I am so happy to welcome author Sharon L. Dean back to the Wickeds. Sharon his here to talk about her new collection, Six Old Women and Other Stories, which was published just last week.
Take it away, Sharon!
No matter how loosely we plan a novel, the moment we put pen to paper or word process those opening paragraphs, we’ve made a choice. Is the narrative first person, third person, even the rarely used second person? We’ve chosen a setting, a verb tense, a tone. Will the novel be historical, contemporary, futuristic? Rural? Urban? Extraterrestrial? Comic? Satiric? Terrifying?
It’s trendy now to use multiple points of view, even multiple time periods. I think of Geraldine Brooks’s most recent novel, Horse. Points of view include a young slave, both an antebellum and a contemporary artist, a contemporary graduate student, and a contemporary restorer of animal skeletons. Thankfully Brooks didn’t try to write a chapter from the point of view of the horse.
I tend to commit early when I write. My first paragraphs establish the point of view and the setting. I write in a straight line, beginning to end with no flashbacks, past events coming only through the dialogue or, as often happens when I write, from some historical tidbit that I weave into the narrative. My tone is neither satiric nor dystopian. My characters are ordinary people leading ordinary lives in ordinary small towns. Until something thrusts them into the unfamiliar and the threatening. My novels might be called cozies. Murder, maybe, but off-page. Sex behind closed doors. Escape scenes, no more than a page or two.
Sound boring? I hope not. A conversation is overheard, a clue is found, the weather threatens, the past gets overlaid onto the present.
My novella Six Old Women serves as an example. I knew before I began that I wanted to put six elderly women into a large house on an island where they’ve hired a nurse and her husband, a handyman. The novella is told from the point of view of Nataki, the nurse. No six old women narrating their different versions of events. The seasons progress from the summer of the novel’s opening through the glorious fall of New Hampshire to the iced-in winter where the women have little contact with the mainland. It ends in the spring, the cycle of life ready to begin again.
Nataki’s point of view allows a young woman to learn about each of these ninety-three-year-olds and to discover that they aren’t the stereotype of old women passed over by life. They’ve lived. They have histories. They have present moments where they learn to get along together in a place they know will be their last exit.
By the time I finished the first chapter, I had my setting and my structure. I knew what these women looked like and how Nataki first categorized them. Her impressions change as the past gets woven into the present. The writing led me forward. The characters directed their futures. If you read the novella, I hope your journey will be interesting or compelling or enlightening. Anything but boring.
Readers: What choices do you make as you begin to write or as you choose what book to read next?
When I left the academic world and turned to writing mysteries, I joined a mystery writers critique group. My two series fall squarely into that genre. But I also wrote a novel called Leaving Freedom and now a novella called Six Old Women. They aren’t whodunnits or police procedurals or thrillers, but I choose to call them mysteries. As I wrote in a piece for Mystery and Suspense magazine (March 28, 2022), “The Classics are Mysteries, Too.” Neither Leaving Freedom nor Six Old Women will become a classic, but I think I can argue that they are mysteries, too.
About Six Old Women and Other Stories
Six old women living on an isolated island in Lake Winnipesaukee, teenagers vacationing on Newfound Lake in 1959, paragliders and skiers on Cannon Mountain, an old woman in a house covered in gypsy moths, a man living off the grid in a shack he built himself. The characters in these stories all keep secrets. They are as tough and rugged as New Hampshire’s iconic Old Man in the Mountain. And like The Old Man who fell in 2003, their pasts survive only in memory. Sometimes that’s a good thing.
About Sharon Dean
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. Although she has given up writing scholarly books that require footnotes, she incorporates much of her academic research as background in her mysteries. She is the author of three Susan Warner mysteries and of a literary novel titled Leaving Freedom. Her Deborah Strong mysteries include The Barn, The Wicked Bible, and Calderwood Cove. Dean continues to write about New England while she is discovering the beauty of the West.