Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Memorable Places from My Past

As I think back about growing up in Hawaii, certain places pop up as vivid images.

Chasing trains in the cane fields with my dad -- I accompanied my dad as he drove our Studebaker along dirt roads through the sugar cane fields on Oahu, following the trains that hauled the cut cane.  One time we hitched a ride on one of the narrow gauge engines, smoke spewing, the wind in our hair, feeling on top of the world.

The hot springs on the island of Hawaii -- On a vacation with my folks and my friend, Mike Gillespie, we stopped at a hot spring.  Mike and I floated in the crystal clear warm water and my dad took a picture of us from a cliff above.  I still have the picture, but the hot spring no longer exists.  A lava flow inundated it about ten years later.

Inventing things in my backyard -- Before school I’d go out in our backyard where I had a collection of airplane, radio and other miscellaneous parts and build contraptions, my inventions.

Being at school at night -- In the fourth grade I was a candy cane in the school Christmas pageant.  We performed at night and after getting in our costumes, we walked around campus, hiding from each other in the shadows.  School during the day was mundane, but at night it was magical.

The underwater cave on Mokulua -- Our junior year picnic took place at Lanikai beach.  One of our teachers, Mr. Paulsen, took us out to one of the Mokulua Islands by boat and led us into an underwater cave where he told Hawaiian ghost stories.  The cave can only be entered at low tide.  Sitting on the sand at the end of cave, I felt scared by the thought of the tide coming in and excited about being there. This led to a key scene in my first published novel, Retirement Homes Are Murder.

Rocky Hill -- My senior year in high school, a group of us would congregate on Saturday nights at the top of Rocky Hill on the edge of the Punahou campus to sing folk songs.  Looking out over Honolulu, being with friends and singing (I fortunately was always drowned out) gave me a sense of completeness.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Brooklyn Comes to Honolulu

As a boy growing up in Honolulu, I loved the Brooklyn Dodgers.  I cheered when they won and suffered when they lost.  Here’s what an observer would have seen on one special occasion for me:

An eleven-year-old in his Hawaiian shirt waits, the excitement and fear mixed in equal doses.  He has followed the Brooklyn Dodgers since he could remember, listening on the radio for the announcer to describe the next homer from Duke Snider, the pitch from Preacher Roe or the base stolen by Jackie Robinson.  Now these same Dodgers are arriving at his Honolulu airport as part of a 1956 tour to Japan.  As they get off the plane and receive leis, he waits in the terminal, fidgeting.  He holds a small notepad.  As the crowd approaches, he wants desperately to get autographs, but his natural shyness holds him back.  The excitement and fear battle.  Finally, he approaches a man and holds out his pad and pen.

“I ain’t no player, kid,” the man says.

The boy gulps, almost turns away, but now is committed.  He’s engulfed by the crowd of men, and ball players willingly sign his pad.

Jackie Robinson, Roy Campenella and Don Newcombe.  The boy has no recognition of their struggle.  Campenella looks like a Hawaiian to the boy, who has grown up among Hawaiians, Chinese, Japanese.  It won’t be until five years later that he first travels to the South, riding on a bus in Atlanta, curious as to why the black people gravitate to the back of the bus.

Don Drysdale.  Not a known name in 1956, but in the process of becoming.

Pee Wee Reese.  Pee Wee gets his picture taken with a group of hula girls.  The boy watches his agile movements, the sound images from the radio replaying–a dash to cut off a hard grounder, the rifle shot to first.

Bob Aspromonte.  One game and one at bat for Brooklyn in 1956.

The manager Walt Alston.

Bert Hamric.  Two games and one at bat for Brooklyn in 1955.

The boy has no clue who is famous and who is not.  They are all Brooklyn Dodgers.  Sounds and images from the radio, not real people.  The faces are a blur.  He gets as many signatures as he can from anyone he can find.  The shyness is gone.  He has a mission.

Clem Labine, Randy Jackson.  Fred Kipp, a name that is not remembered.

