New England Murderbake: Sharon L. Dean

I love (and write) books where setting comes alive before my eyes. Where  characters live in a special environment that has an important role and becomes  a story “character.” Hence I enjoy the spare and evocative mysteries of Sharon L. Dean. She’s a New England transplant to Oregon, an avid outdoorswomam, a former English professor and my writing-group colleague.

Quiet New England (?) is home to some of the U.S.’s earliest European immigrants. To lovely vistas of farms, forests, fishing ports, tidy towns and the sea. No author captures its ambience or modern vibe better than Dean. Please join me in welcoming her to the blog today. Her latest book, “Calderwood Cove,” is due to be published June 8 by Encircle Publications.

CB: Sharon, thanks for joining us today. Your New England roots reach deep. Did you begin this book wanting to pay homage to an apparently peaceful beach community that may hide evil twisted roots? 

SD: I’m not a Mayflower descendent. My Irish, Swedish, English ancestors arrived in Massachusetts in the late nineteenth century. No secrets there—just the salt of the earth, as the saying goes. I grew up near Concord, Salem, Plymouth, Lowell, Boston, the places where so much of New England history happened. My parents regularly took me to historic landmarks. When I studied and taught American literature, I focused on New England writers. Just nostalgia and my sense of history and place. No evil, twisted roots, I’m afraid.

CB: Share about some of your background that played into the book. Places, people.

SD: I seem to always start with a sense of place. For “Calderwood Cove,” I drew on the many gatherings I enjoyed with my college roommates in the cove in Maine where two of them own summer houses. We’d joke about me writing a novel about all of us. The place is fictionalized, but based on the scenes of our gatherings. I assure you that the characters are entirely fictional.

CB: Fascinating. Tell us about the story, minus spoilers. What was  important for you to bring out?

SD This is the third novel in my Deborah Strong series. “The Barn” puts her in winter in her hometown in Southern New Hampshire where she uncovers the answer to a cold case death. The Wicked Bible moves her to fall on a college campus in New Hampshire where she discovers the connections between something called “The Wicked Bible,” a woman known as “the wickedest woman in New York,” and a letter by a nineteenth-century writer. Now in Calderwood Cove, Deborah finds herself on the Fourth of July in Maine. 

Her suspicions follow her like the Maine landscape–plenty of sunshine, plenty of fog, and plenty of evening mosquitoes that arrive like the sparks of fireworks. Where is her friend Brenda’s husband? Where have Brenda’s caretaker and cook gone? Who is the anorectic young man who keeps appearing? Is one of them a murderer? Or is it the old woman who lives across the street, her son who runs an oyster farm in the face of global warming, her poet-tenant who lives in her apartment? Deborah even suspects each of the friends she grew up with. By the time she finds the answer, she is ready to leave Calderwood Cove where an idyllic summer retreat turned as deadly as contaminated shellfish.

CB: What writing devices and beloved other writers helped power you forward?

SD: As my description of my Deborah Strong novels suggests, I love playing with the power of place and the different seasons that characterize New England. When I write, I find all sorts of lines that I know from my years of studying literature. I love weaving in history and often find unexpected things like the fact that the Native American Squanto had journeyed to what is now Maine. I also have fun sneaking in a few personal things that only those involved will know about—like the salt and pepper shakers I weave into Calderwood Cove.

CB: Do you make any sort of outline, or use a writing critique group? How does each one come to affect the final book?

SD: I usually start with a sense of place and a vague idea of where the novel will go. But then I let the plot unfold. I’ve been known to change the murderer more than once. My critique group––you, Clive Rosengren, Jenn Ashton, and Michael Niemann––are an invaluable resource. I draft longhand, type in revisions, show the revisions to my group, revise again––and again and again. Their comments come at the perfect time to move my writing along.

CB: Thank you for appearing in the blog, Sharon. Your insights are wonderful. I hope readers will check out your books, and tune in to a free Encircle Authors reading roundtable next Wednesday, May 4. It’s free, at

Readers, connect and learn more about Sharon L. Dean and her books at



Write a Winning Series, Part II

The importance of creating captivating characters ruled our  post about penning an unputdownable book series. Now story arc(s) grab the spotlight. That’s right: arcs, or a character’s overarching purpose, hoped-for results that prevail through changing times, circumstances and novels.

