Sunday, December 16, 2012


Hello World.

I  confess that my father was a hunter.  He collected guns. He once joked that the only Bible in his house was "The Shooter's Bible: The World's Bestselling Firearms." It was his favorite book. It's still a bestseller across America. When my father passed away, we sold his rifles and handguns, and I burned the book.

 For the past few days, I've thought of "The Shooter's Bible" while I watched the news. Twenty-eight people shot dead in Newtown, Connecticut. Twenty of them innocent little children. The eighteenth mass murder event of 2012 across America,  all of them involving guns.

Here in Hawaii, one often sees bumper stickers on cars. "GUN CONTROL: REMEMBER XEROX"

 On November 2, 1999, Byran Uyesugi, a 40 year-old copy-machine repairman at Xerox Hawaii, walked into the Xerox Corp. Building in Honolulu, and killed seven co-workers - husbands, fathers, brothers - innocent men who spent their days repairing photocopying machines. It was, and still remains, the worst mass murder in Hawaii's history.

At Uyesugi's trial, a  forensic psychiatrist for the defense testified that he was a schizophrenic, a man suffering from delusional disorders, desperately in need of  hospitalization and supervision. Yet he had been at large in the community, he was employed by a major corporation. Though he pled 'not guilty on grounds of insanity,' after ninety minutes deliberation, the jury found Uyesugi sane,  and guilty on seven counts of murder. Because Hawaii has no death penalty, he was sentenced to life imprisonment, with no possibility of parole. (He is believed incarcerated in Louisiana. Hawaii is not safe for him.)

 When asked why he gunned down seven co-workers, Uyesugi's answer befitted his troubled mind. Copy machines were becoming more sophisticated;  he feared he would fail the new training and lose his job. His co-workers constantly belittled him and laughed at him. If he killed them,  they would not witness his forced departure.

But put more simplistically, Uyesugi murdered his co-workers because he could.  He possessed the gun-power.

On that morning of November 2,  he  drove to the Xerox Building in a van, chose a 9-millimeter Glock semiautomatic handgun from his arsenal of  NINETEEN WEAPONS in the van, entered the building and gunned down his co-workers.  (All of the nineteen firearms  in Uyesugi's possession were found to be legally registered.)

After killing his co-workers, Uyesugi casually waved goodbye to other workers crouched in the corridors, then fled in the van.  He drove up Tantalus Drive, a picturesque drive through a rainforest  to the top of Mt. Tantalus, overlooking the city of Honolulu. Pursued by squad units of police, he held them at a standoff for five hours while he shouted, toyed with his weapons, and smoked cigarettes.

Uyesugi had parked near the Hawaii Nature Center, where thirty-five children were gathered that day to study various ecosystems of Hawaii's rainforests. Alerted by police and the FBI, the Nature Center immediately went into lockdown.  For the next five hours, thirty-five little children were forced to lie flat on a wooden floor, and to be silent.  For five hours their parents wept and prayed. Mercifully,  Uyesugi finally grew bored, and surrendered.

Our children of Honolulu survived.  The children of Newtown, Connecticut did not.

What will it take, I wonder, for the pro-gun politicians in Congress, and the National Rifle Association,  to wake up?  When will they stop equating new gun-reforms with the 'loss of American Freedom?' What does that 'freedom'  mean in a country where schools are forced to become armed fortresses? Where children - our future - are afraid to go to church, to the movies, to the mall. They are afraid to fall asleep at night.

It is said that our hearts are tough muscles, that hearts mend.  I do not believe the hearts of the parents in Newtown will mend. What I would hope for them is that they rise up and, in the name of their slain children, demand of our federal government radical new gun-reforms. Demand that no one but a law enforcement officer be allowed to own a firearm.

If that is construed as a curtailment of our Constitutional rights 'to bear arms,'  then maybe its time for  extreme Constitutional updating.

Because, what good is American Freedom when your child lies dead?


Friday, November 16, 2012


Hello, World.

I've been thinking how, in this age of quick-read novels with thin plots, we yearn for bigger, deeper novels we can sink into, a universe we can enter and be part of. Kathleen Valentine has created such a novel in THE WHISKEY BOTTLE IN THE WALL: VOLUME 1 - 3, SECRETS OF MARIENSTADT.  The town of Marienstadt is fictional, but is based on the Pennsylvania Dutch town she grew up in, populated with fascinating descendants of German immigrants.

Valentine is the author of fabulous short stories and such novels as THE OLD MERMAID'S TALE, EACH ANGEL BURNS, DEPRAVED HEART, and her many fans will be thrilled with THE WHISKEY BOTTLE IN THE WALL, now available as an ebook boxed-set and in paperback through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.  In Volume I, we are introduced to characters named Mulligan Wolfe, Peeper Baumgratz, Wenzeslaus Opelt, and beautiful, lonely ladies who run strudel shops, and fabric shops, shops for homemade breads, sausages and sauerkraut. One shop has the mysterious name, "The Bearded Lady Hometown Treats."

And there are a host of fascinating characters based on the author's memories of her hometown: Nuns who run a snowplow business. A handsome, virile chief-of-police, whom married women fantasize being handcuffed to. A three hundred-pound giant who loves to waltz and polka, a veritable legend on the dance-floor. How can you not be drawn to such fabulous characters? And best of all, the three volumes comprising WHISKEY BOTTLE contain a rotating cast of characters, people we grow to love. So it is not just random, unconnected vignettes that made LAKE WOBEGON DAYS, although a bestseller, a somewhat disjointed and disappointing book.

The first story in Vol. 1, "Peeper Baumgratz and the Sisters' Snowplow,"seems a light-hearted, hilarious, home-spun tale. But each tale in the collection takes the reader to darker, deeper depths, such as the journal found in the second story, "The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall," wherein a character learns the tragic truth of who his grandfather really was. In the third story, "The Great Dumpling War and Dance Competition," there is a hilarious scene where two women argue with righteous indignation over the proper ingredients for a variety of dumplings - knadles, niflies, spaetzles, semmelknodels, kartoffelkloses. Here the author is brilliantly eulogizing the dumpling! The most representative food of Pennsylvania Dutch heritage.  

From her earlier novels Valentine has proven she understands the darkest aspects of human nature, as well as the abiding goodness in each of us. As the stories progress in Vol. 2, she once again transports us to the highs and lows, the hilarious and tragic, aspects of humans, from unwanted pregnancies, and drug-dealing, to bear-hunting, same-sex love, even cross-dressing. Along the way, she gifts her readers with fascinating bits of local history, old Seneca Indian legends, the documented story of the highest viaduct in the United States, and wild elk who protect children lost in blizzards. 
In Vol. 3, "The Legend of Father Cuneo's Grave," we learn the tale of a priest wrongfully accused of seducing a young girl, and the story behind his tragic death. "The Reluctant Belsnickel of Opelt's Wood" starts off humorous, with a touch of the erotic (a woman pinning a costume on a handsome, virile man), but then quiets down to a deeply sorrowful tale of Oliver, whose boys were taken from him, and his years of loneliness and grief. The scene where he is reunited with the boys as grown men left this reader in tears. 

The last story in the collection, "A Long Day's Journey into Light," fittingly sums up the beauty and frustration of small-town life: people caring for and looking out for each other, but also trying to keep their secrets from each other. In the search for two elderly lost men, we learn the background of the handsome, virile town sheriff, Henry Werner, and why he is driven to womanizing and living his life alone. Its a humdinger of a story, involving a life-long desire and a murder long-overdue!

Reading Valentine's stories, I realize that this is not just an entertaining collection about a fabulously rich culture. She is memorializng her people, and her town. Thus, this becomes a fascinating and educational look at a region and culture relatively unsung in American literature. THE WHISKEY BOTTLE IN THE WALL, VOL. 1-3, SECRETS OF MARIENSTADT, is a tribute to a people and a place, the Pennsylvania Dutch, and their contributions to American history.

With compassion and satire, and beautifully detailed writing, Valentine has delicately chiseled out of these seemingly ordinary lives, the unique, profound, and quixotic traits that make each character memorable, even epic. Read these stories slowly, then read them again: while we are reading about life, love, birth and death, we are also learning the culture and traditions of one of the most fascinating communities in our United States.

I've asked Kathleen to chime in and tell us where she grew up in Pennsylvania, and how the region influenced her, leading her to become the well-loved author that she is today.

Thank you, Kiana. The town I grew up in, St. Marys, Pennsylvania, in the Seneca Highlands, was founded by Bavarian immigrants and is the home of the first Benedictine convent in the United States and Straubs Brewery, the only pre-Prohibition micro-brewery still in operation. Growing up in a mostly Pennsylvania Dutch family, I was surrounded by story-tellers. Sharing stories was central to every gathering of friends and relatives. Whether it was picnics, birthday parties, or just sitting on the porch on a Sunday afternoon, everyone always told stories and, as a kid, I loved them. My dad and uncles told hunting stories. My grandmother told stories about her parents coming from the “Old Country.” My mother and her friends told stories about their children. I loved those stories and kept a mental collection of them.

There is a scene in my first novel, The Old Mermaid's Tale, in which the heroine, Clair, attends a harvest party where the old men sit around telling stories and she realizes that those stories have formed her destiny. She goes on to study folklore and oral tradition and eventually meets Baptiste, the musician who writes songs based on the lives of the people he knew when he was a mariner. I didn't realize it at the time but now I know that Clair's profession has also become mine. The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall is my contribution to the folklore of my people.

Now that I think about it, my second novel, Each Angel Burns, also grew out of a story my mother told me about a man she knew when she was a girl who went on a mission to find two missing statues of angels. If I hadn't listened to story-telling all my life I wouldn't have had much to write about.

I have loved your Pacific Island stories, which I suspect grew out of your people's story-telling traditions so we got our starts as writers in similar ways. Thank you for that.

