Author Archives: Sherrie Hansen

About Sherrie Hansen

By day, Sherrie Hansen Decker operates a Victorian Bed & Breakfast and Tea House, The Blue Belle Inn, in St. Ansgar, Iowa. By night, she enjoys writing novels, quilting, playing the piano, renovating old houses and traveling. Sherrie and her husband live in Northern Iowa. Sherrie's debut book, Night and Day, was released on 2/27/09 by Second Wind Publishing. The Maple Valley trilogy (Stormy Weather, Water Lily, and Merry Go Round) is complete as of May 2011.

Five, Four, Three, Two, One… Time’s Up! Hands in the Air! by Sherrie Hansen

I’ve been watching back to back episodes of the TV show Chopped on the Food Network this week because I’m working on a murder mystery called “A Taste of Murder:  The Galloping Gourmet Gets the Trots”. The simple, three act murder mysteries I write for the Blue Belle Inn B&B’s acting troupe are fun, mostly silly, crowd pleasers. They always end where they’re supposed to, because someone invariably confesses at the end of Round 3. As simple a format as they are, I’ve learned several things while researching and working on them.

MM - Taste of Murder

On the show, Chopped, the contestants have 20 – 30 minutes to prepare an appetizer, main course, or dessert from the often odd and usually unrelated mystery ingredients in their baskets. When the countdown ends, they immediately put their hands in the air, step back from their work stations, and hope that what’s on their plate is good enough to avoid being axed on the chopping block. No matter that your delicious milk chocolate sauce – the one you infused with melted gummy bears because that’s what was in the basket – is still on the stove, momentarily forgotten, never to be drizzled over your hastily made Chantilly crepes. When the time is up, there’s no chance to fuss, make corrections, re-plate, or change your mind about this or that. You’re done. Finished. The end has come.

Food - Cupcakes

Sometimes, I wish knowing where to end my novel was as structured and simple as that. Hands in the air. Step back from your laptop. The end.

Zion - 2013 Sunset

This week I heard back from one of my beta readers, who told me she didn’t like the ending of my soon-to-be-released Wildflowers of Scotland novel, Shy Violet. What she said – and I think she’s absolutely right – is that I had a tight strand of a story with characters and drama masterfully braided in to a focused story line when all of a sudden, about 50 pages from the end, the story started to fray apart.

Sunset 2014 Grass

What I’d done was to introduce William, who’s going to be the hero of the next book in the series – Sweet William, and pull back the characters from the previous book in the series, Blue Belle, so I could use their wedding as a backdrop for the last few scenes of Shy Violet. In doing so, I stole the thunder from Violet and Nathan’s story and left Shy Violet with a weak, disconnected ending instead of a strong finish.

228 Fence - Hairy Coo babies

Although I didn’t realize it consciously at the time, I wasn’t sure how Shy Violet should end. Although I love my characters and the premise of the book, I was ready to be done with the story. I’d been working on it for over a year, and I’d already moved on emotionally. As I read back over the ending, I could see that I was scrambling to make my word count by adding scenes that never should have been part of the story.

139 Scotland - Mull sunset

So, when is it time to say, The End? How do you know when your story is finished? What makes a good ending? Most of us are taught to focus on the beginning of our story – the magical first scene, first page, first line – the all-important hook. After all, if you don’t get the beginning right, it won’t matter how the book ends because no one will read it. But there’s a lot to be said for a satisfying ending, too. In the restaurant business, it’s commonly held that customers base their tip on how full their waiter keeps their coffee cups at the end of the meal. Sweet, well-timed endings are what make a customer – reader – leave satisfied and eager to come back. What makes a great ending?

A good ending ties up all your loose ends quickly and concisely. No need to endlessly linger – if you haven’t made your case for inclusion of the thread by now, it probably shouldn’t be there in the first place.

No need to micromanage every little detail. Find a good balance and wrap things up.

A satisfying ending may include a teaser or leave you wondering what happened next. Embrace the mystery and let your reader fill in a few of the blanks. Imaginative readers like feeling that they’re part of the story.

Think hard and long about introducing new characters or themes toward the end of a book. If you’re writing a series, it’s tempting to move things in the direction you’re planning to go in your next book, but it may not serve the story and can be a serious distraction.

Scotland Sunset

Don’t be too predictable. A wonderful ending may include a surprise, or a twist that no one saw coming. Now is not the time to throw in something way out of the blue, but being startled or caught off guard can be intriguing if it builds naturally from a multi-dimensional, sometimes unpredictable character.

Endings can be happy, sad, maudlin, or inconclusive. They can leave you hanging or satisfy you on a deeply personal level. Asking yourself what kind of ending fits the theme and characters in your book will steer you in the right direction.

Let your characters tell you how and when the book should end. If your characters aren’t talking to you, maybe they’re not ready to end the book. Give them a little time, let things settle and sink in, and they’ll eventually tell you where they want to go. I often need a little time to absorb things and make sense of something that’s happened, especially after a very climactic scene or event. Your characters do, too.

