Most of the books and stories I publish fall into a literary genre called magical realism. Magical realism has elements of fantasy, sci-fi, and horror, but its main focus is on presenting magic or the supernatural in an otherwise realistic or mundane setting. Characters don’t use magic spells or technology to interact with the supernatural; it simply exists. Magical realism is what happens when the real world is invaded by things too strange to believe and often has elements of fables, myths, and allegory presented through an indigenous peoples’ perspective.
Magical realism authors include people like Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Alice Hoffman, and Salman Rushdie. A lot of the work of Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and Joe Hill crosses into magical realism, but since they write from a western worldview, they aren’t identified with the genre.
Many of my books and stories are set in the fictional town of Lauele, Hawaii. Lauele is set in contemporary Hawaii, but it’s a Hawaii where ancient deities and cultural expectations and obligations have resonance and power. The supernatural lives among humans and interacts with them, but most human don’t realize it.
The people in Lauele are a lot like the people I grew up with. In my stories, characters face real-world issues and challenges that arise from Hawaiian vs. western culture perspectives. The stories are centered around defining family, understanding cultural heritage, preserving the past, navigating clashes between traditional Hawaiian values and western society, fighting nature vs. nurture, destiny vs. free will, and learning how to define oneself with integrity based on an internal moral compass.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I can’t remember the first story I wrote, but my mom has a few that I created when I was five or so. My first professional publication was an essay I wrote in the third grade that made it into the local newspaper. I’m not going to lie; autographing the copies to send to my grandparents was pretty cool.
Through my teen years and into college I had short stories, poetry, and essays published and a couple of plays and screenplays produced. At the same time, I was doing a lot of video work for cable tv as a writer, on-air talent, producer, and director. My parents encouraged me to follow the video path over the writing, so that’s what I did. (Actually, they wanted me to go to law school, but that’s another story.) I earned a BA in Communications by majoring in Mediated Message Design and Research with a double-minor in Creative Writing and Video Production.
My career has wandered like a drunken sailor. I’ve been a studio manager, television director, senior instructional designer, corporate director, ghost writer, copyeditor, theater critic, web designer, business and training consultant, and an English and history teacher—to name a few.
While writing and telling stories were always a part of everything I did, it wasn’t until about six years ago that I decided to go back to my first love and write fiction. It was snowing outside, so of course I decided to write about being at the beach. Without a completed manuscript, in 2011 I signed my first book contract with Jolly Fish Press for the Niuhi Shark Saga, a five-book MG/YA series.
What do you consider the most influential book you've ever read?
This is like asking me which child is my favorite. (It’s you, sweetheart, the one who’s reading this. Shhhhh. Don’t tell your sibling.) I’ve read more than 20,000 books and short stories and read another 200 or so book each year. I couldn’t tell you who my favorite author is, let alone which book was most influential. I seldom read a book more than once, but the books I return to are those by Diana Gabaldon, Jim Butcher, Stephen King, Michael Crichton, Terry Pratchett, JK Rowling, and Amy Tan.
What other authors are you friends with, and how have they helped you become a better writer?
At this stage of my career, networking and collaboration are less about becoming a better writer and more about becoming better at business. I’ve gone from a shotgun approach to focusing effort on events that are highly targeted and aligned with my own goals.
But when I first started writing again, I got heavily involved with many different writing groups. I even founded some of them. I understood the power of collaboration and networking and devoted a lot of time to building communities and supporting newbie authors.
Slowly, I realized that in order to keep the writing groups cohesive and relevant, I was spending all of my time on projects that built community, but took me away from what I was passionate about. My own writing was taking a backseat to organizing groups and editing other people’s work. My family life was suffering. Something had to change.
Over the last few years, I’ve significantly reduced the amount of time I spend with local writing communities. Because of this, I’ve been more productive and have four new books in print, sold several short stories, and placed essays with literary magazines. While I have a solid group of professional writing friends, we support each other through email and only see each other at big regional conferences or events.
What’s the best way you've found to market your books?
In May 2016, I received my rights back for the first two Niuhi Shark books from Jolly Fish Press. As Makena Press, I revised and republished them along with the third in the series in July 2016. I went from marketing as a traditionally published author to marketing as an indy press.
Marketing thousands of miles from my core audience is tough. By far the most successful marketing I’ve done was to take a few books to Hawaii and drop them off at libraries and schools. From those twenty donated books I’ve built a readership and following that is expanding across the Pacific. Schools are adopting the series into their curriculums, and I was nominated for a major children’s choice award. I do school visits using remote video conferencing and will be a featured guest at a children’s literature conference in Hawaii in 2018. Most of my sales are now coming organically from word of mouth.
Even indy-published, I sell about 100 print copies for every eBook copy. That means that most of the successful marketing strategies used by small presses and indy publishers don’t work for me. To grow my audience and market share, I’m looking to partner with an international big press publisher or distributor.
What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
In between writing the books, I read a lot of journals and non-fiction books about Hawaiian history, culture, native plants, ecology, migration patterns—you name it. I also read a lot of literature about Pacific legends and myths. I watch Shark Week reruns. I’m constantly adding to my resource library.
Before I begin a new novel, I only outline a very basic plot and rely on my characters to tell me the story—I tend to write by the seat of my pants. When I’m in the middle of writing a book, things pop up that I need to know, but never anticipate, like how to customize the paint on a surfboard or how long it takes an active teen to rehab after losing a limb or how stowaways could get on a cruise ship or which K-Pop heartthrobs are the hottest this week.
During the creation phase, Google is my buddy and nemesis—a great black vortex that sucks me down interesting paths that never make it into a book.
Any last thoughts for our readers?
Writers by nature are a mercurial blend of chuffed ego, eternal optimism, and deeply held insecurities. The ones who are in it for the long haul are those who learn to define success by their own terms. They understand that as their career changes, what defines success changes, too. If you want to be a writer, write because you love it. Write because you have something only you can say. Fill your days with good books, movies, and music, but keep the most important things first in your life. Enjoy the time and season that you’re in. You may only be able to write an hour a day or in fifteen minute blocks. You’re still a writer. Compare less and enjoy more. The journey really is the destination.