Category Archives: Sherrie Hansen

This Party is So Much Fun, I Wish it Never Had to End by Sherrie Hansen

We’ve been saying a lot of goodbyes lately. Last weekend, we drove 350 miles to help Mark’s aunt and uncle celebrate 50 years of marriage and to see relatives who came from Mississippi, California and North Dakota for the festivities. It was fun being with them, but then, after just a day and a half, we had to say goodbye.

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Yesterday, we celebrated my parents 60th wedding anniversary on the farm where I grew up. For the first time in years, all of their kids, grandchildren and great-grandchildren were together. They came from Boston, southern Brazil, Florida, Indiana, Illinois and Iowa. Cousins from Ohio, Washington, Colorado, North Carolina, Wisconsin and Denmark also came for the fun. What a grand time we had – and then, we had to say goodbye, until who knows when. Maybe never, since we’re so scattered. And because, sadly, nothing lasts forever.

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Today, we’re leaving for London, Devon and Cornwall, and then, Romania. It’s hard to say adieu to my bed and breakfast and tea house, and the people at church (my husband is a pastor) for three long weeks. I’m already having separation anxiety. Saying goodbye, even for a short time, is difficult for me. That’s probably the reason I keep revisiting castles, kilts and stone cottages in my Wildflowers of Scotland novels. I’m just not ready to say goodbye to Rose and Ian (Wild Rose), Isabelle and Michael (Blue Belle), or Violet and Nathan (Shy Violet).

Shy Violet

But there are much harder goodbyes to anticipate, and I dread them. A few months ago, we attended the funeral of a family friend whose son was just one year older than I am. We were close in junior high and high school, but have lost touch since he lives far from our home town. After our brief reunion,  when we were saying goodbye, he very candidly said that this was probably the last time we would see each other – with his parents both gone, he has no reason to return to the area. The finality of the moment made me sad, yet it was nothing in comparison to the goodbyes he’d said to his father early that week.

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We’ve had entirely too many funerals lately. This week, another dear family friend passed away. While I believe, as a Christian, that he will be reunited with his family and loved ones again one day in heaven, it’s still a hard adjustment to go from being together in the moment, to waiting years – perhaps even decades – to be together again.

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When we were dancing and having fun at Uncle Frank and Aunt Pat’s anniversary party up north, our six-year-old granddaughter said, “This party is so much fun that I wish it could go on forever.” I felt that way yesterday at my parent’s party, too.

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The thing is, everything in this life is transitory. One party ends, and we say goodbye, and then we’re invited to another, and another, and new things spring up from the old. A tree that we’ve grown to love falls or is cut down, and then, a few months later, there’s a wildflower, or a new tree growing out from what’s left of the stump. We hope for the harvest in the long cold winter, and then come spring, we plant our fields again.

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Knowing that something beautiful will rise from the ashes doesn’t make saying those final goodbyes easier, but it does keep us looking up, moving on, and always looking forward to the next party.

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So for now – so long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodbye. I’m winging my way to Europe, but I’ll be back before you know it. And, I promise, we’ll party until the sun goes down… or maybe I should say, until the sun rises on a new day.

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Sherrie Hansen’s Bio:
Twenty-four years ago, Sherrie rescued a dilapidated Victorian house in northern Iowa from the bulldozer’s grips and turned it into a bed and breakfast and tea house, the Blue Belle Inn.  Sherrie has also lived in Colorado Springs, CO, Augsburg, Germany, Wheaton, IL, and Bar Harbor, Maine. She grew up on a farm in southern Minnesota. After 12 years of writing romance novels, Sherrie met and married her real-life hero, Mark Decker, a pastor. They now live in 2 different houses, 85 miles apart, and Sherrie writes on the run whenever she has a spare minute. Sherrie enjoys playing the piano, photography, traveling, and going on weekly adventures with her nieces and nephew. “Shy Violet” is Sherrie’s eighth book to be published by Second Wind Publishing.

