Welcome Sharon L. Dean!

Hello, Friends of the Wickeds. I hope you had a satisfying if odd Thanksgiving. Today we welcome author Sharon L. Dean to the blog. Sharon’s new book is The Barn.

Here’s the blurb.

In 1990, Deborah Madison and Rachel Cummings, both seventeen, are enjoying a bicycle ride on a beautiful September day in New Hampshire. They stop at a local barn that no longer houses cows but still displays a wooden cow’s head that peeks out from a window in the rafters. Sliding open the door, they find Rachel’s boyfriend, Joseph Wheeler, dead on the barn’s floor.

The case lies as cold as Joseph for nearly thirty years until Rachel returns to New Hampshire to attend the funeral of Joseph’s mother. The girls, now women, reopen the cold case and uncover secrets that have festered, as they often do, in small towns. Against a backdrop of cold and snow and freezing rain, Deborah and Rachel rekindle their friendship and confess the guilt each of them has felt about things that happened in the past.

The Barn is a story of friendship lost and recovered, secrets buried and unburied, and the power of forgiveness.

I love mysteries that focus on uncovering secrets from the past, so The Barn sounds right up my alley.

Take it away, Sharon!

I often think of the saying “You can take the girl out of New England, but you can’t take New England out of the girl.” I’m the New England girl transplanted to the West eight years ago. Here in Oregon someone asked me how the West is different from the East.

He thought water. That’s certainly true. There’s a shortage of natural lakes near me. No Walden Pond. There’s the “wild and scenic Rogue,” but not the wide Merrimack that Thoreau paddled on with his brother. More than the dearth of water, there’s the absence of history. I can find a grave marked 1867 but none marked 1667. The literary history dates back to Helen Hunt Jackson and Jack London and Frank Norris. None of those writers of the so-called American Renaissance. No House of the Seven Gables to tour, no Walden Pond to walk around, no home of Emerson or Alcott or Dickinson. History here dates to the Gold Rush not Plymouth Rock.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my adopted home in the West. The mountains are higher, the Pacific coast more rugged and undeveloped than the Atlantic, the pace slower. I don’t want to “go home again” except in my writing, which plunges me into nostalgia. Susan Warner, the reluctant sleuth of my first mystery series is a retired English professor from New Hampshire. In Tour de Trace, I put her on Mississippi’s Natchez Trace, but she traveled it with the eye to its history. Death of the Keynote Speaker finds her on an island off the coast of New Hampshire studying the work of a fictional nineteenth-century writer amid the real history of the island. Cemetery Wine keeps her in New Hampshire in her home that was on the Underground Railroad. Deborah Strong, the character who inaugurates my second mystery series, is a librarian in a town much like the one I left when I moved West. The Barn allows me to remember what was, not what has changed. I re-imagined the library in that town, the cemetery, the cold and snowy winter, and the barn I used to pass when I was a kid. It has a wooden cow’s head peeking from the rafters. Yes, as a child I thought it was a real cow, and, yes, even with all the changes the cow is still there.

Only my stand alone novel, Leaving Freedom, has scenes set in the West. My character, Connie Lewis, leaves her hometown of Freedom, Massachusetts, and eventually ends up in Oregon. Writing it gave me a kind of freedom as I let go of nostalgia, so much so that when I finish the third book in my Deborah Strong series, I plan to resurrect Connie and set a novel in the West. Life changes. Nostalgia infiltrates my writing, but I’m content to imagine scenes and to move into the reality of the future.

Behind the scenes

Nostalgia creeps into both the content of my writing and my writing process. I compose on yellow legal pads like the ones I used for my Ph.D. dissertation. I never model characters after people I’ve known, but I steal images of them and, occasionally, experiences. Deborah Strong looks like a photo I saw in my daughter’s yearbook; like me, Susan Warner was once mauled by a dog. I love to set scenes in the places I remember. My novels include memories of church services and cemeteries and days canoeing or climbing mountains or cross country skiing. My characters read books I’ve studied and quote passages I remember. I come from the world of literature, not music or art or film or sports. I draw on what I know and twist it to fit my novels. Except for one thing: I’ve never known murder.

