Monday, October 3, 2011

Toni Anderson: A Writers Journey Is Not Just About Writing

Toni Anderson  at Lake Louise

About Toni Anderson...

Toni Anderson, a native of the UK, is a former marine biologist who conducted her Ph.D. at the Gatty Marine Laboratory in St. Andrews, Fife, Scotland. However, she now lives in Manitoba, Canada with her husband and children.

So what does a marine biologist do to escape the long brutal winters in the Canadian prairies? She writes romantic mystery and suspense and sets her stories in stunning locations where she's lived and worked--the blustery east coast of Scotland, the remote isolated mining communities of Northern Labrador, the rugged landscapes of the U.S. and the Red Center of Australia. Toni joined us for a discussion about her newest books, how she got published and her life as a writer. So grab your favorite beverage, relax and read about this new writer.

Toni Anderson On Her Journey…

You’ve written four books. Sea of Suspicion and Storm Warning are two published back to back by Carina Press. And you have another book coming out this fall.

What is this journey like for you?

It’s been a long journey. It took me five long years to write my first book (HER SANCTUARY) and I sold it to Triskelion Publishing in 2005. I also contracted the sequel (BLADE HUNTER) with them and the publisher promptly declared bankruptcy. Bankruptcy laws in the US meant that even though I had my rights back, the books were still subject to court proceedings for almost a year. During this time I carried on writing. Once I was free of the courts I contracted the book with The Wild Rose Press—the only trouble was the sequel didn’t fit their guidelines and I’m still not sure exactly what to do with that story. I managed to get an agent and we spent two years working on a manuscript together. Two years. The same manuscript. She was finally satisfied with the manuscript in December 2009—and the US economy promptly crashed. Can you hear the insane laughter? Anyway, my agent declared she couldn’t sell anything and though she was willing to keep me on, it would have to be unofficially, under the table, which was kind of her, but... I felt like the secret girlfriend that the guy is slightly ashamed of. So I ended the relationship with no hard feelings

All this time I never stopped writing. I tried other agents and some traditional NY publishing houses, but my books didn’t seem to fit their idea of Romantic Suspense. When Carina Press opened I decided to try my luck there and promptly found the world’s best editor (Deborah Nemeth). Working with her and the others at Carina Press has been a wonderful experience and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. Recently I’ve been trying to write Harlequin Intrigues and I also have several manuscripts that I might self-publish. The publishing world is changing. It’s an exciting time to be a writer.

But I guess the thing about a writer’s journey is it isn’t just about writing. It’s about life. I write pretty much every day, but I’ve also been raising kids, looking after dogs and, because of my husband’s job (he’s an elasmobranch physiologist), we’ve traveled. A lot. If I look just at the writing aspect I could tell you it has been a long and frustrating road. But when I think of it in terms of growing as a writer and a person, of making friends and living a rather wonderful life, I feel blessed. The journey has just started and is full of wondrous potential.

People often think of writers as having “overnight success”. How many years have you been working toward “overnight success”?

I started writing seriously when I was pregnant with my first child—she’s nearly twelve now, so there is no overnight success in this house . More like four and a half thousand nights of success. And I still have a long way to go—I’m not easily satisfied.

What galvanizes you to keep writing?

See above, “Not easily satisfied” . That’s part of it actually. I have this driving need to always try to do better. And, like most writers, I simply cannot stop having story ideas. I love writing. I love creating a series of events and characters that other people actually seem to ‘get’. That was a big moment for me, connecting with readers.

It doesn’t mean it’s easy. I spend a lot of time gritting my teeth and pulling out my prematurely grey hair.

On Her Book And Characters…

Could you share a bit about your latest book( EDGE OF SURVIVAl) and characters?
Many years ago (now I feel old ) I took part in an Environmental Impact Assessment up in Northern Labrador. We were looking at charr migration in a baseline study prior to the exploitation of the world’s largest nickel find.

Picture this short, naive girl from Shropshire being dropped deep into the Canadian wilderness as part of a million dollar project, with absolutely no clue. That was me. Thankfully I had amazing support and managed to do my part without getting myself eaten by polar bears. After I started writing I couldn’t resist using this experience as a setting for a Romantic Suspense story.

The characters... I love these characters. This is the hero’s story. Daniel Fox, an ex-SAS soldier turned helicopter pilot, is in full self-destruct mode. But he can’t suppress his protective instincts when fish biologist, Cameran Young, turns up in the wilds, not just prone to getting in trouble, but also suffering from diabetes. Daniel is horrified she’s put herself at risk by coming to this remote region but she’s determined to try and live life to the fullest. This sets the stage for the conflict (especially with a murderer on the loose) and the romance.
Dr. Cameran Young knew her assignment wouldn't be easy. As lead biologist on the Environment Impact Assessment team, her findings would determine the future of a large mining project in the northern Canadian bush. She expected rough conditions and hostile miners—but she didn't expect to find a dead body her first day on the job.

