I’m back with another Behind the Quill author interview. Today’s guest is the spectacular Toby Tate, author of Diablero.
Many moons ago when I lived in North Carolina, I used to work with Toby at a local daily newspaper. Mind you, I wasn’t aware back then that he was such a great writer, or I would have spent many hours
stalking – uh – talking with him about his work. But I’m happy to say I finally got the chance to chat with him and here’s what he had to say:
Me: When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?
TT: I’ve always been a reader, ever since my mother read stories to me when I was little, so I think that really got me interested in stories. When I was about 11 or 12 I decided I wanted to try telling my own stories so I started banging out short little tomes on my mom’s old typewriter.
Me: Can you tell us about the first time you let someone else read your writing?
TT: I think the first time I let someone read my writing as far as short fiction goes was when I was about 12 and I gave my cousin, who was in college, one of my short stories to read. She said she thought there were too many dirty words in it! Other than that I would have to say that when I started taking writing seriously, it was my college professors that gave me my first real critiques.
Me: Tell us how it felt when Diablero was published. What was your reaction?
TT: When they first gave me the news that they wanted to publish my book, I danced the obligatory “I just got a book deal” jig, screamed like a little girl, then called my wife to give her the news. It felt like winning the lottery because it took a year of getting rejected by about 80 agents and 10 publishers. Then it took another year of revisions, artwork approval and just plain waiting before the book finally came out.
Me: Is anything in your book based on real life experiences or purely all imagination?
TT: Well, of course, who hasn’t been attacked by a 300-year-old demon-possessed pirate? Seriously, though, the only thing in that book that related to my actual life was the fact that the lead character was a newspaper reporter. Everything else, though based in fact, came straight out of my warped little imagination.
Me: If you could be a character from your book and/or from one of the stories in your anthology, Shadowland, for a day, which one would you be and why?
TT: I wouldn’t mind being Hunter, even though he’s based on me. But Hunter is the kind of person I would like to be if I had to fight soul-stealing demons. He kicks butt and doesn’t take crap off anyone, not even the Diablero. And he’s a real wise-ass.
Me: Are there certain characters you would like to go back to, or is there a theme or idea you’d love to work with?
TT: I’d like to go back to Hunter and Lisa Singleton for a third book (I’ve already finished the second one, which I’m waiting to get published), because they are such a dynamic couple. They fight with each other, but they’re deeply in love, so they fight FOR each other, too. I wouldn’t mind revisiting Jonathan Jefferson, the underwater archeologist. He was an interesting character. I thought it might even be cool to bring back Blackbeard as a benevolent character who wants to atone for his sins somehow, maybe by saving the very world he once tried to destroy. Who knows?
Me: What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?
TT: The toughest criticism would probably be from myself. I’m my own worst critic. For instance, I started writing a sequel to my second book and stopped after about ten thousand words because I thought it was going nowhere. I’m now working on something completely different. Sometimes I tend to beat myself up when I get a rejection from an agent or editor, tell myself I stink, I’ll never get anywhere, etc. But then I just have to look back and say, “Hey, I got published once, I can do it again,” then just start revising until I get it right. That’s what it’s all about—sticking to it until someone says “yes.” The best compliment was probably when my publisher said, “This book really rocks!”
Me: What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?
TT: I guess figuring out what I should write that day as I’m going for my morning walk. I like to have plots planned out in my head before I start so I don’t just sit in front of my keyboard staring at a blank screen. Plus singing the National Anthem while wearing a beaver hat. But we won’t go into that.
Me: Tell us about a really fantastic novel you’ve read recently? Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
TT: I just finished reading Patrick Lee’s DEEP SKY, about a guy who gets caught up in a weird time-warped reality as he figures out who he is and the choices he has to make in order to save the world from itself. It’s really the last book of a sci-fi trilogy that happens in the near-future on planet Earth. Lee is an amazing writer. There are so many great authors around I can’t even begin to mention them all. Some of them are my friends on Facebook, which is really cool.
Me: When you aren’t writing, what do you like to do?
TT: That’s easy—spend time with my wife and daughter. They’re my absolute favorite people to be around. We have a great time together.
Me: What are your three favorite forms of procrastination?
