May 22, 2011

Pat Browning–Success in Slow Motion

This is Pat Browning

Today I’m welcoming author Pat Browning as the first in a 12 week series of author blogs called Murder We Write 2011.  I’ve known Pat for a long time, she’s well known on the Internet and she’s a first-rate author as well as one of the most fascinating women I know.  The book we’re discussing today is her first novel, and it’s very unusual to have a first book as good as this one.  I read and reviewed it myself a while back and I LOVED it, as you will too. But first, Pat’s Bio:

Pat Browning 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 Travel Age 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.

At the Enterprise, her lifestyle coverage placed first two years in a row in the California Newspaper Publishers Association Better Newspapers Contest. She was also a co-finalist for the 1993 George F. Gruner Award for Meritorious Public Service in Journalism. The award was for a story she and a colleague wrote about AIDS, which was a recent phenomenon at the time. At the Sentinel, her feature story on the Japanese-American “Yankee Samurais” of World War II, placed second in the CNPA contest.

Pat’s articles on the writing life have appeared in The SouthWest Sage, the monthly journal of SouthWest Writers, based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She is building a new website. In the meantime she has a page at Author’s Den – www.authorsden.com/patbrowning

 

Absinthe of Malice

 

SUCCESS IN SLOW MOTION

I came late to fame. Actually I’m not famous at all, except by comparison. My mystery novel is doing well but first I had to write it. That was the hard part. As I write this I am halfway through my second mystery, after beginning it 10 years ago. So what happened? Life happened. But that’s nothing compared to my short nostalgic essay that was finally published last year. I spent more than 40 years on that one.

It’s easy to say that writers are born, not made, and there’s some truth to that. But writing, even fiction writing, is a matter of communication. If you can learn to talk, you can learn to write. Otherwise, all those high school and college English classes and online writing classes are a colossal waste of time. I’m a veteran of all of those, and they pushed me forward to where I am today.

Actually, they nudged me forward, like an ant moves a rock, but that’s what it took to keep me at the keyboard. Patience and persistence, not talent, are the first requirements of writing. I grew up assuming I would write The Great American Novel. Of course, I’m not dead yet so there’s still time, but for years I was nudged toward essays/newspaper columns/blogs that I write about looking back on my life and times.

I’ve always loved words. My mother said I learned to read by asking her about the letters on her coffee can. Her favorite brand was Folger’s so maybe I should say Folger’s Coffee taught me to read and write. Maybe, too, that’s why Lipstick Red ties with Lime Green for my favorite color. Red, when I want to stand out in a crowd. Green, when I need to relax. That’s why I loved the cover of my book ABSINTHE OF MALICE the minute I saw it. It flashes red and green, like a traffic signal: STOP. BUY. READ.

Red and green. Everything in my life is a tie. Talk about a split personality. Gemini, the zodiac sign of the Twins, was just scampering toward the horizon when I was born. Cancer was moving up big time, bringing with it a lifelong weight problem. Gemini kept me in designer shoes during my salad days. Cancer put me in walking shoes when I could no longer trust high heels.

My father called me his “talking daughter” because I just never shut up. Now you know why I’m a writer. But let’s get back to the essay that spent 40 years on the road to publication and its connection to my first mystery.

In the 1960s, as a stringer for The Fresno Bee, I met and interviewed Dorothy Baker. She was well-known in academic and literary circles, but her claim to popular fame rested on her novel YOUNG MAN WITH A HORN. It was a based on the life of famed coronetist Bix Biederbecke, who shot across the 1920s jazz scene like a comet and died in 1931 at the age of 28.

I mentioned to Ms. Baker that I had started writing a book but couldn’t get past Chapter One. She said, “Don’t worry about it. If you have something to say, you’ll say it.”

My Chapter One was a recreation of the old-time Southern Baptist church services of my growing-up years in Oklahoma. I meant to use it in a novel I would call SWEETER DAY, a title inspired by my memory of country preachers who promised a sweet life in Heaven, and a neighbor who talked constantly about going to California, where every yard had a tree decorated with big juicy oranges.