217 Scotland - Celtic Cross1

Focus on the things that really matter. A good ending reflects the crux of your book, the theme or common thread that runs throughout the entire book. Ask yourself what the book is really about. The answer may surprise you, and it may be different than whatever the book was supposed to be about. That’s what your ending should be about, too. Addressing the things your readers have come to care about while reading the book creates a comforting consistency.

If you’re still stuck, go back and read the first two scenes of your book. Think of the beginning and ending as bookends to the story in between. The ending should be a mirror image of the start.

If you’re still not sure you ended the book at the right time or in the right place, let it sit for at least a few days. Read the last few scenes of the book out loud. If the end of your book evokes emotions in you, and gives you a deeper understanding of your self and the world you live in, then raise your hands in the air and step back from the table. Your book is done.

Food - violet tarts

If you’re dissatisfied or bored, or left feeling cold or confused, then be glad that as writers, no one holds a stopwatch over our heads and demands that we deliver a hot, perfectly-plated, artistic-looking, delicious-tasting product in 20 minutes or less. Be glad you’re a writer and not a chef.

Endings are complex, and they’re just as important as beginnings, because once you have a reader, you want to keep them, move them on to your next book, and the next, and the next. That’s what a good ending does. Questions asked demand answers. The world is full of symmetry, and I believe that finding it in the pages of your book will eventually give you the perfect ending.

ShyViolet Final Front Cover

You’ll be happy to hear that I’ve re-written the ending of Shy Violet twice now, and from all indications, I finally got it right. Hopefully, in a few weeks, you can read it and judge for yourself!

Happy endings, whether you like things nice and tidy and tied with a ribbon, or helter-skelter, with a few loose ends left dangling…

1 Comment

Filed under books, Scotland, Sherrie Hansen

Question Marks and Other Things That Make You Think by Sherrie Hansen

I had a birthday a couple of weeks ago, and I received a card from my Mom and Dad that really made me think. On the inside, it said “Lots of love from Mom and Dad. We are very proud of all your accomplishments.  Now it’s time to slow down and enjoy the fruits of your labor?”

Yes, there was a question mark at the end, which left me wondering exactly what they meant.

Photo29

The card came at a time when I was working hard to finish Shy Violet, my next book – coming soon from Second Wind. I’ve been short staffed at my restaurant and B&B since last fall, and have been doing much of the cooking and cleaning myself. I’ve also been writing the scripts for our popular murder mysteries, about one a month – a very fun, but time consuming process. In the past week, I filled a large order for the cookie business I have on the side, and took my nieces and nephew out to dinner and to a school play (the favorite part of my busy weeks). In the past month, I’ve also baked 12 or 15 dozen cookies for church, practiced and played a lot of music, and written a Christmas program for our Sunday School youth. And on the day of my birthday – a Sunday, I had 23 people over for a birthday brunch after church.

Food - Cookies Noah

Even when I’m riding in the car, or watching TV, or doing something that could be construed as relaxing, I have my laptop open so I can  be working on something, or a needlepoint project in my hands. I really don’t like going to the movie theater because it forces me to do nothing but watch.

Rose - needlepoint

Let’s just summarize by saying that I like to keep busy! I’m the original multi-tasker, and very probably a workaholic. My husband says my brain has no off-switch. While I did not inherit these traits from strangers, I guess I should also listen when these same people tell me that I’m at that time in my life when I need to reexamine some of my priorities and start relaxing a little bit.

My first response, when I read the card, was that I don’t know how to relax – don’t want to relax, don’t enjoy relaxing – that I’d rather be busy than the alternative, that I like the hectic pace of my life, and find it energizing.

99IMG_0336

And then, a 16 year old girl from our old church died in a car accident on Sunday night – a girl we’d known since she was little – a sweet, talented young woman who should be the honoree at a graduation party instead of a funeral. On Monday, we found out that there’s going to be a wedding in the family – in Romania. On Tuesday afternoon, my mom ended up in the hospital with congestive heart failure – she’s been treated and is going to be fine, but it shook us all up. And on Wednesday, a dear young woman who I greatly admire – talented, beautiful, engaged to be married, just starting out in life, her whole future ahead of her – was killed in a car accident on snowy roads.

Zion 2013 Frost Close

Last Sunday, a friend from church who has 15 or 20 years on me told me, “Do it now. Once you get to be 50, things start to happen. So travel now. Have fun while you can, while there’s still time.” More good advice.

So… I’m off to start writing Sweet William, finish my edits on Shy Violet, and get my next murder mystery done – this one is called, A Taste of Murder – the Galloping Gourmet Gets the Trots – and it has to be done by March 7th. While I’m working, I’m thinking about my birthday card, and trying to figure out what relaxing and enjoying the fruits of my labor looks like for me.

Zion - bowed head

In the meantime, I am grateful to be alive, and to have had the chance to live out my life, to be loved, and to love. I am grateful for the privilege of living, and I intend to live every second to its fullest potential.

It makes you think, doesn’t it?

Photo94

By day, Sherrie Hansen operates the Blue Belle Inn B&B & Tea House and tries to be a good pastor’s wife. By night, she writes. Her novels, Shy Violet (coming soon), Blue Belle, Wild Rose, Thistle Down, Love Notes, Night & Day, Stormy Weather, Water Lily & Merry Go Round are available from SecondWindPublishing.com.

