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




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.

HOPE! Why we never lose it

Carole Beers

(Please enjoy my guest sermon of Dec. 1 at Bethany Presbyterian Church, Grants Pass, Ore.):

“Hope.” Like “home,” it’s a positive idea and word, universal in feeling, emotionally loaded. We hope things turn out. We hope for better health, weather, circumstances. After disappointment we adjust our hopes. We aspire to survive in soul if not body, delivered from evil, God willing. We hope, in winter, for return of the light. We’re almost born knowing its meaning. Almost as if it were transferred in utero from mother to child.

“If there’s life, there’s hope.” Who doesn’t have at least a glimmer of hope? Who doesn’t wish it for others? Hope is praised in the Bible, notably First Corinthians, 13, and many other places.*

But what is “hope?” I’ve learned in my 75 years it’s a combination of yearning for life, and faith.

Hope, with a generous helping of faith, is what launched my triple-great grandparents on both sides on arduous cross-America journeys to the Northwest 140 years ago. In wagons and on foot they came, from the Midwest and South, before cars or railroads, leaving behind almost everything to find more productive ranchlands and business opportunities. Hardy, brave and steeped in Protestant tradition, some preachers themselves, they bore the blood and wanderlust of Europeans who emigrated to North America generations earlier.

As a child, in the Eastern Washington coulee country, I heard stories told by the old ones. How one relative walked BAREFOOT across America when his shoes failed. Another was born in a dugout under a hill. Still others trembled upon reaching Walla Walla, scene of the Whitman massacre by Native people. But I also heard of their founding ranches, schools, churches. Surviving epidemics. Helping build small towns.

Talk about perseverance, faith and HOPE! Most of your ancestors also had hope big time. Or you might not be here. To think I whimper at freezing fog, a potholed road, or a shortage of staples in the pantry. Computer troubles. Think what our ancestors went through chasing dreams. What sacrifices people made in wars when metal, foods and fuel were rationed.

My own hope shows in how I set aside fear of failure to embrace adventure and new things. I love brave people, look up to them—especially women who broke ground and STOOD their ground. Like my female ancestors who crossed the country, became nurses or teachers, plopped themselves down on gun trunks to stop their men from going out to settle some senseless score. That’s why I learned to ride, shoot, fly airplanes, embrace strangers. And, yes, write stories for The Seattle Times, and then Pepper Kane mystery novels full of what? HOPE. I call my books “New West Mysteries with Heart.” They fulfill my lifelong HOPE of being an author. I should call them, “New West Mysteries with Hope.”

Why did people back when, and why do some of us now who write books, build businesses or sustain churches, put ourselves through tough journeys, and chances to be knocked down? Because they had, and we have…HOPE! Hope for a better life. Better future. Better now.

We were supposed to tell a personal story, show how it illustrates what  hope or faith means to us. But I had to start with the earliest examples of hope that affecting my life now. Pioneers in any time inspire me to toughen up, keep going, work the dream. Because I find work, prayer and hope get you through. Ease your heart, stand you up straight, let you to look on others with compassion, and ultimately succeed. May hope be with you!

*Romans 5:1-5 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

Writing Rogue!

Writing Rogue!

Whew! “Ghost Ranch,” my third Pepper Kane Mystery, has burst from the starting gate and is gathering steam on the backstretch with not one, but TWO giveaways on (one Kindle, one for Paperback). To enter the Kindle giveaway, click  To enter the Paperback contest click Or visit and search under “book giveaways.”

If you already have a copy of this fast, provocative novel featuring my spirited amateur sleuth, horsewoman and ex-reporter, enter anyway. If you win, give your prize to a friend or a favorite charity. May I suggest a cause that fights bullying or prejudice—strong themes in this book? Perhaps one that supports American Indian youth. Such as Seattle Clearsky Native Youth Council. These books are suitable for ages 15 and up.

Ghost Ranch by Carole Beers

With “Ghost Ranch” on its way and earning great reviews, notably by authors whose work I admire, I’ve turned my attention to my next book. Its working title? “Night Rides,” fourth in the series. I am setting this one in Seattle AND in Oregon’s Rogue Valley. Southern Oregon happens to be where I live now. Where I graduated from high school (Go Cavemen!) when dinosaurs roamed the Earth. Hey. I knew T. Rex personally!

Much as I love the Rogue Valley, the Puget Sound region is where I spent 40 years. After earning an editorial journalism degree at University of Washington, and selling stories to romance magazines and horse periodicals, I wrote for The Seattle Times for 32 years. And King County Journal. So I know and love this area. Bosky forests, steep hills, gleaming waters, energized people, and air scented with saltwater and (yes!) coffee. “Essence of horse” is optional.

With the new book I get to “live in” the best of both worlds. Don’t worry, I’ll figure out how to have the main crime committed at the horse show near Seattle, and how to transport the whole mob including the killer to Southern Oregon, Pepper Kane’s stomping grounds.

You readers have been very helpful in giving me the confidence to go ahead with this unique split approach to setting: Comments on my Carole T. Beers, Author page on Facebook included a lot of thumbs up. Using a venue other than Rogue Valley will freshen things, say some. Give the series added pizazz. Besides. The first two books in my series, “Saddle Tramps” and “Over the Edge,” started in the Rogue Valley and traveled to horse shows in California and Texas for their thrilling conclusion!