It feels like such a long time coming, and the day is finally here: The Toll has finally landed! A million thanks to all the folks who preordered, shared links, and generally have been so wonderfully supportive through this book’s journey to publication. It was a bit fraught, and the book is a bit late (no drama or anything, just Stuff That Happened) – but I’m so glad it’s finally here.
I first pitched it to my editor as “Night Vale Radio meets the Dirty South,” and I still stand by that assessment. This is a story for anyone who’s ever lived in someplace small, somewhere out-of-the-way, or somewhere insular with loads of secrets that aren’t readily shared with outsiders. It’s also a story for anyone who finds that stuff Creepy As Shit.
As a point of note, before I start getting emails about some of the more peculiar details in the book… most of those odd details are directly taken from places I’ve called home. For example, there’s a dog in a tree. There’s nothing wrong with him, he’s happy as a clam, and he’s always in the same spot. People give directions and say things like, “Turn right at the dog in the tree.” Well, that dog’s name was Eddie and he lived in Saint Elmo.* The uncanny valley of doll collections was inspired by something in rural Washington. The Very Strange Town Square (and many of its features) – prompted by something near my parents’ place in rural Kentucky.
The bridge itself? A one-lane jobbie out near Snoqualmie, which both charmed and horrified me the first time I drove over it. Weirdly, I’ve been out there several times since and can’t find it. I’m sure it’s there, don’t get me wrong. Just… not where I remembered it, I guess.
So the little town of Staywater is an amalgam, yes – but it’s entirely true, for all its strangeness. Hell, some of my long-time readers will even recognize the ghost at the haunted bar stool. He’s a very old, dear friend of mine who passed away a handful of years ago. I wrote him and his dog into some of my first books, and dedicated one to him after he died. Why not keep him around? (I think it would give him a giggle.)
At any rate, Publishers Weekly gave The Toll a starred review, calling it “Moody and mysterious, this gothic tale touches the heart even as it wraps chilly fingers around the spine.” And Tor.com says “If you’re looking for a summer read featuring swamp monsters, haunted bar stools, a creepy doll museum, a town populated with charmed weirdos, and two absolutely badass old ladies, well, welcome to Staywater.” I’m especially fond of those old ladies. Don’t underestimate old ladies. They know shit, and they are absolutely prepared to throw down in ways nobody expects when they know what’s at stake.
If you’re so inclined, here are some links where you can order this freaky little project that’s been so long in the making. And if you do give it a read, please leave a review at your preferred spot! Reviews are like ammo in a zombie game. They’re like Pac-Man pellets for authors. They’re power-ups in a retro side-scroller. We love them!
Thank you so much, everyone. I couldn’t do this without you!
* He was a little shih tzu who climbed up a five foot fence every day, and then scaled another half dozen feet to reach his preferred vantage point. He was also elderly and almost completely blind, but that never stopped him.