After it is all over and they have left, the boy looks at his notepad and sighs.  He has captured some of them, but has not got his favorite, Duke Snider.  He has no idea what Duke even looks like.

A gentle breeze fills the warm night air.  He clutches the pad to his chest.  He has seen his Dodgers.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Platform Tennis Mystery Novel

This week I received advance reader copies of my next mystery novel titled, Court Trouble, a Platform Tennis Mystery. I have played platform tennis for the last twenty years, love the sport and wanted to incorporate it into a mystery novel. The result will be published July 20, 2016.
I enjoyed setting a mystery in the world of platform tennis. It’s a racquet sport played with a paddle and specially designed ball. The court is a third the size of a tennis court and surrounded by a wire mesh fence. The rules are similar to tennis except you only have one serve and you can play the ball off the fence (like in racquetball) after the ball has hit the court (you can’t hit the fence first). It’s a great doubles game for players of all ages.
In Court Trouble when Mark Yeager’s friend is bludgeoned to death in the dark on a platform tennis court, Mark becomes an amateur sleuth to find which of the four suspects is the murderer. Avoiding attempts on his life, he must crack the case and figure out how to save the courts from being shut down by the city while waiting for doctor’s results on whether he is cancer-free after his bout with prostate cancer.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

The Great Bean War - A Memory of Childhood

Friendships can begin in strange ways.  That’s exactly what happened with Ronald Morgan and me.

A large shower tree dominated our yard.  When it blossomed, the sky came alive with yellow flowers.  The branches meant adventure for a young climber, providing a platform for forts or a place to spy upon people walking below.  But one of the unique aspects of this shower tree was the size of the hard black beans.  Up to two feet long and one inch in diameter, these objects were a nuisance to anyone mowing the lawn but a delight to me.  I’d crack them open and extract the sticky seeds, leaving a succulent mess on the lawn.  On more than one occasion these beans became weapons of mass destruction: swords, missiles, guns, and led inexorably to the great bean war.

Eleven-year olds are territorial.  I guarded my yard and shower tree against stray cats, dogs and, of course, uninvited human intruders.  So one day this new kid in the neighborhood showed up and stood across the alley staring at me.  Someone stuck out a tongue, someone called the other a name.  We faced each other like gunfighters in the middle of a dusty western town.  I reached down, picked up a bean and hurled it at the evil stranger.  He dodged, retrieved the bean and shot it back just missing my head.  The duel was on.  We assumed positions, me behind the trunk of my trusty tree and the invader behind a wall across the alley.

It was the right season to stock us with an ample supply of ammunition.  Beans began to fly back and forth across the alley.  We both intended to draw blood, inflict a severe wound, make the other cry and beg for mercy.

I was never so alive, intent upon victory, dancing, ducking, daring my enemy to show his face.

Then someone grabbed my arm.  “What do you think you’re doing?” my mother screamed.

How could I tell her that it was my sacred duty to protect the old homestead from cattle wranglers or space invaders?

“Just a little bean war,” I said, biting my lip.  She dragged me out into the alley and called out to my antagonist.

“You boys quit this fighting and shake hands,” she commanded.

We eyed each other like we had seen something a dog left on the curb.

“Shake hands,” came the repeated command.

Two dirty hands unwillingly reached out and grasped.

That was the beginning of a wonderful friendship.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Left Coast Crime Conference Was a Blast

It has taken be several days to decompress from the Left Coast Crime Conference held this last week in Phoenix. I had the pleasure of speaking with many mystery fans and authors and participating in numerous events. I like collecting sound bites at conferences. Here are a few for you:

“Being an athlete is a moratorium on growing up.”

“Write what you want to know.”

When commenting on writing standalone versus series, Thomas Perry said, “One at a time is good fishing.”

One author commented on a reader who said, “I got to page 321 of your 325 page book and just couldn’t read any farther.”

“Writing is like digging a hole with your face.”

“Mysteries are writing to heal the world.”
Here's the audience at the Meet the New Author's Breakfast, which I had the pleasure of moderating: