Debut Author Interview

TONI MCGEE CAUSEY DEBUTS WITH A ‘KICK-ASS, PISSED OFF’ CAJUN BEAUTY QUEEN

by J.B. Thompson


Bobbie Faye Sumrall is a dead-broke Cajun living in a broken-down trailer in Lake Charles, Louisiana. When criminals demand Bobbie Faye’s Contraband Queen tiara in exchange for her good-for-nothing brother, Bobbie Faye has to outwit the police, organized crime, former boyfriends, and a hostage she never intended to take in order to rescue her brother, keep custody of her niece, and get back in time to take her place as Queen in the Lake Charles Contraband Festival. Luckily, she knows how to handle guns, outwit angry mama bears, drive a speedboat, and get herself out of (and into) almost every kind of trouble. If only that pesky state police detective (who also happens to be a pissed off ex-boyfriend) would stay out of her way ...

A Louisiana native (and Cajun), Toni McGee Causey lives in Baton Rouge with her husband and two sons. She’s placed in top tier screenwriting contests, published many non-fiction articles and edited a popular regional magazine. BOBBIE FAYE’S VERY (very very very) BAD DAY is the first in a three-book deal with St. Martin’s and will be released in May.

Toni is a member of the Killer Year Class of 2007 and blogs with the group at killeryear.wordpress.com.

She also has her own blog, tonimcgeecausey.wordpress.com.

Her new website (with book “trailers”) is www.tonimcgeecausey.com..

JB: What is it about this “kick-ass, pissed off Cajun beauty queen” that made you want to tell her story?

TONI: I think the pissed-off, tenacious, take-no-prisoners, crazy-woman part of society is seriously under-represented in fiction.

Seriously, I love strong women, and I think so many of us go through so much just to make it through each day in our chaotic lives. A lot of the books and movies I happened to be reading and watching at the time were focused on single issues (will I find the right guy? solve the mystery? survive the bad guy?) – our lives aren’t like that. At least, mine never has been. I wanted to write about a woman facing multiple problems, who thinks of herself as ordinary and yet steps up to do this extraordinary thing – try to save her brother’s life – when it means putting herself in jeopardy. I wanted to tap into the notion that there’s a little hero in all of us, especially when we’re trying to help the ones we love. I wanted to write someone who isn’t bitter in spite of the incredibly bad stuff life dumps on her – she’s realistic, snarky, sees the absurdity in her situations, but ultimately, determined that she’ll go forward or die trying. For Bobbie Faye, there’s no choice but to keep trying. I love that about her.

JB: After being a screenwriter, magazine editor and non-fiction writer, was it easy to transition into fiction writing?

TONI: Although I’d originally gone to college for fiction, after marriage, kids, and a non-fiction career, I’d gone back and through (most of) an MFA in screenwriting, which worked for me because I think of story via images, not words. I learned a tremendous amount from having to create a full story, with depth, in 120 pages. Transitioning back to prose was difficult, in that I had to re-learn how to show the interiority of a character instead of just what the ‘camera’ could see.

JB: How did you transpose your own “trouble-shooting, disaster-prevention and survival” experiences into Bobbie Faye’s world?

TONI: When you own a small company, you tend to eat adrenaline for breakfast. Thousands of dollars can be at risk. Someone ends up having to be the person who brainstorms a solution or makes the tough phone calls. You just deal; find a back-up plan and if that fails, find another. There’s no time to feel sorry for yourself because the next day is going to bring its own set of problems.

I suppose I transposed this into Bobbie Faye’s world because this “solve the problem” attitude is deeply ingrained. Problems often turn out to be opportunities, if you look at them right. If there’s a wall, find a door, if there’s no door, find a window. No window? See if the wall can be scaled. Failing that, borrow a bulldozer.

JB: You’ve “nearly completed” a double masters at LSU. Will it affect your writing?

TONI: I’m about six hours away from completing the MFA in Creative Writing and nine hours away from an MA in Philosophy – and I doubt I’ll finish them now. The original intention was to have an academic career so that I could write. I love academics and could probably go on to get another degree or two, but my first love has always been writing. Now that I have the dream of writing and being published, this is most definitely my priority.

JB: You’ve recently finished the second book. What’s in store for Bobbie Faye next?

TONI: Waaaaay more chaos and some gut-wrenching emotional choices. A couple of shocks that I hope the readers don’t kill me over. And of course, more laughs.

JB: What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done and lived to tell about it?

TONI: Geez, there are so many to choose from. Okay, I’m focusing on the ‘and lived to tell about it’ aspect of that question for this answer.

We had a large construction project where the concrete finisher (new to the sub-contractor) copped an attitude and decided he wasn’t going to finish the concrete (the trucks were on their way) because he wanted a raise or something. We couldn’t afford to lose that job or have a delay, and I went ... er, ballistic.

Now, Otis was a big man – easily over 6’2” and probably closing in on 280 or more. I’m 5’3” and petite. I remember standing nose-to-chest with this man with arms the size of my waist and informing him (quite vehemently) that he was, indeed, going to finish that concrete. Have you ever seen a tiny spit of a dog go nose-to-nose with something huge and fierce and think it ought to have ‘stupid’ tattooed on its forehead? Yep, that was me. He argued a bit and I just got more emphatic. There was a weird point when he looked like he would break me in half, and I just stared up at him, furious, and suddenly he smiled this big gap-toothed smile and agreed to finish the concrete.

When I later explained to my husband what happened, he went pale. Turns out that Otis had been in prison for murder, and it had been because someone was bossing him around.

Later, Otis told my husband that he liked me, that I had stood up for myself but that I had treated him with respect. He also told Carl if I ever needed anyone to disappear, to let him know because he ‘had my back.’ I’m not quite sure what to think about that.

JB: What three adjectives best describe you?

TONI: That’s incredibly difficult. Tenacious would be the obvious first choice. Creative. And I hope, nurturing, because bold, un-checked tenacity could be harmful without nurturing in the mix.


ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER

J.B. Thompson holds a B.A. in Criminal Justice from Indiana University. She writes crime fiction, book and movie reviews, and conducts author interviews. J.B. blogs at “Let’s Do Lunch – The World According to J.B.” (http://jbtauthor.blogspot.com). She lives near Nashville, Tennessee with her husband and three teenagers.


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