The salacious secrets of Desperate Housewives meet the aspirational lifestyles of Sex and the City in San Francisco’s most elite mommies group.
The Pacific Heights Moms & Tots Club is the most exclusive children’s playgroup in all of San Francisco. For the city’s ultra-competitive elite, the club’s ten annual spots are the ultimate parenting prize.
Founder Bettina Connaught Cross’ rules are simple: Moms only. No single parents or working mothers allowed. Membership is a commitment. And there’s no room in the club for scandal, bad behavior, or imperfection...from tots or their moms.
In any given year, securing a place in the club is next to impossible. But this year’s admissions process is more rigorous than ever, pitting prospective members against each other to prove their mettle.
Six candidates are vying for the remaining four slots, but each has a secret that would knock them out of the running. Jade is a former stripper and recovering addict who has been absent for most of her son’s life. Jillian’s husband cleaned out their joint accounts and left her for his pregnant assistant. Ally never even had a husband—just a sperm donor—and she’s hiding a high-ranking corporate job. Chakra isn’t really the “sustainable living” earth goddess she’s pretending to be. Kelly is covering up a scandalous secret from her past. And Lorna fears that her son may have special needs... just the excuse her sister-in-law, Bettina, needs to deny her entry to the club.
Can the hopeful moms keep up appearances long enough to outlast the competition? Or will their chances--and their private lives--go up in flames? Moms better beware. Bettina is watching.
This is the first of four books that follow our heroines during "the Onesies," their inaugural year in the club. Upcoming books--to be released in four episodes each year--will follow subsequent years: the Twosies, Threesies, Foursies, and Fivesies.
Welcome to TOTLANDIA.
Since the very first moment she had laid eyes on him, Lorna Connaught had loved Dante with a hot fierceness that both excited and shamed her.
The excitement came from the knowledge that, from then until the day she died, he would always be hers. Her shame came from the realization that she’d never felt such an achingly deep love like that before.
Not even for her husband, Matthew.
And yet, if it hadn’t been for Matt, Dante wouldn’t be in her life now.
She watched him as he warmed his feet in the sand. Alta Plaza Park crowned one of the highest peaks in San Francisco’s Pacific Heights neighborhood, affording marvelous views of the surrounding city. To the north, musky green Angel Island lay in the hazy turquoise bay. To the east was the mod white vertical square dome of St. Mary’s Cathedral, backed by the city’s skyscrapers. And from the south, the three candy-striped prongs of Sutro Tower pierced the cobalt blue sky. As on most days, the wind was brisk, whipping through the branches of the park’s weeping willows and palms.
Lorna had come to realize that the park was just as much a haven for Dante as it was for her. Only here did he relax his usually rod-straight stance, so that his dark curls grazed his rounded shoulders.
Nothing made her happier than seeing him so content.
She breathed deeply, taking in the moment—
Oh, damn. Dante had crapped in his pants.
Lorna scooped up her one year-old son, slung his diaper bag over her shoulder, and headed for the nearest picnic table. She reached in the bag for Sensitive-Wipes, a changing mat, and a diaper. To her disappointment, there was only one in the bag. How typical of Matt to forget the one task she’d given him this morning: re-pack the diaper bag.
Well, one would have to do for now. In a few minutes, she and Dante were supposed to meet Matt at his mother’s home for the family’s annual Labor Day brunch. Eleanor Morrow Connaught, Lorna’s mother-in-law, owned the largest mansion on the Jackson Street side of the park. While Lorna helped set the table, Matt could slip out to the store and pick up a few more since they were staying through dinner.
Dante was so antsy that it was hard for her to hold him and unfold the diaper at the same time. Frantically, she pulled off his pants, then removed the dirty nappy and cleaned his bottom with a wipe. She was about to grab the clean one when the wind whipped it out of her hand, where it hovered just out of reach, before floating over her head toward the playground.
“No! Oh, heck—” Running through the park in heels with a naked baby was not Lorna’s style, but it was better than showing up at Eleanor’s with her bare-bottomed grandson.
The diaper dipped and skipped in the cross-currents over the oblivious heads of the other mothers who sat on the benches all around the swing set. On holidays, the park was busier than usual, and this Labor Day was no exception. Lorna used her hands to shade her eyes from the sun’s glare as she scanned the sky for the wayward diaper. She caught a glimpse of it sailing higher on the hill before plunging into a thicket of cypress trees.
By the time she got there, it was being wrapped around an 18-inch Journey Girls doll by two five-year-olds playing house.
