A twist of fate.


Throughout the process of plotting Extracurricular, I wanted each scene to be a bittersweet twist of fate.

If it were put on a timeline, the first twist occurs in Chapter Two, during an SAT test. Appropriate, wouldn't you say, since the plot involves a college admissions cheating scandal?

If you're wondering if there is also a plot twist in Chapter One, rest assured there are several. One involves a set of parents who have the opportunity to walk away from being indicted in the scandal. Do they take it?

Another, involving the teacher and novelist whose life is chronicled in Extracurricular, shows how anger, fear, and too much of a good thing (in this case, liquor) can influence a decision with  severe consequences.

A third fateful twist engages the two FBI operatives in charge of the investigation. When one of the partners sees the other through the eyes of a new Person of Interest, it shades their relationship.

Read the excerpt here. Then be sure to enter the contest for some fun goodies.

EC Book1Extracurricular / 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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I write daily. I must. Creators—painters, photographers, musicians, and writers too—are like athletes: to keep in the game, you must stay fit. In order to strengthen our plots and dig deep into our characters, authors have to stretch their minds.

We can't do this by sitting in front of a computer for five to eight hours (or more) a day.

For me, even a hour or two's worth of scenery allows me to rethink work in progress. And because I have the great blessing of being married to a writer, we do our best to take our breaks together.

When we do, we walk.

Martin and Josie Cascade Falls MV

We are very fortunate in that we live in a beautiful place: San Francisco, California. If you're not opposed to taking in a few hills when you come upon one (a great cardio workout) it truly is a very walkable town. They say San Francisco is seven miles long by seven miles wide. On a normal day, we'll walk four to five of those. On a day in which we really want to get out of our heads, we'll walk as many as ten miles.

During that time, we talk: sometimes about our three wonderful kids, but mostly about our plots.

If you're a writer and you have a critique partner, you know the drill: you've chosen someone who knows and appreciates your work, understands your characters, and with whom you feel comfortable enough to explain the plot hole you may have fallen into.

Maybe they'll come up with an insight that you somehow missed. Maybe not. But just hearing you explain the concern out loud, you'll work through it. You'll have some sort of “Eureka” moment. 

Even if you don't, you'll be in sunlight. You'll hear others' conversations as you pass them. Something in the sky will catch your eye. Or maybe it'll be something on the bay. Or a front door of a house you've never seen before. Or wisteria is in bloom, and you it stops you in your tracks.

By the way, if you write but have not yet found a critique partner—and for that matter, if you are just dipping a toe in the process—check out the writers' collective known as the 85K Writing Challenge. There, you'll be inspired and challenge to come up with a daily word count that may result in the book you know lives within you. It is the brainchild of Author Julie Valerie, whose debut novel, Holly Banks, Full of Angst, will be out Fall 2019.

If we have the time, sometime we cross the Golden Gate Bridge and take in one of the many hikes in the trails in and around the tiny gem-like towns of Marin County. One of our favorites is in Mill Valley, California. Many of the houses are built on the lanes that zig and zag through the foothills leading up to Mount Tamalpais—or, as the Miwoks (first people of the area) called it, “the sleeping lady.”  This time of year, especially after a rainy season, a few of the falls that in the area are at full strength. The most accessible, and perhaps the most beautiful waterfall in this town is called Cascade.

I want to share it with you.

If you click onto this video you'll enjoy a tiny moment of zen.


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Why Authors Choose to Self-Publish


Most authors walk a financial tightrope. 

Hey, don't take my word for it. In a September 2015 an article on a recent Authors Guild survey of its members' incomes,  Publishers Weekly put it this way:


Authors Guild Survey quote


Thank goodness for self-publishing. It saved my career, and those of many other authors I know.

Even with four novels (one optioned for television) and two-nonfiction books published traditionally, as early as 2010 I'd dipped my toe into the choppy waves of self-publishing. My subsequent success with it is why I now self-publish exclusively.

Whereas self-publishing has grown by leaps and bounds in the past ten years, ours wasn't the first generation to discover its financial rewards. Jane Austen, Emily Dickinson, Marcel Proust, and Walt Whitman self-published their books. Misery loves great company indeed.

But before self-publishing became a financially viable option for the current generation of writers, traditional publishing—that is to say, print books, primarily by one of the Big Five New York publishing houses—was the only venue for the sale and distribution of books. Even ten years ago, the thing authors love to do most—write novels—was not possible without running an unwieldy gauntlet that put their manuscripts in front of any literary agency that might deem the book sellable to a publisher, and any publishing house editor who might actually like it enough to purchase it. 

Besides editing, printing, and distributing a book, part of the publisher's job is also to promote it. For doing so  the publisher holds on to anywhere from 80-92 percent of the book's retail price.

(Yep, some authors get only an 8 percent royalty. Worse yet, royalties are paid twice yearly, and they are only paid if their books "earn out"—that is, return any advance paid, which may not happen for years if at all, what with the other variables tied to this equation, including book returns, of which there are no cut-offs; and perhaps the payback of advances of other books as well.)

Sadly, in traditional publishing, marketing is the last consideration—never the first—when purchasing a book from an author. Compared to other products as a whole—and entertainment products in particular, including films, music, magazines, and video games—it gets a negligible budget, if any at all.

Steve Hamilton Publishers WeeklyDon't take my word for it.  In this article regarding the breakup between bestselling thriller writer Steve Hamilton and his former publishing house, St. Martin's Press, Publishers Weekly outs its industry's dirty little secret: there is no there, there:

 A book can be beautifully written, have scintillating dialogue and a page-turning plot. But without the adequate marketing and promotion that puts it in front of a targeted audience, a book is as dead as a beached whale. 

At this point in time, most Authors Guild members are traditionally published. Coupled with the Hamilton/SMP breakup, the Authors Guild survey certainly makes an excellent case for the guild to reconsider what it must do to protect its members. For example, the guild—along with literary agents and intellectual property attorneys—should insist that any publishing contract contain clauses that:

(a) Succinctly spell out a yearly quantitative financial base for the book, with instant reversion to the author if not met. Right now, most publishing contracts hold onto rights forever, under the assumption that digital distribution means that a book never goes out of print.

(b) Outline an advertising budget, tied to an actual, very specific media plan for the marketing of the book—at least for the first full year in print—and allow for immediate reversion of rights if there is no follow-through.

Is it any wonder that hybrid authors—that is to say, those authors who have been published traditionally, but then, like me, elected to publish their books independently of a publishing house—are a growing breed? Of course not. Like everyone else, authors have to eat. They have to pay rents and mortgages. They raise children, and pay for health insurance, taxes, and all the other expenses that come with being self-employed.

I personally know many hybrid authors. Under the traditional publishing model, their advances and sales shrunk along with the demise of both chain bookstores, and the winnowing of independent brick-and-mortar bookstores in the most recent recession. Several of these authors were at the brink of financial disaster (homes soon to be repossessed, couch-surfing, near bankruptcy) when they made the decision to walk away from traditional publishing contracts. After doing so, they rolled up their shirtsleeves and did what they had to do to self-publish: write good books; have their books professionally edited and digitally converted; distribute their books—primarily as eBooks.

