Storytelling comes naturally to Denise Tobin. When you meet her, it’s easy to be pulled into her personable kindness. She truly shines in her interpersonal relationships and situations, which is why she is a vital part of the Cascade team.
When she is not contributing to the business development team or helping to structure innovative solutions for our clients, she is crafting stories to give back to her community.
Her optimistic worldview is on clear display as you immerse in the world of the My Secrets collection of short mysteries and the children’s books written to cultivate discussion and empathy within children.
Her work as an author stemmed from a desire to stay productive, but it becomes clear as you talk with her that her writing is a life calling too
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I travel a lot for work, and I received my airline statement one year. They sent me an email with the details for my year-to-date travels– now, the year wasn’t over, and at that point, I had already traveled 180 or 185 times that year. I thought, ‘wow, if each flight was just an hour-long, even at the minimum, that’s a lot of idle time’… and realistically, the average would be much closer to 2 hours or more per flight! That’s a lot of hours sitting on the plane.
I do a lot of my work on the plane, but a lot of travel time is idle. I wanted to fill it with something constructive. On a whim, I thought, “oh, you know what? I think I will write a book for my grown children.”
So, I did. I wrote my first book, a mystery short story called Secrets of the Bay. I actually used my children’s names in the book.
What did your family think of being stars of your stories?
When I used their names, it was a surprise– and they all freaked out! Of course, I gave them a different last name, but there is an older brother Tyler, with twin brothers Myles and Wyatt, just like my boys.
I wrote the first story set in the south shore of Massachusetts, the Cape where I grew up, and shared with my friends and family what I was doing. Once I wrote the book, I published it through Amazon publishing to get copies for my friends. At first, it was my friends and family, then friends of friends and relatives…everyone wanted to read the short story.
And because I published it through Amazon, it was living there, and organically people were buying it.
It occurred to me that people really like this book and I felt inspired to connect with some local stores and souvenir shops from the Cape, and they all started carrying the book.
People started asking for another book. So, I wrote Secrets in the Woods.
Tell us about your books and what makes them so unique.
Secrets in the Woods seems to be everyone’s favorite. That was the “whodunit” because there’s a little murder mystery going on, and you often knew who did it but didn’t know if they would get caught. But in Secrets in the Woods, I threw red herrings everywhere so people would think they were different characters until the end.
From there, I wrote Secrets on the Cape and people wanted to be characters in my books. I heard, ‘I wanna be a character,’ and ‘Oh, name one after me,’ … so I had a lot of fun with that story!
After I wrote the three, I was going to stop there. I had set the first book in the present time. The second book was set in the sixties, and the third book was placed in the seventies. Then I had an idea to play with these characters, and in my fourth book, I aged all the people up to what they would be in 2019. I brought characters back from each book. Even though those stories have nothing to do with each other, they’re in the same towns, so, there could be cameo appearances from some of the past characters in that story.
The last mystery book I wrote was Secret on the Island. I have another story in the works that is about 90% done, but I also wanted to try out writing something new, and I tried my hand at writing children’s books.
What are your kids books, and what do you enjoy about the shift in genre?
Hydro the Raindrop is my big children’s book and I love going to schools to read it to kids. It’s geared to grades K through three, and I’ll read it to the kids when they have authors come in. I quite enjoy when I get to read to the second and third graders when they’re learning to write their own little, short stories.
It’s fun to talk with them. I would go to about five or six schools a year pre-pandemic. When the pandemic came, and I couldn’t go to the school, I started reading to kids via zoom, which was fun. I really enjoy that. To me, connecting with kids brings the most fun from the book writing.
That story is fun, too- it’s about a little raindrop boy who wants to be grown up and work in the rain clouds like his big brother. Hydro has to stay in school because he didn’t know how to evaporate to get back home. One day, he followed his brother to the cloud, fell down to earth, and didn’t know how to get home.
When I read to the kids, I get different questions depending on the group. The grade K-1 group will ask me if Hydro got in trouble or if anyone was mad at Hydro. You get to see their minds at work. The older kids ask more broad questions. One little girl was asking about what other genres of books I write. They have so many questions, and it’s just exciting to see their minds going and watch them getting excited about reading.
And then, I wrote another children’s book set in my hometown in Plymouth, Massachusetts, called The First American Friendship. It’s about pilgrim kids, a brother and sister, and two Native American boys. The pilgrim kids get lost in the woods and are found by the Native American kids, who help them find their way home. They share their cultures and how their lives were so different. Their houses were different, their clothes were different, and their games were different, but between them, they were still kids and became friends. Of course, there’s some conflict there. Their parents fought, and the kids couldn’t be friends anymore. When the English Pilgrim’s father got sick, the Native American kids’ grandfather gave him medicine to help him feel better. They were all friends again because the children’s books had to have that happy ending.
