Saturday, October 24, 2009

Once Upon a Time

By Pat Browning

The local library has been filled with kids this summer – story hours for toddlers and on up. What do you bet at least some of the storybooks began with those magic words “Once upon a time …”

Times change. Contemporary children’s books include that atrociously titled “Walter The Farting Dog.” Still, many if not most writers write in hopes of being read, and so they move with the times.

That’s one reason I hang onto writers like Jonathan Harrington and the late William Tapply. They write well, and their themes are thoughtful and timeless.

Harrington is an Associate Professor of International Relations at Troy University, Alabama. His most recent work is THE CLIMATE DIET: HOW YOU CAN CUT CARBON, CUT COSTS AND SAVE THE PLANET (2008). It’s listed “in stock” at

At the tail end of the 20th century he wrote three Danny O’Flaherty mysteries: THE DEATH OF COUSIN ROSE (1996), THE SECOND SORROWFUL MYSTERY (1999), and A GREAT DAY FOR DYING (2001). He began his series just in time to get on with Write Way publishing. Write Way signed up a lot of good writers and then went belly up.

About that time Harrington gave an interview to Charlotte Austin, in which he said:

“When I am gone, all that will be left are the stories I tried to tell in my writing. When the world is no more, all that will be left is a story that begins: Once upon a time a group of people lived on a place called Earth … We are writing the story of our existence. When everything else is gone, all that will remain is the story of who we were.”

Words to live by. Today we have computers and word processing software, but in a sense we are still drawing pictures on the walls of the cave, leaving proof of our existence and the way we see the world around us.

William Tapply, who died in July, had a writing career that was all over the map. Name a subject and he probably wrote about it. His more than 40 books included the Brady Coyne mystery series. My favorite is PAST TENSE, No. 18 in the series.

In my review I wrote: “The fact that I haven’t read the first 17 was not a problem. Tapply gets right into the story and moves it along so smoothly that I simply sat and read until I finished at 3 a. m.”

On March 31, 2007, Tapply posted this to DorothyL:
Subject: Why we read (and write) mysteries
1) Because they have actual plots.
2) Because some of our best writers are writing them.
3) Because they feature heroes and heroines and villains.
4) Because they conform to Joseph Campbell’s classic story formulation, and Aristotle’s, too.
5) Because they begin with a disruption of the status quo, descend into uncertainty, and end with the restoration of order, fulfilling our fantasies about real-world chaos.

In spite of publishing turmoil, this is a good time to be a writer. I need look no further than my first (and so far only) mystery for proof of that. I posted this to Helen Ginger’s blog in February and reprint it here with her blessing.
In December 2008, FULL CIRCLE by Pat Browning was revised and reissued by Krill Press as ABSINTHE OF MALICE.

It came out of the blue. It was a three-month ride on a Tilt-A-Whirl, and I'm still dizzy. Krill Press is a new small press in Oregon, with a multi-tasking publisher who puts the pedal to the metal. As in:

SEPT. 1, 2008 -- Krill Press was formed, more or less in the mind of said publisher, after the idea was kicked around in an Internet group we both belong to.

First bump in the road: He asked for a Synopsis of FULL CIRCLE, which I self-published in 2001, and also one for my half-finished second book, working title SOLSTICE. I started to sweat out that horror of horrors, the synopsis, for not one but two books.

SEPT. 6 -- Publisher said forget the synopses. He was reading FULL CIRCLE and liked it. He had already read the first three chapters of SOLSTICE on my web site.

SEPT. 14 -- Publisher loved FULL CIRCLE, suggested bringing out an "updated, refreshed 2nd edition" with a new title and new cover. Offered me an advance.

I fell over laughing when I read the proposed new title, ABSINTHE OF MALICE, and saw the jazzy, sexy new cover proposed. But the more I thought about it, the better I liked it. We jumped right into proposed changes and details of a business relationship.

SEPT. 17 - We signed a two-year contract for publication in trade paperback, E-book and other electronic download formats, and Amazon's Kindle.

SEPT. 24 - Advance check. I printed out a copy suitable for framing.

Second bump in the road: Publisher wanted manuscript by E-mail, in Word. I couldn't find my computer file anywhere. I did have a printout of my iUniverse proof sheet from 2001. Nothing to do but make a new Word file by scanning in that proof sheet, one page at a time. More than 200 pages, one - page - at - a - time.

OCT. 26 - Publisher finished book block and e-mailed it to me for proofing. Last minute updating of cover blurbs and reviews for Krill Press web site, which was still under construction.

NOV. 3 - Book uploaded to printer (Lightning Source). Publisher signed contracts with Lightning Source and Ingram Book Group to have book distributed in Canada, the UK and Europe.

NOV. 6 - Lightning Source sent proof copy to publisher via UPS 2nd Day Air. Publisher made plans for virtual launch party on NETDRAG podcast.

NOV. 7 - Pursuant to my notice of cancellation of contract, iUniverse gave me written acknowledgment and washed their hands of it. It's no longer listed on their web site.

Ongoing blip: FULL CIRCLE is still listed for sale by online booksellers and will be until they get rid of their last copy. If I could afford it, I would buy them all up.

DEC. 4 - I had copies of my brand new book on hand for a book signing at the local library.

Krill Press is promoting ABSINTHE OF MALICE in every known market. It's displayed on Google Books, as far afield as an Italian library. has it displayed for sale in the UK, Germany, France, China, Japan ... It's print-on-demand but the publisher, bowing to marketplace realities, offers a heavy discount to bookstores and makes it returnable. He's sending sell sheets and queries to Internet book review sites.

The publisher is doing his share and then some. I'm more of a hand-seller: "Pssst! Wanna buy a good book?"

It's an ill wind, as the saying goes. Having to scan the book a page at a time gave me a chance to polish it up, tighten it up, and generally shape it up. It also gave me a chance to rewrite a couple of key scenes.

One has to do with my protagonist, Penny Mackenzie, a baby boomer whose first love shows up after a long absence. I had written her as a bit of a schlump, in a rut. The publisher picked up on a short scene where she whacks off her hair and throws her dowdy duds into a wastebasket. He took it a step further, seeing her as a woman whose long-suppressed vanity reappears when her old flame shows up. I rewrote the scene to fit the sassy, sexy new book cover.

The other has to do with DNA testing of an old bone. When I wrote the book in 1999-2001, DNA testing was fairly new. I misinterpreted a news article I read about a portable DNA machine developed by the military for battlefield use. Since then I've learned that DNA from old bones is mitochondrial DNA, passed down only through female ancestors. The test destroys the bone, making it impossible for a character to run it through a portable machine and then replace it in the police department's evidence room. I feel a lot better for having rewritten the scene to reflect the differences in DNA, keeping a character from subjecting an old bone to the wrong kind of testing.

While all this was going on, my work-in-progress was shoved to one side. Now I'm picking up where I left off. Touching base with a friend, I mentioned that finishing the second book is essential to the success of the first one. His e-mail reply is taped to my computer monitor.

He wrote: "And if I were you I'd finish that second book. There's only so much promotion you can do without turning into a used-car salesman, and there's hardly anything worse than a used-car salesman who only has one car to sell."
Note: Krill Press has grown rapidly in its first year. There are 3 books in its catalog, a new one coming out in November and another in December. Check out the web site at:

1 comment:

Mark W. Danielson said...

Today is always a good day to write, and quality work will always survive. As for the end of the world? That chapter hasn't been written yet.