Characters can be interesting as heck in one book. Situations can scare your off socks off–or make them roll up and down. But to keep readers craving more books with these same characters, your main people need a quest, an unputdownable dream that they live by. Not only for one fabulous book but across several books. A morality or driving force. A fiercely held belief. In good, power, magic, family, whatever. Even if that series is only a gleam in the writer’s eye! It must be strong enough to stand through a whole boxed set, or sequential TV episodes. Yes, please!

Your character is captivating. That’s half the battle. He or she is complex, maybe quirky but always appealing, cleverly backstoried. The first book sweeps her through a twisty plot in a smart relevant setting. She prevails at  the end. Or, if you follow several people in a connected quest in this first book, they prevail. For the moment. For one book.

Big point! Because you MUST–in a compelling series with the same or related characters–create people or problems in the first novel that perhaps are non-vital to its immediate resolution, but important to the others that may follow. You finish one story but leave the door open for more.

How to develop the carryover series arc? Think bigger picture for your characters in the one novel. Leave some  threads unwoven, seemingly minor points and issues not pursued. It’s OK to go back through your work in progress and sneak IN such points, kind of “hide” them. You will resolve the book’s main issue at its end. But you also can raise other questions that need answering –often without the reader  knowing she needs answers.

With a story arc that carries and mutates through several books, you have a hero or group’s ongoing quest. Righting wrongs, working on personal or societal flaws, getting/earning something tangible. Understanding themselves or their family. Finding peace, or a home for the heart.

Ask what could develop from other puzzles you’ve brought up or thrown together as set decoration, distraction or backgrounding. What might happen with other marbles you’ve put at the edge of a table. With other characters who have their own issues. That, fellow scribes and friends, plants a  seed of craving more books in a series. A reader might not yet realize they want to know more on side issues, people or coming events (weddings, breakups, battles). But believe me, deep in their heart or mind, they do!

Even if a writer doesn’t know for sure they’ll turn their a book into a series, they should be open to the  idea. Well-written and edited books  make  readers trust the author…and want more of their novels. A good series can be an author’s best friend. As a marketing tool, and as a cornerstone of one’s  reputation.

Writing a series, you already have many characters  developed (at least partly), and settings that are often, well, set. Thank you, authors Robert B. Parker, J.K. Rawlings, Lee Child, Sue Grafton, Robyn Carr and a host of others.

Think your book can make a series? “Saddle Tramps,” the first of my five Pepper Kane Mysteries, certainly did. Along with spawning a spinoff series, The Granny Oakley Mysteries, about my star  sleuth’s feisty 80-year-old mom.

I say go for it. Write as if you might be writing a series. Fill your book(s) with great characters and quests. Consider them friends and family, if they’re decent and interesting to be with. Later you’ll enjoy crafting related stories or taking interesting side trips. This can keep you writing forward. Looking forward to writing. When you can be  with your “friends” and “family” in special places. What’s not to love about that?

What Makes a Winning Series?

Granny Gets Her Gun by Carole BeersMany of us crave certainty, continuity with “benefits.” Books and TV/film series can provide this. Notably in anxious times. But really in every time, at any age. Did you read all the Nancy Drew books? The Jack Reachers? Stephanie Plums? Doubtless for pleasure or needed distraction.

I love to fall into a good series, as writer OR reader. I write standalones, of course. But I’m probably best known for five (so far) Pepper Kane Mysteries. And now a spinoff, “Granny Gets Her Gun”—a cozy featuring my amateur sleuth’s aged mother, Martha Mosey Kane. Other series characters–including animals–as well.

How to create or find an irresistible bookTV series? One to write or to breathlessly read all the way through? First, I crave a worthwhile main character or group to “hang” with through the hours and weeks. As with Annie Seaton’s Aussie books, or Robyn Carr’s addictive “Virgin River” books that drag you safely but engagingly through thick and thin. Romance, women’s issues, action, crime. 

I also want a believable (read: flawed) leading man, woman or other to laugh and cry with, elbow knowingly, solve mysteries compelling or silly with, take a bite out of evil or uncertainty with. Someone I might want to know in “real” life. who has a welcoming/intriguing voice.

And mainly I meed a main character or group that is INTERESTING. I mean interesting through their job, family role or mission in each book. And not just someone who turns out to be an easy trope, prop or stereotype. Although if you twist a trope on its ear I might bite!

