Please help me welcome a fellow historical fiction author, Linda Ballou, who had the enviable job of living in the Hawaiian Islands to conduct her research! Let’s take a peek at her bio and then find out more about her.
Adventure travel writer, Linda Ballou, is the author of three novels and numerous travel articles appearing in national publications. Wai-nani, a New Voice from old Hawai’i, is her ultimate destination piece. It takes you to the wild heart of old Hawai’i, a place you can’t get to any other way. Hang on tight for a thrilling ride from the showjumping arena to the ethereal beauty of the John Muir Wilderness in The Cowgirl Jumped Over the Moon. Her latest effort, Embrace of the Wild, is historical fiction inspired by the dynamic Isabella Bird, a Victorian-age woman who explored Hawai’i and the Rocky Mountains in the late 1870s. Linda’s travel collection Lost Angel Walkabout-One Traveler’s Tales is an armchair traveler’s delight filled with adventure to whet your wanderlust. Linda loves living on the coast of California and has created a collection of her favorite day trips for you in Lost Angel in Paradise. All of her books are available at www.LindaBallouAuthor.com and online distribution sites in print and e-book format. She spotlights her travels on www.LostAngelAdventures.com.
Betty: What inspired you to write the story you’re sharing with us today?
Linda: Ka’ahumanu was a woman in history that stirred my imagination. Brave, athletic, strong, passionate, caring, and centered in herself, I saw her as a role model and forerunner to the modern woman. She became the inspiration for my character, Wai-nani. I was first introduced to this character in history in the 70s –a time when women were breaking out of accepted molds. Her literal journey follows the rise of Kamehameha the Great, but her more important mythological journey takes her to her truth and discovering the extent of her powers.
Betty: Which character arrived fully or mostly developed?
Linda: Wai-nani (Ka’ahumanu) embodies all that was good in ancient Polynesian society. Athletic, assertive, and brave she stands beside her warrior-king husband sharing in his joys and sorrows for forty years. Like all Hawaiians, she is a water baby—finding strength, solace, and wisdom in the sea. Her greatest pleasure is swimming with her wild dolphin friend, Eku. Throughout her life, she rails against the “kapu system” that calls for human sacrifices, separate eating-houses for men and women, and severe penalties for the slightest infractions of laws imposed upon the common people by ruling chiefs and priests vested with the power of gods. She triumphs and becomes the most powerful woman in old Hawaii. I tried to bring this powerful personage in history to life for modern readers.
Betty: Which story element sparked the idea for this story: setting, situation, character, or something else?
Linda: When I was 28, I took one blissful year off and spent it on the north shore of the Island of Kauai. I took a job as a cub reporter on the local paper. It happened that they ran a 200th-anniversary issue spotlighting the arrival of Captain James Cook on Kauai in 1778. This is where ano ano, the seed, was planted and the story took root in my heart. Historical accounts often speak of the savage Hawaiians stabbing the great navigator in the back. This prompted me to learn more about what was happening in the Hawaiian culture at that time. What I learned disturbed me. Indeed, they did kill the good captain. It is also true that Cook’s men trespassed on sacred ground, trampled on religious beliefs and ate the natives out of house and home. Ka’ahumanu and Kamehameha were there. I determined to tell the story of Cook’s demise and what followed through her eyes.
Betty: Which character(s) were the hardest to get to know? Why do you think?
Linda: Getting into the mindset of the warrior prophesied to unite the warring Hawaiian Islands required relinquishing traditionally held values and attempting to absorb the ways of the ancient Polynesian view. He was inward, meditative, and sometimes sullen, but always brave and determined to fulfill his destiny.
Betty: What kind of research did you need to do to write this story?
Linda: Research for this story spanning twenty years became a beautiful obsession for me. I visited all the places described in the story to absorb the ancient mana, or spiritual energy resting there for those who chose to receive it. I read all of the oldest chronicles written by natives who were taught to read and write by missionaries. I interviewed a healing kumu in Hilo and spoke with elders about Hawaiian beliefs many of which are relevant today. Martha Beckworth’s Hawaiian Mythology was my greatest resource for the facts about the ancient Hawaiian culture. The Hawaiian language is difficult for westerners, so I added a glossary of words I used in the text and changed the names of the characters to make it easier for western readers to relate and become engaged in the story.
I have a playlist on youtube that answer the most common questions I receive about the ancient Hawaiian culture
Betty: How many drafts of the story did you write before you felt the story was complete?
Linda: At least three. I conferred with my editor, a Hawaiian scholar, and got beta reader opinions before daring to publish this story which is sacred to the Hawaiian people. I was told by the Hawaiian scholar that my story was charming, but if a haole (white foreigner) published this fictionalized account of the Hawaiian story, I would receive 200 years of bad luck. This set me back on my heels for at least a year. In the end, I took Anais Nin’s words to heart and moved forward.
