Debra Webb’s THE SECRETS WE BURY – Author Provocateur Podcast

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Today's guest is the prolific suspense novelist Debra Webb, a USA-Today and Publishers Weekly bestselling author with over one hundred and fifty books to her name.

Debra’s latest novel, THE SECRETS WE BURY, is the first in a new romantic suspense series whose protagonist, Dr. Rowan Dupont—formally Nashville Police Department’s forensic psychologist—also happens to be an undertaker’s daughter.

Rowan, who comes from the small town of Winchester TN, is haunted by the mysterious drowning death of her twin sister. Between her mother’s subsequent suicide and the recent murder of her father, returning to Winchester to run the funeral home feels fitting—even if it leaves her vulnerable to an obsessive serial killer.

Debra and I not only discussed her plotting and how her own past affects her writing, she also has sage advice to authors just starting out: “If what you write is what readers want to read, don't deviate from what works best for them—and for you.” 

Martin and I found this antique musical Santa snow globe at an old curiosity shoppe.

Christmas Snow Globe 2015

At the time it was a splurge for us—thirty dollars—but how could we resist? Turns out the shop owner had just polished its brass base that very morning before putting it in the shop window. "I knew it would go quickly," he said, chuckling. The shop is gone now. Still, I'm sure he'd be happy to know it's given us many years of joy. Every time I hear its version of "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town," I have to smile.

—Josie

Puddle Jumpers

Martin-Munkasci-and-Richard-Avedon

Love this! The first photo is called "The Puddle Jumper"
and was taken by the photographer Martin Munkácsi, for Harper's Bazaar, in 1934.
The second was taken by Richard Avedon, also a fashion shot, and also in Paris, but in 1957.
Beautiful!

–Josie

My five New Year’s resolutions…

Butternut-squash

Resolution #1:
Stay healthy.
(Note to Self: eat more root vegetables, and less sugar!)

HappyEggs

Resolution #2:
Stay happy.
(Note to Self: much more sex, much less [caloric] sugar!)

I2i_holagraphic

Resolution #3:
Acquire a new language.
(Pig Latin does NOT count.)

Tumblr_lvypsd5Jbc1r03wcgo1_500

Resolution #4:
Experience new things, with total abandon!
(Unless they include black-outs, tattoos, or joining a cult.)

 

 0703_writing_cog

Resolution #5: 
Two thousand words a day! 
(More writing. Note to Self: skipping martini may do the trick…)

10 Things You Should Never Say to a Novelist

ApiringWriters_LoRez_colour

(c) 2005 Alex Steuart Williams  (FLIP) and Erica Rothschild

 

I'm being serious.

Okay, here goes:


1. "I'd write, too, but I can't stand the thought of all the trees I'd be killing." 

Yes, I've heard this one. My response back then was, "Don't worry. You won't sell enough books to raze a sapling, because your pub house won't push you that hard to begin with."

Today, I'd add, "And besides, most books are digital, so you can't use the tree-killer bullshit as an excuse not to write anymore."

 

2. "I'd write, too, but I just can't make the time."

Good. Stay busy. The world doesn't need anothor author. Here's a hint: It's not a hobby. It's a profession.

3. "Why don't you kill off your series' villian?" Because then I wouldn't have a series. And if I don't have a series, I don't have the rent money. I'll make you a promise: when and if he quits paying the rent, I'll quit writing about him.

 

4. "Honestly, what do you really do to pay the bills?"

 
I write novels and I'm proof that not all writers live a life of poverty.

Then again, I'm not JK Rowling, either.

If a writer is persistent and lucky, he or she will find that their income is somewhere in between minimum wage and unimagined wealth.

I'm not saying it's an easy way to make a living. It took years to crawl my way up beyond the government set poverty line. To make the rent, I wrote other things: game questions, greeting cards. magazine articles, even horoscopes. (No, I was not a licensed astrologist, just a mom with two growing kids who could go through money like the Pentagon).
 

 5. "The best authors–like JD Salinger, or, say Margaret Mitchell– only wrote one, or maybe a just few, books in their lifetime."

Oh, really? I guess that leaves out Dickens, Twain, Wharton, LeCarre, Dreisher, Trollope, James, Chandler, Christie, and Doyle, to name a few–all of whom are on my favorite authors list–along wtih Salinger and Mitchell.  

And by the way, some of the worst writers only wrote one book as well.

I'd say the odds are with those who get the most chances at the plate. Don't forget, Babe Ruth broke records for hitting home runs and for striking out. 

Not to mention, a writer's skill level rises each time up to bat. 
  

6. "When am I going to see you on the New York Times Bestsellers list?"

Maybe never–and that's okay with me. A Times review won't necessarily pay the bills. 

For that matter, a Times review won't necessarily be a good one. Just ask any author who has been scorched, panned, or ridiculed by one.
 

 7. "When will I see your book reviewed in the New York Times?"

Again, maybe never–and that too is okay with me. I write commercial literature–romantic suspense, funny mysteries, contemporary women's fiction–and those books usually don't get a NYT review unless they're deemed such a cultural phenomenon that even the Times can't ignore them. 

As for those authors who are waiting for some news outlet to review their books, all I can say is, good luck. Even the best New York publishing house publicist rarely scores a major newspaper review for a mid-list or debut author, let alone a segment on the Today Show.  Now, if you're willing to change your first name to Snooki, or your last name to Kardashian, you may actually get that review, or some air time.

It's just the way of the world: a ghosted celebrity can garner more air time for a mediocre book than a gifted author will receive for a notable work. 

So suck it up. 

Better yet, don't reach for the stars when that is not the lasting definition of success. You're better off working the crowd instead of waiting for the crowd to come to you. In fact, I know many authors whose books have gotten better–and substantially more reviews–than those I see in the Times–

From readers.