The doll was laid out on an open paper napkin. Other dolls were propped up in a circle around her, as if watching a life-or-death medical procedure.
Lorna smiled down at the future mothers. “Your doll is very cute. What’s her name?”
The little blond girl who had just patted one of the adhesive tabs in place over the naked doll’s belly looked up at her warily. “Mewedith,” she answered. Her lisp was the result of two missing front teeth.
“Yes, well, Meredith is quite pretty. But I think you’ve got my little boy’s diaper.”
“No, it’s Mewedith’s! See? It fits.” The girl held up her doll.
Lorna kept her smile in place, but she shook her head firmly. “But you didn’t bring it to the park. I did. I was putting it on my son when the wind took it out of my hand.” She pointed to Dante. “Otherwise, he wouldn’t be naked right now. So please give it back.”
“No! I found it. It’s mine now.” The little girl frowned and grasped her doll tightly to her chest. The other little girl, thrilled at her friend’s impudence toward an adult, moved behind her in solidarity.
“Excuse me?” Lorna couldn’t believe her ears. “It belongs to my little boy. Hand it over. ” Her tone made it clear that it was not a request.
The girl shot her a bird. “Skwoo you.”
Cradling Dante in one arm, Lorna snatched the doll out of the girl’s hands with the other. Both girls squealed as Lorna attempted to strip the doll of the diaper.
“Is something wrong here?”
The woman who confronted Lorna could have been Brat’s adult twin. An infant boy sat on her hip. He was around the same age as Dante, but unlike Lorna’s son, he chattered and cooed as his arms waved in circles like little pinwheels.
The other little girl, who was now whimpering, ran over to the dark-haired woman who had accompanied Brat’s mom.
“She wants to steal Mewedith!” Brat screamed.
“ No! I’m not stealing anything.” Lorna held up the diapered doll. “I’m just taking back what belongs to my son.”
The woman frowned. “Are you trying to say that Meredith is your son’s doll?”
“No, you don’t get it. Your daughter has my son’s .”
The woman shook her head, confused. “I beg your pardon?”
“This diaper, on her doll, . I was putting it on him when the wind blew it out of my hand. Your daughter picked it up before I could retrieve it.”
The woman leaned down, nose-to-nose with her daughter. “Piper, honey, is that true?”
The little girl shook her head adamantly. “No, Mommy. It’s mine.”
The woman stood up straight. Turning back to Lorna, she shrugged with a smile. “I’m sorry, you must be wrong.”
Lorna couldn’t hide her shock. “Seriously? You’re taking her word over mine?”
In Book 2 of Josie Brown’s Totlandia series, five mommies are still in contention to join San Francisco’s most elite moms & tots club. Who will survive the holiday season and make the cut?
My very first sale was a non-fiction humor book: Last Night I Dreamt of Cosmopolitans: A Modern Girl’s Dream Dictionary. At the time I was a freelance journalist, who wrote on relationship trends. I also and did celebrity interviews and personality profiles. My literary agent was pitching a relationship self-help book, co-written with my husband, Martin Brown, who is a health journalist.
With that sale, I pitched my agent a fiction project, with a great premise. He said, “Send me the first fifty pages, and we’ll go from there.” Damn, I thought, now I have to write fifty pages of a story! I was used to pitching magazine editors with, like a paragraph. I turned in those fifty pages three weeks later. I wanted to strike while the fire was hot.
Apparently the premise, plot and actual writing were good enough that he had three editors bidding on the book. It went to auction, as a two-book deal. That first novel is True Hollywood Lies.
I consider myself lucky with that first sale. Little did I know, a novelist’s life and feast and famine. And with all the technological changes that have occurred, and continue to do so, in the digital delivery of books, more now than ever before it’s publish (and publish and publish) or perish.
What is the hardest part of writing your books?
First, let me tell you what I feel is the easy part: the premise. I liken it to a one-liner you’d tell a friend, about a movie you enjoyed. For example, with Totlandia, my one-liner is:
“While competing during a competition posh moms-and-tots club, four of the women competing form close-knit bonds, despite the fact that each has a dirty secret that can get them eliminated from the club.”
Then I immediately come up with the ending. Of course the stickier wickets are the twists and turns in the middle of this literary journey, which take the reader from the beginning of the story to its last scene.
