I’ve been blessed to know Toni McGee (T.M.) Causey for nearly a decade now. One of the first awesome entrants in 2007’s Killer Year (and one of the few women in the group), Toni and I bonded immediately, spending hours coordinating PR for the group, worrying ourselves silly about the whole “debut year” phenomenon, and celebrating one another when the first of our books made it to shelves. Her Bobbie Faye series is some of the funniest, most dynamic writing out there. It takes a lot of talent to write funny (a LOT) and Toni nails it, every time.
When she told me she was writing something different, something dark, I begged to be allowed to read it as soon as she was finished. The book, THE SAINTS OF THE LOST AND FOUND, is out now, and I am telling you, this story will rock you to the core. Brilliant written and conceived, it is utterly unique, which is saying something these days.
Dark book, light woman. Toni manages to capture what’s inside of all of us—the good, and the bad, and everything in between. You’re going to love SAINTS, I can’t recommend it highly enough. Toni's writing is... special. Read it. You'll see immediately what I mean. I’m so honored to have her on the blog today! Welcome, Toni!
Set your music to Shuffle and hit Play. What’s the first song that comes up?
“Take Me To Church” by Hozier (I have extremely eclectic music tastes.)
Now that we’ve set the mood, what are you working on today?
I’m currently doing research for my next very dark suspense/thriller, which will have a historical bent. It's also very personal to me: it involved some of my ancestors and brutal crimes committed against them (and by them), and it’s a story I’ve been wanting to write for more than ten years. And though I’ve done a ton of research, I’m now getting into the nitty-gritty details of the specifics so that I can recreate that world and the tensions, the betrayals, the double-crosses, the spying, the bold moves and desperate retreats for the reader to live.
What’s your latest book about?
THE SAINTS OF THE LOST AND FOUND is a deeply emotional story about a brother and sister whose con-artist parents exploit their unique abilities. Avery sees the losses of those around her, and her brother Latham is haunted by spirits of the dead. After years of running from the ghosts of her past, Avery is pulled back to her little Louisiana hometown, when a phone call from her father reveals her beloved brother is dying. To make matters worse, a little girl has gone missing, and the abduction is tied to a killer Avery failed to help the FBI catch. With no time to spare, Avery realizes her curse might well be the only thing she can trust. Is it too much to hope that she might save her brother and find the missing girl before she becomes the killer's next victim?
Where do you write, and what tools do you use?
Generally, I write at my desk, because as soon as I wander away, I’m more likely to procrastinate. We’re in the middle of remodeling what will be our home in the French Quarter, so in about three months, this may change. We’ll have a beautiful sun porch/living area with a deck there, and I suspect I will be bringing my laptop there for much of the writing of the next story. The view will be peaceful, and I think I’m going to need all of the peaceful I can get in order to face some of the difficult and brutal losses that are inherent to the new story.
What was your favorite book as a child?
You know, I had no real favorite. I loved so many books… I devoured Nancy Drew, of course, and so many of the childhood favorites, and I read things like Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes at a very young age. Locked-door mysteries fascinated me, and then I think I may have been a young teen when I got hold of my first thriller (Ludlum’s THE GEMINI CONTENDERS), and I was absolutely determined to be a writer one day. Just the idea of getting to mentally live all those lives, in all those places… it was like immortality, and even at eleven, I knew (having lost my first grandparent the year before) that none of us live forever.
What’s your secret talent?
Hmm. Well, I would have said, “troubleshooting,” because that’s what I’ve done from the time I was a child, onward, and it’s been a big part of what I do for our construction company. I try not to look for the compromise (where both people are giving up something), but for the out-of-the-box solution, the win-win, where everyone is so happy with what they’re getting that the concept of losing something to gain is negligible. But I suspect people who know me wouldn’t find that a secret, since I tend to apply this liberally in life.
Maybe my secret talent is that I’m almost always able to see the humor in a situation, even when I’m annoyed or disappointed in what’s going on. Seeing the humor in the chaos of the world gives me a sense of peace, because if you can be amused and laugh in the situation, you almost always can deal with it in a productive and peaceful manner.
What book are you reading now?