I spent the next 40 years looking for a place to use it. Every few years I dragged it out of my filing cabinet and rewrote it. In 1999 I tried to slip it into my working manuscript of FULL CIRCLE. I thought it was so clever, turning that old memoir into a chapter where a character dredges up her memories for an adult writing class. The chapter stuck out like a sore thumb, so I took it out of the manuscript and filed it away again.

In 2007 I was scrolling through My Documents and there was the old memoir. I retitled it “White Petunias,” rewrote it and entered it in the Nostalgia category of a contest sponsored Panhandle Professional Writers in Amarillo, Texas. It won second place and $50.

Sometimes a piece of writing is like an old house — all it needs is a fresh coat of paint. A year later I completely rewrote “White Petunias” and submitted it to the Red Dirt Book Festival Committee. In the winter of 2009 my memoir appeared in the RED DIRT BOOK FESTIVAL ANTHOLOGY, OKLAHOMA CHARACTER.

I’m satisfied with the final version and happy to see it finally in print. It’s nothing earth-shattering. It’s simply about a summer night in 1939 on the eve of World War II, before the world changed forever. If you are curious, you can read it on my personal blog, Morning’s At Noon: http://tinyurl.com/2ga6hbm .

What I started so long ago finally became a mystery novel, although it bears no resemblance to the story I began with. My mystery novel is set in California’s San Joaquin Valley, modeled after several small towns near Fresno, and features a reporter on a one-horse newspaper. Discovery of an old skeleton in a cotton field leads to revelation of long-buried secrets, murder—and romance.

I finished FULL CIRCLE in 2001 and self-published it through the new print-on-demand company iUniverse. I had some fun with it. I ran up and down the San Joaquin Valley making talks and selling the books I lugged with me. Mostly, though, FULL CIRCLE just sat on Amazon.com looking lonely.

In 2008 the publisher of a new small press read the book, liked it, made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. He changed the cover, changed the title to ABSINTHE OF MALICE, and asked me to make a couple of revisions. Getting that book into print was a trip and it all happened so fast I had barely stopped laughing before I had a brand new book.

Unless you are one of the famous few whose royalties number in the millions, it may take a while for your book to find its audience. About a year after publication of ABSINTHE OF MALICE the Kindle edition suddenly took off like a house afire. Oh, boy. Oh, joy.

I keep quoting The Grateful Dead: “What a long strange trip it’s been.” Another quote I bear in mind comes from mystery author and teacher, Carolyn Wheat. When I first began writing FULL CIRCLE, now ABSINTHE, I sent her my first three chapters to critique. She drew blue lines through almost every page. I got lots of good advice from her and she always ended her e-mails by saying, “Don’t forget to have fun with it.” It’s worth remembering. There may be times when that’s all you get out of it.

But the best quote for a struggling writer or any other artist is by the late Elizabeth Taylor. Her quote from the London Guardian comes via The Week of April 8, 2011: “Success is a great deodorant. It takes away all your past smells.”

So how about it? Let’s have a drawing for a print copy of ABSINTHE OF MALICE. No contest, just a names-in-the-hat drawing. Leave a comment here and if you want to enter the drawing, mention that. Be sure we have a way to contact you in case you win. Also, if by some miracle my sequel (working title METAPHOR FOR MURDER) is ready, I’ll include an ARC or finished print copy of that, too.

There are extensive excerpts from ABSINTHE OF MALICE at Google Books, http://tinyurl.com/23pojdm .  Thanks for listening, and thanks to Beth for letting me sound off.

Pat Browning

http://patbrowning.weebly.com (under construction)

http://authorsden.com/patbrowning

http://pbrowning.blogspot.com/

See what I mean, folks?  She really is a fascinating person, a great writer.  It’s a pleasure to showcase her here on my blog.  Thank you so much, Pat!

