FAST FIVE: Toby, thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to visit today. Rather than a Twitter “elevator pitch” of 140 characters (#hashtags included) can you share with us a more detailed account of the novel and your research for Blood Orchids (The Lei Crime Series)?
TOBY NEAL: I’m from Hawaii and I’ve always wanted to read a really good suspense/romance set here, that showcases the unique setting, culture, multiethnic people and dialects, and yet keeps your attention via riveting story alone. I’ve never found one that really did that—Hawaii novels are often written by outsiders, or are too “niche” to appeal to a mainstream audience. I finally decided to write the kind of book(s) I wanted to read! Blood Orchids is the first of a series of crime/suspense/romance novels starring Leilani Texeira, a flawed but courageous young police officer who’s overcome her past and deals out justice to those who need it.
The central crime in Blood Orchids was sparked as an idea by a tragedy that happened in my community—two teen girls were drowned. I was a grief counselor in the crisis team that went to the high school to work with the students in the aftermath. At first we were told they were victims of foul play, though later it turned out to have been accidental. For months after, perhaps because it was so traumatic to hear they’d been murdered, I thought about it, and wondered what it would be like to try and solve such a crime in a small Hawaii community.
FAST FIVE: With the heavy responsibilities inherent in the duties of Police Officers, their work often consumes their lives. Is “the job” the most important part of your protagonist’s life?
TOBY NEAL: Lei is physically and emotionally brave. She’s a sexual abuse survivor, and suffers from blackout/memory loss, and a lot of anxiety. She almost overcompensates because of that, and can be impulsive and put herself at risk—one of the bad decisions she makes lands her in mandatory counseling, which is the best thing for her as she meets unconventional Dr. Wilson who helps her with the past… which unfortunately is still affecting the present. Lei is single, intimacy-phobic, and hypervigilant. In the police department, these characteristics become assets! Her police officer job gives her a place to belong, to channel her anger, to express her drive for justice. She is persistent and has good instincts, which also help her solve cases.
FAST FIVE: The Mystery/Suspense genre is the focus of Fast Five interviews, but what unique twist makes your novel stand out?
TOBY NEAL: The setting. Hawaii is a unique place with multicultural people and special challenges. My protagonist is Hawaiian, Japanese and Portuguese—and her background is a big part of the story, as people’s connections and heritage are very important in Hawaii. In the series, Lei goes to a different island in each book. This will give people a flavor of how each Hawaiian island is special and has unique characteristics.
FAST FIVE: How does your main character’s profession draw her into suspenseful situations, (murder, for instance?)
TOBY NEAL: As a police officer she’s thrown into crime solving. But in Orchids, she has to fight to be on the case. She cares about it and obsesses over it, and that tends to happen whenever she’s on a big one.
FAST FIVE: Is this book part of a series, and are you working on a sequel?
TOBY NEAL: Yes. As I said, there are four books so far in the Lei Crime Series: Blood Orchids, Torch Ginger, Black Jasmine, and Broken Ferns.
I’m also taking a little detour to write a suspense romance with one of the characters that appears in the second two Lei books, FBI agent Marcella Scott, based out of Honolulu. Marcella’s hot looks and cold mind make her deadly on crime, and deadly on hearts! Fans of romantic suspense will love Stolen in Paradise, coming out sometime in the next year.
FAST FIVE: I look forward to each of the Lei Crime novels and to the romantic suspense of the FBI agent in Honolulu. This is not a Fast Five question, more an “if/then” scenario: If Paris is not an option, then where would you most like to spend your time writing and why.
TOBY NEAL: Ha ha! I’d never write in Paris, I’d be painting there! Too distracting!
Part of my “method” is to take an annual, two week “retreat” by myself to some quiet location to start a new book. I get serious work/planning done and kick off the novel. The rest of the year, I plug away at it, while revising a previous work. I can really work anywhere as long as I have electricity, coffee and a good bed.
But my favorite spot to retreat to so far, is Antioch Ranch, a cabin/retreat place in Mendocino, California. Reasonable rates, lovely people, beautiful quiet setting. I was amazingly productive there.
FAST FIVE: Again, thank you for visiting today, Toby, and for sharing detailed information about your Lei Texiera crime series.
For information on Toby Neal’s books, please visit her at: