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Okay – I’ll be honest. Part of the reason I write contemporary romantic suspense as opposed to historical is that I don’t have the time or inclination to do research. It’s not that I don’t enjoy history or investigating the past. And it’s not that I’m lazy – really. It’s simply that I’m already stretched so thin that I simply don’t have time. I own and operate a B&B and Tea House called the Blue Belle Inn, and I’m a pastor’s wife in a different town, 85 miles away. I play the piano at church with a traveling band of musicians, and I’m very involved in the lives of my family. I write on the run whenever I have a spare second, often with my laptop propped on the door of the glove compartment while my husband drives us between our two homes. If I had to stop and do extensive research on a specific time period or worry about maintaining historical accuracy, I’m convinced I’d never finish anything.

BBI - Spring 2012  Zion 2013 Sunset shadows

To keep things simple, I try to write about locations I’ve been to or lived in, and occupations or fields I’ve worked in or been trained to do. I’m less likely to make silly mistakes that way. I’ve had characters who are Realtors (I’m licensed in the state of Colorado), interior designers, quilters, farmers, pastors, home renovators, and business owners in Minnesota, Iowa, California and Colorado – all things and places that are intimately familiar to me. No matter – it still takes an immense amount of time to research and validate facts, even for familiar scenarios.

Iowa - sunset 2010

Part of the problem is that my characters somehow seem to acquire minds of their own. Tommy Love giving up on building his dream house in northern Minnesota and buying a beachfront property in central California in “Love Notes” is one good example of a character who went traipsing off in different directions, pulling “my” story and stretching “my” plotline to include things that I never would have thought of on my own, and attempting actions and activities I’d never dare try. What could I do? I was invariably forced to follow his lead, searching for those tidbits of knowledge I was lacking to keep the story grounded and authentic.

Cal - Rachel SS

When I started writing “Blue Belle”, I had never been to Tobermory or the Isle of Mull, or even Scotland. When I finally set foot on the island, I had a strange sense of déjà vu because I was already so well acquainted with the place via the internet. One night, while I was sitting on a bench near the harbor, a woman walked by that looked exactly like I’d always envisioned Isabelle, my main character. It was eerie! I also had to change an entire scene that had Isabelle blithely scooting around Mull on her bicycle when I discovered how hilly the island is. It’s a very steep climb from the harbor street to the top of the hill where our B&B was!

67 Scotland - Tobermory 5

Scoping out a location is only the beginning. I spent almost an entire day researching European chocolates for Blue Belle. When I was in Mull, I even had to go to Tobermory Chocolates to taste their famous Rose and Violet Cream Chocolates. You know, so I could describe them accurately. I had to take tea at the Willow Tea Room in Glasgow, try Victoria Sponge with buttercream and berries and Mini-Battenbergs layered with almond paste, moist cake, and apricot jam, and sample Sticky Toffee Pudding with Caramel Whiskey Sauce.  Not that it stops with the sweets. I had to taste pub grub – things like Cumberland Mash and Cottage Pie with  Thatched Roof  and Smoked Haddock Pie with Mashed Potatoes – at locations all over Scotland. And, I had to stay at several B&B’s so I could experience an authentic Scottish breakfast. Yes, we authors are forced to spend our time laboring over many such unsavory tasks. I spent a huge amount of time looking for Scottish slang, phrases, and speech idioms that would define and give depth and reality to my characters and their conversations, yet be understandable to the average American reader. I researched castles and keeps, Cromwell’s practice of slighting, and the art of building with stones in both Scotland and Oconomowoc, Wisconsin.

73 Scotland - Tobermory Chocolate

Isabelle is a journalist, so part of my research involved investigating the facts behind each of the stories she was working on in the book, from Mad Cow and hoof and mouth to puffins and vultures, a Celtic bathing pool, and the centuries-old gold some people believe is still buried on a sunken Spanish galleon in Tobermory Bay.

82 Scotland Bathing Pool

The thing I like least about research is that I’ve already learned some things the hard way, which, sadly, means I already know everything I need to know about them without doing a single Google search. The thing I love most about researching is that once you start looking for specific answers to certain questions, you discover amazing things that lead you in completely new directions that then become fodder for your plot, and on and on in an explosive chain reaction of knowledge. It’s fascinating!

WI2 - Thistle

One of the things I’ve always loved about reading books is the new worlds that are opened up to me as I see a place or situation through the eyes of each character. Being an author has stretched me even more. Research can seem like a necessary evil at times, and a thrill at others. But no matter how hectic my schedule is or how bad my attitude about having to jump out of the story and take the time to chase down facts and figures, research is a great opportunity to learn more things, broaden your perspective, and see the world in a different light.

117 Scotland Castle Statue

Today is a day when we look back and remember. As people go, I am blessed with a rich heritage of wonderful people and good memories. But the truth is, there are a lot of things in life I’d just as soon forget – poor choices and the repercussions that followed because of them, people who’ve hurt me or treated me rudely or unkindly, money or things dear to me that I’ve lost, tragedies and heartbreak that have affected me, the people I love, or even the world in general. Yet here I am, blogging on a day devoted to memories, a day that memorializes the sacrifices made by those who gave their lives so that we can enjoy the freedom we are so blessed with – a day that brings to mind some of the most painful episodes of history imaginable.

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Memorial Day is a day that can trigger tears and warm fuzzies, pride and patriotism, joys and regrets.