This week I’ll be featured in the first of my 12 spots in MURDER WE WRITE 2011 at Anne K. Albert’s blog – http://www.anne-k-albert.blogspot.com .  Come on over to Anne’s blog and see me after you’ve finished looking up more on Pat Browning, and you should because she’s an author heading for the top.

Bye for now, see you soon, and come back later on toward the end of this week when I’ll be telling y’all what all is going on with my book.  I’ll leave the porch light on for ya!

Love y’all, you know I do!  Beth Anderson, sometimes known as Hotclue. 😉

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Comments

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  1. Hi, Pat and Beth. Pat I actually know in person, Beth, I’ve known you for ages on the Internet. I’m loving reading and finding out more about you Pat. No, I don’t need to be in the drawing. You need new readers–I loved the first version of the book and still have it in my collection.

    Marilyn

    Reply

  2. I had her original one, but I’m going to buy a copy of the new one anyhow because I love the cover. Thanks for visiting, Marilyn, and Pat, I don’t need to be in the drawing either. Hope you get a lot of interest in your beautiful new Krill book with brand new readers.

    Reply

  3. Wow, Pat, I’m totally impressed. What a wonderful blog, and I learned so many new things about you. I still have a signed copy of the first book, and I loved it. If the new version is even better, then I definitely have to buy it. I agree with Marilyn, that you need new readers, so don’t enter me in the drawing. Good job!

    Reply

  4. Marilyn, old friend, thanks for stopping by! I’m pleased that you still have a copy of the old book, with that interesting cover. Both of my sisters cling to their old copies, too. Me, I’m partial to the new book, but what the heck — it’s still the same book — same old girl in a brand new dress. Pat

    Reply

  5. Marja,
    As a writer you will probably be interested in the changes I made for the new edition. It was great fun, dressing up the old girl for a new debut. Hugs from here, Pat

    Reply

  6. You are a hoot. You always sound as if you are maturing, but it looks like you’ve got a long way to go. Happy to be joining you on the journey.

    Reply

  7. Sharon, you may be right. Who or what do I really want to be when I grow up? Pat

    Reply

  8. Loved the blog, Pat! And I also loved ABSINTHE OF MALICE. As for winning $50 on your nostalgia essay, $50 is more than I generally earn on my books. Congratulations!

    Reply

  9. Alice, I started an e-mail to you. Will finish tonight I hope. I already mentioned to a library lady that you have written 40 books and should be rich and famous — and in her library! Pat

    Reply

  10. I’ve read Pat’s book and loved it. If slow produces good work, I’m all for it. I also love your blogsite, Beth.

    Reply

  11. Hi, Pat & Beth,
    I had to stop by, being you’re two of my favorite people. Pat, I keep learning new things about you…What a woman!! World traveler too…Beth, glad you captured her long enough to get her on your blog…she’s all over the place. I’ve read ‘Absinthe’ too, a long time ago, but I’d definitely take this new edition…Great Blog!!
    Hugs, Betty

    Reply

  12. Love this interview. Like you, I achieved publication later in life, and like you, I’m still moving forward – like that ant moving the rock! Super description. Thank you!

    Reply

  13. Jean,
    Thanks for stopping by. I appreciate your comment, but my “slow” could turn into “never” and that just won’t do. I have the same 24 hours a day as everyone.I just need to forget everything else and write. Unfortunately ….. (fill in the blanks).
    Pat

    Reply

  14. Great post Pat and Beth! I had a great time reading it, and as one of the commenter’s already said “I’m impressed!”
    Thank you!

