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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!

I hate thinking of myself or the romances I write as middle-aged. In many ways, I still think of myself as being young. Besides, age is relative. When  my mom had my baby brother at age 37, I was mortified. To a sixteen year old girl, she seemed ancient – way too old to be having sex. At 54, I realize the error of my thinking. 🙂

When I was a young girl, the church I grew up in talked about something called God’s Perfect Will for Your Life.  When I married the wrong man at age 20 and got divorced at age 27, I figured I’d missed the boat for good, and that whatever awful fate befell me from that point on was no one’s fault but my own.

Popular culture sent the same message. In Donna Summer’s hit song, “Last Dance”, she sings,  “Last dance, last chance for love. Yes it’s my last chance for romance tonight.”  Grab it now, while you can, when you’re young, in the prime of your life – or you may never have a second chance.

But our God is a God who forgives, who gives second chances, in His time… a God who promises, “All things work together for good to those who love God.” Even when things go awry along the way. Even when the unthinkable has happened.

There’s something sweet and magical about the naivety of our first love. But there’s also something rich and particularly satisfying about a second chance at love.

  I wrote several novels about falling in love – fantasies all – while waiting for a second chance at real-life romance. It was hard to be patient.  It was tempting to grab on to the first man who came along. Anything had to be better than being single, didn’t it? But eventually, with the council of many wise friends, I could admit that it was far better to be alone than to be married to the wrong man.

There was a song we used to sing in The Growing Edge, the Sunday School class for single adults aged 25 to 4o that I attended at First Pres in Colorado Springs, called “In His Time.”

IN HIS TIME, IN HIS TIME
HE MAKES ALL THINGS BEAUTIFUL IN HIS TIME
LORD, PLEASE SHOW ME EVERYDAY
AS YOU’RE TEACHING ME YOUR WAY
THAT YOU DO JUST WHAT YOU SAY
IN YOUR TIME.

IN YOUR TIME, IN YOUR TIME
YOU MAKE ALL THINGS BEAUTIFUL IN YOUR TIME
LORD, MY LIFE TO YOU I BRING
MAY EACH SONG I HAVE TO SING
BE TO YOU A LOVELY THING
IN YOUR TIME.

There were times that I was so tired of waiting, so frustrated with my circumstances, that I could barely make it through the song without crying – or feeling downright mad at God. I wanted to be in love, I wanted to be loved. I wanted to be married, to have a family before it was too late.

Almost 20 long years after my divorce, I was still waiting. I’d had a handful of relationships that weren’t meant to be for one reason or another, a couple of broken hearts, and a couple of terrifying near misses that – thank the Lord – never came to fruition.

I thought I’d missed my chance. The odds against a woman in her late forties finding love and remarrying were staggering, and I knew it.

And then one day, a nice (and very handsome) man asked me out on a date. He was a pastor. After our second or third date, he asked me to come to the church where he is a pastor, to hear him preach.  Obviously, if our relationship was to progress, I had to be comfortable with his calling.

I drove an hour that Sunday to attend his church. When I entered the sanctuary the organist was playing the song… IN HIS TIME.

Yes, there is something very satisfying about a second chance at love. When you find love after 40, there’s a greater appreciation, a deeper joy, a more wonderful than ever love that envelops you – heart, soul, mind and body. When a man can love you when you’re – yes, I’ll say it – middle aged – with all the “imperfections” and attitudes that come along with living 4 or more decades, when you’re not nearly as cute and perky as you were at 20, it’s a joyous surprise, maybe even a miracle.

And that’s why I write books about second chances. That’s why Jensen in “Night and Day”, Rachael in “Stormy Weather”, Michelle in “Water Lily” and Tracy in “Merry Go Round” are all approaching 40.  That’s why some of my heroines have been married and divorced, some are “old maids”, and one, Hope Anderson, in an upcoming novel, Love Notes, is widowed. That’s why some have baggage, one has a complex, and another, a huge chip on her shoulder. That’s why they’re tarnished and even a bit tattered.

The heroes of my novels are also older.  Like my leading ladies, Anders, Mac, Jake, and Clay have lived, they’ve loved, they’ve lost, they’ve been crushed, and heartbroken and devastated. And they’ve survived. And because they’ve lived through the pain of life, they’re richer and more sensitive, and infinitely more loveable.