Rude awakening: many major newspapers have done away with book reviews–and book reviewers–altogether. That being said, the voices that are ever more important to authors are avid readers, especially those readers who are willing to write a review on the websites of the bookstores (both online, and brick-and-mortar) where they buy their books. Even better is when they chat up your books to friends.

In today's book market, a four-plus star reviews by hundreds of readers on an online bookseller's site can generate more sales than a few kind words in a Times review on any given Sunday.

Bottom line: word of mouth means everything.
 
 

8. "You can write more than one book a year? Hmmm. You're not an artist. You're not even a craftsman. You're…a hack!"

Here's the scoop. Even painters have to produce more than one painting in a lifetime–let alone a year–in order to eat, pay rent, and pay for their kids' braces.

The same goes for musicians. They have to play more than one gig. And songwriters have to write more than one song.

No one wants to be a one-hit wonder.

In fact, even one hit is akin to winning the lottery.

As for being a craftsperson: the proof is in the satisfaction of the buyer.

I'm very proud of my body of work. Every book has received an average of four or more stars. And every day, I get  letters from readers who were kind enough to take the time to tell me how much fun they had with my books, or how much they love my characters. I love to hear that it kept them up at night (it certainly did for me when I was writing any one of them!) or that they laughed so loud that it woke their spouses. 

That, my dear friends, is satisfaction.
 

9. "It must be nice to be able to set your own hours."

I write at least ten hours a day.

Believe it or not, some chapters are written in my sleep. 

When I'm not writing, I'm plotting. Or researching.

The creative process is the most important aspect of my profession. But the marketing of my books are just as important. That being said, when I'm not writing, plotting or researching, I'm concepting covers, going over edits from my proofers and editors–

And promoting, promoting, promoting.

In any regard, I'm thinking about my books twenty-four/seven.

None of it is easy. But it can certainly be rewarding. I guess that's what makes it a "job," and not a hobby.

10. "It must be great to have such a fun job."

I wouldn't be doing anything else. And I'll do it, as long as I please my readers–and myself.

But like any job, it's not always fun. Sometimes it's frustrating. Sometimes I disappoint myself with how slow I am at it. It takes time to craft a sentence, let alone a paragraph, a scene or a chapter.

Then you have to do it time and again, until you have a cohesive story. Creating a work that even you enjoy, despite having read it so many times, you want to scream.

I remember the reaction my sister had when I told her I'd sold my very first novel. "In fact, the contract is for two books," I proclaimed proudly.

This was met with a look of horror. "You mean, they can make you write another?" 

"God, I hope so," I declared.

 Eight years and seventeen novels later, I still feel that way. 

And, now a bonus comment…

11. "I've got a great idea for a book! Why don't I give it to you, and we can split what you make, 50/50?"

Ha ha! I get this one a lot! I've even gotten it from my sister.

Thank you, but I respectfully decline your offer. You see, I have so many ideas already, that I wonder if I'll have the lifespan in which to write them all.

And besides, at best, a concept is a one-liner (at the most ten words). Even if it's the best book concept in the world, but then you're leaving me with the heavy lifting–that is, coming up with the other eighty thousand words that makes it a book.

You see, a book may start out as a high concept, but it needs a beginning, a middle, and an end. That's a lot of sweat equity–especially if the concept doesn't resonate enough with you to (a) spend the time to research the era or topic, or (b) create characters who go through the motions to bring it to life–and make readers laugh, cry, or write you to tell you how much your words meant to them.

That being said, go ahead and write it, as only you could do.

And let me know when it's published. I look forward to reading it, and supporting you, just like you read and support me.

 

HA Prequel The-Housewife-Assassin's-Deadly-Dossier-FinalJosie Brown is the author of The Housewife Assassin's Handbook series, as well as the Totlandia series. Her next book, The Housewife Assassin's Deadly Dossier, will be released in June 2014.

My guess is that she’s reading Pride and Prejudice…

Keira-knightly-as-elizabeth-bennett

 

Or maybe "The Housewife Assassin's Handbook."

I'll go with the latter.

–Josie

From "Pride and Prejudice, the Musical"

Music and Lyrics by Rita Abrams; Libretto by Josie Brown

The song: 

Bingley_2#3: IT IS A TRUTH (Complete Song)
(Sung by Bingley, Darcy and Caroline)

 Darcy and Bingley banter about the pressures on single men–particularly wealthy single men–to marry.  But while Darcy is disgusted by it, Bingley's attitude is more benign–perhaps because he is already in the throes of enchantment with one of the local beauties, Jane Bennet.

 

_________________________________

 

 


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THE HOUSEWIFE ASSASSIN'S HANDBOOK
978-0-9740214-0-9

FREE! 
ORDER NOW,  from

Amazon.com (US)  / Amazon.UK 
Also in all Amazon countries!

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“I don’t mind living in a man’s world…”

Marilyn-monroe-reading

 

"…as long as I can be a woman in it."

— Marilyn Monroe

 

____________________________

 

 

HA1 Handbook 768x1024

THE HOUSEWIFE ASSASSIN'S HANDBOOK
Murder. Suspense. Sex. 
And some handy household tips.

978-0-9740214-0-9

FREE! 
ORDER NOW,  from

Amazon.com (US)  / Amazon.UK 
Also in all Amazon countries!

BN.com (99 cents)

Apple iTunes Bookstore  / Apple iTunes Bookstore (UK) 
In all iTunes countries!

KoboBooks

RIP Shirley Temple. Thanks to you, I’ll always put Animal Crackers in My Soup.

Shirley-temple
My mother introduced me to the films of the iconic child actress, Shirley Temple, when I was five. Mom, who was just a few years younger than Ms. Temple, was raised as a dancer because of her idol.

