Toni Kief – Using Life as Inspiration for Your Writing

My father stood by his story that I was named after a 1940’s stripper until his death. I never had the heart to tell him that his claim did not hold up to an internet search. I learned Toni Seven was a starlet, but clearly, his version is so much better than the truth. I’m the oldest of four children—and a spider monkey. We were raised in Pekin, Illinois, and we all have moved away, including Moses the monkey. I inherited from him, a third eye of idealism and a faith in the basic goodness of people. Like Dad’s history, that belief hasn’t always measured up, but I stick to it. My father would challenge us to make puns and jokes almost as a competition, and I’ll never forget opera day. Mom was the steel rod down the spine of the family, and Dad was the comic relief.

My background is different than that of many writers. While so many I know were developing stories and characters at a young age, I was a competitive swimmer. Once I graduated from Pekin Community High, my younger brother needed a ride to hockey practice, so I ended up organizing a women’s hockey team. I scored the first black eye from falling on the net while trying to push it onto the ice for practice. As for education, I have 23 years of community college, no formal degree, but a really nice letter from a Woman’s Study instructor and a listening award.

In the 1980s I was elected president of the Tampa, Florida chapter of the National Organization for Women. I am still a self-proclaimed feminist and knee-jerk liberal. I was contacted by the local police referring to my FBI file. I never checked further because I want it to exist. I can’t deny that it would be paper and probably caught in the back of a rusted cabinet. At the same time, I worked as the first female outside insurance adjuster in Florida. I convinced myself the work was helping people on their worst days, and not saving money for insurance companies. Those years provided a wealth of stories about humanity, tragedy, stupidity, and property damage.

Writers Cooperative, Toni Kief

My first writing project was the result of a challenge. I teamed with James Johnson and we wrote a cookbook based on women of history and myth. It hasn’t been published, but there is still hope. Working on the cookbook encouraged me to continue writing. I appear to have an organizing gene and I took over a meet-up group of two members and built the Writer’s Kickstart into a diverse group of misfits knocking out flash fiction from prompts. To date, we have fourteen books developed from those efforts.

Once retired, I helped found and still serve as the director of The Writer’s Cooperative of the Pacific Northwest. The members are a variety of traditionally and self-published local authors that are focused on creating quality manuscripts, marketing, publicity, encouragement, and trying to sign off of Facebook. That group continues to grow and offer. programs, promotion, and teamwork in the Seattle area.

Currently, I write daily. I have published two books and collections of short stories. When asked about genres, I made up my own. With the massive market for YA, I describe my writing as OA (old adult). My books focus on women of a certain age forced into change. Old Baggage, my first published novel, was inspired by a mature woman in pajama pants walking along the railroad tracks in Marysville, WA. She was cussing and kicking dirt in a private conversation. I looked at my granddaughter and said, “That miserable son of a … got 49 years of my life, he ain’t getting 50.” From that vision, Libby Donovan was born and the words were saved. The story follows Libby from abuse to become the protagonist in her own life.

I received a call from my first boyfriend from high school over fifty years ago to inquire if the book was about him. I was happy to see that his ego hadn’t diminished. I explained the meaning of the term fiction and reminded him of my tendency to make snap decisions that often include a change of address.

My second book, Mildred In Disguise: With Diamonds is about another older woman recently widowed and broke. Mildred Petrie walked to a nearby casino to apply for any job. Due to her career as a meter maid, she is hired to work undercover. Mildred is funny and fearless. The second Mildred book is being edited, and I’m working on book three. That darn Mildred is unique and has a bigger story than anyone anticipated.

From here, I continue with my most recent incarnation sporting knockoff gold earrings and sensible shoes; I sign books and will talk to anyone I see. I have learned the best inspiration appears when it is impossible to write it down. I continue to mine an imagination of unknown stories that beg for my special style of embroidery.

Be sure to remember your dreams, and never forget that a nightmare is a dream too.

Amazon Links:
Old Baggage
Mildred in Disguise: With Diamonds

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