Pat was born and raised in
. A longtime resident of Oklahoma 's California before moving back to San Joaquin Valley 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 Oklahoma law office. Hanford
She’s 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
. In the 1990s, she signed on fulltime as a newspaper reporter and columnist, first at The Selma Enterprise and then at The Hanford Sentinel. San Francisco
Her first mystery,
, was set in a fictional version of FULL CIRCLE , 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. Hanford
ABSINTHE 0F MALICE 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
, 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 Pat’s blog, Morning’s At Noon. Oklahoma
Pat's articles on the writing life have appeared in The SouthWest Sage, the monthly journal of SouthWest Writers, based in
Now, on to the interview…
Anne - When did you first realize you were destined to be an author?
Pat - Probably the day I was born. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know it. The difference is that I assumed I would write The Great American Novel. Of course, I’m not dead yet so there’s still time, but my real talent seems to be essays and newspaper columns looking back on my life and times.
I’ve always been a news junkie. When I was four or five I used to lie on the floor and look at The Daily Oklahoman, page by page, front to back, even though I could only “read” the pictures. Two popular ads burned into my memory featured the man who amazed his friends when he sat down to play the piano, and the man who kept his dirty hands in his pockets until he started using Lava soap. Years later I used Lava soap to clean up after working in the yard. Who says advertising doesn’t pay?
Anne - How long does it take you to write a book?
Pat - For the first one: Six years, 40 pounds of weight gain, half a dozen online writing courses, nine absolutely final drafts, two inkjet printers, and God only knows how many reams of paper and printer cartridges. After a while, I started throwing away the sales slips. Couldn't stand the reminders.
I began work on the second one more than seven years ago. Life happened. My husband died. I had breast cancer surgery. I moved from
“back home” to California . After years of readjusting to a new life, I’m working on the second novel again. I’m halfway through it. Oklahoma
Anne - Of all the characters you’ve created, does one hold a special place in your heart? Why?
Pat - Two characters I didn’t create: In general fiction, my all-time fave is Auntie Mame, and I'd ask her: “Is this seat taken?” In mystery fiction, my role model is M.C. Beaton’s Agatha Raisin. She's getting old and fat and cranky, but she's still kicking the gong around. I'd ask her: “Have you tried the high protein-low carb diet?”
Of my own characters, I love them all. My protagonist is drifting into middle age, a baby boomer and member of the "indulged generation," as that age group is sometimes called. She's occasionally bored but mostly happy in her little rut as a small town reporter, unmarried after an early and ill-fated love affair, living at home with her mother.
It takes the murder of a friend, betrayal by a father figure, and a rekindled romance, among other things, to kick her out of her comfort zone and shape her up. The character still has a way to go, but since she’s a series character I get another chance to tinker with her.
My characters are wedded to the setting, a fictional town in the long-overlooked Central San Joaquin Valley of California. Not since John Steinbeck came through to write THE GRAPES OF WRATH have novelists paid much attention. Even William Saroyan, a hallowed name in the
area, set his most popular stories elsewhere. Fresno
Families in this rural
Central Valley have roots in the nation's center—descendants of gold seekers, southerners displaced by the Civil War, migrants escaping the dust and poverty of the Great Depression. My characters are from this group.
Anne - Any words of advice for struggling, unpublished writers?
Pat - Sign up for every good writing class you can afford. I’ve been doing that for more than 10 years and I keep learning. When I was beginning, two classes and their teachers taught me some basics I never forgot. The web sites no longer exist, and I’ve lost track of the teachers, but in brief:
March 1999: Diana Fox taught a Painted Rock class called Writing Fast. Everything I’d learned in the previous months fell into place in that class. Two of Diana’s best tips: When you write a scene, enter late and leave early; if a scene doesn’t move the plot or show character development, dump it. She told us: “You’ll come to loath padding and can sniff it out like a rotting corpse.”
Diana did what
calls a step-outline, a scene-by-scene outline of the story’s action (use verbs, forget adjectives). She e-mailed one of her step-outlines for a script that had been optioned. When I printed it out and saw the story skeleton at a glance, with every little bone in place, I said, Yeesssss! THAT’S what they mean by setups/payoffs, action/reaction, dialogue subtexts, the “power of 3" and so on and on. Hollywood
April 1999: Went to NovelAdvice for Eileen Alcorn’s advanced plotting class. Light at the end of the tunnel. We were a small group, working independently, bouncing ideas around on the message board and in the chat room. I think of Eileen as both teacher and midwife. Responding to one of my plot summaries, she tossed out a comment on a problem that had bugged me for months. In my thank-you, I told her I could have saved myself a lot of pain by starting with the plot first. Her response summed it up so well, and I got her permission to quote.
“I believe that when you write mystery you always need to start at the end first and work your way back to the beginning. If you haven't yet determined in your own mind how all this happened and why, trying to plot a trail which leads us to some conclusion becomes very difficult. Why? Because you don't know where you're going.
Leading others while you're working blind is almost impossible to do. The mystery writers I know who say they work this way (without knowing the ending first) either lie, or write a zillion drafts in order to pull it together. It's very much like what you've been doing all along analyzing and discarding your options but with real writing attached. Painful. I don't recommend it.” ~ Eileen Alcorn
Anne – Pat, you’re kindly offering readers a chance to win a copy of your book. How can they enter the draw?
Pat – Answer these questions: What is the best thing about living in a small town? What is the worst thing about living in a small town?
Leave a comment for a chance to win a print copy of ABSINTHE OF MALICE, “a study in small town secrets.” The log line: It’s just another Labor Day weekend in a small
town until discovery of a skeleton in a cotton field leads to murder—and romance. California
Anne – Thanks SO much for dropping by today, Pat! I'm really enjoying the Mystery We Write Blog Tour, both as a host and a participant. I’d like to encourage readers to drop by my Muriel Reeves Mysteries blog on Wednesday, June 1. I've got more interview questions for Pat, plus readers can enjoy an excerpt of Absinthe of Malice.
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