Author Interview - Toby Neighbors
Here's another friend of mine, a fabulously successful indie author who's kicking some serious butt on Amazon! He's a wonderful guy, and has a ton of awesome books to choose from. If one day I can be half as successful as he is, I'll be thrilled. Here's Toby Neighbors!
Toby Neighbors is a full time novelist. In December of 2011 he published Wizard Rising which became a top 20 best seller on Amazon's Epic Fantasy top sellers lists. Since then he has written over thirty novels and sold more than a quarter million books. He is a three time Kindle Select All Star, and consistently ranks among the top sellers on Amazon's genre lists.
1. When did you write your first story? What was it about?
My first story was in college. It was a flash fiction assignment for a creative writing course I took because I needed some electives and I always wanted to take a creative writing class. The story was sort of a dark, mysterious piece about illegal abortion.
2. What do you use to write; pen and paper, computer, table, or maybe a dictating device?
I use a computer (Mac) or my iPad. I write in Pages, utilizing the Cloud so that I can transfer between devices depending on where I’m at and what works best in the situation.
3. When did it dawn upon you that ‘this writing thing’ might be for you?
I knew I wanted to write after turning in that first flash fiction story. I love books, but I wasn’t a good writer in school and assumed that writing a novel would be too difficult. So it wasn’t until the creative writing teacher liked my story that I thought, “Hey, maybe I can do this.” From that point the dream grew in my heart until I made it come true seventeen years later.
4. What inspires you to write?
I’m a character driven storyteller, so I’m usually inspired by characters in dramatic or exciting circumstances. I usually get caught up in wondering what a person would do if... and when I’ve role played the scenario in my head until I’m excited about telling the story, I jump into it. I’m also inspired by other great stories. I read, I watch TV, and go to the movies, all of which excitement about the art of telling great stories.
5. What is a typical writing day like for you?
Lately, I’m more focused on writing persistently. My typical day starts around 10 am and barring any interruptions I write for a couple hours, then take a break for lunch. I write for another two hours in the early afternoon, take a break, and write in the evening until dinner time.
6. Do you need to be in a specific place or room to write, or you can just sit in the middle of a café full of people and write?
In most cases I can write anywhere. I keep headphones to block out noise and distractions. I usually listen to movie soundtracks while I write, and I enjoy different settings. I have a writing space at home, but when the weather is nice I like to write in my jeep somewhere with a view. Living in North Idaho we are surrounded by beauty, so that isn’t hard to come by. I often go with my family when my children are meeting friends to play games, I’ll work in the mall, in a coffee shop, or in the parking lot. I can write anywhere.
7. Do you aim to complete a set number of pages or words each day?
Yes, I set word goals for each day. I make my own deadlines. Usually I work to write between 5,000 and 10,000 words a day.
8. How much of your story do you know for sure when you start writing? Are you ever surprised by plot twists that emerge during the process?
I usually know the beginning and the end of the story. I write a very basic outline, but if I struggle with my motivation, then I go back to the outline and start filling it in until I get excited about the story again. I rarely outline down to the chapter but I have on occasion done that, usually for the second half or last third of the book. I’m surprised by things in the story all the time, new characters I hadn’t planned pop up, some die, strange events occur, it’s one of the reasons I don’t get detailed in my outlines and what makes writing so much fun.
9. What are some of the most unlikely things that inspired ideas for story elements?
I was inspired driving past the Porsche dealership on the way to a writing conference last year. I got so captivated by the story idea that I ended up writing the first draft for Jack & Roxie in just two weeks. My latest novel, My Lady Sorceress, was inspired comments I’ve received in regard to other female characters in past stories. I knew I wanted to write a story with a strong, vibrant, female protagonist and over time the story developed in my mind. I get inspired by great stories in every medium, not by the specific plots or characters, but by the desire to write more inspiring stories. I’m drawn to character traits even more than plot specific scenarios. I try to imagine characters with courage, integrity, and selflessness, which I think people are drawn to in our world today where those traits seem so rare.
10. What, according to you, is the most challenging aspect of writing?
The most challenging aspect of being a writer has to be finding an audience. If a story takes hold of your mind and you just can’t help but write it, that doesn’t mean people will want to read it. Even if you write diligently, and do everything in regard to publishing as professionally as possible (either indie or traditional it doesn’t matter) the biggest challenge is still finding an audience for the book.
11. What would you say is your favorite part of being a writer?
I was made to be a storyteller. It’s my purpose in life, and the most fulfilling task I’ve ever taken on. So for me, the best part of being a writer is getting to tell my stories. I love writing. It isn’t a chore for me, it’s fun. Getting to do what I love and making a living for my family doing it, is a blessing I’m thankful for everyday.
12. Have you ever been stricken with Writer’s Block? If so, how did you deal with it?
I’ve never had writer’s Block like you see on television where the writer just stares at a blank screen. I’ve had what I call Writer’s Laziness, when I just don’t feel like working on anything at all. It isn’t a lack of ideas, it’s a lack of motivation. Typically when it strikes I do one of two things. First, I return to my outline and work the story. I can lose motivation when I get off track or feel pressure to come up with the story on the fly. Secondly, I purposely do other things that inspire me. I go to the movies, binge watch a television show, hang out with my family, whatever recharges my writing motivation. I’ve never suffered from Writer’s Block for very long.