The successful one know they must also promote their books.

The good news for their readers: the books are priced lower than their offerings still distributed by their traditional publishers. 

The great news for these authors: now that they retain 70 percent of the book's retail price, they are making a sustainable living for themselves and their families.

Some are doing better than that, having already sold millions of books since starting this journey. Sylvia DayBarbara Freethy, Stephanie Bond,  Bella Andre, and Kate Perry are perfect examples of hybrid authors who took advantage of the changing bookselling marketplace to not just survive, but to thrive. And whereas Ms. Day, Ms. Andre and Ms. Bond still have one foot in traditional publishing, Ms. Freethy and Ms. Perry are in total control of every facet of their books' design, distribution and promotion. 

Another hybrid author who made the leap to indie publishing and never looked back was thriller novelist Barry Eisler. Recently, I had the opportunity to interview him for the International Thriller Writers Organization's e-zine, "The Big Thrill." Some of what Barry says regarding the advantages of self-publishing versus traditional publishing can be found in the article linked here.

However, some of our Q&A was cut. Since the questions are relevant to this post's topic, I've included them here:

JB: If there were one (or two, or three) things you could change about the publishing industry and the novelist’s role within it, what would it be?

BE: The first thing I’d like to change is the popular perception that organizations like the Authors Guild and Authors United primarily represent authors rather than establishment publishers. I have no problem with organizations advocating for publisher interests, but the dishonest way in which the AG and AU go about their publishing industry advocacy misleads a lot of authors. I could go on at length about this topic and in fact I have—so for anyone who wants to better understand the real agenda and function of these “author” organizations, I’d recommend starting with this article I wrote for Techdirt, Authors Guilded, United, and Representing…Not Authors.

JB: But isn’t it true that the AG speaks out on various topics of concern to authors, like unconscionable contract terms?

BE: Hah, the AG going after publishers is like Hillary Clinton going after Wall Street. I’ve had a lot to say about this, including thecomments I wrote in response to this post at The Passive Voice.For anyone who’s curious, just search for my name and you’ll find the comments, the gist of which is, when the AG wants to accomplish something, it names names and litigates; when it wants authors to think it’s trying to accomplish something but in fact isn’t (or, more accurately, when what it’s trying to accomplish is maintenance of the publishing status quo), it talks.

When the AG talks, it’s a head fake. The body language is what to look for in determining the organization’s actual allegiances and priorities.

Another thing I’d like to change is the generally abysmal level of legacy publisher performance in what at least in theory are legacy publisher core competencies. Whether it’s cover design, the bio, or fundamental principles of marketing, legacy publishers are content with a level of mediocrity that would be an embarrassment in any other industry. I’ve seen little ability within legacy publishing companies to distill principles from fact patterns (particularly patterns involving failures) and then apply those principles in new circumstances. Institutional memory and the transmission of institutional knowledge and experience are notably weak in the culture of the Big Five. My guess is that the weakness is a byproduct of insularity and complacency brought on by a lack of competition.

JB: Agreed. Having spent fifteen years in advertising before becoming a novelist, I was abhorred as to what passed for “marketing and promotion.

BE: I'd also like to increase awareness of the danger a publishing monopoly represents to the interests of authors and readers. No, I’m not talking about Amazon; “Amazon is a Monopoly!” is a canard and a bogeyman. I’m talking about the real, longstanding monopoly in publishing (or call is a quasi-monopoly, or a cartel), which is the insular, incestuous New York Big Five. An important clue about the nature of the organization is right there in the name, no? See also the Seven Sisters

Okay, another thing (and then I’ll stop because I could go on about this stuff forever): I’d like to see more choices for authors; new means by which authors can reach a mass market of readers; and greater diversity in titles and lower prices for readers.

Wait, that last set of wishes is already happening, courtesy of self-publishing and Amazon publishing—the first real competition the Big Five has ever seen, and a boon to the health of the whole publishing ecosystem.

Hybrid author success stories are now numerous. As author advocate Jane Friedman's wonderful blog points out,  Claire Cook, Harry Bingham, and William Kowalski are just a few other examples of hybrid authors who made the leap and never looked back.

Products are created from a perceived need. Industries are created by providing sales and distribution venues for products.

But sometimes how the product is distributed changes also how the product is purchased by its consumers. 

Books—in whatever form they take—will always be needed. They entertain, they provoke thought, they provide knowledge.

In publishing, books are the products. Still, how books are distributed and sold doesn't change how they are made: by authors with the perseverance to write a good story, and then do what they can to find readers who will fall in love with it. 


Like Mr. Kowalski, Ms. Cook, and Mr. Bingham, I love what I do. Now that 2015 has come to an end, I now know that all my hard work toward creation and release of the my latest four books and a novella (The Housewife Assassin's Garden of Deadly Delights, The Housewife Assassin's Tips for Weddings, Weapons, and Warfare, The Housewife Assassin's Husband Hunting Hints, Totlandia Book 5, and Gone with the Body) was worth it.

It is confirmed by my bookstore royalties. More importantly, it is substantiated by the many kind comments received from my supportive readers. 

Thank you, readers, for taking a chance on me, loving my characters, and chatting up my books with others who they felt might enjoy them, too. 

Here's to a wonderful new year filled with more great stories from your favorite authors.



My NaNoWriMo Tips!

A tip a day keeps you scribblin' away.

Okay, not exactly a great line, but it gets the point across. And as my tips say here, "I'll edit on the back end."

And so will you–but first things first

Every day through November, I've been supporting those participating in National Novel Writing Month by launching posts on creative writing tips (usually by 12 noon PDT) that will help them reach their goal: writing 50,000 words in their novel.

Here are links to my tips:

Tip #1: Treat writing a if it is your career.

Tip #2: Outline the plot of your story.

Tip #3: Don't give up!

Tip #4: Meet your word count first; then edit.

 Tip #5: Show, don't tell.

Tip #6: Recognize when your" backstory" is really your story.

Tip #7: Chapter doesn't work? Fix it in "post."

Tip #8: Why every story needs a beginning, a middle and an end.

 Tip #9:What to do when your story is boring, even to you.

Tip #10: Better late than never. Here's why.

Tip #11: Choose the right writing voice. If your voice is wrong, change it.

Tip #12: Stuck? Change your writing pattern.

Tip #13: Make your readers love your hero.

 Tip #14: Is writing a craft, or an art?

Tip #15: 3 ways in which you sabotage your creative writing process.

Tip #16: How to get out of "paragraph paralysis."

17. The emotional depth of your characters is important.

18. Writing a novel is a marathon, so pace yourself.

19.Scene needs a rewrite? Try changing the point of view.

20. Write the way George Clooney acts: with confidence.

21. Every word counts. Here's why.

22. If your dialogue doesn't match the character, fix it! Now!

23. Make sure your novel isn't half-baked.

24. It's not what you mean, but how you phrase it.

25. Yes, you need an agent. Here's why.


Good luck with your own manuscript. I look forward to buying your book, too!



