I’ve had the pleasure of “knowing” my guest for this Mystery We Write Blog Tour stop, Pat Browning, for several years. However, we finally met face to face last month at the OWFI Writing Conference, May 6-7.
Pat, thanks for the hugs.
Meet Pat Browning
She was born and raised in Oklahoma. A longtime resident of California's San Joaquin Valley before moving back to Oklahoma in 2005, Pat’s professional writing credits go back to the 1960s, when she was a stringer for The Fresno Bee while working full time in a Hanford law office.
She is a veteran traveler. Her globetrotting in the 1970s led her into the travel business, first as a travel agent, then as a correspondent for TravelAge West, a trade journal published in San Francisco. In the 1990s, she signed on fulltime as a newspaper reporter and columnist, first at The Selma Enterprise and then at The Hanford Sentinel.
Her first mystery, FULL CIRCLE, was revised and reissued as ABSINTHE OF MALICE by Krill Press in 2008. An extensive excerpt can be read at Google Books: http://tinyurl.com/23pojdm.
ABSINTHE OF MALICE, Krill Press 2008
ISBN-10: 0982144318, ISBN-13: 978-982144312
Logline: It’s just another Labor Day weekend in a small California town until discovery of a skeleton in a cotton field leads to murder—and romance.
Vivian: Authors are often asked when they started writing or what triggered their interest in writing. I like to know that, also, but I would especially like to know what keeps you writing.
Pat: I’ve been writing something ever since I was old enough to hold a pencil. I dashed off one-page haunted house stories and passed them around my fifth grade classroom (self-publishing in its basic form). When I was 12 I sent a short-short story to the Kansas City Star. It was some nonsense about fairies in a hollow tree and the Star sent me fifty cents. I was mortified when I saw the thing in print.
My first real published work was non-fiction—articles and columns I wrote while working for small newspapers in California. Readers really responded to columns I wrote about my family and my life growing up in Oklahoma. I still write about such things, mostly in my blogs. I keep writing to remember—who I am, where I’ve been, what I’ve done.
Vivian: What is your most recent book, and what inspired you to write it?
Pat: You force me to reveal the true depth of my shallowness. I’ve written the sum total of one novel and I honestly don’t remember why. I do remember when. I was taking a cigarette break at work when thoughts of writing a murder mystery drifted by. I began haunting the library and bookstore, bringing home mysteries by the armload.
The only author’s name I knew was Mary Higgins Clark, so I paged through other books for a quick take on dialogue, setting, etc. and picked books that looked interesting. In the first batch were THE BOOKMAN’S WAKE by John Dunning, LYING IN WAIT by J.A. Jance and THE DANDELION MURDERS by Rebecca Rothenberg. They are still favorites. Rothenberg’s book is extra special because the setting was a few miles from where I lived for so many years.
About the same time, I got a computer, discovered the Internet and surfed into Walter Sorrells’s Website, The Mystery Zone. A link led to Al Alexander’s Crime Scene page. Al seemed discouraged and about ready to fold his tent but had a couple of books in soft cover left to sell. I bought HOW TO CRAFT MURDER MYSTERY & SUSPENSE NOVELS THAT SELL and his novel THE LAST BLUE KISS. Al gave me some good advice, and said that I picked a good time to jump in because the market was open for female protagonists and female writers. So I was off to a flying start.
It's just as well that I didn't know how long, crooked and uphill the road to a finished novel would be. I thought writing was writing. Ha! Double Ha! It was, and still is, a learning experience, but that's what life is about. I'm glad I took it on.
The problem was that I was going at it backwards, piling up pages of characters in search of a plot. It took me several years to get that first mystery in shape. It has been published twice, once as FULL CIRCLE in 2001, and again as ABSINTHE OF MALICE in 2008. So far, that’s my only book. I’m working hard to finish the second one.
Vivian: How did you manage to come up with the idea for your novel?
Pat: It was just there. I didn’t realize it at the time but that novel is a fictional version of my life and times, the places I worked, the people I knew. The newsroom is an almost identical recreation of a newsroom where I worked. I made up the characters but they are probably composites of people I have known. I made up the history of the town where the story is set, but there’s a ring of truth even there.
