Aloha’oe, Alan! Let me begin by thanking you for sacrificing your time to talk to me. I know you are currently inundated with preparations of your upcoming book tour through California, New Mexico, Florida, and Hawai’i to introduce and talk about your latest novel DAUGHTER OF MOLOKA’I. You are now four days from the commencement of your book tour. Mahalo wau, ho’omaika’i.
Alan: No’u ka hau’oli.
Donna: I was fortunate enough to read and review this past October and as I said in my review, “I felt as if I had been given a memorable gift.” (Read Review of DAUGHTER OF MOLOKA’I). The book was beautifully written, and I surmised that you were a kama’aina because of the on point, accurate historical information of Hawai’i that you write about in your novels. Where do you reside, Alan? You’ve written three great books about Hawai’i, is this an indication of a permanent move to the beautiful islands of Hawai’i?
Alan: I was born in New Jersey, moved to California when I was eighteen, but I’ve loved Hawai’i from my first visit there in 1980. Not just the physical environment, which is obviously beautiful –- I love the people I’ve met there, their sense of humor and tolerance and aloha. From the start I had an avid interest in Hawaiian history and culture, amassing a library of books on the subjects over the years. When I started researching MOLOKA’I, I spent many happy afternoons poring over old newspapers on microfilm in the Honolulu public library, excavating Hawai’i’s past through newspaper stories as well as photos and documents from the Hawai’i State Archives and the Bishop Museum.
Hawai’i has been the place I’ve always felt happiest and most content, and actually, yes, my wife is retiring from her job and we hope to move permanently to Hawai’i by the end of this year.
Donna: Before I dig into DAUGHTER OF MOLOKA’I, I would like to ask you a question about Hawai’i. Since I left the island paradise in 2004, I have sensed some changes. I sensed from our last exchange when I reviewed your novel that 1.) I’ve been away from the islands far too long, and 2.) there’s been a change to how we now write Hawai’i. It was Hawaii for as long as I lived there, but I have been seeing the inclusion of the Hawaiian diacritical mark between the two i’s since reviewing your book. Can you tell us anything about the change, so more ‘a’ole maoli ka po’e Hawai’i (non-native Hawaiians) understand why they are now seeing Hawaii as Hawai’i?
Alan: The glottal stop (represented by the ‘okina) and the emphases on long or short vowel sounds (indicated by the kahakō) were part of the original oral Hawaiian language. But when the Protestant missionaries helped create the written Hawaiian language, they didn’t bother to use diacritical marks to represent those nuances of the language. It’s kind of remarkable that they even tried to create a written form of Hawaiian because within decades the Hawaiian language would be banned from being taught in schools in favor of English by the neo-colonialists who rose to influence in the islands. It’s only been since the latter part of the 20th century — as Hawaiian language, history, and culture have been embraced again in Hawaiʻi — that the ‘okina and kahakō have been reintroduced. It’s still inconsistently applied; my guess is that for tourism purposes the marks are often left out for fear Mainland tourists won’t understand them, much less be able to pronounce them. When I published MOLOKA’I in 2003, my publisher suggested we use the ‘okina in the title –partly because I used them, out of a desire for strict accuracy, in the text of the book, and partly to differentiate it from another novel titled MOLOKAI, a classic Hawaiian novel by O.A. Bushnell, which was published at a time before the ‘okina was acceptable to Western publishers.
Donna: Thank you for sharing the historical information, Alan. We know DAUGHTER OF MOLOKA’I is the sequel to your bestselling novel MOLOKA’I; do you have any plans to continue the sequel? You have to know what it feels like when one becomes enthralled with the characters of a favored novel. Hoping there is more to come provides the fans with something to look forward to. If so, without showing your hand, can you tell us where the next sequel is going, and more importantly when we can expect to see the upcoming sequel, if there is one? If the sequel ends with DAUGHTER OF MOLOKA’I, do you have another novel on the horizon, or in the works? Again, if so, would you bait the hook with just enough for us to swallow the hook and await its release?
Alan: The only possibility I see for a third book would be a prequel to MOLOKA’I that would cover the early years of the settlement. But since those were rather unrelentingly grim and often violent times, I’m not sure it’s a story I’d want to write or one readers would want to read. If I find the right take on it, maybe, but for my next novel I have in mind a standalone book set in 19th century Hawai’i.
Donna: For those of us that read MOLOKA’I, or know anything about Hawai’i, we know that MOLOKA’I is more non-fiction than fiction. In the sequel, DAUGHTER OF MOLOKA’I, is this novel presented in the same way; more non-fictional than fiction?
Alan: Certainly the middle third of the book, set in the Japanese internment camps, hews as closely to actual historical fact as I was able to. And every location – from the Kapi’olani Home for Girls to Chinatown in 1922 to California in the 1930s – was heavily researched. I try not to invent, say, the stores along a street or the names of the people who own them; I prefer to ferret that out through research so that the locales are as accurate as I can make them. To me that’s the difference between writing historical fiction and writing a period piece.
Donna: What is the most significant perception or image you want your readers to take away from DAUGHTER OF MOLOKA’I?
Alan: The way that certain myths and lies used by whites in the 1900s against Asian immigrants (“They can’t assimilate into American culture” “They’re taking jobs away from white men”) are still being used today against Latino immigrants and Muslims. We’re still dealing with the same sort of xenophobia and prejudice. What I try to do in all my novels is to show our common humanity so that readers will come away realizing that despite differing cultures, people are people: we all have families that we cherish, we all want to be treated with respect and dignity, and we all want to make a better life for our children.
Donna: I’m going to share your BIO, which is pretty inclusive, as well as impressive, but I’m not so sure your readers know about all of your many ventures and accomplishments in your writing life from short stories to teleplays, screenplays, musicals, and comic books. Comic books, Alan! How fascinating! There are adults I know today who still love their comic books. You’ve covered many areas of the writing arenas. Is there an area of writing that you are naturally drawn to, or do you enjoy all facets of writing equally?
Alan: I enjoy them all; each has its own rewards. When you write a TV script you know it’s just a blueprint for a final product that will involve hundreds of talented people, and that collaboration can be exciting and fun. Producing allows me to flex different creative muscles — in the editing room, the dubbing stage, casting and music spotting and a dozen other areas. When it all comes together in the right way — as it did in my Twilight Zone episode “Her Pilgrim Soul” — the result is more than the sum of its parts. But I’ve really only had a few instances of that happening in TV: Twilight Zone, China Beach, L.A. Law, a few other episodes here and there.
My influences growing up were equal parts mainstream literature, fantasy/speculative fiction, movies and television, stage drama, and comic books. And I’ve gotten to work in every one of those forms. I enjoyed writing comics because I got to chronicle the histories of characters like Batman and Daredevil that I loved as a child –- that I still love, to this day. I’d always wanted to be involved in the theater and fate delivered me the opportunity to write the libretto for a musical, WEIRD ROMANCE, with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by David Spencer. These are all experiences I was grateful to have; they all informed and improved me as a writer. I enjoy working in a variety of media.
Donna: I have saved this for one of my last questions, Alan. While you have written in multiple venues, you have also worked as a writer and producer of the television series L.A. Law which earned you an Emmy in 1991. I understand you have also been nominated for two additional Emmys, once for a Golden Globe and for three Writers Guild of America Awards for outstanding Teleplay of the Year. That’s quite a remarkable résumé, Alan. Are you still involved in the production of television series or movies? I would think that writing and producing would be in a completely different spectrum than writing for one’s self and fans. Will you tell us what some of the differences are between writing and producing and writing for yourself and your fans? Do you find one preferable to the other?
Alan: I’ve been pretty much focused entirely on books the past ten years. I did have a feature film in development during that time; it came heartbreakingly close to getting made, then disappeared down the swirling black hole of development hell. Eventually I just got tired of the emotional roller coaster you ride with each project. Writing novels -– stories that people actually get to read, and hearing from readers of how the stories moved them or taught them something they didn’t know -– is in the long term more satisfying than writing movie scripts that are seen only by a handful of executives. Although I must admit I do miss the variety: write a book, write a script, produce a show, then back to books. Wouldn’t mind doing it again now and then.
Donna: Alan, you are a man of many creative talents and it does not appear to me that you show any signs of slowing down. I wish you much success on your book tour and again, I want to thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to talk about your work. Before we wrap things up, I would ask you, if there is one piece of advice you could give to someone just beginning their writing life, what would that be?
Alan: This sounds totally clichéd, but: Write your passion. Passion gets you noticed. The first screenplay I wrote was something I felt passionately about; it got me my first agent in Hollywood and all the work I’d get for the next ten years. MOLOKA’I was a passion project for me as well, and I invested three years and most of our savings in the writing of it; and although it at first seemed like a commercial failure, in the long run it became a bestseller (albeit about an unlikely subject) and gave me a whole new career path.
Donna: Again, Mahalo iā kou manawa. And safe travels during your book tour for DAUGHTER OF MOLOKA’I. Aloha!
