Spring is here ... so let's celebrate with the multi-talented Toby Devens. From her website,
In fact, my first book was a collection of prayer-poems published by Doubleday in hardcover and Avon in paperback.Mercy, Lord, My Husband's in the Kitchen received glowing reviews from People magazine, the West Coast Review of Books, the New York Daily News and other publications. After my daughter was born, I wrote short fiction, poetry and articles for magazines such as Readers Digest, Parents, and McCall's.
Kim: NYC - what is your favorite sight, sound, and smell of the Big Apple?
Toby: I get a kick out of the sight of New Yorkers always in a rush to get wherever they’re going. They’re in constant motion, swarming across streets, skirting taxis and darting traffic and drivers’ curses. It’s life in fast forward. Exhilarating!
The honking car horns from impatient drivers and the rumble of busses are New York’s symphony. There’s always some kind of music in the air. A violinist playing for coins in Central Park. Salsa streaming out of a Latin nightclub near Times Square. Pass-the-hat rap on street corners. And, in summer, jazz jiving through open windows.
As for smells, I love the waft of expensive perfume on Park and Fifth Avenues. Also, the air around subway stations and outside office buildings, spicy with aromas from the various ethnic food trucks.
I’m a beach gal and for those of us born and raised in Brooklyn, beach is Coney Island. I have a scene in my novel Barefoot Beach which recalls the scent I loved as a kid and still hangs in the air. It’s a mix of salty sea breeze, steamed corn drenched in butter, the coconut scent of sun screen, garlicky hot dogs, caramel corn, and cotton candy. The sweat of the crowds adds a pungent note. That’s eau de summer in New York.
BTW, wherever my stories are set, there’s always a reference to Brooklyn, my good luck charm.
Kim: You have a wide variety of writing experience! Can you share some of the challenges and rewards of transitioning from poems, reviews, short fiction to full length women's fiction?
Toby: I wrote the poems in first book, Mercy Lord, My Husband’s in the Kitchen, when my daughter was an infant, grateful for the little gifts of downtime between her diaper changes when I could get to the keyboard. Writing articles, reviews and short stories can get done at fever pitch. Of course, then you have to polish them. There are more fundamental challenges, too. You’d better capture the essence of the characters, their problems and how they deal with them very quickly and in a limited amount of space. That’s tough. But gratifying when you pull it off.
I was terrified to write my first novel, My Favorite Midlife Crisis (Yet). Writing full length fiction is a big job! Novels require guiding a plot through twists and turns—making sure there’s tension all along the way—to a satisfying resolution. Then there’s character development. You’ve got to concoct personalities that can stay the distance, be interesting, loveable or despicable enough so the readers hang with them to see how they get their just rewards. The greatest pleasure for me in writing long fiction is that I can shape these characters over time and circumstances, share their delight and pain and, since I write funny (reviewers call it “witty), reflect on the humor in their lives.
Novels require a lot of research. My second, Happy Any Day Now, features Judith Soo Jin Raphael, a half-Korean, half-Jewish cellist with performance anxiety, among other problems. The research I devoted to her cultures and the music she played was extensive…and fun. I count that book as a wonderful learning as well as writing experience.
The major bonus of writing a novel? When things are out of control in your real world, you can escape into one of your own creation where you make decisions about lives and outcomes. It’s very empowering to run the show.
Kim: Tell us about Barefoot Beach - what inspired the setting and characters?
Toby: Women’s friendship is a prominent theme throughout all my novels. I find it amazing how those connections transcend all kinds of boundaries—ethnicities, age, circumstance. Women friends are also incredibly supportive. When the feathers hit the fan, there they are, rushing to prop you up and move you on through divorce, illness, tragedy and farce.
I’m fascinated by ties that bind our gender and I love to find new ways of writing about them. Barefoot Beach is the story of three women of different backgrounds gathered one summer in Tuckahoe, a resort town on the Maryland shore.
My protagonist, Nora Quinn Farrell, is a certified dance and movement therapist, who also owns the ballroom and Zumba studio “We Got Rhythm.” A guilt-ridden widow and the mother of a college age son. Nora is stuck in her “good enough” life until her son shakes up the family dynamic. That and her dicey financial situation catapults her into a possibility of other devastating losses. Her BFF, Margo Manolis, owner of the Driftwood Playhouse, is a hilarious drama queen who sees betrayal behind every curtain. The third member of this trio, Emine Haydar runs the Turquoise Café where the Turkish coffee is hot and the baklava is fresh from the oven. Em’s rebellious teenage daughter is just plain fresh, and on her way to big trouble. Of course there are men on the landscape, too. My personal crush is Scott Goddard, a veteran returned from combat in Iraq minus a leg, but loaded with courage and character…and issues.
In the case of Barefoot Beach, the setting inspired the story. I was spending time with friends at the Maryland shore. We stopped in a Turkish restaurant for lunch, then at a stand for ice cream. We passed a Zumba studio where others were working off beach town indulgences. We finally landed on a boardwalk bench and as we sat there watching the ocean, I felt that first buzz that alerted, “Story here.” Over time, the pieces came together.
Kim: What's next for Toby Devens?
Mahalo, Toby, for sharing your experience with us ... and the pictures, too! As Toby mentioned, BAREFOOT BEACH is coming in July ...
Spend a summer at the beach with this enchanting and emotional story about love, loss, and the powerful bonds of female friendship...
The beach house carried some kind of spell, concocted of—I don’t know—salt air, sea grass and Old Bay seasoning that over the years had permeated its walls and floorboards. Whatever it was, the place cast fabulous magic.
For Nora Farrell, Tuckahoe, Maryland, isn’t just a summer refuge, it’s home—where she married the love of her life, decided to have a child, and has remained connected with her two closest friends. Even now, long after her husband’s passing, Nora reunites with Margo and Emine every June….
But this year, challenges invade the friends’ retreat. Even as Nora delights in teaching at her dance studio, she is shaken by the possible loss of her beach house…and by a tentative new romance. While Margo directs a musical at the Driftwood Playhouse, she finds her marriage on rocky ground. And Em, who relishes running her family’s café, struggles to handle her rebellious daughter.
With their personal dramas reaching a fever pitch, the women will discover that it isn’t only the beach that brightens their lives. Their bond with one another provides the ultimate magic.
I am giving away "beach" swag to one randomly selected commenter. To enter the giveaway,
1. Leave a comment about your favorite beach - near or far. Near is the Sandy Point State Park on the Chesapeake Bay. Far, far, far away is Bellows Beach, the military resort on Oahu's windward coast.
2. Comments are open through Saturday, April 2, 10 pm in Baltimore.
2. Comments are open through Saturday, April 2, 10 pm in Baltimore.
3. I'll post the winner on Sunday, April 3.
Kim in Baltimore
Aloha Spirit in Charm City
Learn more about Toby and her books at tobydevens.com.