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Today, I had the opportunity and pleasure of updating my novel, Love Notes, before its re-release from Indigo Sea Press. Love Notes is one of my favorites. I’m very proud of it just the way it is, but it was fun to be able to make a good book even better.

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Love Notes is set in Embarrass, in the far north of Minnesota, which among other claims to fame, is know for being the coldest place in the lower 48 states. Embarrass fell to 64 degrees below zero in 1996.

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In the article Finding Embarrass, I learned that the word Embarrass is French for obstacle. The realization only convinced me anew that Embarrass was the perfect setting for Love Notes. Just as many obstacles – inopportune cold weather being a common denominator – deterred the Finns who settled Embarrass, Hope and Tommy faced a multitude of conflicting goals and stumbling blocks that had to be overcome before their relationship began to heat up.

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Logistically speaking, I changed several of the last names of secondary characters to Finnish surnames, and added a bit or two about the wonderful Finnish saunas that Embarrass is known for. And of course, my more mature writer’s eyes spotted a few tiny changes that also needed to be made in the text. Hopefully I’ve taken Love Notes from good to better to the best!

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Love Notes will be available as a new release from Indigo Sea Press in a week or two. If you haven’t already read it, I hope you will. Love Notes has no steamy scenes, but plenty of passion. Don’t be deterred in your search on Amazon, as the book was originally published under my married name, Sherrie Hansen Decker, but is now listed by Sherrie Hansen.

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If I haven’t already intrigued you, here’s what a couple Amazon readers said about Love Notes:

“This is a great story to curl up with and be nice and warm while you read about folks who are battling the cold… the frozen lake… the snow storm… the heartless banker… all while finding love in all sorts of different places and sometimes in surprising ways. Sherrie Hansen will keep you turning the pages as you are drawn in for a marvelous journey of two people discovering first of all themselves – their weaknesses, but also their strengths – and, inevitably, each other.”

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“Sherrie Hansen has given her readers another gift from her heart with Love Notes. Although much of the story is set in a frigid Minnesota winter, sparks fly between Hope Anderson, a widow and Tommy Love, an aging pop star. The book jump starts with a suspenseful water rescue and I was caught up in both the ensuing struggles and the growing romantic relationship between Hope and Tommy against the backdrop of the their opposing life visions and unexpected growing attraction. Add to that an unsavory backwoods man, and the financial problems Hope is working to resolve and it is a page turner with a heartwarming ending. Thanks, Sherrie Hansen!”

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“Sherrie describes the setting so well that I could see and feel the near frozen temperatures and the cold water of the Lake. I could see the fog coming off the water and feel the fear of the character as they struggle to start the boat that is stranded on the Lake. I could feel the coldness in the air so much that I went outside and read the next few chapters just to get warm again.”

“An opening scene with winter coming, a dark storm brewing on the lake, paints assumptions that time will surely pull apart… And two great characters, both proudly, fiercely independent, slowly learn to see through different eyes. Forgiveness of others and self, acceptance of unwelcome advice, and finding what to stay true to when others guide you away, all these and more form a backdrop to Hope’s desire to keep Rainbow Lodge afloat and Tommy Love’s search for a song to revive his life and career.

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Meanwhile each is freed from the past as God writes his Love Notes on their hearts, through song, through beauty, through faithful community, and through hope. The balance of finance and tradition in small towns is complicated. As well, “It’s complicated when two mature adults go into a relationship,” as one of the characters says. But complications can be anchored on solid ground and new life can be forged. 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.”

 

Sometimes a story is born of a place – an exotic locale tugs at your heart, captures your imagination, and you are off and running. I had that experience at St. Conan’s Kirk on Loch Awe, in Argyle, Scotland a few years ago.  The book I’m working on right now, Wild Rose of Scotland, practically plotted itself while I stood under the flying buttresses in the church yard and wandered through the lofty stone church.

