RA: Hi Toni! It’s nice to have you today. Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
TN: Hello, and thank you for having me. Until this past year my life hadn’t been all that exciting. I got my feet wet editing my high school newspaper and writing weekly columns for a Scripps-Howard newspaper and a weekly newspaper published in the South, then moved on to business documents. I always planned to write fiction someday, but had no idea how to get started.
How long have you been writing? What’s the most rewarding aspect of it?
TN: As early as ten I knew I wanted to be a writer, but was unsure what I wanted to write. At fourteen I started an autobiography, but my life was so boring I contracted a fatal disease in the fourth chapter to put my readers out of their misery.
Writing romance is entirely different. I love plotting satisfying resolutions that lead to happy endings. I’m convinced God really enjoys this part of His job, too.
My oldest daughter introduced me to romantic fiction and I promptly fell in love with all those satisfying resolutions. So much so that at work I cleared a shelf in the accounting department and started a lending library for the women on staff and shared with them the romances I enjoyed most. We took a lot of kidding from the men, but several stopped by from time to time to discuss with me what their wives liked to read.
I took early retirement in 1995 when Raytheon closed the company where I supervised employee payroll. Determined to write full time and outsell Nora Roberts, l soon realized that now that I had the time, I would still have to learn how to write fiction. A creative writing class I enrolled in at a local college helped me get started and here I am at last, a published writer.
You have a new release. For those who haven’t read the book yet, would you tell us a little about it?
TN: Law Breakers and Love Makers is a romantic suspense about a young woman who returns to San Diego to housesit and sets off a silent alarm in her parents’ house. The deputy sheriff who responds turns out to be the high school sweetheart who disappeared from her life with no explanation in eleventh grade. Before she finds out why, bad things start happening in that neighborhood and the deputy must stay on his toes to keep her safe.
What was the inspiration behind your book?
TN: I attended a retirement party in a home so unusual I asked the hostess if she’d mind if I put her residence in one of my books. She readily agreed and I started plotting Law Breakers and Love Makers.
Her rural neighborhood seemed the likely setting for a thriller. I reviewed ways to prolong tension and created a quirky heroine easily frightened by strange noises and gave her a conscientious deputy to calm her fears.
When short sentences surrounded by lots of white space began bumping around in my head. I sat down to write a tension-filled romantic suspense, but uninvited characters and unusual pets kept stealing the scene.
I just love it when a novel practically writers itself.
Instead of the seat-of-your-pants thriller I’d plotted, Law Breakers and Love Makers turned into a sometimes humorous, sometimes scary rollercoaster ride that brings Zoe and her father closer together, and Zoe and Jon into each other’s arms for keeps.
That’s so interesting! Could you tell us what to expect in any other books you’ll be releasing?
TN: Temp to Permanent, another romantic suspense, has a June 1, 2011 release date from Desert Breeze. The hunky temp I once hired to relieve me of the payroll duties while I prepared for year-end close inspired this story about an advertising mogul and the temp she hires to help her out of a bind. Not! He proves too much of a distraction, making her unable to concentrate when he’s around, but he’s just the guy she wants around when outside trouble disrupts the workplace and the temp proves he’s more than just a pretty face.
Do you plot your stories in advance, or just start writing and see where the story goes?
TN: I plot, not in as much detail as some writers, but there’s no way I can dream up two characters, start writing, and wait to see what they’ll do. I need to know before the writing starts exactly how I’m going to get my characters to the ending I have in mind.
Do you belong to a writer’s group? Have you in the past?
TN: Yes, besides EPIC and ESPAN, I belong to the San Diego chapter of Romance Writers of America and a weekly critique group. I also belong to the San Diego Book Awards Association, a non-profit group that annually recognizes San Diego County authors for their accomplishments, and enjoy judging unpublished manuscripts.
What role does the geographical location play in your storylines?
TN: Setting is important to me. Once I’ve decided on my characters, I plop them down someplace I’ve been, like on the Coastal Starlight train ride to Seattle, or in the almost abandoned silver mining town of Cerro Gordo east of the Sierra Mountains. The rest of my novels are set in San Diego, San Francisco or Las Vegas and revolve around a house. Whether it’s a boarded up mansion, a Victorian house in need of repair, or an estate being staged to sell, home means a great deal to my characters. And even though they might not yet own a home of their own, my heroes and heroines always find safe harbors in each other’s arms.