    Reply

  15. Betty,

    I still owe you a review. It’s on my To Do list, but it’s a very long list, I’m sorry to say! I haven’t forgotten, though. Hugs from here, where the local newscasts are all about hailstorms and thunderstorms and possible tornadoes — I finally just turned TV off!
    Pat

    Reply

  16. Anne,
    I always say that life is a forward motion, but I admit I do keep slipping sideways much too often. Do you remember “Pilgrim’s Progress” and the Slough of Despond? I fall into that once in a while, too, but so far I have always managed to climb out. Thanks for stopping by!
    Pat

    Reply

  17. Mary,
    I’m about a paragraph and a half away from finishing my blog for you. I’m going to sign off here and get back to it. Thanks for stopping by!
    Pat

    Reply

  18. From where I sit, you found your audience quite quickly and smoothly, Pat, but maybe that’s just from afar. In any case, thank you for sharing all these inside details…

    Reply

  19. Great post!

    I’ve known Beth since those beginning days on the All About Murder group. Remember those days, Beth?

    I only recently met Pat on the Internet when she reviewed my book, A DANGEROUS WOMAN and posted the review on DorothyL. An unexpected and much appreciated surprise.

    I have ABSINTHE on my laptop kindle. I will be moving the book to the top of my to be read list.

    Thank you Beth and Pat for sharing this informative post.

    Debra

    Reply

  20. Pat and Beth,
    I feel I know both of you because I’ve been reading your ‘stuff’ forever on the internet, it seems! I don’t necessarily need to be entered in the drawing either, I have Absinthe on my Kindle. Loved the old girl! But I adore ‘White Petunias’. I knew I had read it but checked back to be sure. It so pictures my own growing up in Central Georgia though hundreds of miles apart. Your descriptions are so beauiful and spot on, no wonder the piece won the Red Dirt award. Georgia also has plenty of red dirt. Much future success to you, Pat.

    Reply

  21. It’s always interesting to read more about authors I’ve met, or heard speak. I just recently went to a workshop where Pat did a presentation with Jackie King. Fun and informative. I think this blog tour is a great idea. I hope readers really check out the authors being featured. You can see more of the mystery blog tour at my blog: http://jenndicamillo.wordpress.com/

    Reply

  22. It is fun hearing from both old and new friends. For sure I remember the old days at AllAboutMurder! Miss them terribly, too.

    Pat, you’re setting a new record here for posts!

    Cheers, all. Keep ’em coming, Pat will be up here till Sunday. And she’ll still be here, actually.

    Reply

  23. Great post, Pat and Beth! What an interesting life you have led, Pat. I loved reading about the path you’ve trod. You have a spark for real adventure in your soul, I do believe.

    Loved ABSINTHE OF MALICE and am looking forward to your next book.
    Hugs,
    Jackie King

    Reply

  24. Jenny, it’s nice to see you here. This blog tour aims to turn attention to good authors you don’t always hear about. We hope to gain a few new readers. All the best,
    Pat Browning

    Reply

  25. Jackie, you are so right. My life has been a mile a minute — I just jump off the cliff and pray for wings. Gets a little scary at time …. Pat

    Reply

  26. Sylvia, thanks for your kind words about “White Petunias.” This country was such a rural society before World War II, and it changed so much. When “the boys” scattered to army camps and naval bases and saw a few big cities many of them just never went back to the rural life.

    My local WalMart is selling white petunias, but I imagine last night’s tornadic near miss, with its wind and pounding rain, just beat the bejabbers out of all the flowers and shrubs WalMart had out on the sidewalks. One year I did buy some white petunias, and the bugs just loved them. Shredded the petunias and my basil plant overnight. Bummer!

    Reply

  27. Jennifer, thank you for coming up to say hello after that OWFI panel. It was too short. Jackie and I could have talked all afternoon! Pat

    Reply

  28. Pat, it’s been wonderful having you here this week. Such a great blog post, both friendly and professional. Loved reading all the comments as well as Pat’s responses, which all show why she’s a rising star. I was so impressed with her first book and I know the next one will be even better, if possible. Best of luck to all of us!
    XOXOXO, Beth

    Reply

  29. Wonderful guest post, Pat. I’m sure your next book will also be a bestseller.

    Reply

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