Pat Browning's Absinthe of Malice

My guest today is Pat Browning. Pat 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.

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.

Anne – Before we get to an excerpt of your book is there one how-to write book that is a must on your bookshelf? Why?

Pat - Two books: HOW TO WRITE KILLER FICTION by Carolyn Wheat and FICTION WRITING DEMYSTIFIED by Thomas B. Sawyer. Both writers are icons in the mystery world.

When I decided to write a mystery, I sat at the computer inventing characters, researching settings, piling up pages. Whoopee time. After about a year, I decided a pro should look at it. I surfed into Carolyn Wheat’s Web page, liked what I saw, read some of her books, and sent her my first 30 pages. She sent them back with blue lines drawn through most of them. What I had was 30 pages of back story, description and interior monologue. Bo-ring.

Carolyn waded through some rewrites of those same 30 pages and a couple of clumsy attempts at a synopsis (you can’t write a synopsis of nothing), and introduced me to the four story arcs that a mystery/suspense novel must have. HOW TO WRITE KILLER FICTION tells you what you need to know about writing a mystery.

Tom Sawyer has written everything from commercial jingles to an opera but before he began to write suspense novels he was head writer, producer and showrunner for the TV series "Murder She Wrote" so he knows how to move a story along. He writes from a screenwriter's experience, but it easily translates to the novel.

Chapter Six of FICTION WRITING DEMYSTIFIED is on writing dialogue and it cured me of using tiresome dialogue tags. Tom wrote his first thriller, THE SIXTEENTH MAN, without a single dialogue tag, letting action and internal monologue take the place of “he said,” “she said,” and other tags.” If you want to see how it’s done, just read the book. It’s one of my all-time favorite novels.

FICTION WRITING DEMYSTIFIED is, in a word, a blueprint for writing. Tom is also a lecturer and teacher. This summer I’m enrolled in his four-week online writing class, “Storytelling: How to Write Stories That Will Grab And Hold Your Audience.”

Anne - Quick. Your five favorites—author, actor, movie, song, quote.

Pat - Author: John Steinbeck, Actor: Tom Selleck, Movie: Casablanca, Song: A tie—You Made Me Love You (Jimmy Durante’s version in the movie “You’ve Got Mail”) and Tommy Dorsey’s Boogie Woogie, Quote: “It’s not true that life is one damn thing after another; it is one damn thing over and over.” ~ Edna St. Vincent Millay.

Anne – Love that quote! Now, an excerpt from ABSINTHE OF MALICE by Pat Browning…

Pat - My pleasure!

“My back’s broken,” I said. “I’m too old to sit in a cotton field in the middle of the night.”

We’d hunkered down behind an irrigation standpipe for what seemed like hours. Investigative journalism, Maxie Harper called it.

Lifestyle was my beat at The Pearl Outrider, and there I was, sitting in the dirt... chill air seeping through the closely woven fibers of my sweatshirt and jeans.

Maxie gave me a small kick with her boot. “I can’t ignore a tip that eighth graders are doing devil worship out here. I have to check it out.”

“You get that tip every time there’s a full moon. I must have been out of my mind to let you talk me into this.”

“Stop whining.” Maxie shifted her position to look down at me.

I could barely see her face. The night was pitch black, with low clouds blanking out the moon. The field smelled dank, like rusted iron and wet rope, but the air felt bone dry. I settled myself flat on the ground, digging the heels of my tennis shoes into the dirt.

Maxie was built for stakeouts-short, wiry, collapsible. I was more regal, a former star of stage and screen...okay, eighth grade talent show...Ladies and gentlemen, Miss Penny Mackenzie . . . I stood in the spotlight wearing bangs, a skinny black dress and long white gloves, pretending to be Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Awful. But I was medium-tall and thin, with big brown eyes...not quite so thin now, but still medium-tall and big-eyed, staring down middle age, sitting in a cotton field...

“Where the toot are they?” Maxie stood up to peer over the top of the standpipe. “If they don’t show in five more minutes, we’ll call it off.”

I struggled to my feet and tried to rub the crick out of my back, listening for a human sound, straining to see something besides shadows and black holes.

On a cloudless summer day Digger Potts’s cotton field was a thing of beauty. Dense and green, with bits of white fluff popping out of the bolls, it stretched from Peach Orchard Road to a line of cottonwood trees overlooking a dry slough.

On a dark night, it was just plain scary.

Anne – Thanks so much for dropping by, Pat. ABSINTHE 0F MALICE is definitely going on my TBR list!

Readers can visit Pat online. Her web site at is under construction. Meantime, she has a page at Author’s Den –

Now until the middle of August she is taking part in the Mystery We Write Blog am I! Don't miss a single week, interview, giveaway or blog post! Drop by my other blog, Anne K. Albert, for more Mystery We Write info.

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Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

Ah, Pat, so Tom Selleck is your favorite actor. I'm not sure it's your acting ability you like so much as just the way he looks. (Me too.)

I love your confession about your first attempt at your novel. We all do that, bumble and fumble along at first.


Jean Henry Mead said...

Thanks to Google Chrome, I was able to leave this comment: Pat, we not only share our love of Hanford and working for the Sentinel newspaper, we love Tom Selleck, "You've Got Mail," and boogie Woogie, although it was a little before my time. I also love your book.

Beth Anderson said...

I am trying once more.

razlich said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
4RV Publishing said...

Pat, you're such an interesting person, and it shows in your writing.


Sharon Ervin said...

AOM was the second book I downloaded to my brand new Kindle at Christmas––actually had to download to the computer, then to the Kindle because it was before wifi. The excerpt on the Mystery We Write Blog reminded me of how I enjoyed the beginning that took me right into the book. Thanks.