Vivian: What are your writing achievements and goals?
Pat: My goal? To write the Great American Novel. My achievements? Feedback from readers. Awards are nothing. Readers matter. I loved the comment from a reader that she burned the peas while trying to finish the last chapter of my book. But the strangest experience involved my research and a longtime friend.
I gave one of my characters a hereditary blood disease called porphyria. It popped up one day when I was researching liquor, and it fit, so I used it. After my friend read the book, she wrote me a note saying that her father died of porphyria in 1950.
She said that her father's death was helped along by local doctors who couldn't diagnose him. By the time a hospital lab in San Francisco identified his porphyria, it was too late to do him any good. Even so, the local doctors told the family very little about the disease. When she read my book, my friend was aghast and agog.
I met her for coffee, and gave her my research file to read. A month later we met again for coffee, and she showed me a card she carried in her wallet. Dated 1960, it said that her blood tested positive for porphyria "cyclical, acute and familial," and that she should avoid "barbitals and sulphonals."
She had been showing that card to doctors for years and none of them paid much attention. None of them ever told her to avoid alcohol. She always wondered, she said, why drinking made her sick. Her late husband called alcohol's effects her "crazies."
It shook us both to think that my stumbling across porphyria during research brought this real mystery in her own life "full circle." Of course, I don't believe in accidents, and her comment was, "God works in mysterious ways!" She photocopied my printouts and sent them to her two daughters, suggesting that they and their children be tested for porphyria.
I have lived a long time on the satisfaction that gave me.
Vivian: Do you have a particular writing process or technique that you use; if so, what?
Pat: I'm an obsessive note-jotter. I have notebooks and pens in every room in the house. However, I don't sit down and write pages or chapters every day or every week. I plan to start doing that—next week. Seriously.
I am not disciplined. When not writing starts to drive me crazy, I shove everything else aside and start writing. I don’t recommend this so-called technique. It takes me too long to write a book, and I’m so easily distracted. Oh, look – my Oriental lilies are about to bloom!
Vivian: Would you please give a brief excerpt from your book and/or a review about it?
Pat: Here’s a recent review by J.M. Orenduff who writes the brilliant “Pot Thief” mysteries. He posted it to Amazon.com.
“There is a very simple explanation of why ABSINTHE OF MALICE is on so many ‘top lists’ on Amazon. It's a great Book. Penny Mackenzie is a believable multi-dimensional character capable of a range of emotions. She is funny with a down home outlook on life, but she can also be reflective, angry, indignant.
“And when she and a co-worker find some bones in a field outside of town, Penny shows another side of her personality - persistence. Not only is the knee bone connected to the thigh bone as the old song says; it is also connected to almost everyone in town in one way or another. Pearl California may be a small town, but it has big secrets dating all the way back to its founding, and the author brings them out in a way that keeps you guessing but never confused. Then she wraps everything up in a most satisfying conclusion.
“In some ways, ABSINTHE OF MALICE is a cozy, a crime in a cute setting solved by a reluctant civilian facing a number of personal challenges—back living with her mother, an old flame showing up, etc. But while the book is a quick and fun read, it is also a serious piece of work, exploring moral issues with great sensitivity and insight. ABSINTHE OF MALICE is a great title. The book is even better.”
Special note: The second book in the series, METAPHOR FOR MURDER, is a work in progress. ABSINTHE takes place on a Labor Day weekend. METAPHOR picks up the story the week before Christmas. Logline: Small town reporter Penny Mackenzie tracks an offbeat Christmas story and finds herself in the middle of a murder and the mysterious desecration of an old Chinese cemetery.
Vivian, thanks for letting me ramble on. It’s a pleasure to be your guest blogger today.
You are most welcome, Pat. I enjoyed the visit. Now, where and how to find more about Pat: her web site under construction; her page at Author's Den; and her blog Morning's at Noon.
Carol Shenold will be hosting me this week.