3 Comments

Filed under Sherrie Hansen

Give Me a Kiss to Build a Dream on…And My Imagination Will Make that Moment Live by Sherrie Hansen

Forgive me for being momentarily morbid, but I’m in the middle of another long, dreary winter, and it’s time I did something to cheer myself up. Perhaps I’m being overly sensitive because my birthday is coming up, but it seems like every time I open the newspaper, someone very near my age has died. So my assignment for today is to take stock – to think about baskets full of blessings and all the things I have to look forward to. If I have to give a nod to the fact that I’m in my late fifties (which my young nieces and nephews assure me is very old), and that the end gets nearer every day, then I’ll write a bucket list one day soon.

Sunset 2014 Grass

What memories do I most cherish? What do I most regret? What do I have to look forward to?

Promise you won’t laugh. Writing about Shy Violet (my work in progress) has made me realize that I’m the one who is typically standing on the sidelines encouraging the people who are actually doing the things I want to do, perhaps even taking photos, or filing away observations for future characters, dialog or plot lines for my next book. Instead of entering into the merriment of the occasion, I hang back and let others have all of the fun.

55IMG_8693

Some of my best memories are of the time I lived in Augsburg, Germany, when I admittedly went a little wild and acted like a crazy person, probably because I drank a wee bit too much Liebfraumilch. Among other things, I took disco lessons (you promised not to laugh) and danced many a night away to ABBA and the BeeGees, learned to soul dance with a big black man who taught me moves so smooth I can still feel them if I try, called a 3 star general on the phone and told him what I thought about what I perceived to be a bad decision on his part, took my dog, Ginger, and went on volksmarches by myself when my fuddy-dud husband wouldn’t budge off the sofa, and drove myself to Holland and the Italian Riviera and wherever else I wanted to go, just because I could.

117IMG_1427

By the time the 80’s arrived, I had been hurt. I’d gone too far on a couple of occasions and realized certain things were very, very bad ideas. I retreated back into observation mode, sitting on the sidelines and watching as my friends lived out their fantasies, afraid to even say what I wanted, and more importantly, to follow where my heart led.

sherrie - pikes peak

For whatever reason, in the 90’s, I went a little wild again – I climbed Pikes Peak and almost Mount Massive, left Colorado Springs and moved to Iowa to buy a house everyone else though should have been bulldozed, opened my own business, and participated in a few adventures so reckless and unthinkable that I really can’t talk about them here. Have to save something for my tell-all memoir…

Bicycle2010

But alas, when all was said and done, my soul once again felt singed. I was afraid of being hurt. I stopped riding my bicycle because my muscles and my heart ached, and I didn’t climb any more mountains because I stopped believing I could. I let myself be talked out of going to the Gaelic cèilidh on Iona when we were in Scotland because it might get too late and I didn’t insist we cross the bridge to Sweden because we might not have enough time, and I didn’t go on the side trip to take a dip in the healing waters of the Blue Lagoon when in Iceland because it cost $45 extra per person. I let so many opportunities slip through my fingers, And the more I stopped doing, the more depressed I felt, and I was always tired. I passed by opportunities to have parties or be social because I was too timid to pick up the phone and call people or because my house isn’t tidy enough, or because I weighed too much or didn’t look the way I wish I did anymore. Or because I was afraid people would reject me.

13 Scotland - Band in Kilts

I let my light fade. In my third book, Water Lily, I wrote a scene where Michelle chooses not to join Jake and his boys in the swimming pool because she’s embarrassed about how she looks in a swimming suit. This scene is so typical of my life it is ridiculous. It is so hard for me to let go and let loose – except in my books, where my imagination takes those moments and makes them live.

waterlilyfront

So I’m in my late fifties, and I’ve had a great life. I’ve gone places and done things that many people only dream of. But to be frank, I’m at that stage of life where if I plan to do anything else, it’s now or never. It’s time to start wishing again, to go to the places I dream of seeing and – more importantly – experiencing. It’s time to live life to the fullest and seize every opportunity – because a kiss to build a dream on is fine, and I do have a great imagination, but sometimes a kiss isn’t enough. Sometimes, I want wild, passionate lovemaking all night long. I want to live. I want to fly – to be the one in the picture instead of the one holding the camera.

Sherrie - dreads

So my husband just came home from working over at the church and asked if I wanted to go for a ride and take in the sunset. At first I said I needed to finished my blog and then call the computer guy, who is waiting to do a backup on my new laptop. But then I said yes and went out and got in the car. It’s a start.

Sunset 1-2015

11 Comments

Filed under blogging, books, fiction, Sherrie Hansen, Travel

Windows and Doors and Adapting by Sherrie Hansen

My early Christmas present this year was a new (actually used and refurbished) HP Pavilion laptop which replaced a dilapidated old Dell I’d been using for the last two years.

IMG_3212

For years, I insisted I would never use a laptop. I’m one who likes to sit in a comfortable, ergonomically correct office chair, at a nice wood desk, in front of an oversized monitor, adjusted to exactly the right height. But the fact is, we live in two houses in two different towns, 85 miles apart. Grabbing my laptop as I dash out the door to go from one place to the other is infinitely easier than having to transfer files from one computer to the other via email or a memory stick, and remembering which file is the most recent so I don’t end up with wildly jumbled word files, each with segments of a book that the other doesn’t have.

