Pat Browning was born and raised in Oklahoma but is a longtime resident of California’s San Joaquin Valley. Her first mystery, Full Circle, was set in a fictional version of Hanford, California and published through iUniverse in 2001. It was revised and reissued as Absinthe of Malice by Krill Press in 2008.
Logline: It’s just another Labor Day weekend in the small California town of Pearl until discovery of a skeleton in a cotton field leads to murder.” An extensive excerpt can be read at Google Books: http://tinyurl.com/23pojdm.
The second book in the series, Metaphor for Murder, is being finished on site. After eight years in Oklahoma, Pat has moved back to the Hanford area and is spending time at the L.T. Sue Tea Room in China Alley, dawdling over lunch and visiting with old friends.
Absinthe takes place on a Labor Day weekend. Metaphor picks up the story the week before Christmas. Log line: 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.
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 claims she has no time to keep up a web site but she occasionally posts on two blogs:
I’m just your ordinary time traveler. When Lelia Taylor opened up her blog to guests I was considering a move to California after eight years in Oklahoma. It would be my second move to California. The first one launched a 50-year swing through the stars with a variety of fortune tellers, palm readers, and trance channels, all of whom read me like a well-thumbed book.
Dallas, Texas, June, 1956. After moving from Oklahoma to Baton Rouge, Louisiana and then to Dallas, moving on to California seemed like a good idea. My suitcase was packed but I was still undecided.
A friend sent me to an astrologer who said, “Go!” and predicted a future so out of reach it was laughable. Good grief, the things she told me. She said that in California I would fall in with creative and famous people, hobnobbing with celebrities. I didn’t believe a word of it. It was her vision, not mine, but as it turned out –.
Fresno, California, July, 1956. Desperate for a paycheck I managed to get a job with North American Aviation, located at the Fresno airport. Talk about creative people. First time I ever met anyone who knew what a computer was, and hobnobbing with test pilots in a friendly bar after hours was – interesting.
Hanford, California, October, 1957. NAA closed up shop and moved to Southern California. I turned down an offer to move with them, got married and settled in the friendly little town of Hanford, a few miles south of Fresno. That’s when things the Dallas astrologer told me began falling into place.
Working full-time in a law office, I used my spare time stringing for The Fresno Bee. Started off with weddings and club fundraisers and segued into feature stories. When you work for a newspaper you meet everyone who has a colorful past, a fabulous present or a promising future. Connecting with creative and famous people is a given.
First was Dorothy Baker, author of Young Man with a Horn, loosely based on the life of famed cornetist Bix Biederbecke, who shot across the 1920s jazz scene like a comet and died in 1931 at the age of 28. Baker’s book, written in 1938, was made into a 1950 movie starring Kirk Douglas, Lauren Bacall and Doris Day.
By the early 1960s Baker had left Hollywood and moved back to her citrus ranch in Terra Bella, about 50 miles from where I lived. She readily agreed to an interview, and toward the end of it she gave me the first and best advice on writing I would ever get.
I mentioned that I had started writing a book but couldn’t get past Chapter One. Baker said, “Don’t worry about it. If you have something to say, you’ll say it.”
October, 1963. Emboldened by my interview with a famous author, I joined California Press Women in time for a celebrity-studded conference in Beverly Hills. The honoree, gossip columnist Hedda Hopper, was surrounded by movie stars … and a mob of press photographers. I would have been knocked to the floor except for a man who took pity on me and elbowed a path for me to shoot pictures until I ran out of film. My only experience as a paparazzi. Wouldn’t trade it for anything.
During the trip to Beverly Hills in a friend’s car, my backseat companion was a sparkly little woman named May Case, a pioneering newspaper woman currently working for The Clovis Independent. In her 90s, May was the oldest news reporter in the U.S. She was a small package of dynamite, less than five feet tall. She had known Geronimo and a slew of outlaws, peace officers and gamblers.
Been there, done that – that was May Case, and her hobby was reading palms. She picked up my hand and traced the lifeline in my palm. With a secretive smile she showed me a couple of skips in the line and said those were close calls but I would survive into old age. I was too young to understand either close calls or old age but I filed May’s prediction in my memory bank.
Summer, 1968. Every time a friend and I went to Fresno to shop, we drove past a prominent freeway sign advertising a fortune teller. One day we decided to stop in just for fun. The fortune teller charged me $5 and told me I would go to Paris. A year later I was on my way to Europe for one of those two-week wonders that started in London, ended in Paris, and hit Holland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Belgium in between.
Where were you on July 21, 1969? I was in Oslo, Norway, signing autographs. Would I kid about a thing like that? Neil Armstrong had just walked on the moon and Americans were Norway’s favorite people. Tow-headed, blue-eyed kids lined up for autographs.
Fame, alas, is fleeting. By the time our tour bus rumbled into Paris the moonwalkers were buried on the inside pages of newspapers. Ted Kennedy and a place called Chappaquiddick were on the front pages. Never mind. Paris was everything I thought it would be, a lifetime of experiences wrapped up in two days and nights.
That trip was 17 days on a bus and if it’s Tuesday it’s either Holland or Belgium, but it changed my life. I left the law office in 1977 for a job in a travel agency. When I talked my way into writing for a travel trade journal called TravelAge West, the free travel that came with it opened up the world. I was on a roll.
I rolled right into the Age of Aquarius, Shirley MacLaine’s past lives and something called channeling. I made an appointment with MacLaine’s trance channel, Kevin Ryerson, who lived in San Francisco. I still have the cassette tape, dated Nov. 25, 1985. Ryerson’s authorities on past lives, John and Tom, came through loud and clear.
Oh, the things they told me, and they made such delicious sense. I’ve been a hack writer, churning out my own little journals. I’ve been a starving French urchin. (Time out here while I make a ham and cheese sandwich.) I’ve been a Vestal Virgin, frolicking shamelessly in the bushes with a fierce Greek soldier. And I’m still here.
The last tarot card reader I consulted threw up his hands and said, “You can do this as well as I can. You have all the gifts.” Apparently not all of them. I must have been eating a ham and cheese sandwich when they handed out a little bonus gift for making money.
May, 2013. After an eight-year sojourn in Oklahoma, California beckons once more. I keep remembering the night ride to Beverly Hills and the lilt in May Case’s voice as she traced the lines in my palm and saw a long life, with a couple of close calls. Wherever you are, old friend, please know — I’ve had the close calls and now I’m into the long life. So far, so good.
Who am I really? It depends. Which life are we talking about?