By the time of my own childhood, in the 1960s, many of Ms. Temple's films were already on television. I loved her pouty voice, and her snappy footwork with the likes of Bill "Bojangles" Robinson (The Little Colonel) and Buddy Ebsen (Captain January), to name a few.

And yes, I put animal crackers in my soup, and wanted to sail away on the Good Ship Lollipop. I already had a Curly Top. All I needed were the Dimples.

It was easy to laugh with Ms. Temple during every movie, but sometimes her touching performances made me cry —  when, say, she encouraged Clara to walk, in Heidi, and when she was the  Poor Little Rich Girl who found the father she thought she lost in during the Boar War, just before she was to be sent away to an orphanage.

I can carry a tune, but could never really shuffle off to Buffalo. So, a belated thanks to you, Shirley, for sharing your incredible talents with the rest of us.

–Josie

 

HA1 Handbook 768x1024THE HOUSEWIFE ASSASSIN'S HANDBOOK
Murder. Suspense. Sex. 
And some handy household tips.

Signal Press/ 978-0-9740214-0-9

FREE! 
ORDER NOW,  from

Amazon.com (US)  / Amazon.UK 
Also in all Amazon countries!

BN.com (99 cents)

Apple iTunes Bookstore  / Apple iTunes Bookstore (UK) 
In all iTunes countries!

KoboBooks

— Josie

When it comes to a boat, what’s in a name?

Harbor1

The boats in the San Francisco Yacht Harbor have wonderfully whimsical names: Irish Whisper. Calico Dragon. Sea Hawk. Kookaburra. Nai'a. Daisy. Escapade. Effie Jane. Portola.

Then there's the one named, simply, "Sailboat."

Talk about putting things in perspective.

— Josie

 

 

HA1 Handbook 768x1024 FREE!
THE HOUSEWIFE ASSASSIN'S HANDBOOK 
Over 150,000 downloads.
Find out why readers love it.

Read more about Donna at www.HousewifeAssassinsHandbook.com

 

San Francisco’s Union Square during the holidays, from an historical perspective.

Skate3
The skating rink and lit tree, in Union Square, downton San Francisco, California.

The model for the statue was a young local beauty, Alma Spreckels, who ended up marrying the sugar king (yes, she actually called him her "sugar daddy"–or as she put it, "I'd rather be an old man's darling than a young man's slave."

She also founded the city's Legion of Honor Museum, because none of the swells would take her money for the renowned DeYoung Museum. Many of her treasures came from France, which she helped during World War I. She was one of the most ardent patrons of Auguste Rodin.

The mansion the Spreckels built, on Washington at Octavia, was purchased by novelist Danielle Steel, lucky lady.

— Josie

HA Christmas Banner

John Singer Sargent painting: “Zuleika”. The farce — and artifice — of beauty.

Sargent_John_Singer_Zuleika

Gorgeous, wouldn't you say? It was painted by the 19th Century famous portraitist,  John Singer Sargent. His abstracts were always of friends– usually other artists, such as himself. I wonder if that was because he felt his clients demanded something more meticulous, whereas perhaps these were painted on the fly? His version of toting a camera was to relax with easel, canvas and paints, be it oils or watercolors.

This one is entitled "Zuleika," was completed in 1907, and hangs in the Brooklyn Museum. The name is a genus of moth. It is also Persian in origin, meaning "fair, brilliant, lovely." 

She certainly looks that way, here.

Who was she? The wife of a friend, perhaps? There are a series of poems based on a character by that name. Turns out Sargent was friends with humorist Max Beerbohm, who was working on a contemporary novel by that title, about a woman by that name whose beauty was so great that her merely stepping off a train to visit her grandfather in Oxford caused men to obsess over her — to the point of committing mass suicide.

This Sargent painting and Beerbohm's novel might have been the very first product cross-promotion — multi-platforming in its earliest form. 

More than likely, it was Sargent's way of jibing Beerbohm — payback for the latter's caricutures of the revered painter.

Notice the subject's eyebrows are  just one wave of black paint. Sargent's downward point-of-view is filled with realistic shadowing. The grass is a riot of green, blue and yellow hues which play tricks on the mind: we envision individual blades of grass, and dappled sunlight.

I love that he caught her reading. Is  Proust? Dickens? Baudliere? Possibly The Works of Max Beerbohm.

 Art is fun, and can be funny, too,

— Josie

 


HA-Vacation-to-Die-For-Final

My latest novel is

The Housewife Assassin's
Vacation to Die For

Now out, in

Amazon.com

Amazon.co.uk

 Amazon.ca

Pick up the first book in The Housewife Assassin series, for free!

 

Housewife Assassin Donna Stone is back–and here’s what she did for her summer vacation.

HA-Vacation-to-Die-For-Final

IN AMAZON NOW!

In Kobo, Nook, and Apple by August 20, 2013

Read an excerpt here..

A nude sunbathing serial killer, a Lord of the Flies 'tween takeover, poison-dart throwing pygmies……

Talk about a fantasy (nightmare?) island!

An NSA scientist has disappeared with a deadly plague virus. Donna and Jack must find him, before it is unleashed on Fantasy island, home of three very different resorts:

Like Kamp KidStuff, where families frolic among dolphins, cartoon characters, 
and warring gangs of tweens who believe in the law of the jungle–including human sacrifices; 

And Eden Key, a nude singles sanctuary where tiki-hut treehouses provide the perfect setting for rum-fueled romances and casual hook-ups—not to mention the occasional swinger slashing…

Finally, there's the Hunt Club, which allows its members to track a very unique, soon-to-be extinct prey. 

And you call this a vacation?

______________________________________________
To celebrate the launch of 
The Housewife Assassin's Vacation to Die For 
I'm giving away a $100 gift card
 
to ANY store of your choice!