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Join me at Screenwriters World Conference 2013!



Instructors: Josie Brown and Laurie Scheer

Friday September 27, 2013 / 1-4pm

2013 Screenwriters World Conference West

Hyatt Regency Century Plaza
2025 Avenue of the Stars, Los Angeles, CA 90067

FEE:   $149 
(Boot Camp Only; See Below for FULL Attendance Packages)


Game of Thrones. True Blood. Silver. Bored to Death. Gossip Girl. What do these television shows all have in common?

They were books before they were adapted as network, cable, or premium channel shows.

Turning a book into a screenplay, or a teleplay is an art form onto itself. And turning a screenplay or teleplay into a book is one way in which you can get your project noticed by producers, as well as give it another revenue-generating platform.

Join me, along with Laurie Scheer (Media Goddess, former  producer for ABC, Viacom, Showtime, and AMC) for this seminar, which outlines the necessary steps writers need to take to move their literary work onto transmedia platforms. 

Laurie and I will discuss in detail our working relationship throughout the entire process–from mere idea to sold pilot–so you too can sell your prose within the vast television marketplace.

Topics covered:

• Adapting literary prose into script format.
• Preparing a TV bible, series treatment, project synopsis
• Selling yourself as a transmedia writer
• Understanding the television development process
• Playing the game-knowing what to ask for when your project is picked up
• Reality Check: Collaboration, or Take the Money and Run?
This is an interactive BOOT CAMP workshop consisting of lecture, presentation, in-class exercises, discussion, and Q & A ending session.

I hope to see you there!

— Josie




$549 early bird price available until July 19, $599 regular price effective July 20, $699 on-site price effective September 27.

Includes the full program starting at 5:00 pm on Friday, all of Saturday, and Sunday for Screenwriters World Conference West and Writer's Digest Conference West including access to both the Writer's Digest and Screenwriters World Pitch Slams.


$449 early bird price available until July 19, $499 regular price effective July 20, $599 on-site price effective September 27.
Includes the full program starting at 5:00 pm on Friday, all of Saturday, and Sunday.

$349 regular price, $449 on-site price beginning September 27.
Saturday Only option includes Pitch Slam and all other conference activities on Saturday, September 28.

For the group. Individual Full Conference registration for you and your writing partner! Great deal, two attendees for $749.

The Boot Camp only option allows registrants to register for Boot Camps offered on Friday, September 27. There are two boot camp time slots: 9:00 am, and 1:00 pm. Josie and Laurie's "Anatomy of a Novel Becoming a TV Pilot" is on Friday, September 27, 1pm. Each boot camp is three hours long and is $149 each. Please see the agenda page within registration to make your boot camp selections.


Join me at Pitchfest!

Leo and Carey Great Gatsby

Hey, if it happened to F. Scott Fitzgerald, it can happen to you.

One of America's most celebrated authors died penniless, his greatest opus, The Great Gatsby, nearly forgotten…

Except by Hollywood.

Since his death, his book,  has been adapted for the screen an extraordinary five times.

It's also been an opera, a ballet, a musical, a straight play, and get this: two video games.

 Can you increase the odds that your book will find its way onto the silver screen?

Is a novel an alternative route to get your screenplay into the hands of producers?

The answer to both these questions is a resounding yes. To find out how, join me in Los Angeles on Saturday, June 1, 2013, where I'll giving a workshop with the incomparably divine Laurie Scheer at Pitchfest called, "Adapting your Screenplay as a Book" .

Details are below.

It'll be worth it,

— Josie


Photo: Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan
in Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby 

Adapting Your Screenplay as a Book
4:30pm – 6:00pm – Academy Five
with Josie Brown & Laurie Scheer
So, you’ve pitched your screenplay and a few agents have said, “I could sell that idea if it were a novel.” Know that you’re not alone. So, what should you do? Josie Brown, best-selling novelist and Laurie Scheer, d-girl extraordinaire and publishing mentor, guide you through a workshop presentation that includes in-class exercises, tangible examples, and an extensive Q&A segment to help you determine how your screenplay will look as a book. With the majority of studio projects being produced from existing properties and franchises (books, comics, games, apps, etc.), adapting your screenplay into book form is an option many screenwriters have found success doing—and many others are considering it. Before you begin the process of writing prose vs. script, there are a few elements you need to know.

Click here to register for Pitchfest 

Click below to see a trailer from the movie, THE GREAT GATSBY

My NaNoWriMo Tip #15 is on authors sabotage their writing, and their careers.

It's NaNoWriMo Month

(National Novel Writing Month, for the uninitiated…)

For those of you who have begun writing your first book, every day I'll repost my fave creative writing tips here, just for you. 

Here's Tip #15, for Thursday, the 15th…

The previous day's post can be accessed on this page, too.

Here's to your success as an author,

— Josie Brown

Don’t forget to enter my HOUSEWIFE ASSASSIN’S GUIDE TO GRACIOUS KILLING contest, for a chance to win a $100 gift card to the bookstore of your choice!





An excerpt, not my own: the poetic prose of Proust.

These passage, about the power of fiction, comes from Swann's Way, the first volume of French novelist Marcel Proust's epic masterwork, In Search of Lost Time. It is voiced by his narrator, a young Marcel, while sitting in a garden at his parents country estate, outside the small French town of Combray.

This long passage comes in the form of a single paragraph. The punctuation is all Proust's work. He was given to paragraphs that could run up to five pages and sentences,
at times, of up to a thousand words. My husband, Martin, put reading Proust on his must-do list.

"At sixty-one,  I've already outlived Proust by ten years so I thought it was time to get started," he explained to me.

Already Martin has move on to his second volume, Within a Budding Grove.

He recommends that you read this passage more than once. "I've read it a half dozen times, and I think I've absorbed Proust's meaning…mostly."

See if you feel the same way.



 "Next to this central
belief which, while I was reading, would be constantly reaching out from my
inner self to the outer world, towards the discovery of truth, came the
emotions aroused in me by the action in which I was taking part, for these
afternoons were crammed with more dramatic events than occur, often, in a whole
lifetime. These were the events taking place in the book I was reading. It is
true that the people concerned in them were not what Françoise would have
called 'real people.' But none
JSS2of the feelings which the joys or misfortunes of
a real person arouse in us can be awakened except through a mental picture of
those joys or misfortunes; and the ingenuity of the first novelist lay in his
understanding that, as the image was the one essential element in the
complicated structure of our emotions, so that simplification of it which
consisted in the suppression, pure and simple, of real people would be a
decided improvement. A real person, profoundly as we may sympathize with him,
is in a great measure perceptible only through our senses, that is to say,
remains opaque, presents a dead weight which our sensibilities have not the
strength to lift. If some misfortune comes to him, it is only in one small
section of the complete idea we have of him that we are capable of feeling any
emotion; indeed it is only in one small section of the complete idea he has of
himself that he is capable of feeling any emotion either. The novelist's happy
discovery was to think of substituting for those opaque sections, impenetrable
to the human soul, their equivalent in immaterial sections, things, that is,
which one's soul can assimilate. After which it matters not that the actions,
the feeling of this new order of creatures appear to us in the guise of truth,
since we have made them our own, since it is in ourselves that they are
happening, that they are holding in thrall, as we feverishly turn over the
pages of the book, our quickened breath and staring eyes. And once the novelist
has brought us to this state, in which, as in all purely mental states, every
emotion is multiplied ten fold, into which his book comes to disturb us as
might a dream, but a dream more lucid and more abiding than those which come to
us in sleep, why then, for the space of an hour he sets free within us all the
joys and sorrows in the world, a few of which only we should have to spend
years of our actual life in getting to know, and the most intense of which
would never be revealed to us because the slow course of their development
prevents us from perceiving them. It is the same in life; the heart changes,
and it is our worst sorrow; but we know it only through reading, through our
imagination: in reality its alteration, like that of certain natural phenomena,
is so gradual that, even if we are able to distinguish, successively, each of
its different states, we are still spared the actual sensation of change."


