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Thank you to Annie at the Editing Pen for inviting me to write a post about Scotland.

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As a hostess gift, I’d like to present Annie with a weekend stay at Blair Atholl Castle on the occasion of their annual Highland Games followed by a week at Uig Sands Hotel on the Isles of Lewis and Harris which includes a chance to walk amongst the nearby Callanish Standing Stones. If she carries a bouquet of goldenrod for good luck, perhaps Jamie Fraser will be waiting for her on the other side… Many happy returns, Annie!

Scot - Callendish stones

As fans of Outlander know, most books set in Scotland revolve around highlanders, kilts, and keeps. My Wildflowers of Scotland novels (Thistle Down, a novella, Wild Rose, Blue Belle, Shy Violet, Sweet William, and Golden Rod) are modern-day mixtures of romance and suspense with the Scottish countryside as a backdrop.

Wildflowers - Stripes

They’re also colorful tales, rich in symbolism of wildflowers.

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There are plenty of dark, misty vales, cold, stone castles, and drab, colorless cottages scattered through Scotland. What I love most about the wee wildflowers of Scotland is that they provide the perfect bit of contrast, a much needed dash of color to an otherwise harsh landscape. I hope you can see the Scotland I love in the bouquet of wildflowers I’ve picked for you.

Thistle

THISTLE DOWN – A common, prickly, purple thistle saved the day when an Englishman doing reconnaissance stepped on a particularly thorny specimen and let out a howl, alerting Scottish guards to an imminent invasion by the English. We can all be a bit oblivious at times, especially when we’re up against hard rock on one side and well, hard rock on the other side, too. There’s nothing like the sharp bite of a prickly plant to make you appreciate what you have and see the beauty in your own backyard.

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Such is the premise for my novella, Thistle Down when tenderhearted Pastor Ian MacCraig tries to keep a pair of prickly sisters from marrying the wrong men. Emily Downey has found the perfect groom. If only she loved the man… Chelsea Downey is wild about her boyfriend. Trouble is, he’s two-timing her and everyone sees it but her. Their thorny situation gets even stickier when the church ladies come up with a plan. Can Pastor Ian MacCraig weed out the thistles and get to the heart of the matter in time to save the day?

 

 

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WILD ROSE – Wild roses symbolize perfect happiness, love at first sight, joy and gladness, and happy, forever love. Like other wildflowers, they’re hardy, stubborn and determined to find a foothold whether they be planted atop a stone wall, set amongst ruins, or left to fend for themselves along the side of the motorway. But even the sturdiest of wildflowers can be trampled on when their generous hearts are abused by ones not so honest or caring.

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Such was the case when Rose Wilson learned that Digby, the online friend she met for what she thought was a harmless rendezvous, was a common criminal. Enter Pastor Ian MacCraig, who is trying to capture the thief who is stealing artifacts from his kirk (Saint Conan’s on Loch Awe, Scotland.) The last thing he expects to find on his video is a woman engaging in a passionate romp under the flying buttresses. Rose is mortified and the church ladies are appalled to learn that Pastor Ian, the board of Wilson Enterprises, the constable, and half the town have had a glimpse of Rose half naked. What remains to be seen is how far Ian will go to defend Rose’s honor and if the church ladies will forgive Rose now that they know who she really is… and if Rose can believe she’s worthy of someone as good and kind as Ian MacCraig. Are Wild Rose and Pastor Ian MacCraig a match made in heaven or one hell of a predicament?

GR Blog - bluebells

BLUE BELLE – Bluebells are one of my favorite flowers. The first harbingers of spring, they’re known for their humility, kindness and constancy. They’re as down-to-earth as my characters, and like any springtime bloomer, all the sweeter because you have to endure a bit of weather each year before they return.

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Just as bluebells hide in off-the-beaten path forest glens, Isabelle has traveled to the ends of the earth to try to escape her past. Psychologist Michael is also hiding out, as far removed from his relatives and his practice in Wisconsin as he can get. When Damon starts searching for the centuries-old gold he thinks is buried at Tobermory Bay, it won’t matter what walls Michael and Isabelle think they are hiding behind. Rocks will fall. Castles will crumble. No secret will be safe. Set in colorful Tobermory, Scotland, on the Isle of Mull, it becomes very clear in Blue Belle that timing is everything – and that sometimes, you just have to jump.

 

S - Shy Violet

SHY VIOLET – Eilean Donan Castle, near Dornie, Scotland, is a modest castle – not as big, old, nor fancy as many, Eilean Donan is subtle and understated as castles go. Perhaps that’s why it’s grown to be so iconic. In Scotland, it’s “aboot” the simple, everyday things of life, pleasures born both of need and necessity. That’s why, if you keep your eyes open, you’re sure to see majesty galore in nature’s quiet offerings… a shy violet hiding behind a rock, a blush of heather in the hills, a splash of rhododendrons growing deep in the woods.