    

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The Almost Marilyn Monroe, Almost Naked

Dixie and Marilyn

The renowned burlesque dancer, Dixie Evans, died this weekend. She was known as burlesque's "Marilyn Monroe." Yes, the resemblance was uncanny! See for yourself.  Here's how she built her act.

Take it off, take it all off,

— Josie

August 10, 2013

Dixie Evans, Who Brought ‘Monroe’ to Burlesque Houses, Dies at 86

By MARGALIT FOX / New York Times

Dixie Evans, a popular stage performer billed as the “Marilyn Monroe of Burlesque” — the first two words in very large letters and the last two in very small ones — died on Aug. 3 in Las Vegas. She was 86.

Her death was announced on the Web site of the Burlesque Hall of Fame in Las Vegas, of which she was a former curator and director.

Ms. Evans was a marquee name at midcentury, mentioned in the same avid breath as Gypsy Rose Lee, Sally Rand and Lili St. Cyr. In later years, she was featured in newspaper articles and television programs about burlesque and appeared in the 2010 documentary “Behind the Burly Q.”

She was profiled in the 1996 book “Holding On: Dreamers, Visionaries, Eccentrics, and Other American Heroes,” by David Isay, with photographs by Harvey Wang.

Reflecting on her unlikely stardom in a 1992 interview with CNN, Ms. Evans said, “I was not that talented and I wasn’t that pretty.”

But her close-enough resemblance to Monroe — enhanced by a peroxide blond coiffure and the uncanny ability of Ms. Evans, who never met her subject, to mimic her speech and shimmy — ensured her success as a locus of transference.

“If you couldn’t meet the real Marilyn,” Ms. Evans told The New York Times in 1998, “you could come to the burlesque and meet me.”

Night after night from the early ’50s onward, at burlesque houses around the country, Ms. Evans took the stage in Monrovian garb and swung into musical numbers that recalled those in Monroe’s films. Unlike Monroe, she ended the numbers far more lightly attired than when she began.

She kept the act going for more than a decade, modifying it enough to mollify Monroe, who at once point threatened to sue. Wherever she played, she drew a devoted, even rarefied, following.

“Walter Cronkite used to come every year to see my act,” Ms. Evans told The Los Angeles Times in 1993.

Frank Sinatra was said to be a fan. So, too, was Joe DiMaggio, who was reported to have visited the show for consolation after his divorce from Monroe in 1954.

Then, in 1962, Monroe’s suicide rendered the act obsolete overnight. As Ms. Evans told The San Francisco Chronicle in 2002, “When she died, I died.”

She held a string of jobs, doing public relations for a hotel in the Bahamas and working as a nurse’s aide in California, before an abandoned goat ranch in a dusty Western town afforded her an improbable return to burlesque’s glittering glory.

 

Mary Lee Evans was born on Aug. 28, 1926, in Long Beach, Calif., to a well-to-do family. Her father, an oilman, died when she was a girl, and the family fortunes declined precipitously. Young Mary worked in the celery fields and during World War II was an airplane mechanic.

 

Dreaming of stardom, she began her stage career as a chorus girl in touring musicals. One night, in her late teens or early 20s, she found herself stranded in San Francisco between jobs with 50 cents in her pocket. She discovered that the local burlesque theater paid four times what she had been earning.

 

A few years later, when Ms. Evans was performing at a Minsky’s burlesque house in Newark, Harold Minsky, the son of the impresario Abraham Minsky, transformed her into Marilyn.

In the late 1980s, Ms. Evans learned that her friend Jennie Lee, a retired burlesque star, was terminally ill with cancer. Ms. Lee, who was living on a former goat ranch in the desert in Helendale, Calif., had created a de facto museum there from her old memorabilia.

Ms. Evans moved in to help care for her, assuming responsibility for the collection after Ms. Lee’s death in 1990. She expanded it into the Exotic World Burlesque Museum and Striptease Hall of Fame, whose holdings included Jennie Lee’s silver-sequined pasties, Gypsy Rose Lee’s wardrobe trunk, the cremated remains of the burlesque queen Sheri Champagne and — perhaps the collection’s most curious artifact — a photograph of Lili St. Cyr with Eleanor Roosevelt.

In 1991, Ms. Evans founded the Miss Exotic World pageant, an annual competition she liked to call the Olympics of burlesque.

In 2006 Ms. Evans moved the competition and the museum, now known as the Burlesque Hall of Fame, to Las Vegas, where she made her home from then on.

 

Ms. Evans’s marriage to Harry Braelow, a prizefighter, ended in divorce. Survivors include a sister, Betty, and many nieces and nephews.

For years in the 1950s, Ms. Evans was a fixture at the Place Pigalle, a burlesque house in Miami Beach. One night, she was arrested.

“Whenever it was election time in Miami, they’d raid the strip joints,” she told The Los Angeles Times in 2009. “I told the judge, ‘Your Honor, this is the same act you saw at the policemen’s show.’ ”

His Honor dropped the charges.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: August 11, 2013

An earlier version of this obituary omitted a survivor, Ms. Evans’s sister, Betty.

(c) 2013 New York Times


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Yes, we have a winner in the HOUSEWIFE ASSASSIN’S RELATIONSHIP SURVIVAL GUIDE contest!

Woman-with-ereader
Nothing is more fun than contacting someone to tell them, "You've won a prize!"

No joke. I truly feel that way.

Okay, unless it's to say, "You're the sweetest person in the world, and I want you to know I'm thinking about you today."

My contest for The Housewife Assassin's Relationship Survival Guide Contest just ended, and yes, I have reached the winner for the $100 giftcard, to the bookstore of the winner's choice:

She is ConnieVB.

From the bottom of my heart, I'd like to thank her, as well as everyone who entered.

