Mystery Writer Deborah Sharp Rides Again
Author Deborah Sharp’s lighthearted, funny Mace Bauer mysteries tell stories about vanishing slices of life − of the Florida hardly known − and offer a Southern kinship for people. Born and raised in Fort Lauderdale, Sharp rode horses in western Broward County, where busy roads are now. A generation before, her father walked the family cow into town.
Sharp’s cast of unlikely main characters includes Mama, the 4’10” fastidious Southern woman, always in trouble, and her three daughters, Mace, 5’10”, Maddie and Marty, who rescue her.
“I spent 20 years as a reporter for USA Today writing sad stories,” Sharp says. “Now I want to make people laugh.” Sharp kept a journal all her life − an outlet for creative writing. She says, “Fiction is natural for me. It opens a new world.”
Sharp writes in long-hand in a small notebook that she tucks in her back pocket on daily bicycle rides, while gardening or on nature walks. The little notebook leads to a larger one for first drafts, outlines and chapters, the ending and then the computer. Who gets killed is always in the first chapter. But which character becomes the murderer sometimes surprises the author.
Sharp’s mysteries are set in Himmarshee, Fla., the fictional rodeo and ranches town just north of Lake Okeechobee. She offers, “I had in my mind a particular type of town tinged with things like I grew up in. I can hear the dialogue unfolding in my mind.” Her first book, Mama Does Time (2008), finds Mama in police custody when they find a dead body in the trunk of her turquoise convertible. This outrageous mama shares some of Sharp’s own mother’s characteristics; she has had multiple marriages, a slight taste for sweet pink wine and a fondness for gambling. The “Mama” sherbet-colored scarf is her identity.
At book signings, Sharp flicks her own colorful scarf and notices the proud smile on the face of Kerry Sanders, the NBC News correspondent and Sharp’s husband of 20 years. She says, “He’s very generous and supportive.”
The first chapter of Mama Rides Shotgun (July 2009) finds Mama and Mace at a deadly Bar-B-Q. It seems that ranch owner Lawton Bramble never gets a chance to eat his famous Cow Hunter Chili.
Because Sharp’s plot lines are paramount in her mysteries, she joined the Florida Cracker Trail Ride, a six-day, cross-Florida ride on horseback from Bradenton on the west coast to an ending parade in Fort Pierce. “It was important for me to be there,” she says. “The birds, the growing regions and landscape are different; here, the once-lush orange groves are ruined.” The alligators sunning themselves on the river bank bring to mind the alligator skull hidden in the foliage on Sharp’s side yard.
At a TV interview on NBC’s Today Show, reporter Al Roker never asked her that. But Sharp says she became the inner Mama just for a few moments. Sharp agrees she is more like Mace, who lives life. For new writers she offers, “You have to love what you do. You have to make sacrifices. You have to feel you have something to say.”
Sharp’s next book in the series, Mama Gets Hitched, is due in 2010.