Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Home vs. Hotel

In 1981 I lived in an SRO hotel on Upper Broadway, at a time when that neighborhood, sandwiched between the Upper West Side and Columbia, had not yet been gentrified. A Latin bar called La Ronda flashed its neon all night, and periodically fights spilled out onto the sidewalk.
Visitors had to check in with the grizzled, half-soused receptionist before being allowed upstairs to my small studio. The single window looked out onto an air shaft so the room never got natural light. Cockroaches roamed rampant in the tiny kitchen, the size of a closet, with a tiny refrigerator and a two-burner stove.
I worked just up Broadway in the alumni office for Columbia Business School, and one of my responsibilities was traveling out regularly to visit alumni clubs and bring them news of the campus.

Back then Hilton was one of the swankiest hotel chains, and they were kind enough to offer discounts to academic personnel. So I stayed in those hotels when I went to Boston, Washington, DC, Chicago – even the Merv Griffin Beverly Hilton in Los Angeles when I flew west to meet with our LA group.
The hotel rooms were always nicer than home. It wasn’t just the service—someone to clean the bathroom, swap the towels and make the bed. The towels were bigger and plusher, and there were always thick white bathrobes. The bedding was crisp and white, the pillows fluffy. There was free cable TV, even HBO and MTV, back when they were big novelties.
Nowadays, though, the equation is reversed, and home is nicer than the hotels where I stay. It’s first a matter of economics. Now, for the most part, I travel on my own dime, and even when I’m go to a college-sponsored event my expenses are limited.
Hilton isn’t what it once was. Now there are W's and Mandarin Orientals and all manner of boutique hotels that are well outside my price range. So I end up at the Best Western, the Ramada, sometimes a Sheraton.
These hotels aren’t trying for the epitome of luxury—they’re aiming for a middle niche. But at the same time, my own home life has improved. My bedroom has the perfect lights for reading, with a bookcase right beside the bed. I have more disposable income for things like linen pillowcases and huge, fluffy Turkish towels -- much better than the rough, skimpy hotel towels that barely wrap around my midsection.
My queen-sized bed has a down comforter and big down-filled pillows, and has spoiled me for hard mattresses, foam pillows and those thin polyester bedspreads.
The first time I used a hotel shower with a massaging head, I felt like visiting royalty. Now those heads are twenty years old, and I have to bend over in a slippery tub to wash my hair. At home, I have a  brand new marble-tiled shower with a big, square rain shower head positioned just right for my height, as well as a hand-held three speed attachment.
And at my home as well, I have a partner and two loving dogs. No hotel chain is going to duplicate that.

Friday, August 07, 2015

Children of Noah

In eight books, police detective Kimo Kanapa’aka has investigated homicides and other crimes that take place in Honolulu’s District 1, which covers the downtown area from Liliha Street to Punahou Street and from Round Top Drive to Ala Moana Beach, including the Aloha Tower. His cases have taken him around the island, from the Windward to the Leeward Coast and up through the center of the island to the North Shore.

Now, Kimo and his detective partner Ray Donne have accepted an assignment to the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, where personnel from a variety of Federal and local agencies are loaned to the Bureau to work on complex cases.

Kimo and Ray must negotiate a new bureaucracy and a tricky case, which begins with threatening letters sent to a U.S. Senator and his family. Things heat up as they discover connections to other harassment of mixed-race couples and families, even children. Since his own kids are a mix of many cultures, from Hawaiian to haole to Japanese to Korean, Kimo feels especially motivated to solve this case.

After so many cases in this small section of the island, though, I wanted to give Kimo the chance to explore crimes without a downtown connection, perhaps bigger cases than a homicide detective might encounter. At first, I thought of transferring him to the state police – only to discover that there is no real counterpart to Hawaii Five-O.Then I participated in the FBI Citizen’s Academy, an eight-week course introducing Bureau operations to civilians, and learned about the Joint Terrorism Task Force – JTTF. What a great opportunity for Kimo!

I was sad to leave behind some familiar faces from the HPD, including his boss Lieutenant Sampson, and one of my favorite supporting characters, Juanita Lum, the secretary in the Vice department. But I couldn’t let Kimo go into this new territory alone—his detective partner, Ray Donne, accompanies him. 

Ray was a big part of Kimo’s decision to accept the new assignment. Ray and his wife Julie have a baby son, and Ray’s hoping to ride a desk in the Bureau’s office in Kapolei, staying out of harm’s way. With the birth of twins fathered by Kimo and his partner, fire investigator Mike Riccardi, Kimo feels the same way.  He needs to be around to pass on the lessons he’s learned from his own father to these two new keikis, fraternal twins Addie and Owen.

Children of Noah has a complicated history. I actually wrote a different book, Ghost Ship, which begins with a motor-sailboat washing ashore on the Leeward Coast, with four dead bodies on board as well as radioactive material. It was a big, complicated plot, and in the end I decided it was really two books. So I split it in half, added a lot of stuff, and came up with this book. Now I have the first half of Ghost Ship that needs rewriting, and a whole new second half with new, stronger villains.
It’s a big task, but I have faith that Kimo will lead me down the right path.

Children of Noah is available as an ebook from MLR right now; other vendors and the print edition coming soon.