Kathleen Valentine writes of her people with great PRIDE. Her very heart is in her words. I predict the entire collection of THE WHISKEY BOTTLE IN THE WALL will become a classic.  What a wonderful Xmas offering to the German descendants of St. Mary's.  Thank you, Kathleen Valentine!


The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall-

My Web Site:

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


Hello World.

 Recently I've been chastised for calling Philip Roth a misogynist. Yet, I think most women agree with me.  Show me a female character in one of Roth's novels who is not a misfit, a dropout, or someone to be stalked by his male characters with the forward-swimming determination and energy of sperm.

  Still, through the decades Roth has been brilliant, a dazzling wordsmith. Starting at university, I devoured each of his books through the 70's and 80's, and early 90's. But finally, a reader wants a female character with depth, someone teetering on the knife-edge of grit and hope.  We want a woman who matches, even surpasses, the 'heroics' of  the men.

I  recently brought up Roth's name because, once again, he was mentioned for this year's Nobel Prize.  Then I discovered an interview with Roth that fills me with unleavened admiration...and a little fear.  His work ethics, his daily discipline, though jaw-dropping, are an object lesson for all serious writers,  and interesting insight for readers, too.

First, the facts: all writers have a DIRTY SECRET. Added up, we waste YEARS of precious time.  We tell audiences that most days we write from dawn to dusk. That we have no other life, no love, no money, no dreams. (This is partially true.) So readers tend to think of us as semi-saints, engulfed in the long swoon of inspiration, obsessively tapping out our stories day after day, year after year.

In truth, most of us live in a state of near-paralysis, wondering if we have enough brain-cells left to write another book, if our house will be foreclosed, if the dog will die from starvation. We waste hours triaging the mail, sweet-talking creditors, staring at strewn carcasses of manuscripts we never finished.  We tap our fingers, waiting for our Muse, that moody broad who shows up late, or not at all. Or, we dilly-dally over a single, mediocre paragraph then sit back, stretch, and call it a day.

For  serious writers, these are days of famine. We don't produce because we don't bear down, we've grown soft and  distracted by what's outside our sphere of concentration: The Arab spring,  the global climate,  the Harvey Wallbanger of digital doodads. We've lost our hubris. Our Spartan animus. We've forgotten that barnacled, old word DISCIPLINE.  

So here is Philip Roth to remind us what Real Drive is, what unalloyed discipline is. His regimen may scare the hell out of you, but it may fire your pistons, and inspire you to knuckle down again with blind determination. (Credit to David Remnick from his book, REPORTING.  Knopf, 2006.)

From "Into The Clear: Philip Roth"  
          "He wakes early and seven days a week walks fifty yards to a two room studio [beside his house.] There's a lectern where he writes standing up, the better to preserve a bad back. There are free weights, a lifting bench, an exercise mat. He had quintuple-bypass surgery eleven years ago and is determined to keep in shape.  He stays out there [writing] all day and into the evening. No telephone. No Fax. Nothing gets in. In late afternoon, he takes long walks, trying to figure out connections and solve problems in the novel that's possessing him."

           "I live alone," Roth says, "There's no one else to be responsible for, or to. My schedule is absolutely my own. Usually I write all day. If I want to go back to the studio in the evening, I don't have to sit in the living room because someone else has been alone all day. I don't have to sit there and be amusing or entertaining. I go back out and work for two or three more hours.
            "If I wake up at two in the morning...and something has dawned on me, I turn the light on and  I write in the bedroom. Then I read till all hours if I want to. If I get up at five and I can't sleep and I want to work,  I go back out [to the studio] and I go to work. So I work.  I'm on call.
             " I'm like a doctor and it's an emergency room.  And I'm the emergency."

A  selfish life?  Of course.  Artists are, by nature, selfish.  A solitary life?  For serious writers, solitude is   considered a sacrament.  Roth is over eighty now.  Rumor has it he still follows the same daily regimen.  One can only sit in awe.  Or, one can be inspired.

Imua!  Onward!  And thank you!

Saturday, October 13, 2012


Hello World.

My prediction for the 2012 Nobel Prize Recipient  in Literature was a resounding dud. Kalamai! Apologies!  Mo Yan, the Nobel  recipient, has written several brilliant novels, RED SORGHUM, and THE GARLIC BALLADS, about life in repressive China, which I highly  recommend. But I still iterate with conviction that Haruki Murakami is the writer who is leading us with unabashed inventiveness into the 21st century.  He should have won.

Reading one of Murakami's novels (listed in previous blog) I am often apprehensive, not sure  I will fully understand him. His words are booby-trapped. He abounds in non sequiturs and trilingual puns, and launches readers into science-fiction, futuristic theories, classical music, calculus and contemplation of modern man's abyssal void. His intelligence burns the fat off our brain and makes us really THINK. I am always exhilarated and inspired. Plus, his body of work is larger than Mo Yan's.

Some writers are ahead of their time. Perhaps this is the case with Murakami. Maybe the Nobel Selection Committee Members found their aging body chemistry couldn't  tolerate his stimulation.  No worries, his time will come! Meanwhile,  I am posting William Faulkner's Nobel Acceptance Speech from 1949.  Sixty-three years ago!  He was another visionary/renegade who stood literature as we knew it on its head. His speech, now compared in its eloquence to Lincoln's Gettysburg Address,  is brilliant and prescient.  A speech for us in 2012.

"Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question:  When will I be blown up?  Because of this the [writer] writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict  with itself, which alone can make good writing, because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.

"The writer must learn this again, leaving no room for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart,  the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed - love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until he relearns this he will write as though he stood among, and watched, the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he will endure: that when the last ding-dong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny, inexhaustible voice, still talking. I refuse to accept this.

"I  believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail.  He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The writer's duty is to write about these things.  It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The writer's voice is not merely the record of man, it must also be the  pillar to help him endure and, thus, prevail."

Amen!  And thank you, William Faulkner.  May we all be inspired.

Monday, October 8, 2012


Hello World.

Its that time of year again.  For those of you who care - which should encompass everyone  except  those  indentured to dragon-lore and vampires -  the high-stakes boys are placing their bets on who will be Thursday's recipient of the NOBEL PRIZE in LITERATURE.   I'm placing my bet on HARUKI MURAKAMI,   the favored author, with odds 2 to 1. Here are the other odds for nominated authors.

The Chinese author Mo Yan and Dutch writer, Cees Nooteboom are tied (12 to 1.)   Britain's Ian McEwan (50 to 1.)   Bob Dylan (33 to l.)   Philip Roth (16 to 1.)   Cormac McCarthy and Amos Oz are tied.

 I am not that familiar with Mo Yan,  and have only read one book by Nooteboom  Ian McEwan writes so seamlessly and effortlessly,  he puts me to sleep.  It's like hearing one of Chopin's more stately etudes played over and over.  Bob Dylan is our aging premier troubadour of Hippiedom, Vietnam and  joint rolling-paper.   But,  the Nobel???

Philip Roth was brilliant in his day. But he never liked women, not on the page, and not in real life.You have to love humanity to be a great writer.  His male characters have always regarded women as mere prey.  Cormac McCarthy's 'Blood Meridian' was brilliant, but so utterly, unrelentingly violent,  I felt eviscerated, sodomized and dismembered all on one page. Yes, he writes in the grand manner with Biblical sweep, but time and again  I found myself  physical backing away from the pages of his books.

 Amoz Oz is lovely.  A brilliant and international writer.  I marvel at the ingenuity of his thinking, and his prose.  He would be my second choice.  But MURAKAMI is my first  choice because....

He has taken literature out of the doldrums, the worn-out end of the spectrum. Even back in the 1990's he was  ushering literature into the 21st Century, pulling readers out of the strait-jacket of  20th century writing (which  by now seemed left over from the 19th century.)  Well, yes, we had  innovative writers, think Faulkner, but by now even he seemed dated.  Occasionally a renegade author surfaced, one of    unabashed gristle and shocking concatenations. But where did they go?  Where did their books go?

I loved  Kurt Vonnegut.  He was one of those brilliant alchemical artists who gave us Art as Magic,  rather than Art as War.  I'd like to think he fathered Murakami, whose genius is that he keeps digging down and taking risks, re-inventing himself with each book.  Whether its about war,  mass gas attacks, our human sexuality,  or hunting sheep, Murakami  throws everything at us:  music, fantasy, science-fiction,  particle physics,  futuristic fairy tales, and especially ethical inquiry.  He constantly shocks, turning literature as we know (or knew ) it into an implicit rebuke of the complacency of the officially known and accepted.   When I finish one of his novels, I feel smarter.

Here are some of  his best works.  The Reader's Guide into the 21st century.   (And I promise your thinking will be changed forever!)


Thank you.  And Happy Reading.


Monday, August 20, 2012


Hello, world.

I have been thinking how, since the dawn of civilization,  women have always been the throw-aways of war. Victims of rape, kidnap,  murder.  Ironically, as man became more 'civilized,' the throw-aways came to include anyone outside the tribe whose language, or skin-color, varied from the accepted  norm.  In my new novel,  THE SPY LOVER,  about the American Civil War,  I address the issue of racism, especially toward Chinese soldiers,  in both the Confederate and the Union Army.

In that War,  men and women 'of color,' nurses as well as soldiers,  were always the last of the wounded to be carried from the battlefield. And they were the last, if ever, to be treated by medics.  In my research for THE SPY LOVER, I discovered that white orderlies in field-hospitals (usually huge complexes of filthy tents) referred to soldiers of color as 'skins.'  'Redskins' (in those days referred to as Indians) 'Yellowskins' (Chinese) and  'Brownskins' (in those days  referred to  as Negroes.)

 Unless their wounds were superficial, these 'skins' were usually left to die unattended. My Chinese uncle, Ayau Kam,  used to talk about his ancestor from China, who emigrated to Hawaii, then the U.S. mainland.  When the War started,  this ancestor, John Tommy Kam,  had enlisted at Staten Island, New York,  and fought valiantly for the Union Army, after being promised U.S. citizenship if the North won the War.

