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An almost full moon reflected off a pond hugged by beds of flowers in blues, yellows and violets of various heights. In the center, a fountain trickled down the neck and breasts of a stone statue of a woman with full hips and voluptuous curves. The scene was framed by walls of stone and brick, etched with pink climbing roses and lavender wisteria. This is what they were going to destroy?

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As Mark and I head off on another trip to indulge our love affair with Great Britain and research settings of future books, I’m anticipating the release of GOLDEN ROD, the book inspired by last year’s journey to Scotland.

One of the things I most love about writing is the chance to scope out new locations – and with them, the likeable qualities and legends that give the place its charm. And when we get home, my pleasure is doubled when I get to sit down with my thoughts, reminisce about our experiences, and craft a story with word pictures about the places we’ve seen.

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Although Rod MacKenzie’s exquisite walled garden and the unique castle pictured on the front cover of GOLDEN ROD are fictional in the sense that they’re not located along the shores of Loch Carron, many of the other spots mentioned in the book are as real as you and me. In the text below, I’m going to share a snippet from GOLDEN ROD followed by a photo of the real life image that inspired it. Craigievar Castle, Leith Hall Garden and Crarae Garden, which I magically transported to the Lochcarron and the Wester Ross area of Western Scotland, are actually located to the east in Aberdeenshire and Argyll. Enjoy!

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The blue waters of Loch Carron disappeared, then reappeared. The road widened. Katelyn glanced out the window and caught sight of a rusty old gate surrounding a cemetery. The stones were all but covered with moldy-looking splotches of who knew what and some sort of green slime that looked straight from the pages of a horror flick.

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A few blocks later, a large white building appeared. The huge black letters on its side wall spelled LOCHCA, followed by an R dangling precariously from what looked to be one nail, and a tenuous RON. Which is exactly what she wished she’d done the second she set foot in Scotland – run. Rod might have fanciful – make that delusional – images of the town where he’d been raised, but all she could see was a place that needed a good PR person to improve and update its sad, sorry, broken down image.

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The town was comprised of a long row of houses on one side, with a sidewalk, a greenbelt, and the lake on the other.

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Rod pulled into a parking spot and came around to open the door for her. The sign on the front of the whitewashed building with blue trim and a slate roof said Waterside Café, Tearoom Takeaway. There were round picnic tables with bright blue umbrellas over the top in front. Rod straddled the bench of one, and motioned for her to have a seat.

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“Ye can go in and look at the menu board on the wall if ye like, or wait. They’ll bring ye a menu in a minute.”

“You don’t need one?”

“Nae. They know what I want.”

“How could they?”

“I’m a regular.”

“And you have the same thing every time?”

“For lunch, Stornoway Black Pudding Stack. It’s layered with apples and Stilton cheese. Pure dead brilliant.”

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 “M’Lady? M’Lady? Are ye here?” Valan MacKenzie stood at the window where his wife had fallen to her death 500 years earlier and started to sing her favorite song in the hope she would come to him.

When bluebells start to bloom each spring, I’ll come to ye. My love I’ll bring.

My heart for ye, it always breaks. But sadness will nae overtake.

For hope lives on in each new day. My love for ye will find its way.

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Rod was holding two large china plates. “I took the liberty of getting some essentials since ye were asleep when we reached the grocery. I thought ye’d enjoy trying a full Scottish breakfast – eggs, bacon, sausages, potatoes, mushrooms, tomatoes and toast. I skipped the haggis and the black pudding on yer plate since ye seemed a bit squeamish about them yesterday, but the rest should be-”

Her stomach had started to roil at the word eggs. It wasn’t that she disliked eggs, but the thought of eating such a huge breakfast when she was stressed out and in an unfamiliar place and it wasn’t even breakfast time where she was from…

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They walked through the laburnum archway he and his da had planted a decade earlier. The slender yellow fronds were just starting to fade.

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A minute later, Katelyn came flouncing down the steps of the blue and white house where Colin’s office was located. He’d never met anyone – man or woman – with so much attitude.

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The taller one smiled. “Is Sea Worthy booked for the rest of the afternoon or are you free? We were hoping to see Kilt Rock and Portree from the sea.”

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“Do ye like fish? I’ve two nicely smoked haddock filets that I picked up in Portree this afternoon. My mother used to make something called Haddock Mornay. It’s been years, but I think I can remember how to make the sauce.”

Katelyn looked up and smiled faintly. Aye, the lass was warming up to him awright.

