A view from a Bond.

SeanConnery

Dear Readers,

My dad loved 007 movies. So do I.

It was something we (no pun intended) bonded over. 

It wasn't the plots so much as the movies' tongue-in-cheek cool-dude vibe: the gorgeous women, silly double entendres, the fun spy gear supplied by MI6's tech genius, Q; those psychedelic opening credits—

Not to mention the wonderful songs that came with the opening credits.

And of course, there were all the great opening capers.

I borrowed that concept for the Housewife Assassin series. Its first chapter always begins with Donna in a compromising situation. I want readers to gnash their teeth in fear of what could happen to her, just like we do for James Bond.

Sean Connery passed away this week. He will be sorely missed. Besides bringing the consummate spy to life, he embodied a character grounded in emotional depth, grace, and humor. He is the reason James Bond is still loved by millions.

The real spy business is not so glamorous and much more deadly. Still, it's always fun to imagine what we'd do if we were faced with such danger; if the fate of the free world depended solely on our actions.

Frankly, it does. It's why we vote, isn't it?

Thanks for doing your bit.

—Josie

What is your favorite James Bond movie?
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What goes best with pie? People, of course!

Chocolate Walnut Pie

It is a tradition for Martin and me to host a decent-sized gathering for Thanksgiving. Sadly, this year we won't be seeing sisters, brothers, nieces, nephews, or dear friends who may have shared a few memories, some laughs, and a great meal.

(NOT cooked by me; I've been known to forget putting sugar in my chocolate walnut pies. D'oh!)

The decision wasn't easy. Still, better to play it safe now so that we can share the future making new memories.

Like many others, we will call, FaceTime, or Zoom call with those who will be missed this year. No, it won't be the same as actually sharing smiles face-to-face.

I've no doubt that, eventually, life will go back to normal. When it does. I can't wait to kiss and to hug all those who have filled my life with joy and sweetness.

Until then, I'll have plenty of time to practice my pies—with sugar. If you want my recipe, click here…

—Josie

JOSIE BROWN'S PIE RECIPE

Ingredients

  • 1/2 stick of butter or margarine
  • 1 BAR of at least 70% dark chocolate
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup dark corn syrup
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 Amaretto (Bailey's or Carolans works, too)
  • 1 tablespoon of flour
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
  • 1 unbaked 9-inch pie crust (my favorite is Pillsbury's roll-out crust, found in the refrigerated foods area)
  • Pinch of salt

Directions

  1. Heat oven to 350°F.
  2. Prick bottom and sides of pie crust with fork. Press heavy-duty aluminum foil onto bottom and around side of pie crust; fill with uncooked rice or beans. Bake 10 minutes; remove foil and rice. Bake additional 7 minutes or until pale golden brown. Cool on wire rack.
  3. Reduce oven temperature to 325°F. Stir together chocolate, walnuts and flour in medium bowl; set aside.
  4. Beat butter and sugar in large mixer bowl until well blended. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in corn syrup, vanilla and salt, beating just until blended. (Mixture may look curdled.) Stir in walnut mixture.
  5. Pour mixture into baked pie crust.
  6. Bake 55 to 60 minutes or until outer edges of pie are set and a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out with just melted chocolate. Center will still be jiggly. Cool completely on wire rack. Cover; store up to 2 days at room temperature or if storing longer, refrigerate. 8 servings.

Libraries matter. Here’s how one changed my life.

LibrariesJosieBrown

Imagine my surprise when, one morning, I found myself tagged on one of the social media feeds by a library—The South Texas College Library—regarding a quote I'd once, made about libraries.

And, yes, I meant every word of it.

I grew up in libraries. I lived a block and a half from my elementary school, which kept its library open throughout the summer. That way, children could proudly complete the reading lists handed to them on the last day of school.

During one summer, I checked out every compendium it had of Broadway musicals by year, I read the scripts as if they were books. These massive volumes also had each musical's song lyrics, which I memorized. It didn't matter that I hadn't listened to their soundtracks. I could hear them in my mind.

Fast-forward fifteen years later, when I met the man who would later become my husband. He'd grown up in New York. Even as a pre-teen, he'd been taking the subway to Broadway, to catch shows: mostly musicals.

On many an occasion, he'd serenade me with show tunes. Imagine his surprise when this Georgia Peach, who (at least, back then), had never seen a Broadway show could sing along.