BBI DR High Res

So, I adapted. My old Dell wouldn’t hold a charge, and still ran on Windows XP, and crashed nearly every time I went on Facebook. (But at least I knew what to expect. I was used to it.)

Danish Pancakes - Done

I’ve always preferred well-worn and broken in to shiny and new. I just took some blueberry muffins from the oven, baked in a pan from the 1940s that used to be my Grandma Victoria’s. I spend part of my time in a Victorian built in 1895, part in a circa 1920’s foursquare farmhouse, and the rest in a “new” bungalow built in 1951. When I hear people on House Hunters whining because a house built in the last decade or two is “so dated” that they will have to strip it down to bare walls and gut everything, I want to scream.

Scotland Duart Castle - Mull

So my new laptop has a different keyboard than any other computer I’ve ever owned. The delete, end, up, down and over arrow keys are all in different places than I’m used to. When I type, I hit weird keys that are where the right keys used to be, which does crazy bad things to my words and formatting and documents.  Well, I’m sure you can see where this is going. I’m not one to cuss, but if I were, I’d be using some choice expressions.

Scotland - doors closed

My new laptop is shiny, lightweight, runs on Windows 8.1, navigates the internet with ease, and keeps its charge. It was a gift from my nice husband who loves me, and beggars can’t be choosers, and it’s past the time when it can be returned, and I should be thankful for what I have instead of griping about a few silly, misplaced keys that I will never get used to.

Door - St A

And while we’re at it, I’d like to say that the expression “When God closes a door, He opens a window” irks me no end. I like my nice, tall, easy-to-open door. And I don’t want to have to start climbing up on some rickety stepstool so I can climb out some silly window that was never intended to be used as a door.

114IMG_1175

That’s all I have to say except that my third grade teacher ever so kindly suggested, on my report card, that I needed to be more flexible and learn how to adapt. I can’t imagine what made her think so.

Flower - violet sunshine

In Shy Violet, the novel I’m working on, Violet’s entire life it turned upside down when she makes a bad choice, doesn’t realize it until it’s too late, and loses everything that is dear and familiar to her. Watching her start over from scratch, trying to build a new life in the middle of a new country on a different continent with people she doesn’t know from Adam, has been painful for me. Thank goodness she’s doing better with it than I am. You’ll see what I mean, hopefully sometime this spring.

Christmas - peacock

In the meantime. I did finish this blog – on my new laptop – without strangling anyone. Oh, and please don’t tell God what I said about the window / door thing. Merry Christmas!

4 Comments

Filed under Sherrie Hansen

Too Much of a Good Thing by Sherrie Hansen

I have a confession to make. I do realize how blessed I am to have family, friends, a wonderful husband, relative health and wealth, and more or less everything I could ever need plus many if not most of the things I want. I should be grateful beyond measure. But the truth is, I more often find things to bemoan or gripe about than I do to be grateful for.

Sherrie and Mark 2013

How dare I complain about anything, or wish things were better, or spend even one moment dreaming or plotting to improve one or another area of my life when I already have so much to be thankful for? Each time I see a headline or read  the prayer requests on Facebook, I’m reminded that things could be much worse, and sadly, may be, one day soon. (After all, I’m not getting any younger.)

Cal - Rachel SS

Part of it is being a perfectionist. I have very high expectations. If they’re not met, I feel sadness and disappointment. If anyone has a cure for this unproductive malady, let me know. While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with aspiring to be the best you can be, anything – anything – served up in too big a batch, has a way of metamorphosing into something sour.

Scotland - doors big

Power corrupts, and gluttony is one of the seven deadly sins. We take our rights, and use them to destroy instead of building up. Too much of any good thing can so easily go bad.

Food - turkey

Thanksgiving should be about being grateful. Christmas should be about love coming down to save us. Instead, it seems that both holidays have become about excess and greed – shopping frantically and desperately grasping for things we don’t need instead of being grateful for what we already have.

Food - Pie, baked

So your turkey is dry instead of moist, or the crust on the pumpkin pie is burned, or it’s cold and snowy and the roads are slippery on Thanksgiving Day. So there’s friction from the family around the table or you feel the sniffles coming on or someone is late. So that beautifully wrapped box under the tree turns out to be something you never would have bought and don’t even want – please don’t let unrealistic expectations rob you of your contentment and satisfaction and the things that are really important in life.

This year, as you gather together with your family or friends, as you look around at the beauty that surrounds you, give thanks with a grateful heart.

Christmas - H to B close

Leave a comment

Filed under Sherrie Hansen

Murder, Mayhem, and Cute Little Flowers by Sherrie Hansen

Last week, as I sat and listened to a bestselling author speak about writing murder mysteries, someone in the audience asked, “Why do you write about murder?” The author explained that she wrote what she knew – she had worked as a journalist investigating murders for years before writing novels. A good answer, I thought. But the person in the audience persisted, and once more asked, “But of all the things in the world you could write about, why would you want to focus on murders?” To which the author answered, “So, what should I write about? Cute, little flowers?” While she went on to explain that she had tried to write a romance once, and within three chapters, someone ended up dead, I sat there feeling embarrassed because my last three books are indeed about cute little flowers.

