Thursday teaser: Wired Dark

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Book 4 in the Paradise Crime series launches today!

By Toby Neal

 

Tech security specialist Sophie Ang walked through the velvet-dark night, patrolling a beachfront property in Wailea on Maui. She found comfort in the familiar weight of her Glock on one hip as her hand rested on it, but she kept her arms loose, ready for action, as she scanned the area. Rocker Shank Miller’s estate was as protected as Sophie and her Security Solutions partner, Jake Dunn, could make it—but something had set off one of the property’s perimeter motion detectors, and it was Sophie’s turn to check out the disturbance.

The hammered pewter gleam of moonlight reflected off a great swath of beach and rendered Miller’s manicured lawn in shades of gray, casting ornamental plantings into black shadow. Natural stone pavers, set into the grass, made an easy route around the clustered ferns, flowering trees, and birds of paradise that ringed the grounds.

Jake had wanted to cut all the plantings way back to improve visibility and monitoring, but Miller had refused. “I didn’t spend ten million on this getaway spot so I could hide out inside a cement bunker with no view,” the rock star had said. “I come here to relax. Growing green stuff helps me relax, and so does my view. Do the best you can with those challenges, but I won’t lose either.”

Her partner never did anything by half measures, and he took Shank Miller’s safety more seriously than the man did himself. Jake had supervised the installation of a Plexiglas wall to preserve that view, a bulletproof, impenetrable and almost invisible barrier on Sophie’s left.

Sophie headed toward the corner closest to the beach where the alarm had sounded. Motion detectors, buried and almost invisible in the plantings, created frequent disturbances for their team, and Sophie was still getting used to being part of that team.

Jake took up a lot of personal space. Sometimes he made it hard for her to breathe, and it was that need for space that had driven Sophie to ask for a guest room inside the main house so that they weren’t both occupying the small cottage that had become the team’s security headquarters. The computer monitoring station had been moved from the main house out there too, and Jake stayed out there with their two backup operatives, Jesse Kanaka and Ronnie Fellowes.

Sophie reached the corner of the grounds where the alarm had gone off. Jake had wanted to put in lights that responded to the motion detectors, but Shank had put his boot-clad foot down again. “I can’t have this place lit up like a stadium every time a gecko runs across the freakin’ fence.”

That meant that the corner Sophie approached, hidden on the beach side by a clump of native bushes, was inky-dark. Sophie pulled out a powerful flashlight and shone it over the area. Illumination played over the smooth grass and shadowy foliage.

Nothing. Probably just a gecko, one of those ubiquitous Hawaiian lizards that hunted insects at night.

Sophie was moving on when the beam caught a flash of color. She turned and lit up the item.

Lying beneath a cluster of bird of paradise were a plastic bride and groom, the toys rubber-banded together, wrapped in each other’s arms.

Sophie scanned for movement along the bushes of the public beach for any sign of who might have thrown the dolls into the compound, but the area was deserted.

Nothing to see but the gleam of the moon on the ocean, nothing to hear but the sound of the surf and the rustle of a gentle night wind in the palm trees overhead.

Sophie reached into her pocket and removed a small plastic bag. She used it to pick up the figures, shining the light over a Barbie and Ken doll. The Barbie was dressed in a wedding gown, her long blonde hair braided, a veil over her face. The groom’s molded plastic hair had been colored over with Sharpie, and squiggles of black ink trailed down inside the doll’s tuxedo, representing Shank Miller’s long dark locks—and the male doll’s right hand, Miller’s guitar hand, had been sawed off.

About Wired Dark

Paradise Crime, Book 4

Paradise can’t contain a thirst for revenge.

Tech security specialist Sophie Ang returns to Maui, working alongside dynamic partner Jake Dunn to solve a series of bizarre and escalating threats against a rocker with a beach mansion. But soon, catching a crazed stalker becomes the least of Sophie’s problems: a deadly enemy is hell-bent to take her down along with anyone she cares about. Sophie’s very identity is tested as she grapples with issues of conscience and survival in a struggle that takes her to the edge of heartbreak, and beyond.

About the author

Toby Neal grew up on the island of Kaua`i in Hawaii. After a few “stretches of exile” to pursue education, the islands have been home for the last fifteen years.

Toby is a mental health therapist, a career that has informed the depth and complexity of the characters in her books.

Outside of work and writing, Toby volunteers in a nonprofit for children and enjoys life in Hawaii through beach walking, body boarding, scuba diving, photography, and hiking.

 Visit her on:

And follow her on Twitter @TobywNeal.