Libraries are my happy place. Now more than ever during this COVID crisis, I miss not being able to go into one. Thank goodness for curbside checkout, caring librarians, and digital book loans.

Libraries open our worlds beyond our physical reach. They open our minds to new ideas. They open our eyes to endless possibilities.

Libraries are where I learned to read.

Reading taught me to love fiction.

Loving fiction helped me learn to write.

Knowing that my books have given you a few hours of joy is my way of sharing my libraries with you.

—Josie

 

Got a favorite library? I invite you to post it with a comment. 

Here is one of my favorites: the Mill Valley Library (California), nestled in a grove of redwood trees, with a big homey fireplace, large windows, an outdoor deck, and a wonderful town history room.)

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The Week California was on fire.

 

Last week was interesting, to say the least.

When my husband, Martin, woke up before daybreak.

Then he looked at the clock.

Then he woke me up.

Then I got depressed.

The numerous fires occurring right now in Northern California was very visible even seventy-plus miles south: here in San Francisco.

But then I remembered, “People all over my state are burned out of their homes and their towns. They may have lost a friend, a family member, or a pet. I'm not a firefighter who is battling weeks of roaring flames, non-stop. I am lucky.

We have to count their blessing when they come.

A week later, the sky is finally blue again. Still, there are big fires everywhere.

This hasn't been a great year. Still, some good has come from it.

When it's come to my writing, I've kept my head down. Because of it, you'll see Donna Stone Craig go through many trials and tribulations, which, admittedly, is a reflection on our collective year, if not for the same reasons.

And to get out of my head—that is, my character's machinations—I've started my online print bookstore. The details are below. And guess what? You can buy any two books and get another book as a gift from me.

I've been producing audiobooks of my novels. You'll learn more of that by Thanksgiving: just around the time I'll be releasing Assassination Vacation Planner, the 20th novel in the Housewife Assassin series. There's a link below where you can pre-order it.

Talking to other authors also opens up my world. So that it is a part of yours, too, I hope you'll take the time to listen my interview with Robert Dugoni about his latest novel, The Last Agent. I know you'll enjoy our conversation about this fast-paced spy caper. And Robert is always so open about his process as an author. He's a blast to talk to.

The best thing about Fridays: the week is over, and we get to take a few days off. I hope I've given you some great insights, and a few good reads.

—Josie

Photo: The iconic Transamerica tower in a smoke-tinged sky.

There’s going to be an evolution…

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Drove over the Golden Gate Bride this on Friday to get out of  San Francisco's fog and to take a hike. Found this hollowed out redwood tree in Baltimore Canyon, which creeps around the Marin County towns of Larkspur and Corte Madera, right between Mount Tamalpais and King Mountain.

Thousands of years have passed since this was a seedling, which then grew into a giant that towered over this canyon before dying and withering away. All that, just so I could pass it at this very moment: as a shaft of sunlight graces it like a warm smile 🌁

The truth: the world 🌎 does not revolve around me. Instead, we revolve—and, in a good moment, evolve with it.

—Josie

My NaNoWriMo Tips for you…

typewriter_girl copyIf you are participating in National Novel Writing Month (a.k.a., NaNoWriMo) I welcome you can go to my blog and read my daily tips, to be posted throughout November.

Writing novels is a solitary endeavor. It is as much frustrating as it is rewarding—

Which are why tips from other established writers are always welcomed. I hope my nuggets of advice give you some insights as well.

No matter your goal—a new hobby, a creative brain-teaser, a new profession—please know that there will always be a community of like-minded individuals who welcome you with open arms.

NaNoWriMo is proof of that.

Go for it, and enjoy the journey,

Josie

TODAY'S TIP:

Tip #30: The Best Advice I Can Give You Is This: LAST. AUTHOR. STANDING.

Remainders

 

Tip #29: If You Don't Sell Your Novel to a Publisher, Self-Publish It. Here's Why

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Tip #28: Here's What You Do to Keep Your Story from Being a Turkey

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TIP #27: DO NOT Do This in Your Query Letter (Pretty Please)

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TIP #26: …And Yes, You Can Get an Agent. Here's How.

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TIP #25: Do You Really Need a Literary Agent? Maybe. Here's Why

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Tip #24: It's Not What You Mean but How You Phrase It

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Tip #23: Don't Send Out a Half-Baked Novel Manuscript

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Tip #22: If Your Dialogue Doesn't Match the Character, Fix it Now!