ShyViolet6

Maybe that’s why shy Violet has been so long overlooked in her search for true love even though her name signifies that her thoughts are occupied with the fanciful notion. Violet has always put great stock in the virtues of modesty and faithfulness – particularly faithful love. But that ship has sailed right along with the pirate boat Violet jumped aboard, thinking she could hide from a string of bad decisions in her past. Violet didn’t even know Nathan existed when she inadvertently met his father and ruined any chance of a future with his son. But part of the violet’s essence is to take a chance on happiness. No one knows what will happen when Violet meets a bagpiper whose music spans the centuries in front of a castle with a troubled history. But is Violet fleeing the present only to collide with the past?

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SWEET WILLIAM – Sweet William is equated with gallantry, childlike awe, and the sensation of getting lost in a whole new world of wonder and enchantment. William McKnight is a true sweetheart, and as gallant a man as you’ll ever see, always ready with a smile. From Lyndsie Morris’s tart, hardscrabble childhood, there has gown a spirited flower with character and determination and a true appreciation of the things that really matter in life.

Sweet William Front Cover

But when Minnesota farm boy, William, and sassy Scot, Lyndsie, 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. Set in the Highlands near Eilean Donan Castle, on the Isle of Skye, and in volatile Minnesota, they face the harshest of conditions. Will their love take hold and bloom or will stormy weather crush the romance that’s blossoming between them?

Golden Rod Flood Bay 2016

GOLDEN ROD – Goldenrod flowers are thought to hold many symbols – from caution to encouragement, luck to good fortune. Superstitious folklore advises people to carry a bouquet of goldenrod flowers when seeking out treasure or venturing forth on new, but risky, ventures.

Golden Rod front cover- final

All of these themes and more are explored in Golden Rod as the reader gets to know Lachlan—a centuries old castle overlooking Loch Carron, Scotland; Kacie—a twelve-year-old girl whose dying wish is to see it; Laird Valan and Lady Rosemary MacKenzie—500-year-old ghosts who desperately want to escape it; Golden-Haired, Most Fair, Prince Rod of Lachlan—the rightful heir who wants to live there happily ever after; and Katelyn O’Neal—the well-intentioned but clueless legal heir who’s about to pay a high price for selling Lachlan to a lowlife scum. Golden Rod is a two-week romp through a lifetime of legends and risky ventures, of bad luck and old curses turned to golden wishes. Rod MacKenzie is a gentle gardener and sometimes sailor born of adversity, and so much more lovable than Buck, the arrogant showoff who now owns the castle. How similar to the way of Scottish wildflowers – blooming not in showy profusion, but cropping up here and there in solitary clumps to bloom wherever there is a bit of fertile soil.

