Blogs by L.T. Suzuki
Toby Neal Interview:
1/14/2012 9:11:47 PM
Author Toby Neal discusses her debut crime thriller 'Blood Orchids' and the writing life!
LTS: January is always a dreary time on the west coast of British Columbia, so it just warms me up knowing my feature author hails from beautiful (and warm) Maui, Hawaii! Say hello to the lovely and talented Toby Neal, author of Blood Orchids. Iíd like to begin by having you share a little information about yourself with our readers, Toby. What do you enjoy doing when youíre not writing?
TN: Iím creative and outdoorsy, and Maui is the perfect place for both! I garden year round, bodyboard, snorkel and dive, beach walk and indulge my latest passion, photography using my iPhone. You can see a slice of my Hawaii life by following tobyneal0 on Instagram.
LTS: I know youíve been writing stories since you could hold a pencil in your hand, but when did the idea of becoming a published author enter your life?
TN: I am a mental health therapist, but I was a writer first and always. Itís my curiosity about people, and fascination with their storiesócuriosity and true interestóthat make me good at my work. And itís a desire to explore human behavior and universal themes that informs my writing. My psychology background has helped greatly with developing the pathologies of my villains, and portraying what drives Lei to solve crimes. When did I want to be a published author? *laughs* Always!
LTS: I had a chance to read an excerpt from your debut novel Blood Orchids so I can understand why youíre getting some great reviews. What was the inspiration behind this story and can you tell us a little bit about your protagonist, Lei Texeira?
TN: Blood Orchids was sparked as an idea by a tragedy that happened in my communityótwo teen girls were drowned. I was a grief counselor in the crisis team that went to the high school to work with the students in the aftermath. At first we were told they were victims of foul play, though later it turned out to have been accidental. For months after, perhaps because it was so traumatic to hear theyíd been murdered, I thought about it, and wondered what it would be like to try and solve such a crime in a small Hawaii community.
Lei Texeira, my protagonist, is the gutsy and vulnerable product of a multicultural heritage. Lei is Hawaiian, Portuguese, and half Japanese. She has Asian features with freckles, a wide, full mouth that gets her in trouble, and curly hair (from her Hawaiian/Portuguese side). Her appearance is unique and reflects the many cultures of our Islands. Her scarred past is part of what drives her quest for justice for victims, and her healing through confronting her demons and a love relationship is a theme I begin in this book and carry forward to the other novels.
LTS: Without giving away too much, can you reveal whatís in store for the readers when they crack open Blood Orchids?
TN: Itís suspenseful, and a bit dark, with a leavening of hope and kisses. *laughs* You will have an idea of the Hawaii real people living here experience with all its contrasts--like plumeria blossoms falling on the hair of a hula-dancing ice addict.
LTS: The road to publication is difficult at the best of times. What made you decide to self-publish this novel?
TN: I rode that horse to the bitter end--I queried relentlessly until I found an agent. Under her guidance I rewrote the book. Then we went ďon subĒ for close to a year before we mutually pulled the plug. My agent, whoíd done some huge deals in her day (Hitchhikerís Guide, Men in Black from book to movie, etc) even threw in the towel on agenting and started another business after we gave up. She told me in no uncertain terms Iíd have had a deal and a good one, even five years ago.
So I was left with the choice of starting again with what Iíd already wasted 3 years on... or going ahead and building my name and a following, and letting the marketplace decide. I chose the latter.
LTS: Would you recommend this mode of publication to other writers?
TN: Self publishing is not for the faint of heart, and itís not easy. Its also no excuse for a book to be any less professional than a traditionally published book. I spent as much as I could afford and a lot I couldnít to make Blood Orchids every bit as polished, professional, riveting and beautiful a book as any publisher would produce. Thatís the commitment I make to my readers--they wonít be disappointed, and the book will be indistinguishable from a trad pubbed book. Iím proud of Blood Orchids, and know Iíd have had a Big Six publisher in another day. But now I get total creative control, and Iím loving that.
LTS: What is the most important lesson youíve learned on the road to publication?
TN: If at first you donít succeed, you have more to learn. Perseverance is the single most important trait of a writer, in my opinion.
LTS: Iím curious about your writing style. Are you one of those disciplined writers who must dedicate a certain time each day to producing so many words, or are you more relaxed and tend to write when it strikes your fancy?
TN: Disciplined. And obsessed! I always have at least two projects going--a fresh work-in-progress and a major revision. I write or revise every single day. Oh, and I work a 55 hour work week at a pretty intense job. So never tell me you donít have time... *pfftt* If you want to, you can do it.