I need to know their interestingness in the first chapter. These attributes can be hinted at in passing, or stated outright with proper authority and confidence—emerging or otherwise. If characters are downtrodden, they must have those elusive qualities I call gumption and “try.” Heart. This makes me want to “help” them or empathize with them by riding along, shadowing. Staying with them. Feeling them.

My amateur sleuth Pepper Kane—in my five-book series with her name—is a fresh go-getter modern horsewoman of a certain age. She has a family she loves, a background in reporting, a yen for a good romantic relationship. Yet her Pop develops dementia, her lover won’t commit, and her grown kids live some distance away and are not always sympathetic to her wants and needs. Sound familiar? Anyone you know?

Plus I need to TRUST her. Believe in her quest or problems, know she will stay on course, not flip on me without good reason. At her core she must be strong. Steady.

Almost as important as cool characters and predicaments are settings. Whether city, beach or desert, settings should be interesting, too. They can help determine and even drive action. Provide a soothing or stirring backdrop. Mirror a character’s thoughts or mission.

But settings abso must have their own aura, good and bad qualities, personality!

In series books–as we explore questions great and small, people watch, make our way through or settle into the landscapes–let’s enjoy the author’s skill (our skill) at weaving all these elements together. Keeping the fabric. Being clear, compelling and true.

Even if in the “real” world, it’s technically UN-true, but lives true in our mind and heart.

Granny Gets Her Gun

Carole and Granny


    Make me laugh. Make me cry. Make me think. Or sigh with understanding. Just don’t bore me. Whack-a-‘Meh’-Mole!

I will read a book or blog post only if—from the tease or opening lines—it promises to teach or entertain me. And I keep reading for the same reasons. The piece doesn’t have to be dramatic or “different.” It’s not rocket surgery. It must simply grab my attention and stimulate thinking and/or feeling. Seem something I’d like to know, or confirm known things a special way.

From opening lines the post must be presented with gentle but firm, direct and authentic energy. Authority. Not meander, or back into the subject. Think of a good blog post intro or the whole post as the first page of a book or story. Because it is!.

That last is crucial. “Gentle but firm” energy—as I usually hold a child’s hand or a horse’s reins. It’s the subtle first impression about the blog post (like a book’s opening lines), and can be fun, shocking, transformative. Guiding. How lines and the subsequent post are delivered almost override the book or post’s message. Sometimes they ARE the message!

If any writing doesn’t touch me somehow—respecting my time, intelligence and experience —I won’t read further. Would you read a news story that begins, “I love spring, which fills me, etc.” Or how about, “Wondering what to write next, I wandered out and sat in my rocker.” Weak!

Early lines are like a person’s expression, body language and tone matter when I meet  them. Do they make accepting, non-aggressive eye contact? Invite me in as if we might share truths and stories? Does the individual exude calm, confidence, minus non-show off style?

If so, I’m in! I now like and trust them to take me places I need or would like to go. Into hearts and minds. Or that turquoise rocker on the porch.

A New Kind of Spinoff

I love my secondary book characters so much I’m writing stories starring them, and bundling a handful of these zippy tales in an anthology tentatively titled “Pepper Sprouts.” They’re drawn from my Pepper Kane Mysteries—cozy modern whodunits set up and down the West Coast. With dogs and horses. And elusive lovers. Stories are fun to write. They take less time than producing an entire book, which takes up to a year!

“Beach Body” is the first story of a projected five. It stars my amateur sleuth’s daughter, western jewelry designer, dog lover and new mom Chili Kane. I am polishing  another story with Pepper’s son, a former artist now working as a private detective in Seattle.

It’s unknown how many authors write stories about captivating secondary characters. But some give them starring roles in books outside the novel in which the person first appeared. If well drawn—and they have interesting jobs, roles or personalities—the characters makes us wonder about their lives outside the original novel(s). We want to read more about them.