Links:

http://www.facebook.com/SherrieHansenAuthor
https://sherriehansen.wordpress.com/
http://www.BlueBelleInn.com or http://www.BlueBelleBooks.com
https://twitter.com/SherrieHansen
http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/2870454.Sherrie_Hansen

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

Books Titles: Wildflowers of Scotland novels – Thistle Down (a prequel novella), Wild Rose, Blue Belle, Shy Violet. Night and Day, Love Notes, and the Maple Valley Trilogy – Stormy Weather, Water Lily, and Merry Go Round.  

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Romanian Romance? by Sherrie Hansen

My husband and I are going to Bucharest for Mark’s son’s wedding in a few weeks. Every time I mention our plans in conversation, people ask me if my next novel is going to be set in Romania. I have to admit that seeing Dracula’s castle and roaming around remote areas of Transylvania has captured my imagination. While researching our destinations, I learned of a forest that is reputed to be the most haunted place on earth. Deep in the woods, there is even a place where no vegetation grows, and where hundreds of people have gone missing. Some consider it to be a portal to another time. Even thinking about going there makes me feel nervous and unsettled. Sometimes I’d like to escape from certain realities of my day to day life, or at least, take a lengthy sabbatical. But what if I never found my way back home? I would miss my family and the people I love. But who knows what adventures or people I’d meet up with if such a thing were to happen… 

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I wonder if L. Frank Baum took a trip to some exotic locale before he wrote The Wizard of Oz? Were the Emerald City, the Yellow Brick Road, the scary forest, the Munchkins and the Wicked Witch’s castle pure figments of his imagination, or did a glimpse of this or that, or a travel documentary, or stories told by his grandmother prompt his wild literary adventures?

 

What inspires you? In my Wildflowers of Scotland novels, it was a copper, rabbit- shaped downspout on St. Conan’s Kirk on Loch Awe (Wild Rose), the legend of a Spanish galleon, fully loaded with gold, still believed to be at the bottom of Tobermory Bay (Blue Belle), and the melancholy melody of a bagpiper in front of Eilean Donan Castle (Shy Violet) that gave my muse voice.

 Shy Violet

When I was a child, it was the Betsy Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace, and her tales of close friendships, the Crowd’s adventures, grand social events with dance cards and flowing lawn dresses, and extravagant hats with blue ribbons, that revved up my imagination and made me want to be a writer (check), live in a Victorian house (check), and wear all kinds of wonderful hats (check).   

 

When we visited Florida a few years back, a historic hotel, The Pink Palace, on St. Pete’s Beach, and a trip to the alligator-infested waters of the Everglades, made my mind start whirling.

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So – will my next novel be set in Romania? There’s a spa with healing waters near the Carpathian Mountains – the Cerna Spa in Baile Herculane – that’s calling out to me. It’s in the opposite direction of the other places we want to see, yet I’m scheming in my mind to find a way to go there. Something about it… maybe it’s a story waiting to be born.     

 

Sherrie Hansen’s Bio:
Twenty-three years ago, Sherrie rescued a dilapidated Victorian house in northern Iowa from the bulldozer’s grips and turned it into a bed and breakfast and tea house, the Blue Belle Inn.  Sherrie has also lived in Colorado Springs, CO, Augsburg, Germany, Wheaton, IL, and Bar Harbor, Maine. She grew up on a farm in southern Minnesota. After 12 years of writing romance novels, Sherrie met and married her real-life hero, Mark Decker, a pastor. They now live in 2 different houses, 85 miles apart, and Sherrie writes on the run whenever she has a spare minute. Sherrie enjoys playing the piano, photography, traveling, and going on weekly adventures with her nieces and nephew. “Shy Violet” is Sherrie’s eighth book to be published by Second Wind Publishing.

Links:

http://www.facebook.com/SherrieHansenAuthor
http://sherriehansen.wordpress.com/
http://www.BlueBelleInn.com or http://www.BlueBelleBooks.com
https://twitter.com/SherrieHansen
http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/2870454.Sherrie_Hansen

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

Books Titles: Wildflowers of Scotland novels – Thistle Down (a prequel novella), Wild Rose, Blue Belle, Shy Violet. Night and Day, Love Notes, and the Maple Valley Trilogy – Stormy Weather, Water Lily, and Merry Go Round.  

