Everyone, please welcome Pat to the garden. I've put some fans around the area and arranged for us to have relax in the gazebo, I thought it would be cooler. Help yourselves to some refreshments and find a spot to listen.
A little bit about Pat:
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.
At the Enterprise, her lifestyle coverage placed first two years in a row in the California Newspaper Publishers Association Better Newspapers Contest. She was also a co-finalist for the 1993 George F. Gruner Award for Meritorious Public Service in Journalism. The award was for a story she and a colleague wrote about AIDS, which was a recent phenomenon at the time. At the Sentinel, her feature story on the Japanese-American "Yankee Samurais" of World War II, placed second in the CNPA contest.
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 is building a new website. Slowly. Slowly.
http://patbrowning.weebly.com (under construction)
IT’S ALL ABOUT PEOPLE
In my writing world plots grow out of character and setting, which is how I like it. For me, people come first. And where do we get our people? It’s a question readers always ask.
My answer would be: Look around you. Go to WalMart, stand in line or sit on a bench and watch shoppers come and go. There are enough characters to fill a dozen books. All you have to do is ask yourself “why” and “what if?”
Recently at WalMart, a well-dressed, middle-aged man stood at the end of the checkout counter and bagged groceries as the clerk rang them up. He was smiling, as if it was the most natural thing in the world to do. I didn’t ask, but I wondered. Was he was paying forward a kindness done for him in his past? What if he was doing community service as part of a sentence for, say, shoplifting? There was a character with possibilities.
On another day I got in line behind a young woman whose shopping cart was piled high with loaves of bread, bags of candy and small toys. I asked. She said she was shopping for a pre-school center. She didn’t seem rushed or pushed or unhappy with her lot in life. I could imagine her surrounded by a gaggle of wiggling, giggling children.
I remembered an interview of a pre-school teacher I did during my newspaper days. The teacher lined up her little charges to leave the building for recess, and each child placed a hand on the wall. Apparently it kept them in an orderly line, preventing a stampede.
My mind wandered back to a novel I read about India, with a scene where a widow to be burned alive on her husband’s funeral pyre swiped her hand against a wall to leave a record. The practice was a Hindu ritual known as suttee or sati, and has been outlawed for years, although occasional reports surface. It doesn’t take much to stir the imagination.
The characters in my book(s) come in bits and pieces, from people I have known, friends, family members, as well as bits and pieces of myself. They become fiction but have some basis in reality.
Novelist Charles Dickens wrote some of the most memorable characters in the English language. Years ago I read a quote from Dickens that I never forgot but never could find again. In essence, he said he found his characters, especially his villains, within himself, for there is something of all of us in each of us.
Years ago, a friend bragged to me about his handsome four-year-old son. He said the little boy “has eyes like ripe olives.” I loved that image, and have used it twice. The first time was in an article I wrote about a room service attendant I met when I visited Goa, a small bit of paradise on India’s Malabar Coast overlooking the Arabian Sea. My hotel was the Cidade de Goa.
Goa belonged to Portugal until 1961 and the hotel’s design suggested a 16th century Portuguese village. Public areas were open, with strategically placed shrubs and pillars. Small flights of steps fanned out to guest rooms. The design was magical at night with corridors and courtyards illuminated.
Here’s an excerpt from an article I wrote in 1991 for The Selma (California) Enterprise:
If there is anything to be learned from travel, it is that ordinary people everywhere are much the same, whatever their color, language or religion. We all want a chance at life, a niche of our own, a dream to pursue. We want to savor the "hot taste of life, lifting green cups and gold at the great feast," as the Hindu poet Bilhana wrote a thousand years ago.
In Goa, on Indian's Malabar Coast south of Bombay, I checked into a hotel so new that workmen were still hammering it together. In the lobby bar, a movie on videocassette was blasting away. It was a war epic called "The Iron Cross," starring James Coburn, in English and in color.
The boy who brought a pot of tea to my room had eyes like ripe olives. He was wearing western-made clothes and he wanted to talk. He wanted to know where I was from, where I had been, where I was going. I wished desperately for a map, but settled for drawing pictures on a notepad.
He said that he had always wanted to travel abroad but probably would never have enough money. I assured him that everything is possible. He said that he was a good Hindu. He didn't drink, smoke or eat meat, but he had one addiction—foreign films. He watched foreign films so he could learn about the rest of the world.
Gunfire from the movie below kept drifting up to the room. A fine foreign film to teach a good Hindu boy about the world, I thought.
His yearning was palpable. In the olive-eyed boy, I saw the dreamy-eyed girl I once was. In the red clay hills of Oklahoma, or on the sandy beaches of the Malabar Coast, it is always the same, that yearning for the "hot taste of life."
Early on the morning of my departure, the olive-eyed boy brought me tea and toast, lingering only for a moment. I had to catch a plane to Bangalore, and it was a long ride to the airport. He wished me well and then demanded, "You will remember me?" I said that I would, and I do.
“I had to admit that he was a sweet guy, solid as a brick, big face with a cleft chin, eyes like ripe olives, dark hair speckled with gray, its natural waves wet combed and hand-shaped to form a modest pompadour. So he was a bit of a chunk. Who knew what passions lurked within that chunk?”
I have almost forgotten but I think the wet-combed, hand-shaped pompadour came from an old boyfriend. I can tell you the year and the place where I heard about eyes like ripe olives. The image is burned into my memory.
ABSINTHE OF MALICE is Book #1 in my series-to-be, and I’m half way through Book #2, working title METAPHOR FOR MURDER. Here are the loglines for both.
ABSINTHE OF MALICE, published in 2008 by Krill Press:
“It’s just another Labor Day weekend in a small California town until discovery of a skeleton in a cotton field leads to murder—and romance.”
An extensive excerpt can be read at Google Books --
METAPHOR FOR MURDER, a work in progress:
“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.” Stay tuned …
My thanks to Mary for inviting me to be her guest blogger today. Happy reading to all!