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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!

When Night and Day, my first book, was published, I felt absolutely naked. Thoughts and deeds I’d been taught to keep private were suddenly on paper, exposed for all the world to see. Since I publish under my real name, there was no screening process involved. Anyone and everyone who chose to, could read the words I’d penned, knowing full well that I’d written them, imagining as they went which of the scenarios I’d described were purely imagination… and which really happened.

How much of yourself do you put in your books? Do you live in fear that an old lover, an estranged friend, an ex-employer, or a quirky relative will read your book and see themselves in all their thinly disguised, renamed-to-protect-the-not-so-innocent, glory?

Night & Day

I was somewhere with my mother a couple of weeks ago and a family friend was asking about my book, and the family legend upon which the historical part of the book is based. I told them the story… my great-great grandma, Maren Jensen, was a very beautiful woman. She was married, living happily and prospering in Denmark with her husband and three children, when my great-great grandfather suddenly packed up everything and moved the entire family to America. Why? To get his wife away from another man who was in love with her.

We don’t know the rest of the story… may never, but we do know that whatever happened changed the entire course of my family’s history.

This true tidbit of history certainly got my imagination going, and while what happens in the book is simply one scenario of what might have happened, compliments of my wild imagination, this grain of truth, as told to us by our Danish cousins, was the seed from which my book grew.

Here’s the funny part… When I finished relaying what we know of Maren’s story, my mother said twice, very adamantly, that the part about Maren was the only part of the book that was true.

Well… she can believe that if she wishes… really, it is better that she does… but I know that there is more truth contained in the book than I will ever divulge. Of course, I didn’t say anything, not particularly wanting to draw attention to myself or embarrass my mother.

A few days later, a customer at the Blue Belle who had just purchased a book, after learning that the book includes a steamy internet romance, leaned in with a conspiratorial look on her face and said, “So, it this story about your life? Didn’t you meet your husband on the internet?”

Well… I can truthfully say that the original draft of the book was written some time before I met my husband, so he is off the hook, but… To my chagrin, I could feel myself blushing. I’m sure, by the time five or ten seconds had passed, I was ten shades of red.

Yes, I’ve personally lived out some of the scenes in Night and Day – in one form or another. Others never happened – never will. It’s fiction, right?

She pressed for an answer. So, parts of the book are true?

“I’ll never tell which ones,” I finally stammered.

People have wondered the same thing after reading the book.

A friend of mine, a multi-published, award winning author, recently read Night and Day. Because her thoughts were relayed in a personal note, and not a public review, I will not use her name. She said that she had trouble reading the sensual scenes between Anders and Jensen. In her words, “I actually had gotten so close to your characters that I couldn’t invade their privacy. Kind of like peeking in the window when you and Mark are together.”

When Susan Barton of Romance Readers at Heart, who does not know me personally, reviewed Night and Day, she said “I actually had to shake myself quite frequently and remind myself that Jensen and Anders are not real people because their emails, phone calls, chats and finally, in-person conversations, are entirely genuine… This is a romance of the whole self.”

I take it as a compliment that my characters seem so real. All I’ll say is, in some cases, it’s no accident.

I recently had the pleasure of meeting another Second Wind author, Christine Husom, who attended a Writer’s Retreat at the Blue Belle Inn. While visiting, I thoroughly enjoyed hearing the background story of her first book, Murder in Winnebago County, loosely based on the somewhat mysterious death of her own father. I had read and known the premise of her book was riveting, I never dreamed parts of it were true.

I can’t speak for Chris, but for me, writing about real life incidents – whether heartbreaking, embarrassing, confusing or comical – can be very therapeutic… a catharsis of sorts…

My world is full of “characters”. How about yours? How much of your book is based on real life people and experiences? Is there a danger that people from your past may recognize themselves in your books?

At the beginning of each book published, there comes a disclaimer, “This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, locations and events are either a product of the author’s imagination, fictitious or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to any event, locale or person, living or dead, is purely coincidental.”

The truth – or a stretch?

I’ll never tell – will you?

When I was 10 or 11, my parents decided to sell the tent-top camper we’d had for a number of years and buy a bigger one. They put an ad in the paper and had a few responses, but no buyer. Then, one Saturday, while the ad was still running, they had to go somewhere. I was the oldest child in our family, so before they left, they said, “If anyone calls about the camper, tell them we want $500 for it.”

I was in awe. That was a lot of money back in 1967.

Well, wouldn’t you know, an hour after they left, the phone rang – someone had seen the ad and was interested in the camper. I told them the price, answered some questions, and told them where we lived so they could come and see it. A short time later, the phone rang again – someone else wanted to come and see the camper. I gave them directions to get to our house (which was 6 miles from town, on a gravel road) and went back to my other job, which was to make sure my younger brothers and sisters weren’t wrecking the house.

An hour later, I was standing in the yard, showing the camper to both couples, who had coincidentally arrived within minutes of each other. After looking the camper over and asking a few questions, the first couple offered me $450. The other couple jumped in and offered $500, the asking price set by my dad. The first couple was still hanging around, so instead of saying yes, I told a little story about one of our camping trips and how much our family had enjoyed the state park where we’d camped.