“My mum would make a roux and then stir a wee bit of garlic salt and some buttery, soft white Cheddar from the Isle of Arran into the cream. If ye’re a fan of fish, the taste of the Mornay sauce, o’er a bit of mash, is pure dead brilliant.”

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Rod tried to put Katelyn out of his mind as he walked back to the cottage. The deep, mossy scents of the forest floor, the sun-warmed pine needles, and the last remnants of the bluebells filled his nostrils with the familiar scents he loved so much. He could have spent all evening in the woods.

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Katelyn twirled slowly, not willing to miss a single degree of the panorama spread out in front of her. “Thank you so much for bringing me here. I can’t imagine a place more beautiful than this one.” She peeked through the lacey fronds of Scotch pines and Douglas firs that stretched from blue waters to bluer skies.

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Rod put one arm around her shoulder and pointed with the other. “See the big white house on the other side of the loch? That’s Stromeferry, where my grandpa’s ferry used to operate.”

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Katelyn looked past the feathery fir trees and the hillside covered in bluebells, and the buttercups in bloom, and caught a glimpse of the sky. Moody, grey, towering clouds cast shadows into each valley, every fold of the hillside, turning sunshine to gloom. She felt as unsettled as a changeling, which she might as well believe in now that she’d met a pair of ghosts and God.

She could have stood with her neck arched, looking up at the roiling clouds, forever. It wasn’t because they were beautiful, or even captivating. They were on the move, ever-changing. They were frighteningly unpredictable. They were out of control, so various and sundry that one couldn’t be sure what was going to happen from minute to minute say nothing about tomorrow. Just like her life.

 

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I hope you’ll read GOLDEN ROD when it comes out next month! Although you’ll see a few familiar faces from my first four Wildflowers of Scotland novels, it’s not necessary to read any of them to enjoy GOLDEN ROD.

The only way Katelyn O’Neal can save her niece’s life is to ruin Rod Mackenzie’s. One 600-year-old Scottish castle. A rightful heir. A legal heir. Two desperate ghosts. GOLDEN ROD by Sherrie Hansen. Coming from Indigo Sea Press in June 2017.

Golden Rod Front Cover Final

In real life, it’s called a bad case of the blues, losing hope, or hitting rock bottom.   In a book, it’s called the black moment – that devastating culmination of circumstances when all momentum comes screeching to a halt, when you think things are so bad that they can’t possibly get any worse, and then, they do, that time when all hope is lost.

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The thing that saddens me is that, whereas the characters in the books we write and read almost always come around to a happy ending, in real life, when we come to a dead end, we sometimes (often?) really do give up and walk away from the things that could bring us true happiness.

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We all know that summer comes for only a season, and eventually, must ease into fall – which leads to the desolate cold of winter.

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In some cases, it’s even given a name – SAD, or seasonal affective disorder. I’ve been prone to it for years. It can be depressing and debilitating. It can mean death to your dreams and the end to your goals.

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In my book, Sweet William, Lyndsie and William seem to have finally overcome the issues that are keeping them apart when tragedy rips their dreams to shreds. The scenes that follow are some of the blackest I’ve even written, but because of the pain they have to work through, their joy is deeper, and the ending, more sweet than any before.

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When we hit a wall, we have two choices… we can crawl into a cave, cry ourselves to sleep, and settle in to hibernate for the winter, and maybe beyond.

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Or, we can spend our winters looking for bright spots.

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Because there are rainbows in winter, and rainbows in deserts, and flowers and dashes of color where you might least expect them, and inspiration in odd places.

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And the sun keeps shining even on the coldest days.

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It may be blotted out, or obscured for a time, but it is there, giving warmth and melting the snow away from your heart, and making you ready for spring.

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The next time you feel hopeless and blue, read a book, maybe even THE Book.

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Horrible things will happen, maybe even things that are worse than whatever is making you sad.

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And then, wonder of wonder, there will be a resurrection, and out of the ashes will come new life, and somehow, you will find a happy ending.

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Have faith. There are rainbows even in the desert.

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Those who are close to me know that I’m approaching a milestone birthday. (I’ll let you guess which one.) In some ways, I don’t think it will make a difference in the way I lead my life, or how I feel about things. In other ways, it looms over my daily walk with great significance.

One thing that I’ve noticed about getting older is that I appreciate a lot of things I’ve previously taken for granted… simple things like a good night’s sleep. I am immensely grateful for those few mornings when I sleep peacefully through the night and wake up slowly and languorously rather than being rudely awakened by a cramp in my leg. Life’s simple pleasures.

