IT’S TELEVISION TUESDAY
Thrillerfest 2019 Inside Stories Part 3 (The Self Publishing Show, episode 186)
Toby Neal was raised on Kauai in Hawaii. She wrote and illustrated her first story at age 5. After initially majoring in journalism, she eventually settled on mental health as a career and loves her work, saying, “I’m endlessly fascinated with people’s stories.”
Toby credits her counseling background in adding depth to her characters–from the villains to Lei Texeira, the courageous and vulnerable heroine in the Lei Crime Series, to the wounds and psychological implications of the heroes of the Scorch Series.
I can’t say that setting is any more or less important to historical fiction than any other genre as every genre has its conventions. What makes or breaks a novel is how deft an author is at conveying the expected milieu. In that, historical fiction can be unforgiving. Readers who love this genre already know their history. Beware the author who doesn’t check her facts for she will suffer the slings and arrows of critics who remind her that sycamores are an American tree and potatoes come from the New World. For the record, neither of those were my errors but I have heard from readers protesting facts that in other genres would be deemed unworthy of comment.
In historical fiction it’s not enough to be comfortable with the details of your chosen time period. You also have to get that information from your brain through your fingers and into the book in a way that doesn’t stop the flow. For me that requires writing out all the details I think I’ll need for a particular scene, say a meal in a merchant’s house. How many tables are there and how are they set? What’s on the floor? Where are the windows, if there are windows? Is there a newfangled chimney or is there a central hearth? What colors/designs are painted on the walls? What
furniture might there be besides the tables? Is there crockery? How does it smell? What sounds fill the air from nearby homes or their own workshops? Are they close enough to hear the bells from the nearest church? Are there regraters outside in the street selling goods? Is the neighboring merchant shouting out to passers-by about his wares?
Once I’ve answered those questions, I go back and tighten, tighten, tighten, eliminating this, shortening that, until there are just enough details to describe the scene without slowing the action. This is very hard to do for someone who writes history textbooks disguised as novels to educate unsuspecting readers. I want to share every cool fact I’ve learned. To protect my readers, I employ this mantra: “If I love it, take it out.”
I would say very. The historical backdrop is almost like a character in itself. Readers love the details and historical trivia. Otherwise, you might as well stick to a contemporary setting.
Rhys: for me setting drives many of my stories. NAUGHTY IN NICE. TIME OF FOG AND FIRE. Etc etc
And it’s important to get every detail right. I read biographies, accounts of battles, diaries, study old maps.
How did you get interested in history?
My interest must have begun in college, when a professor made history more interesting by telling stories which made past heroes real. Since then, I’ve learned that “truth is stranger than fiction”, and am regularly surprised by the limitless things that can happen in life. I also feel that great people of the past deserve to be remembered, and that we can learn from their lessons and mistakes. History is our connection with our ancestors, a continuation of life from our beginnings to our present to our future.
What fascinates you about the history of Ireland?
Ireland is one of the lesser-known, yet most fascinating places in the world. My interest began when I discovered my Irish ancestry, and with my first trip to Ireland I was so hooked, I felt more at home than in New York. Irish history is culturally rich, and archeologists are discovering sites and artifacts older and more advanced than the pyramids.
What’s your creative approach to writing a novel?
I never know where inspiration will come from. I was planning my first book to be about German immigrants in NYC, but on a bus tour in Dublin, our plans were changed from seeing Dublin Castle to seeing Christchurch Cathedral. That day changed my life. Visiting a place as old as the Vikings, feeling medieval tiles beneath my feet, and exploring the underground crypt gave me my first connection with ancient times. From then on, I decided to write about Ireland. I have been inspired by the most unexpected things, like fishing villages, plants, abandoned islands, and even an insane asylum in Wales (which I frequented as a visitor, I might add).
How has your writing process changed over the years?
I used to write from the seat of my pants, but found that subsequent editing required too many drafts, and plot and character fixing. Now I take my time—months–developing an inspiring idea, drawing an outline and doing research until I feel I really know my story and characters. That way, there are no major snags in the plot. Planning definitely shows in the development of the story, and the reader can tell.
How do you write the historical tone of Ireland into your writing?
Historical wording is something I’ve experimented with in various ways for the past few years. At first, I wanted the language to be as modern as possible, as I was addressing a modern reader, and wanted more than just historical readers to enjoy my books. Then I went more literary, striving for heightened language, but found the readers weren’t as fond of that. Now I’m returning to simpler language (with occasionally sprinkled historical words) with a more engaging plot. As far as historical Irish elements, I generally try to make the characters speak with the grammar and vernacular of the culture, as well as using cultural items and situations of the time.
What’s the historical context of Dingle Ireland, 1579?
Ireland of the sixteenth century was under the rule of Elizabeth I, who was fighting a war with Spain. Therefore, Dingle, a busy port, was subject to British rule, Spanish interference, and smuggling, as well as destruction by local Irish warriors fighting against Elizabeth and among themselves. My book talks about the struggle of Ireland’s “Black Earl”, who fought Elizabeth and his relatives to maintain the estate which had been in his family for centuries, a fight which resulted in Dingle being burned a few times.
What are some fun facts from your research that aren’t in the book.
Studying about Dingle revealed interesting facts about struggles from other time periods as well, such as the potato famine’s effect on the town, which brought the establishment of the notorious workhouses, as well as the battle at Smerwick Harbour, where Irish soldiers were decimated by the English. The most fun part of research is always the travel. Dingle is the most magical place in the world. A road winds along cliff-laden coasts where one can catch unexpected views of ancient ringforts, famine cottages, Celtic runes, and the abandoned Blasket Islands. There are few untouched places in the world, but because of an Irish tradition to respect what remains, old sites are not taken down.
Who is Englishwoman Norma Le Blanc and what is she dealing with?
Norma is a fictional character who believes her religiousness makes her superior to everyone, but a carefree, Spanish smuggler who arrives poses the greatest challenge to her ideas. Norma is lonely without her family, who live in England, and finds companionship in Vicente, despite their differences, until she realizes she’s in love. They both have something to learn from one another, as Vicente struggles with his mother’s wish to maintain faith in a God, when it seems as if God has failed him. Through their relationship, Norma learns humility, while Vicente regains his ability to believe.
What did you enjoy most in writing The Smuggler’s visit?
Finishing it? Ha! I always enjoy writing, and every book is different, but the first draft was most enjoyable with this one. Because my outline was established, I went off to a cabin in upstate NY and typed away to my heart’s content, finishing the first draft in two weeks. The editing process took much longer.
What were the most challenging aspects?
Finding detailed information about Dingle’s history was a challenge. Irish history isn’t as well-published as in other countries, and much of the Dingle info was in books or documents in their local library. Thanks to a local historian, I was able to get what I needed.
Do you have a favorite quote?
I collect them and have so many! But I came across this the other day, by Einstein: “Failure is just success in progress.” I think that’s a good thing for us to remember, every time we challenge ourselves to do better.
Janice Cantore is a police officer turned writer. She retired from the Long Beach (California) Police Department after twenty-two years—sixteen in uniform, six as a noncareer employee. She is currently writing romantic suspense for Tyndale House, and her newest release, Lethal Target, second in the Line of Duty series, following Crisis Shot, is set in a small town in Oregon.
Police Chief Tess O’Rourke thought she’d taken care of her small town’s drug problem last year. But now Rogue’s Hollow residents are up in arms over a contentious vote on legalizing the sale of marijuana within city limits. And when an eighteen-year-old is found dead of a possible overdose, Tess wonders if the local pot farms might be involved and begins to fear that a new, deadlier drug supply chain has cropped up. As tempers flare and emotions boil over, Tess faces the possibility of losing the town’s support.