Here's the part where I say, to each and every one of you,  "You're the sweetest person in the world, and I want you to know I'm thinking about you today."

If I could, I would have picked each and every one of you as winners. (Wouldn't that be cool? Note to self: buy more Lotto tickets...)

But to my mind, you're more than that. You're  kind and generous people who have gifted me your time in order to learn about, and appreciate, my stories.

I also want to tell those of you who went for the bonus points that I truly appreciate the fact that you too the time to write  reviews for my Housewife Assassin series.  In fact, it was ConnieVB's sixth entry that was chosen, via RandomResult.com

I've attached the screenshot of her winning entery, here:


HARSG Winner Screenshot
So you see? When a contest invites you to enter as often as possible, go for it, because you never know when it pays off. 

I'm always in awe of those who take the time to post reviews, even when I'm not running a contest. They do so, just because they enjoyed one of my novels. 

I've put it this message in my books, and I mean it: we authors live and die by our reviews. It is the best way of encouraging other readers to try us, to sample us, to buy us, to read us, and hopefully to love us.  

You see, the more you express you love, the more likely it is that we can keep writing books. Every novelist I know works very hard at his or her craft, not as a hobby, but because it pays the rent and puts food on his or her family's table. Would we quit writing if it didn't? 

I hope I never find out the answer to that question. The Housewife Assassin novels and other books in which I can control the prices are only $3.99 for a reason: Not only do I want to write them, I want to make them affordable enough for you to buy them. Some coffee drinks at Starbucks cost more. Here's hoping the enjoyment you get from my books last longer.

It may take you a few days to read a book, but it takes us months–sometimes years–to write them.We do so because our art and craft  drives us.

 At the same time, it is our hope that it also entertains you. 


HA-Vacation-to-Die-For-v2The fifth book in the Housewife Assassin series, The Housewife Assassin's Vacation to Die For, will be out by August 15, 2013
. The moment it launches in the online bookstores, I'll send out my eLetter. If you aren't already on it, please feel free to sign up for it here.

I'll also be launching a redesigned and updated version of my very first novel, True Hollywood Lies. You'll read about my contests for both books in my eLetter, and here on my blog as well as on my website.

 When I wrote ConnieVB to tell her that she'd won, I also asked her to tell me a little about herself, so that I can share it with you. I've done this with each of my contests because, dear readers, when I hear back from you, I can lift my head from my computer screen and know that I've touched someone, in some small way.

Here's how ConnieVB puts it:

"Okay, so when I read the subject of your email my first thought was not me. Then when I read the note it was shut the front door!  LOL

I have loved talking about your books, all of them, not just the housewife series.  They are so much fun to read!  It makes me glad that I finally broke down and bought a kindle and loaded it with free books. :)  I adore books and swore I'd never go electronic.  There is just something about the feeling of a book and turning the pages.  I have a ton of books that I've read but if someone were to open one up now the spine would still crack, I was that careful with them. :)  I'm especially glad that in turn I got to know you.  You're such a sweetheart!

As far as including something about me in your blog…..well, now I'm speechless lol

I love to read but I also enjoy cooking, baking, and stitching.  All the domestic stuff that no one expects from an opinionated feminist like myself. 🙂

In my free time I'm a domestic goddess taking care of my awesome husband, two children, and our two furry kids.

I enjoy theatre, music, movies and hope to see the world one day."

True-Hollywood-Lies-Cover-FinalThere is a lot about ConnieVB that is just like me (except for the domestic goddess part. I've let that be Donna's role. It's easier to write about it than to be it.)

And I'm sure there is a lot about ConnieVB that is like you, too.

If Donna and her stories have done anything for me, it is that it's created a wonderful community of those of us who share a sense of humor, a sense of books, and a sense of life.

I couldn't be happier than to welcome all of you to my world.

Thank you for making me a part of yours, too.

— Josie

Excerpt from THE CANDIDATE: Pilot Error, or Sabotage?

The-Candidate-Final4I thought I'd treat you to another excerpt from the candidate. 

I had a blast researching this scene, in which a saboteur must make an experienced pilot's plane go down — and make it look like pilot error.

Hope you enjoy it!

— Josie

Buy it on
Amazon.com

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EXCERPT



Smith’s
man, Charlie, had no problem stealing a uniform from one of the two approved
maintenance subcontractors allowed to service planes at that particular
airport. The electronic gate key got him in with no hassles. But just in case
anyone was around to ask questions, he dummied up a fake Airworthiness
Directive and stuck it in his back pocket so he’d have it to wave under the alert
bastard’s nose, if need be.

 The plane was located in one of the newer,
larger hangars at the end of the third row, the one closest to the runway. The
swipe card that opened the hangar’s manual double door had already been coded
to open on command. Once he was inside, he closed the door behind him.

 The job was a piece of cake. First Charlie
loosened a bleed clamp in the pressurization system, but just enough to ensure
that, forty minutes into the flight—by the time the plane reached an altitude
of 26,000 feet or so—the outflow valve would pop off. When that happened, the
cabin would decompress immediately, and all hell would break loose.

 Next he replaced the emergency oxygen tank
with an identical one that was filled with nitrogen instead.

The
pilot’s emergency procedure was predictable. First he’d put on his oxygen mask,
and instruct any passengers to do the same. Then he’d radio the tower for an
emergency descent, and switch the transponder to the MAYDAY signal:
SQUAWK 7700. If he was really quick, he might even have time to put power
all the way back to idle, and pull out spoilers—

PrivatePlaneBefore
the toxic gas flowing into his lungs asphyxiated him.

Of
course, if the pilot’s body were to stay intact—fat chance of that, considering
that the plane’s angle would be steep upon impact—the amount of the gas found
in his lungs would be too negligible to raise suspicions among the NTSB
investigators.

