Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Too Good to Throw Away by Pat Browning

I was born and raised in Oklahoma, graduated from Oklahoma A&M College-Stillwater (Class of ’49), and taught English and Journalism in Oklahoma high schools before moving to California.

A longtime resident of California's San Joaquin Valley before moving back to Oklahoma in 2005, my professional writing credits go back to the 1960s, when I was a stringer for The Fresno Bee while working full time in a Hanford law office.

I’m a veteran traveler. My globetrotting in the 1970s led me 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, I signed on fulltime as a newspaper reporter and columnist, first at The Selma Enterprise and then at The Hanford Sentinel.

While at the Enterprise, my lifestyle coverage placed first two years in a row in the California Newspaper Publishers Association Better Newspapers Contest. I was also a finalist for the 1993 George F. Gruner Award for Meritorious Public Service in Journalism. At the Sentinel, my feature story on the Japanese- American "Yankee Samurais" of World War II, placed second in the CNPA contest.

I published FULL CIRCLE, a mystery novel in 2001. Revised and reissued as ABSINTHE 0F MALICE by Krill Press Dec. 1, 2008.
I have a work-in-progress, METAPHOR FOR MURDER.
My memoir WHITE PETUNIAS, about growing up in Oklahoma, appeared in 2009 in the RED DIRT BOOK FESTIVAL ANTHOLOGY, OKLAHOMA CHARACTER. An earlier version won second place in its category in Frontiers in Writing 2007, sponsored by Panhandle Professional Writers, Amarillo, TX.

My articles on writing have appeared in The SouthWest Sage, the monthly journal of SouthWest Writers:
“White Noise” appeared in SW Sage June 2007; “Charming An Audience” in SW Sage August 2007; “A Little Erotica Music, Please” in SW Sage March 2008; “What’s That Smell?” in SW Sage September 2008.

The first three chapters of ABSINTHE OF MALICE can be read at Google Books --

I started METAPHOR FOR MURDER, my work-in-progress, eight years ago and am now on page 118. What can I tell you? I’m a slow writer. I hope to have it finished in time for Christmas. That’s a rush but not impossible. As Lawrence Sanders’ long-running character Archy McNally likes to say, One never knows, do one?

By Pat Browning

The country preachers of my growing-up days had a way with words. My sister and I still laugh about the preacher who claimed a man opened his oven door and saw God sitting on a biscuit.

I used that years later in my first mystery, FULL CIRCLE (now revised and republished as ABSINTHE OF MALICE).

In the Oklahoma boonies in those days a Sunday night church service was the main form of socializing and entertainment. The preachers worked up a real sweat describing the Hell that awaited non-believers.

By the 1960s I had moved to California. I wrote a sketch of one of those old Sunday night services, pounding it out on my portable Smith Corona. I meant to use it in a book I would call SWEETER DAY, a title inspired by my memory of country preachers who promised a sweet life in Heaven, and a neighbor who talked constantly about going to California, where every yard had a tree decorated with big juicy oranges.

The memory was triggered by a big clay pot of white petunias. In the dusk of a summer evening in California, the petunias reminded me of boys in white shirts who congregated under the hickory trees across from the long-ago country church in Oklahoma. I never wrote the book but managed somehow to hang onto the sketch.  It was just too good to throw away. I spent the next 40 years looking for a place to use it. Every few years I dragged it out of my filing cabinet and rewrote it.

In 1999 I tried to slip it into my working manuscript of FULL CIRCLE. I thought it was so clever, turning that old memoir into a chapter where a character dredges up her memories for an adult writing class. The chapter stuck out like a sore thumb, so I took it out of the manuscript and filed it away again.

About 2002, I got it out and rewrote it with a different angle. Didn't like it, but it was too good to throw away. I put it back in the file folder.

In 2007 I was scrolling through My Documents and there was the almost-forgotten "White Petunias." I rewrote it and entered it in the Nostalgia category of a contest sponsored Panhandle Professional Writers in Amarillo, Texas. It won second place and $50.

