Tell us about you.
My name is Toby Neal, and I'm a licensed mental health therapist in Hawaii by day, and mystery writer by night. I'm married to a photographer/artist and live on Maui.
The life I'm living now didn't start easy--I grew up poor, homeless, and with alcoholic hippie parents on the island of Kauai. My stories show the "dark side" of paradise, one I've lived and worked with professionally.
I write the kind of books I've always wanted to read about Hawaii--suspenseful, authentic, immersive, with an enduring romantic element.
Tell us about your book.
I have three books out so far in the Lei Crime Series.
Blood Orchids- Lei Texeira, a police officer and sexual abuse survivor, becomes obsessed with a disturbing case of two drowned girls on the Big Island.
Torch Ginger- Lei makes detective and transfers to Kauai, where she uncovers a series of missing transients going back ten years and a whole new kind of evil.
Black Jasmine- Lei moves to Maui, where she uncovers a network of organized crime from cruise ships to art galleries.
What inspired you to write this book?
All of my stories have seeds in the stories of my clients, or in real crimes that occur here in Hawaii that capture my imagination. I'm fascinated with human behavior in all its beauty and ugliness. Each book has reasons for why I wrote it, but Lei, my protagonist, is the most important.
She's an archetype (from Jungian psychology) a character that exemplifies a "type" that exists across time and all cultures. She's the "wounded warrior"--who, though damaged, seeks healing through finding justice for others.
What can readers expect when they open your book?
A multilayered story that gives a glimpse into "real" Hawaii society, with all its multicultural complexity. A suspenseful, fast paced read, a romance you'll root for, and unexpected twists.
Expect to get little sleep for the next few days!
What do you feel is your greatest accomplishment as a writer?
Over and over, readers find my first book and then become loyal fans of all three. They write and tell me how they cried, or how they're mad at the ending, or how they "didn't see it coming" but most of all, the books end positively with a sense of optimism about the human condition, something that can be tough to pull off in this genre.
Being able to quit my full time state job to write more, and because my books were making enough money, was a big accomplishment.
Who is your favorite author and why?
I know. Not crime fiction.
But, I love Claire and Jamie. My multi-book, complicated romance between Lei and Detective Stevens is inspired by her massive and complex books.
Do you have any suggestions for writers just starting out?
If you think you're ready, you probably arent.
It took me three years, and two rounds of professional editing, and two different agents trying to sell Blood Orchids before I gave up and self published. I believe if you're going to go that route, make your book Top Quality.
I write all about my philosophy on book marketing in my minibook, Building an Author Platform that can Launch Anything.
What is your favorite quote?
Be the change you want to see in the world. Gandhi
If you could exchange lives with any of your characters for a day which character would you choose and why?
Interesting question. I think I have to say Marcella Scott, Lei's hot FBI friend who appears in Torch Ginger. She's uninhibited, brash and bold, funny, sexy as hell. I wouldn't mind spending a day in her Manolos.
If your book was made into a movie which actor/actress would play which character(s)?
Lei is Japanese, Hawaiian, and Portuguese, so I could see Grace Park or Lucy Liu playing her.
If the book being featured is part of a series, tell us more about it.
The Lei Crime Series has four books:
Each book is set on a different island and has a totally different crime, and follows Lei's overall character development and professional development.
What does writing mean to you?
Its what I've dreamed of doing and practiced since I could hold a pencil--but it turns out, that fascination with stories also has made me a very effective therapist, which is a steadier income!
Im thrilled to have reached the point in my life where I can do both.
Anything else you want to share with us?
Why do people love crime fiction and cop shows so much? Is it a disturbing trend?
I actually think we're hard wired to be vigilant about aberrant behavior in our midst. We are fascinated with crime because on some level, we want to recognize wehn we ourselves are in danger. We want to spot the wolves in sheeps' clothing, and there are more of them these days.
Tell us 5 random things about you the person, not the author:
1) I am a natural redhead.
2) I am a neat freak who hates housework.
3) My first job was as a Mexican cook in a taco truck on Kauai.
4) I think celebrities are overrated.
5) I am happily married for 26 years to my only lover.
Where to connect online
FEATURED BOOK: The Lei Crime Series: Blood Orchids, Torch Ginger, Black Jasmine
Genre: police procedural, mystery
Buy on Amazon