Monday, October 07, 2019

Deadly Labors

My characters talk to me. When I’m writing, it’s almost like I am taking dictation from somewhere in the depths of my brain, where my characters live. This has a great advantage when it comes to writing, of course. But the protagonist of my mystery series set in Honolulu, openly gay homicide detective Kimo Kanapa’aka, is notoriously finicky about when he’s ready to speak up.

Mahu, the first book in the series, was accepted for publication by Harrington Park Press, a small imprint from a larger textbook publisher, back in 2003. I was so excited, and so was Kimo. But I wasn’t willing to commit to a second book in the series until I knew if the first would succeed.

Kimo was dragged out of the closet in Mahu, and I knew he would have to take a lot of small steps before he fully accepted himself. So I wrote short stories that moved his life forward, inch by inch. Then the company that owned HPP was sold and the imprint shuttered. I had already written the second and third books in the series, though, and this was long before the advent of self-publishing.

I was extremely fortunate to move Kimo to Alyson Books, which published the first four books in the series before they, too, shut down as a result of a corporate merger. Then Laura Baumbach, owner of MLR Press, agreed to take on the whole series, reprinting the first three and then publishing five more titles.

I had other irons in the fire by then, other standalone books published, and other series in the works. Kimo had stopped speaking to me, and I thought we were done.

I was on the train heading to the big mystery conference, Bouchercon, in St. Louis in the fall of 2011, when Kimo’s boyfriend, fire investigator Mike Riccardi, dragged me into the middle of a conversation he and Kimo were having. As excited as I was to hear them again, I wanted them to shut up until I could get off the train, check into the hotel, and start transcribing their voices!

I wrote four more books on the tide of that inspiration, and then, with Ghost Ship, Kimo was settled with Mike, their foster son and the two kids they shared with a lesbian couple. Since the arc of the series had been how Kimo’s life unfolds after he comes out, I didn't think he had more to say.

Wrong, as usual. I read an article online about a program to teach the hula to to inmates at San Quentin, as part of a native American heritage program. This time, it wasn’t Kimo so much as his mother who began to speak. The son of her friend had gone through that program in prison, returned to the islands and turned his life around. Then he was arrested for a murder Kimo’s mom was sure he couldn’t have committed.

Who among us can resist an entreaty from a mom who has been nothing but supportive throughout her son’s checkered life? Kimo couldn’t, and neither could I. Thus begins Deadly Labors, the 12th book (and 10th novel) in the series. I hope fans will be excited to catch up with Kimo and his ohana (the Hawaiian word for extended family) and that new readers will be intrigued to learn about the dark shadows behind the Aloha State’s sunny façade.

I thought this would be a good chance to take back ownership of the series and relaunch it with new, modern covers. I love the fresh look the series has, and hope you will, too.

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