Both of these paintings were created by John Singer Sargent. The first is called Rose-Marie Ormond Reading in a Cashmere Shawl, and the second is, simply, Man Reading.

NaNoWriMo Tip #11: Reach out to other authors. Here’s how.


I got a very sweet email from a reader once, who asked if I could go to an online post where her sister had written a book, read it, and give her encouragement.

I have a sister. If I weren't already published, I could see her wanting to help me in this way.

I had to decline, for several reasons: I had a pending deadline to meet with my editor, and a book launch. When under deadline, I have to keep my head down, and doing my own plotting and scheming.

In fact, I shouldn't even be writing this post, but it touched me so much that one sister would reach out to a perfect stranger to help another.

There are other reasons published authors decline. For example, if they followed through on every request they got to the same question, they would never be writing at all. Others decline for legal reasons: they never want someone coming back and saying, “She used my plot!”

So did Shakespeare, and he's been dead for four hundred years. Go figure.

If she — or you — are  serious about her writing, that is, if you see writing fiction more as a craft (and possibly a livelihood) than a hobby, you should immediately join (or at least go to a first couple of meetings of) one of the many writers organization that nurture aspiring writers, such as Romance Writers of America or Mystery Writers of America.

Here's the beauty part; you have to write in these genres in order to join.

There are local chapters all over the country (and in RWA, they even have national online chapters for specific genres, such as YA, Paranormal, Regency, etc).

By doing so, you will learn from others the ins and outs of the craft (plotting, dialogue, voice, etc.) as well as the “business” end: how to team up with a lit agent, who will put you in front of an editor who “gets” your voice ; or how to self-publish, if you are anxious to see it out in the world in a shorter time frame. (Going the agent to editor to pub date could take two years or more, on average).

These organizations have guest speakers who are published authors who share with you their own bumps in the road on their journeys to publication. You'll take workshops. You'll listen to literary agents explain their end of the business.

And if they sell what you write, you can give them your elevator pitch. Who knows, it may be a match made in heaven.

This, my friend, is an aspiring writer's life.

(A published author's life is a whole OTHER post. But not for today. Like I said, I've gotta keep my head down. As if.)

Within a writers' group, she'll make friends with other writers, both published and aspiring, who may be looking for “critique partners:”  others who will read it and give advice on where she can strengthen a plot point, or her dialogue.

In other words, an ongoing support group.

Almost every published author I know (including me) has found some success in this route, so I want to pass it forward.

My very own RWA Chapter, in San Francisco, actually put together a book for aspiring writers. Writing Romance: The Ultimate Guide on Craft, Creation and Industry Connections, is filled with insightful essays of life in the trenches. You should check it out. In fact, you'll find an essay or two from me in there.

I've also written a slew of creative writing tips in celebration of last year's National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).

If you don't have time to go this route, perfectly understandable. I wish you luck on your own road  to publication. I'm just hoping to pass along a shortcut in an industry which is changing so rapidly that you need a hovercraft to get to your destination: publishing novels, and being successful at it.

Warp speed, writer!

— Josie


Read yesterday's tip…


I've got a question for you, and be honest:  Have you psyched yourself out about writing? If so, can you now psyche yourself UUP, and START writing? 

Happy National Novel Writing Month,

— Josie

This Saturday, take my writers’ workshop in Sacramento…


Here are the deets. Hope to see you there!

— Josie

Sat May 19, 2012 / 9am check-in / Ends at 12 noon
Sacramento Valley Rose Romance Writers Chapter

Holiday Inn Rancho Cordova
11269 Point East Drive, Rancho Cordova, CA 95742

Josie's Workshop: "“Your First Scene, Line, Paragraph: Making a Great First Impression”

If you’re going to sell your novel, capturing the hearts and minds of those who will read it first – your dream agents or editors – is tantamount.

In this workshop, participants will learn:

1. 4 Page-Turning Tips Every Story MUST Have
2. The Best Place to Start Your Story, and Why (Believe it or not, it’s may not be where you’ve got it now…)
3. When (and When Not) to Use a Prologue
4. How to Integrate a Backstory without Slowing the Pace of Your Narrative
5. How and When to Balance Dialogue with Narrative

Because these are interactive workshops, prior to the event participants are welcomed to mail Josie the very first scene of a work-in-progress (no more than eight pages, double-spaced) that they feel exemplifies their process.

From what is sent in, she will choose a handful for positive, insightful examples of voice done well.

Hooray for Hollywood….

TrueHollywood Lies
I love the Southland.

Warm, dry heat. Palm fronds waving lazily in the breeze.

The inevitable celebrity sighting. "Is that….Nah! Can't be! Too  (fill in the blank: tiny/old/young/fat/doesn't look anything like the fantasy I had in mind)…"

I'll be making my way to Los Angeles this weekend, where I'll be hosted by the Los Angeles Romance Authors. Here's the deets, below.

Hey, if want to get into an LA frame of mind, click this link to hear a scat/jazz version of Hooray for Hollywood…

Or if you've got a hankering to talk writerly things, come join us!


— Josie

Sun April 15, 2012 / 10am – 12noon
Los Angeles Romance Authors

Sportsmen's Lodge Hotel, 12825 Ventura Blvd, LA CA 91604

Attendance costs $5.00 for members and $10.00 for visitors.
Your first visit is free!

Josie's Workshop: "“Your First Scene, Line, Paragraph: Making a Great First Impression”

If you’re going to sell your novel, capturing the hearts and minds of those who will read it first – your dream agents or editors – is tantamount.

In this workshop, participants will learn:

1. 4 Page-Turning Tips Every Story MUST Have
2. The Best Place to Start Your Story, and Why (Believe it or not, it’s may not be where you’ve got it now…)
3. When (and When Not) to Use a Prologue
4. How to Integrate a Backstory without Slowing the Pace of Your Narrative
5. How and When to Balance Dialogue with Narrative

Because these are interactive workshops, prior to the event participants are welcomed to mail Josie the very first scene of a work-in-progress (no more than eight pages, double-spaced) that they feel exemplifies their process.