And then the day came
When the risk to remain
Tight in a bud was more painful
Than the risk it took to blossom. Anais Nin
Betty: How long did it take for you to write the story you’re sharing with us? Is that a typical length of time for you? Why or why not?
Linda: The actual writing perhaps three years, but the depth of research was a twenty-year excuse to be in the Islands. Typically, it will take me a year, or so to write a novel.
Betty: What rituals or habits do you have while writing?
Linda: I read materials relevant to the subject I am writing about the night before enlisting my subconscious to the task while I sleep. Then I write first thing in the morning before being interrupted by the demands of the day. If I get 500-1000 words out I think I’m doing great.
Betty: Every author tends to overuse certain words or phrases in drafts, such as just, once, smile, nod, etc. What are yours?
Linda: I tend to gush over the beauty of a place. I have to tone this down so that my work is not too flowery. Many readers view me as a nature writer. I take that as a compliment.
Betty: Do you have any role models? If so, why do you look up to them?
Linda: I wrote a piece titled Jack London and Me. It is about the many connections I have to this man and how our paths have crossed. Jack lived life with daring and bravado. He was also very generous to others. He is considered the master of adventure writing. I admire his writing as well as his zest for life. I visit his Beauty Ranch where he rests in the Valley of Moon as often as I can to pay my respects to a great man and wonderful writer.
Betty: Do you have a special place to write? Revise? Read?
Linda: I live in what I call the “Cottage of Content” in the Santa Monica Mountains. I am surrounded by trees and watch my birds flit through the canopy while I write. I am happy here away from the fray. After lunch, I take a meditative walk in the mountains. When I return, I sit on my deck, feet on the rail, reading what I wrote that morning and reflecting on how it can be better. That is a perfect writing day for me.
Betty: Many authors have a day job. Do you? If so, what is it and do you enjoy it?
Linda: I have sold real estate all my adult life. I am listed as an independent contractor on my tax returns. This position affords me the freedom to back off, or hit it hard. It has served me well over the years. It has given me the freedom to travel and write about my adventures. I have achieved a delicate balance between selling real estate and my writing projects and feel blessed to have both worlds.
Betty: As an author, what do you feel is your greatest achievement?
Linda: Publishing Wai-nani is my proudest achievement. It was by far the most difficult and complicated work that I have done. Writing it in the first person meant I couldn’t use any modern words like plastic. I had to be very careful about being accurate in my depiction, still, I knew there would be push back from some Hawaiians. I am happy to report I have good reviews from long-term Hawaiian residents, and blooded Hawaiians as well. I love this story and have no regrets.
Betty: What other author would you like to sit down over dinner and talk to? Why?
Linda: I would love to join Jack and Charmian London for one of their dinners with the many fascinating friends they invited to the Beauty Ranch. To ride with them through the redwoods and swim in the lake Jack created is a fond fantasy of mine. We wouldn’t talk about writing, I would ask him about his many adventures, especially his time in the Islands. He was loved by the Hawaiians for the way he told their stories.
Betty: Success looks different to different people. It could be wealth, or fame, or an inner joy at reaching a certain level. How do you define success in terms of your writing career?
Linda: One reader told me “Your book was my salvation. It took me out of myself while I was going through a bad patch.” This kind of feedback is not uncommon. It makes me feel the time I spend writing is worthwhile. I sell houses to keep a roof over my head, I write stories to soothe my soul and to connect with other human beings.
Born into the royal class, Wai-nani rails against harsh penalties for women meted out by priests and ruling chiefs invested with the power of gods. Her rebellion takes her on a journey that puts her squarely into the eye of a political storm.
She meets Makaha, inspired by Kamehameha the Great, an inward thinking youthful warrior who is prophesied to unite the Hawaiian Islands. This is the beginning of a tumultuous forty-year love affair. Makaha accepts the challenge to end years of tribal wars and gives Hawaii a golden age. Wai-nani must decide if she will stand beside him before, during, and after his rise to power.
Like all Hawaiians, Wai-nani is a water baby finding sustenance and solace in the sea. Her best friend is a dolphin named Eku who swims with her on her mythological journey. She tells us what was happening in her beautiful world when Captain Cook arrived bringing new weapons and spreading disease in his wake. Wai-nani follows the rise of Makaha to power, but when he dies she breaks from his old ways. Beloved by the common people she defies death-dealing priests to lead them to freedom from the harsh, 2,000-year-old Polynesian “Kapu” system that called for human sacrifice to pagan gods.
Thanks for sharing the backstory of your story, Linda!
Award-winning Author of Historical Fiction with Heart, and Haunting, Bewitching Love Stories
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