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Monday musings: Writing style

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I think the first time I noticed a writing style, an author’s distinctive voice, was in Grade 5 when I read “Riddles in the Dark,” where Bilbo foils Gollum in The Hobbit. Since then, I’ve always valued an enjoyable writing style, sometimes more than the story.

I can still remember another story from my elementary school days: Ray Bradbury’s “The Fog Horn.” On foggy nights, a lighthouses’ foghorn draws a dinosaur like creature out of the depths of the ocean, whose voice sounded like a foghorn, too. I can remember the emotional impact on me of Bradbury’s beautiful prose describing the sound of the creature’s call, the loneliness and unrequited love it felt when it realized the tall, deep-voiced lighthouse was not another like itself.

Later, I discovered Samuel R. Delany’s Dhalgren, a novel that one of my teachers remarked no 15-year-old should read. Its frankly sexual content was a bit much for a teenager, but I savored the eloquent descriptions that set every sense on fire.

As a teenager, I got into science fiction and fantasy, but found the styles of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were not as appealing, anymore. I liked a lot of the work of Philip K. Dick, although I found the quality and the style uneven.

I found Larry Niven’s style in his Known Space series was an almost perfect combination of description, action and interesting characters. His Gil the ARM series was the first example I found to combine science-fiction and detective stories, and that led me to Raymond Chandler, Dashiel Hammet and Ross MacDonald.

What do I mean by style?

For me, style involves mechanics like sentence structure and length and the variation in that; pacing of action and speech; and word choice. But it also grows out of the author’s choice of point of view and how detailed and lengthy their description is.

As a teenager I reveled in rich descriptions. Since then my tastes have, I like to flatter myself, become more balanced. I value complex, interesting and believable characters, people who are vulnerable and flawed and not always admirable.

But most of all, I like a good story, something that takes me somewhere.

In terms of more modern writers, I like the way George RR Martin combines evocative description, dozens of captivating characters and, most of all, many interweaving stories, each of which is compelling on its own.

Toby Neal is another writer who excels by creating characters you can connect with, and putting them in a story you cannot put down. She’s also expert in describing the setting—although she has a huge advantage, living in Hawaii. I also have to mention something that I find Neal does better than any other contemporary writer in English that I have found: she writes a socially and ethnically diverse cast of characters that accurately reflects the world we live in today.

Gae-Lynn Woods’ Cass Elliot series brings a large range of subtly-drawn characters into a story so dark, I couldn’t stop reading it.

Samreen Ahsan has created a unique style by blending Islamic mythology with contemporary romance, wrapped up in lush descriptions.

Dawn Torrens’ characters, Amelia and her family, as well as her stories, are drawn from the author’s own experiences.

The late Kathleen Valentine was an original writer. One of the more unusual aspects of her style was to write romantic stories about people older than their midlives—most romance is about young people.

I’m now reading Caleb Pirtle III’s Place of Skulls, where magnificently compelling and flawed characters in a detailed, horrifying setting drive three interwoven stories. I can only put it down when forced to.

Elise Stokes, Alan McDermott, Renée Pawlish, Emily Kimelman, DelSheree Gladden, Claude Bouchard, Raine Thomas, Frederick Brooke, Seb Kirby—in fact, all the writers in this group share that ability to create unforgettable and believable characters and put them into situations where you just have to find out what happens next.

The evolution of taste

Like everything else, my taste in literature has evolved over the years. I don’t read as much science fiction or fantasy as I used to, although I still enjoy a good mystery.

But one thing hasn’t changed: I love a writer who can use original prose to bring me into the story along with, or inside, characters that fascinate me.

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How have your tastes in writing changed over time? What do you find most important in a writer’s style? Leave a comment below.

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Thursday teasers: New books from your favorite #BestsellingReads authors

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Your favorite bestselling authors are hard at work, bringing you exciting new reads for your summer. Here are some new titles coming out soon.

Make It Happen

Vigilante Book 13 

By Claude Bouchard

When a brutal terrorist attack leaves hundreds dead or injured  at an airshow, it is decided those responsible must pay with their lives and the Discreet Activities team is mandated to Make it Happen… 

Coming in July from Amazon.

In Sheep’s Clothing

Sydney Rye series book 9

Sydney Rye is missing. April Madden throws herself into a quest to track down her missing daughter—in ISIS-controlled territory.

Coming September 27.

Available for pre-order now from Amazon, iBooks, Barnes & Noble and Kobo.

The Girl in the Window

Psychological thriller

By Renée Pawlish

In the midst of a bitter divorce, Amber longs for the seemingly perfect life his handsome neighbor Caleb and his wife Erin have. “I’d kill for that kind of life,” Amber says. But would she?

Available NOW on Amazon.