Last year when casting about for new book ideas, I realized I had lots of cool characters in the Pepper mysteries. I drafted 20 pages of what I thought was a book starring Chili Kane. She’d recently divorced her Iranian husband, and moved with their baby from Seattle to the Oregon Coast—which I adore. She’d be closer to Mom, and live in a small town near the beach. (I love a good beach yarn: I’m reading “The Invisible Husband of Frick Island,” and “Coastal Christmas” is queued on my Kindle)

I soon got the idea that the proposed mystery book—and a possible series—could first be a story. A fine way to test the waters, as it were, for a full spinoff starring Pepper’s daughter. If the story floated, I would write the full novel.

*A story is a great way for readers to sample an author’s voice, style and genre in less than 30 minutes. It’s one reason I offer  “Beach Body” FREE, to valued email subscribers. There’s a signup box at My newsletters are OCCASIONAL, and information is NEVER shared).*

I—or any author—can write  stories with secondary original-book/series characters as one-offs, or by the handful to package as an anthology. What a fun way to market books, pique interest in ALL our creations. Seriously? If you’re a writer? Consider doing this.

The “Beach Body” story is a shade darker than my usual Pepper mysteries. Tighter, snappier, more twisted. But, as true of all “New West Mysteries with Heart,” it brims with outdoor drama, and animals, wrapping with a skewed yet hopeful ending. Not to mention a hint of romance. I have to have that, or at least a hint of it, in everything I write.

These new stories—singly or collectively—can stand strong on their own. But I also expect them to spur interest in my novels, both the modern mystery-suspenses set in the Pacific Northwest with its intriguing landscape and characters, and in the writing, whatever form it takes.

Penning these stories separately for newsletter swag, or offering them for sale in one package, gives repeat readers and newbies a time with those likable secondary characters. And it’s tasty bait. It can attract them to the fabulous books they spring from.

Why wouldn’t we?


Marketing a Mystery (?)

We discussed book marketing at our last writers group meeting—how tough, draining and discouraging it can be. We wanted to know what we can do to get sales and reviews when we’re not widely known. Should we have giveaways, enter more contests? Pay for ads and boosts? Schlep product to more bookstores?

Marketing’s not fun for most of us. It takes time away from writing and editing, from the joy and delicious angst of creating a masterpiece. But, if you haven’t already done so, expand your efforts with social media. And I don’t mean one post a month.Show up regularly, once a week or more, on one or several platforms (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, etc.)

Support other author’s efforts there. Comment, or just like. At very least, it gets your name and brand out there. It might even spark a sale or at least a look. To borrow a fishing adage, you have to throw the line in the pond.

And you might blog-tour, host other authors on your website, and comment on others’ posts on their websites. Or in online crimewriting groups.

This social connecting, casual or intense, is something I believe in, because readers on social(s) tell me they buy/read my books—though not quite to bestseller status. I learn what they like or don’t like in each book. Elements they expect (or hate) so I can fine tune my books going forward and, occasionally, backward. Tweaking style and story. Broadening the base. Brightening my author brand: “New West Mysteries with Heart.” 

Word by word, book by book.

I find social marketing fun. But many don’t. It takes time away from writing, from the joy and delicious angst of creating. But why not give social media a good shot. Show up somewhat regularly on one or several platforms, and support other author’s efforts there. Comment, or just like. At very least, it gets your name out there. It might even spark a sale. To borrow a fishing adage, you have to throw the line in the pond.

Why toil away, sweat blood, and pounce on great ideas when you still have limited readers/followers? Would a musician keep playing to an empty theater? You want publicity. You need people to experience your art and craft. So work at it. All of it.

Authoring books is not just a journey. It’s a freaking expedition.


Does an author’s mashing genre and shifting voice in new books turn off readers? Cause whiplash?Blur the brand? Not if done right. And my horse Brad (pictured) would agree!

Opening my books, readers expect New West Mysteries with Heart. “The Pepper Kane Mysteries,” in fact. A little bit country, a little bit rock ‘n roll. Cozies with friends, family, and frisky femmes. And horses, of course. Then I hit them with a literary novella, a middle-grades fantasy, and now a slammin’ good Women’s Fiction/Thriller: “Runaway Moon.”

It’s set in the contemporary West, yes. It has a feisty heroine and critters. A fast, sometimes hellbent pace. And a budding enemies-to-almost-lovers romance. But there it differs from much I’ve written.