One of the many little-known facts about the American Civil War is that fifty-two Chinese are documented as having served in that War, fighting for the Union side as well as the Confederacy.  It is astonishing to me that, until now,  no book has been written about these incredibly brave soldiers, fighting for a country that essentially scorned them.  Many were immigrants who arrived in ports like Charleston and New Orleans,  then gathered in small farm settlements up and down the Mississippi River.  With no women of their own available, they intermarried with Creole women, Native Americans and African Americans,  and produced broods of beautiful,  mixed-blood children.

When the War began, some of them were  kidnapped by the Confederate Army and forced to fight for the South. Many defected to the Union Army, rather than fight for slavery.  In real life, John Tommy Kam was believed to have perished at the Battle of Gettysburg.  But other Chinese soldiers survived the War.  And when it was over,  the  U.S. government  broke its promise, refusing these  brave soldiers U.S. citizenship and the pensions they were due.  They were unilaterally cast off.  Forgotten.

The hope was that they would go back to China, and leave America 'pure.'  Instead, the following decades saw a great influx of Chinese immigrants  into America, fleeing their own country which for thirty years had been engaged in its own civil war (that reportedly cost 30,000,000 lives.)

Chinese laborers  helped build America,  they laid most of the tracks for the first railroads going east to west and west to east.  During that time they died in the thousands  of fever, starvation, outright murder. Their bones are buried beneath those tracks. Still, more Chinese immigrants arrived.  They proved to be hard-working,  honest, and - with a shortage of their own women - continued intermarrying with white women and every other available race,  and proved to be  excellent husbands and fathers.

Their  growing numbers, hard work and perseverance threatened white America. Just as they had been denied citizenship after the Civil War,  anti-Asian sentiment grew, culminating in the Naturalization Act of 1870, and the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 (both enforced by the U.S. government until 1943!)  And worse, Americans reacted to their growing numbers with the heinous Chinese Massacres that spread across America in the 1870's, 80's, and 90's.

Even after the slaughter of Chinese was made illegal, punishable by imprisonment,  it continued  in the back alleys of cities where they were creating their own small  Chinatowns.  Astonishingly, it continued until 1965 when all restrictions on national origin and race were abolished. ( Still it continues in these United States: the demonizing and victimizing of each new immigrant group.)

  But, what of the brave Chinese heroes of the American Civil War? Those who perished, and those who survived?  Were they ever to be  officially acknowledged? Only in April, 2003,  was  the House Joint Resolution #45 introduced to Congress, to posthumously proclaim all U.S. Civil War  soldiers of Chinese descent to be honorary citizens of the United States, in recognition of their  honorable services.  But, their pensions were denied to their descendants.  2003.  One hundred and thirty-eight years later.

In the course of five long years of research and the writing of THE SPY LOVER,  I discovered the war records of John Tommy from Canton China,  and Hawaii. (Along the way he had dropped the name 'Kam,' perhaps to sound more American. In the novel I renamed him Johnny Tom.)  His records show  he had  fought in six different battles with the famed New York Excelsior Brigade.  He had also suffered long, debilitating  months in two different  prisoner-of-war camps.  He had  saved lives, and was promoted to corporal. He fought valiantly, and perished at the Battle of Gettysburg.

In time, I found John Tommy's place of burial in  the Soldiers' National Cemetery at Gettysburg National Military Park, amongst the 'unidentifiable' soldiers of the New York Excelsior Brigade who died at the Battle of Gettysburg.  This man who had no country, no family to mourn him, and who died 'unidentifiable' is  at peace with his comrades.

 I have laid flowers there  for John Tommy.  For all of them.  And I have written this novel, THE SPY LOVER, to memorialize him, and to memorialize  another ancestor, Warren Rowan Davenport, who fought for the Confederacy.  In the end, I believe I wrote this  book to memorialize  all the valiant boys of the North and South who perished, many who were too young to shave.

I hold the novel in my hand,  and think of an old Chinese proverb:
"War has always been the same.  Old men talking, young men dying."

  I hope you are moved by THE SPY LOVER.  Thank you.

Friday, August 3, 2012


Hello, world.

At last.  THE SPY LOVER, my long-awaited U.S. Civil War novel will finally be published!  I am happy to announce that it will be available on August 28, on Amazon.  Being half Native-Hawaiian and living mostly in the islands, my novels and story collections have always been set in the Pacific, so a novel about the U.S Civil War is a brand new departure for me. Why such a radical change?  Because THE SPY LOVER is based on my family history. A story waiting to be told.

  My mother, Emma Kealoha Awa'awa Kanoho Houghtailing  was a full-blooded Native Hawaiian, while my father, Braxton Bragg Davenport, was a blue-eyed, blonde-haired Anglo-American from Talladega, Alabama.  (So I am part-native, part-Southern redneck.)  For years my Alabama cousins have urged me to write about our ancestor, Warren Rowan Davenport, a cavalryman who rode for the Confederacy in the Civil War with a famous unit known as the Prattville Dragoons, out of Prattville, Alabama.

 They fought and died valiantly in the bloody battles of Shiloh, Chickamauga, Vicksburg and many other battles. Those who survived, including Warren, eventually served under General "Fightin' Joe" Wheeler, the indomitable Confederate cavalry leader who drove his men to many victories, in spite of being wounded repeatedly and having seventeen horses shot out from under him. ( Wheeler was only 5'4" tall, but he was called a giant in the saddle.)

  Thus, I began my research on Warren Davenport, which would eventually entail reading over forty books on the Civil War.  During this time, my  Hawaiian cousins reminded me of our late Chinese uncle, Ayau Kam, Sr., who had often talked about HIS ancestor, John Tommy Kam, who had emigrated from Canton, China, to Hawaii, and finally to the East coast of the United States.  In 1861, at the start of the Civil War, he had enlisted at Staten Island, New York, as a fighting soldier with the Union Army, after being promised U.S. citizenship if the North won the War.

I had at my disposal old tattered correspondences and documents  from Warren Davenport,  but there was nothing in writing from John Tommy (who had  dropped "Kam,"  perhaps to sound more American), only Uncle Ayau's vague stories of his ancestor, handed down through the generations, who had fought with the Union Army. But in the course of researching and writing THE SPY LOVER,  I uncovered  articles about  Chinese soldiers who had fought in our Civil War.

Two of the articles were about John Tommy, from Canton, China, and Hawaii, a brave soldier who hardly spoke English, yet  fought valiantly in many battles, including Gettysburg,  saved comrades lives, was promoted to corporal, and  imprisoned twice by the Confederates.  Eventually I uncovered his war records, and the grounds at Gettysburg where he is buried among the 'unknowns' with his comrades of the famous New York Excelsior Brigade.  I have even laid flowers there for him.

And so in my novel, his character was resurrected as Johnny Tom, who serves with the Union Army. And my ancestor, Warren Davenport,  was resurrected as the Confederate cavalryman, Warren Rowan Petticomb.  There is a third and pivotal character in the novel, a woman named  Era, born out of my imagination. A beautiful part-Cherokee, part-Chinese woman who searches for her father, Johnny, in the carnage of war.  Era is patterned on a nurse who tended Warren Davenport,  after he was wounded at the Battle of Shiloh.

 In his  correspondence,s there were hints that the nurse, whom he fell in love with, had suddenly disappeared from the  hospital where she was tending Confederate wounded.  It had been rumored that she was a Union spy, and fled for  fear of being detected. In the novel the character, Era, lured into spying for the North while searching for her father, becomes torn by her love for Warren Petticomb. Still, she is forced to flee.

Warren Davenport  wrote of spending the post-War years  searching for this nurse he loved, eventually following her trail across America and up into in the Pacific Northwest Territories where so many Chinese men and women fled to, during the Chinese Massacres of the 1870's and 80's.  I do not know the ending of their story.  So here, I took authorial license with the novel.  I will not spoil it for readers.  

Sometimes writers gets so entrenched in a book, so buried in great themes of war and love and loyalties, we lose our way.  I did.  So I fell back on research, digging and delving, looking for clues and answers.  Research is seductive. You read and while away the days, the months, and ignore the  half-finished novel palpitating in the dark. Years passed as I delved deeper, discovering aspects of the War that I hoped would fascinate readers.  I read about Southern women collecting urine from which to distill niter for making gunpowder. And I read of the planting and harvesting of poppies, the scoring and gathering from  poppy pods the sap known as opium. I researched how opium was dried and mixed with chemicals and pressed into powdered tablets for the Confederate wounded when the South ran out of medicine.

Next,  I researched  books on spy-codes used in the War, what spies were paid, and how they were executed when caught by the enemy. I  researched the colloquialisms  of the South,  the vernacular of  the mid-1800s,  the language of prostitutes, and fighting men, and dying men. And on, and on. Now you know why THE SPY LOVER took five years to complete.  In the end I forgot how to hold conversations, unless they were about the Civil War. I lived and breathed the War, it engulfed my life.

Eventually, I slogged my way back into the actual writing of the book, and scenes and characters became real, thanks to the research I had done. When I finally reached the end, I was then shackled through twenty-four mind-numbing rewrites of the novel.  Every page. Every word.  I worked and slept in a metaphorical sweatsuit. I dreamed of Shiloh and Chickamauga and woke in the dark, hearing wounded soldiers crying out.  I wept for the women who were raped and slaughtered in that War, and for  the brave nurses who perished from soldiers' diseases. And I wept for the wounded soldiers known as 'skins' -  redskins, yellowskins, brownskins - who were carried last from the battlefields, then ignored and left to die unattended.  

I never planned to write an historical novel, or a love story, or a spy thriller, or a story about how brave Chinese  soldiers were used as throw-aways in the Civil War. I simply set out to tell the story of my ancestors, who fought on opposing sides of that War.  But as the book grew bigger and deeper (at one point,  1200 pages) I felt less and less confident. I wasn't sure who I was writing for. There were days when I wondered if there would be ANY readers for the book.  But there were better days, when I felt that the book would cause the RIGHT readers to materialize. Readers who cared about loyalty and love, moral choices, and redemption.

