Why this book?

“Every journalist has a novel in him, which is an excellent place for it.”
— Russell Lynes (1910-1991), managing editor, Harper’s Magazine

I have never blogged before, but—like sex or writing novels—there’s a first time for everything, and since conventional wisdom dictates that all struggling, self-promoting authors should have blogs, and since I’m struggling to promote myself, here goes:

Imagine this blog post as the beginning of a book talk I might give someday at an independent bookstore near you. Imagine also that this nearby independent bookstore is somewhere in Hawaii, which would mean you’d be living in Hawaii and what could be better than that? Can you hear the pounding surf yet?

Where to start? How I came to write Once There Was Fire seems as good a place as any.

As a longtime writing professional (newspaper reporter, speechwriter, marketing-communications writer), I always admired writers who had the discipline and persistence to author books, and especially novels. However, contrary to Russell Lynes’ assertion (above), I never found my inner novel during my thirty-year career—which presumably would have been a relief to the late Mr. Lynes. It wasn’t for lack of trying. I did make a couple of fitful starts on novels over the years, but I wasn’t much good at inventing and sustaining characters, and my plot lines and quickly ran out of gas.

In the summer of 2004 during a weeklong trip to the Big Island of Hawai‘i, the sweeping epic of Kamehameha’s rise to power found me, gripped me by the collar, and would not let me go. Initially, it was just a tug—a brief history of 18th Century Hawaii that I came across in a popular tourist guide. Kamehameha’s name was already familiar to me, but like most mainland haoles, knew little about him. I knew even less about the old Hawaiians’ culture. I soon discovered that Kamehameha’s story had everything a wannabe novelist could want—strong, colorful characters; intrigue; violent conflict, lots of it; clashing cultures; and sex, potentially plenty of sex. Most importantly for me, being historical, Kamehameha’s story had a dramatic beginning, an exciting middle, and a poignant end—elements I had never been able to master or manage on my own.

The begged question was whether another writer had already plowed this literary ground. The saga of Kamehameha’s life was so dramatic that I was sure some author must have already turned it into a novel. I’d never read James Michener’s Hawaii. Surely I thought, Michener must have included Kamehameha’s story in his thousand-page novel. I discovered that he had not. Hawaii begins with the arrival of the first Congregationalist missionaries in 1820, about a year after Kamehameha’s death. Kamehameha figures in Michener’s novel only in passing and only in the narrator’s rear-view mirror. The story of Kamehameha was one that Michener did not tell. Except for a single biography and some novels written for children and young adults, it was there for the taking. I knew I had to tell it.

To be continued …

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