From what is sent in, she will choose a handful for positive, insightful examples of voice done well.

What writers should do when they are in the 99% (of publishing’s many norms): stay in the game.

Sfarwabook[1]Because of a very fortunate turn of events this year in my writing career, I was asked to speak to other authors who had been my support system in the ups and downs of my 7-year career: the San Francisco chapter of the Romance Writers of America. This group is filled with an even mix of aspiriting and already published successful writers, all of whom have been there for each other with inspiring words, great advice, and a shoulder to cry on.

Yes, it was my turn to give back.

Here's what I told them (in the few moments when I wasn't dithering off-topic, on such things as house renovations from hell, book promotion, instore co-op and other necessary evils of success for the chosen few–

But then caffeine on a belly of oatmeal will do that to you. Next time: fill the ol' belly with pancakes first. Oh yeah: and look at your notes every once in a while…)


The year 2011 did not start out well for me. I was one of many midlist authors who had a novel under contract  with publishing house, but then it was dropped as part of a loss-saving attempt in light of the Borders bankruptcy.

I made sure that my own private pity party was short and bittersweet, then turned my attention on promoting the novel which was due out in April. I was proud of the buzz I'd already built prior to its release, which turned into a 10-market tour hosted by women who had the same career as Katie, the heroine in my book The Baby Planner.

As far as my editor was concerned, it paid off — enough for her to ask me to lunch. As we nibbled lady-sized salads at the Bergdorf-Goodman Restaurant high over Central Park, she asked, "So what can I see next?"

This is why it's always a smart idea to promote promote promote your books, no matter what your publishing house is (or isn't) doing for it.

Knowing that you need to publish or perish, I was also smart enough to take the great advice of my writer pal, Bella Andre, who has hit it out of the park indie-pub'ing her re-acquired backlist and some new books. She convinced me that a novel which had had four editors salivating for it- (until it got shot down in committee) was the perfect test for me to indie-publish. The first book in that series, The Housewife Assassin's Handbook, is out now.

Thus far I'm loving the sales. The second in the series, The Houswife Assassin's Guide to Gracious Killing will be out by the end of the month. So yes, authors: Independent publishing is one way to watch your orphans thrive.

Writing novels is not for the faint of heart. I truly believe you need a wonderful agent to match you with the right editor: someone loves your writer's voice and your story, and wants to help make it the best book possible before showing it to the world.

But even a great agent and a superlative editor can't do the one thing that keeps an author writing for a living wage. For that, you need a legion of readers who fall in love with your characters, and wants to see more of them, and of you.

Thanks to my wonderful agent, Holly Root, who saw the potential in my books to translate into different media, my novels were shown to a talent agency which felt that they did indeed have the potential to be adapted into movies or as a TV series.

Secret Lives400Well, they were right. One of Hollywood biggest producers, Jerry Bruckheimer, has optioned one of my books, Secret Lives of Husbands and Wives, for a television show that will run on ABC.

So yes: this year has been a rollercoaster. But I was one of the lucky ones.

I'm making  a living wage as a writer.

These readers are out there. I know authors who exhaust themselves trying to find them: touring, social networking, responding to comments and emails.

I strongly feel that, with the changes that are occuring in the distribution of books — the surge of online book sales, coupled with the decline in the number of brick-and-mortar bookstores, not to mention the number of books they take on — will also change the role of publishers:

They will have to  get more agressive — and smarter — in how they promote the books they publish.

I have no doubt that they will soon publish less authors. But in order to thrive, they'll have to make the books they do publish as profitable as possible. This means focusing on marketing and promotion as well as distribution. They need to recognize niche markets for specific authors and their books, and court them…

Something that authors do, now, for themselves…if they're smart.

And could to even better if they had the financial resources and personpower of their pub houses.

Every author writing for that imprint is a brand.

Every book is a product under that brand.

This is, simply, Marketing 101.

Which brings me to you, the author:

If you're a writer, be prepared to spend most of your career in the 99 percent.

Everyone in this room writes, because we must write. This need to write comes from the depth of our souls.

Ninety-nine percent of the world doesn't have this desire. (Thank gawd! Aren't there already enough of us, in this very competitive field?)

So, consider yourself in the one percent.

Already, I applaud you.

A reality we all know: ninety-nine percent of aspiring writers will not get published by a New York publishing house. All the more reason I want to applaud the many I see this room who have made it into the one percent who have been traditionally published.

Of all traditionally published writers, how many have been able — or will be able – to make writing a fully-fledged career that pays the bills and puts food on the table? How many will still be published ten or twenty years from now?

I'm guessing that number is closer to one percent than 99 percent.

And of those who are lucky enough to make writing their vocation as well as their avocation, I'm guessing that 99 percent of them will never have the joy of learning that their book has been optioned and produced in an entertainment medium, such as film or television.

But here's the thing: If you ever want to be in THE 1 PERCENT (of the 1 percent who write; of the 1 percent who get an agent; of the one percent who get a publishing contract; of the 1 percent who can make a living writing; of the one percent who may enjoy watching their characters come alive in the small screen or the silver screen) you have to stay in the game.

You have to write.

Afterward, you have to edit, and re-edit, and edit again, until your manuscript is a page-turner.

Then you have to query a large, well-researched list of agents with your manuscript.

Once you get that agent, you have to to listen to him or her as to what else has to be done to it so that s/he will be enthusiastic when it is sent out to editors (remember: agents work on a commission, so they don't get paid until your book sells; they are putting sweat equity in you as well).

And once your book is published, you have to promote it.

And you have to write more books.

So, yeah: writing is the easy part.

Staying in the game is the hard part.

Last. Author. Standing.

 – Josie

(c) 2011 Josie Brown. All rights reserved.

The top photo is the book cover for Writing Romance: The Ultimate Guide on Craft, Creation and Industry Connections, which is published by the San Francisco Chapter of the Romance Writers of America

HAH Hanging Man V2 Read an excerpt of
 Today, on




NaNoWriMo Tip #22: If your dialogue doesn’t match the character, fix it. Now!


Most novelists have several characters walking around in their heads at any given time. Sadly, not all authors take the time to bring these wonderful imaginary people to life.

Where they fail most often is in the words they put in their characters' mouths.

If all of your characters sound alike to you and to your critique partners, rewriting their dialogue may actually save your book.

Here are three steps to take in order to bring your characters to life:

1. Know your characters.
Where are they from, originally? How were they raised? What do they do for a living? What are their fears? How about their desires? As with all of us, these live experiences shape us, and affect the words that come out of our mouths.

Some authors I know actually do character bios: not just for their heroes and main characters, but for every character in the book. It's really a great exercise, and may make the difference in how your characters act– and react — on the page.

Actors do this, too. Michelle Williams (in the photo, above) is proving to be one of the foremost actresses of her generation because, like a Meryl Streep or a Kate Winslet, she is a different person in every film. One of her movies, My Week with Marilyn, is proof that she can lose herself in the iconic Marilyn Monroe: not just with makeup, but in the walk, the voice, and by saying the words written for her character in a way that rings true.