Flags - row

When I visit the cemetery, I focus on the wild violets growing in the woods around the edge of the lawn, the pretty posies put on my Grandma’s graves – peonies and lilacs, lily of the valley, wild honeysuckle and columbine – sweet signs of life and living.

Flower - Lily of the Valley

I watch the flags blowing in the breeze and am so glad I can move, and feel and see.

Flags

I do not fear death because of my faith, but I do not like to think about it just the same.

Zion 2013 Sunset shadows

If I had my choice, there would be no more deaths. I like things the way they are right now – the people and things that are a part of my life. I really don’t want to lose any more loved ones – ever.

Grave

But that is not the way of the world. Time marches on. Borders and time are ripped in two, sometimes naturally, sometimes so painfully I can hardly bear to think about it.  Loss comes a visiting whether we like it or not. For every delightful event that occurs in our lives, there is a disappointment or a period of grieving that follows to balance things out.

175 Scotland - Cambo gardensraindrops

For me, the silver lining to all of this is my writing. Whether I’m hurting or sad or just going through an awkward transition in my life, writing about it, in fiction form, with names and details changed to protect the not so innocent, is very cathartic. Writing works a certain kind of magic, in which the real and painful and close becomes fictional and muted and distant. While my characters shed tears and endure the unthinkable, solving problems and masterminding solutions to their dilemmas, I am somehow freed from my past hurts, embarrassments and sorrows.

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On this day of remembering, I am thankful for the sacrifices people have made for me, the love that surrounds me. I am thankful for memories, for reminders of the wonderful things I have experienced in my lifetime. And I am thankful that sometimes, things that are best forgotten really are.

Scotland - Celtic Cross

Here it is! The answers you’ve been waiting for to the questions you didn’t know existed!

1) What am I working on? Now that Blue Belle has been released, I’ve been working on Shy Violet again. Shy Violet is my third Wildflowers of Scotland novel, and it takes place at Eilean Donan Castle and in Dorney, Scotland, on Loch Alsh, just before you get to the Isle of Skye. I started Shy Violet in November and am a little over half done – and loving it!

Blue Belle, a contemporary romance by Sherrie Hansen

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre? There are two things that set my work apart from others in the romance or romantic suspense genre. One, my characters range in age from their early to late thirties to their mid-forties. My stories are second-chance at romance stories about characters who have been there, done that, maybe even been burned or badly hurt, and are brave enough to give love another go. Two, my stories contain a unique, real-life blend of typical Midwestern culture, family, and faith, and real, vulnerable, not perfect, messy people – which includes sometimes steamy, sexy scenes. My stories are character based, and since each character is different, so are their stories. As a result, my books are hard to classify, tend to mix elements of different sub-genres, and cross lines that some might not feel comfortable with (on both sides of the spectrum).

Duluth - close

3) Why do I write what I do?  I’ve always been a bit of a rebel, and shall we say, unique? I write what’s in my heart, and that includes characters who are as one of a kind as I am, stubborn but not afraid to change, and complex. My books have been called the thinking woman’s romance. I also write what I know, and tend to include elements like old-fashioned bicycles, a favorite quilt, Victorian or medieval architecture, ethnic foods, bed and breakfasts, or other funky things, places or props to make my stories fun. I am NOT my characters, but the way I think and feel about things is very much reflected in their responses and choices and reactions to the obstacles and dilemmas they encounter. When people say they don’t like my books, or the kind of books I write, I often think, then you really don’t like me.

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4) How does my writing process work?  I live in 2 different houses, 85 miles apart, and write on the run whenever I have a spare minute. If my husband is driving, I usually have my laptop propped on the door of the glove compartment, working on a scene. I don’t get much writing done in the summer, when my B&B is at its busiest, so I try to make up for it in the wintertime. Once I have my rough draft done, I do extensive editing and smoothing out, including writing my transition scenes, and at least one session of reading the book out loud.

 

Thanks to Dellani Oakes for nominating me! Please check out her blog and her answers to these questions at www.dellanioakes.wordpress.com.

I’m tagging two Iowa authors to carry on the blog tour:

Stephen L. Brayton, who I met at a booksigning last Sunday at La Vida Loca Winery in Indianola -www.stephenbrayton.com, www.stephenbrayton.wordpress.com, www.braytonsbookbuzz.wordpress.com
Author - Stephen L. Brayton
Stephen L. Brayton owns and operates Brayton’s Black Belt Academy in Oskaloosa, Iowa. He is a Fifth Degree Black Belt and certified instructor in The American Taekwondo Association.
He began writing as a child and has written numerous short stories both horror and mystery. His first novel, Night Shadows (Feb. 2011), concerns a Des Moines homicide investigator teaming up with a federal agent to battle creatures from another dimension. His second book, Beta (Oct. 2011) was the debut of Mallory Petersen and her search for a kidnapped girl. In August 2012, the second Mallory Petersen book, Alpha, was published. This time she investigates the murder of her boyfriend.
And, Jordyn Meryl, who I enjoyed getting to know at our last Writers Retreat at the Blue Belle Inn – http://facebook.com/jordyn.meryl
Jordyn’s Bio:  Once living under the guise of a passive, quiet, school librarian, books and kids were the passions which kept her mind fresh. One day she decided to spread her wings and live the dream of her heart. Sitting in front of her computer, her fingers bring to life the voices in her head. But it is when the night muses visit Jordyn, her spirit rises up to wrap around the stories that float in her dreams. Land locked in the mid-west she envisions days on a white sandy beach with a laptop to write all her tales. Crossing many genres she spins chronicles of romance, paranormal and fantasy, for they are stories worth telling, even at the risk of revealing true feelings. http://jordynmeryl.wordpress.com/