Wired Dark

Paradise Crime series, book 4

By Toby Neal

Catching a crazed stalker on Maui becomes the least of tech security specialist Sophie Ang’s problems: a deadly enemy is hell-bent to take her down along with anyone she cares about. 

Available for pre-order on Amazon. Coming August 31 to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and iBooks.

 

Smolder Road: Lucy

Scorched Series Romance Thriller book 6

By Toby Neal and Emily Kimelman

The enigmatic, stoic Roan Winters becomes a one-man army to rescue Lucy Luciano when a vicious gang attacks the Luciano family’s post-apocalyptic Haven.

Available July 21 from Amazon, other retailers soon!

 

 

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Monday musings: Share your summer reading list

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Summer. Forest fires and wildfires on one side of the continent, floods on the other. World conferences on terrorism and climate change.

It’s no wonder that in summer, readers like to choose lighter fare. Romances, mysteries, thrillers. At the beach or on the dock, in the backyard hammock or on the cottage porch, we’re supposed to be reading books that don’t tax our minds and souls too much. We’re supposed to be on vacation, taking things easy, enjoying the weather and the outdoors.

But is that trope really true? Sure, I remember seeing lots of mysteries held up by people on lounge chairs by the ocean. Clive Cussler, Lee Child, the awful E.L. James, David Baldacci — thrillers and romances and books that do not ask you to think too deeply. But also, I have seen people reading more serious books, like The Girl on the Train or The Couple Next Door.

Various newspapers and blogs also recommend a wider range of books, from The American War by Omar El Akkad (if that one doesn’t make you think about our modern world, I don’t know what will). And of course, The Handmaid’s Tale is playing on TV right now.

How heavy are these books?

The thing about serious books is that many of them could be classified into a genre, which some readers and critics—and writers—describe as not as serious. Not “literary.” But many genre books have also turned out to be serious, to have an impact on the culture. Cormac McCarthy’s The Road can be seen as part of the post-apocalyptic science fiction genre, but it’s a deep, meaningful story about a father and son. Margaret Atwood has written several books, including The Handmaid’s Tale, that definitely fit into the science fiction category.

Independent authors are usually seen as definitely working within genres, and from a marketing point of view, that makes sense. The romance genre, for example, by far outsells, as a whole, every other category of fiction, including “serious” literary fiction. So do mystery and action thrillers.

Blurred lines

The thing is, the high walls between genres are also breaking down. Writers are mixing up mysteries and science-fiction, thrillers and fantasy, and let’s not forget the burgeoning paranormal romance genre.

I myself like to blur the lines between genres. I have been working intermittently on a novel that combines the spy thriller with occult horror, called Dark Clouds. I have published one chapter, the introduction, as a short story. You can find it as Dark Clouds: The Mandrake Ruse.

BestSelling Reads members, independent authors, are not only skilled within their genres, but challenge the genre definitions with books that break the rules, cross genres and keep you from putting their books down before you get to the last page. Eden Baylee’s A Snake in Paradise and Charade At Sea, for example, combine mystery with adult-oriented romance. Renée Pawlish’s Reed Ferguson series moves the noir mystery into the current century, with a heaping helping of humor. Toby Neal and Emily Kimelman have teamed up with the Scorch Road series, combining the post-apocalyptic and serious romance genres. Samreen Ahsan has created a brand new genre, paranormal romances based on Muslim themes, in her Prayer series.

And there’s more.A Silent Prayer cover

Each of these books does more than combine genres: they create something new, something exciting. A new kind of adventure for the reader.

What’s on your summer reading list?

Are you sticking with the easy reads, the reiterations of the same stories, or are you on the lookout for something new, fresh and original? Share what you want to read through the hot and quiet months, and we’ll send you a free e-book.

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Seven characteristics of successful #writers that cannot be taught

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By Toby Neal

This post originally appeared on Toby Neal’s blog on September 21, 2016.

Seven characteristics of successful writers cannot be taught—but they can be learned and developed until they become the habits that are the bedrock of a successful artist practice in any field.

