Can you, for those who don't know you already, tell something about yourself and how you became an author?
I am a writer. I have always been a story-teller. It’s a family tradition. I remember my grandmother as the queen of pithy comments who served putdowns at her Sunday dinners, along with her pot roast. Grandma never swore. It wasn’t ladylike, but insulting someone’s intelligence, morality, behavior, manners and children or mate was an art form. Grandma ran the Pine Tree Tavern below First Avenue in downtown Seattle, a very unsavory part of the city. She kept a “cuss jar” for her clientele. Funds collected from the foul language paid for the annual Thanksgiving dinner and Christmas party at the bar, while the leftover money went to Children’s Hospital in Seattle.
I started writing down Grandma’s stories as a young teen although I knew nothing about the techniques or mechanics of what would become my passion. Most listeners, my parents, my aunts, uncles, cousins squirmed at her turn of a phrase. I always admired Grandma’s use of language. When I graduated from high school, I was determined to be a writer. My creative writing teacher had told me I had talent and suggested college. I came from a poor, single-parent household, and higher education wasn’t possible. No one in our extended family had ever attended college. The girls got married and the boys went to work.
Grandma’s love of language was the legacy she passed on to me. As she told me more than once, “Your words have power. Use it wisely. Don’t shout when a whisper will do.” So, when I chose a pen name for my romances, I opted for part of hers as a tribute. Josie Malone. When people ask what I do, I say, “I’m a writer. Telling stories is a family tradition. I just write down mine.”
What is something unique/quirky about you?
I love reading Louis L’Amour westerns and collect them in the brown vinyl that is supposed to look like leather. No, I don’t have all of them, but I keep watching for them online, in second-hand stores, thrift shops and the antique stores in Snohomish, Washington. Granted, most of my shopping trips took place prior to Covid-19, but I’ll be thrilled when I can go shopping in person again.
Tell us something really interesting that's happened to you!
I grew up on a pony farm in Washington State. The rule was the ponies ate before we did, so we spent a lot of time in the barns. Once we’d mucked stalls and fed them, it was time to head for the house to fix dinner. I’ve worked since I was a kid. In my free time, I loved to dream away the days in an old cherry tree on my family’s pony farm. In my imagination, the tree became a beautiful Arabian stallion, a medieval castle and even a pirate ship. I got in trouble for making my little sisters walk the plank, but hey, they never broke any bones.
What are some of your pet peeves?
I don’t have a lot of patience for lazy people, probably because I’ve worked since childhood. I didn’t go to college until after my sisters left home and worked the whole time, I was at Washington State University in Pullman, WA. Let’s see. I also rescue far too many critters, usually cats, dogs, and horses. I donate money to the local animal shelter, but I can’t watch the Humane Society commercials on TV. It’s too upsetting to see animals abused. If I see litter in a parking lot, I’ll pick it up – another pet peeve. Garbage should be disposed of, not displayed. I consider myself a moral person, but hate being lectured by anyone. Of course, I get a certain amount of that since I’m the caretaker for my senior mom and she still tries to tell me how to wear my hair and not to buy snarky t-shirts. I can pass up anything but a sarcastic dragon one. Okay, time to stop now because if I keep going – you’ll know way too much of my dislikes and like most authors, I have quite a few!
Where were you born/grew up at?
I was born in Seattle and spent most of my first seven years there. Then, we moved to Everett, Washington and my mom opened a pony farm. Because my dad left on my twelfth birthday, I grew up in a single-parent household. I was the first girl in the family to graduate from high school and the last thing I wanted was a husband. I went to work for a temporary office service and washed dishes at night in a restaurant. I couldn’t fulfill my dream of joining the Army because I was needed at home to raise my younger sisters. I enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserve instead. When the wolf was at the door with a litter of pups, as my grandfather used to say, or when times were even harder, the civilian liaison of my Army Reserve unit, Ed Matthews would put me “on orders.”
