Author Interview with Sharon Dean

Today we welcome Sharon Dean.

Book ‘Em:  Tell us about you and your life outside of writing.

Sharon Dean:  I’m a former English professor from Rivier University in New Hampshire. When I relocated to Ashland, Oregon, I gave up writing scholarly books that required footnotes and embarked on a new career as a mystery writer.

Book ‘Em:  Which books have you written? What are they about and why did you choose to write them? Do your books have a message? Are they fiction or nonfiction?

Sharon Dean:  I’ve written three mystery novels, all published by A-Argus/W & B Publishers, and all featuring reluctant sleuth Susan Warner. The first, Tour de Trace, was generated from a bike ride I took along the Natchez Trace in Mississippi. The second, Death of the Keynote Speaker, draws on my experience attending many academic conferences and my knowledge of Star Island off the coast of New Hampshire. The setting is real, the historical background real, the tensions among the conference goers entirely fictional. Cemetery Wine continues to focus on real and imagined history as it finds Susan Warner solving a murder in her New Hampshire town. Any message in these novels is subtle. The fun is in solving the crime.

Book ‘Em:  Do you have a work in progress?

Sharon Dean:  I have completed a volume of gothic-like short stories called The Man Who Loved Cribbage and Other New England Stories. I’m shopping around for a publisher right now. I’m also 50,000 words into a yet untitled novel that centers on a woman bound by obligations to a mother who has Alzheimer’s even as she searches for a home of her own and a career as a writer. The setting moves from Massachusetts to Florida and, in my current plans, to Oregon.

Book ‘Em:  What was the most difficult section/piece you ever wrote? What made it difficult?

Sharon Dean:  I wrote a story called “The Games of Their Ancestors” that wove historical information into the lives of three couples all descended from Massachusetts Bay Colony. It ended up being half the length it started out as. I tend to get consumed by history.

Book ‘Em:  What sort of research do you do for your work?

Sharon Dean:  I draw on what I know and research only when I need to find something out. That’s where the surprise comes in. For example, when I was looking at Susan Warner, the name of a real nineteenth century writer, I discovered that her sister wrote the children’s song “Jesus Loves Me.”

Book ‘Em:  Which books and authors do you read for pleasure? Is there an author that inspires you?

Sharon Dean:  I love all the dead white males, I’m afraid: Hawthorne, Melville, Fitzgerald, Faulkner. But I also spent years working on the nineteenth-century writer Constance Fenimore Woolson and on Edith Wharton. They are both terrific and Woolson deserves to be far better known. For contemporary writers, my passion is with Joyce Carol Oates. If I could write like Anthony Doerr, I might sell my soul. And, yes, I read all these for pleasure.

Book ‘Em:  Was there a person who encouraged you to write?

Sharon Dean:  I grew up a reader and was pretty self-directed this way. John Irving eclipsed all of us in our creative writing class. No one singled me out as a brilliant writer. My decision to write fiction has come late.

Book ‘Em:  What would you say are your strengths as an author?

Sharon Dean:  I’m pretty good at setting. For me, that’s the most crucial part of a novel. I have a decent prose style when I can get rid of an academic tone.

Book ‘Em:  How often do you write, and do you write using a strict routine?

Sharon Dean:  I haven’t a strict schedule, though I do try to write a bit every day. 7 AM when I first get up is my best time.

Book ‘Em:  Five years from now, where do you see yourself as a writer?

Sharon Dean:  Still alive, I hope. I’ve no illusions that I’m at the start of a brilliant career, but I do think I have a few more novels in me.

Book ‘Em:  If you could offer one piece of advice to a novice writer, what would it be?

Sharon Dean:  Listen to criticism and don’t give up. Writing is really about rewriting. That’s when the agony decreases.

Book ‘Em:  What would you consider the best compliment a reader could give your book?

Sharon Dean:  A reviewer of one of my academic books commented on my “engaging prose style.” Would love the readers of my fiction to feel that way.

Book ‘Em:  Provide an excerpt of your writing that you would like to share with our members.

Sharon Dean:

The Latham house sat close to a road that had once been dirt, but had now been widened and paved to handle the traffic from one of Graniteville’s developments. It was among the oldest houses in town. Built before the Civil War, it was showing its age. Its red paint had been chipping for years and plastic covered a couple of windows that had been cracked and not replaced. But the house’s bones were good, Patrick said, and with a few repairs it would sell easily. Dottie didn’t care about selling, she would tell Patrick whenever he mentioned it. She had been born there, married there, widowed there, and there she would die. She had no children, so she had arranged for the town to inherit the house in exchange for remitting her taxes.            Dottie was sitting on her porch, waiting for Susan. A pitcher of lemonade and two glasses sat on a squat wooden table that Susan recognized as one Dottie’s husband had made. He had been dead for so many years and Dottie had been living the solitary life of a childless widow for so long that Susan forgave the way she cornered anyone who would listen to her stories about the town’s history. Susan liked to joke that just as someone who dies was never so perfect as his eulogy made him, Graniteville had never been the once perfect place of Dottie’s memory.

From Cemetery Wine, Chapter 10

Susan would interrogate the bones of the house if only the bones could talk. Every minister in town must have been served dinner there. Every minister in town must have walked through the yard Dottie kept up with the help of a generation of teenagers. She paid them to mow the lawn and trim the shrubbery, but none of them touched her garden. She tended to it most mornings, a straw hat that could have been her mother’s shading her face. Her peas were already a foot high, tall enough to have escaped any damage from the rain.


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