As I get to an age where many of my friends have only one or no parents still living, I am daily reminded how blessed I am to have both of my parents still active in my life. I’m grateful for all of the things my parents have done for me, taught me, and given me, and that I have people in my life who love me, just as I am.

I’m thankful to have been raised with a hard work ethic, that I was not brought up to feel entitled, but with the knowledge that if I worked hard. I could earn the things I wanted and have the freedom to do what I wished. Those principals have shaped my life, and because of that, I have been very blessed.

I also find that I spend far more time being grateful for what I have and less time lusting after what I don’t have. It’s the realization that I have enough or even plenty of what I need, and that if I don’t need something, I should find someone who does.

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I’m privileged to have owned and operated my own business for 25 years, and to have served my wonderful customers, and participated in their lives, their special occasions, and the hard times they’ve gone through.

I’m increasingly thankful for my good health, even as it daily worsens, even as the definition of good has to be continuously downgraded.

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I’m grateful for a soft mattress, a sweet husband, nieces and nephews who make me smile and do me proud.

 

I’m grateful to have been able to see so much of the world, to have had the luxury to enjoy beautiful landscapes and picturesque places in so many countries.  I’m thankful to have been given the gift of an artist’s eye to capture that beauty in photographs, to appreciate art and beauty.

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I am grateful to have been given second chances, and that when I’ve made mistakes, I’ve had the opportunity to try again and again, until I’ve gotten it right, or even made amends.

I am thankful for the few, true blue friends who have stuck with me for a lifetime, and not just a season.

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I’m grateful for a Savior who forgives me over and over again, who loves me unconditionally.

I’m thankful that I have the right, the honor, and the skill to express myself.  I’m grateful for every single person who admires my art, listens to me speak, or reads what I’ve written and respects me enough to take the time to let me share a little bit of myself.

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Getting older may not be the most fun thing in the world, but it comes with its perks – one of which is that every so often you have time to sit back and count your blessings.

So, thank YOU – because I don’t take you for granted either.

Writing and painting, although both creative expressions, are often viewed as being on opposite ends of the spectrum.

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Writers paint pictures with their words. Artfully crafted descriptions help readers visualize the setting of each scene, the appearance of the main characters, and movement within the scene.

Artists take a scene from their imagination and bring it to life with vividly colored paints, textiles or other mediums that you can see, touch, and feel. The only verbal expression that may come into play is a suggestive title of one or two words.

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Both mediums communicate emotion and tell a story. Both require the reader to bring their own interpretation and understanding to fully experience what the author or artist has conveyed through the words or visual expression they’ve chosen to convey.

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As a writer who’s always labeled myself as a visual learner, I think there’s good reason to combine word art and visual art.

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Some writers compile a storyboard to look at and refer to while writing a book.  Whether they tag related visual images on Pinterest or actually make an old-fashioned collage with cutouts from a magazine, these writers find it helpful to surround themselves with tangible images of their characters and setting. It’s become increasingly popular for authors to create a trailer to use in marketing their books – just one more way of pairing visual cues with the written word to enrich the reading experience.

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I’ve long taken photos to use in tandem with my books, even used my photographs on the front cover of my books for a creative tie-in.

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Then, a friend who’s an artist and the leader of an online group called Shedding Light, challenged the members of the group to paint. I resisted for awhile, thinking I didn’t have the time or the talent. But I’ve always been attracted to artistic expression, collected painting that called out to me, and found peace in having beautiful images in my home. Finally, I gave into my fascination and picked up a brush. The paintings I’ve done so far are all reminiscent of Scotland, the setting of my last 5 books. In June, my husband and I visited several castles in Aberdeenshire, and saw hundreds of sheep and boothies dotting the hills of Skye, so I’m fortunate to be able to paint images that are fresh in my mind. When I start writing Golden Rod, my next Wildflowers of Scotland novel, in earnest, I’ll look back at the paintings I’ve done and let my imagination travel back in time.

Painting - Moonlight Mirage

 

When I’m writing, I’m required to be acutely aware of the pitfalls of using poor grammar, being overly wordy or cliché, not structuring my scenes just so, and a million other infractions that contradict the way a writer is “supposed to write”. When I paint, there are no rules – the more unique, creative, or even bizarre, the better. Painting is my time to let loose, relax, and spontaneously create what I see in my mind’s eye – with no restraints.