Readers, do you gravitate to nostalgia in what you write or what you read? Nostalgia for what?

About Sharon: Sharon L. Dean grew up in Massachusetts where she was immersed in the literature of New England. She earned undergraduate and graduate degrees at the University of New Hampshire, a state she lived and taught in before moving to Oregon. After giving up writing scholarly books that required footnotes, she reinvented herself as a fiction writer.

Webpage: https://sharonldean.com/
Goodreads page: https://www.goodreads.com/author/dashboard?ref=nav_profile_authordash
Publisher: https://encirclepub.com/

20 Thoughts

  1. Welcome Sharon! I’m a westerner who moved east. I’ve finally written a book set in Pasadena, California, my birthplace, but it’s set a hundred years ago. Best of luck with the new book!

  2. Hello, Sharon. I’m in love with the idea of the cow on the barn. Nostalgia, absolutely. In my reading and in my writing. It gives a character and a reader a sense of place and time.

    1. Still thinking of that cow and the many times over holidays I drove past it with my kids noticing it the way I did when I was a kid. Interesting how one image can create a novel.

  3. “The Barn” sounds like an amazing book. Can’t wait for the opportunity to read it.

    Can’t say I’m drawn to a particular subject from my own personal experience. However, when there’s something in a story I can connect to, it does make me smile and remember parts of the my history. If there’s a small military connection, it makes me think fondly of my years growing up as an Army brat. Or it may be a place we have traveled to and where we had such an enjoyable time.
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

  4. Nostalgia can certainly make books more interesting. There’s just something appealing about being able to travel back to the past in someone else’s story. Congrats on your latest!

    1. Reading these comments makes me realize how lucky I am to have a life where there is plenty of nostalgia. Maybe I write stories about murder and mayhem because I know what I’ve been spared.

  5. I am nostalgic about a place I have not ever lived, but feel drawn to and that is New England, especially Maine. My latest non-fiction book is about Cape Cod: The Outermost House-A Year of Life On The Great Beach of Cape Cod by Henry Beston. The author has taken me back to the 1920’s on Cape Cod and even knowing that he was without all the modern conveniences of today, I find myself longing for that simpler life. I also enjoy “quaint English villages” like Walmsley Parva, home to Edwina Davenport and Beryl Helliwell and Chipstone where Lady Eleanor Swift lives.

  6. Welcome to the blog! I’ve set my most recent series in Goosebush, MA, a fictionalized town based on the place I lived until high school. I chose the town partly because of the nostalgia of the place I grew up. But more, the place and my muse have a great time creating over the top characters, places and situations. It is a beautiful place that inspires me.

  7. A lot like the way I imagine my books. Place is as much a character for me as people. Rural and beautiful. I’m yet to be able to imagine a city novel.

  8. Thanks for visiting today, Sharon! I definitely gravitate towards the past since what really engages me for my own writing is historiacl fiction. Even in my present day work I explore themes and crimes from the past or lives built on traditions.

    1. I haven’t been able to set something any further back than the 1970s. But I do manage to let earlier history creep in to everythingl.

  9. Enjoyed your post, Sharon! Like you, much of my writing involves nostalgia. I grew up in Southern California, and though all of my mysteries are set in New England, where I live now, with the exception of Murder at Gettysburg, the main characters of my two series, Living History Mysteries and Berkshire Hilltown Mysteries, are transplants from California. Also, some of the imagery in my book reflects my upbringing, as when I have my main character compares the collapse of another character’s face to “a California hillside hit by a heavy rainstorm.” Unlike you perhaps, I do base my characters on people I’ve known, but do my best to disguise them so they’ll be unrecognizable. I also love to salt my books with bits of literature and real history, though some in my critique group complain I’m being too literary. But I was an English major as well as a history major, and lines from books I loved are embedded in my brain.

    1. My critique group likes my literary references. Maybe that’s because one of the members was an actor. He fills his books with Hollywood references. I use images of people I know, but not their personalities. The murderer in one of my novels looked just like the 6′ teenager with curly hair who was my neighbor.

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