Which story are you most proud of?
I would have to say Hydro the Raindrop. It is a big hit with the kids!
My first book will always be special for me personally.
Out of the mystery books, I would say Secrets in the Woods only because it’s a real mystery, and I haven’t met one person who said they knew who did it. They all pick one of three other people, so that’s fun.
With all of your books being set in where you grew up, would you share more about what influenced you from your childhood?
There are a couple of fun things about the books and that I write.
My grandmother had nine children, and it was during the depression and the tail-end of the depression. They were very frugal with everything – especially having nine kids – so she would write all the children’s books at the house. She would draw the pictures to go along with the stories she’d write. She had about a dozen stories, and she would make them up.
Growing up, we were always just a storytelling family. If we were out in our fort, or wherever we were, we sat around and randomly made up a story off the top of our heads. To me, telling stories is second nature, and it’s easy to do.
A lot of people ask about how I come up with the ideas. But I start to think of a character and an event, and that’s it. I create the story in a few hours. And then, I have to sit down and write it. That part can be a drag, and I enjoy the story more than I do writing it.
Something else fun about my children’s books is that one of my cousins did the illustrations for them. We are grown, and I probably hadn’t seen him in 10 or 15 years. I called him up and said, “Hey, I’m writing a children’s book about this raindrop. And he wears shoes. He’s a raindrop with stick legs and shoes and socks, like SpongeBob.” He knew exactly what I was talking about because when he sent over the drawing, it was precisely what was in my head. I sent him the book and each spread in the book. He would send me a new illustration every couple of days.
It was funny that we had the synergy that we had working together. Maybe it’s just how we grew up and how we were raised that gave us our basis to think very similarly.
Can you describe a specific situation that shows how your work as a writer — especially a writer with a keen sense of empathy and interpersonal care- helps you in your work as National Sales Director?
The basis of my books all comes down to interpersonal relationships, whether conflicts between neighbors, relatives, or townspeople. I have been an observer of people’s behaviors, which helps me to be focused and in tune, especially in sales, to understand where the person across from me is coming from, what they need, and how I can best help them.
In the last few years, empathy has become a bit of a buzzword in sales. Do you have a specific framework or method that interlaces empathetic interpersonal care with the sales process?
To be successful in sales, I think you have to have empathy. You need to put yourself in the other person’s shoes to see their needs and not try to give them a product they don’t need just because it suits the product that you have. It’s vital to help them with their situation– to provide them with a better process to do things and, especially in healthcare, to improve their patient experience.
Being in tune with the person and their needs and not necessarily, focusing on the product I want to sell you, but rather on clarifying their needs and what’s best suited for their situation and needs. I’m always looking for best-fit scenarios and other areas where I can refer you to another business partner.
It’s important to me to share best practices. I am in and out of so many health systems, and I might see things in one region of the country that they’re not embracing in another region. I can let them know about what I’m seeing nationwide and be a resource for them. I am here not just to sell them my product but to be a resource. If I can be an expert for them and provide our outstanding services, that’s important to me.
What is something about yourself that you’re working on improving, and how do you think that thing will help you be more productive or help your systems run more smoothly once you’ve accomplished your goal?
I help on the committees and attend a lot of women’s conferences. I’m a big advocate of mentoring, especially mentoring young girls because I think a lot of young girls could benefit from the leadership of another woman in a leadership position.
I came up when things weren’t as easy to be in business as a woman.
When I started in business in the eighties, it was a little tough to be a woman in business. The business world wasn’t family-oriented. So, if I needed to do something for my children, it was a pull to figure out how to let my boss know without impacting my career. Things were a lot different then.
The book I’m working on is a different type of book, and I would say it’s autobiographical, and about some of the struggles I faced when I was younger and the zigzaggy road I needed to take to get to where I am now. If I had different knowledge and a mentor available, I would’ve probably been on a faster route to where I am now.
So, I’m writing that book now. It’s going to be full length, in contrast to my other books that are more short stories. I’m hoping to share my experiences with younger girls and maybe talk to the middle school or early high school age group and help them understand what it means to have a mentor. I hope to inspire them to see that in their life, too, they can be a mentor. The mentorship and leadership between businesswomen are beneficial right now. Of course, we have equality, but there’s also inequality.
This conversation with Denise has been condensed and edited for clarity and length.