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Having Thin Skin in a “Chopped” World by Sherrie Hansen

I grew up in a home where we were taught “If you can’t find something nice to say about something, don’t say anything at all.” This bit of wisdom seemed like good advice then – and still does now.

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But somewhere along the way, the world changed, and now, everybody’s a critic. I see it on shows like Chopped, The Taste, The Voice, and Dancing with the Stars, where judges nitpick over tiny imperfections, and criticize and compare what the contestants bring to the table ad nauseam.

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I grew up in a world where there were defined winners, but doing your best, and working as hard as you could to be the best you could be, was both admirable and praiseworthy.

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The generation that followed mine strayed in the direction of skipping rankings altogether, of not giving any grades beyond a satisfactory rating, and passing out participation ribbons instead of purple, blue, red and white. They didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings or damage anyone’s fragile self-esteem. Now, we’ve gone so far in the opposite direction – we’re so hyper competitive – that it’s scary. Nothing’s ever good enough. It’s all about being the best, better than, a notch above, a perfect 10, a fraction of a point ahead of the other competitors.

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Even more frightening is the fact that we routinely ditch the opinions of qualified judges, food critics, teachers and editors along with their years of experience and training, instead, opting to give the vote to ordinary Joes. We vote to save the contender we like the best with live tweets and text messages and special apps. We, the people, hold the power.

BBI Spring 2012

Consumers make decisions on which books to read, which hotel, B&B, or restaurants to stay at or eat at based on what unaccredited strangers post on Yelp, Trip Advisor, or Goodreads. We review people’s performance on eBay and Airbnb. We rate products and services on Amazon and e-pinions and hundreds of other websites. Some of these posts are honest, genuine, thoughtfully written assessments. But there are also overly harsh reviews from drama queens, people trying to get hits, whiners, complainers, obnoxious know-it-alls and yes, liars. And we listen to them, take their advice to heart, and chart our course of action based on what they say.

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These days, every time I walk into my kitchen at the B&B and tea house I own and operate, I feel like I’m on an episode of Chopped… the stress, the clock ticking down, the feeling that if I don’t deliver a product that’s not only beyond reproach, but exemplary – in record time – I will be chopped from the list of restaurants my clients frequent and recommend. Is it just my imagination, or are my customers picking apart every detail of my culinary efforts, second guessing my choice of cheeses, the seasoning I used on my chicken breasts, and the amount of Parmesan I sprinkle on top of my casseroles? Did one flavor overpower another? Did I plate too hurriedly? Did I commit any one of a multitude of culinary sins when I envisioned and created my menu?

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I’ve had far more complimentary reviews than bad when it comes to my B&B and tea house, and my books, but every negative comment is like a dagger in my heart, sometimes because the remarks are unfair, untrue, and unjust, and other times, sadly, because what my critics have written is a valid criticism.

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Our expectations are so high, our standards so close to perfection that it’s almost impossible to please. I’ve read a few early works of my favorite, big-name authors and found in many cases that the writing is amateurish, lacking in basic writing skills, and what would generally be considered sub-standard in today’s world. To be frank, there is no way these books would ever be published in today’s world. And what a tragedy that would have been, to shoot them down before they had a chance to grow and bloom and shine.

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Is there a place in today’s world for a thin-skinned, people-pleasing author/restaurateur/ innkeeper who craves positive attention and compliments? My husband gets a yearly performance review – I get one every time someone opens one of my books or eats at my tea house or stays at my B&B. And the thing is, there’s not a pillow or mattress or book on earth that will please everyone, because some like it hot, and some like it cold, or firm or soft, or spicy or mild, or big or small. And no matter how wonderful our stories are, not everyone is going to resonate with our characters or get into our plot line.