 

Which calls out to your heart – visual images or the written word? The ability to use one medium to enhance the other is a gift – and an opportunity not to be missed. The possibilities are as limitless as your imagination.

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(All photos and paintings used in this blog are Sherrie Hansen originals. The credit for my title goes to Michael Card, from his song, That’s What Faith Must Be.)

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Twenty-four years ago, Sherrie Hansen rescued a dilapidated Victorian house from the bulldozer’s grips and turned it into a B&B and tea house, the Blue Belle Inn. Sherrie and her husband, Mark, who is a pastor, divide their time between two different houses, 85 miles apart. Sherrie writes murder mysteries and novels whenever she’s not working at her B&B or trying to be a good pastor’s wife. Her contemporary romantic suspense novels include Night and Day, Love Notes, and Thistle Down, Wild Rose, Blue Belle, Shy Violet and Sweet William, her Wildflowers of Scotland novels.

 You can see what Sherrie is up to at: 

https://www.facebook.com/BlueBelleInn

 https://sherriehansen.wordpress.com/

www.BlueBelleInn.com or www.BlueBelleBooks.com

https://twitter.com/SherrieHansen

https://www.pinterest.com/sherriebluebell/

http://www.amazon.com/Sherrie-Hansen/e/B007YXQJ4W/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1

Sherrie’s new release is Sweet William. https://amzn.com/B01H2TUD3U

He’s a real sweetheart. She’s a wee bit tart. When Minnesota farm boy, William McKnight, and sassy Scot, Lyndsie Morris, are forced to work together in the kitchen of Rabbit Hill Lodge, the atmosphere is as charged as an episode of Chopped. Will someone get cut, or will they find a recipe that works? Things just start to get spicy when an angry bull butts his way into the picture, and Lyndsie has to decide if she loves William more than everyone and everything she holds dear.

I think by now, anyone who has followed my travels to Europe or read my Wildflowers of Scotland novels has figured out how I feel about castles. Although it’s a wee bit unusual to see a man in a kilt in the Midwest where I live, I saw an abundance of them at the Minnesota Scottish Fair and Highland Games earlier this month.

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Cows dot the hillsides and valleys all over the countryside in the rural areas of southern Minnesota and northern Iowa that I frequent – castles, not so much.

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While castles and kilts are one of the main reasons I set my most recent novels in Scotland, in Sweet William, I also came home to my Minnesota roots and Midwest connections. And the common denominator is the cow.

My first introduction to the Highlander breed of cows, commonly called Hairy Coo in Scotland, was 9 years ago at a B&B alongside Loch Ness.

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The owner hadn’t fed the coos their dinner for the day, so they were all gathered by the fence, waiting patiently, when we arrived to check in. When I started taking photos, she told me to pay close attention to how thick their hides were. She said they’d had heavy snow a few months earlier, during the cold of winter, and that the 7 or 8 inches that had accumulated on the backs of each coo during the storm stayed exactly where it fell for 2 or 3 weeks, until a stiff wind and warming temperatures finally blew and melted off their white winter coats. Their hides are so thick that not even their body heat melted the snow away. That was my first glimpse into why many hardy breeds of cattle come from the highlands of Scotland.

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I started watching for hairy coo wherever we drove from that point on, and included a scene with a toppled coo in Blue Belle. Michael St. Dawndalyn was embarrassed that he didn’t know more about coo even though he was from Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, deep in the heart of the dairy state.

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That’s only one of the Midwest Connections in the Wildflowers of Scotland novels. Although each of the characters in Wild Rose is native to the UK, beginning with Blue Belle, many of the main characters are from the Midwest.

 

Wisconsinite Michael and Virginia blue belle Isabelle are hiding out, hoping to escape their troubles by settling in a place far, far away from waging tongues and family dramas in their hometowns. When they discover that the world is a much smaller place than they’d thought, and it’s next to impossible to lose yourself in today’s electronic age, they end up back in the US to own up to the messes they were fleeing from.

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Both Violet and Nathan are from America, Nathan on a teacher exchange and Violet, on an ill-fated European Adventure. When they’re both haunted and very nearly destroyed by the past – despite their wish to create a new life for themselves in Scotland – they find that they’re made of stronger stuff than they’d once imagined.

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William, Michael’s cousin from southern Minnesota, appears at the very end of Shy Violet and steals the show with his buttery soft potato rolls and sweet Farm Boy BBQ sauce. The only one who’s not impressed is Rose’s niece, Violet’s friend, Lyndsie, who doesn’t like her meat – or her men – sweet. What happens next is like an episode of Chopped come to life, as sweet William and sassy Lyndsie spar in a charged cook-off.