For plot development, have your methods changed since you began writing? How?
TN: I’m constantly learning new things from on-line classes and at conferences, and apply what I’ve learned to my writing. Someday I plan to drag that first manuscript out from under the bed and make life a little better for my heroine, a widowed victim of spousal abuse and submit that novel, too.
Outside of your writing life, is there something you would like to advocate through your writing?
TN: Not a moral stand or political cause, but a general theme of acceptance in hopes the reader will learn to be content with the cards dealt. Life is too short to fret about what might have been. Be happy. And most of all, like your self.
Who is your favorite author and why?
TN: Linda Howard. She spoke at several small conferences I attended and I think she’s a real kick in the pants. I especially like reading her early historical novels. That lady has a true understanding of the nature of men.
Thank you so much for sharing with us, Toni. Good luck with your releases and please come back again soon!
Here’s a first meeting excerpt from Law Breakers and Love Makers:
Zoe Westmore glanced around the living room of her parents’ new home. She’d have no problem obeying the first of her mother’s house sitting rules. No sex in the living room.
Not in this sterile expanse of white on white.
Even if her mother hadn’t put her foot down, Zoe had no plans for sex in the immediate future. Not while her parents were in Europe and she was responsible for the care of their exquisitely appointed home.
Since she’d moved to LA, her parents seemed determined to think the worst of her. Zoe knew better. In all of her twenty eight years, she could count on one finger the number of times she’d been with a man, the one college decision she still regretted.
She’d only returned to San Diego because of her parents’ emergency. Their regular house sitter broke her leg and would be off her feet for several weeks. “Could you possibly help us out?” Mom had asked when she called.
Already thinking about moving back to San Diego and weighing the possibility of resigning her now dull position with a small public relations firm, Zoe had jumped at the chance. On the flight down, she’d even started a list of ways she might earn her father’s respect. It pleased Zoe that she’d agreed to housesit without any hesitation. Perhaps her quick acceptance had already scored some points with Dad.
“Just turn a light on at night so it looks like someone is home,” her father had said. “Use this code to deactivate the security alarm before you enter the house.” He’d then forced a folded paper into her hand.
Down the hall the phone began to ring. Let the answering machine get it. No one knew to call her here.
Zoe turned toward the large panel of blinking lights beside the front door. All right, time to learn to disarm Dad’s alarm.
She pulled her father’s instruction from her jeans pocket. Just like the retired Superior Court judge — always thinking every one needed constant instructions, and always judgmental.
At least he’d made this list as simple as possible.
Still thought of her as a little girl, she saw. Some things never changed.
Use the remote clipped to the Volvo’s sun visor to open the garage door.
Now, drive in. Always enter the house through the garage.
Oops. First mistake. She’d parked in the driveway and come in through the front door.
May as well read the rest of his instructions and hope she hadn’t made another wrong move.
Disarming the panel at the front entrance takes too long. If you’re slow, it activates a silent alarm.
Zoe risked another glance at the now fully lit panel near the entrance.
Busted. Two mistakes already and all she’d done was walk right by the panel and out onto the deck, too awed by the idea of lolling beside her parents’ pool for a whole month to note those flashing lights.
Last night, she’d dreamed her father hugged her when they returned from their trip. That wouldn’t happen. Not now.
Perhaps all is not lost.
She marched over to the panel, undaunted but the array of flashing lights and held up her father’s instructions.
Eight, four, three, seven turns off the motion sensors.
Seven, three, four, eight sets them.
Leave it to Dad. Always thorough.
“Eight, four, three, seven turns the motion sensors off,” she repeated, her index finger poised to poke the eight.
“Hold it right there,” a deep voice boomed from the doorway.
Zoe stilled at the sight of a George Clooney look-alike in a sharply-creased khaki uniform standing in her parents’ doorway.
“Don’t move. You’re under arrest.”
I really am busted.