With her relationship to Sergeant Steve Logan on shaky ground, Tess could really use a friend, and she feels drawn to Pastor Oliver Macpherson’s quiet presence. But the anger she holds over her father’s death prevents her from embracing his faith and finding peace.
Battling storms within and without, Tess is shocked when a familiar face from her past shows up in town to stir up more trouble. And his threats against Tess may prove lethal.
What led you to apply to the police department?
I had just earned a degree in physical education and I was looking for a career that would challenge me. I didn’t want to teach, and I didn’t want to be locked inside. I do like to help people, so law enforcement seemed a good choice.
*Where did you develop your sense of justice, and did that play a role in your applying for law enforcement?
My stories are always faith based, and so I would have to say that my sense of justice comes from my faith. I don’t like to see the weak or the innocent exploited or hurt. When I was a police officer, the best part of the job was stopping a bad person from hurting an innocent person.
*Did you ever think you’d be author one day?
When I was a kid I wrote horse books, and I did want to be writer. But my father didn’t think I could make a living at it, so I chose a different career path in college. The desire to write never went away. After working the Rodney King riots, which truly impacted me, I started to write about experiences at work. That led to my imagination taking over, I started asking the “what if” question and novels were born.
*How would you define justice?
Fairness, accountability, bad people being punished for doing bad things, and the innocent and weaker individuals being protected.
*In the Line of Duty, Cold Case, and Pacific Justice series, is there a certain underlying theme?
In Pacific Coast Justice, the theme that wove through all the books was forgiveness. Woven through the series was the story of Carly and Nick, the restoration of their marriage as Carly learned to forgive. In the Cold Case series, it was justice, catching the killer that had evaded the law for years. Abby’s parent’s killer had gone free for thirty years. And in Line of Duty, after Tess’s shooting, it was about recognizing that God is sovereign and trusting him even when things go terribly wrong.
*Who is Tess O’Rourke and what motivates her?
Tess is the daughter of a police officer who was killed in the line of duty. She has the goal of becoming the first female chief of police in Long Beach. But when she is involved in a controversial shooting, her life is turned upside down. The story becomes one of redemption, faith, and community. Tess is motivated by justice, doing what is right and being the best officer she can be to honor her father’s memory.
*What’s your experience like writing the Line of duty series versus the others you’ve written?
The writing process for me is the same, asking the “what if” questions. But Line of Duty is set in a very rural area, in stark contrast to where I worked in Long Beach. I made up my own town and police department. It was great fun. I really wanted to develop a small town and the sense of community.
*Your newest book is Lethal Target. Name the most challenging things during the writing process.
The most challenging part of any novel is the writing the end. I always have a hard time writing the end, making sure it’s plausible and satisfying for the reader.
*What’s next for you?
What is your approach to writing? Outline, spontaneous, or both?
I’m a little of both. I’ll jot down random thoughts at first, then piece them together in the order I think works best. Most are just one-liners, that become the basis for full-blown scenes or character POV’s.
Where does your story take place?
I actually have two ebooks out, with first one taking place in Aberdeen Scotland, along with snippets in Glasgow Scotland, Belfast Northern Ireland and Dublin Ireland. The other takes place in Marseille France, with snippets in Algiers, Algeria and Morocco.
Name your biggest struggles writing this book.
Maintaining consistency in time. Sometimes it is between morning, noon and night, while others is something happening on one day and jumping two days later.
What has been helpful to you?
Community and friends, both locally and via the web. HAving someone help me understand the subtle nuances in dialogue, setting and the treaded ‘showing v. telling’ is really helpful.
What have you learned in your writing journey thus far?
Each day brings a new challange; whether it is creating better dialogue, making my character’s more ‘believable’ or simply stringing the sentences together, it’s all a learning process.
Does your book feature a central protagonist?
Yes, Scotland Yard Chief Inspector Conor McDermott is the main character in the story. A former Royal Navy officer, he is assigned a case that began in Portsmouth when a dock worker who was killed is found.
How do you get to know your characters?