jordynmeryl.wordpress.com

I know many authors who keep their characters’ bedroom doors tightly closed, some because it’s dictated by their publishers, or because they’re writing Christian fiction or want their books to be appropriate for all ages. Some writers simply don’t feel comfortable going there for a multitude of personal reasons. Others abstain because it – or in this case, a lack of it – fits the story. Perhaps their characters just aren’t in a place where they’re thinking about or engaging in sex.  Other authors are known for their erotic sex scenes – or as one friend from a writer’s group I belong to recently said, writing books that are “a never-ending sexual romp”.

Wild Rose - tag line

Likewise, some readers have strong preferences when it comes to closing the bedroom door or keeping it open. While I sincerely respect those who don’t want to fill their heads with gratuitous sex or violence, I get irritated with people who assume that just because a novel is labeled romance, it’s a bodice ripper or akin to Fifty Shades of Grey. In other cases, the only reason people even read books is for the sex. That’s fine with me, too.  We all have different passions and personalities. We read for different reasons – to relax, to be inspired, to better ourselves, to be entertained or to re-infuse our lives with hope – all perfectly valid.

Scotland - Bagpipes

Scottish Bagpipe player 5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just like people are different, so are characters. Some of the characters I’ve written desperately want to have sex, but can’t or won’t for whatever reason. Others think about it all the time, but never have the opportunity. Some leap in with both feet, others shy away. Some are too busy with more important things, others just don’t get what the big deal is. Some do, and then wish they hadn’t. Others pay grim consequences for a few moments of pleasure that were probably far more disappointing than satisfying.

Scotland Bashful Rose Rose - rose

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, if I had to put a label or heat index on my books, it would have to be “all over the place”.  Some of my books, like Night and Day or Water Lily, have sweet, tender love scenes, definitely on the mild side by today’s standards. Love Notes, which was originally targeted to a Christian fiction market, has no sex scenes, but does contain a few thoughts of sex. I’m told Stormy Weather is my steamiest novel to date. Wild Rose has adult themes, but only one very mild, “feel-good”  sex scene between a newly married couple.

So here it is – be warned – Blue Belle, which is soon to be released, has one sex scene. One advance reader called it the hottest sex scene ever.  I can’t tell you exactly why it’s there, or why your heart will break when you find out what happens the next morning, without giving too much away, except to say that Blue Belle is about trust and betrayal, and being naked and vulnerable, and how scary that is, because we all have to tear down the walls we build around our hearts if we want to find love, but it’s so hard to know who’s telling the truth and who’s lying, and when it’s safe to let down your guard and bare your soul – maybe even your body. Or not.

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As always, there may be those who judge me because I’m a Christian and a pastor’s wife, and “how could I?” And yes, a few of my ancestors would probably roll over in their graves if they ever read such a thing. And in spite of all that, or because of it, I wholly endorse the scene for reasons I think you will understand when you read the book. I’m proud of every page of this book and can’t wait for you all to read Blue Belle.  (My husband has also read it, and he’s proud of me, too.)

So, there it is.  Beware — or, order your advance copy now. I think you’ll love Blue Belle. If you choose not to read it, you’ll miss what’s very probably my best book yet. I’m still fond of the the reviewer who called my books, “the thinking woman’s romance”. Because, in addition to the occasional, still mild, comparatively speaking, sex scenes that sometimes crop up in my novels, books by Sherrie Hansen are knit together with intelligent characters in adverse circumstances struggling with real-life issues. They’re lovingly shaped with conflict and joy and heartache, compassion and suspense, intimate moments and lots of trouble – but always, a happy ending. And occasionally, sex happens. And when it does, because it has a huge impact on the lives of the characters, and because it forever changes who they are and how they view the world and themselves, I wouldn’t dream of not taking you along on the journey.

Sherrie Hansen has written 6 books and 1 novella, soon to be 7, all published by Second Wind Publishing. You can purchase Night and Day, Stormy Weather, Water Lily, Merry Go Round, Love Notes, Thistle Down (FREE at Smashwords or 99 cents elsewhere – how can you go wrong?), Wild Rose, and very soon, Blue Belle, as paperback or e-book formats at Smashwords.com, Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble.com, selected independently owned stores,  The Blue Belle Inn B&B and Tea House, or directly from Second Wind.

Sunset - Zion

Those of you who follow me on Facebook know that my husband and I recently lost the tree in front of the parsonage where we live in Hudson, Iowa.

Zion - Tree 14 branch

So what is it about losing this tree that traumatized me? In the strictest sense, this tree wasn’t even mine, since our church owns our house and our yard. I’ve only lived here for two years. It’s not as though I grew up with this tree.  I have no idea who planted it and I didn’t even know it existed until recently.

Zion - tree

But we had a special bond, this tree and I.  I started admiring its beauty and photographing it even before I knew its days were numbered.

Zion - Tree 14

Once its great arms began to sag and its trunk wasn’t able to endure the stress of blizzards and winds and storms, I tried my best to memorialize it.

Zion 2014 Tree 2

Our Church council president has already promised to plant a new tree come spring.