 I even began to believe that THE SPY LOVER might  alter the nerves and marrow of  readers because of  the naked horror of the War,  the unfathomable sacrifices, brother slaughtering brother,  the rampant racism, and inconceivable grief of women who were left to bury their dead.  But mostly I wanted to believe  that readers would hold the book to their hearts because the quality of the writing astonished them.  Thus do authors live on illusions,  believing  that the book we are working on is the best thing we have ever written, and that possibly it will change people's lives. Writers are children, eternal dreamers.  Dreams are our redemption.

I  sincerely hope you enjoy THE SPY LOVER!

Thank you!    

Thursday, July 26, 2012


Hello World.

 Depression and writers.  How true it is.  We seem to go hand in hand.  We're joined at the sterum, closer than lovers.  Whether we're  genetically predisposed to depression or not, I think the writing life seems, well...inauthentic, without  occasional periods of the deep, deep blues, the  Mood Indigos.

We feel morally bound to brood, because that's what 'serious' writers do. We  live by our wits, and sometimes live too close to the  poverty level.  And so we isolate, which deepens the blues.  We envy the thriller-writers who rake in  big royalties.  Sometimes  we  hate them.  We stop feeling attractive and lose our lovers, even our spouses.  We become loners because socializing, even conversation, has become an endurance test.  Oh, enough.

We chose this life.  No one drafted us.  Let's jolly up and admit we LOVE this writing-thing.  When we are creating, our juices are flowing, our brains are kicked into high gear...don't you feel the  rush? It's like a snort of cocaine. Two snorts. Doesn't your heart palpitate, and your very follicles sizzle?  Mine do. There is nothing that compares to it. Isn't that worth occasional depression?  (I'm not talking about clinical depression. That is more serious and calls for medical supervision.)

Perhaps the next time the 'blues' descend, we might want to sit back, take a breath and compare someone else's life.  I guarantee you, afterwards you'll feel extremely blessed.  You will feel grateful.  I'm talking about the life of Roald Dahl.  A genius who wrote thrilling and absurd and fabulous books for children.  Remember 'Willy Wonka?'  'James and The Giant Peach?'  Or 'The Sound Machine?' (In which a man could hear plants screaming.)  Or how about 'The BFG,' the giant who went around at night, blowing dreams through a tube into kid's bedrooms.  Dahl was a brilliant storyteller, a magician.  His books are still read around the world in many languages.

  He made $$millions from his books, and  died 20 years ago.  Finally, his personal history,  his private life, was made public.  It was horrendous.  Absolutely grisly. His father, as a child, had his arm amputated thanks to a drunk doctor.  At three, Dahl's older sister died, and shortly after,  his one-armed father died.  Several years later, still only a boy, Dahl's nose was completely severed from his face  in a car accident. A near-sighted doctor sewed it back on. Slightly off-center.

In WWII  Dahl  joined the RAF, became a pilot, and crashed on his first official day of flying, in the Libyan Desert.  His skull was fractured, spine broken, his  face burned, his poor nose driven back into his face. Stoked by the heat, his plane's machine-guns started shooting at him.  Miraculously, he managed to survive the crash, was somehow patched-up, fought others battles, and survived the war.  Then he was diagnosed with cancer. (Are you still with me?) During treatment,  his doctors recommended he have all his teeth pulled. Who knows why? So, he did. Dahl was only twenty-one!

After the war, he began writing stories to ward off depression. Thus began his illustrious and lifelong career. Then he married and had children. His 4 month-old son was hit by a taxi, shattering his skull. The child survived, but damaged. Two years later, Dahl's 7 year-old daughter contracted measles and died of a brain inflammation. Then his 39 year-old wife, the actress Patricia Neal, suffered an aneuryism and fell into a coma for weeks.  He coached her through months and years of grueling rehabilitation.

All his life he suffered pain from his war wounds. And all the while, he wrote.  He wrote magical and fabulous stories for children, that they still quote from as adults. Of course, Dahl was notoriously  impatient and rude to people (can you blame him?) He picked fights at book parties,  slugged editors, sold out friends, repeatedly and  publicly insulted his still-rehabilitating wife.  In the end he  proved to be a racist, an anti-semite, an all-around  stinker. No one liked him. No one. But he never stopped writing.  I think writing was how he had survived his life.

 Perhaps its best to forget the man, and remember the genius. But when we writers are feeling depressed, unloved, unpraised, it might be worth another look at Dahl's horrendous, nearly inconceivable life of tragedy.  By comparison, I think most of us are lucky.

So let's gather  our inspirations and energies - our mitochondria, and centrioles, and genomes, all those marvelous ecosystems that contain and define each of us - say a little mantra of thanks for what we have,  and then get back to work.

Happy Writing  and Imua! (Press On, no matter what.)



Monday, July 23, 2012


Hello, World.

 It's that time of year. Mid-summer, when  book sales generally take a dive.  To weather the market doldrums,  I'm offering my three Bestselling Pacific Story Collections on sale for .99 each on Kindle!

HOUSE OF SKIN, PRIZE-WINNING STORIES...  Volume I.  Stories of love, lust, obsession, runaway girls, drug addiction, family bonds,  racism,  and much more.   The stories are set across the Pacific islands in  Hawaii, Papua New Guinea, Nauru, and Vanuatu.

CANNIBAL NIGHTS, PACIFIC STORIES, VOLUME II... Stories of terrorism, al Queda, adultery, murder, rape, slavery, kidnapping, Paul Gauguin, the French Foreign Legion, Australian Aborigines,  foetal alcohol syndrome, and how the love of family saves us.  The stories are set in Hawaii, Tonga, Easter island, the Marquesas, Tahiti,  and Australia.

OPIUM DREAMS, PACIFIC STORIES, VOLUME III... Stories of  marriage,  adultery, vengeance,  opium addiction, fathers and daughters, mothers and sons, soldiers in combat, prostitution, murder,   cancer,  AIDS, and more.  The stories and one novella are set in Western Samoa,  Kohala (Hawaii), Aotearoa, New Zealand, Honolulu ( Hawaii), and Georgia.

I hope you will  enjoy reading them,  and learning about  the fascinating traditions and people of the vast Pacific Islands.  Alohas from Hawaii!

And thanks!  Kiana

Thursday, July 19, 2012


Hello World.

A heartfelt mahalo! (thank you) to readers who have  purchased my new ebook collection, OPIUM DREAMS, PACIFIC STORIES, Volume III, a  sequel to my previous collections HOUSE OF SKIN PRIZE-WINNING STORIES,  and CANNIBAL NIGHTS, PACIFIC STORIES, Volume II.

First off,  Huge Olas! and Kudos to Kathleen Valentine, of Valentine Designs, for the extraordinary cover.  The author's voice is still the most important part of a book, but a beautiful book cover is what  first draws readers.  (If you're wondering why the peacock feather, you have to read the title story.)

 Like my earlier collections, OPIUM DREAMS comprises tales set in islands across the Pacific ocean,  portraits of men and women  struggling with the same universal issues as people around the globe: Survival, dignity, identity. This volume speaks more of love in all its dark, tragic and even hilarious manifestations. Three of the stories deal with adultery.

  Ah, ADULTERY...  How many of us marrieds or have-beens have feared it, confronted it, even indulged in it? It can turn betrayed wives into salivating she-jackals, or calm, cold-eyed killers. Still, betrayed husbands seem to fare much worse. An adulterous husband is usually only temporarily  reverting to the 'pack,' scatter-shooting his seed, and whooping it up. (80% of them come home, begging for forgiveness.)

 But an adulterous wife suggests the blunt force of a loose cannon,  an uncontrollable entity, her hormones and pheromones running amuck. And worse, it suggests an impotent husband, a man who can't  please his wife, can't get it up, or keep it up.  Women are erotic forces of nature. We embody sex all over - eyes,  lips, breasts, butts, vaginas - whereas male sexuality seems tied up in that one organ...and here is precisely where  a wife's adultery hits men.  Their sense of masculinity is shattered.

(Call me crazy, but that kind of vulnerability should make us love them  even more.)  In the end, sex is always trouble.  We are lost in the collision. Logic and conscience evaporate.  That's why sex often gets a  bad rap. It's too pleasurable,  too powerful.  And so we seek love, that milder form of lust.  It steers us away from our genitals. We ascend to a more spiritual level, and give our baser drives a break.

A few words about  love and lust  in my collection,  OPIUM DREAMS:

In the story "Night of the Worm," set in Western Samoa,  a philandering husband who annually trysts with white women tourists,  is suddenly threatened when his  ungainly wife  attracts the attentions of an     Englishman, who falls in love,  teaches her to waltz, and endows her with a 'majesty.'  Only with the threat of permanently losing her, does the husband finally see her beauty and her worth.  ***(A few years ago, I lived at the Vaisala Hotel in Western Samoa, and watched a similar story unfold.)

"Opium Dreams,"  a semi-novella, is set in an earlier century in Hawaii, and is a meditation on father-daughter love, or the lack of it, and how an unloved daughter plunges into opium addiction and suicide.  It is also a glimpse into the 19th century opium-dens of Chinatown in Honolulu, how immigrants fleeing starvation in China ended up as addicts whose bones were used for fodder in the canefields.
           A parallel story is that of  a paniolo, a Hawaiian cowboy who has killed  his  beautiful wife for committing adultery, not understanding that polygamy was part of her Cowichan culture. His life  is reduced to years of  grief and guilt, until he is redeemed by the love of a boy, and a stranger.

"Maoritanga" is set in Aotearoa (Maori word  for New Zealand). The portrait of a  Maori woman mired in grief for her brother who dies in combat in the Gulf War, and how that grief drags her into years of drift,  prostitution,  even murder. Only the love of her clan resurrects her,  and restores in her a sense of 'Maoritanga,"  Maori pride.