The following press release was provided by Alan Brennert’s Publisher, St. Martin’s Press and provides details of Brennert’s novel DAUGHTER OF MOLOKA’I, additional information about Alan Brennert, as well as his upcoming tour dates:
For Immediate Release: On-sale: February 19, 2019
Media Contacts: Rebecca Lang, Senior Publicity Manager
(646) 307-5573 | Rebecca.Lang@stmartins.com
The highly anticipated follow up to Alan Brennert’s acclaimed book club favorite, and national bestseller, Moloka’i
DAUGHTER OF MOLOKA’I
Alan Brennert’s 2003 novel Moloka’i was a book club phenomenon that became a national bestseller. In DAUGHTER OF MOLOKA’I Brennert returns to the world that captivated hundreds of thousands of readers to tell the story of Ruth—a remarkable woman who grapples with identity, belonging, family, and history.
In 1917 Ruth Utagawa, no more than a year old, is brought to the Kapiolani Home for Girls in Honolulu. Ruth is hapa—half Hawaiian and half Japanese. Taken from her parents who both have Hansen’s disease (leprosy) and are quarantined on the island of Moloka’i, Ruth lives with the nuns at Kapi’olani until she is adopted by Taizo and Etsuko Watanabe, a Japanese family with three sons. The Watanabes move with Ruth to California to help on Taizo’s brother’s farm. They flourish in California, living in a close-knit Japanese community. By 1941, Ruth is married with two kids of her own. Though the Watanabes had always faced the blatant racism from white communities who saw them as taking farm land away from Americans, the attack on Pearl Harbor changes everything about life as they know it. The Watanabes are interned at the Manzanar Relocation Camp, testing the limits of their strength and resolve. After the war they work to rebuild their lives, having lost everything but each other. When Ruth receives a letter from her birth mother, Rachel (the protagonist in Moloka’i), her life is thrown into confusion once again, as she is forced to reckon with her past.
DAUGHTER OF MOLOKA’I is a richly emotional story about personal discovery and the bonds of family. It is also an unfortunately timely story. The anti-immigrant sentiment growing in certain sectors of U.S. society today mirrors unfounded fears about Japanese immigrants in the early 20th century. There are sobering parallels between the internment of 110,000 Japanese Americans during WWII and the children and families who are now being detained and separated at the southern U.S. border. Through Brennert’s deeply realized characters and vivid prose, readers will feel the injustice and prejudice that still runs rampant in contemporary society. They will also be swept up by a powerful, and ultimately, triumphant story.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
ALAN BRENNERT is the author of Honolulu and Moloka’i, which was a 2006-2007 BookSense Reading Group Pick and won the 2006 Bookies Award for the Book Club Book of the Year. He won an Emmy Award and a People’s Choice Award for his work as a writer-producer on the television series L.A. Law, and he has been nominated for a Golden Globe Award and for the Writers Guild of America Award for Outstanding Teleplay of the Year. His story “Ma Qui” won a Nebula Award. He lives in Southern California, but his heart is in Hawai’i. @AlanBrennertAuthor
For more information, or to set up an interview with Alan Brennert, contact:
Rebecca Lang, Senior Publicity Manager at Rebecca.Lang@stmartins.com or 646-307-5573
Alan Brennert Will Be Touring To:
February 19 Orinda, CA Orinda Books, Luncheon 11:30 am
February 19 Santa Rosa Copperfield’s Books 7:00 pm
February 20 Pleasanton, CA Towne Center Books 11:00 am
February 20 Berkeley, CA Mrs. Dalloway’s 7:30 pm
February 22 Los Angeles, CA Vroman’s Bookstore 7:00 pm
February 24 Santa Fe, NM Jean Cocteau Theater 4:00 pm
Moderated by George R.R. Martin
March 2 Jensen Beach, FL Bookmania! Literary Festival 2:00 pm
March 6 Mission Viejo, CA Mission Viejo Library 7:00 pm
Writer’s Present Series
March 7 Carlsbad, CA Carlsbad Library, Dove Branch 6:30 pm
March 8 San Diego, CA Adventures By the Book 1:30 pm
Luncheon at Homestyle Hawaiian Pub & Eatery
April 6 Newport Beach, CA Literary Orange, Keynote speaker 2:50 pm
Mysterious Galaxy selling books
May 4 & 5 Honolulu, HI Hawai’i Book and Music Festival
May 6 Honolulu, HI Barnes & Noble 7:00 pm
May 11 Pasadena, CA Pasadena Public Library 3:00 pm
