Thursday, May 27, 2010

Interview with author Linda Ballou

Today, my guest is author Linda Ballou. Ms. Ballou’s book, Wai-nani, High Chiefess of Hawai’i is available through Star Publishing. Linda has agreed to discuss her writing life and answer a few questions.

1) Tell me a little about your book.

Wai-nani, High Chiefess of Hawai’i- Her Epic Journey is fabled history couched in magical realism set in primal Hawaii. Precocious Wai-nani’s character is inspired by the powerful personage of Ka’ahumanu, the favorite wife of Kamehameha the Great. This was no small accomplishment as he had thirty-one wives. Kamehameha fulfilled the prophecy at the time of his birth to unite the Islands and gave Hawaii a golden age. Upon his death, he bestowed rank upon Ka’ahumanu that made her the most powerful woman in old Hawaii. She used that power put an end to the 2000-year-old Polynesian “kapu system” that called for harsh penalties for law breakers and human sacrifice to the gods.

Wai-nani’s mythological journey that is woven throughout the actual historical events that led to Kamehameha’s rise to power is the bigger story.

2) What gave you the idea for this particular story?

While I was living on the north shore of Kauai a special issue in the local paper about Captain James Cook caught my attention. The fact that Captain Cook was killed by the Hawaiians in 1779 intrigued me. I wanted to know why and became curious about what was happening in the Islands when Cook arrived. Most accounts depict the Hawaiians as blood- thirsty savages who ganged up on the world’s greatest explorer. I learned this was not an accurate picture. It looked like justifiable homicide to me and that the Hawaiians had gotten a bum rap. I wanted to tell the story from the Hawaiian point of view. In my research I ran into Ka’ahumanu, a childless royal, who faced down death-dealing priests and the common beliefs of her day. She struck me as a brave figure in history that had been over-looked.

3) Are you a full-time writer, or part-time, and how do you organize your writing time?

I have been writing all my adult life, but have incorporated my writing life into the full time job of selling real estate. Real estate is demanding, but it does afford me more personal freedom than a nine-to-five job. When I am working on a project, be it a novel, travel essay or article, I read the night before writing on a given subject and enlist my subconscious to provide me with ideas and answers to writing questions. I rise early and re-read what I have written before and think about what I am attempting to do and allow the night time thoughts to filter through my mind. The results are often exciting and surprising. Then I go immediately to the keyboard. I work on the given project for the first two hours of the day before the phone starts ringing. This schedule has allowed me to write two novels a screenplay, numerous travel articles and essays and a few short stories.

4) When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?

When I was thirteen, I was uprooted from my friends and familiar surroundings and taken to Alaska by my pioneering parents who had a dream of homesteading. Even though I was taken in by the beauty of Alaska, this shift was a shock to my system that made me grow inward. I began reading books that stimulated thoughts and ideas that don’t normally come to people until they are older. I admired writers like Simone de Beauvoir, of The Second Sex fame and subscribed to Ayn Rand’s newsletter. Both of these authors advocated self-actualization as a goal for women. I didn’t really think I could be a writer until I graduated with a degree in English Literature. That is when I decided to take a year off in Hawai’i to rest from the strain of putting myself through college and to determine if I was cut out for the writer’s life.

5) What do you hope readers will take from your writing?

Bare minimum, Wai-nani readers will come away with a better understanding of the Hawaiian point of view and a greater sensitivity to the nuances of the culture. They will be able to decide whether my heroine should be revered as the “Mother of the People”, or whether she should be remembered as the “flaw that brought down the chiefdom.” I have tried to capture the poetry, pageantry and sensual beauty of the Islands as well as the deeply spiritual aspects of the Hawaiian people. Hopefully, the reader will feel that they have been on an epic journey in a time and place that they can’t get to any other way.

6) Which genres do you write, which do you prefer, and why?

Presently, I prefer travel essays or articles. Both are more easily incorporated into a busy working day than a novel. Right now I need to take advantage of the better real estate market in Southern California. I also need to focus my energies on marketing my new book, Lost Angel Walkabout-One Traveler’s Tales, released May 2010!” This is a collection of essays accumulated over the last tens years, or so, reflecting upon what I received from my various outdoor-travel adventures.

7) What is the toughest part about being a writer and how do you get past it?

Writing is not tough for me. It is a form of self expression that allows me to join the choir of creativity and helps me to organize my thoughts. I think the devil is in the details and the exacting qualities needed for professional presentation could be the most difficult part of writing for me. I have overcome my shortfall by developing a relationship with, Barbara Milbourn, my personal editor. Without her, I simply could not have gotten my two books out my drawer and into the hearts and minds of readers.

8) Is there anything in your story based upon a real life event? If so, tell me about it.

Part of my research was visiting the places I’d read about in an attempt to absorb the ancient spiritual power of the Islands and to add a palpable physicality to my story. I spent several nights in Waipio Valley where much of the story takes place. I hiked into the depths of the valley and climbed up the sheer rock holding onto a vine rope, placing my feet into the indentations made by past generations. There is a love scene in the book set in the pool lined with ferns I was privileged to know first hand. Many of the scenes described in the book were taken from actual experiences I had in the Islands. So many, they are too numerous to mention. This book is the culmination of a 30-year love affair with the Islands that became a beautiful obsession for me.