Wildflowers

If you’re a lover of wildflowers – wherever they blossom – and most particularly, Scotland, you’ll find the quaint surroundings – and the pirates, pipers and tales of days past that are part of Sherrie Hansen’s novels – to be fascinating. I encourage you to clutch a bunch of goldenrod and take a risk – try a new author!

~~~

Sherrie - bluebells

Twenty-seven 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.  Sherrie grew up on a farm in southern Minnesota and has lived in Wheaton, IL, Bar Harbor, Maine, Lawton, OK, Augsburg, Germany, and Colorado Springs, CO. After 12 years of writing fiction, Sherrie met and married her real-life hero, Mark Decker. Mark and Sherrie divide their time between a cottage in St. Ansgar, and the parsonage where Mark serves as pastor. Their two houses are 85 miles apart, and Sherrie writes on the run whenever she has a spare minute. In her “free time”, Sherrie quilts, makes music on the piano, plays with her camera, renovates old houses, travels to the far off corners of the world, and goes on weekly adventures with her nieces and nephew. Her new release, Daybreak, is her twelfth novel to be published by Indigo Sea Press. Sherrie’s books have been called “the thinking woman’s romance” and her latest books also contain elements of suspense. While many of Sherrie’s books contain issues of faith and family, some also include “steamy” scenes, and some, a candid combination of both. Most are “second chance at romance” stories with primary characters aged 30 to 50. Many of Sherrie’s books contain at least one special quilt.

BlueBelle 2016

Links:

http://www.facebook.com/SherrieHansenAuthor
https://sherriehansen.wordpress.com/

https://www.amazon.com/Sherrie-Hansen/e/B007YXQJ4W

http://www.BlueBelleInn.com
https://twitter.com/SherrieHansen
http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/2870454.Sherrie_Hansen

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

 Daybreak in Denmark (3)

Books Titles: New Release:  Daybreak, sequel to Night & Day, Wildflowers of Scotland novels – Thistle Down (a prequel novella), Wild Rose, Blue Belle, Shy Violet, Sweet William and Golden Rod, Love Notes, and the Maple Valley Trilogy – Stormy Weather, Water Lily, and Merry Go Round.

Wildflowers of Scotland Novels by Sherrie Hansen (2)

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It was like 2007 all over again. Not wanting to deal with “big city” traffic, congestion and parking hassles, we drove through Inverness as quickly as possible and retreated to the Scottish countryside, this time, on a farm high in the hills overlooking the Moray Firth. After learning how much there is to see and do in any given area on our previous trips, we tried our best to stay at least two nights in the same place. It’s far more relaxing not to have to pack up and move every single day.

Scot - sunset 2

Our countryside view was amazing. The next day, we headed away from Inverness toward the small town of Beauly. There were several wonderful shops in Beauly, a bank where we were able to exchange more dollars for pounds, a nice restaurant where we enjoyed a high tea, and a great fish and chips place.

Scot - Chanonry Point

From Beauly, we went on two nice drives – the first took us to the narrow end of the Moray First, across a bridge and up the other side. We had a lovely hike along the coast at Chanonry Point, where we missed seeing seals but found a lighthouse and wild roses and Queen Anne’s lace blooming along the rocky beaches.

Scot - lighthouse

A few miles further down the road, we found a small National Trust property that had a delightful garden and a thatched roof house that was the home of Scottish local hero, Hugh Miller.

Scot - hugh's house

His story was fascinating and we related to it on several levels. He believed in Creation and had an extensive collection of fossils.

Scot - Hugh

From there, we headed south through a shady mountain pass to Loch Ness. Once again, Urquhart Castle was closed by the time we got there, so we took a few photos from a distance, watched for signs of Nessie rippling in the blue waters and drove home along the shore.

Scot - Loch Ness

Our B&B for those two nights just west of Inverness was on the first floor of a new house, with a private entry and a very comfortable bed. The sunsets both nights were beautiful, but the midges were starting to bite and came out at sunset. I did a dance as I walked through the grass, snapping and moving and snapping and moving, hopefully fast enough to avoid having a midge land on me.

Scot - Beualy B&B

The next day, we set out to see my Scottish friend, Ang, in Balintore, a seaside village north of Inverness. The fog seems to settle in each night, and it hadn’t yet lifted as we walked along the shoreline, talking. Two years ago, Ang used the word “atmospheric” to describe the misty air hugging the sea, and I will forever think of the word when I encounter foggy landscapes. We exchanged treasures and good conversation – a definite highlight of the trip!

Scot - Ang beach

After lunch, we left the east coast of Scotland and were off  to Ullapool, on the west, when we decided to detour down to another Historic Trust property. As Trust members, we love seeing these properties “for free”.

Scot - inver rhodies

I’ve heard from many people that they’re always amazed at how much we managed to see in one short day. What they may not realize is that everything is so close – the most we drove in a day was 100 miles. It’s also daylight from 4:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m, so if you get up at a decent hour, you can do a lot before dark.

Scot - Invereray

This is one of those days that we stretched things a little too far. Everything would have been fine except that we reached Inverewe Garden about 5:30 p.m. Last entrance was 6 p.m., but the gates to the garden were open until 8 p.m., so we had plenty of time to explore. The sky was blue, but there wasn’t a breeze to be found, and the midges surrounded me in swarms.

Scot - Inver wisteria

Dense forests were crisscrossed with mazes of paths and steps that wound through rhododendrons, bamboo and perennial gardens and eventually, out to the sea. Before long, I was swatting and itching and breaking out in blistering welts. But it was so beautiful, and we got in for free, and…

Scot - inver flowers