  • The successful writer is a keen observer of everything around him. Writers notice things: the way a closet smells of cedar, mothballs, and the unique stench of crumbling old photographs. They see the gilt hairs on a centipede, the gleam of a lost marble in the grass. They feel the chill of dried sweat on the inside of a parka—and everything, simply everything, is something that might be useful for story.
  • The successful writer is dangerously curious. Curiosity is a quality that cannot be faked or taught—but it can be cultivated. Curiosity drives the questioning mind to relentlessly ask: what if? Why? How does this work? Seeking answers is the stuff of story, legend, art and invention—and while not every question may be of interest, an inquiring mind can be nurtured (particularly in children. But that’s a topic for another day.)
  • The successful writer has talent plus passion. Talent cannot be faked. Some people just have an innate adeptness with words, with paint, with a musical instrument—they perform in their area of passion easily, gracefully, naturally. But those who succeed don’t just have talent—they can’t NOT do their art. Oh, the stories I could tell on this one. My early ambition to be a writer was actually crushed by the careless comment of an adult I respected at a party before I left for college. “What? You want to be a writer? You’ll never make a living doing that.” I was forty before I began to really put that all-to-common sound bite behind me, and for a while I grieved for all the time lost. Eventually, though, I could see all the ways that I was writing all of my life, and none of it was wasted. Even when a creative’s sublimating, their passion oozes out in that church newsletter, that nursery mural, that ditty on the trash can at the bus stop. They must, and they will, come what may—and eventually the universe shapes itself to support that unyielding passion.
  • The successful writer learns from criticism (but never gives up.) Rejection is inherent to any creative enterprise. As my editor Kristin Weber said, “If it was easy, everyone would be doing it.” Creative fields are also filled with what Julia Cameron, in her groundbreaking The Artist’s Way, calls “shadow artists.” These are blocked creatives, who, instead of doing their own art, have instead become the tastemakers, the critics, the professors and teachers, the reviewers. That’s not to say everyone in these roles is a shadow artist—no, far from it! But you’ll know the shadow artist by the brutality and cruelty of their attack, the mean-spirited belittlement of their judginess. They cannot hide their bitter jealousy, and its toxic venom burns the tender young artist. Put on your armor, take your hits—and be humble. Learn from the criticism, do that next edit, go the extra mile to perfect the work with grace and thanks—but never let anyone’s bad review make you give up.
  • The successful writer is not afraid to be alone. Art is, and writing particularly, a solitary pursuit. Even co-writing, which I’m doing now, is still me on my side of the world writing my words alone, and my co-author on hers writing her words, both of us dumping them into a shared story (alone) and then trying to make it all hang together (which can definitely be harder than working alone!) A taste for one’s own company is very much a characteristic of the successful writer. You can learn to do this by taking small retreats and learning to sit with the silence, learning to build an inner self sufficiency—and the writing or other art will deepen as a result.

    My work area, surrounded by special objects.

  • The successful writer focuses and finishes. It’s not enough to flit through life, beginning novels, getting forty pages in, and abandoning them out of boredom (as I did.) It takes commitment to focus, persist, follow the rabbit-trail of an idea, capture and nurture it, weed, water and feed it, trim, groom, and harvest the fruit of it—even if that particular novel ends up in a drawer, becoming fertilizer for the next one. Focusing and finishing are important habits that separate the wannabes from the doing-its. Learn to focus and finish, even if it doesn’t come naturally—there are apps, books, techniques available. (Look up Pomodoro Method, and the book Steal Like an Artistby Austin Kleon, for ideas.)
  • The successful writer is persistent. The single greatest characteristic needed for success in any creative field is persistence. It can make up for a multitude of sins, including lack of talent, having no ideas, being a sellout, an idiot, a messed-up neurotic with a mental health disorder, a drunk or a dilettante. If you refuse to give up, and just keep coming to the page day after day after day, you will improve. You will succeed in becoming the best writer you can be.

As I write this, I am on vacation in the wilds of British Columbia, a location I chose because of its optimal writing opportunities and with which my family cooperated because they love nature too, and fishing, and trees and eagles and the sound of the tide turning. But today I am happily alone, delighted with the idea of a long stretch of uninterrupted writing before me, and amazed that its my writing paying for it all. I wish I’d known thirty years ago what I know now, and share with you freely. But only you can believe in yourself and your passion enough to make room for it to flourish. I hope you will.

Toby Neal was raised on Kauai in Hawaii and makes the Islands home after living elsewhere for “stretches of exile” to pursue education. Toby enjoys outdoor activities including bodyboarding, scuba diving, photography and hiking as well as writing. A mental health therapist, Toby credits that career with adding depth to the characters in the LeiCrime Series.

Get to know Toby on her:

And follow her on Twitter @TobywNeal.

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Thursday teaser: Scorch Road

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An exciting collaboration of two BestSelling authors:
Toby Neal and Emily Kimelman

Elizabeth

“You’re the whole cold transport chain, Elizabeth. Don’t take your eyes off that thing until you get it to the CDC in Washington.” Dr. Fellerman stepped away, returning to his side of the big wooden desk. “There are ten vials of the isolated virus in there. And that case will keep it cold for at least three days.” He flopped into his chair and it rolled back a few inches. Dr. Fellerman closed his eyes. “It’s too late for me, but there are still a lot of people to save.”

