I am happy to welcome Toni Smalley to the Book Country Member Spotlight! ~NG
Toni Smalley spent her childhood summers on her great-grandparents’ farm where she bailed hay, sang B-I-N-G-O, and ran around the meadows like a mischievous pixie. On the farm, her imagination grew like the apples in her grandparents’ orchard, and her athleticism sprung out of the peach basket her great-grandpa tacked up on a tree.
Toni holds degrees in Communications and Forensic Accounting. She also played Division I basketball at Niagara University.
After developing a career-ending knee condition, she turned to writing for comfort. Over the past few years, she has been honing the craft, constructing the universes of her stories, and is now getting closer to unleashing them into the world.
NG: How did you become a writer?
TS: I remember my first story. I was nine years old, sitting on a boulder with the sun burning my skin as I listened to backhoes rumbling in the fields. I grew bored watching my father dig up dirt, and my thoughts drifted to Africa. Why Africa? Maybe the desert-like conditions, I’m not entirely sure. I found a legal pad in my dad’s truck and began to transcribe the life of an Egyptologist who unearths a human statue that awakens at night to kill people. Oddly, my third-grade teacher praised the murderous African statue, and that’s when I knew writing was important to me.
NG: You have a collection of comic fantasy stories and a contemporary fantasy on Book Country. What draws you to the fantasy genre?
TS: The fantasy genre offers infinite possibilities. I’m always contemplating impossible things and, as a fantasy writer, I can make them happen.
NG: Who were the fantasy writers that were most important to you when you were growing up?
TS: Growing up, I used my ninjutsu stealth to sneak into my older sister’s room to steal her books—Stephen King, Edgar Allan Poe, Anne Rice—things a young child shouldn’t read. I also read Ray Bradbury, Neil Gaiman, J.R.R. Tolkien, and J.K. Rowling. One of my favorite collections is Isaac Asimov’s Magical Worlds of Fantasy: Fairies.
NG: I love Asimov! Now tell us more about your novel on the site, VIA THE SIDHE ROUTE. How did you come up with the fairy world in the book?
TS: Via the Sidhe Route began during a trip to Ireland—within quaint pubs filled with traveling storytellers, who shared tales about the Tuatha De Danann, the ancestors to our misconstrued winged fairies. That inspired me to build a story around the Tuatha’s actual descendants. I call them the Nyeena. They work with a secret society of humans, the Sons of Mil, to keep the borders of Ireland and the Elida Realm safe from the vengeance-seeking Salorgs.
In creating the Nyeena realm, I studied Irish geography, flowers, rocks, minerals, along with architecture from around the world. Then, I asked myself questions like: What would the Tuatha be like today? What type of abilities would they have? How would this contribute to their lifestyle and the construction of their world?
The Nyeena have mastered levitation, telekinesis, and astral projection. With their super-brain powers and advanced engineering, they gutted the Elida Realm countryside, creating deep valleys and canyons, building cities into the sides of cliffs. Foreign fairies influenced the architecture as well, such as the Japanese Chin-Chin Kobakan, inspiring the pagodas of Drogamere in North Nestrum. The capital city of Tinsale is like a combination of Atlantis and Venice—concentric layers of land with deep trenches of water separating the streets.
The sidhe route in the title refers to the doorways to the Elida Realm. Only leaths—half-fairy, half-human—the Cuchulainn Warrior Priestesses, who carry the Glengoreth Treasures, and those with disjointed souls can crossover at will, otherwise, October 31st is the only all-day, all-species pass.
NG: It seems like you’ve put a lot of thought into your worldbuilding. What about Keela? Can you tell us more about her as a character?
TS: Keela lives in the human realm under the impression she is a normal girl. She is aware the Elida Realm exists, but she is so sheltered from its people, she is ignorant of the Nyeena blood that runs in her veins. The problem is her blood is unlike any living being—it’s powerful and holds secrets not even the Nyeena understand. Because the Salorgs would use Keela as a weapon, her father, Glendan, is overprotective. She resents his rules, resulting in overdramatic tantrums, and indulges in the forbidden infatuation of Lorcan, a young Nyeena leath (halfie) who works with the Sons of Mil. Eventually, tragic events and threats from the Salorgs require Keela to learn the secrets of her past, and she is forced to accept a new way of life.
NG: Let’s talk about your process. How do you usually begin a novel or a short story?
TS: I never begin a story by writing. I pretend I’m in a movie theater, imagining what twists in the film would make me drop my popcorn and yell, “Yahoo!” or “How terrifying!” or “Oh boy, oh boy, what next!” Then, I write until I come to a standstill, which means I need to plot, so I work on timelines, outlines, character development charts, sub-plots, etc. To develop details, I often find inspiration in nature. For example, in Via the Sidhe Route, bioluminescent algae and the bacteria of the Grand Prismatic Spring inspired Prismaticity, which is a light source that runs through enchanted, water-filled glasses and changes colors at different temperatures.
NG: Do you have any interesting writing quirks?
TS: Tater, aka Mr. Potato Head, sits on my desk. He’s like a stress ball, except he’s plastic, so you can’t squeeze him, but you can rip off his body parts. I also wear his eyebrows as a Poirot mustache when I’m plotting (actually, that’s weird, I don’t do that…)
NG: Hmm… I just imagined you wearing Mr. Potato Head pieces. So, tell us more about yourself. What is a day in the life of Toni Smalley like?
TS: I start my day with a seven-hour study session (for the CPA exam) while completing tasks for my grandfather’s accounting business. After dinner, I take my dog for a walk in the woods, listening to the crickets as the lightning bugs twinkle about the paths. It’s rejuvenating and clears my mind. In the evenings, I spend time on social media like Twitter, connecting with other writers. My prime hours for creativity are from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m., which is late, but I have a flexible schedule, so I’m able to utilize this period to write.
NG: You’re an owl, it seems. So why are you on Book Country?
TS: I wanted to connect with other writers, but the only things around me are livestock and tractor-pulls, so I turned to the Internet and found Book Country. It’s a healthy community with great moderators who are responsive and care about managing the site. I’m glad I joined, because I have found it beneficial to receive input from writers who are in every stage of the writing process.
NG: What is something fun that we don’t know about you?
TS: I have had three broken noses due to sports. One time, I had a nose cast, and my eyes were so black, I told people it was from Fight Club. Of course, you asked for something fun. My nose is funny-looking, does that count? It’s crooked with a hunchback.
NG: Haha, that fits the bill, I guess. Thanks for chatting with me, Toni!