THE OPPOSITE OF EVERYONE by Joshilyn Jackson
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I mentioned in an earlier question that by the time I was eleven, that notion had solidified for me, but I lost track of it later on. I didn’t think ordinary people like myself could actually be a writer. For some reason, I was under the impression that someone had to come alone and sort of point out, “Hey, you there: you’re a writer, hop to it,” and give me permission.
Luckily for me, after I had been in college for a couple of years, I saw my former high school English teacher/school librarian, and she did exactly that. She said, “Why aren’t you writing for publication?” When I looked gobsmacked, as if I wouldn’t have a clue how to go about trying to accomplish that insane of a goal, she gave me an assignment. (Yes, an actual assignment.) And because she knew me so well, she knew I wouldn’t be able to resist trying to excel at it, because there is a “TYPE AAA” denotation next to my name somewhere), I went out and did exactly what she’d told me to do. I sold that first piece to my local paper, and they turned it into a full page feature article, (with my own photos, for which I was also paid). I made a whopping $150 (for both the article and the photos), and I don’t think there had been that much whooping for joy even at an LSU home game win. You’d think I’d won the lottery or something. And in a way, I had, because it clicked for me: I can do this. I can actually do this.
And I knew I was completely and forever hooked.
Who is your writing idol? Have you met him/her? If so, did you completely nerd out or keep your cool?
I once saw Robert Crais at a bookstore event in NYC, and I was too damned bashful to go up and introduce myself. I would probably be struck completely stupid if I happened to meet up with James Lee Burke. If I could write 1/10th as well as he does, I’d die happy.
What’s your favorite bit of writing advice?
I have two bits, actually. One is that you really do have to employ “rigorous self-discipline” (courtesy of Lee Child), and one is that you really must refill the creative well (that’s from me).
I will never have the ability to do a book-a-year. Partly because I am also pursuing a professional photography career (and will have a very funky gallery on the ground floor of our place in the Quarter), but partly because I just don’t process story as quickly as it would need to be, if I were to pursue a one-book-a-year gig. People who do that… who write one or more books a year like J.T. and Allison Brennan and C.J. Lyons? Well, I am in complete awe and am more than a little intimidated. Still, I hope my output increases, especially once we’re settled in the new place and I’m not slammed with construction decisions and supervising sub-contractors every day. It’s been a joy, but I’m ready for it to be done, to move in, and get busy with the next book.
What do you do if the words aren’t flowing?
There are two answers to this, depending on the issues involved. If it’s just that I understand the story, know where we need to be going, but can’t find the interesting / creative way to get there that will ramp up the tension and surprise the reader, I may write the bad version of a placeholder scene and mark it as such so I can come back to it later. I have found (often) that when I get the bad version out of my head and mark it as such so that I don’t cling to it just because it’s “done,” then my subconscious, which would be unsatisfied with that bad version, will come along with the what ifs for the scene to help make it better. What if I combine this scene with the other scene before it, or after it? What if I move the location? What if so-and-so shows up and triples the conflict? What if I layer this with ….
The second answer, which turns out to be powerful for me, is to turn to the photography for a little while. I love finding ways to tell a story, and have gotten into compositing lately with a joy that I cannot describe. (In fact, the cover is one of my shots—I wanted to find a visual way to express the story, without spoilers, and this started out as just a photography practice sort of thing while I was finishing up SAINTS. I was overjoyed that the publisher loved it and wanted to use it for the cover.) Oftentimes, mid-photo-production, I’ll realize I have a solution to the writing issue, and apparently, I had been working on it all along, subconsciously. I wish I could speed up both of those processes, but right now, it is working for me, and I’ll probably always switch back and forth throughout the next books.
Are you creatively satisfied?
I love what I do, and thoroughly love where I am in life right now, creatively, so in that way, I’d say that I am satisfied… and yet… not. I honestly feel that elation at completion, that feeling of satisfaction when I think the story (or the image) is finally “right” or “there” or hits what I meant for it to hit, but inevitably, every achievement teaches me something new, and brings my work to a new level, which then shows me how much more I have to learn. I want to keep growing, improving, finding innovative ways to tell a story, to wow the reader (or the viewer of the photos), and I imagine I’ll still be feeling this way after the next book and the next and so on. I think if I stayed absolutely creatively satisfied, I’d stagnate, so I’m always looking for that new level, that new goal, that new epiphany, the wow, I can do this moment.