Zion 2014 Tree

The wind is howling again tonight, and I am secretly glad that there are no more creaking and cracking, rubbing and splintering noises outside my window.

Zion 1-14 Tree

The men who took the tree said it wouldn’t have stood much longer. I was afraid it was going to fall on the house. It is good that it is gone.

Zion - 2013 Sunset

It’s branches will provide warmth for several families next winter.  It’s wood will not go to waste. Small comfort, but something.

Zion - 2014 cold house

Our house looks lonely and bare without the tree, and sunsets are just not the same. But I know it was the right thing to do.

Zion tree split

Sometimes things just can’t be fixed. And that is the real problem with me and this tree.

Sunset - Good Friday

I like things to be perfect, for every thing and every one to have a happy ending.

Zion - tree down

There has come a time in my life, where I am starting to realize that there are more sad endings than happy. There are a whole list of things that I can’t do as well as I used to, and will never be able to again.  I’m getting old. I’m on a downhill slide.  I haven’t cracked yet, but I may – probably will – one day soon.

Zion - tree crack

Silly old tree – yet its loss affected me. Replaceable. Botanical. Just a tree.

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It stood its ground, gave leafy green shade. It witnessed more than a century of sunsets and salvation.

Now, its time is done. It’s time to step aside and let another tree do its job.

Zion - fall steeple 2013

Now lest you think I’m totally depressed, there is one thing that I think I keep getting better and better at, and that is writing. It’s fun, as I age, to have a skill – a passion – that’s still  growing. The things that I’ve seen as I’ve stood, watching half a century of sunsets, are a network of branches that keep spreading wider and wider. And the more I know, and experience – the greater my understanding, the better.  So that’s the end of my tree. But not of me.

Zion 1-14 Sunset

The Isle of Mull, Scotland, is the setting of my next book, Blue Belle (the second of my Wildflowers of Scotland trilogy). Blue Belle will soon be off to my publisher, and shortly after that, ready to read. I just wrote a scene that includes Duart Castle. I hope this helps set the mood! If you haven’t read Thistle Down or Wild Rose yet, now is the perfect time!

Scotland Duart Castle - Mull

Here’s the Back Cover Blurb: Isabelle doesn’t want to be found. Michael doesn’t want to be found out. But when Damon starts searching for the centuries-old gold he thinks is buried in the bay, everyone is in danger. A reporter from Virginia and a psychologist from Wisconsin – both in Tobermory, Scotland, both with secrets –  hers, shocking, his kept to protect the people he loves. When Isabelle stumbles upon the biggest story of her life, and Michael discovers the truth, will the painful memories that are dredged up destroy their chance for love, or will they strike gold?  

Lately, everyone’s been asking when my next book is coming out. Blue Belle, the second of my Wildflowers of Scotland novels, should be ready in 60 – 90 days. All it needs is a serious going over and a new ending and it should be ready to send off to my publisher. In the meantime, I took advantage of NaNoWriMo to get 40,000 words into Shy Violet, the third in the series, so there should only be a short wait between the two books.
BBI Spring 2012
Some of you know that my primary distraction from writing is a bed and breakfast called the Blue Belle Inn B&B. For the past few months, my two passions have come together in a unique way.  In August, I decided to write a series of what I like to call fractured fairy tale style murder mysteries highlighting the storybook themes of each of our guest rooms at the B&B is named after.

BBInn - PC Tree 2010

I started out with our “On the Banks of Plum Creek” room and wrote (with apologies to Laura Ingalls Wilder), “Little Oops On The Prairie”. It begins when Nellie Olafson’s somewhat eccentric, mean-spirited cousin, Nutty Olafson, is found face down at the supper table. My tagline read: Something smells fishy on the banks of Plum Creek – is there a wolf in sheep’s clothing lurking in the Big Woods or a little killer loose on the Prairie? Suspects Nellie Olafson, Visiting Professor Jerald Jill of Iowa, Quick Draw McNutt, local football hero Big Brawny, and the much loved but tragically flat-footed Insoles family are all in for a Long Winter in the pokey unless the true murderer can be uncovered. I also planned a theme dinner which included Ma’s Bean Soup with Bacon, Chicken Pie with Baking Powder Biscuit Crust, New England Pot Roast with Potatoes and Carrots, and Roast Pork with Milk Gravy and Mashed Potatoes.

MM - Little Oops cast

We’ve been doing murder mysteries at the Blue Belle Inn for over 20 years now, at the rate of 4 to 9 times a year. Although I have several sources for purchasing the “whodunit” mystery games that become the basis for our dinner theater productions, it’s become increasingly harder to find fresh material that’s well-written.  The actors would often complain about how flimsy the plots were, or that there just wasn’t enough material to work with. Often times, I would spend hours fleshing out the plays I bought online with an opening  dialog, opening and closing statements, and so on, while the actors frequently had to unscramble plot elements that just didn’t make sense.

When I first started writing books, they were pure romance. I thought I’d never write novels that contained murder and mayhem, but in my last two books (Love Notes and Wild Rose) and the ones I’m presently working on (Blue Belle and Shy Violet), there are bad guys who are truly twisted, evil and bent on hurting people, a kidnapping, gunshots, and even a murder. As I worked on the motivation and chaotic situations caused by the suspense element in my novels, it occurred to me that I could just as well try my hand at a murder mystery. (Not to worry, there are still plenty of sweet, romantic moments in my novels, too.)