The first couple countered with an offer of $550. I mentioned how easy the camper was to put up and tear down. Working together, my dad, my sister and I could do it in 10 minutes flat. The second couple offered $600. I showed them how the table could be folded down and made into a bed. The first couple upped their bid to $650. That was more money than the second couple had, or was willing to offer.

I pronounced the camper SOLD, got $650 cash from the winning bidders, wrote them a receipt, and waved goodbye as they drove down the road, pulling the camper behind. You can imagine my parent’s shock and glee when they came home and I handed them $650.

Night & Day - Book signing

It was at that moment that I first experienced the joy and exhilaration of selling something. As writers, pitching, or trying to sell our books may or may not be part of our comfort zone. But like it or not, published or unpublished, if you’re a writer, you have something to sell, and you need to pitch your book, not just once, but over and over again. Selling yourself, and your book, is an important part of being an author… the difference between being published or unpublished… the difference between success and failure.

When I made the decision to go with a small, independent press (Second Wind Publishing) for my book, Night and Day, it was in part because I own a bed and breakfast and tea house and knew that I had a built-in venue for selling my book. Each day, 4 – 40 people walk in the door – all potential buyers. Still, a stack of nice, new books sitting on a table with a cute little sign rarely sell themselves. Neither will a bump on a log at a book signing.

What does sell my books is me. I pitch my book once or twice every day – sometimes ten or twelve – to each and every guest who walks in the door. As you might guess – I’ve got my pitch down – and I have sold about 300 books in the last 3 1/2 months. I sold 8 over the lunch hour just yesterday.

That doesn’t mean everyone who walks in the door buys a book. Some are not interested. I can see their eyes glazing over 10 seconds into my pitch. Some look excited until I mention the words “internet romance”. Perhaps they’ve been burned by an online lover – perhaps their spouse has had an online dalliance – maybe they think computers are for the birds. Whatever the case, when you try to sell something, you have to be ready for rejection – and then, you have to pick yourself up and keep trying.

“It’s midnight in Minnesota and daybreak in Denmark…” I regularly vary my pitch depending on who I’m talking to – young, old, someone I know, a stranger. The important thing is that I believe in my book. I love my characters and am convinced people will enjoy reading Night and Day.

I live for those moments when I connect with a reader, when we strike common ground, when their faces light up. Sometimes it’s when they see the log-cabin quilt on the cover of Night and Day, sometimes it’s when they hear the words Danish, “junk in the attic”, or bonfire. And when I take their $15 and autograph their book, it’s just as exciting as selling that camper for my parents when I was 11 years old.

Selling is hard. Whether you’re pitching your book or telling someone about your story at a writing conference, talking to guests at a book signing, or asking the manager of your local grocery store if they would consider stocking your book, you will feel naked at times. Intimidated. Daunted. Unsure.

But there comes a moment, when someone wants to buys your book, when you find a common chord with an editor, the owner of a shop, a librarian, or a potential reader, and make the sale, that you will know it was all worth it.

Find the courage to try, and keep trying.

Don’t ever sell yourself short. Sell yourself and you will sell your book!

It’s been a little over a month since my first book, Night and Day, was released. Family members, friends, people around town, and several members of my husband’s church have now read my baby… ah, my book.

Reactions have ranged from squeals of delight upon simply holding the book in their hands (bless you, Sue, for your enthusiasm), running out and purchasing a dozen copies without knowing whether or not it’s good, bad or mediocre (thank you, Becky, my dear sister-in-law), to blaming their bleary eyes on me due to the fact that my book was too good to put down.  One friend, also a writer, wrote me a glowing review. She said that she wanted Anders for Christmas. This, I like to hear.

Thanks for the flowers, Becky!

Thanks for the flowers, Becky!

A few others don’t seem to be able to look me in the eye. I know, you really don’t want to know what your pastor’s wife thinks about sex. It’s a problem. I realize this.

Other have simply said they read the book. That’s it. This is my least favorite response. Don’t they know they’re driving me crazy?

I want to scream, what did you think of it? Tellllllllll meeeeeeeeeeeeee NOOOOOOOOWWWWWWWWW.

I should be confident enough in my writing – in this book, that it doesn’t matter what people think. Plenty of people have loved this book. It would be silly of me to think that everyone is going to like it. I’ve started reading several books that I haven’t cared enough about to finish.  I mean, really… I should be flattered that they cared enough about me to buy the book, and finish reading it, shouldn’t I?

And, if everybody on earth was fluent enough in the skills of communication to eloquently express what they feel, I’d be out of a job, because they’d all be writers, correct?

I love Night and Day. I believe in it. I am confident of my abilities as a writer. I know it’s a great book, a wonderful story, a beautiful romance.

But I really, really want to know what you think… any little thing… a character you liked, a moment when you swooned, a situation you could relate to.  Please, tell me now.

Buy “Night and Day” now at http://www.SecondWindPublishing.com (they have the best price), or http://www.Amazon.com (search for Night and Day by Sherrie Hansen). If you’d like a signed copy, call the Blue Belle Inn B&B and Tea House and we’ll mail you a copy. We accept MC/Visa/AmEx/Disc.

When you’ve read it, please don’t forget to tell me what you think! 🙂

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