What would you like to be remembered for?
Kindness. Laughter. Joy. Loyalty. Love. Encouragement.
Alright, now for the really important questions:
Beach or mountains? Mountains. The idea of willingly going somewhere where there is more sun and we get to add in the constant grittiness of sand in every freaking crack and crevice of everything I own, plus heat, plus other people scarily clad in things that should never have even seen the light of day (much less dealing with beach wear, because really, that’s just masochistic), and I’ll take the mountains every. single. time.
Coffee or tea? Sparkling water with strawberry-kiwi flavoring, if I have it handy. (Never drank coffee. Tea is okay, but I’d rather the water.)
Skydive or bungee jump? Are you kidding me? With my ability to create havoc and have an accident? I’d much rather be flying the plane than jumping out of perfectly functional machine. The only way I’d skydive is if there simply were no other choice. Of course, flying the plane would probably mean a bunch of other people were in dire danger when I crashed the sucker.
Chocolate or vanilla? Chocolate. What is this vanilla of which you speak?
Winter or summer? Spring / Fall. Hey, I live in the Deep South. We don’t really have that thing you people call "winter." We have a sort of cold snap every so often, then it bounces back up to the high 70s – low 80s, then another cold snap (just enough to wear everyone out and get everyone sick), and then it’s the tiniest sliver of spring (March, if we’re lucky). After that, just when we’re deluded into thinking that we might actually enjoy the weather for more than a week, it’s suddenly Early Summer; Summer For Reals, Y’all; Dear God, It’s Still Summer; Kill-Me-Now-Summer-Is-Never-Going-To-End, and Late HOLY GEEZUMS I MAY NOT MAKE IT TO FALL Summer, then HA HA HA HA HA YOU JUST THOUGHT YOU WERE GETTING A FALL IT’S STILL SUMMER SUCKERS!, and then a tiny sliver of winter. And y’all wonder why southerners are crazy.
Cake or pie? Cake
Cats or dogs? Both. If I had to choose, I’d choose a dog because my husband is allergic to many cats.
Pens or pencils? Both. I love to draw with pencils, but write with pens.
Truth or dare? Dare. Just because I’m always curious what someone thinks is a dare.
Print or ebook? Both. There are some physical books I just have to own, and there is nothing at all like the smell of a bookstore or library. But for convenience, I love my ereader—I can take dozens of books with me on vacation, without the shoulder strain.
T.M. Causey is the pen name of USA Today Bestselling Author Toni McGee Causey of the Bobbie Faye Series fame. Also a screenwriter, she began her career writing for magazines, including Redbook and Mademoiselle. She lives and writes in New Orleans, where she and her husband, Carl, are renovating a building in the French Quarter.
And here's a bit more about Toni's latest book, THE SAINTS OF LOST AND FOUND:
AVERY BROUSSARD has the curse of seeing lost things (and make no mistake, it is a curse). Missing belongings and beloved pets, lost relationships and opportunities—she sees it all. Long ago, that curse destroyed her chance at true love, causing her to flee her Louisiana hometown, vowing never to return. She’s kept that promise, too, until a phone call from her estranged father forces her hand. Her big brother is dying, and she may be his last remaining hope. Avery wants nothing more than to rescue her brother, but doing so pulls her into a labyrinth of lies and deceit rooted in her own lost first love and her family’s twisted history. It doesn’t help that a girl has also gone missing, and the abduction is tied to a killer Avery failed to help the FBI catch. With no time to spare, Avery realizes her curse might be the only thing she can trust. Is it too much to hope that she might save her brother and find the missing girl before she becomes the next victim?
FYI, New Orleans: Toni will be signing her THE SAINTS OF THE LOST AND FOUND at the Garden District Book Shop TONIGHT at 6:00 pm – 7:30 pm.
To celebrate her book release, Toni is giving one lucky winner a $25 gift card to the online bookstore of his or her choice (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, and iBooks). See below for ways to enter!