Calamity strikes just when everything finally seems to come together, and on the other side of the globe, a whole new set of troubles present themselves.

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Scenes set in fictional Blue River, Minnesota and at the Minnesota State Fair will make Midwestern readers feel right at home. Fancy castle or farm house comfortable, there are quirky characters that readers can relate to in each of my Wildflowers of Scotland books.

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When I started researching cattle for Sweet William, I not only learned a lot about Highland cows, but French Charolais, and two other breeds that originated in Scotland – Belted Galloway and Aberdeen Angus. Without really intending it, cows became the unifying factor between Scotland and the United States.

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My nieces and nephew raise cattle and show heifers at their county fair in southern Minnesota, so I had expert advice to draw on. My niece, Victoria, educated me about the different personality traits of various breeds – which are skittish, gentle, or aggressive and likely to be mean, which have horns, and which are polled (hornless), which are able to withstand poor soil, rocky terrains and wet climates, and which produce lean meat and best care for their calves.

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When it comes right down to it, there are likely more differences in cattle than there are in people. Although living conditions, traditions and perspectives may vary from culture and country, I think human nature is pretty consistent from one part of the world to another. A reader recently wrote to me and said, “Boy, you know people. I have been practicing psychology and social work for 45 years and you must have been sitting in the office next to me. You know your stuff!” Whether I’m traveling in or writing about France, Romania, Germany, Denmark, or Scotland, I love observing interactions between people.

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I’ve been told by several readers that when I started writing my Wildflowers of Scotland novels, they missed the local color, familiar places, and quirky Midwestern characters from my first five books, which are all set in Minnesota or Iowa. If you doubt that people are the same everywhere, check out the church ladies in Wild Rose. In the meantime, I hope my local readers are pleased that Sweet William is partially set on a farm in Southern Minnesota. Wherever you’re from in the world, I hope you’ll feel “at home” when you’re reading my books.

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I’ve been hearing Scottish accents in my head for over a decade, and now, after returning from my second trip to Bonnie Scotland, my mind’s eye is just as steeped in images of the highlands and islands I’ve been writing about.

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Our trip was a flurry of wildflowers and walled gardens, castles and keeps, and lochs and legends. My mind is whirling with the characters and construct of a new story, ancient ghosts and curses, and modern day longings and desires set to clash like pitchforks and swords at Culloden.

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One of my characters is the “rightful” heir of a castle and as fascinated and enamored of Scotland as I am, the other is there only because she could find no other way to wiggle out of her duties as the legal heir of a castle she cares nothing about.

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Even more exciting is the sense of déjà vu I feel about the Wildflowers of Scotland books I’ve already written.

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As I spotted each of the wildflowers I’ve featured in Thistle Down, Wild Rose, Blue Belle, Shy Violet, and Sweet William, and the castles and kirks that provide a backdrop for each of the stories, the characters have come to life for me all over again.

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One of the highlights of the trip was the day I left a copy of Shy Violet with a random staff member at Eilean Donan’s Castle Café, where many scenes in the book take place. A few days later, on our way back from the Isle of Skye, we stopped once more to eat lunch. The recipient pulled me aside, and in her delightful Scottish accent, said “I’ve begun to read yer book, and I’m loving it! Ye’re a very good author, and I thank ye so much.”

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The whole time we were at Eilean Donan Castle, I kept catching glimpse of people who looked like Nathan or Violet.

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William and Lyndsie, the stars of Sweet William, felt very close to me when we were on Skye – walking around the mysterious Fairy Glen at Uig, watching the cows graze on Claigon Coral Beach near Dunvegan and dipping a toe in the Fairy Pools at Glenbrittle. Because I know what happens to William while he’s on Skye, I had a deep, sense of foreboding until we were on our way home, and I knew everything was okay.

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There’s a magical connection between Scotland and me. I’m a Blue Belle, and always will be. (For those of you who don’t know me, I have a B&B and Tea House called the Blue Belle Inn.)

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Loving the blue and white Saltire of Scotland is a natural extension of my love of blue.

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If you’ve yet to fall in love with Scotland, I hope you’ll pick up a copy of one of my Wildflowers of Scotland novels and see if the highlands and islands of Scotland resonate with you like they do me.

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Age old castles and blue-watered bays,

White sandy beaches and quaint cottage stays.

A rainbow of colors and chocolates, hand-dipped,

A valley of bluebells and sheep, freshly clipped.