Tfios_soundtrack_cover2. Do your “dialogue” homework.
Just as you'd research a moment in time for an historical novel, or a place (say, the Vatican, if were you Dan Brown, and writing The DaVinci Code), you should also research the tone, cadence and slang of your characters.

A female college student from Berkeley in the 1960s won't speak — let alone think — the same way as one who went to school at Wellesley. That is also true about a father raising his children in downtown San Francisco, and one raising his kids in Dunwoody Georgia. 

If these characters inhabit your book, it's time to do a little research into their lives, and how it affects the words that come out of their mouths

The most common dialogue mistakes come when an author is (a) writing in the voice of the opposite sex, or (b) writing a character who comes from a different country.

In my very first novel, True Hollywood Lies, the anti-hero, Louis Trollope, was both: male, and from England. Not only did I tap into my male side (the yin and yang/dominant and recessive traits are something we all have, and must use if we are involved in creative writing) and have my husband vet my male dialogue, I also sent the manuscript to a male friend who grew up in England, to check the authenticity of my slang research. It was a great move, as he was able to tweak a few phrases, and to verify much of what I'd written was in fact “spot on.” (Love that term. Used in Britain more than here, but it aptly makes the point.)

3. Read your dialogue out loud to yourself.
Charles Dickens was an actor as well as a novelist. He knew the power of great dialogue. It was part of his writing routine to read his chapters out loud to himself, in order to hear the flow of his prose and gauge the authenticity of his dialogue. 

You should do that, too. If it doesn't sound real to your ear, it won't sound right to anyone else, either.

 4. Unless your character is Father Knows Best, a super hero, Ghandi, or Mother Teresa, he or she is not perfect–and that's okay.

So write them that way. Let them make mistakes. Let them do, and say, stupid things. Let them do things that will come back and bite them in the but later in your plot.

In other words, let them be real people. Because no one is perfect.

Except for you.

At least, according to your mother.

The photo above: from the movie “The Fault with Our Stars” 


Question of the day: How many times do you re-read your manuscript before sending it out into the world?  And honestly, do you feel it's enough?


— Josie


NaNoWriMo Tip #25: Do you really need a literary agent? Maybe. Here’s when.



Now that National Novel Writing Monthis almost over and your novel seems so real to you (50,000 words will do that, right?) you must also be thinking about how your book will find readers.

Traditionally, you'd be tossed onto a publishing editor's slush pile and pray to be discovered.

With the shrinking of publishing house staffs, that slush pile is now the domain of the literary agent.

But many an author will ask: are agents still necessary in a day and age of independent book publishing?

I've been published both ways, and my thought is this:


Many of the authors I know feel this way, too. Like me, they have their feet in both worlds: they still sell to “New York” (where most of the major publishing houses have their offices) but they also independently publish their solely-owned backlists, or novels that have never found homes, or a variety of experimental projects.

Frankly, it’s the best of both worlds.

Why? Because to publishing houses, you are only as good as the sales of your last book. I’ve known previously best-selling authors who have been kicked to the curb by their publishing houses, just because their sales numbers fell short of what they had done two years before.

Is it fair to blame the author? I don’t think so, considering all the marketing factors that are out of their control. Most don’t get any say-so on their covers. And the publishing industry isn’t as progressive as other industries in creating brands for their authors – let alone developing brand awareness with key target audiences. Rather, they have relied on a narrow retail channel (big chain bookstores for most books; and independent bookstores for a smaller, select group of books).

And sadly, they have been slow to build awareness to their own brands: their name, and the various imprints within their houses.

In the larger marketplace of the Internet, branding and name awareness is key. Knowing your audience and reaching it will make or break a brand.

Every author is a brand. You are the biggest cheerleader for your brand and your manuscript.

But no writer is an island. It takes a village to sell a book: you (to write it) an agent (to sell it) and an editor, or producer, or whoever to buy it, and (prayerfully) market it properly—

So that you sell lots of copies to readers.

Which brings up the question of the day: what is the role of the agent in this brave new world?

Here’s how I see it:

First and foremost, your agent will be making your deals with publishing houses.
Doing so is an agent's bread and butter. They work on commission. The more sales they make – and the more costly the acquisition – the happier they and their clients will be. It is also the best way for them to grow their own reputations.

Agents know what editors are looking for.
Agents know what genres are aging out, and which genres are getting hot (again). For example, if you write westerns, you’re probably hitting the reader zeitgeist just about…


Well, guess what? Even if you were bought today, your book wouldn’t be hitting the bookshelves for another eighteen months —  just when you’re genre is, hopefully, due to be hot again.

Your agent will have great insights on what will make your manuscript even stronger.
The best agents read what you write, and give copious notes on how to make it stronger. Why? Because you don't need a yes man. You need a partner in selling your book to an editor.

Your agent will be making your deals with other media platforms.
The explosion of television networks is a great opportunity for authors. Even if your agent hasn’t sold you to a publisher, s/he may be able to get you in the hands of a producer who is actively seeking to adapt books for film or TV. In fact, most literary agents are smart enough to network and co-venture with talent agents who work in the fields of movies and television.

Here's a perfect example: my wonderful literary agent, Holly Root, thought my novels would translate well in other media. There were several talent agencies — and agents within those agencies — she could have paired me with. She felt the best match was CAA. She was right. My agent there was diligent in sending my novels out to producers whom he felt would see their potential. A year and two months after my novel, Secret Lives of Husbands and Wives, hit bookshelves, it was optioned by movie and television producer Jerry Bruckheimer, who promptly pitched it to ABC television as a dramatic series. It will be hitting the airwaves next year. That is pretty quick turnaround. Some novels take years to get that kind of notice from Hollywood.

A great agent is a great sales person. S/he will always be looking for opportunities to sell your book. And your next. And your next.

As technology forces the world of publishing to change, the role of the agent will change as well, too. The services they provide their clients will have to get broader. My guess is that these services will include all other things that help expand brands in other industries: name awareness (promotion) and  product positioning.

So how do you get an agent? That will be tomorrow’s post…

Picture: You may not want ENTOURAGE'S Ari Gold as your agent, but your literary agent might co-agent with someone like Ari who can help you sell  your manuscript into television or the movies. It's the way we live now.




I've got a question for you: Have you already tried to get an agent? How did that go?

— Josie

NaNoWriMo Tip #28: Here’s what to do to keep your story from being a turkey.


Over Thanksgiving weekend–yep, NOW!–the pull of family, friends and great food will lull you away from your daily NaNoWriMo goal of 1,350 words or thereabouts.

The more diligent writers will do what they can to double up on their daily word count prior to this holiday. But if you're actually in charge of the feeding frenzy, you may be AWOL the Tuesday and Wednesday of prior to Thanksgiving as well.

That said, here are some food for thought to help you stay on track over the weekend:

1. Don't beat yourself up for taking time off.
It happens to all writers, published or not. I've known of writers who were under deadline during family illnesses, personal illness, while planning weddings, and even planning funerals. Here's the facts: real life gets in the way. If you're lucky to have family to gather with on this wonderful holiday, be thankful about it. You can write when everything calms down.