To get to the middle, I outline around 30 scenes, with my own template of where the peaks and valleys of the plot – its conflicts, catalysts, and didn’t-see-that-coming moments -- occur before I conclude with what I hope is a satisfying conclusion. I am the ultimate pantser, down to the guesstimate of how many words and page each scene will take. Of course, sometimes my muse surprises me, and takes me in a direction I hadn’t counted on, adding a scene here, a character there, and plot twist that takes the story into a whole different direction. That is one of the joys of my art.
When in the day/night do you write? How long per day?
I have a background in journalism. Like most journalists, I put the pedal to the metal when I’m under deadline. That means going at it, from morning to night. I may break at dinner and a TV show, or a movie, then catch a second wind around ten at night, and keep writing again until one or two in the morning.
This process can yield as little as 1,000 words, or as much as 7,000 words per day, depending on where I am in the story. As I get toward the last third of the book, the words seem to roll out of me. I tell you, it helps to outline your story first!
Essentially, I live in my pajamas. But I break for meals, and for a 2-3 mile walk each day. (Not in my pajamas, ha ha!) My husband is in charge of my care and feeding, until my book is finished. He is also my first reader. Keeping me as a pet is a full-time gig, LOL!
The great news for him: After I turn in a manuscript, I become a cleaning freak. It’s a great release!
Who is your favorite author?
I have several. My all-time favorite is Edith Wharton. I love her storytelling style, and she really knows the subject: old New York of the 1880s and ’90s. A second, close favorite is Margaret Mitchell. While her body of work isn’t as great as Wharton’s, but you’d have to admit Gone with the Wind is a masterpiece of character, plot and melodrama. And the Civil War is quite backdrop for unrequited love!
I relax with really good spy novels. I start with John Le Carre. He doesn’t just write about spies; he writes about people who just so happen to be spies. They aren’t super men and women, just people who have experienced emotional loss, and are losing themselves in their jobs, or doing their duty for God and country. I guess that’s as good a way as any to mend a broken heart. My own Housewife Assassin series is a dark farce on the genre.
I also love reading Martin Cruz Smith especially his Arkady Renko series, a police procedural taking place in Russia. His prose is poetry, unusual to find in a whodunit.
Last but not least, I like William Dietrich’s Ethan Gage series. It’s historical fiction taking place during the era of Bonaparte. Its hero is an American who is a cross between Indiana Jones, Jack Sparrow, and Maverick, chasing after artifacts from all over the world, based on legend and mythology. How perfect is that?
Where do you research for your books?
Every book I’ve written – even my contemporary mama dramas –have been based on some research. In fact, some of my best ideas come from magazines like Scientific American, Wired, Popular Science, or right off the pages of the New York Times. If a topic sings to me, I will immediately start the process of digging deeper into any statistical research, essays, or articles based on it.
Believe me, I use every source available, including eavesdropping! Some of my best lines come from conversations I’ve overheard, or had. Seriously, if people would only listen to themselves!
Do you use a pen name?
Nope. And I never will. An author’s name is her brand. Her books are her art and craft, marketed under her brand.
My readers know what they’re getting, when they read my books. It doesn’t matter if I’m writing contemporary women’s fiction, romantic suspense, mom lit, or historical fiction. They will get characters they love – or love to hate – as well as tight plots with lots of detours. They won’t be bored.
Josie Brown is the author of five novels: The Housewife Assassin’s Handbook, [2011, Signal Press], The Baby Planner, [2011, Simon & Schuster], Secret Lives of Husbands and Wives, [2010, Simon & Schuster], Impossibly Tongue-Tied, [2006, HarperCollins], and True Hollywood Lies, [2005, HarperCollins; 2010 Diversion Books].
Her novel, Secret Lives of Husbands and Wives (Simon & Schuster), is being optioned by producer Jerry Bruckheimer as a dramatic television series.
Josie is also the author of three non-fiction books: The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Finding Mr. Right [Alpha/Pearson]; Marriage Confidential: 102 Honest Answers to the Questions Every Husband Wants to Ask, and Every Wife Needs to Know [Signal Press]; and Last Night I Dreamt of Cosmopolitans: A Modern Girl’s Dream Dictionary [St. Martin's Press].
As a journalist, Josie’s celebrity interviews and relationships trends articles have been featured in the Los Angeles Times Syndicate International, Redbook and Complete Woman magazines, as well as AOL, Yahoo, AskMen.com, Divorce360.com, and SingleMindedWomen.com.
List of links:
Follow us on Twitter: @JosieBrownCA @Totlandia @Coliloquy
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