Weekend Break: Retired journalist turned author pens Astoria-based suspense novel

The novel 

The thriller follows the story of Bud Baker. A jailhouse lawyer, Baker gets let out of prison, thrown on a bus and told not to come back by the governor. 

Baker arrives in Astoria penniless and falls in love with a social worker. She shares a tragic story with him of a person experiencing drug addiction whose baby was stolen at birth. She asks Bud for a favor, galvanizing him to revert to his criminal ways and risk his newfound freedom. 

 “I had a lot of fun writing the story about this guy,” Dean said. “It’s a suspense-thriller, and there’s a lot of action.” 

The true story 

“Dangerous Freedom” is inspired by a true story. 

In his early newsroom days, Dean was a reporter covering courts and crime for the Idaho Statesman in Boise from 1988 to 1992. 

In Boise, Dean interviewed Walter “Bud” Balla, who was an inmate at the state penitentiary and became the foundation for “Dangerous Freedom.” 

Balla was bringing a class-action lawsuit against the Idaho prison system alleging a variety of things, including poor living conditions and overcrowding, Dean said. 

“This guy had a high school education and he’s brought this lawsuit and won it in federal court,” Dean said, adding that Balla’s action resulted in major prison reform. Dean profiled Balla and covered the federal case. 

Dean moved to Astoria last year to begin a new chapter as a novelist. 

“I was so struck by him that I always thought he’s going to be a character in a novel I write,” Dean said. “And I finally did it, I wrote this book where he’s the protagonist.” 

Baker is named Bud after Balla’s nickname as a tribute to the real-life inspiration, Dean said. 

A second novel 

“I’ve always had a lifelong dream of wanting to write books,” Dean said, adding that the busy and unpredictable schedules he kept as 

a journalist precluded him from having the time to work on his dream before he retired. 

Dean worked his way up to a job at Newsday in Long Island, New York, where he retired about two years ago. 

 “There was no way I could find enough time to write novels during my career,” he said. “All of these great ideas are pouring out of me now.” 

Dean moved from New York to Astoria about a year ago during the pandemic. 

“There was something about that winter and the pandemic that forced me to concentrate,” Dean said. “It was a bizarre silver lining and I took full advantage of it. I had a really good draft of the novel done in six months.” 

Throughout his career, Dean ran into a host of interesting characters, which now has proven to be boon for him in the novel-writing process. 

“I don’t know how other novelists come up with these characters if they didn’t experience them. I feel like I have an advantage that I actually ran into these people,” he said. 

With “Dangerous Freedom” completed, Dean is now working on his second suspense book, “The Ghosts We Know.” The novel is also a suspense story. The plot follows two aging war veterans who teamed up to hunt a child predator. 

“It’s gritty but it’s also compassionate. I’m taking some bold steps in my writing development and I’m very excited about it,” Dean said. While it’s less journalistically inspired, the two characters also stem from real figures in Dean’s life. 

He anticipates “The Ghosts We Know” will launch in early December.