99IMG_0336

I got the idea to write my Wildflowers of Scotland novels when we were in Scotland. We flew into Glasgow, and as we headed north towards Luss and Loch Lomond, there were still a few bluebells here and there. The rhododendrons were in full bloom and, as we worked our way from north to south, we saw heather in the highlands, roses in hundreds of hues, purple thistles, yellow gorsk, and a profusion of other wildflowers. When I got home and started writing, Thistle Down was born, then Wild Rose, and Blue Belle. I’m currently working on Shy Violet and, if I decide to keep going, Sweet William will be next.

Books - Scotland Promo

But the question still is – and it is a very valid question – “Out of all the things in the world I could write about / focus on, why cute little flowers?” It’s been clear from the beginning that if I wrote grisly, gory murder stories, I would sell more books. It’s what people seem to want to read. Townspeople who are generally unimpressed with my books were clamoring to buy hers. Friends of mine who are absolutely wonderful writers concoct excellent murder mysteries / crime / detective novels. So – why can’t I bow to public demand, get with the program, and write chilling thrillers?

Storm sun beams

Here’s my answer:

1. A friend of mine once said that he never wanted to be accused of being normal. Call it stubborn, call it being creative, unique, or just plain different, but I’ve always been one to do my own thing. I generally don’t care about popular fashion trends, or that no one else I know wears hats, or what other restaurants have on their menus (I own a B&B and Tea House). I’ve always followed my instincts, be they right or wrong, and at 57, I’m guessing there’s no changing me now.

Sherrie - porch

2. I also write what I know – and love, and care about. Maybe it’s because I come from a long line of worrywarts, or as we call it today, people who suffer from anxiety, but I try very hard to think about good things. Like many writers, my method is to start with a premise and then ask the question, “What if?” until my mind starts to swirl and a story comes to life. The thing is, I’m always thinking “What if?”. Even when I’m not working on a story, I’m prone to thinking about and imagining the worst thing that could happen. If I listened to those voices – dwelled on them – thought about them long enough to write a whole book based on the worst possible scenarios I imagine – well, lets’ just say I have no desire to go there.

Photo80

3. I memorized this verse when I was a kid, and it evidently stuck. “Philippians 4:8 –  Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” I in no way wish to imply that people who write about evil people or events are disobeying the Bible. I’m just saying that if I didn’t at least try to do as this verse says, my thoughts and fears would no doubt consume me.

Duluth - close

4. I have an artist’s eye. Follow me on Facebook and look at my photos if you don’t believe me. I know the world is filled with horrific images and all kinds of hate and evil and gore. But when I look at the world, I honestly see cute little flowers and beautiful sunsets and rainbows after storms. I also see symbolism behind every falling leaf in autumn and every snowflake in winter and everything – everything – around me.

Scotland Lighthouse

Of course, my books are about a lot more than cute, little flowers. In Wild Rose and Blue Belle, there are kidnappings, murders and mayhem, and blackmail. In Shy Violet, there are pirates and whiskey smugglers, lying, abusive boyfriends and all kinds of bad things. But there are also wildflowers. Tiny, unique, beautiful little flowers.

Scotland flowers by the sea

6 Comments

Filed under Sherrie Hansen, writing

Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Sherrie Hansen

My last three – soon to be four – books, set in Scotland, have plenty of castles and kilts, kirks and keeps.  Those, and a muscular highlander or two, are the things Scottish romances are made of.

13 Scotland - Band in Kilts

But my books are also laced with wildflowers – wildflowers that aren’t particularly Scottish. Roses, violets, bluebells and even thistles can be found nearly everywhere in the world, after all. So, what is the connection and why did I choose to set my Wildflowers of Scotland novels (Thistle Down, Wild Rose, and Blue Belle – available now, and Shy Violet and Sweet William – coming soon) against the backdrop of Scotland?

Scotland flowers by the sea

A Striking Contrast:  In a place where flowers grow in lush, abundant quantities, a shy, little violet growing along a mossy pathway, a bluebell that’s here and gone again in a two week window of spring, even a wild rose, get easily lost in the profusion. In a country built on a rocky foundation and filled with harsh, cold landscapes, dark, misty vales, cold, stone castles, and drab, colorless cottages, a wee wildflower or two provide the perfect bit of contrast, a much needed dash of color to an otherwise harsh landscape.

Doors - Luss

A Lesson in Survival:  Scottish wildflowers are a hardy lot who blossom and grow and shine despite hard winters, rocky soils, brief summers, extreme variations in weather, and other adverse conditions.

197 Scotland - Flowers in Stone

I hope you’re starting to get a feel for why I set my novels – modern-day mixtures of romance and suspense – against the backdrop of the Scottish countryside, and that you can see the Scotland I love in the bouquet of wildflowers I’ve picked for you.