The only solution was to walk faster and faster. If I was capable of running up and down rickety, stone stairways that didn’t have handrails, I would have. What can I say? I’m glad we saw the gardens – they were lovely, but I’m not sure the itching and oozing I went through for the next week was worth it.

 

Scot - Ullapool

The sun started to set on our way to Ullapool, and we arrived just in time to see sunbeams shining over the harbor. We found our room at the top of an extremely steep hill overlooking Morefield Brae.  What a beautiful setting! But alas, as we climbed out of the car, our host warned up to enter quickly and close the doors behind us because the midges were really biting.

Scot - Ullapool B&B

Great. While we settled in, our hosts at the Fair Morn B&B found a restaurant with openings for 8:45 p.m. We were seated in a conservatory facing out to the garden and left to choose from a wonderful menu. All was well until we started to notice we were itching even more than we had been earlier. Then we noticed a small window open at the top of the wall. Suddenly, we were caught in a swarm of midges. But the time we caught the eye of our waiter and asked to be reseated in another room, the damage was done.

Scot - skye castle

In the morning, we headed north along the brae and into the mountains where we were treated to castle ruins, sheep grazing, red deer running along the hilltops, and altogether amazing scenery.

Scot - Lochinver house

We stumbled on a craft fair and a pie place at Lochinver and then took a narrow winding road to Achmelvich Beach with its white sands and aquamarine waters. When I heard about the beaches in Scotland, I assumed it would be like California in January, with crisp temperatures and cold winds even though it would have the appearance of being summery. But the day was perfect for beach-going, in the mid 80s, and we had a picnic with the meat and fruit pies we’d nabbed at the pie place in Lochinver.

Scot - Uig beach

By that time, however, I felt like I had a beacon on my back that said “Bug Bait.” There were bugs in the sand, and bugs in the rocks – but unlike midges, these were big, and could be seen, and felt, and they seemed to be going for my eyes, and anywhere my midge bites were oozing and itching. Yikes! I don’t mean to sound negative, but it was not exactly a relaxing day at the beach.

Scot -ullapool house

We ended the day back in Ullapool, where we ate at an upscale fresh seafood shack and found a handmade woolen treasure at a local craft shop. I walked as fast as I could everywhere we went to fend off the midges who were waiting to land. They seemed to get sneakier as time went by, burrowing under my clothes and biting my back and thighs, under my hair and hat. Nothing dissuaded them.

Scot - Ullapool harbor 

I had a hard time sleeping that night because I was so hot and itchy, but there’s always a bright side… We had a delicious Scottish breakfast to look forward to and a forecast of calm seas for our three hour ferry ride to the Isle of Lewis and Harris. And someone told me that there were no midges on Lewis or Harris because there was always a good breeze blowing. Music to my ears…

When I shared the itinerary for our third trip to Scotland a few moths ago, I was snowed in by a February blizzard and dreaming of warmer days.

BBInn - heavy snow smaller

It was probably fitting that last month, when we arrived in Scotland, we found ourselves in the middle of a heat wave. The wonderful side of the warm, sunny days was that we saw the sights under blue skies and never needed our umbrellas. The bad side was that the early heat brought out the dreaded midges, a tiny insect with a stinging bite that causes blisters on sensitive skin like mine. And several nights, we found ourselves sweating in sweltering hot guestrooms that came loaded with extra blankets and cozy warm duvets designed for the normally cool, highland weather conditions. Scots typically don’t need air conditioning or even fans, but this year, even the mountains were wrapped in stuffy, sultry air – and we didn’t dare open the windows unless we wanted a room full of midges. It was so hot that one of our destinations almost burned down a week before we arrived when the intense heat and dry conditions fueled wildfires in Wester Ross.

I guess that’s what I get for cursing February’s cold and trying to wish away winter!

Locals were delighted with the warm temperatures after enduring their own long winter, and repeatedly thanked us for bring the good weather with us. As it turned out, the whole time we were in Scotland, our cell phones kept buzzing with notifications of tornado, flood, high wind, and excessive heat index warnings – the weather in Iowa was horrible while we were away.

But enough about the weather. I’d like to try to share more than an itinerary in this blog, instead focusing on my reactions to the amazing sights we saw.

Scot - Kellie flowers

Our first three nights were spent at a B&B in the East Neuk of Fife countryside between Edinburgh and St. Andrews. We arrived exhausted from a long flight and a missed night of sleep as we traveled forward in time. We couldn’t have found a more restorative place to stay.

After strolling through the castle gardens at Falkland Palace, at the foot of the Lomond Hills, we wound our way to Colinsburg to check in to our first B&B.

Scot - Jane's House

The house was long and narrow, a renovated stable that was artistic and creatively decorated but comfortable and homey, with walls and walls of bookshelves and a million doors, each one different. There was a fireplace in our room and each morning, we could hear the birds singing through the chimney. Our host gave us herbal potions to ease our jet lag and boost our immune systems, and built us a fire in the library each night. (Those first few days were chilly.) We felt gloriously pampered.

Scot - Leven

The family we stayed with were descendants of the same Lorimer family who rescued and restored nearby Kellie Castle, where we enjoyed a wonderful tour and an afternoon tea in the castle gardens discussing art and architecture of Robert Lorimer. The legends surrounding the castle were fascinating and I had the most interesting conversation with a curator for the National Trust of Scotland.