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Legends galore, buried treasure, and more…

In the Wildflowers of Scotland novels, that’s what’s in store.

Twenty-four years ago, Sherrie Hansen Decker rescued a dilapidated Victorian house from the bulldozer’s grips and turned it into a B&B and tea house, the Blue Belle Inn. Sherrie and her husband, Mark, who is a pastor, live in 2 different houses, 85 miles apart. Sherrie writes murder mysteries and novels whenever she’s not working at her B&B – or trying to be a good pastor’s wife. Her contemporary romantic suspense novels include Night and Day, Love Notes, and Thistle Down, Wild Rose, Blue Belle, Shy Violet and Sweet William, her Wildflowers of Scotland novels.

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You can see what’s she’s up to at: 

https://www.facebook.com/BlueBelleInn

 https://sherriehansen.wordpress.com/

http://www.BlueBelleInn.com or www.BlueBelleBooks.com

https://twitter.com/SherrieHansen

https://www.pinterest.com/sherriebluebell/

Sherrie’s new release is Sweet William.

He’s a real sweetheart. She’s a wee bit tart. When Minnesota farm boy, William McKnight, and sassy Scot, Lyndsie Morris, are forced to work together in the kitchen of Rabbit Hill Lodge, the atmosphere is as charged as an episode of Chopped. Will someone get cut, or will they find a recipe that works? Things just start to get spicy when an angry bull butts his way into the picture, and Lyndsie has to decide if she loves William more than everyone and everything she holds dear.

Sweet William Front Cover

Mark and I just returned from a wonderful vacation to Scotland and my mind is reeling with all the things I need to do and catch up on.

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For starters, I approved the cover for Sweet William in the wee hours the night before we left, and it has now been released in both paperback and Kindle versions.

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I will be hosting a online release party for Sweet William on Friday, June 24 on Facebook with prizes and contests. If you’re not already a friend, please join me for a fun virtual celebration. I’m inviting guests from Hawaii, Romania, Scotland, England, Brazil, Germany, Minnesota and more, so you’ll feel right at home no matter where in the world you are.

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If you haven’t already read Thistle Down, Wild Rose, Blue Belle and Shy Violet, now would be a great time to read the whole set!

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I will be guest blogging at Eliza Knight’s blog, For the Love of Books, on Wednesday, June 22, at my publisher’s blog, Indigo Sea Press, on Sunday, June 26, and for Vonda Sinclair at Fierce Romance on Tuesday, June 28.  Watch for my upcoming interview with Author Pat Bertram, too!

I currently have real life book signings, appearances and speaking events set up at the following places:

Thursday, June 23, 2:30 – 6 p.m. Thompson Public Library, Thompson, IA

Saturday, July 9 – Minnesota Scottish Fair and Highland Games, Eagan, MN ?

Sunday, August 28 – 1:30 p.m. Austin Artworks Festival, Austin, MN

Monday, September 12 – 6 – 8 p.m. Hudson Public Library, Hudson, IA

Tuesday, September 20 – Austin Public Library, Austin, MN

Date to be Announced – Sweet Reads, Austin, MN

Sweet William Front Cover

 

 

 

I may already be in Scotland by the time you read this, perhaps on the Isle of Arran, touring Brodick Castle or walking amongst the rhododendrons in the walled garden. Perhaps we’ll be checking out of Lilybank Guest House, or on the ferry, headed to Craig Villa Guest House, near Loch Awe and St. Conan’s Kirk. I was last in Scotland nine years ago, and have been longing to return for at least five. Thistle Down, Wild Rose, Blue Belle, Shy Violet and Sweet William have kept images of picturesque kirks and castles, hairy coo, grazing sheep, colorful villages, white sand beaches, stone cottages and heather-covered hills fresh in my mind, but I think the need to be there in person, experiencing it firsthand, is born of a more ancient connection.

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Mark and I recently signed up for Ancestry.com and  discovered that my DNA is 43% Great Britain, and only 20% Scandinavian, a slight surprise since I’ve always thought I was half Danish. (There’s also Western and Eastern European mixed in from my Bohemian and German great-grandparents, and a dash of Italian – where that came from, I have no idea.)

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Although my Mom’s family, the Lightlys, were from England, my grandma and now mother have long told me about a supposed Scottish great-great grandmother. My English ancestors lived in the north part of Lincolnshire, near a village called Scotton.  My family tree is leafed with names like Scullin, Maltby, Harrison, and Mcintyre, and in my searches of the generations, I just found a reference to the Shetland Islands. Scotland in my blood. I feel it when I hear the bagpipes, the drums, or a Scottish accent. I feel it when I see a parade of men in kilts marching down the field, when I look out over the sheep grazing, when I see fields of purple heather in the highlands.

