In his varied career, Lono Waiwaiole has been an editor, sports information director and professional poker player. He currently teaches english and social studies in Gaston Oregon and writes hard-boiled, noir mysteries.
Lono's debut novel, Wiley's Lament, was named a finalist for the 2003 Oregon Book Awards for fiction and an Anthony award for best first novel of 2003. It was followed by Wiley's Shuffle (2004) and Wiley's Refrain (2005). The three books feature a tough, cynical poker player named Wiley. The first two books are set in Portland, Oregon and the third is set part in Portland and part on the Big Island of Hawai'i. The Wiley books are known for being as noir as they come. The body counts are high.
In 2009 Lono stepped away from the Wiley series with Dark Paradise (Dennis McMillan Publications.) Dark Paradise is set on the Big Island. It is a modern day crime story whose roots lie deep in the imperialism and "internal colonialism" practiced by the United States on this island culture. The body counts are just as high.
This is the first of a two-part interview with Lono. You can read the second part of the interview tomorrow on The Hawaiian Eye.
Tell us about yourself. Everybody in Hawai'i is part something. What are your parts?
I'm half Hawaiian, a quarter Italian and a quarter Pennsylvania Dutch.
You've probably got the perfect Hawaiian name. Lono is the god associated with clouds, storms and earthquakes. Is that your muse?
I think Lono is also associated with fertility. I suspect my "muse" comes more from that angle, if any.
Your Wiley books are set in Portland, how did you come to set Dark Paradise in Hawai'i?
I moved from Portland to the Big Island as I was wrapping up the second Wiley book, so the third in that series is actually set in both places. Dark Paradise was written almost entirely while I lived over there, and my goal was to transfer some of what I was absorbing from that environment to my fiction.
Dark Paradise is a complicated novel with 10 point of view characters--Geronimo, Nalani, Dominic, Sonny, Buddy, Jesus, Kitano, Jay-jay, Kapua, Robbie. How were you able to get inside the heads of all those different characters?
Assuming that I actually succeeded in doing that (readers will render the ultimate verdict), I don't recall it being particularly difficult. You have to keep in mind that I was on a first-name basis with each of them. It might have been more difficult if they weren't all my children in the first place. As it happened, I knew everything they had ever thought, were thinking and would ever think.
Dark Paradise is set against the backdrop of the NBA Championship series between the Lakers and Pistons. Does that have significance in the story?
One of the things that struck me immediately about Hawai`i is the popularity of basketball. Since I am an addict myself, I always have an eye out for my next connection. The Detroit-Los Angeles series was happening when the actual event which triggered my fictional story occurred, and you couldn't go anywhere on the Big Island at the time without seeing it on a television screen or hearing people argue about it. Originally, the presence of the series was mostly atmospheric, but by the time I was done it had become the organizational structure of the story and somewhat metaphoric as well. The difference between those two teams and the way they were popularly perceived was similar to the way the less-informed view the islands.
That actual event, by the way, was "the biggest drug bust in the history of the Big Island." That actually happened, including the attempt to follow the drugs that ended up in the car being abandoned at the mall drugs intact. As usual, truth is stranger than fiction.
The reader won't find the usual chapters here. Instead, the story is divided up by the different parts of a basketball game. What's the significance in that?
See the previous question for the beginning of this answer. By the time I was revising the manuscript, my appreciation of the NBA playoffs at the time had deepened significantly as far as its application to the story is concerned. I think the characters are constrained by some arbitrary conditions they do not control, and the game parameters seemed like a way to symbolize those constraints.
Speaking of constraints, this novel is definitely noir in that everybody is trapped. Is that a good characterization of the locals in Hawai'i?
I just read a headline which stated that Hawai`i is the second-happiest state in the country. That may be true, but only because joy seems to be implanted in the Hawaiian DNA. I think this happiness is overlaid on a very distressed core which has easily discerned symptoms--exceptionally high levels of substance abuse (including food, I believe), domestic violence, child abuse, etcetera. Locals are unlike their tourist visitors--they know both sides of this picture. Within that understanding, I think they do feel trapped to some extent. It is not a world of their own making, but leaving it means leaving family and cultural ties as well.
Instead of the popular view of Hawai'i, you give us ice and gambling. Which one is closer to the truth?
That's the beauty of the situation over there as far as writing fiction is concerned--both are true (and both are exaggerated to some extent for effect). I think they are two sides of the same coin.
The most compelling characters in the book are Geronimo, an adulterous cop with a gambling problem (he's the good guy) and a teenager named Nalani who becomes an effective player because of the abuse she's suffered from her father. The big question in this reader's mind is, "Will Nalani be all right?" Even at the end, we're not sure. What do you think? Can you say without giving the ending away?
The answer to that question is the same as the answer to this one: Will the Hawaiian Islands be all right? I hope so in both cases. Certainly both have the potential to go either way.
Would you have your students read this book? Is there a lesson for them in it?
There is a lesson for my students in this book, both in its content and in the writing, but I do not encourage them to partake of it. In my school, I have to say Dark Paradise is not school appropriate. Fortunately for me, the superintendent of my school district is a fan of my books and hasn't run me out of town yet.
Was Dennis Mcmillan on board this project from the start? What kind of support did he give you?
He (Dennis) sent several of his shirts (they are collectible Aloha shirts) to the graphic designer, who came up with the cover. Oddly enough, Dennis lived on the Big Island longer than I did and knows it very well.
Dennis wanted this book from the beginning, but it started out as a project with my editor at St. Martin's. That editor moved on right after I delivered it, and St. Martin's decided to pass on it. The book was an orphan for more than a year after that while my agent tried to find somebody other than Dennis to publish it (someone more mainstream, let's say), but after I couldn't stand it any more I said send it to Dennis. To be honest, he was my first choice all along--not because of the potential money he represented, but because of the passion and the reputation for excellence.
As it turned out, he gave me the most important kind of support--he published the book, and he did so beautifully. The rest is pretty much up to me, but I'm okay with that. It was all up to me in the first place, right?
What's next? Will there be more Wileys? Any Hawaiian books? Will we see any of these characters again?
I am embroiled in a screen adaptation of Dark Paradise now. Someone in Hollywood thinks there might be a great film in the book somewhere, and my daughter and I are about to start on our third draft of a screenplay for that producer. We think it's great that they haven't already moved in another direction for screenwriters, but we are still several light years away from a movie actually getting made.
Consequently, I don't have a clear idea of what my next book will be. I have been so immersed in the characters from Dark Paradise that it seems natural to work with them again. On the other hand, Wiley is on the Big Island now, too, and it seems likely that his paths would cross with theirs in the near future. Oh, well, I don't have to sort that out until we finish messing with this screenplay--if we ever do.
Mahalo, Lono, for agreeing to the interview. I, for one, would jump at the chance to meet some of these characters again. These characters on the big screen with the Big Island scenery can't miss.
For more about Lono and Dark Paradise, hop on over to my Hawaiian Eye blog tomorrow.