When our photographer David Welton phoned Monday to discuss ideas for this week’s story, he mentioned popular blogger Dan Pedersen, who promoted a recent piece featuring David’s photo essay on ferry memories. David suggested we get in touch with the author, blogger, and friend of many.
Now that I’ve spent the past couple of days reading Dan’s blog, talking with him on the phone, learning about his love of the natural world, and looking forward to reading his mystery series, I wish I’d gotten to know Dan sooner.
Dan writes short mystery novels, all beginning with the word Final. I asked him why he did that.
“I put ‘Final’ in the title of the first book, Final Deception, thinking it would be the only mystery I would ever write,” Dan said. “It took me several years to write it, and I had a diagnosis of lymphoma which could mean I only had a short time to live. Chemotherapy went well and someone suggested I should write a sequel, which I hadn’t considered. I called the sequel Final Passage, again thinking it would be my last book. The second book was a lot easier and faster to write than the first one, and I kept going. Every time I finished a book, I felt lost and ended up starting on another. The word ‘Final’ became the identifying theme of the whole series. It was a happy accident — my fans can spot one of my books in an instant.”
Final Deception was published in 2016, and these days there is no end in sight for Dan’s mystery series, which often take place on Whidbey Island. Check out this link for a list of the entire series. Recently updated, the site contains a preview for what’s coming up in his tenth novel, Final Coverup.
David Welton and Dan met this week for a photo shoot at Double Bluff Beach, the setting for Dan’s eighth mystery, Final Reunion. According to the book’s description: “Sheriff’s detective Shane Lindstrom and deputy Katarina Brown study the corpse at the water’s edge. Kat hasn’t had breakfast yet and is glad now. She is looking at the remains of an obviously vital woman who had been going about her life a few hours earlier, looking forward to the 50th reunion of her high school class. What had she done to end up like this? The two sheriff’s officers wade into a tangled web of childhood relationships to find the answers, as another classmate turns up dead, and then another.”
Dan is now halfway through writing his tenth novel, Final Coverup. It begins with bones found under an Oak Harbor Street. Dan said writing his blog and the mysteries are a fun outlet for his creative energy.
“I’m doing better than I was,” Dan said. “Having lymphoma, it’s an up and down, cat and mouse kind of thing. I’m 73 and being treated at Whidbey Health, which I love. My oncologist is from Providence Cancer Care Alliance. She travels to Coupeville every Tuesday to see her Whidbey patients. I’ve made a couple trips to Seattle Cancer Care to meet with experts for a second opinion, but I’ve been lucky to receive nearly all my treatment right here at home, on the island.
“The treatment has given me a bunch of years and enabled me to write all these books. I’m happy for what I’ve gained from it. I’m just trying to do my own thing, trying to keep the pacing fast and include new information and surprises for the reader. I’m at the point in life where I don’t need anything except to have fun. When you’re a writer, no matter what’s happening around you, there is always a fantasy world into which you can escape, and I love the hours I spend there.”
Dan Pedersen’s first non-fiction book, self-published, in 2009, was Whidbey Island’s Special Places. One of the chapters was on the Wilbert Trail at South Whidbey State Park. “I wanted a chapter about the Wilbert Trail and arranged to meet Elliott there,” Dan said, recalling an initial meeting with Elliott Menashe, a classic Whidbey character, landscape genius, and owner of Greenbelt Consulting,
Elliott Menashe coined the phrase that describes the sound made by jumping on a mat of old-growth tree roots and decomposed debris covering a wetlands along the mystical Wilbert Trail.
The Whompeta blog inspired David Welton and I to take a spring walk along the Wiltern Trail with Elliott in 2017. Our guide’s exuberance concerning the intelligence of old-growth forests is reflected in our story, The Floating Forest of South Whidbey.
Another of Dan’s friends is Maribeth Crandell, now an Island Transit Mobility Specialist, and mentioned in Dan Pedersen’s first book. Maribeth worked with Dan at Freund Marsh, one of the book’s noted special places, located nearby Oak Harbor’s Safeway and Walmart.
