Going out with a bang, my final guest in the Mystery We Write Blog Tour is a woman I’ve come to adore and darn good mystery writer: Pat Browning. This week my fellow Foxy Hen Jackie King is hosting me on http://bnbmysteries.blogspot.com
Now, here’s Pat:
Like half the people in the world I grew up planning to write The Great American Novel. Didn’t happen. Didn’t matter. I found plenty of other outlets for my scribbling habit. In the 1960s I put out newsletters for every club I belonged to and I belonged to a LOT of clubs.
But my real writing came with small newspapers in California’s Central San Joaquin Valley. I always started out at the bottom, as a correspondent or “stringer.” I wrote fill-in-the-blanks stuff like weddings until I felt experienced enough to do interviews and people-features on my own initiative. I began getting assignments and bylines and never looked back.
I’ve always had a foot in two worlds – Oklahoma, where I grew up, and California, where I spent most of my life. Along with the other artsy-fartsy things I dabbled in during the 1960s I began typing up memories of growing up in Oklahoma. Some things you just don’t forget. Occasionally, in the middle of the night, I entertained thoughts of writing a book.
Time and fate led me to Dorothy Baker, who was beyond famous when I met her in late l962. In Paris she had met and married Howard Baker, a poet, critic and novelist who became a citrus rancher in the rural Fresno area. The Bakers taught and wrote, together and separately, but it was Dorothy Baker’s 1938 novel, YOUNG MAN WITH A HORN, that really made a splash. Loosely based on the life of jazz musician Bix Beiderbecke, YOUNG MAN WITH A HORN became one of 1950’s hit movies, starring Kirk Douglas, Lauren Bacall and Doris Day.
Dorothy Baker was back on the citrus ranch when she wrote her fourth novel, CASSANDRA AT THE WEDDING, the story of a young woman who tries to sabotage her twin sister’s wedding. CASSANDRA AT THE WEDDING appeared more than 20 years after YOUNG MAN WITH A HORN. Reviews were mixed, ranging from “a perfect novel” (London Observer) to “a crushing disappointment” (Time magazine.)
To me the book was a revelation. Cassandra, the narrator, drove home from Berkeley on the same roads, past the same fields, that I now drove to reach Baker’s house. Suddenly here was a piece of work from a famous writer that mirrored the here-and-now of my own life.
As a new stringer for The Fresno Bee I showed up at Baker’s door expecting to be awestruck, even intimidated. Instead, I found her company to be as comfortable as an old shoe — no airs, no archness, no visible trace of vanity. She talked about famous people she had met, good books she had read, her writing technique, how she sometimes sat for hours before typing a single line.
Toward the end of our chat I confessed that I had written a brief memoir, hoping to turn it into a novel, but I was stuck. She dismissed it with a wave of her hand. “Don’t worry. If you have something to say, you’ll say it.”
Life takes its own sweet time. It would be almost 40 years before I finally had something to say and time to say it. FULL CIRCLE, my first mystery, was set in a fictional version of a small Central San Joaquin Valley town. It was a fictional version of the here-and-now of my life, as many first novels are, and I self-published it in 2001.
In 2008, Krill Press, a small start-up press, picked it up and republished it, after some revisions and a new cover, as ABSINTHE OF MALICE. Best of all, the publisher put an e-book edition on Amazon’s Kindle, where it has sold almost 5,000 copies in the past six months. That’s impressive when you consider that it sold maybe 300 copies in the first 10 years of its life.
My clipping of the Dorothy Baker interview is brown with age but still readable. I also have the photo I took of Ms. Baker at her wonderful old typewriter. Who knows why the clipping and photo survived and turned up in time for this guest blog? Apparently the Keeper of The Master Calendar looked down the years, saw Sharon’s blog coming up in the year 2011, and penciled me in. The Universe takes care of such things.
The best quote from Dorothy Baker: “A writer should have a thorough understanding of what the Greeks call the ‘recognition scene,’ that moment when a character has a revelation, an insight that will change the course of his life and the course of the story. It’s a basic technique.”
I used that “recognition scene” in Chapter 15 of my work in progress. I won’t tell you about it here. You’ll have to wait until I finish writing the book, which will be any day now. That’s the deadline I set for myself – Any Day Now.
While you’re waiting you really should read ABSINTHE OF MALICE. There are extensive excerpts at Google Books,
http://patbrowning.weebly.com (under construction)
Sharon, thank you so much for this chance to talk about myself and my writing. I hope your readers enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.