Here’s to second chances…

(Written by Sherrie Hansen, who lives in a 116 year old house who, just like her, got a second chance when she rescued it from the bulldozers grips and turned it into a bed and breakfast.)

I might as well get it out there right away. I’m the author of four somewhat steamy, very sensual, sometimes gritty romance novels, AND I’m a pastor’s wife – a combination that more than occasionally calls me into question.

So for those who haven’t yet figured it out,  I’ll admit it right off.  I’m not perfect. In fact, I have a confession to make. I just turned the heat on. It’s May 26th and I’m from Minnesota. I’m supposed to be tough. I’m supposed to be hot-blooded. When I was attending Wheaton College, near Chicago, I made fun of the locals for being wimps when it came to 40 below zero temperatures and Illinois’ supposed lake chill effect. I have no business turning the heat on in what’s practically summer.

At least I’m not at the parsonage (which is a whole different story, and one I should evidently also be feeling great guilt about), or I’d feel even guiltier, since my husband’s congregation pays the utility bill. But I’m not. I’m in my own house, it’s 44 degrees outside, the sun hasn’t shown for at least 24 hours, I got soaked by a cold rain and 33 mph winds 3 times yesterday, my husband was hogging the covers when I woke up, and I’m freezing. Some women my age get hot flashes. I get easily chilled. So there. How’s that for justifying my actions?

The truth is, I can feel the heat seeping out from the radiator under my desk even now. It’s warm. It’s wonderful.  It’s creeping up my thighs. It’s making my toes tingle inside my soft pink slippers. It’s deliciously comforting. It’s decadent. It’s making me feel relaxed and warm and cozy…

But I regress. I’m not living up to the ideal of being the perfect pastor’s wife, and some of the ladies from church are in a snit. Advance readers are predicting that when the contents of my current release are made known, I’ll be in even bigger trouble.

It’s a sad situation when people can’t separate truth from fiction. But then, it comes as no surprise that I’m in trouble because of the words I’ve written.

I’ve always lived with a long list of expectations, some imposed by parents and other authority figures, some by my own finely-honed conscience and genetic tendency to perfectionism.  I’ve always been rebellious, not so much in my actions, but with my words. Although I freely admit that I’ve done a couple of really bad things in my lifetime, my rebellion usually occurs not by deed but by thought.

I’m the sassy one, the very articulate one who isn’t afraid to speak up and say what she really thinks. The first time I got in trouble with the ladies at church because of certain words I’d written, I was 16 or 17 years old. I’d written a poem for creative writing class entitled Dear Pastor ____ (whose name I omit because I know he is on Facebook).  My brutally honest, heartfelt, full of teenage passion poem railed against the hypocrisies of organized religion, and the failure of our prim, proper Sunday School class discussions to meet the needs of teenagers who acted perfect around their parents and the people from church but walked on the wild side (and I mean wild) the rest of the time. It contained the word “damn”. Several times. I thought the poem would only be seen by my teacher, a man I trusted with my private thoughts. But the next semester, it was selected by a group of students charged with picking out the best poems to be published in our school’s poetry and short story collection.

The ink was barely dry when a church lady spotted my poem in her son’s copy and ratted me out to the pastor, who called my parents, who said I wrote it, I had to bear the consequences. So I reluctantly trudged (well, drove really) into the pastor’s office and took my comeuppance like a man (well, a young woman, really).

I guess not much has changed in the last forty years. As a generation, we’re much more candid than we used to be. We can talk freely about all kinds of things that used to be “best left unspoken”. Unless you’re a pastor’s wife.

So here’s my disclaimer:  Merry Go Round is about Tracy Jones Tomlinson, the youngest of three sisters in my Maple Valley trilogy. Tracy married her childhood sweetheart, is a minister’s wife, and has three lovely children. In the first two books, Rachael and Michelle’s mother brags about how perfect Tracy and her husband are. “Why can’t you be more like Tracy? Tracy never gives me this kind of trouble…” When Merry Go Round opens, it quickly becomes apparent that Tracy’s supposedly perfect life is anything but. When her husband leaves her for another man and she’s faced with moving out of the parsonage, she has no where to turn for help but to her older sisters.

