in an old-world handwriting and cadence, and we may never know exactly what is said in them. But the mystery of those letters, and the little bit I do know of them, has already inspired a love story whose legend will live on. What is a book, if not a love letter written to our readers?

I’ve sold a rash of books recently, to new and old acquaintances who are excited to meet a real, live author in person, and curious to know what prompted me – an otherwise ordinary person – to write a book.

“Are the books true?” I’m often asked. “Are they about you? Did you really…?”

My answer usually depends on whether or not my mother is around.

The truth (well, part of the truth) is that some of the things that happen in my books really have happened to me – in one form or another. Yes, Virginia, there really is an Anders. Although I have never met him in real life (and he is not from Denmark), our online friendship had a big impact on my life, and resulted in one of the main characters in my first book, Night and Day.

In Stormy Weather, there are several inciting incidents in the book that did really happened, not exactly as they occurred in the novel, but in such a way that the characters of Rachael, Mac and Luke were born. Luke is probably a combination of two or three different men I’ve known. And yes, I really am terrified of tornadoes. And I really do love rainbows.

In Water Lily, the main character, Michelle, struggles with issues of low self-esteem, something I’ve grappled with all of my life. And my ex-husband really is from St. Louis, and he really does have absolutely perfect, very white teeth.

The characters and plot of my new novel, Merry Go Round, due to be released on May 22, are distinctly different from and very far removed from my actual life experience. I’ve never had children. As fate would have it, I am married to a minister now, but I had not even met Mark when the book was written. Tracy and Clay, the main characters, are complete and total figments of my imagination.

But even in Merry Go Round, there is a snippet of something that really did happen to me, and that is that I once loved a man who turned out to be gay.

In my experience, life’s little disappointments often turn out to be the fodder for great and wonderful things… the kick in the pants that catapults you to a new level of maturity, the catalyst that spurs you to move onward and upward to a new personal best, the lost job that leads you to a new, twice-as-rewarding career, the heartbreak that leads you to discover the true love of your life…

There was also a boy, when I was about sixteen, that I knew well, and had a huge crush on. One day, he called my house, presumably to talk to me. Instead, he falteringly asked to speak to my younger sister, who he asked out on a date. They did not end up married. He did not turn out to be gay. Their first date was a trip to the county fair. Knowing my sister, they probably rode the Zipper instead of the merry-go-round. But a little disappointment (which at the time seemed great), made a big enough impact on me that almost forty years later, it became part of a story called Merry Go Round.

I see two of my nieces every Wednesday. They are six and nine. Sometimes, when they tell me what happened at school, as I listen and watch them fight and tease and live out the little dramas that make up their lives, I wonder which of these events they will remember when they are fifty-four, which of their little disappointments will one day weave themselves into the stories that make them who they are, or even change the course of their lives.

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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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