In
other words, the cause of the crash would stay a mystery. 

Personally,
Charlie hoped there wouldn’t be too many passengers onboard. As a former flyboy
himself, nothing annoyed him more than the media’s endless ruminations about
the amount of fatalities caused by “pilot error.”

Then
again, this time around he’d hate for them to suspect the truth.

(c) 2013 Josie Brown. All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Author.

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Maternity Delivery: US is the COSTLIEST country in the world–by far.

This article, from the New York Times, should give pause to anyone who is having a baby–or has had a baby–in the United States. If this doesn't make the strongest case for health care reform in our country, then I don't know what does.

— Josie

 

American Way of Birth, Costliest in the World

Photo: Josh Haner/The New York Times

"I feel like I'm in a used-car lot." Renée Martin, who, with her husband, is paying for her maternity care out of pocket.

By  | Published: June 30, 2013

As you read this article, please share your experiences by responding to the questions that will appear. Your responses will inspire future articles in this series.

Elisabeth Rosenthal, reporter

YOUR PERSPECTIVE

What do you think the total cost of a woman’s pregnancy should be, from prenatal checkups through delivery and newborn care?

$

COMPARE

 

LACONIA, N.H. — Seven months pregnant, at a time when most expectant couples are stockpiling diapers and choosing car seats, Renée Martin was struggling with bigger purchases.

At a prenatal class in March, she was told about epiduralanesthesia and was given the option of using a birthing tub during labor. To each offer, she had one gnawing question: “How much is that going to cost?”

Though Ms. Martin, 31, and her husband, Mark Willett, are both professionals with health insurance, her current policy does not cover maternity care. So the couple had to approach the nine months that led to the birth of their daughter in May like an extended shopping trip though the American health care bazaar, sorting through an array of maternity services that most often have no clear price and — with no insurer to haggle on their behalf — trying to negotiate discounts from hospitals and doctors.

When she became pregnant, Ms. Martin called her local hospital inquiring about the price of maternity care; the finance office at first said it did not know, and then gave her a range of $4,000 to $45,000. “It was unreal,” Ms. Martin said. “I was like, How could you not know this? You’re a hospital.”

Midway through her pregnancy, she fought for a deep discount on a $935 bill for an ultrasound, arguing that she had already paid a radiologist $256 to read the scan, which took only 20 minutes of a technician’s time using a machine that had been bought years ago. She ended up paying $655. “I feel like I’m in a used-car lot,” said Ms. Martin, a former art gallery manager who is starting graduate school in the fall.

 

Like Ms. Martin, plenty of other pregnant women are getting sticker shock in the United States, where charges for delivery have about tripled since 1996, according to an analysis done for The New York Times by Truven Health Analytics. Childbirth in the United States is uniquely expensive, and maternity and newborn care constitute the single biggest category of hospital payouts for most commercial insurers and state Medicaid programs. The cumulative costs of approximately four million annual births is well over $50 billion.

And though maternity care costs far less in other developed countries than it does in the United States, studies show that their citizens do not have less access to care or to high-tech care during pregnancy than Americans.

“It’s not primarily that we get a different bundle of services when we have a baby,” said Gerard Anderson, an economist at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health who studies international health costs. “It’s that we pay individually for each service and pay more for the services we receive.”

Those payment incentives for providers also mean that American women with normal pregnancies tend to get more of everything, necessary or not, from blood tests to ultrasound scans, said Katy Kozhimannil, a professor at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health who studies the cost of women’s health care.

Financially, they suffer the consequences. In 2011, 62 percent of women in the United States covered by private plans that were not obtained through an employer lacked maternity coverage, like Ms. Martin. But even many women with coverage are feeling the pinch as insurers demand higher co-payments and deductibles and exclude many pregnancy-related services.

From 2004 to 2010, the prices that insurers paid for childbirth — one of the most universal medical encounters — rose 49 percent for vaginal births and 41 percent for Caesarean sections in the United States, with average out-of-pocket costs rising fourfold,according to a recent report by Truven that was commissioned by three health care groups. The average total price charged for pregnancy and newborn care was about $30,000 for a vaginal delivery and $50,000 for a C-section, with commercial insurers paying out an average of $18,329 and $27,866, the report found.

Women with insurance pay out of pocket an average of $3,400, according to a survey byChildbirth Connection, one of the groups behind the maternity costs report. Two decades ago, women typically paid nothing other than a small fee if they opted for a private hospital room or television.

YOUR PERSPECTIVE

What aspects of maternity care or its costs were unexpected for you?

Only in America

In most other developed countries, comprehensive maternity care is free or cheap for all, considered vital to ensuring the health of future generations.

Ireland, for example, guarantees free maternity care at public hospitals, though women can opt for private deliveries for a fee. The average price spent on a normal vaginal delivery tops out at about $4,000 in Switzerland, France and the Netherlands, where charges are limited through a combination of regulation and price setting; mothers pay little of that cost.

The chasm in price is true even though new mothers in France and elsewhere often remain in the hospital for nearly a week to heal and learn to breast-feed, while American women tend to be discharged a day or two after birth, since insurers do not pay costs for anything that is not considered medically necessary.

 

YOUR PERSPECTIVE

If you gave birth outside the United States, what was your experience with medical testing, procedures and costs?

 

Only in the United States is pregnancy generally billed item by item, a practice that has spiraled in the past decade, doctors say. No item is too small. Charges that 20 years ago were lumped together and covered under the general hospital fee are now broken out, leading to more bills and inflated costs. There are separate fees for the delivery room, the birthing tub and each night in a semiprivate hospital room, typically thousands of dollars. Even removing the placenta can be coded as a separate charge.

