Mystery We Write Blog Tour: Pat Browning, Absinthe of Malice and What's Next

In 1998 the newspaper where I worked decided a weekly book review would dress up the community page. I agreed, and went to the library to pick books for review. Those that looked most interesting were mysteries.

It was as simple as that. After reading and reviewing a few mysteries I announced that I was going to write one. I actually said, “How hard can it be?” That was more than ten years ago, the beginning of a long, hard and fascinating period of learning how to write—and re-write—a book.

My first book is titled ABSINTHE OF MALICE, but that’s its second incarnation. Originally I self-published it in 2001 as FULL CIRCLE. Writing what I knew turned out to feature a small-town newspaper reporter named Penny Mackenzie, and the setting was a fictional composite of several small towns in the Fresno, California area.

 I lived in one—Hanford—for almost 50 years and apparently I got the setting right. One reviewer said, “I have rarely read a mystery with such a profound sense of place. A beautifully crafted mystery intertwined with life in a small town as it really is.” Score one for me.

But writing a book and selling it are two different things, and mine languished until 2008, when the publisher of a small, start-up press read it, liked it, and made me an offer: new title, new cover, some revisions, a contract and an advance. A couple of months later ABSINTHE OF MALICE burst upon an unsuspecting world.

In addition, my new publisher had the foresight to format it as an e-book and put it in Amazon’s Kindle Store. Cutting edge stuff three years ago, all the rage now. The book isn’t doing much as a print book but it’s doing very well as an e-book. Whatever works, I say, as I cash my royalty check.

I’m halfway through my second book, working title METAPHOR FOR MURDER. It should have been finished some time ago but life interfered. My husband died, I had surgery for breast cancer, and I moved from California to Oklahoma, my home state. All of those events hit 100 on the stress scale—bam, bam, bam—but I’m still here, and so is METAPHOR FOR MURDER.

I have a story board leaning up against a wall. I marked it off in squares for chapters and put yellow sticky notes in each square, plus magazine cutouts of models who look like my characters. I did something else right, without fully realizing it at the time. Before I left California I went around town snapping photos of places I wanted to use as models for scene settings in my second book.

All I really need to do now is put the pieces of the puzzle together, and I’m working on it. But while you’re waiting for me to finish Book #2, which takes place during a foggy week before Christmas, you really should read Book #1, which takes place on the Labor Day weekend.

Here’s the logline for ABSINTHE OF MALICE:
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.

And here’s the log line for METAPHOR FOR MURDER
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.

I’ll share some of my photos with you. One is a shot of Hanford’s China Alley, the inspiration for my fictional “Shanghai Street.” Another is of an old house, which I used as a model for my fictional “China John’s House.” The character of China John is a long-dead recluse who came to Shanghai Street about 1900. His presence hovers over the story and his identity is key to the book’s mystery.

Another shot is of a Hanford street during one of the Central Valley’s infamous tule fogs. Since METAPHOR FOR MURDER takes place during a week of dense fog, I only have to look at that snapshot and it all comes back to me. Another snapshot, and one I have hanging on my wall, is of Hanford’s picturesque Irwin Street Inn. I use it as a model for the residence of one of my characters, and quite a lot of action takes place in my beautiful imaginary house.

My thanks to Marilyn for letting me share some of my writings. I hope it whets a few appetites for reading my first book and my book-on-the-way. Stay tuned!

Pat Browning

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 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.

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. Slowly. Slowly. (under construction)
 From Marilyn: Pat Browning is an old friend. She is the first reporter who ever interviewed me many eons ago when I did a book signing in the Hanford Mall with other authors. We were promoting e-books, way ahead of our time. When Pat got published, we did several book appearances together and always had a great time. I miss seeing her in person--so I'm very glad to have her visiting my blog today. Great way to celebrate the Fourth of July! Also appropriate since both of her books center around holidays.