In the harsh and rugged wilderness, Daniel and Cameran must battle their intense and growing attraction while keeping ahead of a killer who will stop at nothing to silence her…

If you had to choose, which scene in the book is your favorite?

There’s a scene where the heroine almost drowns and the hero saves her. It’s a pivotal scene and I think it is my favorite because the hero fights his destiny every step of the way.

What inspired you to write romantic suspense?

I love the idea of people falling in love in difficult, even dangerous, circumstances. It’s my favorite genre to read.

Some authors say their stories are ripped right from the headlines. Has an idea for one of your novels ever been sparked by real people and events?

LOL—well, I use my own personal experiences to set the stage, but I try very hard to avoid using real people or events in the plot. So, not really. In my experience fact can be much stranger than fiction.

On Her Writing Process…

You’re a research scientist. How has this background helped or hindered you in planning your books.

Great question. It both helps and hinders. I love research. I can research everything to the nth degree. In STORM WARNING I have some paranormal elements—ghosts and psychic phenomena—so I read every book in the library and interviewed people who are psychic. And yet I think I used the facts in a very subtle manner and you’d never guess the amount of research I did for that book. And the main reason I’m donating 15% of my royalties to diabetes research is because of all the research I did on that terrible condition. Most of us don’t understand the destructive nature of diabetes, or the epidemic it has become. However, there comes a point when I have to say, enough. I don’t have time to research every detail about every little thing, even though I’d like to. I’m really a mine of useless information.

How do you give your characters the depth and detail necessary for readers to want to cheer them on without the technical aspects of your research interfering with the story?

This is where my critique partner and then my editor are especially useful. When editing, I look for author intrusion—if I’m lecturing the audience, rather than telling the story, then I’ve got to rewrite. But generally I use the tip of the iceberg in regards to the amount of information I put in a book compared to what I actually know. It’s tricky, I want to teach people something, but I don’t want to preach and I don’t want to slow the pace. If you slow the pace in a Romantic Suspense story, the reader will stop reading. I also use the EDITs system taught by Margie Lawson. If a scene isn’t working I dissect it and make sure I have the right balance of narrative and dialogue and introspection and non verbal communication.

Which is more important in your stories character or plot?

Neither. Both. I like to think it’s the combination that makes a story special. In STORM WARNING I took my hydrophobic hero and stuck him next to the ocean. If I’d left him in the jungle he wouldn’t have had to face his biggest nightmare and wouldn’t have grown because of it. Characters only get to be great if you give them a worthy plot and challenge their foundations.

In some of the reviews, readers mentioned how effectively you plot your story. Do you have any particular plot techniques you’d care to share.

They do?  I spend a lot of time getting to know my characters. I need visual cues, so I figure out what the characters look like, what their story is, and what’s important to them.

One of the first things I do after that is fill out Discovering Story Magic worksheets, designed by Laura Baker and Robin Perini. It makes you look at your character goals, character flaws and figure out the relationship barrier. I make the characters have conflicting goals and conflicting flaws which means the relationship barrier grows organically from the plot. I always have an idea of the opening scene in my head and the major plot arc, but I need to figure out the details to turn this idea into a full-length novel. I’m a slow writer and it takes an age to work through the first draft, but once I have the first draft I can go back and weave in threads more effectively. I don’t like my process. It requires lots of drafts and lots of editing, but I think it’s worth it, and frankly, it’s my process .

What do you find most rewarding about your writing career? Most disappointing?

Most rewarding? Hmm, getting feedback from readers who’ve enjoyed the story. Most disappointing? To be honest it has to be the financial reward. Starving artists and all that. However, I’m constantly trying to write better books and hopefully find more readers.

If you could give writers one small piece of advice, what would it be?

Don’t expect it to be easy.

Am I really limited to one small piece of advice? Check out writing groups, especially Romance Writers of America (even if you don’t write romance) for learning opportunities and networking. Don’t take criticism personally. Keep working at improving your craft. Go to writing conferences. Read. And never, never, never give up.

What is something that you often see beginning writers doing wrong?

I see a lot of unrealistic expectations, though I wouldn’t say people are doing anything wrong—who defines right and wrong? But most people don’t know how difficult it is to write and submit a book. If you’ve got that far, give yourself a pat on the back and get that baby out there.