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I was told early on that you had to have thick skin to survive as an author. I was also told that it takes 10 positive comments to make up for one negative. I get hundreds of verbal compliments and affirmations every week, in person, and on social media. Why is it that the people with complaints never seem to speak to you directly, or give you a chance to correct the problem, but instead, chose to publicly humiliate and damage your reputation online? And why is it that those dear people who pay me compliments tend to do it privately instead of shouting it from the rooftops, as I would selfishly prefer?

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What I’d like to suggest is that we all learn to look on the bright side. No situation – no traveling, dining or reading experience – is perfect. Most generally, the flaws lie in things that are beyond our control. Not to say that we shouldn’t speak up if something is grievously wrong, but in each situation we’re faced with, we have an option of focusing on the negative or the positive. If you choose the positive and look for the bright spots, the silver lining, and the good that can be found, you will be happier by far. So will I. :-) The negative? Try letting those irksome little foibles roll off your back. If you can’t find something good to say, then say nothing at all.

Now, if you have something good to say about me, my books, my tea house or my B&B, please consider posting a positive review at whatever online sites you frequent. In this Chopped world, the gift of praise is so appreciated, and much needed. Ever so humbly… Sherrie

Storm sun beams

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Pipers. Pirates. Passion. The Past. Shy Violet by Sherrie Hansen. May 1st.

When a poor choice and some wild fluctuations in the space time continuum leave school teacher Violet Johansen stranded in the car park of Eilean Donan Castle in Scotland, Violet wonders if she’ll ever find her way back to her comfort zone. She has two choices – to trust a piper who looks exactly like someone she dated a decade ago, or a band of nefarious pirates.   

Pirates.

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Pipers.

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People – mistakes – from the past that rise up to haunt you at exactly the worst possible moment…

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A castle that’s been ravaged and rebuilt…

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Passion.

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Paintings.

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People from the past who threaten to tie you down for all eternity.

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Can Violet and Nathan’s fragile new friendship survive to see love reborn? Or is the past so set in stone that nothing can change it?

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Shy Violet.  Is it Violet’s turn to bloom, or will the past crush her hopes for the future? Will the promises Nathan made prevent him from enjoying the present he’s found in Violet?

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“A cool blend of mystery, humor, suspense and romance, and wholly believable, delightfully flawed characters is genuinely enticing in this wild romp through the Scottish countryside with Sherrie Hansen.  Evocative, sensitive, sensible and sweet, these are tales with plenty of action and adventure, making a truly lovely read.”  Author Sheila Deeth, on the Wildflowers of Scotland novels

SHY VIOLET by Sherrie Hansen – coming May 1 from Second Wind Publishing

Sherrie Hansen’s Bio:
Twenty-three years ago, Sherrie rescued a dilapidated Victorian house in northern Iowa from the bulldozer’s grips and turned it into a bed and breakfast and tea house, the Blue Belle Inn.  Sherrie has also lived in Colorado Springs, CO, Augsburg, Germany, Wheaton, IL, and Bar Harbor, Maine. She grew up on a farm in southern Minnesota. After 12 years of writing romance novels, Sherrie met and married her real-life hero, Mark Decker, a pastor. They now live in 2 different houses, 85 miles apart, and Sherrie writes on the run whenever she has a spare minute. Sherrie enjoys playing the piano, photography, traveling, and going on weekly adventures with her nieces and nephew. “Shy Violet” is Sherrie’s eighth book to be published by Second Wind Publishing.

Links:

http://www.facebook.com/SherrieHansenAuthor
http://sherriehansen.wordpress.com/
http://www.BlueBelleInn.com or http://www.BlueBelleBooks.com
https://twitter.com/SherrieHansen
http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/2870454.Sherrie_Hansen

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

Books Titles: Night and Day, Maple Valley Trilogy – Stormy Weather, Water Lily, and Merry Go Round, Love Notes, Wildflowers of Scotland novels – Thistle Down (a prequel novella), Wild Rose, Blue Belle, and Shy Violet

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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

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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.

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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.

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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

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