When I shared with her that I have four houses filled with treasures and that I fear that soon-approaching time when I have to part with the wonders I have collected over the years, she recommended a succinct way to approach the task. The method she uses is to give each item a number between 1 and 4 based on its true worth after rating the objects according to their historical value, personal or emotional significance, monetary worth, and family importance. Those items that rank high in all categories should be saved for posterity, and those things that fall short in one or more categories should be released.

Baldners Dad

It reminded me of a conversation I had with my Dad before he died when he was saddened by the fact that no one would probably want much of the beautiful wood he collected and never used for one of his many projects.

I started thinking about the fact that I don’t have any children, and that my nieces and nephews don’t share my tastes and wondering what would become of my beautiful artwork and pottery and china. As I listened to my dad talk, I thought about how much I paid for each of my paintings and asked myself if I had gotten my money’s worth out of the item based on how much enjoyment I’d gotten from each piece over the years. The answer in each case was yes. So, one day, if they get sold at a garage sale for $10 or carted away by a great niece for free or even thrown on somebody’s bonfire, it’s okay, because I’ve enjoyed them so thoroughly, and in the end, that’s all that matters.

Rose - houses

I think I was meant to have those conversations, one on the double recliner at the farm in Minnesota with my dad, and one in a castle in Fife with a stranger.

Scot - Kellie Castle

Kellie Castle was also a rare find in that the castle garden was adjacent to the castle. You can see the castle from every corner of the garden, and photograph its towers and gables and spires with flowers in the foreground. You don’t have to walk to the back forty to enjoy the garden’s beauty. The castle and the garden are one entity. It’s exactly how I pictured Lachlan, Rod’s family’s castle, in Golden Rod. I found myself wanting Kellie Castle to be on the cover of Golden Rod, and will put it there one day. Kellie is lesser known, and a better choice for an imaginary, fictional place known only to my novel, than is Craigievar, which is so easily recognized my anyone familiar with Aberdeenshire. Perhaps then, I can forgive myself for taking artistic license with the history of Lochcarron.

Scot - Culross house 2

The rest of our time in Fife was spent exploring the Neuk fishing villages of Fife, briefly visiting St. Andrews, and exploring the Firth of Forth, the waterway that cuts deep into Scotland from the East, separating Edinburg from the areas to the north. We took the time to explore a little village called Crail because we know Crails in St. Ansgar whose family come from there. Crail is an enchanting little seaside town, and I fell in love with Crail Pottery. We teased about the fact that we couldn’t imagine why the Crail family ever left. It made me wonder about those of us from America who love Europe, and feel strong ties to the area. Would the lure of the promise that America held have been so enticing that I would have left my home and country behind to seek my fortune in the new world? And is it some sort of homing instinct deep inside my soul that makes me want to go back, after almost a century and a half and five generations?

Scot - Colross

We visited the medieval village of Culross where parts of Outlander were filmed and climbed a million steps to look down over the rooftops rimming the sea. When we got lost looking for the city center, I was so exhausted after all those steps that I thought perhaps I might have to be buried right there under the wandering cobblestones.

Scot - Culross square

And as usual, when it was all said and done, we gained less enjoyment from the famous Culross, billed as one of the most picturesque and oldest medieval villages in Scotland, than we did watching the sunset from an old church, and then, a deserted windmill by the sea. No surprise there – time and time again, we are drawn to unpopular, out-of-the-way places.

Scot - Windmill

Cambo Gardens was a disappointment and a relief. The gardens I loved so much 11 years had been dug up and redesigned. The flowers might be as pretty as they once were in another decade or so – more proof that you can’t go back. I must be a true optimist, because I always expect things to keep improving with time, to be better than I remember, not worse. I was pacified by the fact that the barely navigable, half washed out path to the sea I hiked 11 years ago had also been redesigned, and was quite pleasant. The woods were filled with fragrant wild garlic blossoms, bluebells and tiny fairy flowers. The midges were organizing, fluttering their tiny wings in sunny spots in the glen, but not yet biting.

Scot - Peat Inn

But the absolute best experience we had in the Kingdom of Fife and by far the favorite meal of our vacation was lunch at the Peat Inn, in the tiny town of Peat Inn. Indescribable. Every morsel more wonderful than the last. The kind of food artistry and flavorful food I aspire to. Impeccable presentation and heartfelt service. I loved every bite, every second.

Scot - Culross house

Our three days in Fife flew by, and now, it seems like a dream. No wonder, as I was so tired and jet lagged for those first three days. It always takes me a few days to remember what it means to be a relaxed person, free from responsibility, ready to enjoy being served by others instead of serving. I couldn’t have had a better place to put the trip in perspective and set the scene for the days ahead.  NEXT:  From the Lowlands to the Highlands…

Anyone who has read “Night and Day”, my first novel, will enjoy reading the letter I just received from a (not THE) real life Leif Unterschlag, who lives in Copenhagen.
Dear Sherrie Hansen,
I recently tried to “google” my own name, Leif Unterschlag.  To my surprise, I found out that you have written a book “Night and Day” with a person called exactly that (pages 98 and especially 299).
As it is clearly fiction, I am of course extremely curious to know where you found my name and how you decided to use it.
You use a lot of Danish names in the book, but Unterschlag is – as you probably know – neither a typical nor a common name in Denmark (nor in the U.S.). And especially in combination with “Leif” it cannot be a pure coincidence. So please share with me your deliberations etc.
It would be a nice (and appropriate) gesture to send me (see postal address below) a printed copy – of course with a handwritten greeting from the author*:) glad.
