BY CHARLES MEMMINGER – There are so many important things happening in the world like Israel getting ready to attack Iran, the financial meltdown of Europe, Republican presidential candidates self-imploding, the tragic and unforeseen divorce of Kim Kardashian and some tall guy, the displacement of homeless people in city parks across the country by “occupy” protestors fighting for the homeless … so many important things to write about.
Which is why the director of Charleyworld Department of Self Promotion, Pupus and Party Favors has decided this week’s column should be about my novel “Kahala Road.”
The basic reasoning is that if I don’t write about it, who will? Which isn’t completely true since this here very publication – Hawaii Reporter – reported a few weeks ago that “Kahala Road” had been picked up by a national publisher, St. Martin’s Press.
But you aren’t likely to read about this literary tour de force in the one Hawaii daily newspaper (which I left in 2009 after 30 years of semi-devoted service). The reason you won’t read about “Kahala Road” there is that the management is mad at me for taking a voluntary layoff and then selling one column a week to their competition at the time. Or something.
Who knows? Who cares? What did they expect me to do, go to work at L&L Drive-in? Besides, my leaving saved one job for a younger staffer who would have been let go. I left the paper with the idea that I could easily find steady employment, which turned out to be a whimsical analysis of the state’s economic situation. Since taking the layoff I’ve been in a steady state of semi-self-unemployment, freelancing and scraping by.
But being semi-self-unemployed gave me an opportunity to turn most of my attention to my novel, “Kahala Road.” (I will repeat the book title, “Kahala Road,” as many times as possible since my editor and handler at St. Martin’s Press says I need to generate as much pre-publication “buzz” as possible.)
I was even working on “Kahala Road” while on state unemployment, mumbling potential dialogue to myself while waiting in line at the Unemployment Office. Judging from the amount of mumbling going on among the disheveled citizens waiting to sign up for unemployment benefits, quite a few were novelists. I was not depressed at being on unemployment and in fact hoped it would have the same magical effect being on the dole had on J.K. Rowling when she was writing her first “Harry Potter” novel.
I began to think about writing a novel in college, which is mandatory for any journalism student. I started several novels while working at newspapers in West Virginia, Guam and Hawaii but never got further than three chapters. At one point, I thought of stringing all the three chapters of the several novels together into one big novel called “Beginnings.”
Eventually, I found what I thought was an easier form of writing: screenplays. One hundred and ten pages of mostly pure dialogue and – bingo – you’re done. Sweet. I wrote several that did pretty well in national competition. In 2000, I somehow became the first Hawaii writer to win the Maui Writer’s Conference Screenwriting Competition which led to being hired as the first Hawaii staff writer on the TV show “Baywatch Hawaii.”
It was a grand time and the money poured in until GOD looked down and saw I was having too much fun, thumped me on the back of the head with HIS finger and cancelled the whole show.
“Baywatch Hawaii” head writer Frank South and I then began working on two Hawaii-based TV pilots which went nowhere with a vengeance. But it was then I had the idea to write a Hawaii-based novel in the genre of the legendary John D. MacDonald “Travis McGee” series from the mid-1960s and early 1970’s. Travis McGee was sort of barefoot philosopher who lived on a houseboat in Florida, a knight in tarnished armor who solved problems for a cut of the action. I wanted to create a 21st century Travis McGee character in Hawaii. I thought I’d call the novel “Honolulu Hustle” and soon had three chapters written. (Cue: Visual of pages blowing off a calendar showing the years slip by with no further progress.)
Just to speed things up here I eventually changed the name to “Kahala Road” because it sounded cool and actually had something to do with the plot. I began working in earnest on it in 2009 and finishing it in earnest that same year. Then I spent the next year trying to get a national agent which went nowhere with a vengeance. The U.S. economy was in an advanced state of suckage and I was told it would be impossible for a first-time novelist to get an agent. (I was told that, helpfully, by agents.)
In the shower one morning I had an epiphany. Actually it was a bottle of Epiphany Shampoo. But an idea sprung from those inspirational bubbles: I needed to find the biggest John D. MacDonald fan in the country. And I did. On the Internet I came across a very cool guy named Calvin Branche who runs a John D. MacDonald website and actually knows the MacDonald family.
Calvin read the “Kahala Road” manuscript, liked it and gave me the name of a few other writers he knew who wrote in the tropical mystery/thriller genre. One was James W. Hall, a Florida professor of literature who has written umpteen novels. He read “Kahala Road” and was kind enough to introduce me to his agent at Inkwell Management, who picked me up as a client. After going through a lengthy re-write process, Inkwell managed to strike a deal for me with St. Martin’s Press.
It was a long and winding, Chardonnay-drenched “Kahala Road” that led from “Honolulu Hustle” in 2003 to getting a publisher in 2011. To any aspiring novelists, I counsel: Don’t Try This At Home. (Unless You Have Access To Vats of Cheep White Wine To Steady Your Nerves).
I signed a two-book deal with Minotaur Books, a St. Martin’s Press imprint, for “Kahala Road” and a sequel. “Kahala Road” will come out late next year or early 2013. I’ve got the first three chapters of the sequel in the bag and I’m still looking for steady employment.
(Note to “Hawaii Five-O” producer Peter Lenkov: “Kahala Road” screenrights still available!)