Teen dream realized

Published 10:30 am Thursday, May 14, 2009

Hard work on the farm didn’t allow for frivolous things like reading for pleasure and writing from the heart.

So, Sherrie Hansen, the owner of the Blue Belle Inn, paid her dues as a child. “Work first, play later. Much later, to be sure,” was the family dictum.

Two special high school teachers kept Hansen’s teen dreams alive. Then, college allowed her to turn the pages of her soul and find direction.

Email newsletter signup

Still, she paid her dues. Trying life in Europe and marriage, too, succeeding not in either endeavor.

The child who dreamed of writing did the unimaginable: She gave up reading for a decade.

Then, a book literally fell into her lap that she could not resist.

She read it from cover to cover and then read more. Devoured books with an insatiable curiosity.

And then she decided to write. After reading so much, Hansen said to herself, “I can do that” and she did.

She has published her first book and the struggle to do that mirrors that of so many other aspiring writers and serves as inspiration, too.

This one came from a personal computer via a family tale and Hansen’s heart.

She is the daughter of Everett and Mary Ann (Lightly) Hansen, Austin, and a graduate of Austin High School.

“I had Bud Higgins for creative writing,” she said. “He was one teacher who inspired me and complimented me early on. I was writing mostly poetry then. He encouraged me to keep writing.”

Rosalie Seltz was another inspiration in high school. “I was the yearbook editor,” she said, “and Mrs. Seltz was also a big influence as a young writer. She has also put blurbs about me in the Austin High Alumni newsletter since the book came out.”

She majored in creative writing and English literature in college, hoping then to make a living as a writer.

Oddly enough, there was a period in her life when she stopped reading and writing altogether.

Part of that self-imposed hiatus was the result of her childhood.

Her parents farmed outside of Austin. She grew up in a family of two boys and three girls.

“I’m the first writer-author in my family,” she said.

Hansen grew up in a family where work came first.

“We worked on the farm from sunup to sundown,” she recalled. “There just wasn’t time to read for pleasure, and it was sometimes perceived as being lazy or a waste of time.”

“Yet, I loved reading and had a passion for writing,” she said.

After college, “Life took over.” Hansen explained it. Three years living in Germany, moving back to the United States and living at Colorado Springs, Colo. “I was just so busy trying to make money and pay bills and even when I moved back to Minnesota to be near my family, business just consumed me,” she said.

After five years in Minnesota, a friend invited Hansen to visit Prince Edward Island, Canada and another change took place in her life.

“I was there, and I was just going nuts after two days doing nothing,” she recalled. “The island is small. I saw all of the island, and I just didn’t know what to do with myself.”

An acquaintance gave her a book: Sandra Brown’s romance novel “French Silk.”

A reviewer once described reading any of Brown’s multiple New York Times bestselling books was “almost like watching chocolate pour over a wide expanse. It was smooth reading and very attention grabbing.”

“I started reading and by the end of that vacation I must have read a dozen books,” Hansen said.

She was hooked on reading and, more importantly, “I decided to start writing, because I had just let it go by the wayside for too long.”

The Bud Higgins-Rosie Seltz-inspired aspiring writer plunged into the craft. Writing whenever she could.

That was 10 years ago and she had become the owner of the successful Blue Belle Inn Bed and Breakfast and gourmet eatery in St. Ansgar, Iowa.

Hansen also remarried. Her husband, the Rev. Mark Decker, former associate pastor at St. Olaf Lutheran Church in Austin, now serves Bethany Lutheran Church at Thompson, Iowa.

Hansen’s life was full: Husband, successful business and writing.

Six years ago, she penned the first draft of “Night and Day.”

Parchment, ink meet the computer

“It’s midnight in Minnesota and Jensen Marie Christiansen is dreaming of a

rosy future.”

“It’s daybreak in Denmark and Anders Westerlund is waking up

to a world full of stark realities.”

“When parchment paper and faded ink meet computer screens and fax

machines, the old-fashioned magic of a great-grandmother’s letters sets the

stage for a steamy Internet romance … and the unraveling of a 100-year-old mystery.

“Will fantasy become reality, or will oceans and time keep a second pair of lovers


So reads the synopsis of Hansen’s “Night and Day,” published by Second Wind.

Hansen has written other books, yet unpublished, but Night and Day is “closest to my heart” and with good reason: It’s loosely-based on actual events in the lives of her ancestors and family history.

That made the experience more of an avocation — doing something she loved — than a vocation — writing to sell a book to make money.

Along the way, she participated in an online writers workshop, where she learned an “incredible amount” about the craft of writing.

There were 3 re-writes after assessing the online critiquing of fellow writers.

But, still no interest by a publisher.

Lisa Deyo, a good friend from Austin “cheered me on and infused me with the confidence I needed,” Hansen said.

She entered a First Chapters contest on Gather.com and went unrecognized by the judges.

Like so many budding writers, rejection seems to be a constant companion.

Then, she got a call.

“What did happen after the First Chapters contest is that six months later, a gentleman contacted me, who was starting a new publishing company,” she said.

“He had read my First Chapters entry, when it was posted online,” she said.

“What he said was ‘I love your writing style. I want to publish your book,” Hansen recalled. “Not only that, but he also said ‘I have to read the rest of this book. My wife is from a small town in Minnesota. She’s Norwegian. I know these people in your book. I love your characters. I have to find out what happens to them. I think other people who read your book will feel the same way’.”

The fledgling publisher’s words of praise buoyed Hansen’s hopes to see her book published, but she waited a full year before accepting Second Wind’s offer to put the book in circulation.

“I just felt like I wanted to wait and see what kind of footing the company got off on,” she explained.

When the Second Wind publisher approached her a second time, Hansen accepted his offer.

Turning family history into a page-turner

“Night and Day” was released in late-February.

Hansen immediately went to work using her business acumen to market the book. Word of mouth to guests at the Blue Belle Inn, area newspaper articles and more. Amazon.com, too, and secondwindpublishing.com.

She is planning a national distribution, too, with Barnes & Noble book stores.

“I’ve always believed in this book,” Hansen said of her first published romance women’s fiction effort.

To hear Hansen tell how the idea evolved is as intriguing as the synopsis to the book. When cousins told her, during a visit to Denmark, about the collection of letters, “That was the seed of my book.”

The central character, Jensen Marie Christiansen, is based on her mother, MaryAnn Hansen’s great-grandmother.

“I picked my mother’s and grandmother’s brains about this family history, but the vast majority of what happens in the book is my imagination,” she said.

Second Wind’s first printing is nearly exhausted and a second on the way to the presses, so popular is Night and Day.

What is the innkeeper’s goal?

“My dream is that each of my books will be published,” she said.

Hansen plans a book signing party at the Blue Belle Inn June 13.

For more information about the book and its author, contact Hansen at (641) 713-3113 or via e-mail at innkeeper@bluebelleinn.com.