“Runaway Moon”—published this month—surprises some.  My writing colleagues call it darker. It’s a modern, coming-of-age novel about an abused teen’s escape from a modern Oregon ranch to chase writing and training dreams. Shades of “True Grit” X “Wild,” resolving into “Heartland.” Yes, Cora Cassidy faces wild animals, outlaws, starvation, and a would-be rapist. But she also faces her own demons, and finds allies she didn’t know she needed. In the end she solves a mystery (during a heart-in-mouth showdown), and finds a home for her heart. As heroes do in all my books.

See, that last is key. The trick in successfully mashing genres and writing a little outside your brand or usual voice, is this: Stay with a few familiar landmarks (relatable characters, settings and moral compasses). Things your regular readers expect and relate to. THEN you can turn up the dark or light. Use scarier or tamer scenarios. And let your character think, speak and act with younger or older, nastier or sweeter voices than characters in your other work do.

All my books you love may, on the surface, appear different. Mess with your expectations. But are they really different? Maybe in the kind of character and level of grit. But you know? They all have souls to root for, intriguing modern mysteries to solve, and tons of action. Not to mention, heart! Always. That’s what glues us to a page or a whole book. That, and a flawed but brave hero, fascinating setting and urgent, compelling quest.

I trust my wonderful readers to get that. And that they will love this new book—a true New West Mystery with Heart.

Howdy, Carmen Peone!

Carmen Peone

Welcome back to my Writer’s Heartland here in southern Oregon. I’ve missed you, but have been busy herding cats: promoting my Zuni-inspired fantasy novel, “The Stone Horse.” And writing a fire-investigator mystery novel.

Lately I am inspired by Carmen Peone. She’s an awesome friend, true lady of the West, a past president of Women Writing the West—and the author of notable YA and Romantic Suspense, plus haiku (who knew?) Please join me in welcoming Carmen to our literary ranch house.

Q: Hey, Carmen. Thanks for being a supportive friend and for writing such heartfelt, down-to-earth books! How do you see yourself, your role, in writing, today?

A: Thanks for having me, Carole. And congratulations on your new release, The Stone Horse. What a wonderful novella!  Well, first and foremost, I see myself as a literary entertainer. But one who covers important topics and issues like abuse, illness, and hardship. The good news is that my characters always find hope and love, family and friendship.    

Q: Background us a “smidge’ on your life. How does that background and its recurring interests and themes continue to shape you and your work?

A: I live on the Colville Indian Reservation in northeast Washington State. All of my books to this point have either Native American lead or orbital characters and are set on or near Indian Country in Washington, Idaho, and Oregon. My husband and children are enrolled members of the Colville Tribe, and my grandchildren are either enrolled or direct descendants. 

Having a degree in Abnormal Psychology, writing wasn’t on my radar until I moved to the rez and worked with tribal elder, Marguerite Ensminger, learning the Arrow Lake language (One of the twelve bands that make up the Colville Confederated Tribes). Living among the rich Indigenous culture is what cultivated the material I needed to begin writing, first for teens and now for adults.     

Q: What main thing did you learn from leading “Women Writing the West?

A: Having coordinated the after-school program here on the rez, I knew the importance of teamwork. But with turning out a novel and curriculum, keeping up with a young horse and grandkids, and leading WWW, I learned how far I could be pushed and discovered my boundaries, which I’d pushed beyond healthy limits. 

The good news is, I discovered I could handle more than I’d thought, just not too much. But to be honest, somethings came up in my writing where I had the chance to get involved in the homeschool community by creating workbooks to accompany my novels, and I took it. This was something I’d been wanting to do for some time. 

Now that I’ve completed my curriculum and can reflect on my time with WWW, I can honestly say my WWW team was extraordinary and were an incredible support. I learned how dedicated the membership is. WWW is an incredible organization, and I urge those who write the west with female leads to join.   

Q: What are your ideal writing habits? Have you a set number of hours, or words, to write a day?

A: Yes. As a full-time writer, my goal is 2000 words per day and five to six days a week. I track them to keep me on course. I write in two to three spurts a day as I have a small attention span and animals to care for.  

Q: Tell us about your interest in writing haiku? Does poetry help your prose writing some way?

A: I began writing Haiku poems while coordinating the after-school program. Japanese college students have been visiting our community for about fifteen years or so and have taught me and my students how to write them. One day, I decided to pick it back up and use it as a tool to get my brain working in the morning before I start my writing day. I love photography and because the traditional Japanese Haiku poems accompany photos, it was a perfect fit. 

