My husband’s mother and her parents were born in Hawaii. He has dozens of relatives there, and we attended our first family reunion in Honolulu this past February. The outpouring of ohana and aloha was amazing! Maybe it’s this connection to family that has always driven my love for Hawaii. Then again, maybe it’s the beautiful setting, the music, and the mai tais!
My husband’s grandmother was my inspiration for The Aloha Spirit. It’s a heavily fictionalized account of her difficult childhood and how she was able to be an amazingly loving and generous woman in spite of it. When my publisher, She Writes Press, asked me for comparable titles for marketing purposes, I immediately thought of Hawaii, by James Michener, and Honolulu and Moloka’i by Alan Brennert. No, I was told. Your comp titles need to be no more than three years old. They need to be good sellers but not super bestsellers because that causes industry professionals to be skeptical. As a guideline, I was told a comp title should have at least 100 reviews and they should, of course, be in my genre. Well, that eliminated From Here to Eternity.
Googling novels about Hawaii provided me with the titles I’ve mentioned as well as nonfiction, romances, children’s books, and memoirs. I needed stories set in territorial Hawaii, about strong female characters, stories that weren’t exclusively focused on World War II. I went directly to the source.
In our visits to the island of Kauai, my husband and I always visit Talk Story Bookstore in Hanapepe. They claim to be the western-most bookstore in the United States, and they are the only bookstore on Kauai. Talk Story is a wonderful mix of new and used books, and they have a delightful store cat named Celeste (@celeste_the_cat_boss) who is quite the social media darling. Who better to know about Hawaiian fiction? (the bookstore, not the cat) I perused their online catalog, newsletter, and author events.
I discovered some treasures I could use and some I couldn’t, but I read them all. Here are some of my favorites:
The Last Aloha by Gaellen Quinn is probably the closest to my book I could get. It’s set in territorial Hawaii-the time before it became a state–and is about a girl adjusting to major changes in her family, including cultural ones.
Sara Ackerman is one of my new favorite authors. Her books, The Lieutenant’s Nurse and Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers are set in World War II Hawaii. I can hardly wait to read Red Sky Over Hawaii, which comes out today! Like my book, these books show civilian life in the islands during the war.
I also discovered Kiana Davenport, author of family sagas Shark Dialogues, Song of the Exile, and House of Many Gods. The language of her writing is spellbinding, truly invoking the rhythms of ocean waves and wind. I can only aspire to this level of lyricism in my own writing.
A new author I discovered on my recent trip to Hawaii is Malia Mattoch McManus. Her novel, Dragonfruit, is set in 1891, when Hawaii was still a monarchy. It’s about a sugar plantation heiress who plans to marry the son of an opium tycoon. It all goes badly, of course.
One nonfiction book I have already reread is Lost Kingdom: Hawaii’s Last Queen, the Sugar Kings and America’s First Imperial Adventure by Julia Flynn Siler. It details the conflict between Hawaiians, sugar plantation owners, and missionaries in the tumultuous last years of the kingdom of Hawaii.
So read and enjoy all these books, but most importantly please read The Aloha Spirit, to be released in August of 2020 but available for preorder now.
Linda Ulleseit writes award-winning heritage fiction set in the United States. She is a member of Historical Novel Society, Women’s Fiction Writers Association, and Women Writing the West as well as a founding member of Paper Lantern Writers. Get in touch with her on Instagram (lulleseit) and Facebook (Linda Ulleseit or SHINE with Paper Lantern Writers).