Thursday, September 10, 2009

Mystery Author - PAT BROWN

Canadian Pat Brown was born in Western Canada and raised in Ontario. She spent 10 years in the US, then returned to Canada. She held jobs as diverse as aquarium store manager, housekeeper, hospital porter, horse groomer, barmaid, and network engineer. Pat was an extra in a Hollywood movie (The Blues Brothers) and a census taker for the US government. She sold clothing and tropical fish and built web pages for businesses and made hand painted crafts for Christmas. The block she’s been around a few time has seen her in some shady areas of town, and a few upscale ones. All this, and the people she’s met, is perfect fodder for the strange worlds she writes about. Pat is a writer first and foremost, whether it's the science fiction she used to write, or the mystery writing she pursues now. A lot of her writing deals with issues like prejudice and how some people confuse moral issues with their personal hatreds. But mainly, she just want to write a story, that when someone is done reading it, will say, "Hey, that was good, can we do it again?"

1. Pat, what drew you to writing fiction?

Because I love to read it. I love words and the images they can invoke and once I realize someone actually had to write all those words I was hooked. I've never found anything more powerful than the written word. Or more compelling. Good writing is magical. I strive to make magic out of my words. I love it when people tell me they couldn't stop thinking about my stories or my characters, or they clamor for more. It's an exciting, heady feeling.

2. You switched from S/F to Mystery, why?

I found I was no longer interested in S/F. I think it was just my taste changing. Or maybe the genre changed. All I know is I started picking up mysteries when I'd go to the library and after a while that's all I was reading. It was only logical that I try to write one. I'm always preaching to new writers that they need to read what they want to write or forget it.
I wasn't sure I'd be any good at plotting, but it turned out I wasn't bad. My books are more character oriented than plot, so that worked in my favor. I like to create vibrant characters and let them loose to see where they go.

3. Can you tell me a little about your new book, Memory of Darkness and your protagonist Johnny Wager? Love the name, btw.

Memory of Darkness was so much fun to write. It has a really long history, but I'll talk about that at my upcoming blog. The name Wager came to me, with the gambling overtones because I wanted a character who lived on the edge – think James Rockford or Captain Jack Sparrow. A scoundrel and a con artist, but charming as hell and good looking enough to get away with what he does. The title of the book came to me from a line in the book toward the end. Originally I think I had called it The Wages of Sin but I like this title better.

4. There is an assemblage of characters, where did they all come from?

An amalgam of people I've met. I knew a drag queen in London much like Hyacinth. I made her from New Orleans because it seemed to explain her character and gave her a neat accent. Now I guess she'd be a bit like Lafayette in True Blood, only she dresses up more, but she's bold like Lafayette. I'd love to see him in full drag. In fact, if they were to ever make a movie of Memory I'd want him to play Hyacinth.

5. You’ve got some fascinating gay characters in LA Heat and now in Memory of Darkness. How did your fondness for gay characters come about?

I knew and lived with so many in L.A. As a female who wanted to go out to bars alone, it was a pain in the ass to go to straight bars. One, they weren't that much fun, and two all the men see a single woman and think she has to be there to get laid and they treat you like shit. I was tired of it being assumed I was some kind of slut because I wanted to have fun. In a gay bar they know how to have fun and no one is going to hit on me. Win-win. Besides, I met so many gays with fascinating stories, funny and tragic and just so much more interesting in the end. I find straight men so intent of maintaining their macho posture they don't let their hair down – unless they get stupid drunk, then they get into fights.

6. You’re one of the most prolific writers I know. Every time I turn around, you’re spinning a new tale. How do you do it? Are these stories vying for space in your head? Do you have a suitcase somewhere filled with possible plotlines?
It's funny you call me prolific. I look at some writers I know, like Rick Reed and Josh Lanyon who seem to turn out a book every month or two and despair at ever coming close to them.

Ideas are always coming to me. I read obsessively and that can generate ideas. I also read non-fiction which can do the same. Right now I'm really excited, I signed up for our local police Citizen's Academy and I start later this month. I get to spend 4 months taking a weekly 3 hour class on how the cops do things. I also get a ride along. I've already got the plot ready for a story set in London, my home town (well, where I grew up), which will be the first story I've set in the place. I have a book coming out from AmberQuill in November called Lynx Woods that's partly set in Toronto, but I've never done London. And the neat thing is, I'm going to have a gay cop couple on their honeymoon. That's a trip and something that can happen in Canada – actually has happened. An RCMP couple got married a couple of years ago. As I understand a lot of fellow RCMP officers attended the wedding. It makes me very proud to be a Canadian when that kind of thing can happen and as far as I know no Canadian minister has come out publicly and said they should be put to death or anything (can't say the same about American religious extremists)

7. What comes first, the plot or the characters?

Characters all the time. Sometimes I'll get a whisper of an idea for a story line and that will trigger some characters, but generally I write around my characters. Writing to plot might make me force my characters to do things they shouldn't. I want my characters to dictate their actions.

8. What is the most challenging aspect of writing fiction?

The promotion. I can't afford to travel at all right now so all my promotion has to be online. I belong to a lot of online lists and participate in them a lot, not just to promote but to talk to other writers. But sometimes I have to wonder if I'm boring people with repetition. How many times can you put up the same blurb, the same excerpt? I don't know. All I can do is the best job I can and hope for good word of mouth to go around.

9. From conception to publication, how long before your first book was published? Was it easier getting the second published?

L.A. Heat took forever to get written and published. It took around 2 years to write, since I did a lot of rewriting on it, including rewriting the original story, which was in first person POV, to third person with both Chris and David's POV. Then I submitted the first 30 pages to the Toronto Library Writer in residence – twice, and the second time Lyn Hamilton, a mystery writer, liked it so much she suggested a writer friend of hers put her agent in touch with me. She did and Leona Trainer signed me. This was before Christmas, 2004. She sold the book right off to Alyson Books and we thought we were set. Then Alyson was sold and moved their offices from L.A to New York. The L.A staff didn't go, so I lost my editor.

We didn't hear from anyone at Alyson for months. Leona could barely get them to tell her they still wanted the book. All this was in the early 2005. Finally we heard from them and I got a new editor. I eventually got the galleys to proof and the book vanished again.

It was released June 2006. So it took well over a year from the time it was accepted to when it came out. But that was hardly typical. Most publishers don't go through changes quite that extreme.
10. What authors influenced you, Pat? Who are you reading today?

Jonathan Kellerman was a huge influence. He inspired David, in fact. Then Michael Connelly is at the top of my list. Jeffrey Deaver. Elmore Leonard. I'm reading Joseph Wambaugh right now and waiting impatiently for Hollywood Moon to come out. I'm reading Mystic River by Harlan Cobain. Will Beall is a new author I really like. I'm also reading Evidence Dismissed about the OJ case, mostly because it's got some incredible description of police procedures during a crime scene investigation. All those nitpicking little details that are hard to get anywhere else.

11. Any advice for struggling writers trying to find their niche?

Read, read, read. Explore different genres or sub genres until you find one you love. Study the books you like best and try to see how the writer did what ever it is you liked. Then you have to plant your butt in a chair and write. Write as much as you can. And finally, finish what you write. The world is full of half-finished manuscripts sitting in old folders on computers all over the world. You can't fix what you don't finish. That's the first lesson to learn.

If you can, find a good critique group. But you have to be careful there. There's nothing more demoralizing than getting into a bad one. I was in one years ago, long before I was published and there was one clown in the group who actually laughed at the other writers when they presented their work. No one shut him down so I stopped going. But a good group that's supportive but can offer constructive criticism is a gem to be cherished. The only thing you as a writer have to do then is let your ego go and listen.

12. Any advice for those old-times still searching for their publisher?

Keep polishing what you have. Write something new. Don't pin your hopes on one manuscript. I wrote at least 8 books, probably more, from the time I was 17 to when L.A. Heat came out the year I turned 50. Anybody can give up, only a few can stick it out until something happens. And I'd also say don't limit yourself to big publishers. Or hold out until you land an agent. Sub to small pubs (as long as they're legit – if they ask for money for ANYTHING, run away) But keep writing. I guarantee that if you keep writing, you will get better. Join critique groups too (see above). There are some good ones online, or find a local group. But make sure they're empowering and not belittling. There's nothing more demoralizing than being in a group who make themselves feel big by tearing others down.

13. If you had it to do all over again, any changes?
I'd start submitting sooner. I submitted one SF book a couple of times then stopped. I would be more persistent if I could do it over. Keep working on my ms, keep subbing it and keep writing. I did the writing part, I just didn't do anything else. I also wish I had subbed some of the early gay stories I wrote to magazines. Who knows, I might be a venerable gay author today if I had. LOL.

Thanks Pat. It was great talking to you. And I’m looking forward to your guest blog on Saturday, September 12th.
Thanks for interviewing me. It'll be fun on the 12th. I can tell all my secrets about the Hollywood years that spawned Memory of Darkness.


  1. Nice to meet a new author. I found it interesting that Pat chose to leave S/F and write mysteries. I don't particularly care for S/F, but love fantasy and my books tend to rest there.

    Hope you have great sales.

  2. Fascinating interview. Pat, your story is a beacon of hope for all writers who have struggled with rejection after rejection. It's so fantastic that you are publishing so much and writing so well.

    For anyone reading this, I highly recommend Pat's books. They are great reads, with really engaging, unusual characters.

  3. Thanks for stopping by, Katie. I enjoy your blog and your interviews very much.

  4. Thanks, Meg. And I agree, Pat's books are great, and she's definitely someone to emulate.

  5. Hi Pat. Great interview. As you know, I really enjoyed reading an early draft of one of your science fiction novels. The title escapes me, but I still recall the characters all these years later.

    Continued success in whatever genre you write in,


  6. Hi Keith. How are you doing? Thanks for stopping by. I'm looking forward to the day when all of us can get together and celebrate.

  7. Oh, it is such a small world! Two people who I think are so cool -- Joylene Butler and Pat Brown --- at the same blog!

    Pat, I've told you how intrigued I am by your writing (the next James Ellroy!!!), and I thoroughly enjoyed your interview!

    Thanks for sharing!

  8. Hi Carol! Thanks for stopping by. Hope you're writing, writing, writing!


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