Exclusive Interview with

Toni Kief

Let’s start with your Career as a writer!

When did you start writing?

I was part of a metaphysical group that was ending and a friend, James Johnson, said he wanted to write. With no thought I answered, “If you write, I’ll write.” Within days we started a joint cookbook. It is based on women from history and myth (Dangerous Dishes and the Food they Inspire). It was such a wonderful experience that we both have continued writing and have several books each.

What makes writing your passion?

I have no idea. It isn’t anything I thought about doing, but now I’m hooked. Since I’ve retired, I work on it daily and have no plans of ever stopping.

How long have you been writing?

I started writing at the age of sixty, and I hate for you to do the math, but I have eleven years now.

What was the feeling when you published your first book?

I spent some years with short stories, so I didn’t publish a book until 2016. I don’t have the words to describe the incredible feeling of self-pride and accomplishment. I have a photo at my first signing, and I’m smiling so hard that my face looks like it could explode.

What’s the story behind your choice of characters?

My first book, Old Baggage, was when I saw a “older” woman walking near the railroad tracks kicking dirt and cussing. I looked at the passenger in my car and said, “That SOB got 49 years he ain’t getting’ fifty.” From there I did my first book based on escaping an abusive marriage and finding a new life. My second book I thought of a name, Mildred Petrie, and she wrote the next four books. I have no memory of thinking of the situation, although every time I start a new one, I know I need a new gambling type crime.

What annoys you the most in pursuing a writing career?

Marketing is ongoing and sucks up so much time for limited reward. Although it is starting to improve almost daily.

How do you get over the “writer’s block”?

I have a couple things I do now. After the cookbook I joined a flash fiction group, so I may do writing from a prompt. I also put the name of the project under my pillow for when I sleep at night and hope for inspiration. Even without writer’s block, I read and read some more. When there are no words I stay busy marketing the existing books. I stay busy and am open to any suggestions.

We all know the writer’s path is never easy, what makes you keep going? What advice would you give to new authors?

I have a couple things I do now. After the cookbook I joined a flash fiction group, so I may do writing from a prompt. I also put the name of the project under my pillow for when I sleep at night and hope for inspiration. Even without writer’s block, I read and read some more. When there are no words I stay busy marketing the existing books. I stay busy and am open to any suggestions.

If you could go back in time and talk to your younger self, what would you say?

Join or make a community. When isolated we have the tendency to spend days/weeks reinventing wheels. With Susan Brown, we built the Writers Cooperative of the Pacific Northwest. We work together on the publishing and marketing. Having that community has been golden with inspiration and motivation. We do report in every two weeks about what is accomplished. We also book events for our writers and public attention and sales helps too. My advice to new authors is Read, read, make small goals (because they will grow on their own) edit like a maniac and find your community.

Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with the bad ones?

I have received a lot of good reviews, but some bad ones come through. As a forced optimist I believe that those harsh reviews tell me of a problem, and also give my 65 five stars more credibility.

What is the feeling when you get a good review?

A good review gives me validation and encourages me to keep on imagining and writing.

Have you ever incorporated something that happened to you in real life into your novels?

After my first novel, Old Baggage, I had a couple exes check to see if they were in the book. The best was my first boyfriend from high school 53 years ago. I did use our first date, because it fit. I explained to him the meaning of fiction and then congratulated him for maintaining the same ego he had when he was 17. The short answer is kinda, I might use experiences as a spring board to a different story.

Which of your characters you can compare yourself with? Did you base that character on you?

I have only some of Libby Donovan because I never would stay with an abusive person so long. But I did have a rough marriage and I worked some of the emotions into that. My Mildred Unchained series, I deny it but there are some similarities with Mildred Petrie in attitude and love of going to dinner buffets.

What do you think, the book cover is as important as the story?

The covers are very important, because no matter how good the story if they don’t pick up the book it won’t be read. But over all it is the story that is the biggest value.

Do you connect with your readers? Do you mind having a chat with them or you prefer to express yourself through your writing?

I love meeting with readers. I’m one of the most outgoing member of our group. We always put me at the front door because I really like people and think they are potential friends. We have been doing a lot of the holiday bazaars and I had an event last week with another author who was shy. I came away with the need to order more books and laryngitis.

How do you feel when people appreciate your work or recognize you in public?

To quote Sally Field “You like me. You really, really like me.” It gives me encouragement and new energy.

Who is your favorite author? Why?