Sometimes a piece of writing is like an old house -- all it needs is a fresh coat of paint.  I completely rewrote “White Petunias” and submitted it to the Red Dirt Book Festival Committee. In the winter of 2009 my memoir appeared in the RED DIRT BOOK FESTIVAL ANTHOLOGY, OKLAHOMA CHARACTER. 

I’m satisfied with the final version and happy to see it finally in print. It’s nothing earth-shattering. It’s simply about a summer night in 1939, on the eve of World War II, but the ending summarizes so many things for me. It reads:

“Like Emily in Thornton Wilder’s play, “Our Town,” I sometimes wish to go back again, just for a day, any ordinary summer day with the sun shining and the wind blowing and puffs of white cloud drifting across a blazing blue sky. I might nab a piece of cold fried chicken and spend the afternoon sitting under a pear tree, reading A Tale of Two Cities.

“It wouldn’t work, even if it were possible. Like Emily, I would be heartbroken by the carelessness of love, the transience of youth. There’s an invisible line between past and present. Memory is the only bridge where we can cross in safety.

“The world seems to pause before a cataclysmic event, as if gathering itself for what is to come. So it was that summer, in that small rural community, before the boys in their Sunday clothes scattered to fight a global war in places they had never heard of.

“The Sunday nights are gone, and everything with them, the church, the friends and neighbors, even the hickory trees. All gone, except for that pause in time and the boys in the shadows, where white shirts gleam and laughter lingers, brought back to me now in the twilight of a summer day, by a pot of white petunias.”

The entire piece is on my personal web site, Morning’s At Noon:


Vicki Lane said...

Beautiful piece, Pat! So glad you kept it.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Vicki! And thanks to Kaye for giving me the chance to live it all over again. (:
Pat B.

Wendy said...

Pat, I loved it!!! If that isn't a great argument for "recycling" I don't know what is!

And I'm holding you to that Christmas deadline. Page 118 and counting!!


Anonymous said...

Wendy, no time long hear! You must be up to your eyeballs in your book. How's it coming?

Thanks to Kaye's kindness in giving me so much space, I've been hearing from cousins, nieces and nephews. The family loves the old school photo. The comment section here is a little hard to get into so they've been just e-mailing me.

Hugs from here,


Anonymous said...

What a great piece. I love the beauty AND the content of your writing. --Brenda

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your kind comments! I'm glad you stopped by.
Pat B.

Earl Staggs said...

Pat, I've always loved your stories and White Petunias is one of my favorites. Now please get busy on page 119 and don't stop till you finish the book. I loved Absinthe of Malice and look forward to your next one.

Robert Fate said...

Pat - Love you, love your books. I don't know if Absinthe has won an award for best book cover, but it should. Warmest best, Bob

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

Great piece--oh, Pat, get that new book written. I miss you, girl.


Beth Anderson said...

Pat, beautiful writing, as always. I love to read anything you write because it always brings back my own beginnings in southern Illinois, all those years ago.

Anonymous said...

You ol' sweet thing! You know your MEMORY OF A MURDER is tucked away in the tornado box I keep in my walk-in closet. Maybe we could start a mutual admiration society? (: Thanks for checking in, and thanks for your support.

Anonymous said...


You know how I feel about you and Baby Shark! And your beautiful wife, too! So when are you coming back to OKC?

When I finish that book I'll send you an e-mail. (:

Best always,


Anonymous said...

I miss you,too, and all the peeps at San Joaquin SinC. Those were the days! You are the busiest woman I know. I wish I had a fraction of your energy. You want to tell me what kind of vitamins you take? Good luck with your latest book.

Anonymous said...


Thank you! I still praise NIGHT SOUNDS every chance I get, but I'm looking forward to your new book, too.

Seems as if I'm always looking back these days, but I'm dragging a lot of the past and it was an interesting place. Nostalgia makes a good reward for living so long. (:


Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

Pat, I love this piece. Thanks for being here, and I hope you'll come back often.

AND, I hope we'll all have the pleasure of reading that next book next year (fingers crossed)!