Dispatches From Squaw’s Annual High-Altititude Literary Gathering

Almost a decade ago, I joined the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley for an intensive, week-long non-fiction workshop. It was a summer camp-like experience in the high Sierras. Each morning, about a dozen of us in the non-fiction workshop gathered around a table to critique each other’s manuscripts — usually discussing two submissions each morning. In the afternoons, we’d either stay for the craft talks or hike through the mountains. After dinner, we’d stay up late, swapping stories with fiction and non-fiction writers alike.

Book group pick: Lost Kingdom is now out in paperback!

Mahalo nui loa –  Hawaiian for thank you very much – to the dozens of book groups I’ve spoken with from around the country that have picked Lost Kingdom as their monthly or quarterly read. I’ve met some of these groups in person and have skyped with some and phoned in to others. It’s been a wonderful experience and now that Lost Kingdom is just out in paperback, I hope to meet with even more groups (including a wonderful group in Kentfield, Ca. that invited me to join them to discuss the book over a feast of kalua pig, poi, and coconut layer cake — so ono!)

Hau’oli Lānui from San Francisco….

My husband and I went to several holiday parties this year and perhaps the most heartfelt took place in early December, at the Japanese Cultural and Community Center in San Francisco.

We were invited to the J-Town hui’s annual holiday show and potluck. The hui (Hawaiian for a club or association) was made up of students in the music and vocal classes led by a beloved and longtime Hawaiian music teacher in the city named Carlton Ka’ala Carmack. There were ukeleles, hula performances, and mountains of delicious food. As the island saying goes, it was real ono!

So you want to start a writing group…

A hand popped up in the back of the room. “So where did you get your name?” asked a man last Sunday afternoon. Seated before him were four members of North 24th Writers, who’d gathered at Book Passage for a panel discussion on writing groups.

The occasion was the monthly meeting of the Marin branch of the California Writers Club, a group incorporated in 1913 that had Jack London as one of its first members. About forty people had decided to spend a few hours during a beautiful fall afternoon inside (shortly before the Giants won the World Series) to hear a discussion about writing groups, including how to form them, and the challenges and surprising side-benefits of creating your own work group.

Call Me Ishmael: Herman Melville and the San Francisco Opera

It is one of the most memorable first sentences of a novel ever written. With three simple words, it draws us into the story, lets us know who the narrator is, and hints at dramatic transformations to come.

This opening line – Call me Ishmael – was written by Herman Melville in his epic about Captain Ahab’s quest to kill the white whale Moby Dick. One of the surprises of the San Francisco Opera’s current production of Moby Dick is that this line is used in a different way in the story – to very good effect. I won’t spoil the pleasure in telling you how, but would urge you to see this wonderful production  yourself.

Spoiled for choice…

There always seems to be one weekend in the fall when there’s just too much going on. In the San Francisco Bay Area, where I live, this weekend boasts not only Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, the free music festival in Golden Gate Park founded by the late philanthropist and financier Warren Hellman, but also Fleet Week. And it’s the first weekend of Litquake, the city’s rocking literary festival. Not to mention this Saturday night is the annual party for Adopt-a-Family of Marin, a wonderful non-profit organization that supports local families in need. As an Irish friend once said to my husband Charlie and I when we lived in London, “You’re just spoiled for choice!”

Meeting Hawaii’s Next Generation Authors? (…and How I Handle Criticism)

A young man sitting in the back row tentatively raised his hand. I was talking to a group of history students and their teachers at Kamehameha Schools last week about my book, Lost Kingdom: Hawaii’s Last Queen, the Sugar Kings, and America’s First Imperial Adventure, published by Grove/Atlantic earlier this year. “How do you deal with criticism as an author?” he asked.

A dialogue with journalism students

Mark Ho’omalu and a “Kingdom Denied”

“Get your papers!” cried the delivery boys and girls, carrying rolled up copies of a Hawaiian newspaper printed especially for that evening’s show. Wearing natty caps and suspenders, they ran through the aisles clutching copies of the “Star of the Pacific,” yelling, “Get your papers!”

Thus began an extraordinary one-night performance of the musical “Kingdom Denied,” which was written by kumu hula Mark Keali’i Ho’omalu, founder of the Academy of Hawaiian Arts in Oakland, Ca. I’d interviewed Mark for a page one story in the Wall Street Journal last year about mainland hula troupes headlined “Aloha, Lady Gaga.” (You can watch the video that accompanied the story here.)

The Queen and the Clevelands (Grover and George…)

September 2 is the birthday of Hawai’i's last reigning monarch, Lili’uokalani. Born in a grass house in 1838 and adopted by Hawai’i's ruling dynasty, the infant girl who would become Hawai’i's last queen began her tumultuous life 174 years ago at the base of an dormant volcano in Honolulu.

Queen Lili’uokalani, Hawai’i State Archives

For the past several years, historians, Hawaiian cultural practitioners, and others who keep Lili’uokalaini’s memory alive, have gathered at the grounds of Iolani Palace on her birthday to lead walking historical walking tours in an event called Mai Poina (Don’t Forget.) The tour on her birthday sold out but there are still a few spots left this coming weekend, September 7-9.

“The Wave” by Susan Casey

The ancient Polynesians felt profound respect for the power of the sea. Their custom was to carry ti leafs with them when they went on risky journeys. As Susan Casey reports in her masterful book, The Wave, California-born but Hawaii-bred surfing legend Laird Hamilton, perhaps superstitiously, always carries a ti leaf along with him as he hunts down the world’s monster waves. “You take the leaf out,” Hamilton told her, “and the leaf brings you home.” So far it’s worked for him.