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Hard as I’ve tried to crop out my big, unsightly arms and hold my chin high and my stomach taut when posing for and posting photos on the world wide web, I’m sure it’s no secret that I struggle with my weight.

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Just last weekend, I posed for a photo on the front porch of the Blue Belle Inn, the B&B I’ve owned for 22 years, with a group of published authors who were here for a Writer’s Retreat, without putting on my trademark hat. Besides the fact that I love hats and I’m told they look particularly cute on me, I use them to camouflage a head of hair that I’m decidedly not fond of,  So there it is. There were at least 6 or 8 cameras being snapped as I stood, blissfully unaware of how I looked at that precise moment – I can hardly delete every instance of a photo that’s already appeared on Facebook, in blogs, and on the front page of at least one local newspaper.

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Being less than confident about the way we look is a familiar struggle for not only women, but men who are starting to inch past their prime. One of my heroines, Michelle from Water Lily, and the middle sister from my Maple Valley trilogy, is so down on the way she looks that it almost costs her the love of her life. But the vast majority of my female characters – Jensen from Night and Day, Rae from Stormy Weather, Tracy from Merry Go Round, and Hope from Love Notes – are quite comfortable in their skin, They’re not necessarily beauty queens, but most of the time, they feel pretty and confident about the way the world sees them.

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Tommy Love, in Love Notes, is in the midst of a full-blown mid life crisis, and hates that he’s no longer the teen idol, heart throb he was on his first album cover. Rose,  in Wild Rose, is mortified to have been inadvertently captured on Pastor Ian’s video in the midst of a passionate romp under the flying buttresses, but it’s more about half of Scotland seeing her next to naked than it is her BMI.

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Just as my characters feelings about themselves vary, I have readers who range from skinny to obese, young, with full heads of hair, to aging and half (or all the way) bald. I have readers who run marathons, climb mountains and bicycle across entire states, some who have had weight loss surgery to attain their desired weight, and those who range from pleasingly plump to hating the way they look – some for good reason, and others, because they simply can’t see how beautiful they really are.

So, my question for my readers as I sculpt characters for Blue Belle and Shy Violet (The next installments of my Wildflowers of Scotland novels) is – do you appreciate and empathize with a somewhat homely or otherwise flawed character who struggles with their weight or other physical attributes they’re not fond of, or when reading, do you prefer to escape into the world (dreamworld?) of a young or perfectly aged character who loves the way they look?

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Two of my favorite characters of all time from the Little House on the Prairie books, and Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy Tacy books, endeared themselves to me, at least in part, because of their physical foibles – the seemingly unable to stay tidy and prim and proper looking for longer than 10 minutes Laura, with her sunbonnet dangling around her neck and the resulting freckles she got from being out in the sunshine, and Betsy, with the much detested space between her front teeth that she so often rued. I could relate, and oh, how I loved them for their imperfections – because they mirrored my own.

To those of you who are beautiful people, or at least confident in the way you appear and unfazed by physical imperfections – do you lose patience with a character who periodically bemoans the way they look, or do you find yourself drawn to their insecurities and rooting for the underdog?

Just curious!

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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.

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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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