The same thing happened to me in Florida a couple of winters ago. A trip to the Everglades followed by a brief excursion to the Pink Palace, a 1920’s era hotel on St. Pete’s Beach, and my mind started swimming with kidnapped heiresses and gangsters and missing ransom and a double cross and alligators and crocodiles and a canoe slipping through the swamp grasses and voila! A story was hatched.

At other times, a story comes void of a location. When I first started dreaming about Isabelle MacAllister and Michael St. Dawndalyn in Blue Belle of Scotland, I had never been to Scotland. My characters were firmly etched in my mind, but they needed a home. I researched several different Scottish villages online and fell in love with Tobermory, Scotland, on the Isle of Mull. When I finally got to visit Tobermory, Blue Belle of Scotland was already written.

A strange sense of deja vu followed me around the island from the moment the ferry docked at Craignure and we drove our rental car out of the hull of the ship. Seeing places that I had researched and written about was thrilling – and a bit weird. There were odd circumstances come to life, things that I couldn’t possibly have known but nailed perfectly – a woman walking towards me on the street who looked exactly like my mental image of Isabelle. I loved it! In an odd sort of way, it felt like home.

Love Notes, my latest, released earlier this summer, was born of characters and stories of old lodges and honeymoon cabins and music and contentment, a jumble of experiences and tales told to me by my Aunt Pat and Uncle Frank when we were visiting them at their cabin on Bear Island Lake, in northern Minnesota.

Rainbow Lake Lodge, the fictional setting of Love Notes, is a figment of my imagination, a conglomerate of lodges I’ve visited in Yosemite National Park and on Prince Edward Island, Canada, with a good dose of Burntside Lodge, Ely, MN mixed in.

Tommy Love needed humble beginnings with a Mayberry RFD flavor, where everybody not only knows your name,but everything else about you – for 5 generations back. They needed to be Minnesota nice and a little quirky, too. Ely, bustling with tourists and newcomers panning for gold, was a little too big and upscale to be a good fit. That’s when I decided Embarrass, MN was a perfect match for my cast of characters. Love Notes was nearly finished by that time, so I went back and researched Embarrass, then changed the story until it fit.

This past week, I visited Embarrass for the first time in several decades. Again, I had a a sense of deja vu as I matched digital pictures to real locations. I had a few tense moments, too. It is about five miles from the “Welcome to Embarrass” sign and any semblance of the town. I was starting to feel – well, a little embarrassed, thinking I had written about a town that didn’t exist, when we finally found the town hall. From there, it was another 5 or so miles to the outskirts of the actual town, and another mile or two to the  bank (credit union) and welcome center. The expression “Don’t blink, or you’ll miss it”, is very appropriate in the case of Embarrass.

When I started introducing myself as an author who had written a book set in Embarrass, I was thrilled to find I’d made precisely the right choice of locations. I’d soon had lovely chats with Diane, the city clerk, who bought my last copy of Love Notes, the friendly hostesses and resident poet at the Nelimark Homestead House, and Pat, the delightful hostess at Homespun Acres – an antique and gift shop in a barn – and Northern Comfort B&B.

In true Minnesota fashion, in mere minutes of meeting these folks, I knew where they were from, what year their grandparents had homesteaded their farms, and how they arrived in Embarrass, among other fascinating tidbits. Definite material for a sequel should I ever choose to write one. I left with warm memories, new friends, a bond and a few treasures from the antique shop. I didn’t confess that I am half Danish instead of Finnish, but I felt a tie to Embarrass regardless.

Storybook settings, whether born in the first moments of inspiration or researched  in retrospect, are a crucial element in any story. If you ever have the chance to visit Embarrass, Minnesota, I would urge you to go and immerse yourself in the local color for a day or two – or maybe take in a Finnish sauna at the Northern Comfort B&B. If it isn’t likely you’ll get up that way anytime soon, I hope you’ll read Love Notes. Better yet, I hope that when you turn the last page, you’ll feel like you’ve been to Embarrass. I’m happy to say I have been.

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