Inspiration

I have always loved to write, to create something that others would value. I earned my living for 30 years writing for clients who wanted to communicate with other people — successively as a congressional press aide in Washington, D.C., a reporter for a weekly and two daily newspapers in California, senior speechwriter for the secretary of Housing and Urban Development in Washington (again), corporate speechwriter at a Southern California utility company, proposal writer at a big accounting firm in San Francisco, marketing-communications writer at telecom-equipment maker in Palo Alto, and finally as a free-lance marketing-communications writer and editor.

Throughout my professional-writing career, I wrote about things that were happening, issues that others wanted to explain, and products that others wanted to sell. I wouldn’t say I was “inspired,” but there was a creative aspect to all this work, which was personally satisfying even when the workplaces themselves were not. I took pride in turning out a well-crafted product that my various employers appreciated.

The work was monetarily and emotionally rewarding, but I wanted more. I wanted to write something original, something uniquely mine, that others would enjoy. Inspiration to do this was all around me — in the persons of book authors who were doing that, in non-fiction and in fiction. I admired their discipline. It’s one thing to write for someone who is already paying you and expecting a draft or finished product — news story, speech, press release, ghosted column — on a deadline. It’s quite another to closet yourself and write — for yourself — with no guaranteed audience and no deadlines. I was always in awe of authors who could stick to this kind of work until they produced a book of almost any kind. I was most in awe of fiction authors who could spin characters and worlds out of their imaginations. But I could never seem to summon inspiration to write a book of my own.

Again, it’s one thing to write a book about compelling, real people and actual events, and it’s quite another to invent compelling characters and situations. My powers of invention proved inadequate to that task. There’s a fiction author’s dictum: Write about stuff you know. I tried that once, years ago, when I began writing what I hoped would be a quasi-humorous novel about a small-town newspaper reporter. After a promising start (as I saw it), I ran out of steam. I couldn’t devise a compelling plot, and without that, I couldn’t see a way forward for my characters. What I “knew” wasn’t interesting enough, even to me.

Kamehameha came to my rescue.

My favorite literary genre is historical fiction. I love novels that bring historical figures and events to life. I’ve devoured books about Pompeii and Cicero by Robert Harris, Hillary Mantel’s novels about Thomas Cromwell and Henry VIII, Philippa Gregory’s novels about Tudor England, and Gore Vidal’s novels about mid-19th century America. I loved the way Herman Wouk’s fictional characters interacted with historical figures like FDR, Churchill and Joseph Stalin in his WWII novels, Winds of War and War and Remembrance.

In Kamehameha’s life, I discovered an obscure, fascinating, and exciting slice of history, and an exotic culture populated with compelling historical characters waiting for a novelist to bring them to life. Moreover, I had a road map; a dramatic story laid out before me in its entirety — beginning, middle, and end. I could see a way forward. Though I was retired by then, I still hungered to create something of lasting value, like the many novels I’d read and the plays and movies I’d seen. How did I “get inspired” to write my novel about old Hawaii? I didn’t “get” inspired. Inspiration found me, grabbed me, and for 12 years, it would not let go.

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