Going Analog to Beat Writer’s Block


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/



Book launch day: Wired Rogue


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.


Thursday Teaser: Somewhere on St. Thomas


StThomas-lowresA Michaels Family Romance (book 1)

By Toby Neal

You could WIN a free e-copy of Somewhere in the City, Book 2 in this series. Find out how at the end of the excerpt.

Chapter 1 

I never expected a spelling bee to be the apogee of my life, but the night of July thirtieth, 1983, turned out to be exactly that. I was one of two finalists competing for a major college scholarship, and I needed to win or I was going to be stuck on our tiny island of Saint Thomas in the Virgin Islands, cleaning hotel rooms.

Blinded by hot stage lights, I clutched the old wooden podium and stood listening to my competition recite, “Succedaneum.” Thank God they didn’t also require a definition. Sweat prickled under my armpits.

My competition, a tall gangly boy with thick glasses and an accent that marked him as from the nearby French Antilles, made it through. Modest applause followed his effort.

“Antediluvian,” the proctor said. Oh, this felt like cheating because I knew it so well. My parents had come to St. Thomas to do religious work, stayed on past their allotted stint, and made a niche on the island managing vacation rental homes for off-islanders.

“Antediluvian,” I stated. “Of, or pertaining to the period preceding the Great Flood referred to in the Bible. A-n-t-e-d-i-l-u-v-i-a-n.”

More applause than the other kid got. I was showing off a bit, but I was tired of proving that red hair and big boobs meant bimbo. All I had to do now to prove that to the world was get off this rock, go to college, and become a lawyer in the big city.

“Xanthosis,” the proctor said to the gangly boy. The kid’s Adam’s apple worked as he blinked behind his glasses. I could tell it was over.

“Xanthosis,” the kid repeated. “Z-a-n-t-h-o-s-i-s.”

The buzzer marked his shame, and sympathetic clapping escorted him off the stage. I felt bad for him, but he was younger and there would be other chances. This was it for me, and if I could get this word right, I’d win a golden ticket out of here. And oh, how badly I needed to get out of this palm-tree studded, nowhere paradise. There was nothing for me here—except my family, of course.

“Pococurante,” the proctor said to me.

The lights blinded me. I clung to the podium and I shut my eyes. I could feel the prickle of sweat under my arms penetrating the green fabric of the dress Mom had told me to wear to enhance the color of my eyes. I tried not to hyperventilate. I pictured myself as the lawyer I hoped to be, making a confident plea to a jury.

I knew what this word meant, but I wasn’t sure of the spelling. I sucked in a breath, blew it out, and went for it.

“Pococurante,” I said.  “To be indifferent to something. And I am certainly not p-o-c-o-c-u-r-a-n-t-e to winning this scholarship. I want it more than anything.”

Huge applause broke out as a bell marked the end of the competition. My dad ran to the front of the stage and I hopped off and into his arms.

“I did it!”

“I never had a doubt, Ruby,” he exclaimed, blue eyes extra-bright with excitement. “You’re going to get your dream, girl!”

Mom, Pearl, and Jade were right behind him, and we mass-hugged in the narrow area in front of the battered wooden stage. I had the best, most loving family: Mom, sturdy and tall with her auburn hair and hazel eyes; ten-year-old Jade, who shared my green eyes but had Mom’s hair, and Pearl who had Dad’s blue eyes and curly blonde hair, already so beautiful at fourteen that she should wear a bag on her head.

Yes, this was the night I found out for sure I’d to be able to go to Northeastern University, where I’ve already been accepted. With this win, I’d be leaving in two weeks.

“Got a nice dinner planned,” Mom said. “Lobster and fish. Hope you don’t mind we invited company on your special night—he brought the main dish.”

“Who is it?” I frowned a little. Mom and Dad were hospitable to a fault, always inviting ex-pats or the transient workers they hired for cleaning and yard work over for meals.

“New yard and coconut trimming guy.” Dad hefted Jade up like she was two, and headed for the door. “Sailor. Seems to have some ocean skills.” Dad liked guys with ocean skills. I usually found them not that bright.

Mom winked. “I think you’ll like this one, Ruby.”

“Hah. I’m out of here,” I snorted. Mom knew how focused I was, so she liked to tease that I was going to fall in love, marry a local, and end up staying on Saint Thomas.

About Somewhere on St. Thomas

***FINALIST: Reader’s Choice Award, The Romance Reviews*** 

Redheaded spelling champion Ruby Michaels meets the wrong man on the eve of her departure from St. Thomas for college—and fireworks ensue. “I wasn’t going to be derailed by anyone—no matter how handsome and interesting,” she vowed. But some promises are made to be broken.