The poems have to be tightly written, so yes, that does help remind me to keep my novels tightly written as well, cutting extra words that don’t need to be there. Why write five words when two will do and pack a more powerful punch? 

Q: Are any of your young relatives interested in writing? What advice would do you give them?

A: Yes. For youth, I tell them to pay attention to their English teachers and learn spelling and grammar. For youth and everyone else, I tell them to get to know their characters on the most intimate level and that research makes their writing authentic. 

Q: Do you have a favorite horse, a favorite craft?

A: I am a lover of the American Paint Horse. Especially tobianos and happen to own one. Buck is now twenty. He was my extreme challenge horse until he came up lame. Now he gets to hang out at the ranch and boss my nine-year-old half-quarter, half Morgan horse around. I also love photography. It’s fun to turn my photos into haikus and greeting cards. It all revolves around the culture of my novels and my lifestyle. 

Q: Paint Horses! My favorite, too—no offense, other breed lovers.Have you a favorite oral story, Carmen, perhaps with humor, told by one of your or your husband’s elders?

A: “Coyote and the Origin of the Columbia River,” (both) of which I can view from my home, is one of my favorites. (Taken from Carmen Peone’s Girl Warrior Literary Guide.)

Origin of the Columbia River 

Coyote (Sinkaleep) was traveling, and heard water dropping. He said, “I will go and beat it.” He sat down near it, and cried, “Hox-hox-hox hox!” in imitation of water dripping. He tried four times, but the noise never ceased. He became angry, arose, and kicked the place where the water dropped. The noise ceased. He thought he had beaten it, and laughed, saying, “I beat you. No more shall water drip thus and make a noise.”

Shortly after he had gone, the water began to drip as before. He became angry, and said, “Did I not say water shall not run and make a noise?” The water was coming after him, and increased in volume as it flowed. He kept on running; but still he heard the noise of water, and was much annoyed. Now he traveled along the edge of a plateau. There was no water there, nor trees. He looked down into the coulee, but everywhere it was dry. It was warm, and he became very thirsty. He heard the noise of water, but saw none. Then he looked again down into the coulee, and saw a small creek flowing along the bottom. It seemed a long distance away. He went down and drank his fill.

He ascended again, but had barely reached the top when he became thirsty. He heard more noise of water, and, looking over the edge, saw a large creek running.

He went down, drank his fill, and ascended again, but had not reached the top when he was thirsty, as before. He thought, “Where can I drink?” The water was following him. He went to the edge of a bench and looked down. A small river was now running below.

He descended and drank. He wondered that much water was running where there had been none before. The more he drank, the sooner he became thirsty again. The fourth time he became thirsty he was only a little way from the water.

He was angry, and turned back to drink. The water had now risen to a good-sized river, so that he had not far to go. He said, “What may be the matter? I am always thirsty now. There is no use of my going away. I will walk along the edge of the water.”

He did so; but as he was still thirsty, he said, “I will walk in the water.” The water reached up to his knees. This did not satisfy him; and every time after drinking, he walked deeper, first up to the waist, then up to the arms. Then he said, “I will swim, so that my mouth will be close to the water, and I can drink all the time.”

Finally he had drunk so much that he lost consciousness. Thus the water got even with Coyote for kicking it; and thus from a few drops of water originated the Columbia River.

Q: Don’t you love it? Thank you so much, Carmen, for the gift of your time and energy. Stay safe, write on, and have a wonderful Spring and Summer.

*Read more about Carmen at (“Healing, Harmony, Hope, Horses”)


On a recent milestone birthday I called  75 “the new 60.” That may have been a slight exaggeration. But it was how I felt, or desperately wanted to feel.

Some think me young—especially those older than I. On hearing my age, people in their eighties and nineties look at me with amused forbearance, calling me “just a kid.” Is it because I relate well to tots and teens?  I still make up my eyes as I did at 16 when sex-kitten Brigitte Bardot rocked the silver screen with her bouncy breasts, white lipstick and smoldering gaze (although my breasts bounce differently, now). Am quick to dance to a hot tune. Laugh loudly. Walk short dogs up tall hills.

