Art has been defined as the distortion of fact to arrive at truth. The best fiction is an artful diversion, another world to occupy for a short length of time. The worlds created by Toby Neal aren't that far away for readers on Maui.
This prolific writer - 10 novels and counting - is a psychologist who has turned a lifetime in the islands into a wordsmith's dream. She is a successful professional writer, both creatively and financially. With a considerable investment in money, time and hard work, Neal has exploited most, if not all, the possibilities presented by the Internet. She has gone from trying to sell her work through traditional publishers to e-book publishing. That was just a beginning, as abecedarian writers following that path soon learn.
By putting some 50 percent of her effort into marketing, Neal has been able to quit her day job and still earn an admirable living, one book sale at a time with no middlemen taking a cut of the proceeds. According to a blog, she earns something like $10,000 a month. Those kinds of sales - at roughly $4 a pop - result from assembling a production team, an active social media presence, and the creation of a series of female-centered crime novels that have hooked readers by the score.
It didn't hurt that she sets her books in the islands, the latest two on Maui and a third with a denouement in the crater atop Haleakala.
The crime series is built around an engaging character, Lei Texeira, an impulse-driven detective who bags the bad guys while risking life, limb, professional reputation and personal relations. At the beginning of her latest novel, "Shattered Palms," Neal quotes Proverbs 27:8: "Like a bird that strays from its nest is a man or woman who strays from home." That could refer to Texeira's romantic turmoil and/or to the endangered native birds being poached in the Waikamoi "cloud forest."
In her previous "Somewhere on Maui" novel, which is a companion "romance" to the crime series, Lei just barely manages to finally marry the love of her life, a fellow Maui Police Department detective. She is monomaniacal by her job as an MPD detective.
The third of Neal's latest novels is "Unsound," a first-person account by a psychologist who works with the Hilo police department as a requested counselor and with possibly dangerous clients sent to her by the courts. She also references Lei Texeira, "that extraordinary young officer who'd shaken up the station and continued to make headlines as she barreled after bad guys." In this book, the troubled psychologist seeks a kind of refuge in Haleakala Crater and ends up fighting for her life.
The novel that best captures what modern life is like on our island home is "Somewhere on Maui." The central character, Zoe, is a freelance journalist working on a magazine piece about Internet dating while living in an ohana unit in Paia. Offering herself up on a dating site, she meets a muscle-flexing bodybuilder, a sexually attractive captain of industry and a local guy with very local sensibilities.
The local guy, Adam, loves surfing, his family and two hanai children. He grew to love the children during a short marriage to their unstable mother. A very island part of the story is his fight to formally adopt the keiki.
The Internet leads to Zoe having a date with Adam. It doesn't go well. They later meet accidentally in a psychologist's waiting room. Sparks fly, but both are gun-shy. He's there due to anger issues. She is dealing with depression brought on by a failed marriage and a sense of Mainland oppression. She tells the shrink, "I can't be myself right now."
Neal handles the sex scenes in her latest books from a very female and romantic perspective. Her descriptions of the island itself appear a little muddled to a Maui-loving journalist but should be more than adequate for off-island readers.
Labeling Neal's books as women's fiction would be a mistake. The prose, which ranges from flowery to muscular, and the characters she creates should appeal to male readers as well. Her storylines are gripping, more than enough to keep a reader turning the pages, if that's what it's called on an e-book.
The entire inventory of Toby Neal books, each readable in four hours or so, is available from Amazon and other e-book sellers. Google Toby Neal for her website and blogs.
* Ron Youngblood is a retired editor and staff writer for The Maui News. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.