Have a nice Easter holiday!
Yours sincerely,
Leif Unterschlag,
København, Denmark
(The letter has been slightly edited.)
Night and Day (1)
The REAL (to me) Leif Christian Unterschlag from “Night and Day” would have died sometime in the 1940s (off the top of my head – I don’t have a copy of “Night and Day” in front of me) in Solvang, California. His gravestone would have read Chris Christiansen, as he simplified his name when he immigrated to the United States like so many did. If you read the soon to be released sequel, Daybreak, you’ll get reacquainted with MY Leif’s son, Charles Christiansen, and be able to read some newly discovered letters that MY Leif wrote to Maren Jensen before he left Denmark. I also interjected snippets of Danish culture that I’m familiar with, like our family’s tradition of enjoying Danish aebleskivers.
Danish Pancakes - Done
Although my selection of the name Leif Unterschlag was purely coincidental, there are some characters in “Night and Day” who bear a close resemblance to a real life counterpart. My great-great grandmother, Maren Jensen, who is buried in Blooming Prairie, Minnesota. was the inspiration for Night and Day, although the book is truly a work of my imagination. In the book, MY Maren was married to Frederik, and born an entire generation later. Because I skipped a generation, my grandmother, Victoria, became Maren’s daughter instead of her granddaughter.  It can be confusing to those who know my family, but I wanted to use family names for those characters with real family connections.
Night and Day - Maren Jensen Grave
I chose the name Leif for the owner of the bakery in Slangerup (a real Danish town, where some of our Danish cousins lived) where Maren worked, because it sounded Scandinavian but was familiar and pronounceable to American readers. And, I liked the name. To be honest, I can’t remember exactly where I found the name Unterschlag, but I know I was looking for a name that was used in Sweden or Germany, since MY Leif grew up in Sweden. I routinely Google things like Danish or Swedish surnames when looking for names for my characters and find lists that are very helpful. I was also specifically looking for a name that is hard to pronounce, so that someone immigrating to America might be inclined to revert to the Scandinavian tradition of taking their father’s name (in Leif’s case, Christian), as their last name and adding a sen (or son) on the end.
For those who have read “Night and Day”, you may remember that the only reason Maren suspected Charles Christiansen was Leif Unterschlag’s son was that he was a nearly exact image of his father when he was young.  Charles himself, and the rest of the family, didn’t make the connection for decades.
Daybreak in Denmark (3)
When Daybreak opens, Jensen, her mother and father, are looking for any surviving Unterschlag relatives who may still be in Sweden or Denmark.  You’ll have to read Daybreak to learn more about MY Leif Unterschlag. Now that I know there are REAL Unterschlags living in Denmark, I feel a little funny about that. Will the REAL Leif Unterschlag please stand up?
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My Danish cousin, Helle, me, Helle’s daughter, Anna-Sofie, and Boyda, her mother, who wrote letters to my Grandma Victoria for decades.

Nowadays, I usually Google my character’s names and even book titles before I use them to make sure I’m not stepping on the toes of someone rich and famous. But then, there’s supposedly nothing new under the sun, so it is very likely impossible to find a name that hasn’t already belonged to someone at some point in history. I’ve even had readers tell me that they can’t believe how close one of my fictional stories is to what happened to them in their real life. I’m thinking of Merry Go Round and a reader who wrote me from Texas… it’s a little disconcerting! And, I had a woman approach me at a conference who told me I looked exactly like her daughter, and that every time she saw me across the room, she thought, what is my daughter doing here?
I guess it all goes to prove that truth is definitely stranger than fiction. Have you ever Googled your own name to see how many of you are out there, or if there are characters in a novel that have been inadvertently given your name?

Late summer is a golden time of year. Fields and ditches are full of goldenrod, tansy and black-eyed Susans blossoms shining bright in the sunlight. Springtime blues, lavenders and pinks gradually give way and are outshined by the yellow gold hues of early fall.

Golden Rod - lighthouse

… Just one reason why late summer is the perfect time to read Golden Rod, my latest Wildflowers of Scotland novel.

Golden Rod

When I first chose to name my new book Golden Rod, I had a flurry of people tell me that they were allergic to goldenrod, and associated  the flower with sneezing and feeling like their head was going to explode.

Golden Rod bird

My research shows that allergies to goldenrod are very rare, since it is not airborne, and that people who suffer allergy symptoms this time of year are more likely affected by ragweed, which blooms at the same time.

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Although I can truly promise you nothing by pleasant sensations if you read Golden Rod, this brings me to a related topic – why some of you think you are allergic to reading romance novels. Here are some of the reasons I hear from romance reading skeptics:

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Fallacy #1:  Romance novels are for women. I’m a guy.

My Response:  Don’t let my flowery titles fool you. My novels all have two perspectives, two point of view voices – one male and one female. My books are not about women living in a fantasy world – they’re about men and women struggling along in a very real world. Their differing attitudes, perspectives, feelings, needs and approaches to problem-solving provide my books with stimulating conflict, movement within the plotlines, and differences of opinion. I’ve had many men tell me how much they enjoyed my books, and one couple who even argued over who got to read it first.

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Fallacy #2:  Romance novels are shallow, dumbed down versions of the literary novels I enjoy.