I embrace intellect, fresh ideas. Write books. And, with a nonchalant grin or occasional grimace, heft a 40-pound Western saddle onto the back of my 16-hand horse, Brad, and ride him several days a week.

Youngers consider me old. My skin sags and wrinkles where once it was taut. My muscles, weaker now and slower to recover from stress as they did—even at 60—are quick to slack from underuse. Arthritis gnaws my fingers, knees and hips. It makes me slow to rise, and more mindful doing everyday tasks. Such physical changes feed my genetic tendency toward fleeting depression. I can’t do some things I once took for granted—what differently abled  people never could do, or do with difficulty.Let’s not even talk about my mind, as known names and memories sometimes dodder.

And yet. Folks in their sixties or younger say they hope they’ll be blessed with spunk like mine when they’re old, that they’ll enjoy a “get on with it” attitude. Ouch! There’s a compliment with teeth. OK. Whatever. I’ll take it. It’s what I admired about Marjorie Lewis, a 100-year-old friend. Certainly age depression and mourning the loss of abilities and loved ones, shadowed Marjorie. And yet…

At 75, face it: I am indeed aged. I was born before World War II ended. Years of experience might gild this truth. A wish to keep going  allows me to cling to illusion. But numbers don’t lie. So why do I skip or amble along in apparent denial, swept up helplessly but mostly happily in benign, unfurling time?

Call it faith. Inborn will. And a commitment to being meaner than whatever is chasing me, as my book heroine Pepper Kane would say, “down the tunnels of decrepitude.” Chasing me toward an ending—though I see death as a transition to a another dimension neither understandable nor sought. I grin, read, sip coffee. Watch the TV morning show. Tussle with dogs. Endure the sad fact of our aging and eventual demise. Look for signs and answers. Lunch with friends, attend church, deeply inhale fresh air and silence. And welcome blessings and endure curses as I find them.

Our subconscious, our spirits, see this, and know. They come to know graceful ageing is an act of will, or of NO will. Ultimately we are asked to love, forgive, accept what is, and feel what is. Look at plain truths, even if discomfiting. Just not for too long, nor too publicly. That does no one any good.

“Just do it,” I remind myself sternly or gently. I ask, “What’s next on my calendar?” I stay engaged.

As long as I have life, I must live it and try to love it. Warts and all. Nothing lasts forever in the same form. But one’s individual energy, wisdom and style endure in footprints and soul prints left on the Earth and other beings.

Breathe. Love. Cry. But most of all, smile. In my experience, even those precious aware souls who seem to have lost all, can still convey a smile, if only in their eyes. Show acceptance. Hope. Love.

And that, to me, is the ultimate triumph of mind over matter. Even when mind no longer matters.

Two Flights of Doves

I saw a flight of doves yesterday while walking Georgie, my last remaining Boston terrier, down our hill. Then through bare branches against a weeping sky, I saw another small flight, chirping in time to their fast, pillowy wingbeats. I took this repeated sign to mean I should be at peace.

Peace has been hard to come by this holiday season. That’s because Dolly, our spirited 12-year-old Boston, has suffered from the effects of deafness, near-blindness and Cushing’s syndrome due to a brain mass. I have been her on-call nurse, guide and comforter.

That chapter or our earthly connection died Friday with our precious girl. My protector, finder and healer left us almost a year after Billy—her stoic yet playful consort—died last January. A wise and compassionate mobile veterinarian helped all of us honor the passing. We lay our Dolly in a sanctified hole in our fenced back yard, said sacred words, and smudged.

I have moved through subsequent days in a veil of tears or the oblivion of sleep, aware of her spirit slightly confused, but close, comforting. A streaky smudge of her face, llke ones left by Billy, remains on a front-door side window and a mirrored closet-door. She follows me, I talk. Sometimes stroke her invisible body. Trying to affirm and reassure us both.

But the pain remained, until came the doves. 

I’d just read in a book, “Signs from Pets in the Afterlife,” that the heart-center of beloved ones—pets and humans—sends signals to comfort us, to reassure us they are still around though in different form. Signals that suggest we feel at peace about them and ourselves. Signs that we cherish memories, but go forward with something like hope, faith and love. And that doves, a gentle, peaceful bird, embody all that plus peace. When one sees doves, especially in flocks, one is  reminded to embrace peace, and know that our loved one is at peace.

And, after yesterday, so am I.