Rachael, her oldest sister, from Stormy Weather, is none too eager to help, and frankly, feels that it’s about time that Tracy gets hers. Tender-hearted Michelle, from Water Lily, wants to help however she can and offers Tracy a job painting and wallpapering the home of Barclay Alexander III, the owner of the house she’s decorating. And so the plot thickens until Tracy has thought things and done things that a pastor’s wife should definitely not be thinking or doing. Everything Tracy has clung to is moving up and down and round and round and spinning out of control until all she can do is hang on for dear life.

So… Like Trevor, Tracy’s husband, who is gay, my husband of 7 years is a pastor. He is NOT gay. The first draft of this book was written before I even met Mark and became a pastor’s wife. So when I write about the drawbacks and privileges of being a pastor’s wife – specifically Trevor Tomlinson’s wife, I am speaking from Tracy’s point of view, NOT mine.  I am NOT Tracy. Tracy is a fictional character. To any church ladies who might be reading this, please keep this in mind when Tracy meets Clay and things start to heat up.  I am NOT Tracy. I repeat, Tracy is a fictional character. And give the poor girl a break. She’s at her sexual peak. She hasn’t had sex for 3 years. And before that, she’s been having sex with a man who wishes he were having sex with a man. She’s trying really hard to live up to her perfect pastor’s wife persona and her personal beliefs, but it’s hard, and she’s human, okay?

Which brings me to my next disclaimer. The subject of homosexuality and the church, nature or nurture, sin or absolutely okay, deviant or perfectly normal behavior, etc. is a touchy issue for many right now. I tried very hard NOT to let this book become a forum for my beliefs and thoughts on the issue, but to accurately reflect the feelings, emotions and conflicts my characters go through as they struggle through the implications of Trevor admitting he is gay, and dealing with the ramifications to his children, extended family, and church. I have been told by my advance readers, whose opinions on the subject probably vary from mine, that I was successful – that they finished the book not knowing what I, the author, thought about the subject. I took that as high praise and hope my readers agree.

I was raised in a very conservative Christian home. I am a Christian. My personal beliefs color everything I do and think. Although my books do not fit into the Inspirational Fiction category because they contain previously mentioned steamy scenes, they definitely have a Christian world view which includes characters honestly strugggling through issues of faith. While people I’ve loved, mistakes I’ve made and life lessons I’ve learned over the years have become fodder for many interesting characters and scenarios in my books, I am NOT Tracy.  I am NOT perfect.

Got it? 

I almost deleted this daffodil photo yesterday because its pretty white petals were splattered with mud from a heavy rain storm we had a few days ago.  But I saved it, because even though it was flawed, I thought I might find a use for it some day.

On May 22, Merry Go Round, the third book in my Maple Valley Trilogy, will be released. It’s my favorite of the three books, in part, because there are several scenes that include all three sisters. (Stormy Weather is about Rachael – the headstrong oldest sister. Water Lily starts on the night of shy, middle sister, Michelle’s 20th class reunion.)

  

I’ve loved revisiting Maple Valley and the Jones family in these three books. If you have sisters, or enjoy family dynamics, I think you’ll love this trilogy.

In Merry Go Round, Tracy, the youngest sister, who has been a bit judgmental and cranky in the previous books, finds herself in trouble, and has to turn to her sisters for help.  Rachael, quite frankly, doesn’t feel much sympathy for her sister, and thinks it’s about time Tracy “gets hers”. Kindhearted Michelle is determined to help however she can.

Their mother is still reeling from the shock of finding out that the daughter who has always been her pride and joy (with the emphasis on pride) has fallen from her pedestal. In fact, for years, when confronted with the life choices her two oldest daughters have made, their mother has moaned, “Why can’t you be more like Tracy? Tracy never gives me this kind of trouble.”

Now, Tracy is in trouble – some of her own doing – some not. Her three children are caught in the crossfire. The roles and expectations the family hierarchy is built on have been hit by a tsunami. Everything is changing. Up and down, round and round, the merry go round is shuffling the Jones family’s preconceived notions until no one knows anything for sure.

It’s not only a wild ride on the merry go round, it’s a hornet’s nest. Have you ever noticed that sisters sometimes say things to you that a friend, or even a spouse, never would? For years, I deluded myself into believing that the gray streaks in my light brown hair made my hair look platinum blond. Enter my middle sister – who told me in no uncertain terms that I was indeed gray and needed to visit the hair dresser – immediately.  Sisters can cut to the chase like no one else. They can hurt you to the core. They also love you like no one else.  Sometimes it just takes a little shake up to get them to admit it!