My Response: A reviewer who’s a very intelligent mathematician called my novels “the thinking women’s romance.” Doctors, lawyers, and professors have written telling me they enjoyed my books. My characters are complex and my novels include complicated situations and scenarios worthy of readers who like books that stimulate their intellect and emotions.

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Fallacy #3:  I like action and adventure novels, thrillers and mysteries.

My Response: Today’s romance novels can and do include all of the above. My books have included murders, sex-crimes, scams, thefts, kidnappings, and all kinds of deceitful goings on. They also include romance, but love definitely isn’t the only thing between the covers (no pun intended).

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Fallacy #4:  Romance novels are full of graphic sex scenes.

My Response: I’ve written on this topic previously. Some of my books have love scenes and some don’t. When love scenes are included, they’re not gratuitous, they’re there for a reason. They’re a necessary part of the plot. They’re also sweet, tender and satisfying. Sometimes, they’re even humorous. And just like real life, lovemaking is rife with consequences.

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Fallacy #5:  Romance novels are filled with overly dramatic, shirtless bodybuilders and low-bodiced, big-busted heroines who I can’t relate to.

My Response:  My books are set in modern times and my characters are as real as you are. Some are good-looking, others not. They have flaws and frustrations and quirks just like all of us do. That’s what makes them so lovable and most importantly, believable.

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So let me recommend this trusted cure for allergies. Expose yourself to just a little bit, then, gradually a little more, until your discomfort disappears. I’d be delighted if you’d try just one of my Wildflowers of Scotland novels, and Golden Rod is a great place to start. If you like it, you can read more.  Hopefully, you will find that you enjoy my romantic suspense novels.

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What have you got to lose? Enjoy the goldtones of late summer, and don’t be afraid to read a new book or a new author.

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You’ll find beauty in all kind of unexpected locations.

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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.

Sweet Man or Bad Boy – Who’s the Sexiest? Can a sweet man – a servant – be sexy? The hero of a book?

Woman may pick a sweet man over a bad boy in real life, but in the books they read, it’s an established assumption that most women are attracted to the alpha male prototype. The alpha male demands, takes, plunders, and is strong, cocky and unyielding. The alpha male is a conqueror, a warrior, the stereotypical hero. As I think about men I most admire, I wonder why it is that women so often desire thrills over security; a sense of danger, excitement and adventure over someone who gives us comfort and protection. Is it true that women crave a man who acts aloof and indifferent instead of eager and polite? Is it a turn-off when a man lavishes a woman with attention or acts like a perfect gentlemen? Do women really prefer a bad boy whose lifestyle is a roller-coaster of excitement, rather than the steady positive force of a good guy? Why is it that women view sweet men as less-desirable and relegate them to a comfortable but dull status?

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In my new release, Sweet William, William is strongly male, but he’s wired with an intense desire to serve others. There are plenty of cranky servants out there, reluctant heroes who help others because they have to, or get paid to do it, or because they’d feel guilty if they didn’t. It’s questionable if these people are true servants, but I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt, especially since they often grow into the role, especially in a book, where all good characters have a growth arc. But William truly is a sweetheart.

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When Violet goes into labor, and all her help falls through, William changes his plans to help Lyndsie at Rabbit Hill Lodge. He sets aside his own wishes and desires when his mother needs him at home on the farm. He opens his arms to his brothers when they need help. William exhibits selfless behavior over and over again, from the moment he wishes Lyndsie would win their unofficial Chopped competition to the day in the haymow when he keeps his pants zipped despite the fact that Lyndsie is ready and willing.

 

What is it about a sweet man that can be a turn-off to some women?  A sweet man can be an introvert or an extrovert. He can be a powerful executive, or like William, a farmer. He can be rugged and masculine, or studious and intellectual. It’s less about looks or occupation, and more about a mindset, a world view that permeates everything he says and does. So why, despite the obvious advantages of being with a sweet man, do sweet men irk some women no end?

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Does the fact that those men are considerate and thoughtful make them weak, or less desirable? I think William is the sexiest hero I’ve ever written. And at the end of a long, tiring day, my husband is far more desirable to me than any alpha male. Maybe part of the reason I think sweet men are sexy is that I’m married to one. My husband is a pastor, and he not only serves his congregation, he serves me in hundreds of little ways through every day. I’ve always believed that for a man to be attractive to me, he has to be my equal at the very least – intellectually, spiritually, emotionally, physically. There’s nothing stronger, sweeter, or sexier, than a man who draws a warm bath for his exhausted lady at the end of the day, fixes her breakfast in bed, or takes care of the laundry or the kids or the dishes so his partner can relax, write, or have some time to herself.

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Many of my male characters tend to be caring men – Pastor Ian in Wild Rose, Michael St. Dawndalyn, the psychologist in Blue Belle, Nathan, the school teacher, in Shy Violet.  I’ve written a few alpha males – Anders in Night and Day, Tommy Love, the rock star, in Love Notes, and Clay Alexander in Merry Go Round. I adore them in their own way, especially toward the end of their character arcs.