Elizabeth stepped forward, wanting to hug him or say something to mark this parting. Dr. Fellerman had offered her guidance without pushing, and he’d been a great teacher—one of the rare people she trusted.

He frowned at her approach. “Don’t get too close. You’re not sick now, but you know how contagious this thing is.”

She nodded. “Thank you for everything.”

Dr. Fellerman gave her a weak smile. “Thank you, Elizabeth. And Godspeed.”

Elizabeth left his office and retraced her steps through the lab. As she waited for the elevator, Elizabeth looked down at the cryocase. Inside the insulated screw top, a smaller metal cylinder held the vials of cells. Liquid nitrogen filled the larger container, keeping the isolated virus at the optimum temperature, well below freezing. It had to stay that way or vaccine production would be set back by months.

What if she failed? The thought chilled her to her bones.

***

JT

Wind drafted up his naked body as JT surveyed the land for the threat he knew was coming, but as usual he saw nothing but waving corn, velvety alfalfa, grazing pigs in their fenced pen, and the wind-ruffled leaves of soybeans and potato fields, picturesque in late summer glory.

JT had a powerful intuition, a sense of coming things. Mama called it the Sight and told him he’d inherited it from his deceased grandmother, rumored to be una strega, a witch.

“You’re a canary in a coal mine,” she had said, pulling him in for a hug after he’d told her to get her car fixed, that there was something wrong with it. The mechanic discovered a broken brake line that might have killed her. “You’ve been given the Sight. Be sure to use it for good, caro Jacobino.”

JT had tried to use that sense, along with an environmental biology degree, for good. But no one ever listened to his warnings, even those backed up by science. He’d got so tired of watching disaster strike again and again, waves on a seashore, that he’d left the EPA for this, his own place, where he could prepare.

Away from other people, JT was able to screen the stress of the Sight out better, but so close to water, he felt it acutely: the tremor of a shadow moving across the land.

A sickness was coming.

His family—five brothers, his mom, and his precious little sister—were all still out there, ignoring his warnings and invitations to the Haven. It hurt like a bruise that would never heal, a bruise that kept him up at night.

JT duckwalked around the metal platform’s edge, pleasure in the day evaporated—he was just hot, tired, and very alone. He arrowed into the pond in a swan dive. At the cool weedy bottom, he paused, his eyes shut. His mysterious sense was buffered, and yet amplified, by the water.

The scorching of the earth was coming here—right to his doorstep—into his fields.

The knowledge chilled JT more than the cold green water at the bottom of the pond. He shot for the sunlight, gasping for breath.

About Scorch Road

A new romantic action adventure series for fans of romance thriller and family romance sagas!

One of six Italian brothers and a sister, JT Luciano is a widowed environmental biologist with a touch of the Sight who is preparing for an apocalyptic event he knows is coming. Holed up at the military survival camp prepared for his family, the Haven, JT is ready for whatever might come… except for one woman.

Dr. Elizabeth Johnson, virologist and Senator’s daughter, is carrying precious cells for a vaccine against the swiftly-evolving, deadly flu that’s sweeping the nation. Her plane crashes in JT’s potato field–and she must convince him to leave the Haven and help her get to Washington, DC.

One by one, the structures of society implode in the face of the flu’s devastation as JT and Elizabeth travel a scorching road cross country.

Can danger bring them together to find one good, true thing in a changing world?

Get it on Amazon.

About the authors

Emily Kimelman is the author of the best selling Sydney Rye Series, which feature a strong female protagonist and her canine best friend, Blue. It is recommended for the 18+ who enjoy some violence, don’t mind dirty language, and are up for a dash of sex. Not to mention an awesome, rollicking good mystery!

Emily can be found:

Website   |   Facebook    |   Twitter

Toby Neal is the author of the bestselling Lei Crime series featuring Maui police detective Lei Texeira, the Paradise Crime series featuring security specialist Sophie Ang, the Michaels Family Romance series, and the new Scorch Series romantic thrillers with Emily Kimelman.

Visit her:

 

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Year-end Teasers: The 2016 spotlight

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Your favorite bestselling authors have been very busy over the past 12 months. Altogether, BestSelling Reads member authors have published 46 titles. Here’s a quick look back at all the great reading available for your enjoyment this year.

Claude Bouchard

Scott Bury

Barb Drozdowich

Julie C. Gilbert

DelSheree Gladden

Emily Kimelman

Emily’s Sydney Rye Kindle World also launched in May 2016.

Seb Kirby

 

Toby Neal

Renée Pawlish

Kathleen Valentine

Even though Kathleen passed away at the end of October, she published two books in 2016:

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Going Analog to Beat Writer’s Block

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By Toby Neal

Creative Commons

Creative Commons

Last year, for a period of four months, I couldn’t write.

