Welcome Back Guest Sharon L. Dean

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.

17 Thoughts

  1. Sometimes I choose by how many pages is in the book. Sometimes it’s whether an E-ARC I have is coming out sooner than I thought. Sometimes it comes down to if I want to read light or dark.

  2. Welcome back, Sharon! What an interesting way to approach the women’s stories, through the eyes of the much younger nurse.

    I like to have the first line in place before I start writing, whether a book or a short story.

  3. For me, it’s mostly about the mood I’m in at the time. I may choose to read another book in the same genre as the last book I read or I might jump completely to another type. If I’ve read a deep or dark book, I may choose to go light and funny on the next one or vice versa. A cover may grab me or a review might influence me. I just never know what the next book will be until I start to figure out which one to pick up next.
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

  4. It definitely depends on my mood. There are times I’m wanting to read a really long book. Like now, I’m reading shorter Christmas books. I also love reading cozy mystery books, especially if it has a lot of books in the series.

  5. Our linear process is very similar. I need to have the setting and pov in place before I begin. First or third can change the entire story!

    1. If I’m writing in third person, I sometimes try out first person to get closer into the character’s head. Then I go back. My editor just caught a mistake on that one!

  6. When I sit down to read a book, I’m looking at review deadlines. Then it’s about authors that are at the top of my “catch up on their backlog” list (currently almost done with one of them). Then I look at the books I’ve bought recently or even longer ago. And I try to mix up my authors so I’m not reading the same author too closely together.

    This makes it sound more complicated than it is. But I’m almost constantly revising what I’m going to read when. But I think I’m not locked through January. And I’ll be starting on January books early next week.

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