2. Like getting on a diet, force yourself to get back into your best writing habits.
In the past, these skills have done the job in the past to keep your creative juices flowing. Don't get lazy; get OCD crazy with them again. It's a regimen, so get back on it, and keep to it.

3. Don't worry about overbaking your manuscript.
Layer in atmosphere. Pack it with nuance. Give us the deets on your characters — by showing, not telling.

In other words, more is more.

So stuff it. Stuff. It. Good.





Question of the day: Did you write on Thanksgiving Day? If so, let me know, so I can celebrate with you (that means an extra piece of pie for us both, so YEA!

Happy Thanksgiving — and happy National Novel Writing Month,

— Josie


NaNoWriMo Tip #24: It’s not what you mean, but how you phrase it.


I am from the South, where politeness is an art form. There, merely saying “Good morning” is a curt form of communication. Instead, conversations are dressed up with additional gracious phrases, such as “Looks like it'll be another hot one…” or “That dress certainly becomes you.”

These comments may be spoken prose, but the pictures they draw in the mind's eye of the receiver fall as lightly on the ear as any poem.

That's because it's not what you mean, but how you say it.

This is especially true when crafting a novel, as so many of you are doing during National Novel writing Month.

Case in point:  When my son, Austin, was twelve, he was golfing with my brother, his Uncle Marty, at Marty's country club in Atlanta. Even at that age, Austin had a phenomenal swing. Or, as Will Smith's mysterious golf caddie calls it so poetically in the movie The Legend of Bagger Vance, an “authentic swing.”

On the third hole, when Austin hit his ball all the way down the fairway, over 175 feet.

His ball landed a few feet from the cup.

One of men in the foursome whistled low and muttered, “Way to hit that ‘tater, boy!”

Granted, the man could have merely said, “Quite a swing!” But where is the poetry in that?

There should be poetry in your writing, too.

It comes with the daily words you strive for during NaNoWriMo, a process which allows you to flex your creative muscles, to find your writing rythmn.

Or, in Bagger Vance parlance, your “authentic swing.”

Because of NaNoWriMo, some of you have already found it. Others are struggling to make their word count, to make their plot work, or to create characters who seem authentic.

If I were to attach a golfing metaphor, I'd repeat the one Bagger uses with Matt Damon, who plays the golfer under his tutelage:

“You've lost your swing. You've just got to go find it. It's somewhere in the harmony of all that is and all that was, and all that will be.”

Practice makes perfect. So does the belief that you have it in you to complete your novel, and to sell it.

If, at any point during NaNoWriMo, you feel as if you've lost your swing, remember: it's there.

You just have to find it.

The photo above is of Will Smith and Matt Damon, in The Legend of Bagger Vance




Question of the day: What was the hardest writing day you've had thus far during NaNoWriMo?  

Happy National Novel Writing Month,

— Josie

NaNoWriMo Tip #21: Every word counts. Here’s why.



The most chilling scene in the movie based on Stephen King's novel, The Shining, is when the heroine, Shelley Duvall, discovers that all the days her husband, Jack Nicholson, has spent supposedly working on his novel were in fact spent writing the phrase  “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” over and over again.

 It's disturbing, not because it proved Jack was possessed, but because all that time and effort produced boring, redundant prose.

Talk about scary.

For those writers participating in National Novel Writing Month, suffice it to say that following Jack's format is not the right way to achieve your 50,000 word count goal.

Instead, every single sentence you put on a page has to do the following:

1. Create an alluring image for the reader.
Think of your prose as poetry that doesn't have to rhyme. However, it still should sing. It should move the reader. It should make them laugh, or cry, or gasp.

Most of all, it should make anything it is describing– be it person, a place, or an incident — come alive to the reader.

2. Propel your story forward.
To agents, a golden manuscript is one that is a page turner. Every sentence has to make them want to read the next. Every page has to make them want to turn to the next. Every chapter should leave them wanting to get to the next one. 

If it gets them excited, believe me: your agent will pitch it in a way that excites editors, too.

3. Make the reader want to turn the page. And the next page. And the next.
Throwing words on a page has its place — if in fact they are the right words. That said, after you've met your word count for the day, go back and read what you've just written. Does it flow off your tongue? Does it sound natural to your ear? Is it colorful?

Or is it just…filler?

Filler sits there, saying nothing. It takes up space. It's a placeholder until you think of some action or wordplay or dialogue that takes the story in a new direction.

In other words, it's your version of “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”

Cut. It. Out.

Is there a better way to make your point? Yes. There is. 

Find it. Write it. Make it sing.

The photo above is of Jack Nicholson, in The Shining




Question of the day: Have you found yourself being redundant? If so, have you been successful in breaking that bad habit?  

Happy National Novel Writing Month,

— Josie

NaNoWriMo Tip #20: Write the way George Clooney acts: with confidence.


I consider self-sabotage one of the biggest issues facing any aspiring novelist, especially during National Novel Writing Month, when so many others are posting online their daily word count triumphs–

While others are falling short, or perhaps haven't had the time to write at all that day.

Talk about discouraging.

Writing a novel is a Herculean endeavor. Then there are the the additional hurdles of querying agents in the hope that they, too, will love it enough to want to represent you to editors at the various publishing houses.

Publishing is a high-stakes gamble. Considering the fact that  57,000+ adult fiction books were estimated to be published in 2010, you've got every right to wonder if your book will be one of the chosen ones for 2013. (Sorry to break the news to you, but the publishing house catalogs for 2012 are already closed out.)

My best advice to you: Don't freak out.

Instead, be cool.

Why? Because like wolves agents and editors can smell fear.

So, what's the best way to keep your eye on the prize that is worth all your sweat equity?

Simple. Pretend you're George Clooney.

When you consider that (despite his dreaminess) he's not much different from you or me.

Remember: before all his “Best Actor” Oscar nods, this was a guy who once starred in Return of the Killer Tomatoes.

Not to mention one of the worst Batman movies ever.

So, how did a guy who got his start on the ridiculously bad TV show Facts of Life catapult himself into the Hollywood firmament as a celebrated producer/director/actor?

He's doing what I'm suggesting to you now: He thought like a winner.

Believe me, every writer wonders if their next book will be their last. Because besides being a craft and a business, fiction writing is also an art, which is very subjective to buyers (initially, an editor). Many great books are turned down by editors before they find a home, and perhaps become a success with readers.

