Author Interview with Patrick Brown

Today we welcome Patrick Brown.

Book ‘Em:  Tell us about you and your life outside of writing.

Patrick Brown:  I was raised in Oklahoma with a longing to see the world from my earliest remembrances. I grew up during 1960s to 1980s television where so much of the action took place on both coasts. I just knew that life would be so much more exciting in New York or Los Angeles, so I ended up in Texas. My best friend and I knew two people who lived in San Diego, and they invited us to come to the coast. I stayed for five years before taking a job in Oklahoma. I moved to Los Angeles in 2004 where I stayed until moving to the Portland, Oregon area in 2015. I was a nonprofit executive for 14 years, a church organist for 25 years, and now focus primarily on my writing career. I cook and garden when I’m not writing, and if I’m not careful these two hobbies can take over a large amount of my time.

Book ‘Em:  Which books have you written? What are they about and why did you choose to write them? Do your books have a message? Are they fiction or nonfiction?

Patrick Brown:  My three novels are works of fiction. I’m not sure that any have a particular message, but they are likely to contain a cautionary tale or two. I wrote Moral Ambiguity after a particularly upsetting interview with Jerry Falwell that aired on TV. I thought how wonderful it would be if someone from his past would shout to the media what a hypocrite he was, and since I wasn’t getting the impression that would ever happen, I came up with a fictionalized version. Tossed Off the Edge came about from two events. I was raised on a particular soap opera, and knew the plotlines of decades of stories. The network cancelled it, and it occurred to me that these people who’d worked harder than any actors in show business would be unemployed. What would they do next? About the same time, I was working with a particularly difficult person in my office who thwarted any attempt to modernize. While I was pondering how to reposition this coworker so that we might begin to adapt to new technology, it occurred to me that one or two of the aging soap divas might have been equally frustrating to their show’s production. I pulled out my first chapter about the firing of a famous soap diva, which had been written before the frustrating coworker experience, and the novel quickly came together. Fellow Argus author Lonnie D. Groendes had read my work and encouraged me to try my hand at mystery writing. As intriguing as I found the idea, I didn’t think I had the discipline and the ability to stick with it and tie the story up properly. He offered advice, and I created an outline. He was a great mentor (and continues to be) as I told of Maggie’s first adventure. To describe Moral Ambiguity (2011) I ask people to think of a well-known vocal star and the wiliest and most sinister televangelist in the country crossing paths for the first time in the 1980s. In the current climate of sexual harassment and charges coming to light, MA’s narrator Kevin Gregory did the same years ago, exposing decades of harassment by religious leader Jimmy Standridge, head of the Pious Plurality. Kevin’s life is filled with twists and turns, and Jimmy keeps showing up in it. He bestows untold riches onto Kevin who finds ways to turn those into the wealth it takes to fight a hypocrite. Tossed Off the Edge (2014) is a shorter novel about a soap opera actress who gets fired (tossed) off her show The Edge of Conflict after forty years. The show’s head writer is also named Patrick Brown, and since they’ve both been fired, they have nothing better to do than try to make a buck and sell her autobiography with him as her ghostwriter. The problem is that the diva (Sheila Wozniak) has been portraying a character for so long, and she likes to take a nip or two occasionally, so her memories, while quite entertaining, read more like the plot lines of movies and classic television than real life. Murdered Justice (2017) is my first mystery, and it’s the first of what I hope will become a series of mysteries featuring Maggie Lyon. Maggie went to journalism school to become another Woodward and Bernstein, but she ended up languishing in city rooms with male editors who thought she was better at serving coffee to the reporters. Deciding to clear her head, she took a cruise one summer and met an enthusiastic young cook. With her help, he became one of America’s leading celebrity chefs while she remained in the shadows as his ghostwriter for a series of cookbooks. MJ begins with Maggie getting a writing assignment to cover another rising food star as he cooks for a private weekend gathering in Los Angeles. Thinking that she is being called upon to write another feature story about food and lifestyles, Maggie gets a surprise when the guest of honor dies. United States Supreme Court Justice Vittorio Scarpia doesn’t wake up one Sunday morning. Guests are ushered out of the house, but news reports don’t reflect what Maggie experienced first hand. She begins her own investigation, and what she discovers can break careers and end lives.