***(For several months while  visiting Maori friends,  I lived at a hotel in Auckland, New Zealand, patterned after Manners  in the story.  It was a  haunt for  young prostitutes from Asia and the Pacific Islands who had run away from home. The story is based on  events that occured while I was  living there: A Maori friend who lost a brother in the Gulf War,  the murder of a pimp,  the suicide of a young girl, and a playful shark that kept reappearing near the town of Te Kaha.)

"Bullets Over Hollywood" is another story of adultery.  A mix-blood Hawaiian discovers her husband's mistress, tries to burn down her home, shoots up her  teenage children's beds, and flees back to the islands, where she  hides out with a friend who  dwells on her  own ex-husband's adultery. This  is not just a story of  betrayal. It is also a tale of a woman who has lost her identity through marriage and motherhood.  Only a tragedy - a horror every woman dreads - saves her marriage, and helps her rediscover herself, and her ambitions. ***(Based on a true story, and the life of a dear  friend.)

"The Speed of Light" takes place, not in the Pacific, but in the  state of Georgia. A handsome mix-blood Hawaiian enters a small, bigotted  Southern town and, forced to live on charity,  infuses people's lives with poetry and magic.  As he begins to die, people come to understand who, and what, he is.  In that realization, they learn tolerance and acceptance. And a particularly bigotted and homophobic redneck learns what love is.  ***(This story is based on the life of my beloved cousin, Will.)

It is easy to write about love.  And very hard.  We search, and find it, and lose it, and search again. The human comedy.  Cliches abound.  Still, our stories are important, and unique. Because love, the search for it,  the failure of it,  and especially the loss of it,  is  how we progress and mature,  how we attain an inner nobility. An aristocracy of the heart.

As Elton John says in his new memoir: "Love Is The Cure."

 I hope you enjoy OPIUM DREAMS!

Thank you!

Saturday, June 30, 2012


Hello, World. I've been thinking how for years book reviewers called Stephen King's novels 'trash.' King has described facing those critics: "I publish a book and I feel like a trapper caught by the Iroquois. They line up with tomahawks and I run the gamut while they whack me in my head, my back, my balls." Of course, by now most critics have acknowledged King as 'ahead of his time, something of a genius.' Still, I expect those tomahawk scars remain.

Is THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION trash? THE GREEN MILE? They are magnificent works, classics now, about the heart and soul of man, his eternal quest for truth and freedom. Each time I read them, I have wept. If they are 'trash,' then so is MOBY DICK, my favorite darling of all novels. Yet when MOBY DICK was first published, book reviewers called it a "depressing over-long tale about misfit sailors and a fish." Oh, my.

 In their early years of writing, Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov, were ghettoized as writers of 'sci-fi trash' by book reviewers. Ditto, Eric Ambler, a 'writer of thriller trash,'who is now considered the founding father of brilliant espionage novels. Yet in their later years, each writer was inundated with literary accolades, declaring them geniuses. The wisdom of hindsight? Well, what about foresight? Who is to say what 'trash' and what is 'literature'?

Here is a brilliant description of book reviewers. "They are the ones who approach the battlefield in full body-armor, then stand on the side lines. And when the battle is over, they walk around shooting all the wounded." Lovely. For, how many book reviewers have labored for years over a novel? How many have lived below the poverty line while trying to convey the achings of their minds, their hearts, their souls? Not many. In fairness, sometimes reviewers change their minds. Ten years later they might deign to take a second look at a novel, see it with 'fresh eyes' and give it a semi-rave review. Of course by then, the author has died stark raving mad, after eating his children.

In the past, I have respected certain book reviewers. They gave us guidelines, they were the sentries at the gates, warding off 'mediocre works of low culture,' and of 'trash.' Alas! I see them now as an endangered species, fading into yesteryear along with so much of the traditional publishing industry. Why? Because book reviewers now have a very short shelf life. Their prestigious newspapers and magazines have a short shelf life. Compare that to the chatter about a book on the Internet.

Millions of readers now browse digitally delivered reader-reviews on Amazon and other venues, where uber-clusters of conversation sizzle back and forth between readers and readers, and between authors and their readers. This global digital populace is radically transforming the reviewing of fiction, and simultaneously the recommendations of other books, and promoting the purchasing of those books. In short, they have effected a whole new revolution in book marketing. To use an already hackneyed phrase...the playing field has been leveled. Book readers are now the arbiters of taste.

Readers are omnivores. We are now adept at switch-hitting with the push of a button from 'high lit' to 'low lit' from ebook to audio to print. What we look for in a book is what other readers look for: some kind of primal narrative engagement that makes us feel less alone, some little truth or assurance that characters in novels are as lonely, as insecure, as we are. We want to pick up a book that does not insult us, that makes us grow a little, and maybe end up a little wiser, a little kinder. And we want to express our appreciation(or condemnation) in our OWN online reviews.

Perhaps what we read is not a perfect book, but we give it a 3 or 4 star review because it speaks to us, and because we want to encourage the author, give him or her more time to grow and hone their talent. Reading, like writing, is a leap into the unknown, which makes it terribly exciting. Of course, not all books are great. Some are less than good. But I believe any book written with the naked drive of the writer's heart and soul deserves a chance.

Life is messy, so why should books not be messy and a little awkward? And as for reader reviews, some are amateur, even embarrassing, but like writers themselves, I believe that the more readers review books, the more accomplished they will become at judging what is good and what is mediocre, and how better to express that.

One could call this the Democratization of reading, writing, and reviewing. I call it a REVOLUTION in book marketing. I call it a long overdue recognition of the intelligence and taste of our READERS.

For the old-line critics and book reviewers, the 'keepers of the literary flame,' it must seem a scary time. Vulgarians are destroying their Ivory Towers. The Huns are storming the gates. As an author, and avid reader, and online book-reviewer, how do I feel about this shattering of old-time 'ethics,' this revolutionary and brave new world?

Call me Hun.

Thursday, June 7, 2012


Hello, World.

Ray Bradbury, our Poet Laureate of space quest, died on June 6. He was 91 years old. On June 5, here in Hawaii we had a ringside seat to the Transit of Venus across the sun. I like to think that little dot I saw thru the telescope, dallying across the face of the sun, was Bradbury's soul. While his body slowly declined here on earth, his higher being was already voyaging into the galaxy.

He was a genius, a poet, a lightning-rod for writers, scientists, anyone who believed we humans were put here on earth to be witnesses and dreamers. That it was in our DNA to strive for the next dimension, the next star. He believed that the universe required this of us. "The Stars are Our Destiny," he said. And he was the beacon who guided us there.

When the Apollo astronauts were preparing for the first landing on the moon, Ray Bradbury was the man they asked to meet. And when they landed on the moon, Ray Bradbury was the one man Walter Kronkite asked to interview. He consented to the interview, and across the air waves and the ethers, the world listened as Bradbury wept. His dreams, his forecasts, had come true.

Novelist, short story writer, essayist, playwright, screenwriter, poet, he gave us works of genius: The Martian Chronicles, Fahrenheit 451, Something Wicked This Way Comes, and hundreds of stories that changed our way of thinking about man's future in this galaxy, this universe. He predicted personal computers, Banking ATMs, earbuds, Bluetooth headsets, and most importantly, the concept of Artificial Intelligence.

He reshaped our minds, our culture, and expanded our world. He was the Godfather of science-fiction, the wizard who inspired Speilberg, Star Wars and every book, movie or comic book that followed.

"What are we doing on earth?" he asked. "We are here to be the audience to the magnificent. We are the witnesses to the miracle of the universe. We were put here by creation, by God, by the cosmos, whatever name you choose. But we are here. And, we too, are a miracle."

He said it was our duty to question, and to dream. To make the impossible, possible. Make each moment a Eureka moment. It was our job to celebrate. And to create.

Thank you, Mr. Bradbury. Fly Safe, O Genius...

Tuesday, May 29, 2012


Hello World.

My mind was recently blown when I read about THE FAREWELL INTERCOURSE LAW, an antiquated law in Egypt, whereby a husband is legally allowed to have sex with his wife for up to six hours after her death. Necrophilia,anyone??? The law was established generations(centuries?)ago to support the Islamist belief that marriage extends beyond this life. Today it is highly controversial, and many Egyptian women are marching to abolish it. To date, the Islamist-dominated Egyptian Parliament remains divided. Men can still have their way with dead wives as long as they observe the time-limit. Tick tock. Tick tock.

More radical segments of Egyptian women are calling a moratorium on marriage, refusing to consider a proposal until THE FAREWELL INTERCOURSE LAW is abolished. And even divorced women are vowing celibacy, not to marry again. They are calling themselves a word I can't pronounce or spell, but its the Egyptian equivalent of BORN-AGAIN VIRGINS.

Which brings me to the same CELIBATE-BY-CHOICE movement which seems to be gaining momentum here in the US, especially AMONGST WRITERS. No kidding. I did a recent survey of men and women divided equally, and 19 out of 20 writers queried were not having sex. At all. By choice. Maybe its the way life has speeded up in our cyber-age, or the recession, or the trickle-down fear of AIDS, but writers say they just don't have the time for sex these days. Or the energy. Or the inclination. I'm talking about men as well as women.

I asked half a dozen female friends, now hardcore BORN-AGAIN VIRGINS, how long their sexual abstinence would last, and four of them said 'indefinitely because curbing their hormones made them feel empowered.' The other two said they wanted to stay sex-free until they finished their next novels, which could be three-four years from now. Oh, my. These are not wrinkled, man-hating crones, they're sexy, vibrant women in their 30's,40's, 50's and 60's. (And one in her 70's, a former Born-Again Cougar).

