Saturday, December 12, 2009

A Sense of Place

By Pat Browning

“A profound sense of place” – that’s what novelist Beth Anderson said about my fictional town of Pearl in ABSINTHE OF MALICE.

Pearl is a combination of several little towns along old Highway 99. The highway runs the length of California’s San Joaquin Valley, with Fresno almost dead center and various towns hidden in the trees on either side of the highway.

I lived in the area for most of my adult life and, frankly, I miss it. I’m glad I set my mystery there. ABSINTHE is first in a proposed limited series. The second book got derailed along the way, but as James Garner always said in his old “Maverick” TV series, “I’m workin’ on it.”

Helping to preserve that sense of place as I slog through Book No. 2, which I’ll call METAPHOR, are some photos I took in Hanford before I moved to Oklahoma five years ago. The photos are of real streets and houses. Their place in my book is purely fictional.

Hanford’s old Irwin Street Inn is the inspiration for property now owned by my character Halcyon. She got the keys when her husband’s mysterious disappearance – oops, that would be a spoiler. In METAPHOR she’s fixing the place up and thinking of opening a tearoom.

Halcyon’s dashing nephew, Watt, lives in one of Halcyon’s suites with an outside entrance. Watt was “born” one night about 10 years ago during an online chat with a writing group. We kicked around the idea of a romantic interest for my protagonist. As long as I was inventing him I invented the perfect man – handsome, sexy, rich and aging gracefully. What’s not to love?

 Hanford’s China Alley is the inspiration for my Shanghai Street. It plays an important part in METAPHOR.

This house inspired my version of a house that once belonged to one of Pearl's long dead residents who left behind a surprise or two.

And what would a setting in Central California be without winter fog? I took this photo of a Hanford street in December 2004.

A sense of place … a place I know well. It’s time I got back to it. See you in the funky little town of Pearl!


Jean Henry Mead said...

I miss "Pearl" too. Thanks for the trip down memory lane. They've really spruced up China Alley since my friends and I used to eat there during our lunch breaks once or twice a week.

But I don't miss the fog!!!

Beth Anderson said...

That's the thing about you, Pat. You find these wonderful old houses and give them personalities and character so that they really come alive almost as much as your people. I love the blue house in this post of yours. It's gorgeous. I want it.

Anonymous said...


I launched my first mystery in the jumbled little gift shop in the old Taoist temple. I sold 50+ books that day and the supporting foundation did such a brisk business in souvenir sales that they didn't charge me for using the site.

To keep things in perspective -- I had refreshments on the adjoining patio, and a recurring comment I heard from people arriving was, "They have refreshments!"

Napoleon's comment about an army traveling on its stomach comes to mind.(-:


Beth Terrell said...

Love the photos, Pat. It's good to have the visuals to go with the story. I look forward to reading the second book in the series.

Jean Henry Mead said...

That's great, Pat! I love what they've done with exterior decorating and was surprised to see the chairs lined up out front. You certainly made a hit with your debut novel. Understandably so!

Anonymous said...


The chairs in the alley in front of the temple were set up for a special program unveiling a 2004 postage stamp commemorating the Chinese Year of the Monkey. I bought a stack of postcards and stamps to use for publicity -- and that was 5 years ago and stamps were 37 cents. (-:

I also took pictures inside the old temple -- what a jumble of stuff! -- but the temple plays a large part in my second book, so I really snooped around. That, picking Camille Wing's brain, and reading old copies of the Sentinel gave me what I needed for my fictional Shanghai Street.

Such fun. Now all I have to do is finish the goldarned book!

Pat B.

Mark W. Danielson said...

Nice setting, Pat. The thing I remember most along "Old 99" is the California Highway Patrol's cutout boards of their vehicles. In the fog, you couldn't tell the difference between the signs and the real cars. Of course, the cops capitalized on that by frequently parking real cars behind their mockups.

The fog isn't there like it used to be, and the cutouts are long gone -- replaced by airplanes -- but 99 still brings memories.

Anonymous said...


By the time I left the Valley, CHP patrol cars were guiding traffic through the fog. All you had to do was get in line. It was slow but sure. Of course,there's still at least one major multi-car pileup every year.

A friend got caught in one of those pileups about 4 years ago, so I used her experience in my W-I-P. Nothing is ever a total waste. (-:


Anonymous said...


That "blue house" is a dream. I stayed there a couple of nights, just to soak up the ambience, poke around, and take pictures.