Recently I had an opportunity to chat with Toby about her passion for writing, our common interest in creating strong female protagonists, and the joyof living and writing in a beautiful part of our country. You’ll find the Q&A below.
When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?
Toby: I dictated my first stories to my mom before I could read or write! My first novel, involving a horse with a striking resemblance to the Black Stallion, was written in longhand when I was nine.
You live on the beautiful island of Maui. How do your surroundings influence your writing?
Toby: Hawaii is a character in my books, and each island is like a sister to the others–very distinct, with her own personality and unique features. I love moving the books from island to island to share that with readers. Hawaii is a place that gets hold of your heart and, for some people (like our family for three generations) won’t let go.
Your stories have engaging female characters; some with kick-ass strength or clever minds. Do you think it’s important to have strongfemale protagonists in your books?
Toby: It never occurred to me to write from a male perspective because there are so many male characters in the police procedural/crime novel/mystery field. I wanted to show the exterior and interior life of a damaged but brave and overcoming woman cop through my series. I do something unique for the genre, by showing my protagonist’s recovery from childhood sexual abuse across a series of books–she gets measurably better from PTSD symptoms in each book. Recently (last 3 books) I began including the male perspective of her love interest, Michael Stevens, and having the tension of their shared versions of events has deepened and enriched the overall story.
You’re the author of the bestselling Lei Crime Series which involves intriguing and at times heartwarming stories. How do you go about the research for your stories?
Toby: I try to do my research before I start a book because I write fast and hard once I get going and don’t want to slow down for research. In Fire Beach, my most recent, I found a retired fireman/fire marshal and sat down for an intensive tutorial on firefighting/fire inspection/arson. He sent me research articles. I developed my profile of the criminal and ran it by him. Also the main crime. Then, at the end, he read the whole manuscript and made corrections. This is basically how I do all the books: obtain expert, research, write, have expert read and correct. Readers have come to count on learning something new in my books so in a way, I’ve set a high bar for myself! But it adds to the appeal of the series and is worth the extra effort.
We both recently released the latest book in our series. Now that you have released Fire Beach, what’s up next for you?
Toby: I’m already hard at work on Rip Tides, Lei Crime #9, and then I’m planning a new series with a side character, an MMA-fighting FBI tech agent, my Hawaiian version of a Girl with a Dragon Tattoo. I’m psyched to do something new! I love writing multicultural characters, and setting a spotlight on the many races and ethnicities we have in Hawaii. Lei Texeira, the Lei Crime Series protagonist, is Hawaiian/Portuguese/Japanese. Sophie Ang, the new protagonist I’m developing for the Wired series, is half Thai and half Black. Her father was an American diplomat who married a Thai socialite, and she’s escaped her debutante background and early abusive marriage by joining the FBI. Can you tell I’m eager to get started? Sophie appears in the Lei Crime Series from #4, Broken Ferns as a friend of Lei’s.