Yes, the notion of celibacy is as old as Lysistrata but it seems to have taken on a new urgency for writers. It sounds dismal but its true, almost every male and female writer I talk to seems to be dropping out of the 'game.' My cousin, Tom, just spent five years completing his first novel, under contract with a big publisher. The same week he completed it, he started his next novel. And his wife filed for divorce.

She rightfully complained that for five years, 95% of Tom's energy went toward the novel, the other 5% went toward the kids. There was nothing left for her. "I was always exhausted," Tom says, then he says something more interesting. "But I noticed that the longer I went without sex, the BETTER my writing got." Now he's vowed to go without sex until completion of his next novel. Where will it end???

Wait a minute. What about those unexpected times when we're hunched at the keyboard and get hit with the 'urge,' when our eyeballs glaze with remembrance of sexual encounters past. Every BORN-AGAIN VIRGIN I talked to, men or women, had the same response. "No problem! I just take care of it myself, and I'm back at the keyboard in ten minutes." Oh. So they're not complete sexual teetotalers...they're onanists. Do-it-yourselfer's. (But, isn't masturbation sex?)

Let me say I believe in recharging one's batteries and one's spirit after a divorce, a disastrous relationship, or when you've been around the track too fast, too often. A lot of us remember the mindless, coked-up sex of the 80's and 90's that left us feeling numb, brain-dead and sometimes...dirty. But we grew up. We became selective. We fell seriously in love. Then out of love. But part of life is searching for that thrill again, even if its just a fantasy. We have to have that childlike gullibility, the blind belief in love and lust and passion and hate, or else the characters we create won't have it either. Without it, we're not really writers. We are cynics.

OK, its one thing to 'save yourself,' until the right man or woman comes along. Then opt to make the leap again, to take the chance. But serious BORN-AGAIN VIRGINS,again, including men, have the lifted-fist zeal of marching fanatics. They have a code: No dating. No kissing or petting. No eyeballing from across a crowded room. Nothing! Then there are the SEMI-BORN-AGAIN VIRGINS. Those who say you can date, and kiss and pet. But they draw the line at penetration. WHAT!!!??? In my personal lexicon, that is NOT abstaining. That is c-ckteasing. Or, in the case of anti-penetration men...c-ntteasing. It begins to sound rather cheezy.

I want to keep this on a semi-serious plane. I do believe that the total avoidance of sex really means an avoidance of all the emotional baggage between men and women that always causes troubles. Different hormones, different expectations. It's true, and I speak from experience, when you're celibate for a while, you really do feel fresh, renewed and clear-eyed. Its easier to sift the losers and the cads out of the human herd. It's when sex rears its head again, trouble seems to start. (But hey, men and women are different species, we've always known that. Just because you're having explosive sex with someone doesn't mean you're in the same zipcode emotionally.)

But, getting back to writers: We're in a frightening profession. For many of us, income is non-existent, or erratic, at best. There is the day-to-day pressure to produce, to hustle, to compete, to try to make the rent. Its especially competitive in this digital age, where some e-writers are producing a book a month. So, yes, in such a climate, sex might come in second, or even last.

Abstinence among writers is more common than we realize: most writers are probably on sexual sabbatical when they're deep into the writing of a book. We just don't announce it to the world! But it is not the same as banner-waving, trumpet-blowing BORN-AGAIN VIRGINS. These are people who are abdicating for other reasons, usually a broken heart, a broken marriage, low self-esteem. It seems to me they are swearing off something other than sex...they are swearing off all things emotional, which is a form of closing down, of psychic death.

Sex is how we got here. Its who we are. Its in our hormones and pheromones. It IS our hormones and pheromones. It makes us loose cannons, uncontrollable variables. Every act of sex is a truce. Another form of longing. It's very scary. But a deeper form of sex is love. It is what is required to finish the unfinished life. It is what renders us visible.

Humans are frightening things. That's why we need the touch of other humans. What comes from that touching is called life.

And we need to LIVE as well as write. So abstain all you need to. But don't shut down your heart.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


Hello World.

I wish I could blog more often than once or twice a month. I admire those who can. But I am in the midst of a new collection of stories and two novels, and don't have the brain capacity to juggle more than that. Nonetheless...

I've stopped work just now and am writing this blog because readers keep sending me articles about the growing trend of new mothers who are consuming their placentas as nutritional, post-childbirth snacks. This is a fascinating subject, but I am puzzled as to why readers think I should WRITE A NOVEL ABOUT IT. I have lately been sent photos of a big, liverish textured mass with a blue tinge about ten inches in diameter merrily bubbling away in a stew pot with ginger, lemon, garlic and jalapeno peppers. Yes, a placenta. But don't faint. For centuries women in diverse cultures around the world have consumed their placentas, which are chockful of vitamins, minerals and all that good stuff.

Consumption of placenta also alleviates postpartum depression, aids in breastmilk production, acts as a uterine tonic, and replaces lost nutrients. Suddenly, after centuries as a counter-culture practice, eating one's afterbirth has gone mainstream in the U.S.A. It's called PLACENTOPHAGIA, the practice of placenta consumption. Now, placentas have always carried a special spiritual significance to many peoples. In my Hawaiian culture, the placenta was often buried under a tree, so the newborn child would always find its way home. Or it was carried out beyond the reef as an offering to our gods, so they would always protect the child. Or, it was consumed.

And by the way, my state of Hawaii was the first state to explicitly require that hospitals allow women to take their placentas home. New York and Nevada followed. It is now becoming a
womens rights issue: OUR BODIES, OUR PLACENTAS. In ancient Egypt, the placenta had its own hieroglyph. Some African tribes treat the placenta like a child's dead twin with formal burial rites.

In my forthcoming novel, THE SPY LOVER (August) a Chinese-Creek Indian woman consumes her own placenta raw, after giving birth in the wilds. A common practice of Chinese of earlier eras. (By now, I'm sure men have their fingers down their throats. But think about it, we eat animal livers, hearts, brains, intestines. Some humans consume other humans. Yes, even today.)

These various articles I have received explain how, once the afterbirth is cooked it resembles a healthy hunk of liver, or even well-done brisket, to be cut up just like meat. Or chopped up and thrown in salads. Or freeze-dried, ground up to powder and put into pill capsules. They are even throwing chopped placenta into smoothies. All right, enough. You can Google Placenta Benefits for more info.

My point in writing about placenta-consumption going mainstream is, again, because of the many readers writing to me, suggesting I write a NOVEL ABOUT IT. Again, though I find the growing trend fascinating, I myself am not a placenta-eater. I am not personally engaged in the practice. It does not engage my interest enough to write an entire novel about it. As all good writers know, you don't have to experience every sensation in life to write about it. But YOU MUST BE PASSIONATELY ENGAGED with the subject matter. You must feel driven to write about it. I'm sure some passionate, talented man or woman will eventually write a brilliant book about
placentophagia, a gorgeous meditation on life in the 21st century, how we lived and died and fractured and loved, and consumed our own body parts. Alas, it won't be me.

In the same way I would not write a novel (another request from my readers!!) about Trent Devereaux, alias, Trentdog, the man who is currently donating his fresh sperm on the Internet. This is a legitimate form of philanthropy. I believed it's been OKed by the FDA, and he has posted dozens of photos of babies born to couples who have been the recipient's of Trent's free sperm. I support his generosity and his sperm, one hundred percent. Trentdog, you rock! The man is a hero in a way. He has changed the lives of dozens of infertile couples. You can read his blogs about being a 35 year-old virgin, and masturbating (with insatiable zeal, it seems) for the good of infertile couples across America.

Again, I'm sure inevitably someone will write an epic of gorgeous, profound, randy and visionary prose about marathon, onanistic fresh sperm-donors and their offspring (perhaps some of whom are females who consume their placenta.) It sounds like a fabulous, lusty work of art. I would look forwarding to reading it. But not writing it.

The reason is simple, one of the basic tenets of good writing, something I have often hammered into writing students: YOU HAVE TO WRITE FROM THE HEART. YOU HAVE TO HAVE ONE BIG, TRUE THING YOU ARE DYING TO TELL THE WORLD. Readers are more intelligent than we give them credit for. They know when we are scamming. Its passion in the writing that makes readers want to turn every page. If passion is missing, the words lies stillborn. A soporific read. This is how we lose readers.

For this reason, I advise against writing novels that piggyback cultural trends (eating afterbirth, donating free sperm) in the hopes of achieving a bestseller. This happens about one time out of a thousand. Better to build up a fine list of novels written from your heart, in your own unique voice, culled from your particular DNA. It will give you your signature in the world of readers.

Every novel doesn't have to be MOBY DICK or NAKED LUNCH. Genre is fine, mysteries, thrillers, romances are fine. Just make sure you pack passion into the work. And authenticity. Yes, research. Sometimes a whole day of online research will net you only two sentences you can use. But those two sentence may give your voice an authority that's otherwise missing. It will lead your reader to TRUST you.

Be relentlessly descriptive. Use details from every sense you possess. If you talk about food, make your reader drool. If you talk about nostalgic rock, think aural, make your reader envision Pink Floyd's lunatic in the hall. Or Mick Jagger's spangled, pillow-lips. Recently I read a bio about that too-soon dead genius, Luciano Pavarotti. The writing was graphic and brilliant because the author described Pavarotti's very viscera when he sang, the way his legs trembled, the way sweat poured off him in cataracts. I was so swept away, I dragged out the tequila and turned on Puccini's TURANDOT full-blast. I mean, the walls shuddered. I mean, I wept. THAT is passionate writing.

Speaking of great passion, let me detour here slightly to direct you to Tu'a Pupu'a, the 6'6" Tongan football player who sustained a terrible injury, retired from the NFL, and took up (believe it!) opera singing. He's a huge, beautiful speciman of a man, with a miraculous voice, and has become the new reigning tenor of the opera world. His depth and range are unbelievable.

Seriously, please check out Tu'a Pupu'a on YOUTUBE, performing from Puccini's 'TOSCA.' Your mind will be forever blown!!!! He's huge, sings like Pavarotti, and is a true Polynesian native. As a Polynesian myself, my heart bursts with pride. He possesses what I wish forever for myself, and for each of you.


