Guest Post: Katherine Kayne on ‘Choosing a location for your novel’

Katherine Kayne on “Choosing a location for your novel”

As an author, the question I am asked most frequently is how I chose to write about Hawaii. Let me give you the short answer; how could I not?

So few of us on the mainland know much about the islands. Once I began to learn about Hawaii’s past I become enthralled. Let me share a bit more about it; suffice it to say Hawaiian history is complicated. There is more to unpack her than I can explain in this brief essay. But I will give it a shot.

First the geology. Millions of years ago, through a fissure in the earth’s crust, emerged the miracle that is today’s Hawaiian Islands. First Kauai, then Niihau, Oahu, Molokai, Lanai, Kaho‘olawe, Maui until . . . at last . . . the island still being born . . . the big island of Hawaii.

Geographically isolated as well as geologically young, Hawaii possesses perhaps the best climate in the world—not too hot, not too cold, and rarely the victim of violent storms.

Human habitation came late. A mere millennium or so ago, bold navigators set forth from islands thousands of miles to the south to follow the stars. They sought a legend – a rumor – of new lands in the north. Only then were the islands of Hawaii populated.

Old Hawaii was ruled by chiefs and chiefesses called ali‘i. By 1810 the rule of the island chain was consolidated under one man, Kamehameha the Great, later known as King Kamehameha. Once the western notion of a monarchy took hold, Hawaii was ruled by kings, and finally one queen, for eighty years. That is until the islands became caught within the twin coils of international diplomacy and capitalism. In the late 1890s, the Hawaiian monarchy was overthrown by a group of mostly American businessmen, with military backup from the United States. A kingdom was lost.

During the monarchy Hawaii and Hawaiians thrived. A constitution was adopted. Waves of immigrants were welcomed. Education was encouraged and honored. By the mid 1800s, Hawaii was one of the most literate countries in the world. Education was encouraged and honored. This was a particularly stunning achievement given that before 1820, there was no written Hawaiian language. While the impact of the early Calvinist missionaries is debated, one thing is true. In their eagerness to convert the “heathens” to Christianity, the missionaries assembled a method of reading and writing Hawaiian that is the basis for how the language is recorded today. Now a renaissance of the Hawaiian language is in full swing. The written `ōlelo is key to that movement.

Both cattle and horses arrived shortly after the first Europeans. Ranches in Hawaii rapidly became some of the most successful cattle-producing operations in the world, well ahead of Texas, supplying beef for the California gold rush and the U.S. civil war. The granddaddy of them all, Parker Ranch on the Hawaii Island, remains in existence today with hundreds of thousands of acres.

By the turn of the twentieth century Hawaii was a study in contrasts. Cowboys and kahunas, wild pigs and steamships, hula dancers and rickshaws, land barons and mail-order brides made up the stuff and substance of the islands’ colorful history. The rise of the sugar industry gave great fortunes to a few and bypassed the many. Hawaiians today still fight to right the wrongs of that era. Yet despite it all, those times evoke a great nostalgia.

These are the times I write about. Although my stories are pure fiction, I find inspiration in so many wonderful pieces of Hawaiian history. Just as the colors are deeper, the smells sharper, and the sun brighter in Hawaii, the true stories of the people carry richness beyond imagining.

If you (like me) never got over your love for horses…. if you (like me) always prefer the feisty heroine…. if you (like me) crave hunky heroes with senses of humor…. if you (like me) want to believe there may yet be magic in this world, then these stories are for you.

Please, join me. We are never too old to believe in magic, are we?


Katherine Kayne is the author of Bound in Flame, the first in a series about hard-riding Hawaiian suffragettes at the turn of the twentieth century. Her next installment, a prequel novella, Pistols in Paradise will be out this fall! You can check her out and join her newsletter at Yes, there are cocktail recipes!


About Bound in Flame

In 1909, Leticia Lili‘uokalani Lang is en route home to Hawai’I when she dives into the ocean to rescue a horse in distress — and changes her life forever. Brilliant and headstrong, Letty is an accomplished horsewoman, among the first female veterinarians, and now: mākāhā, a Gate to the healing fires of the land. Complicating matters is Timothy Rowley, the horse’s owner, who ignites a special flame of his own in Leticia. Can Letty learn to master her power to have a chance at life and love? Or is the danger of the flame too great?

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