13. Do you read much and if so who are your favorite authors?
I read quite a bit and bounce around from history or biographies, to fiction of all genres. I grew up reading Edgar Rice Burrows, Robert Jordan, Steve Perry, and Stephen R. Lawhead. More recently I really love Marko Kloos Frontline Series, Robert B. Parker’s Hitch & Cole novels, and a wide variety of popular authors, Stephen King, J.K Rowling, Vince Flynn.
14. Any advice you would like to give to your younger self?
Write for yourself… in school I hated writing because everything I wrote was something someone else wanted and it was so harshly judged. I thought I was a terrible writer, but the truth was I just didn’t like writing school papers. I would tell myself to write stories and trust my instincts.
15. Was there a particular book that inspired you to begin writing?
No, I just love stories of all types and in every medium.
16. Tell us about your writing style, how is it different from other writers?
I write quickly and try to keep a fast pace. I’m a character driven writer and for me, it all comes back to how likable the main characters are. Who wants to read a book about characters they despise?
17. Do your novels carry a message?
No, although my characters often reflect traits I admire, such as courage, integrity, loyalty, and boldness. I don’t like stories that are just carriers for social messages. I’m all about the story and don’t think fiction is for teaching. It should carry us away and inspire us, but I don’t want stories that are slanted to highlight a social or political message.
18. How much of yourself do you put into your books?
A lot if I’m being honest. My characters often have my flaws, or they struggle with their own flaws the way I struggle with mine. The main character in Jack & Roxie is a lot like me, only his flaws and lack of purpose in life carried him much further down a dark road than mine ever did. He does visit a lot of the places I love and comes from the same hometown I grew up in.
19. Have you ever incorporated something that happened to you in real life into your novels?
Not that I remember.
20. How did it feel when your first book got published?
I’m indie, so I publish all my own books through my own company, Mythic Adventure Publishing, LLC. Getting my first book out was a learning experience, but it was my fourth book, Wizard Rising that found an audience and allowed me to pursue my dream of writing full time. Seeing that book do so well on Amazon was thrilling and gratifying at the same time. It really made me believe that anything is possible.
21. Was there a point when you really felt like you had ‘made it’ as an author?
Before I published Wizard Rising I had three other books available online with only a handful of sales. I published Wizard Rising in mid December of 2011 and that month is sold around 75 copies. I was over the moon with those numbers. The next month Wizard Rising sold over three thousand copies and my other books sold over four hundred copies. I made enough money that month to pay my mortgage and I knew my life was changing. I don’t know if I’ll ever feel like I’ve “made it,” because I’m continually setting new goals, but I did have a thrilling realization when I saw that I was going to be able to write full time.
22. Do you have a day job other than being a writer? And do you like it?
23. Does your day job ever get in the way of your writing?
Lots of things get in the way if you let them. When I worked I usually got up an hour early to write. I wrote on weekends, vacations, anytime that I could spare and had the energy.
24. Did any of your books get rejected by publishers?
I shopped for an agent with my first four books. All of them were turned down. I’m not anti-publisher, but I’m not actively looking to publish my books with anyone else.
25. Do you enjoy book signings?
Yes, I like interacting with readers. It can be tough to draw a crowd. I’ve signed at book stories, community events, and comic book conventions.
26. What was your favorite interaction with a fan?
Meeting fans who have read and enjoyed your books is always the best. I remember meeting a woman who came to a signing specifically because her son wanted one of my books. That one really stands out to me because it was an event with other authors and it was exciting to know that people had heard of my stories.
27. Which of your books would you most like to see adapted as a movie?
All of them!!! Actually, I usually write books in a series, and those stories would work better in a long form such as television. I’m very excited about the new streaming networks and opportunities for writers. Jack & Roxie would make a great film, but I’d also like to see my Marshyl Stories books on the big screen.
28. Have you ever written a character based on yourself in some part? Someone you know?
Jack is a lot like me, and they all reflect me in some ways. I’ve written characters with names of fans, and one minor character based on a childhood friend. I base a lot of the characteristics of my female characters on wife, Sunshine.
29. Are you working on something new at the moment?
I just published My Lady Sorceress, it’s the story of woman who loses everything but discovers magic in the process. It’s the first book in a series and I’m currently writing the second book The Man With No Hands.
30. What advice would you like to give all those aspiring writers out there?
Keep writing, that’s the best advice. Publishing is hard, finding an audience is hard, marketing is hard, and all those necessary things (no matter what publishing path you choose) can rob you of the joy of writing great stories. Ultimately it’s your writing that draws in readers (Publishers and Agents too). And the more you write the better you get, so keep writing. I would also encourage people to learn as much about publishing as they can. Things are changing fast in our industry and we have to be ready to change with it. Go into publishing with your eyes wide open, and keep in mind that no one wants to do the work of finding an audience for you. They may hope you find one, they may even be counting on it, but it’s up to you to write books that people want to read, and to connect with readers. So keep writing!
You can learn more about Toby and his books at his website, http://www.tobyneighbors.com, and on his Amazon Author page, https://www.amazon.com/Toby-Neighbors/e/B005HB3Q2Q/