Book ‘Em:  Do you have a work in progress?

Patrick Brown:  The second Maggie Lyon mystery, Pennington’s Hoax, is in production with W&B Publishers scheduled for a Winter 2018 release. In PH, Maggie returns for her second big case: she must decide whether or not America’s most reclusive author actually wrote the great American novel studied by students for half a century, or did the author’s childhood friend write the masterpiece? Furthermore, when Maggie feels that the author is about to reveal the truth, the woman suddenly dies. While death is not unusual for a 90 year-old woman, Maggie follows the path of clues to discover that all was not as it seemed. Additionally, I’m finally coming to the end of a collection of short stories, which I hope to have published beyond Pennington’s Hoax. Once I’m reasonably happy with the collection, I’ll return to the Maggie Lyon mysteries. I believe the third novel will take place in the Pacific Northwest near where I’m currently living.

Book ‘Em:  What was the most difficult section/piece you ever wrote? What made it difficult?

Patrick Brown:  There is a rather lengthy short story, which I think will be included in my collection. The current title is A Final Folly. I’ve previously serialized it on my blog in order to measure reactions. I wrote the first draft in 1999, almost two decades ago and before I started writing Moral Ambiguity. I have edited it countless times by trimming, adding, and rearranging passages. It’s supposed to be a funny piece that takes a look at local theatre in a small town. I find that writing comedy is difficult. I have a great sense of humor, but transferring observations and comedic asides to the reader is challenging. The reader must possess enough background understanding for “the joke” to work. I’ve also found that when something strikes me as funny and I manage to get the first draft on paper, the polishing process often changes my perception of the characters and situations. The woman who shows up with three inches of gray roots, a battered handbag, a faded t-shirt from a past theatre event, and unexpected chutzpah has evolved from caricature to a real human that feels the passage of time, the disregard by younger people, and a certain decline in her abilities. The scene still elicits a chuckle, but the had to come without sacrificing compassion.

I should add that this piece is heavily based on a particular experience in my life. Some of the supporting characters are still alive and in my life, and my inner censor reminds me that I must be somewhat sensitive. Therefore, I need to abandon the piece or treat these people with respect.

Book ‘Em:  What sort of research do you do for your work?

Patrick Brown:  I try to follow the advice to “write what you know,” but I often find that I don’t know enough. Murdered Justice required some research into the Reformation, the French Revolution, and the papal reaction to being marginalized by Napoleon. While there are only a few paragraphs about these events, they were necessary to establish the secret organization in which Justice Scarpia held membership. His membership provided a motive for murder, and I felt that I must make my invented secret society believable. Therefore, I had to dive into some research and review. Thankfully the Internet provided the information I needed in that case, but for Pennington’s Hoax, I had to re-read a novel, read a new novel, refer to one famous author’s book of collected letters I’d previously read, read his biography, and then read two biographies of another author. I try to limit my settings to cities in which I have lived or have visited enough to remember certain landmarks. If I have trouble recalling a specific location, Google Earth can provide me with a recent photo of an intersection, a building or what is there now. I think it was Anne Rice who said that if a reader goes to a certain landmark and the author has indicated something specific, the reader should find what has been described. While I may change the name of a school, if I say one can be found in a certain block on Rossmore heading toward Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles, I want it to be there.

Book ‘Em:  Which books and authors do you read for pleasure? Is there an author that inspires you?