This meant I did office work for him, answered phones, and taught myself to type on his new electric machine, and was paid well for that time. Ed didn’t care what I typed as long as I looked busy and didn’t allow anyone at his desk when he was out playing golf with the General who commanded Fort Lawton. So, I began my first novel. At nearly eighteen, I was fascinated with romance. I had read tons of them growing up and they were my favorite fantasy. I always wanted a hero on a white horse to rescue me although I knew it would never happen. Life in a single-parent household taught reality. Men came with baggage and they always expected women to buy the suitcases. While I happily typed away on my masterpiece, Ed occasionally looked over my shoulder. If he felt my hero was turning into a jerk, or worse acting like a coward, Ed told me so.
My orders ran out about the time I finished the novel, so I bundled up my baby and shipped it off to Harlequin Books in Canada. I didn’t know anything about the publishing business, so I mailed the only copy I had. In addition to this no-no, I also didn’t have a clue about setting up a manuscript. I finished each chapter and began the next one on the same page, a fatal flaw. I also used up every scrap of paper and didn’t worry about such things as margins, or double spacing the lines of text.
Worst of all, while the man my heroine thought she loved was dashing, romantic and charming – he was also unfaithful, dishonest, and nasty, a little too much like the real life I knew about. She ended up with her nice, quiet, dull best friend, Toby – the kind of guy a woman could spend a lifetime loving, but he wasn’t a traditional romance hero. Still, as Ed pointed out – our Toby was a Vietnam veteran who could survive anything – even the garbage our heroine threw at him – not literally – just emotionally. Well, Toby survived the trip to Canada and Harlequin. Eventually, I received a letter. Harlequin liked my book. However, all the purchases at the time were made in England, so my book was going somewhere I HAD NEVER BEEN, LONDON!
It took a few more months for the book to finally be rejected, but by then I was hard at work on my next romance novel. At eighteen, I had almost made it and I was determined to become a successful novelist. College still wasn’t an option. I could only learn so much from books and magazines, so I began to attend talks by published authors. Many offered classes in writing for nominal fees. I saved every extra cent to pay for these courses, usually by riding the bus and not driving the car to work. Grandma let me stay in her guest room so I wouldn’t have to pay rent and I packed my lunch every day.
If you knew you'd die tomorrow, how would you spend your last day?
Tying up all the loose ends I could on the farm, making sure someone would be here to look after my mother and the critters, and sending off my last book to my publisher. I wouldn’t want my dog to suffer – he’s a rescue so I’d need to know someone would love and care for him. The same goes for the horses.
Who is your hero and why?
My grandfather. At least once a week, my single mother would take my sisters and me to see my grandparents who lived in Seattle. On those visits, my grandfather introduced me to Louis L’Amour western novels, and I absolutely adored the cowboys who rode through the pages. They fascinated me nearly as much as John Wayne did in his movies. How could I resist men like my grandfather who had an old-fashioned code of honor? And what was that code? It always went something like this:
Code of the West
(from "Cowboy Ethics: What Wall Street Can Learn from the Code of the West" by James P. Owen)
Live each day with courage.
Take pride in your work.
Always finish what you start.
Do what has to be done.
Be tough, but fair.
When you make a promise, keep it.
Ride for the brand.
Talk less and say more.
Remember that some things aren't for sale.
Know where to draw the line.
Since I have a BA in History, I know the Western novels and movies I loved as a child are Hollywood myths, but as an author I love a good story, especially those where good conquers evil. My grandfather tried to live up to that mythic code and instilled in me the desire to follow it. As Robert Duvall says in Secondhand Lions, “Sometimes the things that may or may not be true are the things that a man needs to believe in the most. That people are basically good. That honor, courage and virtues mean everything. That power and money, money, and power mean nothing; that Good always triumphs over Evil; and I want you to remember this: That Love, true Love never dies. Doesn't matter if any of this is true or not. You see a man should believe in these things because these are the things worth believing.”