WI2 - Thistle

Thistle Down – A prickly, purple thistle played the hero 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’ve all been in situations where the odds are stacked against us, and whatever is happening in our lives is so dire and growing more hopeless by the minute, that we can’t imagine salvation is even remotely possible. And then, when all seems lost, something inadvertently wonderful and life-shattering happens, and all is well once again. Nothing like the sharp bite of a prickly plant coming out of nowhere to save the day!

201 Scotland -- Fence

Wild Rose – No tame, fragile, domesticated beauties for the extreme seasons of Scotland. Wildflowers are hardy, stubborn and determined to find a foothold whether they be planted atop a stone wall, set amongst ruins, or left for dead along the motor way. No playing it the safe way or being content with the status quo for these lasses and lads, who are risk-takers, trend setters and wild things, all.

175 Scotland - Cambo gardensraindrops

Blue Belle – There’s nothing quite so satisfying as glimpsing the first wildflowers of spring after a drab, icy cold, Scottish winter. That first bit of color is not only well-worth the wait, it’s the very thing that makes the whole frigid lapse bearable. Good things do come to those who wait. Springtime flowers are all the sweeter in Scotland, because you have to endure a bit of weather each year before the wildflowers return.

Scotland Duart Castle - Mull

Shy Violet – Scotland is a subtle, understated country in so many ways. No exotic, tropical flowers here. In Scotland, it’s about the simple, everyday things of life, pleasures born both of need and necessity. Keep your eyes open and you’ll 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.

189 Scotland - Cambo gardensSea

Sweet William – From hardship grows character and determination and the sweet appreciation of the things that really matter in life. Gentle spirits born of adversity are so much more lovable than arrogant showoffs. How similar to the way of Scottish wildflowers – blooming not in showy profusion, but cropping up here and there in solitary clumps wherever there is a bit of fertile soil.

Blue Belle - promo jump

The thing about wildflowers, Scottish or not, is that they’re wild. Unpredictable. Full of surprises. Bent on blooming no matter what obstacles they’re up against. Determined to flourish and find a way even when they’re between a rock and a hard place – which is exactly what Scotland is all “aboot”.

7 BB Books - Scotland Promo

4 Comments

Filed under Scotland, Sherrie Hansen

Let’s Be Honest by Sherrie Hansen

I’ve repeatedly been told that people love my books because my characters are so honest. In Blue Belle, my second Wildflowers of Scotland novel, honesty – and the periodic lack of it – is one of the main themes of the book. This week, after several more instances of being told that my characters are so real  that people can’t wait to find out what happens to them, and that they love my writing because it’s so honest – it’s gotten me wondering, how truthful am I really, as a person and a writer?

Blue Belle Front Cover Draft

It’s much easier for me to be honest under the guise of fiction. People who read my books might wonder if some of the humiliating experiences that are detailed in my books really have happened to me. They may think – did someone really say that to her, hurt her that deeply, take advantage of her, steal from her, or make a fool of her the way they did in the book?   Although all but a few close friends will never know which parts of my books are somewhat factual and which are complete figments of my imagination, if I’m honest, I have to admit that most of the horrid things that happen to my characters have very likely happened to me in one form or another. (Ah, the sweet anonymity of the qualifier…)

Storm sun beams

I, and most people I know, come from a stoical, northern European tradition of keeping your troubles to yourself, and not embarrassing yourself or your family by revealing too much information about personal matters. No one I know likes having TOO MUCH INFORMATION, except perhaps my husband, who has sometimes wished that people would feel free to be more honest with him (he’s a pastor). The rest of us tend to stay as far removed from the dreaded disease of opening up to people as is humanly possible.

Scotland Duart Castle - Mull

It evidently takes a few years before these secretive behaviors are learned, because for years, my family has teased that we should never say anything in front of my young nieces and nephews that you don’t want repeated. I’d love to reveal a few choice tidbits of information that my nieces have told me over the years, but I won’t. I don’t want to embarrass them or the people they were talking about.

CIMG0650

We learn from our teen years on that it’s better not to talk about certain things. We learn to camouflage our emotions and keep secrets and pretend that we’re not really being abused or feeling anxious or depressed or angry or a host of other undesirable emotions. We train ourselves to discount our feelings. It doesn’t matter. I’m fine. No – really – it’s okay. We try so hard to convince ourselves that eventually, most of us do. As we sink deeper and deeper into denial, those around us are often all too eager to buy into the lies. Which of us really wants to deal with a friend who’s having a rough time? Most of us prefer to accept the pretense that everything really is fine, even if we know deep inside that it’s not.

cropped-bluebells-08.jpg

In these days of political correctness, we’re taught to keep our thoughts about our faith, our political beliefs, and our opinions about anything that really matters, to ourselves. And we all know what happens when the truth comes out and the press gets a hold of it – and it’s rarely pretty. So we cower. We back away from the truth and hide behind walls. We truly believe the lie that if people knew what we were really like, they wouldn’t like us. And because most of us are so unaccustomed to dealing with open, honest people, we – sadly – tend to back away from people when they do tell us more than we like to know.

