Interview with self-published author Toby Neal
Toby Neal’s writing is the surprise of 2012 so far for me! Boy can she write! Blood Orchids is interesting, character-driven, visual and I love that unknown, tropical world of Hawaii, which Toby is – of course – utterly familiar with. The pace is perfect, the story essential, the metaphors delicious, the characters real, the suspense thrilling.
When reading the reviews on Amazon, I wasn’t surprised to find Blood Orchids got nothing but 4 and 5-star reviews and not just from back-patting, good-willing friends. I needn’t give you much more inside information on Toby’s excellent crime series here. Just go check it out yourself.
Pity there was no time to read the entire book for this interview but Blood Orchids is going to be my Kindle read when travelling next week. Great stuff, Toby!
Where do you live (town, country)? Were you born and bred there?
I live on the side of Haleakala, an extinct volcano, on the island of Maui. I grew up on Kauai, the oldest Hawaiian island.
What kind of food do you like? Are you a good cook? How important is food to you?
Food is important to me, for sure! I love it and if I have a vice, it’s gluttony!! But, I’m at best an indifferent cook. I had 5 standard dishes I made when I was raising my kids, and I just rotated them, and now as an empty nester, I love eating out and when my hubby cooks. I enjoy when other people cook and express their creativity in the kitchen, I’m very appreciative…but it just bores me personally, alas.
Do you do any sports? How often? What does exercise mean to you? Any other
I’m quite sporty, not that you’d know it to look at me (aforementioned love of food!) I bodyboard, scuba dive, stand-up paddle, jog, walk and hike. I’ve done windsurfing, polo on horseback, and capoeira in my younger days. Exercise out in nature is critical to my wellbeing and one of the reasons I love living in Hawaii.
Do you have kids/grandkids? If so, please tell us a little about them?
I have two brilliant young adult children—my son is a costume/weapon designer and tech guy, and my daughter is a stem cell researcher at Stanford. They are both gorgeous, talented and single and they are the pride of our lives!
Do you like travelling? Where do you go then?
I am not a huge fan of travelling. I did a lot when I was younger and find myself very happy living in Paradise. If I do go somewhere, I’m picky about it and want to stay for an extended period to really experience a place. I went to northern Italy for a month, for instance, and stayed in a pensione and wrote and immersed myself in the language and culture. I hate tour buses, and junkets, and cruise ships, being herded around like idiot cattle. *shudder*
Do you have another job apart from writing? For how many hours? How do you feel
about the ‘other’ job?
I am a full time therapist in public and private practice. I work around 55 hours a week. It’s a miracle I can write, and yet writing is such passion I cannot NOT write. I love my work and am truly called to it—but it’s fascination with stories that makes me a good therapist.
How do your family/friends react to you being a writer? Have their opinions changed
since you became a published author? Which remark from your surroundings has
stuck most with you?
Only people who just know me from my therapy practice are surprised, and somewhat by the gritty content of my mysteries, because my personality is so upbeat and warm. Anyone who’s known me for long knows how I’ve always loved to write, I just never had time for it during 12 years of college and 18 years of raising a family.
Would you call yourself a social human being? Do you have time for going out and
spending time away from the writing desk?
I use up all my social energy at work and come home and hermit out with my computer on my one day off. If I have a few days off, I sort of recover and can handle going out like, to the grocery store or the beach—but only if I don’t have to be friendly. *laughs* I think what I do is so intense, such rapport with people, such engagement and dialogue and connection that it really does take any desire for more of that away in my off time. Especially as I’ve aged.
Which character trait do you like best about yourself and why? Which trait would you rather do without?
I am extremely creative and able to do many things well. I could do without my love of eating. *laughs*
Can you describe the place where you write + the view?
A poky corner of my bedroom. No view. Too distracting.
Is there something you always need to have near you when you work (beverage, cigarette, mascot, music, quote, etc)?
Music and coffee. I also have a huge hunk of quartz crystal under my monitor to absorb the bad energy. It’s a little superstitious but I think part of creating is magic, and luring the muse out to play. Mine likes shiny things!
What genre(s) do you write in? How did that develop?
I write crime mysteries. It’s a whole blog post or two how that happened, but I’ve finally stopped fighting it.
At some point you decided to self-publish. Can you tell us how that process developed?
After 8 months of my agent trying to sell the series, and her giving up on agenting to start another business… was left with trying to start over finding another agent, or getting the book out there. I’ve chosen right because the book is getting such positive attention, an agent approached ME and is reading for the series now!
How do you feel about self-publishing now? What are the advantages, disadvantages, pitfalls, etc.?
Advantages: speed and control. Disadvantages: small distribution potential and fighting invisibility.
Are you in a network of Indie authors? How do you market your own book?
I’m in a network of writer/bloggers and that’s been hugely productive in gaining me exposure, and reviews and such. We all support each other’s work and experiments in marketing.
When was your first book released and how did that make you feel?
Can you tell us some background information on the book? (How did you get the idea, how long did it take you to write and edit it, is it part of a sequel, how does the published book make you feel now?)
Blood Orchids started as a short story. I’d tried to write novels before and always lost interest, but this time I started a story about a policewoman who’d been abused as a child… a woman with scars and flaws, but whose passion drove her to rectify things for others. I put it on my blog. Then I added chapters. And lo and behold, about 60 pages in, I realized I had a character I wanted to see grow and develop, a budding love story, and some great psychopaths to spice it all up. I was going to finish the book, and my blog followers were rooting for every installment! I’ll never forget the excitement I felt, realizing I’d found a character I could write about forever.
You’ll notice I said “found” a character. In Jungian psychology, there’s an explanation of these discoveries as existing in the “collective unconscious” of humanity—a deep sea where universal themes, symbols, heroines and villains appear across every culture. To me Lei is a representation of one of these universal characters—the wounded hero(ine) who fights for justice.
The first book took 18 months to complete a first draft, and since then I’ve built my
confidence and “writing muscles” and can write a first draft in 6 months, even with my full-time work schedule. You just have to love the story and the characters, and then it’s easy. I’m on my fourth Lei Crime Novel now!
What are your writing habits? (every day, number of words, etc.?)
Every day I do something. I usually have a fresh WIP and a book I’m revising. On
tired work days in evening, I revise. On days off, I write fresh.
Where do you see yourself in 5-years’ time?
Further down the road, with a lot of books out, and hopefully a movie or TV deal in the works! A girl can dream, right?
THANK YOU SO MUCH, Toby!!
Here’s the link stuff:
And Toby’s website with a weekly blog.