The following article comes from the Tate County Democrat, a newspaper based in Senatobia, MS.
When Senatobia native, Calvin Dean, set out to write his first novel, he did what all authors do – write what you know. For Dean, growing up in a world of black and white reruns of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Twilight Zone, that meant writing horror and mystery set in the place he knew best, the fictional town of Sycamore Grove, MS – a.k.a. Senatobia.
“The story is set in 2013, but it’s the Senatobia of the mid-1970’s,” Dean said.
Why the mid-1970’s? Because that’s the Senatobia the author knows. The son of the late Jesse Dean, he was born in the house where his mother, Katherine, still lives. Dean graduated from Senatobia High in 1975 before moving on the NWCC and Ole Miss. Though the street names have changed in the novel, the park, library, courthouse and cemetery will be familiar to most Tate Countians.
The journey began more than 40 years ago when his 9th grade English teacher issued a writing assignment, a short story.
“I wrote a story, read it to my mother and asked her for help with the title. She immediately said ‘The ‘Epitaph of Jonas Barloff’. I asked her what’s an epitaph?”
For thirty-five years, the story sat quietly inside Dean’s head. He doesn’t recall what happened to the original paper. In 2009, the television Writer/Producer/Editor turned author began reconstructing the story – a story Dean says he always wanted to read. A fan of horror, mystery and the supernatural, Dean says many books in the horror genre left him unfulfilled.
“Everyone has their own fear threshold. For some people its zombies, vampires or werewolves,” Dean said. “Some people fear masked killers with chainsaws. For me, it’s haunted houses and cemeteries – things that happen in the shadows.”
Dean’s debut tale of horror and mystery carries the name of his original 9th grade writing assignment. “The Epitaph of Jonas Barloff” is about a popular high school senior who is killed in a suspicious automobile accident. When two classmates begin to investigate, they pinpoint their fallen friend at a crumbling antebellum home – the estate of Jonas Barloff. A veteran of the Civil War, Barloff’s perplexing epitaph becomes central to the story.
Dean said the hardest part about writing the book wasn’t the plot, but rather character development.
“I needed time to get to know each character, to let their personalities develop. After we became more familiar with each other, the story began to write itself.”
Before seeing his book in print, Dean collected a stack of rejection letters from agents and publishers before landing a contract from a small press in California. Dissatisfied with the terms, Dean countered their offer, but received no response. Assuming another rejection, Dean set out to publish independently. Two months later, the small press contacted him explaining that his email had fallen into a junk mail folder. Indeed, they were willing to accept part of his offer. Regardless, Dean chose not to sign. So far, he is pleased with his decision and the reviews.
“It’s gratifying to finish a project and know that others are enjoying your work,” he said from his home in Olive Branch, MS.
What can readers expect from this author in the future?
“I’m about halfway into a thriller involving the new hospital being built in Olive Branch, a released prisoner, political intrigue and supernatural gamesmanship. Knowing how much my first book changed over time, that’s all I’m willing to commit to right now,” Dean said. But he assures us the story is fictional, and adds, “Hopefully, this one won’t take as long as the first.”