TT: Surfing the Internet, watching a movie or reading a book.
Me: As well as being an author, you’re also a musician? Tell us a little about that. And who is your favorite musician and/or favorite song?
TT: I’ve loved music for as long as I can remember. My father was an accomplished guitarist and singer. He was amazing. My mother played piano, cello and trombone. I grew up listening to dad play his guitar almost every day of my childhood. I never learned to play as well as he did. I actually started out as a drummer playing with my dad, then picked up the guitar, the bass, and started singing. I play a little mandolin and harmonica on the side. I’ve played them all in one band or another. I was a recording studio engineer for a while in Virginia Beach, as well. I’m also a songwriter and have written probably hundreds of songs and recorded two or three CDs. As far as bands or singers go, I have great admiration for Paul McCartney and John Fogerty. They both play a dozen instruments and are phenomenal songwriters. I would love to meet them both someday.
Me: What would YOU like your readers to know about your work or you in general? What do you want readers to see in your books?
TT: I guess what I want people to know is that if they read one of my books, they’re going to have a fun time. I also love characters with flawed personalities—people with quirks. For instance, Hunter dreads flying, but somehow always ends up on a plane. He’s also got a short temper that gets him in trouble a lot. I want people to see themselves in my characters, to know that they’re not perfect, but have the ability to overcome any obstacle through faith and through their own self-reliance or reliance on each other. My stories can go to some very dark places, but they pretty much always end up in the light. I was never big on the “and then the universe collapsed in on itself and they all died” kind of endings.
Me: Tell us about your current or upcoming release. Will you have a new book coming out soon?
TT: I hope so! My latest book, LILITH, is a sequel to DIABLERO, though it can stand on its own. It begins aboard an aircraft carrier off the coast of the U.S., where Hunter has an assignment as a reporter. Through a quirk of fate, his wife, Lisa, comes along as his photographer. A strange sickness starts to hit the crew and slowly turns them into zombies, but we soon find out that the sickness is caused by a weird parasite that takes over their minds. The parasite itself is controlled by a being called a Lilitu, which basically looks just like a human and has come aboard the ship. We also learn that Lisa is pregnant, so that adds to the tension. This Lilitu creates havoc aboard the carrier and when they end up docking in New York City, it mutates into this gargantuan beast and gets loose in Manhattan. It’s an awesome story with lots of action and strong emotional moments between the characters. I’m also writing a young adult sci-fi novel about a 16-year-old MIT prodigy whose father discovers and isolates the Higgs Boson, or God Particle, and then mysteriously disappears. She ends up going through hell trying to find him while keeping her grades up and helping out her best friend who just got pregnant at 16. I’m still working on that one.
Me: What is one piece of advice you would give to aspiring authors?
TT: Well, I’m not exactly a seasoned professional, but I guess the one thing I would say is to never give up. I know everyone says that, but it’s really true. If someone who is an accomplished writer or respected in the field, like a professor of writing or an editor, has told you your writing shows promise, and if it’s something you must do because you would die without it, and you have a story to tell that won’t let you sleep at night, then do it. Don’t let the rejection tear you down, because it will if you let it. Instead, use it, learn from it and keep writing until your fingers bleed. If writing feels like a life of drudgery, then you’ve picked the wrong field.
Me: That’s great advice, Toby. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me today. I really appreciate it!
And here’s a little more about author Toby Tate:
Author Bio: Toby Tate has been a writer since about the age of 12, when he first began writing short stories and publishing his own movie monster magazine. Toby started writing at least two other novels, but “Diablero” was the first one to cross the finish line.
An Air Force brat who never lived in one place more than five years, Toby joined the Navy soon after high school and ended up on the east coast. Toby has since worked as a cab driver, a pizza delivery man, a phone solicitor, a shipyard technician, a government contractor, a retail music salesman, a bookseller, a cell phone salesman, a recording studio engineer, a graphic designer and a newspaper reporter. Toby is also a songwriter and musician. He currently lives near the Dismal Swamp in northeastern North Carolina.
So, what did you think? Do you have other questions for Toby? If so, post them in the comments and I’ll see if I can get him answer a few of them for us.