I also thought, if I wrote my own mysteries, that it would be fun to incorporate some local color. Some of our local spoofs include the World Famous Miracle Whip Clinic in Rochester, MN, where miracle cures abound, and our locally manufactured breakfast cereals with a pirate named Captain Crunch. Because murder mysteries are tongue in cheek, humorous and very irreverent, you can really toss in whomever and whatever you feel like. It’s also great fun writing parts that specifically match our actor’s best (and worst?) features. If we can’t laugh at ourselves once in awhile, what fun are we?

MM Never Ever Land cast
In September, we performed our second original mystery, “Footloose in Never Ever Land”. The intro read: Who will be next to walk the plank in Never Ever Land? One thing is sure – it won’t be poor Woody Stuck, an old hippie who was stuck in the 60’s, because he was found belly up in the Lagoon a few hours ago. Now the clock is ticking and we hope you’ll help Peter Pun and the Lost Boyz find out who is guilty – is it Captain Crunch, the pirate with the biggest chompers ever, Rev. Hal Fyre and his crony, The Church Lady, free-spirit Windy, Fancy Free Willow Tree, Crocodile Rock, who has a scaly skin condition, or Stinker Belle, the church secretary? The theme meal included Gems of the Sea Puffs Mornay with Shrimp & Crab on Scallop Shells, “But Spinach is Good for You, Peter” Chicken with Spinach Artichoke Dip & Italian Cheeses, and The Church Lady’s Sunday Roast Beef with Mashed Potatoes.
MM - Sherwood Forest

In October, we did “Shenanigans in Sherwood Forest with Robin Love & His Band of Unmarried Men”. The write-up says:  Relationships are complicated in UnTie the Knotingham, a small but wealthy kingdom where the divorce rate is extremely high. Thus, it came as no surprise when Richie Rich, a philandering playboy, was found dead on his wedding day. The question is, who killed him? Wife #7 – the former Maid Mary Ann, Ginger Root, wealthy nobleman Henry the Eighth, Friar Luck, Viking warrior Little Johnson, or Robin Love – a poor, mild-mannered attorney who has devoted his life to championing the underdog in divorce cases far and wide? It’s up to you to unravel the mystery before anyone else loses their head and does something crazy, like getting married. SHERWOOD FOREST CUISINE featured Cottage Pie with a Thatched Roof, and Fruits of the Forest Chicken with Mushrooms, Apples, Berries and a Splash of Brandy.

Heaven to Betsy1

That left “Anne of Green Gables”, “Sleeping Beauty”, “The Secret Garden”, Madeleine L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time”, and “Heaven to Betsy”, from Maud Hart Lovelace’s Victorian era Betsy Tacy books, for future mystery dinner themes. At the rate of one every 3 – 4 weeks, by the time we finished one mystery, my brain has already been working on the next, envisioning characters who tesseract, wear pompadour hair styles and floppy hats and climb big hills with the Crowd, or hob knob with princes and princesses and wicked witches and maybe a giant bunny rabbit or two.

MM - Dudley Do-Right MM - Anne Green

In November, for our Anne of Green Gables Fans, we premiered a mash up Lucy Montgomery’s Anne books and Gone with the Wind. “Anne Green and Dianna Dingleberry’s Most Excellent Adventure”. The lead-in read: When cold-hearted Rachel Bag O’ Wynde, the neighbor from down the lane, is found dead, every one thinks she choked on an artichoke heart. But one person knows how she really died, and it was no accident. Help Anne Green and Dianna Dingleberry find out who is guilty. Is it sour old Marilla Lemon, Matthew Chokecherry, obsessed with being best Gilbert Plum, Southern belle Scarlett Pimpernel, the pasty faced schoolteacher Ashley Grey, or Rhett, the Butler? Dudley Do-Right of the Canadian Mounted Police even made a guest appearance.The custom menu included PEI Potato Soup, Ingleside Inn’s Fried Steak with Cheesy Onion Gravy and Red Potatoes, and Anne and Dianna’s Most Resplendent Raspberry Cordial Chicken served with Cavendish Creamed Potatoes and Peas. The featured dessert was Bread Pudding with Caramel Whiskey Sauce – sans the mouse.

MM - PCharming

In December, we tackled Sleeping Beauty with “Will the Real Prince Charming Please Stand Up?” My teaser read:  When game show host Alec Quebec is found dead, everyone on the latest episode of “To Twist the Truth!” is a suspect. Who is guilty? Is it one of the esteemed panel of judges – Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, wicked stepmother Eveele O’Gress, or Glimmer, the Good Fairy? Or is it one of the contestants – dashing Prince Charming, Hermie, the Outcast Elf wannabe dentist, or Dopey the Dwarf, who was last seen clutching a ruby red slipper and looking for Cinderella? Or is it Kermit, a spirited frog that keeps hopping around the stage? The made-to-fit menu included Bavarian Hunter Schnitzel on Homemade Spaetzle Noodles, Cinderella’s Pumpkin with Pork and Parmesan Filling, and Snow White’s Special Apple Pie.