Scotland - Celtic Cross

We often hear the phrase, children are refreshingly honest. If that’s a compliment, and I think most often it is, then I’m thrilled to be told that the characters in my books are wonderfully appealing because they’re open, honest and real. As I “grow up” as a writer, I promise you I’ll do my best to keep that “childlike” quality in my writing. And for those of you who know me personally, I’ll attempt to be as candid as I can in my real life, too. People love my characters because they’re flawed, human, and vulnerable. Just think how much closer our relationships, marriages and families could be if we were all a little more honest with one another. We’re promised, after all, that “The truth will set you free. ” (John 8:32)

Grace Corner - Bleeding hearts 2

Leave a comment

Filed under writing

Dream a Little Dreamcation for Me by Sherrie Hansen

118IMG_1422

Some of my best work and most extraordinary inspirations occur when I fly halfway around the world. I’ve always been a homebody at heart – it is quite traumatic getting ready to leave the nest even for a few days. And don’t get me wrong – I love what I do, and my  day to day work inspires creativity of a different kind, but there is something that opens my heart, mind, and eyes to new possibilities when I am away on vacation.

117IMG_1427

When I am at my B&B or at the parsonage with my husband, it is so easy to get caught up in the mundane details of everyday life that I forget to look at the bigger picture. When I fly far far away, I am jolted out of my comfort zone and forced to see the world in a different light.

72IMG_9731

New scenery, people and experiences not only intrigue me, they spur my mind to look at the world in a fresh way, and to realize that I and the pesky problems that occasionally plague me are not the life force of the universe, or even the end all to my existence.

47IMG_0085

My eyes are opened to new possibilities and different options. It’s freeing.

66IMG_0662

Sometimes, what I see, and the history behind it, makes me more thankful for what I have at home.

146IMG_1494

At other times, I see empty houses in need of renovation and abandoned storefronts waiting to be leased and think, I could do this! I could make a life here. I could start over, earn a living, make new friends, be happy here.

51IMG_0646

Not that I want to move – well, most of the time – but realizing that the world doesn’t revolve around my business, my frustrations, and my own particular agenda is like magic.

94IMG_0863

My short-term problems become inconsequential and my worries fly away and my whole perspective changes.

74IMG_9873

Sadly, for various reasons, we have no grand vacation plans for this year. I dream of returning to Scotland, France and Germany. Mark is keen to visit his son in Romania. If we do head east, I would love to see Greece, and Bohemia, where some of my ancestors hailed from.

64IMG_0430

 

But instead, we are grounded by circumstances and obligations, and although we periodically think we see the light at the end of the tunnel, we are not there yet.

96IMG_8616

I keep hearing the word Staycation being batted around, which seems to refer to the practice of staying at home and relaxing, perhaps doing fun things where you are,  instead of going on a trip.

55IMG_8693

But for my husband and I, who live part time in a beautiful B&B, and the rest of the time at a lovely parsonage next to the church where my husband is a pastor, the concept doesn’t work very well. Since both of the places where we live are also the places where we work, I just don’t see a relaxing Staycation happening.

25IMG_1315

So – won’t you join me for a Dreamcation, perhaps to Denmark or Provence,  or Alsace Lorraine?

49IMG_1932

I prefer a place where my cell phone doesn’t work and internet connections are spotty. Someplace where no texting is allowed.

73IMG_9196

Perhaps a place with so many beautiful gardens, and quaint houses, and  tasty treats that I would soon totally forget what’s happening at home.

95IMG_0138

I can see it in my mind’s eye now… a villa in the south of France…

99IMG_0336

…or a half-timbered chalet in Alsace.

114IMG_1175

I promise you – the views alone will open a window to a whole new world!

113IMG_1120

Perhaps we will take in a flower market in Germany…

121IMG_1460

…or explore  a village here or there or anywhere, as long as it’s somewhere I’ve never been before.

120IMG_1198

Or perhaps you’d like to join me for a taste of Swiss chocolat?

143IMG_9423

I hear the patisseries in France are beyond compare.

141IMG_0692

Dreaming is my specialty, after all. It’s what makes me a good writer.  Won’t you please join me?

142IMG_9378

Sherrie Hansen is the author of 8 novels set in locales as diverse as Denmark, Scotland, the French Riviera, and Embarrass, Minnesota. Her books are available at the Blue Belle Inn B&B and Tea House, where she spends her days, all major online venues, and at http://www.SecondWindPublishing.com. All photos in this article were taken by Sherrie Hansen on her last trip to Europe in 2010.

4 Comments

Filed under Sherrie Hansen, Travel, writing

10 Things I Didn’t Learn from Strangers by Sherrie Hansen

There’s an old expression in our family – you didn’t learn that from strangers – that I’ve heard said many times over the course of my life.  Some people say, well, that nut didn’t fall far from the tree. Same idea. When I was 9 or 10, I thought I was so different from the rest of my family that I must surely be adopted. Now that I’m a bit older, I can see how closely certain personality traits passed down through generations of Hansens, Lightlys, Paulsons, and Millers are intertwined, and how much they’ve affected who I am and how I live my life.