Having Conor as a police officer aligns with my grandfather’s brother who was a constable in Edinburgh. I also have two older cousin’s who are members of law enforcement, so Conor is a tribute to them in a small way.
What’s the overarching goal of the hero?
Conor is out to find out how his niece was drugged, which led to her death (she jumped from an apartment rooftop). He also looks to redeem himself as his tendency is to bend certain rules in pursuit of catching criminals.
*Is Revived your first book?
*How do feel about writing your first book?
I feel… satisfied. In the beginning this book was just something to keep me busy. It turned into so much more than that. I fell in love with writing and creating this world and these amazing characters. Now, I can’t imagine my life without it. It was 2 years ago this month that I began writing Revived. There has been a lot of sacrifice, rejection, and hard work to get to this point but I wouldn’t change a thing. I just finished my second round of editing which means I’m so close to seeing it in print and no other word describes how I feel better than satisfied.
*How do you personally benefit from writing?
Writing is a distraction, an outlet to channel my imagination and creativity. Writing has seen me at my worst, and at my best. There’s no judgement or expectation and I thrive when I’m in that safe place. Some days I question my sanity, I created these characters from scratch and now I speak about them as if they’re real. Nothing like a little crazy to keep things interesting! But mostly, I write because I love it.
*Have you ever cried while writing?
Yes I have. I’m a very emotional person so there are many different reasons I’ve cried while writing. A song from my writing playlist that fits perfectly with a scene can make me tear up. Out of frustration—this happens more than I like to admit. I’m so attached to these characters that killing one of them is absolutely gut wrenching and cry-worthy for sure.
*What is the Imagination to you?
The imagination to me is the ability to step outside of yourself, to challenge the rules society has demanded we follow and embrace our creative side. The imagination allows us to be free. It gives us the ability to dream.
*Tell us about who Swayzi is.
Swayzi is someone you’ll root for, she’s relatable, loveable, and so unaware of how amazing she is. When you first meet her, she’s in an impossible situation. She has been given 2 months to live and a huge part of her wants to give up. You start with her at her absolute lowest and follow her on a journey of discovering her self-worth. She finds love, experiences betrayal and heartbreak, but the most important and defining part of the book, well—you’ll have to read it to find out!
*What does she want the most?
Swayzi loves her family more than anything and would do anything to protect them. I would say their safety is her first priority. Beyond that, what she wants most is to shed all the insecurities, and doubt, and embrace her fate on her terms.
*Who are Daylan and Tyler?
Tyler is and always will be my favourite character to write. He is without a doubt the heart of this story. A quote from the book describes him best: “Tyler was glaringly human. He would hold my hand during the scary parts of a horror movie, not for me, but for him. He felt pain, I could see it written all over his face when I was sick. He was constantly digging himself a hole, never saying the right thing at the right time. He was simply imperfect, flawed even, but that’s what made him—him.”
Daylan is quite the opposite of Tyler. He is eloquent and knows exactly who he is and what he wants. He is the epitome of tall, dark and handsome and of course, very mysterious. Daylan has answers to questions Swayzi didn’t even know she had. Tyler may be the heart of this story, but Daylan drives it.
*When is the publication date for Revived?
Publication date is not official yet but it will be August or September. There’s a ton happening behind the scenes right now, cover design, release date, and some exciting extras that will be announced very soon. Keep an eye on my social media!
Jenna Morland is the author of Revived published by Oftomes Publishing, set to release in 2018. Jenna is a Canadian born author, song writer, and mother of two that lives under the Northern Lights. Slytherin to the core, Jenna’s ambition to write her debut novel happened somewhere between training for a triathlon and putting her kids to bed. But it was her determination to follow through that landed her a publishing deal. Growing up, her wild imagination thrived off of reading and her most desired hobby was to let a book completely consume her. Unlike most writers, Jenna never wrote in a diary. She dreaded English class and she never dreamt that one day she would write a novel. Until she did.
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