 

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Tip #21: Every Word Counts. Here's Why

 

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Tip #20: Write the Way George Clooney Acts: with Confidence

 

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Tip #19: Scene Needs a Rewrite? Change the Point of View

 

Tip #18: Writing a Book is a Marathon—so PACE YOURSELF!

Tip #17: The Emotional Depth of Your Characters is Important


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Tip #16: How to Get Out of “Paragraph Paralysis”

 
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Tip #15: Three Ways in Which You May Be Sabotaging Your Writing Goals

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Tip #14: Is Writing a Craft, or an Art?Sargent in his Studio

Tip #13: Make Sure Your Readers Love Your Hero (or Heroine)

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Tip #12: Choose the Right Time to Write

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Tip #11: Reach Out to Other Authors. Here's How.

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Tip #10: When It Comes to Putting Words on a Page, Better Late than Never

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Tip #9: What to Do When Your Story Is Boring

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Tip #8: Every Story Needs a Beginning, a Middle, and an End

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Tip #7: Write it first. Fix it LATER.

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Tip #6: When Your Backstory Should Be Your Story


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Tip #5: Show, Don't Tell

 

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Tip #4: Meet Your Word Count FIRST. Edit it LATERspaghetti-1


Tip #3: Don't Give Up!

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Tip #2: Outline the Plot of Your Story
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Tip #1: Treat Writing as If It's Your Career

Writing Clarity text made in the office close-up on laptop computer keyboard. Business concept for Clarity Message Workshop on the black background with copy space


Enter My Contest for a Free Copy of
The Housewife Assassin's Ghost Protocol (Book 13)

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Just because Halloween is over doesn't mean I can't hand out tricks and treats. If you're one of TWO lucky contestants, you'll be reading about both in the signed hardcover copies of Book 13 of the Housewife Assassin series, GHOST PROTOCOL.

HERE'S HOW TO ENTER:

1: No purchase necessary.

2: Read the excerpt here:
(You may also click the photo)

3: CORRECTLY ANSWER this question:

Who gets arrested by the police?

4: Email your answer to:

MailFromJosie@gmail.com

Subject Line: Ghost Protocol Contest

5: The contest ends MIDNIGHT Pacific Time on Sunday, November 24, 2019.

Good luck to you!

Fantastic Beasts, and were to find them on TV.

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As the days get cooler, the nights grow longer, our imaginations run even wilder, especially with All Hallows' Eve right around the corner.

No better time to discover some new fantasy TV series.

Amazon Prime has created a beautiful alternate universe—Burgue, akin to 1880 London— in which humans reluctantly co-exist with fairies (“faes”) and other fantastic beasts: gremlin-like kobolds, werewolves, and my personal favorite, “pucks,” who are saytres (half man, half ram).

These fantastic beasts, called “crits” by the humans, are war refugees in Burgue, which was its ally against the barbarous Pacts. Even so, except for those who have secured jobs as servants, they are confined to a ghetto called “Carnival Row.”

When a renowned Fae is murdered, a soldier-turned-police inspector,  Rycroft Philostrate (“Philo”; one of Orlando Bloom's best roles to date) is put on the case. It brings him in contact with his long-lost love: a fae called Vignette Stonemoss (Cara Delevingne). Both thought the other dead in the last great battle between the faes and the Pacts. Both feel betrayed by the other. Their attraction and animosity for each other ramps up along with the killings of crits by some unknown mystical force.

Great stuff indeed.

Click below to see a trailer.

Or click the photo above to read a Vanity Fair article about the series' shoots-and-ladders journey from concept to greenlight for series.

Another interesting television series on Netflix, The Frankenstein Chronicles, does a realistic twist on Mary Shelley's famous novel.  This is not a love story, but historical crime suspense about redemption for the early 19th Century London police investigator charged with finding a serial child murderer.

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Or is it?

Starring a Game of Thrones head honcho, Sean Bean, the series takes place in the 1820s (as bleakly post-Jane Austen as you can get), a time when corpses were considered public property and legally dug up by “immortalists” (I LOVE that period-appropriate word for “grave robbers!”) for the scientists and doctors who are pushing Britain's political leaders to approve “the Anatomy Act” so that cadavers can be legally used for medical study.

The world-building is sublimely authentic. Even indoors, the poor actors seem to be freezing, if their chilled breath is any indication.

This show has already gone into a third season and promises more head-spinning plots based on things that go bump in the night.

Click the photo above for a great recap article; or the video box below for a trailer peek.