MM - W in Time

Our January premier was “Who? Whatsit? Which Wicked Witch is Dead?” a mash up that featured childhood favorites “A Wrinkle in Time” and the “Wizard of Oz”. My teaser read: When a Wrinkle in Time causes Camazotz and the Emerald City to collide, the witch is accidentally squished. Or was it Mrs. Which? And was it really an accident? Follow the yellow brick road with Meg Dorothea Ditz, Charles Wallace Wiz, Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, the creepy computer guy nobody likes – Jay I.T. Bug, Glinda the Good, scary mafia man Scarface Crow from Central Intelligence, and nice guy Calvin Tim Mann, who wears his heart on his sleeve, to find out which one really did it. I had fun with this meun – Emerald City Soup with Green Broccoli & Garlic Herb Toasts, Over the Rainbow Fruit Wand, Starry, Starry Night Steak with Green Peppercorn Sauce, Aunt Beast’s Best Ever Vegetable Cheese Puff, Out of this World Salmon with Seafood Stuffing, and Mrs. Murry’s Bunsen Burner Beef Stew with Biscuits on Top.

Blue Belle winter

On February 7 and 8, we’re looking forward to presenting another original murder mystery entitled “Betsy and Tacy Go Downton” – a mash up of my favorite books, the Betsy Tacy books by Minnesota author Maud Hart Lovelace, and the popular British TV series, Downton Abbey. Here’s what guests have to look forward to: When Betsy Ray’s British cousin, Matthew Crawley, fakes his death in a car accident and comes to Deep Valley, MN because he needs a break from Downton Abbey, a round of parties is planned to introduce him to the Crowd. When Lord Grantham and the Dowager Countess cross the pond to put an end to his lark, the unthinkable happens and Matthew is murdered. (Yes, this time, he’s really dead.) Did someone tamper with his dance card, hot wire his motor car, or spike his punch? Or could he simply not tolerate the caterwauling during the Cat Duet? Betsy, Tacy, Tib, Bad Boy Tony, Busty Bonnie the Minister’s Daughter (who we’ve never quite trusted), Joe Schmo, and Thomas, the Valet are all suspects. The menu includes “Onion Sandwich” Soup a la Mr. Ray, Betsy’s Heart of My Heart Chicken with Garlic Rosemary Cream Sauce and Artichoke Hearts,  Tib’s Beef Rouladen with Bacon & Onion Gravy on Homemade Spaetzle Noodles, Tacy’s Irish Meat Pie with Pork and Potatoes, and Lady Violet’s Elegant Roast Beef with Chardonnay Cream Sauce, Gorgonzola Cheese and Red Potatoes – and of course, a bite of the Crowd’s Famous Fudge for dessert.

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A tale based on the book “The Secret Garden” is next, in March or April, and will probably feature a mad Farmer MaGregor and that rascal, Peter Cottontail. After that – who knows? It’s been an absolute thrill to see the creative costumes the actors have come up with for each of my mysteries and watch the way they’ve brought my characters and words to life. My only regret is that I’m usually working in the kitchen and don’t get to see much of the performances. Our actors are some of the best and so creative! John Deyo’s portrayal of a hopping, green frog / Prince Charming and Lisa Deyo’s rendition of Sleeping Beauty were amazing and very memorable. Mel Schroeder has done everything from A to Z including a one-legged pirate. My favorite of Deb Stickney’s roles to date is The Church Lady but she also does a great German accent. My husband, Mark Decker, makes foaming at the mouth and dying look so realistic that it’s scary. Neil and Terri Hernan, Mark and Ken Borchardt, Phyllis Ruehlow, Brenda and Michael Esdohr, Julia Crail, Tiffany Adams, and so many more who have filled in for us on occasion are some of the most versatile, slightly crazy, very silly actors ever.

 I’m thrilled to say that our new, original mysteries have been getting rave reviews from our customers, including my mother, who said, “Are all those crazy things really in your head?”, to which I replied, “They kinda are.”

If you live in northern Iowa or southern Minnesota and haven’t been to one f the Blue Belle’s mystery dinners yet, it’s high time! Like I always say, at what other event does the guilty perpetrator of a dastardly deed get a round of applause? And as always, if you guess correctly or solve the mystery, you could get your dinner free.

One of these days, I’ll get around to finishing Blue Belle and Shy Violet, but in the meantime, if you’ve wondered what I’m up to – this is it! I hope you’ll also watch for another instance when my innkeeping and writing worlds are scheduled to collide… Second Wind Publishing will be hosting a Pitch the Publisher event at the Blue Belle Inn B&B sometime this summer or fall. Stay tuned for further details!

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My books aren’t written about the most earth-shattering events. When you read one of my books, you can be fairly certain that the world isn’t going to end in 24 hours. Life as we know it isn’t going to cease to exist. Murders – at least of anyone you dearly love – aren’t likely and extreme violence is rare. But my characters do learn and grow from the world around them, be it a sleepy little town in the heartland where everybody knows way too much about everybody else, the coldest place in the USA, or a quaint village in Scotland or Denmark. My characters are smart, savvy, and intuitive, They know how to figure things out and make the best of a bad situation. Sometimes it takes them awhile, but in the end, there’s always an ah-ha moment, a reawakening, an eyes-open-wide experience when they finally get it.

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Last night, I spoke about my latest books, Thistle Down and Wild Rose, at the library in Hudson, Iowa, where my husband is a pastor. We had only a small crowd, but my photo journey of Scotland on the big screen was well received, the caramel shortbread disappeared very quickly, and I sold 7 books. More importantly, it was good for me to get my slides and my impressions of Scotland organized in to a nice presentation, since my next two books will be set in Tobermory (Blue Belle) and on the Isle of Skye (Shy Violet). If anyone wants a speaker for their library or group, let me know! I’m all set now, as well as being inspired to start working on my Wildflowers of Scotland novels again.

