Interview with Pat Brown1. You are a criminal profiler and have written books on serial killers and homicide investigations. What made you decide to write a fiction novel?
I actually wrote fiction short stories years ago, some 35 years ago, and managed to at least sell one of them to a magazine. I actually went back and found one, Me, Abe, and Greyhound U, that I still liked (not the published one) and put it on Amazon for the fun of it. I stopped writing when I got too busy raising children (and then working as a sign language interpreter and a criminal profiler) and I didn’t get back to serious writing until I wanted to get information out to the public. I went on to author Killing for Sport: Inside the Minds of Serial Killers, The Profiler, Profile of the Disappearance of Madeleine McCann, How to Save Your Daughter’s Life, and The Murder of Cleopatra. As to why I wrote Only The Truth, I have to say the story just came to me one day and I started in on the first line and kept on writing until it was finished.
2. Only The Truth is not what I would have expected from a criminal profiler. I would think you would write more like Patricia Cornwell, a gritty detective story. What made you write a rather old-fashioned, small town mystery narrated in first person by a man who is slow and uneducated?
I have to confess, I am not a lover of serial killer novels and gruesome, violent detective stories. Actually, I am not a reader of hardly any crime novels, true or fiction. I do like Sherlock Holmes and Ross Thomas (not really crime, per se) and that’s about it. I think I have seen enough viciousness that if I write about crime, I don’t want to glorify it or get overly detailed about it.
3. So your book is a mystery, but it is more focused on the characters?
That would be accurate. I am more interested in what human beings experience, how they respond to their circumstances and to the tests and challenges of life. I delve into the psychology of the different characters in the story and, by the end, not only a mystery is solved, but also many questions about their characters, ethics, and morality.
4. Tell us a little about Billy Ray and Charlene.
Billy Ray Hutchins is a man who got left behind, fell through the cracks of society, sort of ignored and discarded as a person of no particular interest to anyone. Billy Ray is a nice man, but mentally slow because he never got much education and never learned to read. He is socially inept because he has lived alone in his mountain shack for more than two decades. He lives in the hills above a very small town in Arkansas which is a bit behind the times. Some who read the book start off thinking the story takes place fifty years ago, but I can tell folks that if you travel around the country enough, some places still have that slow and less-than-modern feel.
Charlene, the only name Billy Ray knows her by, simply shows up in town one day. He finds her standing at the railroad tracks and she asks him to take her home with him. He does and he lives with this strange but kindly woman for two years, the only woman he has ever been with and the only company he has ever had in his adult life. He loves her and she seems to love him. Then, she murders the neighbor.
5. Where did you come up with the characters of Billy Ray and Charlene?
Billy Ray is a composite of my ex-husband, who hailed from a tiny mountain town in Jamaica, and a local Washington DC man I interpreted for at the hospital (sign language). My ex used to tend goats in Jamaica and was barefoot a good portion of the time. He was very deficient in education and when he graduated high school after coming to America, he could barely read and write (doesn’t say much for our public school system in Washington DC). He later got help from a literacy foundation and went on to a very good job fixing medical equipment and earned an excellent salary. The man I interpreted for was very poor and struggled to survive in the ghettos of DC. He wasn’t always the most law-abiding fellow but when he learned his new pregnant wife was HIV+, he told her he loved her and he would never leave her. He kept that promise and she died at home seventeen years after her diagnosis, cared for twenty-four hours day by this man who thought the world of her.
Charlene is a composite of a number of women I interpreted for at the hospital and some I met during investigations; some victims, some perpetrators, some very decent and loving, some psychopathic, all very memorable.
6. You have told me that your editor at Hyperion loved the book, but passed on it, which is why you self-published. Why didn’t Hyperion take Only the Truth?
The publishing world is a very strange animal. I was told by a number of publishers who really liked the book that they didn’t know how to market it. The book was classified as literary fiction, mystery, and romance, and also African-American literature (because of the main character and a number of other people in the story) with a white author. Thankfully, I was able to self-publish and I am very happy to have done so.
7. What is your writing process?
I just start and keep writing until I reach the end! I do have a concept of the story but I never make an outline or any kind of story structure. I just let the story unfold. I think that is why I am enjoying writing fiction so much (yes, I do have more coming). I get to find out what happens in the same manner as the reader! I am often surprised when new characters show up and I am curious to find out what is going to happen. Writing fiction for me is an odd process, almost like one is doing automatic handwriting and someone else is creating the story in front of your eyes.
8. Who are your favorite authors and books?
I love John Steinbeck and readers of Only the Truth will probably see a bit of his influence on me. On the other hand, I adore Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children and I could never write the kind of prose he employs in his novels. I love Graham Greene, especially Our Man in Havana. Brilliant! And two of my favorite books in recent years have been Life of Pi and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night.
9. What do you like to do when you are not writing or working?
I do read a lot and I like movies (although I am extremely critical of plot failures and so I don’t like a good portion of what I see). I am a big Bollywood fan (I also dance Bollywood style) and because I love the music, dance, clothing, and actors and actresses so much, I am more forgiving if he plot sucks. I enjoy traveling a lot, visiting different cultures, and experiencing other ways of life. I tend to favor hostels and chicken buses and street food and, for some reason, have only gotten sick once in my more than thirty years of travel to countries like Togo, India, China, Mexico, Egypt, Guatemala, etc. I don’t much worry about traveling alone as a woman or about terrorism. Terrorist attacks can happen in the United States, too (along with mass murderers opening fire in public places) and I simply dress in local standards and go where local women go so as not to end up in unsafe circumstances that might get me raped and killed. Again, I simply use the same precautions I use at home. I have had wonderful trips and I haven’t been a victim of crime to this day.
10. Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
Keep an eye out at Amazon. I have another novel coming out soon which is not a mystery at all. But, don’t worry, mystery lovers, I also have series coming out featuring a female criminal profiler. Oh, and, if you love Only the Truth, it is the first of a trilogy, so Billy Ray will be back.
Thank you so much, Anthony, for giving me an opportunity to do this interview for Digital Book Today!
Social media and buy links:
Connect with Pat Brown: Blog/ Facebook/ Twitter
Only The Truth on Amazon
The Murder of Cleopatra: Amazon/ Barnes & Noble
How to Save Your Daughter’s Life: Amazon/ Barnes & Noble
Profile of the Disappearance of Madeleine McCann: Smashwords/ Barnes & Noble
The Profiler: Amazon/ Barnes & Noble
Killing for Sport: Amazon/ Barnes & Noble