Briefly tell us a bit about yourself—where you grew up, went to school, what you studied, the kind of work you did or do.
I grew up in Syosset, Long Island, and later moved east, but Long Island has always been my home except for a few years in New York City and Bergen County, New Jersey, where my oldest child was born. It’s hard to believe I’ve been in my current location for 30 years.
While I lived in the city I took writing classes at The New School, and I’ve been a writer professionally for many years. I work at a university, writing feature stories and brochures and anything else they throw at me. Now I’m looking forward very much to write-tirement!
Like me, you were first published as an author of books for children. How did that come about?
My parents read to me from birth and so I grew up loving books. Then I did the same with my own children. While reading them great picture books like GOODNIGHT MOON, SWIMMY and lots of others, I was inspired to try my hand at writing children’s books. It was a great way to combine my love for poetry, simplicity, directness and a wacky imagination into a satisfying vocation.
I’ve published seven children’s books, and have written many stories for Highlights for Children and other magazines. And I may go back to writing children’s books someday – never say never!
What got you started writing mysteries? Is there a carry over in your writing from one genre to the other?
I got started writing mysteries because I loved reading them. There is nothing like a good puzzle, especially when it’s written with depth of character and a sense of humor. As far back as 20 years ago I was playing with ideas for a mystery, filling notebooks with characters and plot ideas. And I’ve always enjoyed forensics programs on TV. So, mystery-writing began gradually for me. Eventually, the book I
was trying to write took over my life, and I had to finish it in order to regain my self-respect.
To me, there are more similarities than differences in writing in these two genres. They both use similar “muscles” for creativity, humor, style, story arc and other aspects of effective writing. And I think I am recognizable in all my writing, whether it’s for adults or for children.
Tell us a bit about your new mystery.
DEATH OVER EASY is my first Emma Trace mystery. It’s set on Long Island in the village of Port Jefferson, and it involves blackmail, murder and flying. Emma is a practical, both-feet-on-the-ground type of person who happens to be part of a family of gamblers and aerial daredevils. When police suspect her of having murdered the local diner’s short order cook, s
he is forced to come out of her safe world to find the real killer.
For me, writing this book was a great journey in the understanding of fear, risk and reward. At the outset, I shared with Emma a fear of flying, and so I learned how to fly during the writing of this book in order to understand her better. I have a private pilot’s license.
Emma’s story will continue with book #2, DEATH UNDER THE RADAR.
These days, authors are expected to promote their books. How do you do this? What do you think is the best way to reach readers?
I’m learning as I go. So far I’m enjoying connecting with readers and other writers through Facebook (www.facebook.com/tobyspeedauthor), Twitter (@TobySpeed1), my monthly newsletter and the emails I receive. It’s fun making friends; whether this translates to sales remains to be seen.
What’s your favorite aspect of writing?
Finding the right words! I love poring over a thesaurus; it’s my favorite writing tool.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I love walking outdoors, doing yoga, and reading. More and more I treasure being outdoors in natural, beautiful surroundings, such as the north shore beaches, rivers and lakes, and mountains. The last few I have to leave Long Island to find, of course.
What advice would you give someone who’s almost finished writing his/her first mystery novel?
Don’t be in too much of a hurry to publish it. Find some friends or colleagues whose opinions you value, or find a critique group online or in person, and share your work. Learn to listen and be receptive to ideas, and at the same time respect your own strengths and goals in writing. This way you will continually develop as a writer, and when your work is ready for publication you will find the whole task much easier. Believe in yourself!
What writers’ groups and organizations do you belong to? In what ways do you find them of value?
I’m a member of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America. I joined Sisters in Crime to get a discount on registration at the New England Crime Bake a couple of years ago, and I got so much out of that conference and met so many terrific people that I was eager for more. I contacted Marilyn (host of this interview!), who was then president of the Long Island chapter of Sisters in Crime, and I started going to meetings. We have a fabulous group of writers, editors, former detectives, forensics experts and others, so the friendship and networking is invaluable. We also invite speakers to talk about writing and crime-solving, and we take field trips. This year I hold the position as secretary for the chapter.
What are your thoughts regarding critique groups?
They can be very valuable if those in the group know how to critique constructively and gently. Writers need to develop a skin but they also need to be open to truly useful, helpful advice.
What is your next writing project?
I’m working on DEATH UNDER THE RADAR, the second Emma Trace mystery, which is about a distant cousin of Emma’s, a retired K-9 cop who was shot during a bust and now comes back to help solve a murder. His K-9 partner Strider plays a major role in the story.
I am also writing some short mystery stories. My story “At the Corner of Night and Nowhere” will appear in the forthcoming Untreed Reads anthology called MOON SHOT: MURDER AND MAYHEM ON THE EDGE OF SPACE.
Toby's website is: www.tobyspeed.com