Aloha and Imua (Press on!) Kiana

Monday, March 12, 2012


Hello World.

  Recently a writer friend called and, with jolly sarcasm,  asked me, "How does it feel to be married to the hit man?"  I had to sit down on that one. Then I had to backtrack.  Several months ago,  Businessweek Magazine ran a lead article and photograph of Larry Kirshbaum,  once powerful and well-liked Chairman and CEO of The Warner Book Group in New York City. The article was headlined "AMAZON'S HIT MAN."

Back in May, 2011, Amazon  announced they had hired this same Larry Kirshbaum to run Amazon Publishing,  their new New York based imprint aimed at publishing fiction and non-fiction books which would hopefully rival traditional (or legacy) publishers, i.e., the Big Six. Well. Kirshbaum was instantly  reviled as a "turncoat,"  a man who had "sold out,"  who had "gone over to the dark side."  The venom and rancor  and name-calling will no doubt volley back and forth for several years, as we are in the midst of a major battle while the tectonic plates of publishing heave and shift, and change the industry, and perhaps our lives, forever.

Insiders are  calling it the Legacy Wars,  pitching Amazon – the upstart, the innovative toughie – against the century-old NewYork publishing world, so lagging behind in foresight,  efficiency, in equitable author's rights.  So sadly in need of CHANGE.  This  escalating bloodbath has left writers with the sensation of a temporal-spatial deficit disorder:  Unsure of where we stand in this, we don't know who to root for, who to condemn,  or where to turn. We don't know our right foot from our left. Yes, it's war. And Kirshbaum, the penultimate New York publisher, has gone over to Amazon, the "enemy. "

(In his defense, the forward-thinking  Kirshbaum was  predicting the advent of electronic books – even attempting to launch an electronic reader – a decade before anyone else in the industry.)

So, what I wonder is this:  if he is a turncoat,  a traitor, what does that say about  authors like me, and Joe Konrath, and Barry Eisler, and a dozen other authors formerly published by the Big Six, who have crossed over  and contracted for their next book (digital and print)  with...Amazon.  Eisler,  a perennial bestseller, says he is now accused of "shilling" for Amazon. Joe Konrath, another bestseller,  is a millionaire (or very close), thanks to his self-published books and to Amazon.  He's smart and hilarious and supports Amazon, and doesn't give a damn what the world thinks.

But some of us are not  yet that successful, not that well-known. Nancy Pearl, the librarian/author  who had signed with Amazon talks of the outpouring of vitriol on her Facebook and Twitter. Some of my acquaintances  have stopped talking to me,  legacy-published diehards who see Amazon as a drooling succubus that will ultimately devour  all of publishing,  then all of human civilization as we know it. A former friend called me a sellout and a slut.  Oh, my.

  In fact, I did not exactly cross over;  I was catapulted.  I will not reiterate the whole sordid story of how,  against their contractual obligations,  Penguin Publishing terminated my book contract  for my forthcoming novel,  simply because I self-published two story collections, HOUSE OF SKIN and CANNIBAL NIGHTS on Amazon Kindle, their arch-enemy (the editor's words.)  This, in spite of the fact that  several years back Penguin had  turned down these same  prize-winning stories as a collection.  For those of you unfamiliar with the background of this  psycho-drama, please see my blog post "SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY."  August 25, 2011.

I  had, in fact, stopped giving interviews about this fiasco. How I ended up on the front lines of this legacy war, I  still do not know. Surely, I am not the first author to be fired by a publisher.  I wanted it behind me.  If there was media-attention to be had, I hoped it would be focused on my forthcoming novel.

 Alas.  Reporters have their own  agendas. They continue to write articles about my struggles with Penguin,  speculating  on why it happened,  who was right and who was wrong, and would we go to court.  Erroneous facts  are reported. Wrong assumptions made. Wrong conclusions drawn.  So... in answer to  the  hundreds of queries sent me and the  amazingly supportive  responses to my 8/25/11 blog (from as far away as Scotland, Sweden, Ukraine)  asking how this tragi-comedy played out, did I pay back the  advance?  what happened to my book?  here  is my response, my  attempt at closure.  Only now am I able to discuss it publicly. And then I hope I can put it to rest. (Though I will answer any queries.)

In the end - after reviewing contracts and all correspondence – a brilliant attorney, Jan Constantine,  Legal Counsel for the Author's Guild,  agreed that  I had fulfilled all my contractual obligations to Penguin.  I had done nothing illegal.  Therefore  they had no grounds to terminate me.  If I were rich and brave, I would have dragged them into court and sued them.  (Which would have taken years, huge sums of money,  and possibly left me brain-dead.)  Instead, I took the high road and repaid the $20,000 partial advance Penguin demanded back,  until which time  they were holding my novel  hostage.

As a result of that blog posting, "SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY," Amazon Publishing approached me and invited me to consider publishing my novel with them.  Several other Big Six publishers  also approached me, offering to publish the book.  One was an editor I have corresponded with and like very much.  But here is the thing:  they were still offering the same old, outmoded book contract, with the same  anachronistic  terms and royalties that have kept authors in bondage for decades. The same old 15-page contracts written in micro-script (that even under a magnifying glass weirdly resembles Urdu) to intentionally befuddle authors and keep them ignorant and infantile. The same old twice-annual royalty statements that are often illogical,  erroneous and require auditors.  (After such an auditing, one friend found her publisher has shortchanged her on her royalty statement by...ten thousand books.)

So this is why I chose to sign a contract with Amazon Publishing.  Because the Senior Acquisitions Editor, Andy Bartlett,  is extremely articulate, a lover of books, with a Ph.D. in Literature. Because he carefully read my manuscript, then spent hours (literally) discussing with me what  he loved about the book,  and how he envisioned marketing it in the U.S. and globally.   And because...Amazon's royalty rates ( especially for ebooks) are  exactly TWICE what New York publishers offer. And because they consulted me every step along the way while drawing up my contract.

Because...they discussed with me  when to release my book digitally (before or simultaneously with print.) Because... of their swift production time.  Because...they have consulted with me on pricing, packaging, the title,  the cover.  Because...their non-compete clause allows me to continue self-publishing on Kindle if I choose.  Because...their contract is only  six (6!) pages long,  and completely comprehensible.  Because...of their  incredible global marketing push. And again, because of a constantly accessible, articulate, compassionate editor.  In short, they made me an offer I could not refuse.

 My novel, THE SPY LOVER,  will be  published by Amazon's Thomas & Mercer in August, 2012.

Sound too good to be true?  Perhaps. In spite of all of the above,  I am still holding my breath. Why?  Because Amazon IS a goliath.  It's exclusive, and  potentially threatening to the livelihood of  bookstores, to competitors,  and even the publishing  industry as we know it. Yes, Amazon is radically and ingeniously innovative,  it's considerate of its authors, and its readers. It does not overprice its books. Still, it's in danger of becoming a monopoly and needs strong, healthy competition. Which is why, in spite of being axed by Penguin, in spite of having felt temporarily desperate and futureless,  I do NOT  wish to see  traditional publishers, the Big Six, fail.  I do not wish to see them collapse as many people, even industry insiders, predict.

When I look at New York publishing right now,  it's like watching the crew repainting the deck chairs on the Titanic.  What publishers  need to do is wake up, save themselves! Adapt to the new demands of consumers and authors.  In short, they desperately need to REFORM.  Reduce their outrageously high digital and print book prices,  radically edit and alter their book contracts so they no longer resemble the Dead Sea Scrolls, so incomprehensible and insulting to  authors.  Improve their digital royalties to authors, give authors more control over packaging, titles, book covers. Yes , I would like to see the Big Six publishers give Amazon a run for their money. We live in a democracy, we THRIVE on healthy competition.

For some things it's too late. I see  bookstores across the country back-flipping into bankruptcy,  and I mourn. Wherever I have lived,  Hawaii,  New York City,  bookstores have always been my sanctuaries, my oases.  And I still love the printed page, curling up with  novels swollen with age and weather.  I love highlighting passages, and writing in margins, arguing with the author.  I cherish a first edition of JANE EYRE  that still smells of my mother's perfume and transports me to the happiest year of my childhood. But - when I need a book or a reference fast,  I turn to my Kindle reader.  It instantly grounds me, informs me, and places me solidly in this digital time-warp state of mind we call the Present. We have all emerged from the vortex as hybrids and pragmatists. (Except for twenty year-olds who don't remember the printed page.)

What, you might ask, have I learned from  my recent, daunting experience in publishing, my personal Ground Zero?  Until Penguin fired me I was incredibly naive. I looked upon writing as a 'holy calling,' forgetting that it was also a business, MY business, my only source of income.  Now I look upon writing  with a rather  jaundiced, wary eye. I look for the bottom line. I now know that writers need to  be quicker, shrewder and, most importantly, contractually and technologically hip.  And I know that I will never be caught on a publisher's hit-list again. In short, I suspect  I've gone  rogue:  the dreamy writer with the  'holy calling,' has morphed into a quasi-savvy entrepreneurial techie-nerd with attitude.

Now, it is virtually a given that  books as we know them are passe. Electronics rule. A very scary concept for traditional publishers unless they adapt,  and soon.  But (to quote Joe Konrath) books and electronics are only delivery systems. The important thing is still CONTENT. And writers are still the ones who provide the content. So it seems to me that there are two supremely important  elements in  publishing that have  been ignored in this elitist, tragi-musical-comedy called the Legacy Wars.

1) The writers, who provide the content.  And  2) Our blessed readers, who purchase the content.  Publishing is NOTHING without  writers and readers, and publishers seem to have forgotten that, or intentionally ignored it.  Perhaps  because they are the middlemen, the ones who are most  dispensable.  Larry Kirshbaum has  said  that his goal at Amazon is to innovate in ways to help everyone in the industry. "We are trying to create a tide that will float all boats."