If you're going to write for a living, you'll have to develop a thick skin.  Here's how to make it as handsomely rugged as George Clooney's:

Be yourself.
Joan Cusack put it best in Working Girl: “Sometimes I sing and dance around the house in my underwear. Doesn't make me Madonna. Never will.”  Don't try to be (or write) like someone else. You have great ideas for your books, and you have a unique voice with which to render them. Play to those strengths

Believe in your material.
By the time Clooney starred in the movie Out of Sight, he'd made the decision that he was beyond working just to work. He wanted to work on projects he believed in. Writing a novel is a long-term commitment. If you don't enjoy the project or the process, quit it. Start something new. Something you can live with, for a very long time.
Surround yourself with great characters.
Clooney works with actors and directors who are just as easygoing and committed to the project as him. That keeps things stress-free.
You, too, should have a support group. Form a critique group filled with like-minded authors who can commiserate with you on the craft and business of writing.
As for the characters you create on the page, they should be a joy to flesh out. Give them great dialogue. Make their backstories worthy of your time, and that of your readers. Make them interesting, engaging, fun. Your readers will appreciate you for doing so.
Love what you do.
Joie de vie is French for “the joy of life.” We are our happiest when we love our work, and our lives. You should feel blessed that you have the talent and the drive to write that book within you. If you believe in yourself, trust me, it will come across in your writing.
Enjoy yourself.
Everytime we see a picture of Clooney, or read an interview, it's obvious he's having fun. We think to ourselves, “Why can't our lives be like that?” Guess what? They can. It starts with you. If your life is a ball, everyone wants to be at the party…
Including smart agents and editors. 
I'm not asking you to be the sexiest author alive. I'm just asking you to believe you are. 
Make us believe that you are ready for your close-up.

The photo above is of — whom else? — George Clooney. starring with Brad Pitt in Oceans Eleven.




Question of the day: Which is your least Clooney-esque feature? Share it, below, and maybe you'll see why it's holding you back.  

Happy National Novel Writing Month,

— Josie

NaNoWriMo Tip #19: Scene needs a rewrite? Change the point-of-view.



Sometimes while working on your novel — perhaps several hours into your work day — it becomes obvious that a particular scene just isn't working out. You've changed the starting point and the dialogue, and that didn't help. You've even added a character or two, and noticed that the only effect it had was to slow the pace: not good.

Instead, try changing the point of view in which the scene unfolds.

For example, if you've been writing it through the eyes of your heroine, rewrite it so that it is now seen through the villian's eyes, or even those of a secondary character.

By doing so, you allow the reader to also see the action from a different perspective — and that new point of view may make them more sympathetic to your heroine.

Not only does this exercise shed new light on your heroine. It also adds dimension to the secondary character. We would not have felt so strongly about Dobby, the free-thinking house elf in the Harry Potter series, if we had not read a scene from his perspective.

In fact, the whole story takes on a new life when seen from a different character's point of view. In his novel Wicked, Gregory Maguire has built his reputation and success imagining L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz from the viewpoint of Elphaba, the name he bestowed on the before nameless Wicked Witch of the West.

Just imagine if some of the scenes in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn were played out in the mind's eye of his friend: the runaway slave, Jim.

A whole new take on a literary classic can be created if you open yourself up to the possibility of seeing it through different eyes.

The photo above is a scene from the movie version of The Wizard of Oz, with Judy Garland and Margaret Hamilton.




Question of the day: Have you changed the POV of a scene, with success? Share it, below, so we can celebrate it together. 

Happy National Novel Writing Month,

— Josie

NaNoWriMo Tip #14: Is writing a craft, or an art?

Sargent in his Studio

It's a trick question: creative writing is both a craft and an art.

Those who master the “craft” part have taken the time and effort to hone the skills needed in order to push out the words in a timely fashion (just as you are doing throughout National Novel Writing Month). They use proper grammar and syntax. And of course, they know how to format a book manuscript (a one-inch border all around; double-spaced: and in  the header, the book's title / your name / page number).

They've also taken the time to learn the business of writing. By this, I mean that they:

(a) Have critique group. Every author should have access to other like-minded writers who meet at least once a month in order to read each others' pages and help each other work through plot holes; and

(b) Listen to what others are saying about literary agents who are actively seeking manuscripts.Then they research these agents to assess which of them will be the best champions for their stories. (Broad hint: it is those agents who are already selling stories similar to yours, and have established strong contacts with the editors who love those types of stories.

Writers who are good craftspersons follow each agents' specific rules for querying. (One agent may ask for a synopsis and 50 pages of the manuscript, whereas another may want to see a full manuscript from an unpublished author.)

At the same time, these authors break rules, too: they aren't shy about introducing themselves to agents at a networking event or industry party, because they know that a little face time–coupled with an intriguing one-liner about their book–will get them an immediate response, like: “Sounds interesting! Email me your manuscript, and be sure to put in the subject line that we met here….”

(c) Listen what others are saying about publishing houses and their various imprints. Who are the editors, and what are they buying now? Are cozies selling well? Have zombies peaked? Is Steampunk holding its own? Is YA aging out?

Here's the bottom line: even if you are a Nazi grammarian, or are the best networker in the world, if you haven't embraced the art of creative writing, it won't matter how many agents you query, or how many editors' desks your manuscript ends up on–

Because everyone is looking for the next great book, and that ain't yours. 

Unless you are an “artist,” too.

Authors who are artists recognize a wonderful “what if” premise for a story, when they run across one.

They know to create a story arc, with a “got to keeping reading this”  beginning, a rachet-it-up middle, and a climatic as well as satisfying ending.

Their characters seem so real that you want to love them, or despise them, or hang out with them — forever.

Their dialogue makes you laugh out loud, or gasp, or cry.

If they describe someone, your mind's eye can see him immediately.

The art of writing is what makes a book great.

Your book is great, too. But you'll have to challenge yourself once again: both as a craftsperson, and as an artist.

Once NaNoWriMo is over, take the time to review your manuscript for craft issues. Do you have too many typos? Do you know when to use a comma? Is the document formatted correctly? Have you researched the best agents to send your manuscripts (Multiple submissions are okay, and most accept online submissions as well).

After you've got the craft side down, you're ready to sculpt it into the work of art it should be.

This means making the effort to rewrite your plot holes, your unrealistic dialogue, or peripheral characters who don't move the story forward (let alone in any direction).

The artist in you will make sure that readers can empathize with your hero. They have to feel his pain.

Your narration must be potent, intoxicating your readers to stay within the world you've created for them, here on the page.

To do all this, both as a craftsperson and an artist, you can't just read over your manuscript once or twice. You'll read it at least four times. That should take four weeks, with breaks in between (otherwise you'll go cross-eyed and hate the sound of your own writing voice.)

Then, by January, you should query agents with a boffo letter that will have them intrigued.

All agents appreciate craft. But they live to sell art.

So you have to get it into the agents' hands. You can't be a Van Gogh: that is, afraid that agents won't love it as much as you do. How can they, if you don't let them see it?

You've got to be a John Singer Sargent—that is, someone who proves himself in public. (something he was doing since his very first submission was accepted in the Paris Salon in the late 1870s), You must be spectacular in your craft. More to the point, you must be a steady producer. One novel won't do it.

More on query letters in a future tip…

PICTURE: John Singer Sargent in his studio. His paintings, both his portraits and landscapes, are revered and timeless
His most famous (and infamous) was Madame X.
Sargent had the chops alright. But unlike some painters of his time, he knew his art was also his business, and he made money from it..




I've got a question for you, and be honest: As an author, do you consider yourself a craftsperson, or an artist? Tell me why…

Happy National Novel Writing Month,

— Josie