Alan Brennert is a novelist, screenwriter, and playwright. He grew up in New Jersey but moved to California in 1973. His novel Moloka’i was a national bestseller and a One Book, One San Diego selection for 2012. It also received the Bookies Award, sponsored by the Contra Costa Library, for the 2006 Book Club Book of the Year. His next novel, Honolulu, won First Prize in Elle Magazine’s Literary Grand Prix for Fiction and was named one of the best books of 2009 by The Washington Post. Of his novel Palisades Park, People Magazine said: “Brennert writes his valentine to the New Jersey playground of his youth in Ragtime-style, mixing fact and fiction. It’s a memorable ride.”His work as a writer-producer for the television series L.A. Law earned him an Emmy Award and a People’s Choice Award in 1991. He has been nominated for an Emmy on two other occasions, once for a Golden Globe Award, and three times for the Writers Guild Award for Outstanding Teleplay of the Year. Alan’s short story”Ma Qui” was honored with a Nebula Award in 1992. His story “Her Pilgrim Soul” was adapted by Brennert himself for the Alan Menken musical Weird Romance in 1992. His novel, Daughter of Moloka’i is a follow-up to Moloka’i that tells the story of Rachel Kalama’s daughter Ruth, her early life, her internment during World War II, and her eventual meeting with her birth mother, Rachel. The novel explores the women’s 22-year relationship, only hinted at it in Moloka’i. Photo Credit: David Wells
Follow Alan Brennert on his Website, Facebook, Goodreads, and BookBrowse
Other Books by Alan Brennert:
Rachel Kalama, a spirited seven-year-old Hawaiian girl, dreams of visiting far-off land like her father, a merchant seaman. Then one day a rose-colored mark appears on her skin, and those dreams are stolen from her. Taken from her home and family, Rachel is sent to Kalaupapa, the quarantined leprosy settlement on the island of Moloka’i. Here her life is supposed to end—but instead she discovers it is just beginning.
Traveling to Hawai’i as a “picture bride” in 1914, Regret finds not the affluent young husband and chance at education she’d been promised, but a poor embittered laborer who takes his frustrations out on his new wife. As she makes her own way in this strange land, with the help of three fellow picture brides, she prospers along with her adopted city. But paradise has its dark side, whether it’s the struggle for survival in Honolulu’s tenements or a crime that will become the most infamous in the island’s history.
Growing up in the 1930s, there is no more magical place than Palisades Amusement Park in New Jersey—especially for seven-year-old Antoinette, who horrifies her mother by insisting on the unladylike nickname Toni, and her brother, Jack. Toni helps her parents, Eddie and Adele Stopka, at the stand where they sell homemade French fries amid the roar of the Cyclone roller coaster. There is also the lure of the world’s biggest salt-water pool, complete with divers whose astonishing stunts inspire Toni, despite her mother’s insistence that girls can’t be high divers.
But a family of dreamers doesn’t always share the same dreams, and then the world intrudes: There’s the Great Depression, and Pearl Harbor, which hits home in ways that will split the family apart; and perils like fire and race riots in the park. Both Eddie and Jack face the dangers of war, while Adele has ambitions of her own—and Toni is determined to take on a very different kind of danger in impossible feats as a high diver. Yet they are all drawn back to each other—and to Palisades Park—until the park closes forever in 1971.
Evocative and moving, with the trademark brilliance at transforming historical events into irresistible fiction that made Alan Brennert’s Moloka’i and Honolulu into reading group favorites, Palisades Park takes us back to a time when life seemed simpler—except, of course, it wasn’t.
7 thoughts on “Interview with American Bestselling Author Alan Brennert”
Thanks for taking time from your reading & writing to visit my blog!
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My pleasure! I expect to find some additional time to visit more often. – Donna
I just ordered the first one last month, and it is on my list for March. I can’t wait to read!
Wow! Great interview! The book sounds very interesting and I am looking forward to reading it!
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Thank you! Start with MOLOKA’I first and then read the sequel. As a prior Hawaii resident, I’m ordering Honolulu to read and will share it with you afterward.
You have quite the lengthy TBR list. 🙂
Just a quick note to say “Thank You!” for this great interview by one of my favorite writers. Much appreciated!
I’ve enjoyed reading his books for years. I also remember his really neat comic book stories featuring Batman, Daredevil, and other favorites from way back when…
Hope to see him when he signs at Vroman’s Bookstore on Friday, February 22 at 7 p.m.
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Thank you, Michael. Alan Brennert has quite an impressive résumé, and his writing is some of the best I’ve read. I hope you get to see him on the February 22. Please tell him Donna sends her regards; however you may have to mention either my interview or D.B. Moone.