Friday, November 25, 2011


Today I’m pleased and proud to be hosting Pat Browning, a writer I very much admire. I met Pat some years ago at a Left Coast Crime conference in Monterey, and we’ve stayed in touch ever since. This year I had the pleasure of reading her wonderful novel, Absinthe of Malice, set in the city of Pearl, California. I’ve never found Pearl in my road atlas, but it seems as real to me as, oh, say...Hanford.

Pat, thanks for coming around today, and thanks for inviting me to be part of this wonderful tour. Now I’ll turn the mike over to you.

Pat Browning says:
John asks: Who is your favorite writer? What book made you want to be a reader? What writer made you want to be a writer? Good questions! Let me start with a quote that goes right along with what I’m going to say about the most influential writer I ever read and about my own writing.

“THEY SAY YOU CAN'T RUN FROM YOUR TROUBLES. But the ‘they’ who say it—they ain't American. The whole history of the country is about packing up the buckboards and getting out of Dodge before the gunfights start up again. Indians, yellow fever, gangsters, sheepherders, locusts, Baptist crusaders, the buffalo herds…there's always some kind of spur to light out and see the new territory."
—From California Country by Richard Von Busack,, a Silicon Valley newspaper

Favorite writer? Too many to name, but the most influential, hands down, was John Steinbeck. More about that in a moment.

I’ve always been a reader. My mother claimed I learned my ABCs from her Folger’s coffee cans. When I was four or five I used to lie in the floor and “read” The Daily Oklahoman front to back. I could usually figure out the cartoons and ads.

Always a reader, always a writer. In the fifth grade I wrote and illustrated one-page haunted house stories and passed them around the classroom. That summer I filled a blue notebook with a “book” that was an unabashed knockoff of a Bobbsey Twins story and passed it around the neighborhood. I was briefly a minor celebrity. When I was about 12, I sat under a pear tree in our front yard and wrote a story about fairies living in a tree stump. I mailed it to The Kansas City Star; they printed it, and sent me a check for something like 50 cents.

Back to John Steinbeck. Oklahomans never forgave him for writing The Grapes of Wrath, but he got a bum rap there. Oklahomans just happened to be handy to hang his story on. “Okie” was the name Californians gave every migrant from the Midwest.

What nobody seemed to notice was that Steinbeck’s book was an indictment of a power structure—corporations and banks—that kept a foot on the necks of workers. Steinbeck burst onto the scene during the Great Depression, a time of social and economic upheaval and a nationwide movement of strikes and counter-strikes. California was not the Garden of Eden migrants expected. California had problems of its own.

Steinbeck’s politics went right past me. I fell in love with his short, sweet tales of ordinary people caught up in extraordinary times. He was my bridge between the English literature classics I grew up reading and the soon-to-be American classics by a new breed of American writers. I devoured Steinbeck’s novellas: The Pearl, The Moon Is Down, Cannery Row.

Steinbeck set his books where he lived, among people he knew, and so did I when the time came. Not that I can hold a candle to Steinbeck or would even try. My amateur sleuth novel Absinthe of Malice won’t last much longer than the latest edition of the fictional newspaper my protagonist writes for.

But I love the beautiful San Joaquin Valley that so many people “fly over” or drive past on their way between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Small towns tucked into every clump of trees along that route were settled by Greeks, Armenians, Swedes, Brits, Dutch,  Portuguese, Italians and people from Oklahoma, Arkansas, Texas, you name it. Add the local Indians and the Chinese who arrived after the Gold Rush of 1849 and you get a wonderful mix. I didn’t have to look for my setting. I was living in it.

My focus in Absinthe of Malice is on descendants of pioneers who crossed the plains in covered wagons in the aftermath of the Civil War. The focus of my work in progress, Metaphor for Murder, is on a mysterious and long-dead descendant of Chinese immigrants. Stay tuned.…

John adds:
Thank you, Pat. Great stuff, and I can’t blame you for idolizing Steinbeck. He’s the greatest. And now, let’s tell the readers more about another “greatest.” Here’s Pat Browning’s official rap sheet:

Pat Browning was born and raised in Oklahoma. A longtime resident of California's San Joaquin Valley before moving back to Oklahoma in 2005, her 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.