Jean Henry Mead said…
Your China Alley photo brings back memories of having lunch there once a week with my friends. We were there in April and had lunch at Superior Dairy, which makes the world's best malts! I really miss Hanford (although not the tule fog).
jenny milchman said…
How great that your publisher was so e-prescient, Pat! I've heard great things about ABSINTHE OF MALICE and really look forward to reading it--I love a small town tale. I think I will be one of the print buyers, though!
I absolutely love the photos. Hubby and I stayed at the Irwin St. Inn once, it's a wonderful place.

Kaye Barley said…
Two of my favorite women - Marilyn and Pat - in one place; lovely!!!

Marilyn, thank you for hosting Pat.

Pat, thank you for sharing these photos - they put an extra dimension on Penny's home, which I love.

Can't wait to read more about Penny in METAPHOR FOR MURDER. I know I'll love it every bit as much as ABSINTHE OF MALICE.

4RV Publishing said…
Pat is an interesting person on and off the page.

Your publisher is ahead of my company. We're still learning how to format for ebooks, so that the text isn't skewed on the reader.

Beth Anderson said…
Pat, I'm really looking forward to Metaphor to Murder too. Loved the first Penny story. I also love the photo of the old house, it looks so much like the one my maternal grandparents lived in. Good solid interview, I loved it.
Pat Browning said…
Jean, to me Hanford will always be "home." My friends there keep me up to date about what's going on and the place has changed a lot, but I would love to go back for a visit before "old" Hanford disappears entirely. I have actually dreamed of walking into my house, finding it empty and thinking, I don't live here anymore.
Pat Browning said…
Jenny, thanks for stopping by. I hope you will enjoy my small town tale. I really enjoyed writing it!
Pat Browning said…
Marilyn, I love that inn. I don't know why owners have such a hard time keeping it running, but the overhead must be tremendous. It should be the busiest place in town. I have friends in Hanford who still go there for special lunches. Pat
Pat Browning said…
Hey, Kaye, how nice to see you see you here, m'dear! I've just been over to your blog reading the neat interview with Shirley Wetzel.
I still haven't seen your vacation pictures yet!
Thanks for coming by!
Pat Browning said…
Vivian, Krill Press has been on the cutting edge from the git-go. He jumped into e-books before I even knew what was going on and I just thought, oh, okay, that's nice. Instead it turned out to be a very smart move. Stay with it. You'll be glad you did.
Pat Browning said…
Beth, it's really funny, but so many houses here in my small town in Oklahoma look like ones I left behind in California. But -- why not? The Central San Joaquin Valley was flooded in the 1930s and '40s by people from the Midwest.
Coco Ihle said…
So nice to learn more about you, Pat. You've really had an interesting life and are definitely a "thriver." Can't wait to read both books. I had already wanted to read Absinthe, but you convinced me they both are musts! Good luck with them. You deserve it!
Anne K. Albert said…
Wonderful photos, Pat. Informative and interesting post, too!
Sharon Ervin said…
"A picture is worth a thousand words," they say. Personally, I love the words, but Pat's pictures lend details to my mental images. Great interview and visual aids.
Radine said…
Fnny thing...the photos look a lot like small town Missouri or Arkansas. Since I'm not familiar with California (only been to San Francisco and Carmel) this surprises me. I have pictured it as more, um, well, "exotic." Thanks for sharing.

As readers on DorothyL already know, I am another on the long list of those who loved ABSINTHE OF MALICE.
Pat Browning said…
Hey, Coco, thanks for stopping by!A "thriver" -- I don't know about that. Just too stubborn to quit, but getting more decrepit by the hour!
Pat Browning said…
Anne and Sharon, thanks for stopping by!
Sharon, the pictures do help to keep that book in my mind.

Pat Browning said…
Radine, there's nothing exotic about California's Central San Joaquin Valley, but it is the nation's breadbasket -- flat, hot and fertile, an inland desert in bloom thanks to irrigation.
Those irrigation ditches are lifelines. When I worked in the law office, the lawyer's joke was, You can slap my wife and seduce my daughter, but don't mess with my ditch! (I cleaned that up a little.)

Wow! beautiful pictures i freakin' love all of them and an interesting post too its been a long time to excel while reading the same calibre of articles and find quite impressive.
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