Patrick Brown:  One morning in high school sophomore English class, the teacher had us open our books to The Waltz by Dorothy Parker. Out of 30 students, I was the only one laughing out loud. It was the first moment since Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing that I knew books and stories could be intentionally hilarious. Most assigned reading in school was cautionary or tragic. Mysteries were satisfying, and while all might possess a strand or two of humor, this Mrs. Parker woman had captivated me at “Danse Macabre.” Unfortunately, assigned reading, college reading, graduate research, etc. kept me from Mrs. Parker for a number of years. By that time, I had discovered Florence King, who held my attention until she started becoming meaner in her writing. She claimed to be a misanthrope, and while many of her passages entertained me, I simply couldn’t deal with the bitterness. Southern Ladies and Gentlemen and Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady remain enjoyable, and her lesser known When Sisterhood Was in Flower is a humorous look at the early feminist movement in the United States.The same friend who introduced me to Ms. King also introduced me to E.F. Benson. The Mapp & Lucia novels are favorites, and most anything that Patrick Dennis wrote sits on my bookshelves to be read over and over again. Around the World With Auntie Mame is even funnier than Auntie Mame. How Firm a Foundation and Genius are two other of his books that are my favorites. Joe Keenan, who wrote for the television show Frasier, published three novels, and all of them are farces beyond the antics of Frasier Crane and his family. Armistead Maupin’s character descriptions must be included on my list, and the early essays by David Sedaris. Flannery O’Connor is someone I return to quite frequently, and I have some Hemmingway, Fitzgerald, and Welty on my shelves. I have Guy de Maupassant on the bedside table for those times when I’m between books, but want something to read before I fall asleep. Each of these authors has taught me the joys of character development, and most have provided a standard I try to uphold when writing humor.

Book ‘Em:  Was there a person who encouraged you to write?

Patrick Brown:  My aunt Phyllis pulled me aside when I was twenty and said, “You should be writing. Find some time. Write as often as you can. Don’t worry about being published. Just get your words down. Promise me.” I was writing plenty at that time, but it was all for college. Before I was out of high school I knew that I preferred essay questions to fill-in-the-blank. I could demonstrate my knowledge with words, and term papers were relatively easy. I finished before some of my peers, which made me wonder if I hadn’t done something right, but writing assignments always boosted, and in some cases saved, my grades. I didn’t start writing fiction until I was 24, and that early stuff was rough. I had sketches of ideas from my teen years, and when I looked through them a few years ago, the plot ideas still hold up in spite of the spelling. I pulled out a typewriter at 28, and I was writing regularly by 32 when I had my first computer. I attempted a novel that year, but by page 200 I realized that I didn’t actually like the characters very much and put it aside. I started Moral Ambiguity in 2001, but it wasn’t published until 2011. I was working in nonprofit for those ten years, and I was busy writing grant requests during the day and working on my novel at night. Most of my existence was writing, but I was never unhappy doing it.Without Phyllis’s encouragement, I doubt that I would ever have focused so much of my life on writing.

Book ‘Em:  What would you say are your strengths as an author?

Patrick Brown:  I come from a long line of storytellers. My dad, his parents, and all of his siblings possessed an innate sense of where to begin a story, how to pull the most interesting elements to the forefront, how to captivate a listener, and occasionally how to end their yarn. The last part has always been the most difficult for them because when telling a story, you get a sense that the listener wants more and you try to deliver. It’s best to cut it off sooner than later, but their stories were always interesting. The other side of my family had a writer or two in the bunch, and while I’m a fairly good storyteller in a group situation, I am much better on paper with time to edit and finesse my story. I believe my stories are my strength.

Book ‘Em:  How often do you write, and do you write using a strict routine?

Patrick Brown:  I may not read every day, but I almost always write. I might not get to one of my projects, and I might not get more than an e-mail written to someone, but my e-mail can be rather long if I have something to say. Authors have to do a bit of self-promotion now and then, and occasionally I get asked to edit or help someone else, so I end up polishing my craft on a daily basis (almost).I know what my best windows are for project writing (books, stories, blog posts), and I avoid the phone and other interruptions if possible. When working on a novel, I create an outline. I don’t promise to stay with it, but I refer to it. For novels, I typically begin a writing session by reviewing the last few pages from the day before. I usually end each session by typing a sentence or two of the next section to remind myself where I want to go the next day. Quite often the review has provided insight into the characters or I have found a new direction. The last sentences I wrote on the previous day might actually lead me, with this new insight, down a path I never expected. The kidnapping of Phyllis in Moral Ambiguity is such an occurrence. It was not originally planned, but the interlude was funny and necessary to get Kevin to the next step and move the story forward.