Each new test is a new source of revenue, from the hundreds of dollars billed for the simple blood typing required before each delivery to the $20 or so for the splash of gentian violet used as a disinfectant on the umbilical cord (Walgreens’ price per bottle: $2.59). Obstetricians, who used to do routine tests like ultrasounds in their office as part of their flat fee, now charge for the service or farm out such testing to radiologists, whose rates are far higher.

Add up the bills, and the total is startling. “We’ve created incentives that encourage more expensive care, rather than care that is good for the mother,” said Maureen Corry, the executive director of Childbirth Connection.

In almost all other developed countries, hospitals and doctors receive a flat fee for the care of an expectant mother, and while there are guidelines, women have a broad array of choices. “There are no bills, and a hospital doesn’t get paid for doing specific things,” said Charlotte Overgaard, an assistant professor of public health at Aalborg University in Denmark. “If a woman wants acupuncture, an epidural or birth in water, that’s what she’ll get.”

Despite its lavish spending, the United States has one of the highest rates of both infant and maternal death among industrialized nations, although the fact that poor and uninsured women and those whose insurance does not cover childbirth have trouble getting or paying for prenatal care contributes to those figures.

Some social factors drive up the expenses. Mothers are now older than ever before, and therefore more likely to require or request more expensive prenatal testing. And obstetricians face the highest malpractice risks among physicians and pay hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for insurance, fostering a “more is safer” attitude.

But less than 25 percent of America’s high payments for pregnancy typically go to obstetricians, and they often charge a flat fee for their nine months of care, no matter how many visits are needed, said Dr. Robert Palmer, the chairman of the committee for health economics and coding at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. That fee can range from a high of more than $8,000 for a vaginal delivery in Manhattan to under $4,000 in Denver, according to Fair Health, which collects health care data.

Rather it is the piecemeal way Americans pay for this life event that encourages overtreatment and overspending, said Dr. Kozhimannil, the Minnesota professor. Recent studies have found that more than 30 percent of American women have Caesarean sections or have labor induced with drugs — far higher numbers than those of other developed countries and far above rates that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists considers necessary.

During the course of her relatively uneventful pregnancy, Ms. Martin was charged one by one for lab tests, scans and emergency room visits that were not included in the doctor’s or the hospital’s fee. During her seventh month, she described one week’s experience: “I have high glucose, and I tried to take a three-hour test yesterday and threw up all over the lab. So I’m probably going to get charged for that. And my platelets are low, so I’m going to have to see a hematologist. So I’m going to get charged for that.”

She sighed and put her head in her hands. “Welcome to my world,” she said.

Extras Add Up

Though Ms. Martin has yet to receive her final bills, other couples describe being blindsided by enormous expenses. After discovering that their insurance did not cover pregnancy when the first ultrasound bill was denied last year, Chris Sullivan and his wife, both freelance translators in Pennsylvania, bought a $4,000 pregnancy package from Delaware County Memorial Hospital; a few hospitals around the country are starting to offer such packages to those patients paying themselves.

The couple knew that price did not cover extras like amniocentesis, a test for genetic defects, or an epidural during labor. So when the obstetrician suggested an additional fetal heart scan to check for abnormalities, they were careful to ask about price and got an estimate of $265. Performed by a specialist from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, it took 30 minutes and showed no problems — but generated a bill of $2,775.

“All of a sudden I have a bill that’s as much as I make in a month, and is more than 10 times what I’d been quoted,” Mr. Sullivan said. “I don’t know how I could have been a better consumer, I asked for a quote. Then I get this six-part bill.” After months of disputing the large discrepancy between the estimate and the bill, the hospital honored the estimate.

Christopher Gregory/The New York Times

"Most insurance companies wouldn't blink at my bill, but it was absurd." Dr. Marguerite Duane, who questioned line items on her hospital bill.

 

Mr. Sullivan noted that the couple ended up paying $750 for an epidural, a procedure that has a list price of about $100 in his wife’s native Germany.

Even women with the best insurance can still encounter high prices. After her daughter was born five years ago, Dr. Marguerite Duane, 42, was flabbergasted by the line items on the bills, many for blood tests she said were unnecessary and medicines she never received. She and her husband, Dr. Kenneth Lin, both associate professors of family medicine at Georgetown Medical School, had delivered babies in their early years of practice.

So when she became pregnant again in 2011, she decided to be more assertive about holding down costs. After a routine ultrasound scan at 20 weeks showed a healthy baby, she refused to go back for weekly follow-up scans that the radiologist suggested during the last months of her pregnancy even though medical guidelines do not recommend them. When in the hospital for the delivery of her son Ellis in February, she kept a list of every medicine and every item she received.

Though she delivered Ellis with a midwife 12 minutes after arriving at the hospital and was home the next day, the hospital bill alone was more than $6,000, and her insurance co-payment was about $1,500. Her first two pregnancies, both more than five years ago, were fully covered by federal government insurance because her husband worked for the Agency for Health Care Research and Quality.

“Most insurance companies wouldn’t blink at my bill, but it was absurd — it was the least medical delivery in history,” said Dr. Duane, who is taking a break from practice to stay home with her children. “There were no meds. I had no anesthesia. He was never in the nursery. I even brought my own heating pad. I tried to get an explanation, but there were items like ‘maternity supplies.’ What was that? A diaper?”

Ms. Martin is similarly well positioned to be an expert consumer of health care. She administered the health plan for a large art gallery she managed in Los Angeles before marrying and moving to Vermont in 2011 to enroll in a year of pre-med classes at the University of Vermont. She has a scholarship this fall for a master’s degree program at Vanderbilt University’s Center for Medicine, Health and Society, and then she plans to go on to medical school. Her father-in-law is a pediatrician.