Here’s part of what I spoke about – lessons learned while traveling in Scotland:

1. Don’t stay inside and miss out just because it’s raining a little.

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I’m not recommending that you venture out in a hurricane to see what’s up or become a storm chaser in tornado alley, or go looking for your cows in the middle of a raging blizzard, but so many people miss out on so many opportunities because it’s a little windy or overcast or too hot outside. The day we had designated for golfing St. Andrews, visiting the beautiful gardens on nearby Cambo Estates, and hiking down to the sea on the garden path, was alternately drizzly, and downright sopping wet. Between the 7th and 8th holes of the famous golf course, my husband was so wet that he ducked into the men’s room at the clubhouse, took off his shirt, and crouched under the hand dryer to take the chill off. Would he have missed the probably once in a lifetime chance to golf St. Andrews so he could stay warm and cozy? No way.

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Mark’s sister, Becky and I donned floppy hats and vinyl rain gear, shielded our cameras with a sheet of plastic and slipped at slid over the muddy paths that wound through the walled garden and down to the sea at Cambo Estates.

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Were we sorry? No. In fact, here’s another lesson learned.

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2. Colors are brighter on cloudy days and raindrops on roses are one of my favorite things.

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3. When your life appears to be crumbling around you and everything’s in ruins, there’s still beauty to be found. (On the beach at St. Andrews.)

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4. When everything around you feels sad and gray, add a splash of color to the mix and everything will look brighter.

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5. Keep looking up! There’s always a rainbow after the storm.

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6. Even the most nondescript things in life look better if you plant a few flowers.

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7. Find balance wherever you can. It helps.

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8.  Be thankful for what you have.

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While I was oohing and aahing over their little stone cottages and thinking they were like something straight out of the pages of a story book, the Scots were loving the photos of my Victorian B&B and saying it looked straight from the pages of a fairy tale.

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9. Never judge a book by it’s cover, or a house by it’s formidable exterior. There’s probably something nice and cozy waiting for you inside.

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10. No matter how impossible the path ahead looks, there is always a way through the mountains – or over whatever’s blocking your way .

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11. Bloom where you’re planted.

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12. Sometimes you have to dig your heels in and be tenacious. If you think you can do it, you probably can.

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13. The road may seem narrow, but there’s always enough room to get where you need to go – somehow.

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14. Pay attention to the little details. All information is useful, and bound to come in handy one day.

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15. Keep looking up. (This one bears repeating.) Often, what you see will point you in the direction you need to go.

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Maybe it’s my Viking blood, but I’ve always had a case of wanderlust. I grew up on a farm in Minnesota, We farmers put down deep roots. But in addition to the solid, stable grounding I had as a child, I was also taught that it was fun to travel. My parents took us on camping trips to Colorado, Florida, Canada, and everywhere in between. My Dad loved (still does) to pull off the main road and see what lay down each little lane and byway. No staying in the same cabin at the same lake every summer of every year of our lives – we camped at a different State Park or campground every night so we could see as much as we possibly could.

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I’m a firm believer that there’s all kind of beauty right in our own backyards, but I’m still curious about what’s around the corner.

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When I was in high school, I signed up for mission trips, choir trips and journalism and poetry workshops on various college campuses so I could see as many little corners of the world as I could. When my Great-Grandpa Lightly died (I was 15), I hitched a ride down to San Antonio, Texas with my Uncle Kenny and Aunt Cathy, who had driven home for the funeral, and spent a week exploring the Texas Hill Country, the River Walk, and the air force base where they lived. At the end of the week, I flew home to Rochester, MN. I was the first of our family to fly on an airplane. I still have the little packets of sugar, salt and pepper and the napkin imprinted with the airline’s logo that I got on that flight.

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When it came time to choose a college, I couldn’t wait to leave home and explore the Great World. I selected Wheaton College, in Wheaton, IL, and for the next two years, hopped on the “L” and explored downtown Chicago every chance I got. At the end of my sophomore year, a friend from Maine suggested that we look for jobs in Bar Harbor. I got engaged while I was there and after a military wedding in Lawton, OK. and a brief visits to Minnesota and St. Louis, I ended up living in Germany for 3 years. All of Europe was at my back door. I took advantage of opportunities to see Budapest, Hungary, Salzburg, Austria, Lucerne, Switzerland, Paris, France, London and the Cotswolds in England, Florence, Italy, and Gouda and Amsterdam in the Netherlands, and loved every second of it! From there, it was back to Oklahoma, and then Colorado Springs. Every time I had enough money saved up, I took off to see another part of the world – Dallas, Santa Fe, Durango and Telluride, Colorado, Banff National Park, Lake Louise and  Calgary in Canada, Disney World in Florida, Wales, England, Prince Edward Island, Bainbridge Island and Victoria, Canada, the Blue Ridge Mountains, old Virginia, and Washington, DC, Denmark and Norway. I lived for (and worked hard to pay for) the times when I could explore the world and satisfy my wanderlust.