On her personal life…

What is a little known fact about yourself?

When I was twelve I was riding a pony and she bolted toward a main road. Not only did I jump off the pony and stay on my feet, I also held onto the cantankerous beast so she didn’t run into traffic. Anyone who knows the wimp I am, might be surprised by that revelation. She was a really grumpy pony.

And I hate ladders. Well, I hate climbing ladders, I have nothing against ladders in general.

What book are you reading right now?

Maureen A. Miller’s ENDLESS NIGHT.

If you could have a beer, coffee, or tea with a literary luminary living or dead, who would it be and why?

Nora Roberts. I admire her work ethic and her smarts. I’d love to get to know her.

What’s next for you?

I’m working on a story set in Afghanistan, not in the warzone but in the Wakhan Corridor. It’s about a wildlife biologist and another SAS soldier. It started out as a romance and morphed into a spy novel and I’m trying to wrestle it into RS. I’m on the second draft  and have bald patches from pulling out my hair.

Finally, where can we buy your books and find you on the web?

My books are published by The Wild Rose Press and Carina Press. They are available from all online retailers, including and, and as audiobooks from

My website has a list of current titles, then there’s my blog and Facebook Author Page for writing news. My personal Facebook page and Twitter for constant nonsensical chatter. I’m also part of a wonderful group blog—Not Your Usual Suspects. Come introduce yourself.

Toni’s question for readers.

Are you watching any new TV shows this season? I haven’t seen any yet so enquiring minds want to know, what’s your favorite? What’s going to get canned?


Rita said...

Zowie! Can’t wait for this new release. And your WIP? Sounds fantastic.

Jerrie Alexander said...

Interesting story and a true testament to your dedication to writing. The book sounds wonderful.

Criminal Minds has been my favorite, but I have to admit last week was a bit much even for me. Still, I have to stick with them and Blue Bloods. As for getting cancelled, Pan Am would be my guess.

Great post, I enjoyed reading it!

Ruby Johnson said...

Thanks for visiting our blog with all of your helpful hints about writing.
Regarding TV Shows, I like Against The Wall. I first saw the lead actress in an Australian series called McLeod's Daughters and have been enjoying this so far.
Another one I saw last night was Homeland. One of the best pilots I've seen in a while.

Kathy Bennett said...

Great interview Toni! You're books sound great. Love your covers.

Sounds like you have such an interesting life. It's not everyone who risks their life for a grumpy pony!

I'm a reality TV I'm watching the same old thing - and calling it character research ;-)

Donnell said...

Toni & Ruby, what a great interview. And what stellar advice, Toni. Both characterization and plot are equally important, and you summed up in a nutshell the craft of writing... don't expect it to be easy.

Great blog, and I think I've told you before, your covers are so intriguing!

Shirley Wells said...

Great interview, ladies. Can't wait to read Edge of Survival!

I love the grumpy pony story. :)

Toni Anderson said...

Thanks, Rita. Zowie is *such* a great word!

Toni Anderson said...

Jerrie, thank you. The 1st Crim Minds this year was a bit rough--except seeing Hotch in the desert :) But this weeks--ugh, scary. I love Blue Bloods, and as for Pan Am, it does not appeal in any way. Glad I'm not missing anything.

Toni Anderson said...

Ruby--thanks for having me :) Against the wall? I haven't heard of it. I will check it out. I used to love McLeods' Daughters in Australia. I didn't know it was on here. And Homeland? I haven't seen that either. Will watch out for it.

Toni Anderson said...

Kathy--thank you! :) Reality TV is my hubby's big vice (if he gets the chance). It doesn't take much to get him hooked. The only 'reality' tv I watch is Amazing Race and Idol. How real that is I don't know :)

Toni Anderson said...

Donnell, thanks! I have had lovely covers.
LOL--I think we both know it isn't easy :)

Toni Anderson said...

Shirley--thank you :) You know, Gypsy (the pony) was a handful, but I was lucky I got to ride her. And she really was grumpy about the fact I was lucky ;)

P. Kirby said...

Ponies are the angry, embittered midgets of the equine world, whose sole purpose is to torment their young riders. I'm sure, somewhere out there, a sweet pony exists, but I never met one.

Great interview. *Adds Edge of Survival to "to be bought" list.*

Toni Anderson said...

Patricia--you are SO right. It wasn't me, it was her :) And thanks!!

desitheblonde said...

we watch the wresting bf hook on them i like the cop one but i love the cover of the book you have here and they all look great i know would read any of them because of the covers

Link Within

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...