LTS: Still on the subject of writing styles, are you a plotter or pantser? The readers would like to know if you tend to plot out your story line in great detail or if your writing is more organic with the characters and events unfolding as you write.
TN: I started as a pantser, had to have the book overhauled twice by professional editors, and did so much rewriting I learned to be a plotter. I now start with an idea... a crime or type of criminal Iím interested in. The sequel has a pattern of disappearing homeless people I noticed in real life on Kauai... so I invented a good reason for the disappearances! In the third book I became fascinated with identity thieves who leave their past behind and flee to Hawaii to start a new life... Once I have my idea, I develop character bios. Then I start my outline, and outlining is the HARDEST thing of all. I really hate it. But then I donít have to do as much revising! And in mysteries, you really have to plot. So Iíve learned, if reluctantly... and I often have to adjust the outline because the characters, silly people that they are, just do stuff! And itís usually good. So Iím a hybrid I guess. My outlines are always changing!
LTS: At one time or another, most writers hit the wall and their work stalls because of the dreaded writerís block. What do you do to get around or over this mental wall to resume writing?
TN: I donít get writerís block. Once I really started writing, I havenít been able to stop! But the backstory to that is, Iím something of a specialist in creative unblocking, and help artistic and creative people get going with their talents in my practice as a therapist. Iím doing a series on my blog at tobyneal.net on Unlocking Creativity in 2012 that may be of interest to anyone who IS suffering from writersí block.
LTS: Who is your favourite author and how has he/she inspired you to write or influenced your writing style or choice of genre?
TN: I donít have just a few favorites. Iím a voracious reader and read literally everything in the kidsí side of the Kapa`a Library on Kaua`i when I was growing up! I will even read a cereal box if thatís all there is to read, so itís hard to name just a few. Writers whose influence have colored my writing include Kurt Vonnegut (deep thinking irony), Diana Gabaldon (her lush, epic Voyager series that follows one great love story influenced my development of Lei and her love) Michael Connelly (his spare style of crime novel has influenced me in this genre) Patricia Cornwell, Greg Iles and Lisa Gardiner for dark, fearless ventures into the underbelly of human behavior and awesome twisty plots. Anne Rivers Siddons for rich regional writing (which I hope mine can be called someday) and Pat Conroy for great family and friends stories. Oh dang, there are just so many!
LTS: What is the most profound discovery youíve made in terms of your writing and how it has touched the lives of others?
TN: Donít fight the genre you are drawn to. I wanted to write literary womenís fiction, in my fantasies of myself as an author, it was all very highbrowÖ and I do think, I have a literary novel in me, in fact Iím working on it slowly. But when I accepted I was a crime/mystery writer, thatís when things just really clicked for me. Tell the stories that are in you to tell, and donít worry about it too much about why or youíll need to come to me for unblocking therapy! *laughs*
LTS: What are you reading now, and how did this particular book make it onto your to-read list?
TN: Reading several by other Indie authorsóa dark and twisty crime novel by GaeLynn Woods called The Devil in Light, and a lush historical romance, Of Moths and Butterflies by ValRae Christensen (when I get too spooked by Woods!) With all thatís happening in the publishing industry, many of us who would have been successful midlist authors now have to self pub. I look to review and support others in the same boat as me however I can.
LTS: What do you foresee in your future over the next five years and do you hope to branch out from writing crime novels into other genres? Can your fans expect a sequel to Blood Orchids in the near future?
TN: Iím on a six month release schedule for the Lei Crime Series books, and my next one, Torch Ginger, set on Kaua`i, comes out in May. Iím also working on a literary semi-memoir about growing up in Hawaii, and a new romantic suspense series with a dynamic character, Marcella the FBI agent, who appears in Torch GingerÖ The ďIn ParadiseĒ series. Itís a more sexy, funny and romantic style than the Lei books.
LTS: And one final question that is totally unrelated to writingÖ Iíve been to Hawaii about 10 times in my life and I love those tropical islands. So tell me, where to the citizens of this tropical paradise go to on vacation? Do they head for the mainland? Do they go to a special place only the locals know about? ;-)
TN: I go to the Mainland to visit family most vacations, and I have to say--Iím always happy to come home! Hawaii no ka oi!
LTS: Thank you so much for taking time out to discusse your debut novel and to share your writing experience, Toby! Mahalo and a happy New Year to you!
For more information about Toby and her novels, check out:
Follow Toby on Twitter: .tobywneal
Where to buy the book:
Barnes and Noble.com
Smashwords, with links for Kobo and Ibooks:
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