9) How much is your protagonist like you? How different?

I identified with Ka’ahumanu’s spirit of adventure and rebellion. She asked the “why” questions. During the sixties and seventies women were breaking out. I am athletic, outdoorsy, independent woman childless by choice. She was childless, not by choice, but she found other meaning in her life. She questioned authority and the established ways of her time.

She insisted on having sexual freedom. She stood shoulder to shoulder with her warrior husband and was a source of strength for him. She was strong brave, athletic, sensuous and deeply spiritual. In short, I saw her as the forerunner of the modern woman.

I learned after writing my first draft and sharing it with the Hawaiian scholar that even though she was loved by the common people, she was a controversial figure. She was perceived to be a threat to the establishment by male power figures. I admired her brave stance against them.

10) What kind of research did you do for this type of story?

Extensive reading of the oldest chronicles available made me want to go the places described. I visited the Islands many times over the years to fill in gaps in my story. I visited the Bishop Museum on Oahu which is a wonderful source for the serious student of Hawaiian history. I paid a Hawaiian scholar to read my manuscript as a technical advisor to encourage authenticity in my rendering of the “people of old.” I read the journals of Captain James Cook, seaman Ledyard and Lt. King to learn more about how and why the famous navigator was killed by the Hawaiians. Since Wai-nani’s best friend is a dolphin, I studied dolphin behavior so Wai-nani’s interaction with a sea mammal was realistic. Since Wai-nani spends half of her time in the ocean, I read books that allowed me to get into the mindset of the long distance swimmer. In short, it was a sacred mission for me over a twenty year period.

11) Do writing violent or highly sexual scenes bother you? Why or why not?

I am not interested in writing graphic sex scenes. I am more concerned with the emotions that surround human interactions be they violent, highly sexual or tender. In the scene where Makaha comes back from warring with his enemy Pano, he takes Wai-nani in a rough way against her will. Her passion is ignited by his explosive masculinity. I was trying to illustrate how brutality engenders brutality as well as demonstrate how human sexuality is a physical expression that can separate us from our own free will and cloud our emotions with remorse.

12) What about your book makes it special?

Wai-nani speaks directly to the reader. She is a new voice from old Hawai`i not a scholar looking back. No one else has attempted this. Frankly, if I’d known how difficult it would be I don’t’ know if I would have attempted it myself. Not using modern words that would jar the reader into the 21st century to describe events and places became a real challenge. Deciphering the contradictory accounts of a 200-year-old oral tradition was a daunting responsibility. Weaving Wai-nani’s mythological journey throughout the actual events that led to Kamehameha’s (Mekaha’s) rise in a believable way was a daunting task. Removing the prism of Western beliefs and remaining true to the culture without censor was the goal that remained uppermost in my mind. The result is a book that readers tell me is like no other they have ever read and a thrilling ride.

13) Do you have a marketing plan?

I am working on a map “Walking in the Footsteps of the Ancestors” that takes readers to the places I describe in the book. Many of them are easily accessed and can be enjoyed today by the casual visitor. For example, the Place of Refuge on the Big Island is a beautifully restored village on a cove where dolphin pods come to rest after a night of fishing. The snorkeling here is excellent. Reading Wai-nani will greatly enhance the stay of guests on the Islands. It will allow them to know the significance of the many historical sites scattered throughout the Islands that are often unmarked and unheralded. I hope to find a sponsor who will agree my book and accompanying map is powerful way to promote the Islands.

The internet offers the most resources for the independent author. I try to make use of all that is available, but I admit the task is too much for one person. I am looking for a virtual assistant to aid me in this process. If you know someone who is accomplished at social networking; can do “lite webmastering”; knows how to post blogs; can create and circulate press releases; has an intimate working knowledge of various book marketing sites, and wants a part time job assisting an author who wants to write more not less, be sure and let me know.

14) Where can people learn more about you and your work?

My website is the best place. There is an About Linda page. On Wai-nani’s media page there are radio interviews, a first chapter and reviews. If you purchase my books on my site you will enjoy free shipping. There are numerous reviews on Amazon and Barnes and Noble and all major online distribution sites. Wai-nani is also on Amazon’s Kindle Reader and will soon be available on the IPAD.

15) Any tips for new writers hoping to write in the genre of your book?

If they go to my home page they will find a free download “How to Make Travel Writing Work for You.” It provides writers with the fast track to getting free trips for their labors.

A novel is a much more challenging proposition that requires a huge chunk of uninterrupted time and a major commitment. Historical fiction is tough because you have to be very careful in your research and take pains not to offend living descendants of the people you are fictionalizing. However, once you have risen to this challenge the reward is a timeless work that will not be outdated in a year. Writing Wai-nani was by far the most difficult thing I have ever done, but completing her epic journey remains my proudest achievement.

Linda, thank you for being my guest today. It was a pleasure getting to know more about you and your work.


  1. Interesting author and a great topic for her novels. It must so relaxing to write about travel.

  2. Rebecca, thanks for stopping by. I have to admit, I'm jealous. I'd love to be a travel writer and get paid to travel to exotic places! Later this summer, I'll be reviewing Linda's book of travel essays, so be sure to stop back then.