Book ‘Em:  Five years from now, where do you see yourself as a writer?

Patrick Brown:  Five years from now I’d like to visit the film set as one of my books is being made into a movie before dashing off to an interview about my latest book. Without that dream, there can never be the reality, so I continue to dream of the more glamorous aspects of writing. Of course, one can’t be interviewed about the latest book or see a book become a film without writing, so I feel quite certain that I’ll be writing in five years. At this point I don’t see a time when I won’t be writing.

Book ‘Em:  If you could offer one piece of advice to a novice writer, what would it be?

Patrick Brown:  I’m allowed only one piece of advice? Assuming that the novice writer has already been told to “write what he or she knows,” write daily, don’t give up, and write for yourself without writing specifically to get published, I would have to say that an adherence to good grammar and style is primary. Don’t resort to a series of sentence fragments and punctuation abuse in an attempt to grab a reader’s attention. Instead, practice style, strive for perfect grammar, and polish that rough stone of a piece into the shiniest jewel. My two sources are “The Elements of Style” and “Woe is I.” I refer to both quite often after a first draft and through the final editing.

Book ‘Em:  What would you consider the best compliment a reader could give your book?

Patrick Brown:  “I loved the world you created. Your characters and the places you described were so realistic, and they allowed me to escape my own existence. Where can I read more?”

Book ‘Em:  Provide an excerpt of your writing that you would like to share with our members.

Patrick Brown:  Here is the opening to Tossed Off the Edge, which your members might enjoy:  Regina Knight Harrison Donavan Taylor Donavan McDonald McDonald Woodward Merriweather Todd’s funeral was held on channel seven at 1:00 p.m. local time in every time zone across the country. If you had ever watched daytime TV between 1970 until her demise, you couldn’t have missed her. She was blond and dramatic, and she had been shot, paralyzed, kidnapped, raped and tortured numerous times. On her better days, she had given or received a number of internal organs, suffered heart attacks and endured a radical mastectomy. There was also a debilitating stroke in her background, not to mention the mental problems and the mad scientist who cloned her so that serial murders could be committed in her name.In spite of all the difficulties, including the births, deaths and sudden appearances of various children to whom she could and could not recall giving birth, and siblings who popped up year after year that she had never known, Regina maintained a strong faith in the power of love. She was a one-man woman in spite of having been married nine times to seven different husbands who got younger and younger as Regina aged.Coincidentally, the actress who played her has won the same number of Emmys as onscreen marriages, but no more. Regina has died and will stay dead. I’m prostrate with grief. Oh, I know you think I’m being silly for soap operas are known for their mistaken deaths, surprise resurrections, bodies that were never found only to show up again and again. There have even been shocking deaths televised with the corpse in the coffin, which showed up thirty years later. The audience believed it when they were told the dead man, who would’ve been 107 by then, had been living in the next town over without so much as a nurse to come by and check on him during all that time. No, Regina is dead. The network told me so personally when they delivered my pink slip. You see, I wrote Regina’s story line for twenty years. Sheila Wozniak might’ve spoken the lines and taken all the glory, but I wrote Regina’s words, her screams, her tears and her heart-felt soliloquies for half of her televised life. No one knew Regina better than I for I was guiding her life. I had plans for Regina to outlive Sheila Wozniak. Whether the actress retired or ended up having to be rolled onto the set in a wheelchair to read a couple of lines off the prompter, I would bide my time until they replaced her with a younger actress. It didn’t concern me that eventually Regina might end up younger than her daughter—the one switched at birth and raised by the maniacal couple from Argentina. The Edge of Conflict was just getting started at forty years. I envisioned at least twenty-five more years of untapped trauma and tragedy for Regina, but there was one malady she couldn’t overcome in spite of all her other miraculous triumphs: innate stubbornness.


Murdered Justice:

Moral Ambiguity:

Tossed Off the Edge:

Murdered Justice book trailer:

One More Thing to Read (my blog and website):

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