Here's Josie: Writing for me has always been a case of stepping out of “my comfort zone.” The expectation in my family was that I’d marry during high school or immediately afterwards. Instead, I opted for a life of adventure, not one that I saw as “quiet desperation.” Or as Robert Frost wrote, “…I took the road less traveled by and that has made all the difference…”
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, and 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.
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 wasn’t able to 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 would put me “on orders.” He 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.
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. Even so, 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 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.
I also attended conferences and workshops.I started to learn the mechanics behind the mysteries of creating saleable work. I joined Romance Writers of America. I also submitted my work to editors and literary agents and began to collect rejection letters.
Prior to attending Washington State University to attain my BA degrees in English and History, I sold two novels. I’d 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. I did and we wound up discussing what would become my first book for her company, Daddy, Please Tell Me What’s Wrong. It sold out the initial print run of 50,000 copies. The first fan letter I received after the publication of this YA novel that dealt with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder showed me once again how great an impression language makes. The young girl wrote, “I really liked your book….her dad killed himself….so did mine. Have a nice day.”
I love to watch a story unfold on the pages. Nothing compares with the feeling of success when I read my words in a newspaper, magazine or between the covers of a paperback. It’s the writing that matters most of all. I agree with other writers who say if they never published again, it would not matter – only the writing does.
However, this past spring, BookStrand bought one of my romances, a historical about a woman who masquerades as a man in the old West. Then, this summer they bought a second book, a contemporary about a divorced mom who runs a pony farm and falls in love with her new horseshoer. The teenage dream I had of being a romance novelist is coming true, even if Grandma never saw it, but she always believed in me.
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.”