Novels allow readers to travel around the world even if they can't drop everything and head to somewhere like Russia, Singapore or Indonesia. When writing about a foreign country, authors use the locale's culture, language and particular destinations to bring their stories to life. Now the RT Web Team is going in-depth to find out how authors are inspired by these countries and what details they use to transport readers around the world.
RT: Why did you choose Hawaii as your setting for Under The Maui Moon?
RJG: Three years ago some friends who live in Kihei, Maui, asked if we’d come house-sit for them for a month! All they asked was that we tend the garden and water the banana trees. My husband and I immediately said yes! While we were there I was writing a Christmas novella set in England. That took some imagining as I was typing away on my laptop in the backyard hammock swing! In between describing frosted window panes and steaming pots of tea I was taking notes in my tropical surroundings for a book I wanted to write titled, Under The Maui Moon. I knew the title immediately and I knew the main character would be named Carissa. I wanted to write about a woman who escaped to this paradise location at a time when her life is falling apart. I wanted to see what the island did to her and see how she managed to get her heart back.
RT: Which came first, the story or the setting?
RJG: It was the setting this time. Definitely the setting. The island of Maui is one of my favorite places in the world. I’ve written about parts of it in a number of novels over the years but I wanted to write more about a place called Kipahulu in the Haleakala National Park. It’s also known as the Seven Sacred Pools and is near Hana. Our family has camped there a number of times. I have a short video of the pools where a key scene takes place between Carissa and Irene in Under The Maui Moon. You can view the three minute video on the homepage of my website.
RT: How did you make Maui a character in the book? If you had to personify the setting, how would you describe it?
RJG: Maui is a place of strength as well as a place of tender whispers. If you have ever experienced the hospitality of this island you know how it feels deep inside when the trade winds gently wrap their arms around you. From the moment you step off the plane you are aware of their playful and ever present breath. You never forget the fragrance of the plumeria trees or the way the ocean curls and uncurls its frothy waves over your toes when you plant your weary feet in the warm, tawny sand. And to stand on a lanai on a calm summer night and look up at the unblinking Maui moon is to know what it means to get your heart back.
RT: What kind of research did you conduct about Hawaii?
RJG: Our first trip to Hawai’i was 34 years ago for our honeymoon. My in laws have a condo they’ve rented for 35 years and we return there every time we have enough frequent flyer miles to get us over there. When our son was in third grade we lived there for a year while my husband was on a sabbatical. Our daughter was too young for school but our son went to King Kamehameha III Elementary School in Lahaina and we became very involved in a church at Kapalua – Kumulani Chapel. We love to go camping at Kipahulu, which is why I set some key scenes in Under The Maui Moon there at the campground in the Haleakala National Park. I’ve include some of my favorite photos of this incredible corner of God’s creation.
RT: Through writing and researching the book did you learn anything about Hawaii that surprised you?
RJG: I’ve been fascinated with Hawaiian history for years. My hobby is collecting and reading books about what life was like on the islands 150 - 200 years ago. I’m not sure I learned anything that surprised me while researching this particular book but I did spend a lot of time reading about Ka’ahumanu, an amazing woman of Old Hawai’i. She was larger than life and played a profound role in the monarchy of Hawai’i.
Last year I was invited to speak at the Kamehameha School on O’ahu and tell the students about Ka’ahumanu. In the middle of my presentation in the Bishop Chapel to 350 students I got choked up and said, “What am I doing telling you your history? Ka’ahumanu is your woman. She’s of your blood. This is your story. Why should a white haole woman from Oregon be telling you your story? I challenge you to do the research and be the ones to tell these stories to the next generation.” Afterwards several students came up and told me with deep sincerity that they were going to take up the challenge. I hope they do.
The Kahu of the school gifted me with a very special lei after my talk. The lei was 30 years old and strung from kukui nuts and tiny woven boxes. He told me the lei had been given to him when he began his position at the school and represented the gift of light; the boxes are the gifts and in Old Hawai’i, the light came from the oil of the nuts. When Kahu Kordell placed the lei over my neck he said that when he received the lei he was told that one day he was to pass the lei on to someone who would come and use their gift to bring light to his people. He said I was that woman. I had brought the gift of stories from the past and those stories brought light to the students.
You can imagine what a powerful moment that was. I incorporated the whole experience in Under The Maui Moon and wrote about Carissa seeing what I saw in the Bishop Chapel that day when I looked into a sea of open faces.
RT: What would you like readers to take away about the islands from Under The Maui Moon?
RJG: A sense of awe. In the same way that the Hawaiian Islands can take your breath away, I’d love for readers to catch a glimpse of the beauty that can grow wild and stunning inside a strong woman when the source of her strength comes from Ke Akua. It’s a gift to be confident and unafraid. It’s a gift that sheds light from the inside out. And it is irresistible.
- Robin Jones Gunn