My favorites vary, right now I have just come off of a ten-book obsession with Christopher Moore, his humor is so outrageous and rude. I have been reading a couple years of all indie authors, but if Dan Brown puts out a book I’m there. Also like Robert Galbreath (J.K. Rowling’s pen name) and Elizabeth Gilbert. Oh, and…. Guess this wasn’t meant to be an essay answer and I better stop now, but the list does continue.

What’s the dream? Whom would you like to be as big as?

I don’t have an answer to this. I feel as if I’m living an unidentified dream now creating while making up fantasies. I would like to be big enough that I don’t have to handle all of the promotion.

Would you rewrite any of your books? Why?

No, I am proud of the books I have done and tend to be a “close counts” author. I had found a typo in a Gloria Steinem book and knowing she lunches with editors everyday it gave me permission to move forward. I am always looking to the future and the next project.

If you could switch places with any author – who would that be?

Anyone that is successful enough to have someone take care of the yard in Tuscany while I sip wine from a bottle and not a box. Other than that I like being me.

What would you say to the “trolls” on the internet? We all know them – people who like to write awful reviews to books they’ve never read or didn’t like that much, just to annoy the author.

When my first book came out I had a review that said (I kid you not), “I didn’t read this book, but the story has been told so many times before and the writing was mundane.” Then they gave me two stars. I still don’t understand the extra star, but it hurt at first. Then I decided it gave my five stars credibility and after about two years Amazon took it down.

What would you say to your readers?

I love you, even the picky ones. Thank you for reading my books and hope to keep adding to your library. Right now, I’d ask them to give me some name ideas for my 4th Mildred book.

Thank you for sharing! Let’s talk about your Personal Life!

Share a bit about yourself – where do you live, are you married, do you have kids?

I am from Pekin Illinois, and lived in Phoenix for three weeks (its own story), Tampa, Florida for 17 years, and now I’ve been in Marysville, Washington for 25 years. My mother is from Marysville, and I have great and great-great grandparents in the cemetery. When I arrived, my sister Penny was already living here. This is a small town working its way up, and she advised “If they don’t have a neck, don’t date them-they’re family.” I’m twice divorced and single. I have entered the days of invisibility as a woman, and don’t have any new relationship plans. I did post my cat Caesar as my domestic partner on Facebook.

What is your day job if you have one?

I was an independent casualty insurance investigator for a very long time. I was the first woman outside adjuster in Florida. I have stories that I would only share with someone else in the field, because they are too horrifying for the regular public. It was a demanding job, but when I realized I was helping people on the worst days I found real meaning.

What are your hobbies? What do you do in your free time?

I’ve dabbled with crafts, but mostly it is writing now, I don’t have room for another latch hook rug or a ceramic owl.

Did you have a happy childhood?

I was raised by honest, good tempered people full of sass and laughter. I actually sent my parents thank you cards once I was old enough to recognize how rare that was. My father was a fire fighter and was brilliant. He traveled the country with his fire prevention presentation and went to college when I was a senior in high school. My mother was a news photographer, so they brought in their own excitement and a wealth of experiences.

Is there a particular experience that made you start writing?

My life has twisted and changed. I had a tendency to pack up and move on when things were intolerable or necessary, often on a bus. I accept my writing to be the newest incarnation more than a challenge and totally consuming.

Do you have unpublished books? What are they about?

I have my fourth Mildred book in edit right now. Mildred Petrie is a widow in her 70s and works undercover at a casino. In this book I have taken her and her friends from grade school on a cruise to say goodbye to the friend that kept them connected through the years. There is a girl scout troop, a really bad villain and a hurricane chasing them through the Caribbean. It doesn’t have a title yet, but thinking about Mildred on the Edge of the Storm, or Mildred: Peril in Paradise or Mildred Riding the Tides, or…

What do you think should be improved in the education of our children? What do we lack?

I have a lot of suggestions, like free lunches for all, dumping the No Child Left Behind, as all kids don’t fit into a single plan, community college and state universities can be free, or and cursive writing they need to be able to read the Constitution.

If you were allowed 3 wishes – what would they be?

To see the ancient cave paintings in France, to live on a lake and to educate my grandchildren. (This was a hard question, I wanted to go with peace, love and universal education so we can appreciate all of the world’s geniuses, but opted for personal).

What is your favorite music?

Guess, I’m a child of the 60s. Actually it is Rhythm and Blues, Rock & Roll, folk, protest, and a variety of individual songs. I vowed in 1964 to never see the Beatles in concert because Paul McCartney would love me so much he would quit music. You are welcome.

Share a secret with us 🙂

I have an FBI file from the time of the Reagan administration.

Thank you! We wish you the best of luck for you and your art!