This might not seem like long to you, but I’d been writing close to 2,000 words a day for five years. But after Red Rain, Lei Crime Series #11, I couldn’t seem to get going again.

“Big deal,” you say. “You wrote fourteen mysteries, three romances, two memoirs and a couple of YA novels in five years. It’s okay to be a little burned-out and take a break.”

That’s what my friends told me, too. I told myself that, agreeing. But not writing isn’t “taking a break” to me. I’m happiest when I’m writing, and I couldn’t seem to. Nothing appealed, not even my romances, which are my go-to feel-good projects when I get a little stuck. Even blogging, which I normally love, felt Herculean.

Instinctively, I sought new distractions and input. I bought tons of self-help, lifestyle, writing, performance and life improvement books (along with my usual brimming TBR list of friends’ books and other fiction.) I cleaned my house personally for the first time in six months. I decided to sort my beach glass and shell collection and reorganize them. I gardened. Did a little cooking. (Not too much. I’m not that addled.) I called friends who hadn’t heard from me in ages to go to lunch. I also worked out and dieted, because if I’m not writing, I better be doing something good. I’m no slacker, and this felt like slacking.

And gradually, I began to go analog.

This definition from Vocabulary.com matches the way I mean the term: “Analog is the opposite of digital. Any technology, such as vinyl records or clocks with hands and faces, that doesn’t break everything down into binary code to work, is analog. Analog, you might say, is strictly old school.”

My version of analog meant stopping the noise and distractions in my head and life, most of them somehow digital.

I stopped filling my ears with noise and my eyes with electronics, staying away from my computer except for planned chunks of work using the Pomodoro method.

I stopped listening to music in the car, and let my thoughts wander instead. I stopped listening to audiobooks or calling friends on my walks with my dog in the neighborhood; instead, I practiced just noticing things: the cry of Francolin grouse in the overgrown, empty pineapple field. Distant roosters, barking dogs, doves and chattering mynahs, the sound the wind makes in the coconut trees, the swish of my feet through grass, the feel of air on my skin.

I tried to break my phone habit, and couldn’t… but still, the tiny screen was less sensory input than the big one. The intrusiveness of all the bits of colored data representing relationships and knowledge felt more manageable to my spongy brain.

We had holidays. I usually write during holidays, at least in my journal.

I didn’t, this time.

I just tried to really be with my family, and I had a lot of intense feelings. Joy. Sadness. Excitement. Contentment. Exhaustion. Even boredom. I realized I use technology (and food) to manage my emotions. Not doing so was a real internal rollercoaster.

In the silence of sitting in analog, I got a tiny insight: some of this block is performance anxiety.

WiredIn2I worry I won’t be able to top myself, that I’ve already done the best work I’m capable of.

Once that insight finally bubbled up through the silence I was cultivating, I could examine it. Interact with it. Test its veracity, as we do in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which is my primary counseling mode.

As I grappled with it, the tiny insight got louder, clearer and more detailed.

I recognized the voice of the Inner Critic, and the razor-tipped arrow of a lie that pierced me in the heart and froze me in place. “You’ve done your best work already and it’s still no great shakes—you’re nothing but a self-published mid-lister. Quit before you embarrass yourself.”

Well, damn.

That’s some toxic self-talk! No wonder I stayed constantly distracted by internal and external noise for the last five years, trying to run so fast to the page that my self-doubt couldn’t catch up to me.

The usual things I had done in the past to get back to writing didn’t work.

My kitchen timer failed me. Pep talks with my friends didn’t work. Even Grumpy Cat flashing at me on Write or Die couldn’t get me going, nor least the pleas of my readers for the next Lei book, which usually motivates and this time, just felt like pressure. The joy and fun of the Lei Crime Kindle World had morphed into the weight of other writers depending on my ongoing success.

I felt crushed and smothered. Worries about money didn’t even motivate me.

I was a miner, deep in a hot dark shaft, who had reached the end of her vein of gold.

And for once, I decided to just sit there, in the dark uncomfortableness, until something happened.

That’s what “going analog” is. It’s sitting, undistracted, holding the emptiness of departed inspiration and motivation, without trying to produce anything.

Going analog is doing simple things with your hands, like sorting a lifetime of collected shells into Keep and Take Back to the Beach.

Image source: Lorna Sass at Large https://lornasassatlarge.wordpress.com/2010/01/14/molokai-purple-potatoes/

Image source: Lorna Sass at Large https://lornasassatlarge.wordpress.com/2010/01/14/molokai-purple-potatoes/

Going analog is heading to the farmer’s market and browsing the stalls, choosing three Molokai purple sweet potatoes. It’s going home and peeling one, cutting it up, cooking it, and eating it mashed with a little salt—and nothing to read or listen to during any of that.