A noble goal. I hope he succeeds. And, yes, I do support him.  But let's leave boats and tides and ego-stroking battles to the middlemen, and concentrate on one cardinal, time-tested truth:  

Whether we are self-published,  Amazon-published, or legacy-published,  the axis of the planet  still shifts in our favor. Writers are not the ones caught in  the crosshairs of irrelevance. Civilizations still depend on us to fire up their synapses, they still depend on our  intensity, our intelligence, our  personal decodings of  truth and beauty and horror and hope.  No matter who wins the  publishing wars, or any war, THE WORLD STILL NEEDS, WILL ALWAYS NEED, WRITERS.

We are still the recording angels, the divining rods. We are still sitting in the catbird seat. God bless us all.

(And thank you all for your support!)  Kiana

Monday, January 16, 2012


Hello World.

 We writers constantly shortchange ourselves.  We seldom read for pure enjoyment or to escape daily tedium.  Instead we ' research, ' hoping facts will gave a book credibility,  OR we surgically dissect a  runaway bestseller to 'see how the author did it,' OR we read the classics  year after year (Tolstoy, Faulkner, Hemingway...yawn)  hoping their brilliance will rub off on us. I can quote ANNA KARENINA and ABSALOM, ABSALOM backwards and forwards,  but I am not any wiser about human nature than I was at university.  And I still don't know why we are programmed to remember pain,  (except that  without it, we would not have Art.)  Consequently, I am learning that...

At some point in life we wise up. We LIGHTEN up. With ebooks now so accessible and reasonably priced,  I've begun to read authors I never heard of, because they were recommended and I might enjoy (!) them, or  their titles are intriguing, or because I'm curious about an unfamiliar culture, or medical term.   And I read as a way of supporting and cheering on the new digerati,  self-publishing pioneers.

Here are a few books I read in 2011 that I  enjoyed and recommend. They might shock you, make you laugh, make you cry.  They might enlighten you.  They might make you want to forgive your  father, your mother,  your ex-wife-or-husand, your ex-partner,  and maybe even look for love again.

DO TAMPONS TAKE YOUR VIRGINITY?  by Marie Simas.  Kindle, $4.99 (The sequel is entitled DOUCHEBAG ROULETTE!)  I bought it because the title is  outrageous, but the downloaded sample showed there was good writing here. ( An perennial Amazon bestseller.) A gut-wrenching memoir  about a Catholic Portuguese-American family in California's Central Valley. A dysfunctional family with a brutal father. With jaw-dropping candor,  Marie describes her youth:  a headstrong daughter who refused to bow down to a sadistic, sociopathic father who beat her frequently,  relentlessly kicked her, even broke her tailbone,  and who continually raped her mother even when she was dying of cancer.  This was a man beset by demons, who obviously  needed psychiatric help. The Catholic church with its misogynistic preachings and double standards only further fed his sociopathy.

Yes,  rough stuff, here.  But as I read I saw this memoir as a catharsis, a purging of the rage and sorrow Marie  held in as a girl.  Somehow she kept her mordant humor. There are hilarious passages, and tender ones, too. At 15 she loses her virginity to a boy who then deserts her. Her heart-tbreak is 'worse than all the years of beatings.'  She matures into a foul-mouthed waitress, who uses and abuses men.  Surprise.  But there  is a strong will to survive and achieve embedded in this girl.  After years of struggle,  on her own she earns a college degree.  She becomes a  respected professional, eventually a successful mother and writer.  In the end you want fireworks and marching bands for her.  In simple, powerful prose Simas has  given us a tale of survival, of triumph over tragedy.  It's shocking and poetic and tragic,  and finally uplifting. You might weep,  you won't forget it.

UNRAVELING ANNE.  by Laurel Saville.  Amazon Encore.  Kindle  $7.99.  (Also on the Amazon bestseller list).  A memoir of a beautiful, brilliant woman whose downward spiral led her to a violent death. Saville's mother, Anne Ford, was a ravishing beauty queen, model, actress, fashion designer in Los Angeles, who dated Marlon Brando. Through bad choices, booze and possibly creeping schizo-phrenia, she  threw her talents and looks away in the hippy 60s and 70s of L.A. Saville and her brother were raised in near-degradation, subjected to their mother's daily abuse, exposed to a nightly parade of strange men, and  left to clothe and feed themselves for years.

  Living back East with her father, Saville learned her mother  was now living in the streets in empty lots.  Finally she was found strangled and stabbed to death in a burnt-out hovel. After her death she discovered   clues to her mother's past.  An emotionally starved childhood with  unloving and unforgiving parents. At nineteen when Anne came home pregnant, her father  punched her in the stomach.  Saville slowly began to grasp who her mother really was: a sensitive, possibly schizophrenic woman, rejected by parents who had primed her for success, then shunned her as a failure, an obscenity.  She finally understood  that though deeply flawed,  a cruel and competitive mother, Anne Ford was also a  human deserving of love. This is a tale of surviving and healing, a testimony to the generosity  of a daughter who could finally understand,  and even forgive, her mother.

SHOES, HAIR, NAILS.  By Deborah Batterman.  Kindle. $4.99.  A collection of stories set in New York, Las Vegas, and life in  post-9/11, about relationships between mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, lovers and friends.  On the surface they seem to be about the day to day,  but then evolve into stories of  human frailty,  male and female sexuality,  and how we handle longing and rejection. Each story starts simply, then sideswipes the reader with heart-rending takes on morality, mortality, and all the epic mishaps in-between. The writing is elegant, restrained, often satirical.

"Shoes" explores a mother's addiction to pricey shoes,  then the authors hijacks us from shoes to desire to sex to adultery to a character's death.  Shoes as metaphor.  In "Hair, ' a mother cold-bloodedly abandons her  young daughter to a friend, then, out of dim-wittedness, sadism, or some form of sociopathy, through the years writes letters to her  daughter about her fashionable life in Paris, her every-changing lovers,  and hair-styles. When the mother finally disappears,  nothing found but her wallet, this reader stood and cheered.  So we are swept along with  Batterman's  gleaming  little gems of poignant,  heart-breaking, laugh-out-loud stories that address the universals of love, death, birth, loss and our against-all-odds human will to survive. Brilliant stories to cherish  & reread.

DELIGHTFULLY DIFFERENT.  By D.S. Walker.  Kindle $7.99.  (Pricey, but an important book.)
Much more than fiction,  an award-winning educational novel aimed at  9-12 YA readers.  But  adults should read too.  Especially those with children on the autism spectrum.  Its deals with ASPERGER'S SYNDROME,  one of those medical  conditions most parents are not aware of - until their child is afflicted.  This is a lovely work of fiction that also educates, and tells the truth. And most importantly, it teaches Tolerance. Its told from two different perspectives, the mother's and the afflicted daughter's.  Mia Lung, a young girl with Asperger's Syndrome, allows us into her life and mind so we  'personally' experience  her life of deep sensory sensitivity,  her 'differentness' from other children,  her pain from their bullying.

 Walker,  a registered nurse of 25 years, studied sensory processing and knows of what she speaks, so there is a beauty in how she translates Mia's 'affliction' into more of a personality replete with  'quirks,' as all human have. Its hard to do this book justice. Walker dispels much of the mystery of AS,  as she gently advocates Tolerance as a humane treatment.  She also emphasizes how drastically teachers and guidance counselors need to be re-educated about AS, since they handle these children everyday.  DELIGHTFULLY DIFFERENT  is also important because it deals with ASPERGER'S SYNDROME in a female child, whereas most literature deals with AS afflicted males.  I thank Walker for writing this important book.  More people should be aware of it. It needs vigorous marketing by the publishers!

THE OLD MERMAID'S TALE.  By Kathleen Valentine.  Kindle, $3.99  A lavish,  sweeping saga of  maritime history, myth, and an all-encompassing love. A coming-of-age tale set in the Great Lakes region, rough, bustling  waterfronts of the early 1960s. Clair Wagner, a modest Ohio girl, enters college at nearby Port Presque Isle and is drawn to the unknown, even the forbidden, in the waterfront grog-shops of Lake Erie where she is ultimately exposed to seamen, poets, harlots,  musicians,  to phantoms and legends that step fully-fleshed into her life.

Valentine's writing is so sensuous and graphic, it resurrects the lusty, maritime smells and tastes of that bygone era. Clair is initially swept off her feet by the dashing seaman, Pio, but  finds a deeper love in Baptiste, the hypnotic Breton, a seaman and musician of tragic, aching vulnerability who harbors  a dark secret from his past. While exploring this complex and doomed love, the author transports us to other eras:  shipwrecks on the Great Lakes,  Native American legends come alive,  the boomtown years of  prosperity in these slowly fading waterfront towns. There are scenes where the book's depth approaches the Biblical,  the epiphanic, as her characters contemplate the meaning of love, and of existence.  The writing is on an epic scale such as Fielding and Melville. A nourishing novel, a great journey. I loved it.

Its sheer coincidence that these books were all written by women.  I hope men will read them, too. In a forthcoming post I will list books authored by men that I read in 2011 and enjoyed and recommend.

What is great literature, we ask?  The answer is still the same: books that last down the centuries. Alas,  the classics don't always give us answers to contemporary life. The world is moving fast,  each day it's transformed by coding gurus.  And so are we. As we march inexorably toward a radically greater degree of transparency in our personal lives, perhaps what we look for in a good book is empathetic characters who make us feel less alone, less naked.

 Even if they start out  as fascinating  psychopaths who run on all fours, in the end we want our characters rehabbed. We want  to relate to them, want them to make us laugh and cry. We want  high-low humor, secret vices,  acts of contrition.  In short, we want books full of  characters like us:  Fearful,  questing,  excruciatingly complex.  Losers who morph into heroes.  And heroes who morph into everyday humans searching for love.

( Martin Luther King Day.)