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 set in a fictional version of Hanford, and published through iUniverse in 2001. It was revised and reissued as ABSINTHE 0F MALICE by Krill Press in 2008. An extensive excerpt can be read at Google Books --

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. Log line: 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.

“White Petunias,” Pat’s nostalgic essay about growing up in Oklahoma, appeared last winter in the RED DIRT BOOK FESTIVAL ANTHOLOGY. She describes it as her remembrance of the summer before World War II scattered “the boys” to the four corners of the earth and the world changed forever. “White Petunias”can be read on her blog, Morning’s At Noon –

Pat's articles on the writing life have appeared in The SouthWest Sage, the monthly journal of SouthWest Writers, based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Her web site at is under construction.

And now a word from our sponsor!

ABSINTHE OF MALICE can be ordered through any bookstore or online from and Barnes & Noble.
Barnes and Noble, print and Nook
Amazon, print and Kindle

A final note from John: During the Mystery We Write Blog Tour, I will be keeping track of the comments left for the guests on my blog. After the tour, I'll draw one name out of a hat, and that lucky person will be given a copy of my new book, Behind the Redwood Door, as well as a copy of my short story collection, Generous Helpings. But I'll need to contact the winner, so if you're interested, leave your email address at the end of your comment.


  1. Great post, John and Pat.

    Pat, I always come away after reading one of your posts or interviews with a feeling that I not only know you, but that you're sitting opposite me and we're just chatting! I particularly loved the story about your summer at a sort-of-plagiarist! Cute!

  2. Pat, I fell in love with Penny in Absinthe of Malice and eagerly await the sequel, Metaphor for Murder, so I can spend more time with her. Please park the camel and get it done.

  3. Pat, I love reading anything you write. I miss seeing you here and there and doing promotion together. I have fond memories of visiting with you over dinner after a Central Coast Book Festival.

  4. Great post, and love the pictures! (I may have mentioned that before!)


  5. @John: Thanks for hosting Pat. I loved the fact that she wrote even while working in a 'boring' (I presume) law office. Pat ensured her creativity never ebbed and I admire her for that. World War today may have changed the world, but the current economy is also doing the same. I'm glad I have books to fall back on to cheer me up.
    Thanks also for offering a give away to the lucky blog reader.
    Lubna from India
    lukathewriter (at) gmail (dot) com

  6. Thanks for stopping by, everybody! Isn't Pat great???

  7. John, You're right. Pat is great, and I can't wait for her next book.

    Pat, I always enjoy your blogs, and this one is no exception.

  8. Love the camel, Pat. You're one one cool gal.

  9. I loved Penny, and often think of her as an older version of Stephanie Plum, living on the opposite coast. Pat, I love that you're also a Bobbsey Twin fan, I was beginning to think I'd imagined that series. Great tour. ~Nita

  10. Interesting minds want to know if the Pearl setting in your book is any throw back to Steinbeck's book by the same name? I love the camel. Not sure I received that option on Pat's blog day in a few days...Mitch will be pissed.
    W.S. Gager on Writing

  11. It is interesting to me how many in this group were encouraged to write at a young age. Far different than my own experience.

  12. I grew up on Dick and Jane and then graduated to Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys and then the real hard stuff, Sherlock and all that followed. What a wonderful author to aspire to. Stienbeck is a master of prose and real life conditions.

  13. I loved ABSINTHE OF MALICE, Pat! Can't wait to read your next Penny book :-)

  14. I read John Steinbeck when I was much, much younger, but for me he brought California, among other places, alive. I now live on the coast of California and devour books that are set in this state,whose is overwhelming sometimes. I'd love a copy of anything. Books are like blood for me.


  15. I agree with you, Lil. Steinbeck is great, and the California coast is great, and the combination can't be beat.

  16. We followed Steinbeck's route from The Log from the Sea of Cortez in our boat, all the while reading his other books.
    Great stuff, Pat.
    Oh, and I found out the hard way that Okie jokes still don't fly in the valley:-) Jinx, from Baja Oklahoma (aka Texas).

  17. Pat, this was a wonderful post. I share your love of Steinbeck. My favorite is Travels With Charlie.

  18. John, Pat sounds like that. Once again a great interview and to the point...thanks augie