Going analog is walking the beach without music, phone, or audiobook, feeling everything: wind in my face, sun on the top of my head, sand scouring my feet, ocean a beating heart next to me, people randomly occurring with dogs, and now really seeing them. (Even saying hi to them!)

Going analog makes me wish for a mindless job again: a place to go and punch a clock, performing whatever task that society has decided has value and will pay me for.

This thing I do is amorphous, making up stories and hoping people like them. Drawing metaphoric blood and using it as ink, Hemingway called the process of writing — a dubious endeavor of questionable value… Not like getting out and mowing the knee-deep grass. Now that’s a job that needs doing.

I persevered with my uncomfortable analog state, adrift in dubious oversensitivity, miserable in my idyllic, carefully constructed writer’s life, unable to tell anyone but a few what was going on.

No one takes me seriously, or believes I’ll stay stuck.

Except me.

Being stuck feels absolute and irrefutable and forever. But I refused to anesthetize it.

One day an idea bobbed through my empty, silent mind. A silly idea, for the Kindle World novella I needed to write by a deadline. A novella’s just a tiny jump for a steeplechaser like me, but now, in my humbled state, even a fan fiction novella seemed impossible.

But I hadn’t had an idea at all in ages. I grabbed the string hanging from the balloon of the idea and captured it analog.

Written by hand.

“A Thelma and Louise revenge caper set in the desert in Mexico,” I wrote. “A road trip gone badly wrong.”

This violent, intense action idea felt good, like it had the steam I needed to get me moving. Of course, I’d hoped I was going to have a Great Big Awesome Idea that would take my work to the next level, and top myself, and beat the Inner Critic once and for all.

Instead, there was this idea. No great literary masterpiece. Perhaps that will never come from my pen. But this road trip idea is something. It’s enough. There’s a sense that heads will roll.

I decide a samurai sword will be involved, and heads will, literally, roll. It makes me smile, and I haven’t smiled over an idea in a while.

road-rough-finalI begin writing, sneakily. Quietly. Not calling it writing. Not saying the drought is broken. Just jotting a few things down. And then I’m at ten thousand words, and the story has me by the throat, in the clutches of evil men on a bad stretch of Rough Road. (Look for it in Emily Kimelman’s Sydney Rye Kindle World.)

This time, I didn’t use my usual technology prods.

I just wrote, when I could, when I felt like it, without music on.

Against the black wall of the mine, directly in front of me, there was a tiny shimmer. A new vein of gold might just be there.

Go analog to beat your writer’s block.

Sit in the dark uncomfortable of nothing going on in your head, no distractions or stimulation, for as long as it takes until your idea comes.

Don’t reject the idea when it finally appears, because it’s not pretty, fancy, or solid enough. Grab hold of it “old school” — by the dangling string, with both hands. Nail that idea to a piece of paper with a pen, and be grateful.

You might just strike it rich with your new vein of gold. And if not, at least you’ll be writing again.

About Toby Neal

Toby Neal was raised on Kauai in Hawaii and makes the Islands home after living elsewhere for “stretches of exile” to pursue education. A mental health therapist, Toby credits that career with adding depth to the characters in the LeiCrime Series.

Visit her full bio on her BestSelling Reads Author page.

You can also find Toby and her books at http://www.tobyneal.net/

Follow her on Twitter @tobywneal

She’s also on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/LeiCrimeSeries/

And on Pinterest at: https://www.pinterest.com/tobyneal/

 

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Book launch day: Wired Rogue

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By Toby Neal

It’s launch day for the second Paradise Crime novel, featuring FBI Special Agent Sophie Ang—and you can win an electronic copy. Enjoy this excerpt, then enter the draw by leaving a comment.

wired-rouge-text-usa-today-high-resChapter 1

Children shouldn’t be treated like slaves. Anger tightened Special Agent Sophie Ang’s hands as she adjusted the binoculars a little more to focus in on ten kids of various ages, bent over in a water-filled patch of land planted in the deep green, heart-shaped leaves of the Hawaiian kalo. They wore bathing suits and palm frond hats as they worked in the hot sun, an adult supervising from the shade of a nearby palm tree.

Taro farming was backbreaking work, and it looked like the Society of Light cult was using their smallest members to work with the submerged tubers, a staple of the Hawaiian diet. Sophie’s partner in the operation, Ken Yamada, shifted restlessly beside her in the camouflage surveillance tent on a rise of ground across the river from the compound. “Ten is more children than we were told about,” he murmured.