RENÉE MARTIN’S PREGNANCY COSTS

Video by Dave Horn; Photography by Cheryl Senter for the New York Times

Statement after delivery without any discounts; not an official bill:
Hospital charges
$20,257
Obstetrician
4,020
Anesthesiologist
3,278
Drugs
1,125
Bills for prenatal care:
Emergency visit
1,600
Genetic testing
1,500
Ultrasound
1,191
Radiology
520
Hematologist
346

 

She and her husband, who works for a small music licensing company that does not provide insurance, hoped to start their family during the year they were covered by university insurance in Vermont, she said, but “nature didn’t cooperate.”

Then they moved to the New Hampshire summer resort of Laconia, her husband’s hometown, for a year before she started the grind of medical training. But in New Hampshire, they discovered, health insurance they could buy on the individual market did not cover maternity care without the purchase of an additional “pregnancy rider” for $800 a month. With their limited finances and unsuccessful efforts at conceiving, it seemed an unwise, if not impossible, investment.

Soon after buying insurance coverage without the rider for $450 a month, Ms. Martin discovered she was pregnant. Her elation was quickly undercut by worry.

“We’re not poor. We pay our bills. We have medical insurance. We’re not looking for a handout,” Ms. Martin said, noting that her husband makes too much money for her to qualify for Medicaid or other subsidized programs for low-income women. “The hospital is doing what it can. Our doctors are taking wonderful care of us. But the economics of this system are a mess.”

Not knowing whether the pregnancy would fall at the $4,000 or $45,000 end of the range the hospital cited, the couple had a hard time budgeting their finances or imagining their future. The hospital promised a 30 percent discount on its final bill. “I’m trying not to be stressed, but it’s really stressful,” Ms. Martin said as her due date approached.

YOUR PERSPECTIVE

How would you describe the ideal scenario for insurance coverage during pregnancy?

Package Deals

With costs spiraling, some hospitals are starting to offer all-inclusive rates for pregnancy. Maricopa Medical Center, a public hospital in Phoenix, began offering uninsured patients a comprehensive package two years ago. “Making women choose during labor whether you want to pay $1,000 for an epidural, that didn’t seem right,” said Dr. Dean Coonrod, the hospital’s chief of obstetrics and gynecology.

The hospital charges $3,850 for a vaginal delivery, with or without an epidural, and $5,600 for a planned C-section — prices that include standard hospital, doctors’ and testing fees. To set the price, the hospital — which breaks even on maternity care and whose doctors are on salaries — calculated the average payment it gets from all insurers. While Dr. Coonrod said the hospital might lose a bit of money, he saw other benefits in a market where everyone will have insurance in just a few years: mothers tend to feel allegiance to the place they give birth to their babies and might seek other care at Maricopa in the future.

Laura Segall for The New York Times

"Making women choose during labor whether you want to pay $1,000 for an epidural, that didn't seem right." Dr. Dean Coonrod, chief of obstetrics and gynecology at Maricopa Medical Center in Phoenix

 

The Catalyst for Payment Reform, a California policy group, has proposed that all hospitals should offer such bundled prices and that rates should be the same, no matter the type of delivery. It suggests that $8,000 might be a reasonable starting point. But that may be hard to imagine in markets like New York City, where $8,000 is less than many private doctors charge for their fees alone.

One factor that has helped keep costs down in other developed countries is the extensive use of midwives, who perform the bulk of prenatal examinations and even simple deliveries; obstetricians are regarded as specialists who step in only when there is risk or need. Sixty-eight percent of births are attended by a midwife in Britain and 45 percent in the Netherlands, compared with 8 percent in the United States. In Germany, midwives were paid less than $325 for an 11-hour delivery and about $30 for an office visit in 2011.

Dr. Palmer of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists acknowledged the preference for what he called “medicalized” deliveries in the United States, with IVs, anesthesia and a proliferation of costly ultrasounds. He said the organization was working to define standards for the scans.

 

To control costs in the United States, patients may also have to alter their expectations, including the presence of an obstetrician at every prenatal visit and delivery. “It’s amazing how much patients buy into our tendency to do a lot of tests,” said Eugene Declercq, a professor at Boston University who studies international variations in pregnancy. “We’ve met the problem, and it’s us.”

Starting next year, insurance policies will be required under the Affordable Care Act to include maternity coverage, so no woman should be left paying entirely on her own, like Ms. Martin. But the law is not explicit about what services must be included in that coverage. “Exactly what that means is the crux of the issue,” Dr. Kozhimannil said.

If the high costs of maternity care are not reined in, it could break the bank for many states, which bear the brunt of Medicaid payouts. Medicaid, the federal-state government health insurance program for the poor, pays for more than 40 percent of all births nationally, including more than half of those in Louisiana and Texas. But even Medicaid, whose payments are regarded as so low that many doctors refuse to take patients covered under the program, paid an average of $9,131 for vaginal births and $13,590 for Caesarean deliveries in 2011.

Insured women are still getting the recommended prenatal care, despite rising out-of-pocket costs, according to a recent study. But that does not mean they are not feeling the strain, said Dr. Kozhimannil, the study’s lead author. The average amount of savings among pregnant women in the study was $3,000 to $5,000. “People will find ways to scrape by for medical care for their new baby, but are young mothers taking care of themselves? And what happens when they need to start buying diapers?” she asked. “Something’s got to give.”

Ms. Martin, who busied herself making toys as her due date neared, could not stop fretting about the potential cost of a complicated delivery. “I know that a C-section could ruin us financially,” she said.

On May 25, she had a healthy daughter, Isla Daisy, born by vaginal delivery. Mother and daughter went home two days later.

She and her husband are both overjoyed and tired. And, she said, they are “dreading” the bills, which she estimates will be over $32,000 before negotiations begin. Her labor was induced, which required intense monitoring, and she also had an epidural.

“We’re bracing for it,” she said.

(c) 2013 The New York Times.

 

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