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But there’s something about a sweet man, a man who puts others’ needs ahead of his own, that melts my heart. I hope William, Sweet William, will endear himself to you, too.

If you’re not sure how you feel, try reading Sweet William and see if you agree.

We have to build our lives out of what materials we have. It’s as though we were given a heap of blocks and told to build a house. From Emily of Deep Valley by Maud Hart Lovelace

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I think of this quote often when I’m looking back at my life – and, when I’m starting a new book. My entire life has been a construction project – building up, tearing down, rebuilding, renovating, remodeling and even starting over one or two times when the foundation has been kicked out from under me. As the years go by, I’m getting close to the age when I need to start downsizing, and finding a house / life whose size and upkeep is more manageable.

 

Another quote from Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy and Joe says, The older I get the more mixed up life seems. When you’re little, it’s all so plain. It’s all laid out like a game ready to play. You think you know exactly how it’s going to go. But things happen…

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Things do happen – in life, and in our writing. Sometimes one mirrors the other. When I start a new book, I begin with a cast of characters who each have their own goals, dream, and motivations. They each have a past made up of previous experiences and encounters, loves and disappointments. More importantly, they have challenges, and problems, and people and things that threaten their well-being and threaten to keep them from their goals. I can plan exactly what I think should happen in a book, but at some point, the characters take over, pick up the building blocks I have strewn about, and write their own story. Ultimately, I can’t predict exactly what kind of house is going to get built in my books any more than I can my own life. It’s a good thing I like surprises, and that I’m a curious sort who loves to find out what lies around the next bend in the road.

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Twists and turns are part of the story. But bringing form and structure, color and life, and artistry and rhythm to the heap of building blocks is what a writer does. In writing, I work through my own problems, calm my anxieties, and find hope for the future. My wish is that you will do the same as you read my stories.

Like Maud said in Betsy’s Wedding,  Good things come, but they’re never perfect, are they? You have to twist them into something perfect.

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In my favorite Maud Hart Lovelace book, Heaven to Betsy, Betsy thinks, What would life be like without her writing? Writing filled her life with beauty and mystery, gave it life… and promise.

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Perhaps the magic of a good book occurs when a writer take an ordinary slice of life and turns it into a piece of art. In Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown, Maud Hart Lovelace wrote, Betsy was sitting in the backyard maple, high among spreading branches that were clothed in rich green except at their tips where they wore the first gold of September. In Betsy Tacy and Tib, It was June, and the world smelled of roses. The sunshine was like powdered gold over the grassy hillside.

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I learned to look for the beauty in my own back yard when I read books like Maud’s, set in small Minnesota farming towns, when I looked at the sunset through the lens of my first camera, and when my hardworking family took time to visit Minnesota’s lovely state parks and campgrounds. I learned to appreciate beauty when we traveled across the United States and experienced the vastness of God’s handiwork.

Maybe that’s why I love what Maud wrote in Betsy-Tacy and Tib:  In silence, the three of them looked at the sunset and thought about God.

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I firmly believe that God is the Master Designer. Not only can God paint an amazing sunset, He knows what will happen in my life – has known all along – and in the books I write, even before I do. He gave me the building blocks and the skills to build a life that I hope will glorify him.

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My nephew, Luke, wanted me to play a game with me last week. We each drew a card which told us what we were supposed to build out of the pile of red, green, blue and yellow Legos in the game box. While I stumbled and fumbled around, and came up with something that only slightly resembled a frog, Luke’s creativity amazed me! It’s not just about the building blocks, it’s about the way we put them together.

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Whether you’re a writer or a reader, a musician, a quilter, a farmer, a painter, a pastor, or a poet, I urge you to thank God for the building blocks you’ve been given, the construction skills you’ve learned and acquired, and the creativity and instincts to build a beautiful house where you can thrive and grow.

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In my new release, Lyndsie thinks she knows how her life will go, when suddenly William comes into her life and causes a minor earthquake. When her carefully constructed house starts to tumble and things go from orderly to confused, she has to decide when and how to rebuild her days, and how and where she will spend them. Things are a mess. Nothing goes right…

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And to find out what kind of house Lyndsie builds – western ranch style or a wee Scottish boothie – you’ll have to read the book.

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Twenty-five 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. If you hadn’t already guessed, Sherrie’s favorite books (from way back when) are the Betsy Tacy books by Minnesota author Maud Hart Lovelace.

 You can see what’s Sherrie’s 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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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

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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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