“We have to locate the two targets,” Sophie said, for the benefit of their SAC, Waxman, monitoring through their comms. “Can’t identify the children positively yet.” The homemade hats hid the red blond hair the children’s mother had told the agents to look for. Sophie widened her scan, and took in the rest of the cult’s property.

A high wooden wall provided cover and security for the compound deep in the Waipio Valley on Hawaii. Surrounding their location were the vast, steep, green-jungled walls of the largest, deepest valley on the Big Island. Rising to breathless heights, bisected by a giant waterfall at the end, Waipio was a beautiful and untamed place where wild horses roamed and people lived as they had a hundred years ago. Midday sun overhead increased steamy humidity, and gnats and mosquitoes buzzed over the FBI’s pop-up cover in a noxious cloud. Coconut palms and tropical trees broke up a sweep of pastureland before the compound, dotted with livestock grazing beside the wide, jade-green river.

The site seemed to have been chosen for maximum defensibility. Set deep in a valley that was accessible only through a single steep one-lane road, the complex was walled in wood and topped with razor wire. From their vantage point, they could look down into the grounds. Yurts were clustered like chicks around the hen of a big, metal, barn-like structure, probably where the cult met as a group. Its functions would be revealed as their surveillance progressed. “See any armaments?” Sophie whispered.

“Yeah. Nine o’clock. Sniper tower disguised as a tree,” Yamada said.

Sophie’s earbud crackled with their Special Agent in Charge’s cool voice. “Get me eyes.”

“Roger that, sir.” Sophie turned and opened a plastic case. She took out the small, high-powered video camera with its instant wireless streaming abilities. The reverse camera showed Sophie’s image as she screwed the camera onto a tripod and aimed it at the area Ken had identified. Her golden skin looked sallow in the little square, her large brown eyes haunted—but at least her cropped hair was too short to be any different than usual. Sophie applied her eye to the viewfinder and adjusted the high-powered lens.

A small platform, camouflaged with branches, was built into the tall avocado tree in the far corner of the compound. A man wearing green camo gear sat in the lookout, a rifle resting on the narrow parapet around the nest.

“Seems pretty extreme. Why would a peaceful cult out in the boondocks of this valley need to be walled and guarded with firepower?” Ken said.

“And yet here we are, surveilling them,” Sophie muttered.

“Right. Just because you’re paranoid, it doesn’t mean they aren’t watching you.”

About Wired Rogue

“Neal’s writing is persistently riveting… Masterly.” — Kirkus Reviews
Paradise has no protection from an insidious cult.
“Wired in” to her computers, MMA-fighting tech agent Sophie Ang has been content in her clean, cool tech lab, where she chases criminals online, continuing a dance in the dark with the enigmatic vigilante known as the Ghost. Tumultuous changes from without and within eject her from her agency cocoon to the front lines, where she finds herself in partnership with a brilliant, overbearing, larger-than-life ex-Special Forces operative, Jake Dunn. They climb walls, dodge bullets, kidnap children and dig up bodies for a case that might cost her life—and has already taken her badge.

“Toby Neal has created a wonderfully rounded action heroine with everything: looks, brains, mixed martial arts prowess, and the ability to swear proficiently in Thai and English. Fans will love Sophie Ang, as well as the tangled web she must negotiate in the tropical setting of Hawaii.”
— Russell Blake, NYT and USA Today Bestselling Author

Get it on Amazon and other e-tailers today.

How you can win a free copy

Just leave a comment about the new book, the Paradise Crime series or what you like about mystery-thrillers. Author Toby Neal will select one at random on November 30.

About the author

Toby Neal

Toby Neal was raised on Kauai in Hawai’i and makes the Islands home after living elsewhere for “stretches of exile” to pursue education. Toby enjoys outdoor activities including bodyboarding, scuba diving, photography and hiking as well as writing. A mental health therapist, Toby credits that career with adding depth to the characters in the Lei Crime Series.

Visit her:

And follow her on Twitter @tobywneal.

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Win 10 BestSelling Reads books on an iPad Air 2

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Send us the first line of Chapter 4 from your favorite BestSelling Reads book for a chance to win a brand new iPad Air 2 loaded with the Kindle Reader and 10 books by Bestselling Reads authors.

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To be eligible to win the prize, you must email the first line of Chapter 4 from any book by one of the authors in the list above. It doesn’t have to be one of the books on the iPad Air 2 — in fact, it’s better if it’s a different one.

All you have to do is go to any book in any format by one of those authors, turn to the first page of Chapter 4 and copy the first line into an email to contest@bestsellingreads.com. All correct entries before the end of October 30, 2016 will be eligible to win.

Need more help? Follow these links to the contest authors’ websites to see more of their books.

We look forward to your entries!

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