“Toby Neal introduces Caribbean island girl, Ruby Day Michaels, a modern-day young woman who will capture your heart. Ruby is sure to delight readers who love a smart, delightful heroine who is not afraid to speak her mind.” Eden Baylee, author

Now on sale for $0.99 from: 

About the author

Toby Neal, bestselling author of Hawaii mystery Torch Ginger

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.


Teaser Thursday: Wired In


Read this preview of the latest Paradise Crime novel by Toby Neal and win a free copy

Toby will choose a commenter for an ebook copy of Wired In! Tell one thing you like about Hawaii per entry. Ends March 2.


The child had curled her body around an old stuffed rabbit as if protecting it. She lay on a bare mattress in a walk-in closet whose gloom was held back by a night-light, her thumb in her mouth. Blond hair gleamed silver in the grainy video feed. 

Special Agent Sophie Ang swiveled the tiny video cam snaked through a hole bored in the drywall of the ceiling. She checked all four corners of the small space, and there was nothing to see but empty shelves. She brought the camera back to rest on the tiny figure in the daisy-sprigged nightgown she’d been wearing when they took her. 

“Primary feed established,” Sophie whispered into the comm unit. 

She took one more look at the child, visible in a window on the monitor, before crawling along the floor of the apartment above, pushing the floor schematic ahead of her.

Sophie drilled her second hole right near where the living room light fixture should be. She leaned all her body weight onto the silent, battery-operated pneumatic drill. The dust and wood of the subfloor and ceiling material of the unit below blew past her on a jet of warm air, making her nose tickle with an incipient sneeze. She turned her head hard, pressing her nose against her shoulder and holding her breath until the urge passed.

 Sophie felt a sudden give as the drill punched through and instantly let up on the pressure, holding the drill in place so it could suck the last bits of ceiling material out of the hole. She fed in the camera on its stiff, flexible cable, looking to see what was happening in the room below on the monitor. 

Directly beneath the eye of the camera two men lounged on couches set at right angles facing a flat screen TV. Sophie rotated the cable slowly, watching in the monitor. The camera scanned the room, taking in guns set carelessly on the coffee table beside empty pizza boxes and a pyramid of beer cans.

“Secondary cam installed and operational. Two unsubs in exterior room, armed,” Sophie whispered.

“Roger that. Return to base when camera secure.”

Sophie opened the black tool backpack she’d carried in for the operation. Inside were a battery-operated cutting saw, pliers, and the camera equipment’s plastic case. She stowed the drill in the backpack and glanced at the two open windows of the video feed, now streaming wirelessly to the surveillance van parked outside the apartment building.

The little girl rolled over, looking at the ceiling, the rabbit clutched in her arms. 

“Mama,” she whispered. “Mama.” Her eyes were black holes in the low-resolution image. Tears shone on her cheeks. Sophie felt something painful tug at her as she read the girl’s lips. She endured a flash of unwanted memory.

Something was happening in the other video feed. 

Both men had picked up their phones and were reading what looked like a text message. Sophie saw them look up at each other, and through the floor beneath her, voices rumbled to accompany her lip reading.

“The FBI is onto us. You ratted us out!” 

One of the men leapt to his feet. 

“No, you did!” the other one yelled. “You even got the payoff!”

Sophie whirled and grabbed the saw out of the tool backpack. She ran back to the hole directly above the child even as her earbud crackled with orders for the rescue team. “Move, move, move!”

Sophie flipped on the saw, set at top speed, yanked off the vacuum piece that suctioned out the dust. She brought the chainsaw-like tool down, whining like a dentist’s drill. The saw bit into the wood, tearing though it like an electric bread knife through dinner rolls. She hauled the saw up out of the hole, threw it out at another angle, and drew it toward the end of the last cut. 

The girl only had moments.

Sophie made the third cut of a triangle as the room below echoed with yelling, then the deafening bam-bam-bam of the kidnappers firing on each other.

Sophie leapt to her feet, threw aside the saw, and, hoping like hell the child had the sense to get out from under the hole appearing in her ceiling, she leapt with both feet and all her weight onto the rough triangle she’d made.

 The fall was short and hard and she landed facing the closet door as she’d planned, knees bent to absorb the landing, the mattress taking some of the shock.

She hadn’t landed on the child. That was all she cared about as a tumult of wood, drywall and dust followed her down. She drew her weapon, and the closet door opened.

Sophie fired at the dark silhouette in the doorway. She fired until the shape fell backward out of sight, and then she spun to find the girl.

Anna Marie Addams had folded herself into the corner of the closet and her rabbit was tight against her chest. She lifted her head, eyes huge. Sophie squatted down, touched Anna’s hair and whispered softly, “Don’t look. You’re safe now. But don’t look. And put your fingers in your ears.”

Anna obeyed, putting her head down over the rabbit and her hands over her ears. Sophie turned and faced the door, blocking the girl with her body. 

“Package is secure,” she said into the comm. 

Her earbud crackled. “Roger that. Breaching the apartment.”

Sophie felt Anna shudder with terror, pressed against the back of her legs, as the door cannon boomed in the exterior of the apartment. 

This time the doorway filled with nothing but a man’s arm, firing into the closet. Sophie fired back, but her breath was stolen by a blow to the chest that knocked her back against the child and the wall. 

Sophie felt Anna squirming beneath her. She couldn’t speak, couldn’t breathe, and an endless long moment passed as black spots filled her vision and her hands scrabbled for the Velcro closures of the vest. Then hands lifted her off of the child, dragged her over the bodies in the doorway, and ripped open her Kevlar vest.

Sophie’s diaphragm finally started working and she dragged in a breath. Her squad commander, Agent Gundersohn, leaned down into her face. “You’re okay, Agent Ang. The vest caught the round.” 

Demon spawn of a pox-ridden sailor,” she cursed in Thai, her voice a thin wheeze.

“What?” Gundersohn cupped his ear.

In the closet, Anna was screaming.

Sophie hauled herself to her feet. Her ears rang from the gunshots in the enclosed space. Her ankle buckled when she stood and it hurt like hell to breathe—but Anna was screaming. She stumbled back into the closet, pushed her way through the two team members trying to calm the girl, and dropped to her knees in front of the child. 

Anna’s head was down and her hands were still over her ears. A high-pitched cry ululated from her tiny body. Sophie put her hand on the child’s head and leaned close, into the screaming.

“Hush, you’re safe now. They’re gone.” 

A second later the shrieking stopped. The rigid little body uncurled. The small white arms reached out. Sophie stood up with the child in her arms.

“Don’t look,” Sophie whispered. 

Anna pressed her wet face into Sophie’s neck and shut her eyes, clinging like a baby monkey with her arms and legs. Sophie carried the child past the two sprawled bodies in the doorway, past the pizza containers and fallen beer cans and the man with his throat ripped open by bullets, leaving arterial spray across the couch. Past the black-clad Hostage Rescue Team members in their FBI-emblazoned Kevlar. Down the hall and a flight of stairs, through the push-handled exit, across the foyer of the building, out the glass front door, onto the sidewalk, and into the sunshine.

About Wired In

Paradise has no protection from a hacker with a hidden agenda.

Special Agent Sophie Ang’s emotions are battered by a child kidnapping case that goes badly wrong. In tracking the criminal ring, her rogue data analysis program D.A.V.I.D. identifies an anomaly that leads her into a cat-and-mouse game online with a deadly enemy whose motives are unclear. The chase lures her through dark corridors of cyberspace into a confrontation with the violence from her past that sent her fleeing to the United States. She’ll need every skill she’s learned to defeat her worst nightmare—and the stakes couldn’t be higher.

“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 of the genre will love FBI agent 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

Where to get Wired In

About the author

Toby Neal, bestselling author of Hawaii mystery Torch Ginger

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:


Monday Musings: Fan Fiction Frenzy—Worlds of Fun for Readers


By Toby Neal, author of the Lei Crime Series

keep-calm-and-read-fanficsWhatever you feel about Amazon, they are cutting-edge as a company, and one of the most innovative programs they’ve come up with in publishing is Kindle Worlds. According to Nick Loeffler with Amazon, “Kindle Worlds is the first commercial publishing platform to enable any writer to publish fan fiction based on a range of original stories and characters while earning royalties for doing so, and sell them in the Kindle Store. Until the launch of Kindle Worlds, selling stories based on copyright-protected material had been difficult.” Not to mention, illegal!

Kindle Worlds has changed all that by contracting with authors and other writers to legalize use of characters in a “World,” and providing parameters within which other writers can play. All benefit from this—writers get to entertain through known settings with their own stories, and readers get more of the characters they love.

Developed in 2013, Kindle Worlds includes graphic novels, TV shows, and of course, bestselling book lines. Kindle Worlds is licensed fan fiction, in a nutshell, and it captures the urge of writers since the dawn of time to write about characters they’ve fallen in love with as readers, and for readers to be able to enjoy storylines and characters they’ve become attached to long after original creators have stopped writing a popular series.

The Kindle Worlds site provides a quality assurance process that protects authors, and an easy review process that helps readers find the best of the bunch. I was nervous when my Lei Crime Kindle World launched in April, wondering if readers would be willing to try new works by others using my characters—but I needn’t have worried. The Lei Crime Kindle World novellas, varying in genre from mystery to magical realism, have become some of the top-rated works in Kindle Worlds. It’s been a blast to read the expansion of colorful minor characters (as well as my main ones) into stories that I would never have imagined or had time to write.

Melissa Foster, whose romance Kindle World The Remingtons debuted recently, puts it this way: “When I decided to open my Remington series to Kindle World authors, the idea of other authors putting their own spin on the world I’d created both scared and excited me. I hoped readers would enjoy the stories, but of course there was no way of knowing what the reaction would be. I’m thrilled that readers are loving the Remington Kindle World stories! They can’t get enough of them! What makes them unique is what makes each Kindle World unique—the world itself that these new stories are inhabiting. All the worlds are different, and since no two writers have the same visions or the same voice, the stories are unique, too.”

Here are some powerful ways readers benefit from Kindle Worlds:

  1. Readers get to keep reading about characters and a world they love. With such long waits between books from favorite authors, I know I’d love to see a George RR Martin or Diana Gabaldon Kindle World! It’s especially wonderful to be able to keep reading stories in a World whose original creator has stopped writing the series, as in the case of Hugh Howey’s Silo World.
  2. Readers are the boss. One of the concerns readers have voiced is that the writing won’t be as good as that of the original content creator. That is a risk, and one Amazon has dealt with by pricing the books in the World low and having high content standards for submitted works. Readers are also relied upon to review the works to help others find stories to their liking. According to an Amazon company source, “The reader response to Kindle Worlds so far has been great. Since launch, Kindle World stories have held a consistently high customer review average, ratings indicating the time and effort the authors are putting into story preparation.”
  3. Authors joining an established World want to show their stuff. This is an excellent reason to try a story or novella in Kindle Worlds—these authors are hoping you’ll love their spin on the established World so much that you’ll give their other works a look, too! Russell Blake, whose action/thriller Jet World went live in July, says, “Amazon Kindle Worlds offers readers a chance to read other authors’ spins on their favorite worlds and characters, as well as the opportunity to try their hand at writing, should they be so inclined. I think it’s a hoot, and would remind any doubters that the biggest-selling book of the 21st Century, 50 Shades of Grey, started out as fan fiction! Fan fiction has definitely come of age, to put it mildly, and Kindle Worlds provides an organized system to differentiate the authors’ Worlds and pick your favorite flavor.”
  4. Everyone gets to read a fun creative challenge. Many of the authors who helped launch the Lei Crime Series Kindle World had never written a police procedural or a mystery before (you don’t have to write in the genre of the original series, but many wanted to try.) They all reported how easy, fun, and inspiring it was to “step into the shoes” of already-known characters, and that the writing went much more quickly than for their own original works. Meanwhile, readers commented that some of the stories were so close to my style that it seemed like I’d written them—with completely new and original plots at a reasonable price.

We hope you’ll check out Kindle Worlds, browse the many interesting spinoffs, and find YOUR favorite flavor.


Toby Neal is a clinical social worker turned writer, raised in Hawaii, whose background in mental health has helped deepen the complexity of her mysteries. From the villains to the brave and reckless detective Lei Texeira who hunts them, Toby says, “I am endlessly fascinated with stories.” Visit Toby Neal’s website for more information on her and the bestselling mystery series that spawned the Lei Crime Series Kindle World.


Win-a-Book Wednesday: BONE HOOK


By Toby Neal


What’s your  favorite Hawaii food, drink or activity? Share it in the Comments below for a FREE copy of the 10th Lei Crime mystery, Bone Hook.

About Bone Hook

Maui’s ocean is beautiful, wild… and deadly.

It’s been five years since the events of Rip Tides, and Sergeant Lei Texeira gets into hot water much deeper than she’s used to at a crime scene ninety feet down off of the tiny atoll of Molokini, where the death of beautiful marine biologist Danielle “Lani” Phillips is anything but an accident. More suspects than a school of sharks circle a case that takes Lei into territory that hits dangerously close to home, even as husband Michael Stevens heads into his own uncharted depths.

About the Author:

TobyNealToby Neal was raised on Kaua`i in Hawaii. She wrote and illustrated her first story at age five and credits her counseling background with adding depth to her characters–from the villains to Lei Texeira, the courageous multicultural heroine of the Lei Crime Series. “I’m endlessly fascinated with people’s stories.”

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