In the summer of 2000 I was suddenly single and looking for something different to do. I signed up on a whim for a fiction writing class at the Union County College in Cranford NJ. It was in this class that I wrote my first story about my series character, a very hardboiled sex worker named Diana Andrews. As of now Diana has appeared in more than a hundred short stories and the novella The Same Mistake Twice.
Later that year I returned to my favorite place on earth, the Big Island of Hawaii. It was my third visit, and this time I went equipped to hike down into the Waipi’o Valley, a place of such unearthly beauty that it almost makes the rest of the island look drab.
Only one route leads to the valley, a road that drops almost a thousand feet in less than a mile. The grade is so steep that two-wheel drive vehicles can’t hold the road surface. Hundreds of feet straight down, the remains of a pickup truck that lost the struggle with gravity reinforce the warnings in the guidebooks.
As I started to walk down, a local woman picked me up in her van and delivered me to the floor of the valley. On the way she warned me that I might find aloha in short supply. The handful of residents of the valley tend not to welcome visitors, and they often feud among themselves. The Hawaii County Police, who are stretched thin over an island the size of Connecticut, usually leave them to it.
I spent a day wandering the valley. I viewed waterfalls dangling from the rim like the coolest, cleanest white garments ever imagined, and I dodged the wild horses that roam where they will. “Dodge” is no exaggeration. One stallion blocked a trail that I planned to take and dared me to keep coming.
I soon realized that I needed to send Diana into the valley to confront this intoxicating blend of beauty and menace. And so I began my novel Tentacles, now finished but still unpublished, in which she travels to the Big Island with a client who neglects to mention that some very nasty people are after him.
My research took me all over the island. I learned that the police spend much of their time in a region called Puna. This rainiest part of the Big Island is home to marijuana farmers, meth cookers, fugitives, survivalists, and thieves of every description. Several Puna cases have attracted the attention of true crime authors. Some names to Google are Dana Ireland, Ken and Yvonne Mathison, Brittany Royal, and Boaz Johnson.
Puna is also where the goddess Pele sometimes takes offense at the works of puny humans and obliterates them with her the molten innards of the island. The volcanic eruption of 2018 destroyed some of the locations I have used in my stories.
Some of the characters Diana meets in Tentacles proved to have lives of their own. Detective Errol Coutinho of the Hawaii County Police stars in three novels, The Place Of Refuge, The Hollow Vessel, and Blood Like Rain, which is the most recent book in the series. Criminal defense attorney Agnes Rodrigues figures in The Honorary Jersey Girl. And young Officer Jenny Freitas has appeared in AHMM in “J.D.L.R.,” “The Rabbi,” and now “The Conversation Killer.” Lately, Jenny has been running away with the entire series. I’m not sure I could stop her, even if I wanted to.
It seems to me that Pele has given me a choice. I can write historical fiction about my settings as I remember them, or I can return to the Big Island for another visit and see what’s there now.
Take a wild guess.