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Researching my novels (and watching Outlander – my guilty pleasure) has only fueled my passion for kilts, castles, highlanders, and all things Scottish. I’ve always known I come from hardy stock with a history of eking out a living in a part of the country that’s sometimes brutally cold and harsh. I love the sea, and rocks, and find a great affinity in the creative, yet no-nonsense foods, cottage décor, and crafts of Scotland. I love that the colorful wildflowers and woven plaids of the highlands are such a contrast to the gray and brown stone cottages lining the valleys and lochs. There is something primal and instinctual that binds me to the Scots.

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I have no idea if a new book will be born of this journey to the motherland. I’ve labeled Sweet William (coming soon from Indigo Sea Press) as the last of my Wildflowers of Scotland novels, but I named Violet’s baby Heather, leaving the door open for a look-ahead novel some two decades down the road. And there’s always Red Jasmine, Blue-eyed Mary, Cherry Primrose, Bee (Bea) Orchid, Golden Rod, Lily of the Valley, Seaside Daisy, Mountain Laurel, and other names I can use if I change my mind.

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My main goal is just to relax and enjoy Scotland’s magnificent scenery and history. Everyone keeps telling my husband and me to travel while we can, so we plan to keep returning to Europe as long as we’re able – hopefully every year.

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There’s something to be said for getting out of the country, for going so far away that you can’t be easily found. Years ago, when I lived in Germany, my mom and dad came to visit me, and I learned this very important lesson. When I was little, our family went to Florida, Colorado, and northern Minnesota into Canada. Our trips were fun while they lasted, but on all these adventures, my Dad was still close enough to home that he was a little tense and consumed with wondering what was going on at home. A few times, after hearing the weather, or the news, or the crop reports, 5 or 6 days into a 8-10 day vacation, he would get worried or frustrated and utter the dreaded words, “Get in the car. We’re going home.”

When he and Mom arrived in Germany, with expensive tickets and a locked in return date, he had no choice but to relax and enjoy himself. This was before the days of email, Skype, texting with international minutes, or cheap long distance. Dad had no idea what was happening on the farm, and even if he had known, there was absolutely nothing he could have done about it.

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I saw a completely different side of my Dad on that trip. His sense of humor shone – he laughed and smiled and chatted with strangers and truly relaxed. It was amazing. He was like a new person.

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The same kind of magical transformation occurs between me and my husband when we travel. We get to know each other all over again. We rediscover ourselves when we forget the stresses of being a frustrated business owner and a busy pastor. We set aside the issues we’re preoccupied with and reconnect. Our tired brains and downtrodden psyches rejuvenate. Our bodies start to thrive again.

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I hope you’ll come along on our journey. You can follow me on Facebook or Instagram to see my photos, or wait for my next installment at Indigo Sea’s blog. Sweet William should be ready to release just about the time I return from Scotland. I’ll do my best to bring it to life for you in the meantime.

Age old castles and blue-watered bays,White sandy beaches and quaint cottage stays.A rainbow of colors and chocolates, hand-dipped,A valley of bluebells and sheep, freshly clipped. Legends galore, buried treasure, and

Bon voyage!

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Twenty-five years ago, Sherrie rescued a dilapidated Victorian house in northern Iowa from the bulldozer’s grips and turned it into a bed and breakfast and tea house, the Blue Belle Inn.  After 12 years of writing romance novels, Sherrie met and married her real-life hero, Mark Decker, a pastor. They now split their time between 2 different houses, 85 miles apart, and Sherrie writes on the run whenever she has a spare minute. Sherrie enjoys playing the piano, photography, traveling, and going on weekly adventures with her nieces and nephew. “Sweet William”, Sherrie’s ninth book and the last of her Wildflowers of Scotland novels, is coming soon from Indigo Sea Press.
You can find more information about Sherrie Hansen here:

WEBSITE  http://BlueBelleBooks.com  or http://BlueBelleInn.com

BLOG  https://sherriehansen.wordpress.com/

Twitter https://twitter.com/SherrieHansen

Facebook http://www.facebook.com/SherrieHansenAuthor
Goodreads  http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/2870454.Sherrie_Hansen

Amazon Author Page https://www.amazon.com/author/sherriehansen

Pinterest  https://www.pinterest.com/sherriebluebell/

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.”

