As I write this I am on the train from Bergen to Oslo after spending a couple of wonderful days with Sean, my friend, Mette, her fiance, David, and Mette’s parents. Bergen is the second largest city in Norway. The whole population of the country is only about 5 million so it isn’t that big. Bergen is beautiful and charming. The air is clean, the tap water tastes great, and the selection of rain gear is amazing. Which makes sense because it rains an awful lot there.
After stocking up on wellies and rain coats we headed out of the city and explored Hardangerfjord and the surrounding area for two days. Spending the nights in a wonderful little cabin with amazing views.
The area is populated by stone faced Norwegians and Trolls. I actually never saw a troll but come on. If this isn’t troll country than I’d say they straight-up do not exist.
My friend Mette is half Norwegian and her mother, a full-blooded viking, is one of the smiliest, sweetest people I’ve ever met. But our experience with the average Norwegian was very different. I always thought it was basic human nature to smile at strangers when running into them on a hiking trail. After all, you’re in beautiful nature, there is no one else around, it’s nice to give each other a grin. You don’t want to come off as a serial killer after all. I’ve never smiled and nodded at so many people to be glared back at or just ignored while they frowned on. We saw one guy trying to hitch hike who was attempting to smile but it came off as a grimace. A twitching grimace at that. Poor man. Maybe it’s the rain or just their stoic nature but we found the people to be almost comically unfriendly. Except the children who seemed very happy.
The country side is incredible picturesque. Little villages with slate roofed cottages painted bright colors hug deep, emerald-green fjords. Apple orchards stretch up the hills looking like vineyards because of the way they are pruned. The roads are in perfect condition, if a little narrow, and the tunnels are testimates to the ingenuity of man. Waterfalls cascade down the sharp cliffs in dramatic rushes of white.
While the weather is rainy we lucked out and had quite a lot of sunshine which allowed us to get out onto the trails and take ridiculous pictures.
We drove up Osa mountain almost by accident and discovered ruins and a gorgeous, secret little pond with crystal clear water surrounded by large boulders and blueberry bushes. We also took more ridiculous pictures… but I’m going to hold back here and not post them
A ferry ride allowed us to get a water view and it did not disappoint. The ride was beautiful and it made me ache for OUR WAY. I miss that little ship. By the way, the new owners are taking her to Bermuda which makes us very happy.
On our drive back to Bergen we stopped by a glacier (as you do) and enjoyed a short hike. We came out of the moss covered woods to discover a steam lined with stacked stones. The water was a bright blue and white just like the glacier that fed it and the stones (obviously placed by trolls) were a wonderful addition to the landscape.
After returning to Bergen we stayed with Mette’s parents for a couple of nights enjoying their warm hospitality and wonderful home. We even went fishing. The only thing we hooked was a star fish but that didn’t take away from the enjoyment of being out on the water in a little row boat in a beautiful place.
I’m looking forward to the few hours we will have in Oslo where we plan to visit the Viking Ship Museum. I hope you’re all doing well out there in reader land. May the trolls be with you.
I’ve been a big fan of Toby Neal’s ever since I downloaded one of her Lei Crime books after seeing it advertised on Bookbub. I finished it in about a day then downloaded the rest of the series and used them to avoid any “real” work for the rest of the week. Not only do her descriptions of Hawaii make you feel like you’re there but her main character’s side kick, a big, loyal rottweiler named Keiki, is amazing. Not to mention Lei herself, tough as nails but still feminine. My favorite kind of female protagonist.
Since I know how much you all love Sydney and Blue I think you’ll really enjoy Lei and her dog, Keiki. If you comment on this interview I’ll send you an ecopy of the first book in the series, “Blood Orchid” so you can see what I’m talking about yourself.
Toby agrees that our fans are probably going to be into each other’s work so she is interviewing me over on her blog today too. You can check it out HERE.
Without further ado, here is my interview with Toby Neal:
One of the things I really enjoy about your books is how important and vivid your settings are. I know you live in Hawaii where your books take place. How did you end up there?
I’m working on a memoir right now, actually, because my life makes a good story! My parents were hippie surfers in the 1960s and my dad was one of the early surfers and photographers to discover Oahu’s North Shore. My mom grew up on Oahu because my grandfather was a marine biologist with University of Hawaii; so when my parents got married they moved where the waves were. By 1970 they decided Oahu was getting too crowded, so they moved to Kaua`i. I grew up on Kaua`i and, after stints away for education, have made Hawaii my home though I live on Maui. I’m a third-generation “kama`aina” or “child of the land,” which you can become when you’ve integrated enough into the world of the islands.