“When I discovered what the city had been doing to restore the wetland habitat at Freund Marsh I was impressed,” Maribeth wrote in an email. “They’d created a pond and planted snags and native shrubs that attracted wildlife. The local Audubon Society took field trips there, and it’s just a stone’s throw from Safeway and Walmart and the hustle and bustle of downtown.
“When they developed the trailhead on the west end at Scenic Heights Road they put in a rain garden and pervious pavement for treating storm water pollution in a beautiful setting with a round patio, wheelchair ramp, interpretive displays, and I spoke about it enthusiastically. Many people write off Oak Harbor as the land of strip malls and fast food. Yet here is this natural area full of wildlife and it’s so accessible to lots of people who live or work nearby. I became a big fan of Freund Marsh, so when Dan was pulling his book together about Whidbey’s Special Places, he interviewed me. I was extremely flattered to be included in a group of people I admire and respect doing conservation and interpretation work in Island County.”
During this interview Dan mentioned writing the text for a number of interpretive signs commissioned by the Marine Resource Committee’s Shoreline Signage Education and Outreach program.
“I worked for the committee for 10 years, ending around 2011 or 12, if I recall correctly,” Dan said. “We put together a big educational effort involving signage, stewardship areas and (publishing) Getting to the Water’s Edge in partnership with the Beach Watchers program.”
Maribeth recalled working with Dan on these interpretive signs, illustrated by Kris Wiltse. Dan said, “Kris was a brilliant partner on the signage project — very talented designer and artist who could pull all the pieces together.”
“I remember working with Dan on the interpretive signs for Freund Marsh,” Maribeth said. “He wrote the text for each one and would send it to me for approval. They were all so lovely and lofty and inspirational, like you’d find along National Park trails. But it got a little thick. So I asked Dan to change a quote from John Muir to a quote from the Lorax, by Dr. Seuss instead. ‘Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.’
“Since then, Dan has plugged our Hiking Close to Home book a few times. He and my co-author Jack Hartt exchanged photographs for years before I was able to introduce them last spring. We sat appropriately distanced on Dan’s deck talking while birds from his feeders and bird bath whizzed between us making us jump! Dan’s blog is always fun to read, the photos are incredible, and I’ve also enjoyed reading most of his mysteries and other books.”
Dan has lived in Langley the past 34 years. “In the early years I was commuting to work and I was totally unaware of everything that is going on,” he said. “But I saved the best for last. After giving up my good job in the city, I discovered how much fun writing could really be, starting with nature and rural life as my themes and, in time, evolving to writing mysteries, the most rewarding of all. What I love about mysteries is the platform they provide for my characters to stimulate reflection in the minds of readers.”
His wife, artist Sue Van Etten, sketches with Whidbey Island Sketchers. The couple have two cats as well. Dan writes, “I have a terrific stepdaughter in Skagit Valley.”
“My philosophy is my books should always entertain, but also give readers something more. Readers should come away having learned something new and been challenged to think about what they truly value in their lives.”
I look forward to settling in during the predicted cold and possible snow days ahead with Dan Pedersen’s mysteries and reading his blog. Thanks, Dan, for making my week an inspiration.
This Is Whidbey was founded by Kate Poss for readers who are interested in cultivating our island’s quality of life, including its land, sea, and air; its people, plants, and animals; and the bodies, minds, and spirits of its inhabitants. You may know Kate from her work in island libraries through May of 2016. Her background includes a career in newspaper reporting in Los Angeles for various weeklies and dailies, including The Los Angeles Times. She was a frequent contributor to the online Whidbey Life Magazine and still writes for the biannual print magazine.
Stories are highlighted by David Welton’s excellent photography. David is a retired physician who was a staff photographer for Whidbey Life Magazine since its early days. His work has also appeared in museums, art galleries, newspapers, regional and national magazines, books, nonprofit publicity, and on the back of the Whidbey Sea-Tac Shuttle!