And finally, the question everyone asks, since there are three sisters in my family – is the Maple Valley trilogy about my sisters and I?

Although there are certainly a few, “somewhat true” facts and incidents relayed in the books (no, I won’t tell which ones), the answer is no. In a very real sense, I think Rachael, Michelle and Tracy are all “me”, or characters that reflect a different facet of my own personality and life experiences… although I’ve certainly learned a lot about sisters from my own two sisters, my cousins, my mother and my aunts, and even my grandmothers and their sisters. I’m learning afresh by watching my 6 and 9 year old nieces, and listening to the things they say to one another. It’s a complex set of factors that comes into play when you have a sister.

My college roommate just lost her only sister to ovarian cancer.  It breaks my heart to think about what their family is going through. And it makes me appreciate my own sisters all the more – yes, even when they let me know what they really think of me, and yes, even when they’re being pains in the butt.

I hope you’ll enjoy my Maple Valley Trilogy. Please start at the beginning – read Stormy Weather first. Water Lily will be much more meaningful if you’ve gotten to know Rachael and been introduced to the family first. By the time you get your hands on Merry Go Round and experience all three sisters coming apart at the seams – and finally, coming together – hang on for dear life!

My mind is on the Minnesota State Fair today. Maybe it’s because I’m sick of winter and longing for summertime, almost autumn. My mind is flooded with memories:  homemade apple pie made with just-off-the-tree apples, listening to Karen and Richard Carpenter croon “Top of the World” under the stars in the grandstand, steel drums throbbing, fireworks exploding, staying in the 4-H building one hot, humid summer night all by myself, purple ribbons, ferris wheels and merry-go-rounds…

Maybe it’s because I’m working on my next release (coming in April), Merry-Go-Round. Merry-Go-Round will be the third book in my Maple Valley Trilogy, and has pivotal scenes set on merry-go-rounds at the fair in St. Paul, MN, and on an antique carousel in Story City, Iowa. Here’s a little glimpse of what I’m working on…

Tracy, the youngest of the three Jones sisters, it the one about whom their mother always said, “Why can’t you be more like Tracy?” and “Tracy never gives me this kind of trouble.” Tracy, who married her high school sweetheart, now a minister, and had three beautiful children, does appear to have the perfect life.

But as Merry-Go-Round opens, we find that nothing in Tracy’s life is as it seems, and hasn’t been for years. When her husband leaves her for another man, and everything in her world suddenly goes topsy turvy, she has to move out of the parsonage and make a new life for herself. Her only option is to turn to  her sisters, Rachael and Michelle, for help. While kind-hearted Michelle is ready to forgive all and lend a hand, Rae thinks maybe it’s time Tracy gets hers…

Clay Alexander’s fairy tale life is also not what it appears.  When Tracy inspires him to follow his heart, regardless of what the consequences might be, Clay resigns from the board of directors at Alexander Industries and breaks off of his engagement to Lauren. When his father issues a not-so-subtle edict –  conform to the family’s expectations or see Elk Creek Woolen Mills closed forever –  Clay’s only hope of saving the mill, and with it hundreds of jobs the tiny community depends on, is to force the sale of the facility and buy the mill himself. And the only way he can get the votes he needs from a board of directors his father controls is to sell his soul to the devil herself…

Before he met Tracy, Clay had resigned himself to a loveless marriage with Lauren. Tracy doubted she would ever trust a man again, say nothing about love. The unlikely romance they discover in the midst of the chaos is both the dream that gives them hope, and the catalyst that comes precariously close to being their downfall. For even as they taste the tender passion of their souls and share the secrets of their hearts, the forces of life are sweeping them apart – her children, his parents, her pride, his honor, the welfare of an entire community – until it seems their world is spinning out of control, and all either of them can do is hang on for dear life.

Heaven only knows if their love was meant to be, or if they will always be on opposite sides of the merry-go-round, each riding round and round on a horse that will never catch up with the other…

Photo by Rose Hill.

Coming soon from Second Wind Publishing!

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RAGGED ROBIN – New Release

PLUM TART IRIS – New Release

Seaside Daisy

NEW RELEASE!

Daybreak (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

What You’ve Missed

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