 

More than one person thought we were nuts to head to Death Valley this January when we could have stayed a few more days at the beach.

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You may agree. Or you see why we love the desert after you’ve read a few of the life lessons I learned in Death Valley.

  1. Your greatest flaw may be the thing that makes you beautiful.

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These photos are from the Artist’s Palate, one of the most scenic areas of Death Valley. If Death Valley had enough moisture to support vegetation like the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevadas and the Appalachians do, these mountains would be covered with trees and underbrush and grasses just like they are, and we would never see the splendor of the colors underneath.

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  1. If not for the darkness, you can’t see the stars.

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If Death Valley was bordered by a beach, people would flock there, and the absolute darkness, the brilliant starlight that we experienced there would be gone. Not that there’s anything wrong with the bright lights of nearby Las Vegas, or even great cities like Paris, the City of Lights, but I’m glad there’s a place where we can experience complete darkness and see the Milky Way. Starlight has a way of settling the soul.

  1. It’s good to be able to hear yourself think.

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If Death Valley was a place where people wanted to settle and live, its airspace would soon be cluttered with the same intrusive sounds we hear in our day to day lives. It’s amazing what being alone, and enjoying a little peace and quiet can do. Stripping things down to the basics help you focus in a way that we rarely have the opportunity to do.

  1. Things don’t equal happiness.

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Having no services, no fast-food places, no internet access, and no cell phone reception makes you realize very quickly that you can survive quite well with very little. The important things come into focus without the distractions that so often occupy our time. Suddenly, you start seeing beauty all around and noticing things that likely would have gone by unappreciated… like a picnic under the stars,  We’ve all heard stories of pioneer families who had only what their covered wagons would hold, if that much, who were happy. We have so much, and are so often unhappy and dissatisfied. It was great to be reminded that without our toys, there is all kinds of old-fashioned fun to be had.

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  1. You won’t believe what a few little sprinkles will do.

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All it takes is a little shower and the desert bursts into a flowery oasis of color. Give someone the slightest encouragement and they will bloom. Those of us who live in places where there are dozens of inches of rainfall every year think it takes a deluge to make things grow, but when you’re in the desert, you learn that just a little bit of rain or kindness or love goes a very long way and can make all kinds of surprising things happen.

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  1. Trust your instincts and wander where you will.

 

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When we first realized we were totally off the grid and that our GPS didn’t work, I’ll admit I was a little worried. I really don’t like the feeling of being lost and I guess I’ve gotten used to the magic voice pointing me in the direction of my destination and telling me where to turn. What I rediscovered was the joy of wandering down this road and that to see what we would find. It’s something my Dad used to do when we were on family vacations. I had forgotten how freeing it is to flex your wings, trust your instincts, and fly.

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  1. Be patient – some things are worth the wait.

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A canyon lit by sunlight looks completely different than a canyon shrouded in shadows. In His Time. God makes all things beautiful in His time. This is a lesson I’ve had to be reminded of over and over again in my lifetime. If you try to manipulate things to fit your timeline, you’re bound to be disappointed. Being patient and waiting for the right time, when the lighting is perfect and everything lines up the way it’s meant to brings dazzling results. A little sunshine makes a big difference.

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  1. When you’re at the lowest spot on earth, there’s no place to go but up.

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Being two hundred plus feet below sea level gave me an eerie feeling. And when we left the lowlands to climb up the canyons, my muscles were painfully stretched. It’s hard to transition from low to high. I’ve been thinking about high points and low points a lot as I’ve worked on my novel, Sweet William, this winter. One of the characters is dealing with the death of someone very dear, and trying to work their way back from deep despair to some sense of normalcy. Another character is living a perfectly grand life at a time when she’s at the pinnacle of her dreams. The only catch is, if she wants to be with the man she loves, she will have to give it all up.

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Is he dragging her down? Can she lift him up? From the heather- colored highlands of Scotland to the flat, black fields of Minnesota’s farm country – which way will she go?

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And the moral of the story? I said I learned some life lessons in Death Valley – I didn’t say I had all the answers. Never fear. I hope to have them soon. In the meantime, be patient with me. Oh, and please be quiet so I can think. I can’t seem to connect to Google Search right now so I’m looking for a star to guide me.

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Sweet William – New Release!

Shy Violet

Blue Belle

Wild Rose

Thistle Down

Love Notes

Night and Day

Stormy Weather

Water Lily

Merry Go Round

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