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After years of being single and sometimes short a traveling partner, I was very blessed to find a husband who shares my passion for exploring. Since Mark and I have been married (almost 10 years ago), we’ve taken trips to his home state of California,  seen Death Valley, the Grand Canyon, and Yellowstone National Park  (all firsts for me), gone to Scotland, Germany, southern France, Italy, Denmark, the Amish area of Indiana, Florida, and most recently, Louisville, Kentucky. Next week, we’re off to Wisconsin to catch a ferry across Lake Michigan, where we’ll explore yet another area of the country.

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Some writers (and people in general) never stray far from home. There are authors who set all their books in England, Scotland, the northeast, Northern MN, Texas, or the South.  And I have to admit that I’ll go anywhere with my favorite authors, including staying in the same small town with the same characters. But my books are a lot like my life. I like to explore different places, see different sights, and experience a change of scenery as often as I can. It’s refreshing. It renews your perspective. It reminds me that there’s a whole big wide world out there, and that the universe doesn’t revolve around me. Traveling, experiencing different cultures, broadens us and grows us and changes us. It promotes understanding and empathy. It enriches us in countless ways.

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Part of my wanderlust is no doubt a part of my genetic make-up. But I truly believe that another very important part of my thirst to experience new places, people and things is a result of the books I read as a child.

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I was there when Betsy Ray headed out to have her Great Adventure in Europe, when Laura and Mary helped Ma and Pa pack up the covered wagon and set out for a new territory, when Daniel Boone went exploring, and when Lewis and Clark and Sacajawea set out to find the Pacific Ocean.

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Perhaps it’s presumptuous of me, but I hope that my books create the same kind of stirrings in you. If you haven’t already, I hope you’ll take a trip to Scotland with Rose and Ian in Wild Rose, the first of my Wildflowers of Scotland novels, that you’ll join Anders and Jensen in Copenhagen, or Hope and Tommy in Embarrass, the coldest town in the USA, or see what the Midwest is really like in my Maple Valley trilogy, A change of scenery is a good thing. It refreshes. It restores. It renews. Come along for the ride and you’ll see!

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When I first began to write books, I remember saying that I would never write about murder and mayhem – that it just wasn’t in me to dwell on the grisly, gruesome details of such occurrences. These kinds of things were so foreign to my own life, that I couldn’t imagine the characters I concocted even remotely being in a situation where they’d encounter such experiences.  True to my intentions, the most traumatic things my characters in Night and Day, Stormy Weather, Water Lily, and Merry Go Round have to deal with are squabbling siblings, backstabbing friends, insensitive parents, nosy neighbors, troublesome children, minor medical problems, the rare encounter with a wild animal , the occasional disruptive weather emergency, and of course, broken hearts.  Not that lions and tigers and bears – oh, my – tornadoes, and bats in the house can’t  be unnerving, or that unplanned pregnancies, nasty exes, finding out your husband is gay or being betrayed by someone you trust  can’t be demoralizing, but you get my point. Nothing really bad or evil came close to touching my characters.  No one died. No one was hurt so badly that they couldn’t be fixed. Nothing unbearable happened.

With the release of Love Notes and Wild Rose, my readers saw a slight shift to a more suspenseful mode – bad guys that were truly bad, a kidnapping, gunshots, murder.  I’d crossed a line. I think that part of it was that my own reading tastes changed. Several of my favorite authors changed over from romance to suspense / thrillers and I went along for the ride. I read new authors, like Second Wind’s Christine Husom, who writes about comfortable, folksy Midwesterners like me who suddenly find themselves dealing with murdered parents and dismembered bodies in cornfields and cults in their backyards, and does it with dignity and aplomb.  Sadly, I think some of it is that the world has turned into such a crazy place that I can now clearly envision my characters having run-ins with evil, despite their best efforts to steer clear of it. As awful occurrences get more and more prevalent, it’s easier and easier for my imagination to “go there”.

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So what are your thoughts? How do you account for our fascination with the morbid? I hear over and over again from readers that they’re not “into” romance, but that they love to read gritty mysteries and thriller or suspense novels. If you’re one of my readers, are you glad I’m inching towards the unthinkable? (Not to worry – there are still plenty of sweet, romantic moments in my books for those of you with tender hearts. ) Any of you who have read all of my books probably also noticed a shift from steamy to not so much. When I made this switch, I expected accolades, and have instead heard from many who are disappointed that I stopped crossing that squiggly line.  It’s interesting to me that while some readers find my steamy scenes offensive, they seem to have no trouble with reading about violent, evil people and the situations that ensue because of their hatefulness. Personally, if I’m going to “clutter” my mind with one thing or another, I’d rather it be with something I think of as beautiful and natural rather than deeds and actions that are ugly and perverse.

What do you think? Have we opened a can of worms with our mysterious fascination with the morbid? Does the art of writing and reading about it quell our fears or feed them? Does it give you a sense of triumphing over evil, or give you pause for fear we are planting the seeds of further evil? Do you feel anxious and terrified after reading a book where horrible things happen to good people, or do you feel inspired by people who get life’s worst thrown at them and live to tell the story?

I always illustrate my blogs with appropriate photos, so here is the most dark, foreboding photo I could find with it’s cheery, upbeat counterpart. Which would you rather read about?

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PLUM TART IRIS – New Release

Seaside Daisy

NEW RELEASE!

Daybreak (Sequel to Night & Day)

Night and Day

Golden Rod

Sweet William

Shy Violet

Blue Belle

Wild Rose

Thistle Down

Love Notes

Stormy Weather

Water Lily

Merry Go Round

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