What are you passionate about these days?
Books, Animals, Wine, Chocolate, the Climate, Kindness and Humor, not necessarily in that order.
What do you do to unwind and relax?
I read, write my latest book, groom my horses, play with my dog, and hang out on the farm. I watch Rizzoli and Isles although I really love the Tess Gerritsen novels which inspired the television series.
In pre-Covid days, I’d take in a movie and pig out on heavily buttered popcorn, or I’d go to Barnes and Noble in the Alderwood Mall. I’d also attend writer conferences and workshops, not only with my friends who are other authors, but also with editors from large (New York) publishing firms and literary agents. This is where I learned the mechanics behind the mysteries of creating saleable work back in the day. Authors at those conferences and workshops taught the requirements of specific genres, good novel proposals, effective synopsis writing, enticing query letters and even the proper use of adverbs as well as so-called “being” words, i.e. “try to cut as many of those as possible.” Of course, being with other people who love creating stories is a party even when we’re sitting around and brainstorming their next projects as well as mine.
Describe yourself in 5 words or less!
Compassionate, Empathetic, Intelligent, Kind, Motivated
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I’d been trying to write romance novels, but they weren’t selling. However, I knew I was a writer when I sold two Young Adult novels, I’d written to a publisher who advertised in the Romance Writer’s Report. I sent in a query – a chapter and an outline of a proposed novel. While the editor turned that one down as well as a story about horses, she suggested I call her, an unusual response to an unpublished author. I did and we wound up discussing what would become my first book for her company, “Daddy, Please Tell Me What’s Wrong.”
I had never sold a young adult novel before, much less written one. Still, I had completed much longer romance novels and this particular book would only be a hundred pages. I wrote it while I was on active duty for the Army Reserve and sent the proposal to the editor. Then I went on to another assignment for the Army – straightening out the records of an elite Ranger unit. While I was there, the editor called my mother and asked to talk to me about the book. Mom told her if they were buying the book, they could interrupt me at the Army base – she’d give them the number. Otherwise, they’d have to wait until I came home on leave.
They didn’t wait. They bought the book. It sold out the initial print run of 50,000 copies. The first fan letter I received after the publication of this young adult novel that dealt with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder showed me once again how great an impression language makes. The young girl wrote about one of the secondary characters, “I really liked your book….her dad killed himself….so did mine. Have a nice day.”
Do you have a favorite movie?
Moonstruck with Cher and Nicolas Cage. It has everything that makes a movie wonderful, a terrific cast, a good story and of course, the perfect HEA or “happy ever after” ending. I watch it whenever it’s on TV. I also adore Princess Bride. Inigo Montoya is a fabulous, secondary character.
Which of your novels can you imagine made into a movie?
Any of the Baker City Hearts and Haunts stories, but I think MY SWEET HAUNT, the first book in the series would make a fabulous movie. Cobwebs, eerie sounds and creaky floorboards greet Cat O’Leary McTavish and her twin daughters when they move to their new home, a dilapidated dude ranch near Baker City in the Cascade foothills of Washington State. Her plan to restore the destination resort to its former glory hits a snag when she learns she has the ‘O’Leary Gift’ and can talk to the dead man who still resides in her house. Former Army Ranger, Rob Williams always planned to run the family guest ranch after completing his military service. Instead, he “bought the farm with his life” when he died in Vietnam but being dead doesn’t mean he’s going anywhere. Encountering someone who “sees” and “hears” him is a welcome change. I’d love to see this story as a movie. I’d watch it again and again.
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
It would have to be a horse. I’ve been with so many of them since I was a child. Each one has a personality of their own, but all are beautiful, loyal, loving, and majestic in their own ways. Of course, I’ve lost a certain number through the years. As my veterinarian says, “We choose to love those who have a shorter life span than we do.” However, when I cross the Rainbow Bridge, I hope to meet up with those who have gone before me.