From what I understand your husband is a big part of your business life. I know he takes the photos for your covers. How else does he help you succeed?
He takes my cover photos and he is my (reluctant) formatter as well! I roped him into that when my other one quit doing it. He is a well-known photographer and woodworker (you can see his work at nealstudios.com) but he does help me and we both help each other with social media and getting the word out about our work. We have a great marriage and partnership and have raised two amazing young adult kids. Been married for 28 years and now we are enjoying being empty nesters.
How much does your experience as a therapist affect your work. Do you think it’s subconscious or do you go through your characters and create mental profiles for them?
Great question, and the answer is YES to both! I do character bios of all the main characters in a story before I start writing, and I do them much like the adult evaluations I actually do for work: a psycho-social background, pathology, physical description and diagnosis (if they have one.) My knowledge and interest in psychology really infuse my writing and I think it’s one of the things readers enjoy about the Lei Crime Series.
I love Lei’s dog. Where did that character come from?
Yes, one of the great things both our books have in common is a wonderful dog character! Keiki, Lei’s Rottweiler, is based on my (if you can believe it) Chihuahua terrier Nalu. Nalu is absolutely the best dog on the planet: protective, loyal, smart, intuitive, loving, and taught me all about the world of dogs. I made her bigger and better trained to be Lei’s companion, protector and friend, just as Nalu is mine.
Besides the Lei Crime series you’ve also written a standalone (as of right now) and a contemporary romance. As well as a companion novel to the Lei Crime series. And your working on a young adult book too. Which would you say is the most fun to write and which gave you the most trouble?
I love new challenges and I wrote each book because I got an idea that just wouldn’t leave me alone. What is the most fun? Well, dang it, they ALL are fun! I really enjoyed writing my teen detective novel, Wallflower Diaries, though, because I didn’t have to do any research. I know teens (as an adolescent therapist and parent) and I know Maui, where the book is set, and I whipped that fun book filled with thrills, chills and first kisses out in five weeks, so I have to say I think that was the most fun yet. YA= easy and fun. None of my YA is in print yet.
The hardest book I’ve ever written I’m working on periodically, and that’s my memoir. Several reasons for the difficulty: 1) Issues. But hell, issues are why we have interesting lives, right? Still. It’s hard to organize and write about emotionally loaded topics with a reader in mind, reading for entertainment. 2) It’s a literary book. I write fast-paced genre fiction with fairly utilitarian language, considered an “easy read” (which I’ve decided, after some debate, is a compliment.) The memoir isn’t an “easy read.” It’s a challenging literary task that I want to bring to fruition as a truly remarkable work.
The second hardest book I’ve written so far is Broken Ferns, Lei Crime #4. I call that book “The Reckoning” because it’s where all my heroine’s personal and professional choices come to a head with painful consequences to her. I struggled with that book—to make readers feel her pain without getting too navel-gazing, with a plot that I kept giving away by being too enamored with the criminal, whose point of view I kept wanting to stay in. I ended up having to throw away major pages and rewrite it a lot.
In your Lei Crime series you do a great job of balancing mystery with romance, the exact amount I like to read. Is this something your conscious of or is it just how your stories turn out?
I love this question because quite honestly, I write the kind of books I most like to read, so you and I must have similar taste! I love a great love story, and I was inspired by Diana Gabaldon’s Jamie and Claire and J.D. Robb’s Dallas and Roarke in writing Lei and Stevens, the couple in the Lei Crime Series. I wanted to create a couple whose love burns bright through all kinds of challenges, who captures the imagination and won’t let go, a couple you never get enough of. I also love mystery and figuring out stuff and why people do things, so writing a series that raises the issues of Hawaii through the vehicle of mystery, with this great love story woven through all the books and healing from the past as a theme…well, it’s just hugely satisfying. How much romance to put in and how far to go? I’ve experimented. If you read Stolen In Paradise, the novel with Lei’s hot FBI friend Marcella as the lead, you get more of the romance. I enjoyed writing that book but I did get a lot of whacks upside the head in reviews for the sex scenes, so I learned my readers like less than the Full Monty in the bedroom. That’s mystery readers for you, they aren’t romance readers! But then, even when I did my romance (Somewhere on Maui) I kept it tasteful and had found my own comfort level by then.
Thanks so much to Toby for appearing on the blog today and interviewing me over on hers. Don’t forget to leave a comment to receive a free copy of “Blood Orchid”, the first book in the Lei Crime Series.