Scared and Bemused,

Josie

Judy, Judy, Judy…and Renee.

 

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I'm a fan of Old Hollywood. And the fact that Judy Garland's rendition of Over the Rainbow makes me cry every time I hear it was reason enough for me to see Judy, the feature film bio-pic starring Renee Zellweger.

I'm also a VERY big fan of Renee's. As Roxie Hart in the musical movie, Chicago, I thought she knocked it out of the park: she was THE triple threat: singing, dancing, acting.

And it's because of Bridget Jones's Diary that I write humorous women's fiction. (By that I mean the novel, by Helen Fielding, albeit the movie version reinforced my love of romcoms.)

I was NOT disappointed. If you go to see it, I don't think you will be, either.

Can she sing like Judy?

I'll answer that with a question: Can anyone?

What you'll appreciate about Zellweger's performance is that she captures all the gestures, the vocal inflections (Judy's resonance and vocal depth was incomparable), the timing, and the pathos of one of the greatest performers to grace the silver screen, or for that matter a live stage.

I'll be shocked if she doesn't wind the Best Actress Oscar for it.

Below is a trailer of the movie.

Garland once famously said, “If I'm a legend, then why I so lonely?” This is aptly illustrated in the movie. One of the most touching scenes in the movie is how Judy asks two fans to grab a bite to eat with her for just this very reason: with celebrity comes awe, which creates a crevice between the famous and those leading normal lives.

I saw this first hand,  when interviewing celebrities for feature articles.

Debbie Reynolds came to San Francisco, to make the movie, Mother, written, directed, and co-starring Albert Brooks. At that point, and that time in her life, movie roles had essentially dried up for her. She realized it was a great break, perhaps even a comeback role. In fact, it garnered her a Golden Globe nomination.

At the beginning of our interview, she was nervous enough that her hand was shaking as she sipped her coffee.

When she heard that, as a little boy, my son insisted on watching Singing in the Rain over and over again, she kindly replied, “Did you bring a cassette tape? I'd sign it for you.”

Silly me, I didn't even think of doing so.

By the end of the interview, she hinted that she'd like company for a meal. Again, I was so stupidly awestruck that I didn't say, “Sure, let's grab a bite.”

I've always regretted it.

If you get that opportunity, take it.

Here's to those bright lights that entertain us.

—Josie

 

Extracurricular Excerpt: The Sting

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I started writing Extracurricular eight years ago. As luck would have it, the recent college admissions cheating scandal made it a timely book to be launch this summer.

The scandal also gave me the impetus to expand the story into a three-book series. Whereas it was always going to be about about the consequence of a young lust that morphed into a three-year obsession and a twenty-two year-old secret, what sets its revelation in motion is a private school's involvement with the same illegal activities we're reading about now. 

As in real life, in this novel series, a few over-anxious parents will ruin not only their own lives, but that of the ones the loves they love most: their almost-adult children whose lives they feel they most micromanage as opposed to letting their children grow and mature through their own life experiences.

In the meantime, the reputations of school are also tarnished.

The excerpt above takes place during the middle of an FBI sting operation. In order to lessen her own jail sentence, a cooperating witness, nicknamed “Maleficent” by the agents because of imperious attitude, is recording two clients who interested in her “special attention” college counseling services.

Does it make it more palatable to readers that they are just as despicable as her? Throughout the book, that won't always be the case.

In Extracurricular, ego, desperation, insecurity, shame, lies, and lust play equal parts in 

Read the excerpt here, and then enter my contest, which has LOTS of goodies to win…

Extracurricular-Kindle

Extracurricular / Book 1

Signal Press (Release Date: June 28, 2019)
BOOK 1 of an Episodic Series of 3 Books
Digital ISBN:978-1-970093-00-1
Trade Paperback ISBN: 978-1-970093-02-5

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It's your child's senior year. 
A private high school's reputation is at stake.
A math teacher refuses to grade his final exams on a curve. 
Students have only one more shot at the SAT before college applications are due. 
And a few desperate parents with much more money than brains are willing to do anything to get their children into Ivy League colleges.

And Audrey's dirty little secret will soon be the downfall of everyone and everything she holds dear: love, family, friends, and her private high school alma mater.

In EXTRACURRICULAR, a dark family secret leads to a college admissions cheating scandal at a private school, setting off a crisis of conscience for the parents, teachers, administrator and the students involved—and a catharsis for one couple about their marriage.