Danish Girl

My family history and the tales of my growing up years may not be as story-worthy as Laura Ingalls Wilder’s, but our Little House on the Big Farm was bursting with colorful characters that have and continue to impact my life in ways I’m both oblivious to and very aware – the perfect storm of nature and nurture. I feel a great sense of connectedness to prior generations of my family, especially since moving back from Colorado Springs to northern Iowa / southern Minnesota where I grew up. Here are 10 things I didn’t learn from strangers. 

Food - Black Forest

1. Cooking Up a Storm:  I started out the week making a big batch of Grandma Hansen’s Chicken Pie with Grandma Victoria’s Baking Powder Biscuits dropped on top for a church gathering at the Blue Belle Inn. Later in the week, I found a family recipe for Scottish Ginger Snaps in a cookbook and made them at a cooking seminar. Grandma had labeled them “Grandma’s Ginger Snaps” which means it was my great-great grandma’s recipe. Whether it was Grandma Vic’s famous Sunday roast beef dinners and homemade apple pie, or whatever goodies Grandma Hansen happened to be cooking up for her family, neighbors, or the occasional thrashing crew, I was taught how to cook it up right. And make lots of it. Besides, it was either stay inside and cook, or go out and drive tractor, which I did not like to do.

baby-blue-cinderella

2. No Matter How Tired You Are, There’s Always Time for a Bedtime Story – or Two, or Three:  Sitting around during the day, reading, when you should be working, is frowned upon in our family  ;-), but at bedtime, that all changes. My Grandma Hansen was one of the best storytellers I know, and her funny voices for the Little Red Hen, the Big Bad Wolf, and the Three Little Pigs still play themselves over and over in my mind. I follow the lessons learned even today, working hard at my bed and breakfast all summer and fall, making hay while the sun shines, and telling stories – writing novels – in the winter when things are slow.

Iowa - sunset 2010

3. Being Stubborn Has Its Perks:  Danes (I’m half Danish) are a stubborn lot. But along with sheer willfulness, which can be a bad thing, comes tenacity and dodged persistence and stick-to-itiveness and the very building blocks that have helped me achieve my goals, get published, run a successful business and more. Don’t be a quitter. Never give up. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again. Remember the Little Engine That Could saying I think I can, I think I can, over and over again until he could and did?Zion - Sunflower 2013 Sun

4. Keep Looking Up:  My Great-Grandma Paulson wrote these profound words in my autograph book when I was ten or eleven. I knew what she meant – keep your eyes on Jesus. It’s the first rule, and the thing that makes everything else come together.

Mopar

5. Mopars Rule:  Okay, so I strayed from the fold when I was young and foolish. We try to forget those years… the Toyota Corolla, the Mazda 323. Today, I’m back where I belong. I drive a PT Cruiser. My brother drives a Dodge Ram. My parents are on their third or fourth Chrysler mini-van. What can I say? We all tend to vote the same way on election day, too.

Scotland flowers by the sea

6. Getting Something for Nothing is One of the Greatest Joys on Earth:  Found treasures, whether they be bargains or cast-offs nobody wanted bought for a little bit of nothing at a Crazy Day sale, or simple gifts from the earth like agates or fossils or a pretty red maple leaf pressed flat in a book or a little cluster of acorns, are some of the best things in life. If you haven’t tried it, you should – still. The Hansen way to thrill-seek.

Scotland Fishing Shack

7. One Man’s Trash is Another Man’s Treasure:  I can’t walk like an Egyptian (good dancing genes do not run in our family), but I can talk like an auctioneer, or at least I could when I was little. My Grandpa Hansen took me to so many auctions that I picked up the lingo. More importantly, I learned about repurposing and adaptive reuse, and refinishing, and respect for the past – all things that hold me in good stead even today. I grew up snuggling under quilts made from worn out wool suits, watching Grandma working in aprons and wearing dresses made from flour and feed sacks. Water was used at least five times before it was thrown out on the garden to make the strawberry patch grow. And yes, I firmly believe that tin foil has three or four lives. And you should ask me some day about the things my Dad makes with discarded doors. Waste not, want not.

KY - staircase

8. Worrying Doesn’t Help, But We Do It Anyway:  There are several genes that I wish I had gotten from my family, but didn’t – the Fix-It Gene, and the Green Thumb Gene, for example. I did, however, get the Worry Wart Gene. I try not to succumb, but if you’ve got it, you’ve got it.

Food - Cookies Noah

9.  The Compulsion To Have 10 of Something When You Really Only Have 9:  This one was my husband’s idea. I think the word he’s looking for is perfectionism. He’s right. In my world, everything needs to be just so. Neat. Tidy. Even Numbers. It’s a disease.  But seriously, if you’re going to do something, why not do it right?

HansenFamily2

10.  The Family That Prays Together, Stays Together:  It was very important to my Grandma Hansen that we cousins got to play together. She facilitated countless family get-togethers and events where we were all together. Our family isn’t perfect – we have our share of black sheep, and family members who go their own way. But when we go to Mom and Dad’s for Thanksgiving and Christmas, it’s a joyous occasion, sharing not only food, but memories, and laughing about things we did when we were kids. The more nieces and nephews who show up, the better. I’m thankful that the glue that holds our family together is good and sticky. I think it’s called love, and I come by it naturally.

4 Comments

Filed under life, musings, Sherrie Hansen