Interview with Robert McCaw Author of Off The Grid

 

Off the Grid Koa Kane

 

 

A scrap of cloth fluttering in the wind leads Hilo police Chief Detective Koa Kāne to the tortured remains of an unfortunate soul, left to burn in the path of an advancing lava flow. For Koa, it’s the second gruesome homicide of the day, and he soon discovers the murders are linked. These grisly crimes on Hawaiʻi’s Big Island could rewrite history―or cost Chief Detective Koa Kāne his career.

The dead, a reclusive couple living off the grid, turn out to be mysterious fugitives. The CIA, the Chinese government, and the Defense Intelligence Agency, attempt to thwart Koa’s investigation and obscure the victims’ true identities. Undeterred by mounting political pressure, Koa pursues the truth only to find himself drawn into a web of international intrigue.

While Koa investigates, the Big Island scrambles to prepare for the biggest and most explosive political rally in its history. Despite police resources stretched to the breaking point, Koa uncovers a government conspiracy so shocking its exposure topples senior officials far beyond Hawaii’s shores.

 

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Retro old microphones for press conference or interview on table front gradient aquamarine background. Vintage old style filtered photo

 

 

 

Author Interview

 

How did the idea for Off the Grid begin?

Three disparate threads came together to inspire Off The Grid. First, my wife and I bought a painting from an artist who lived in a ramshackle house deep in the forest near the nearly off the grid village of Volcano, Hawaii. Visiting her home, stuffed with all manner of eclectic objects of dubious aesthetics, made me think I’d stumbled into a writer’s dream. That the artist’s husband had some kind of clandestine military background only further sparked my interest.

Second, one night my wife and I drove up to our favorite local restaurant in Hawi, a small town on the northwest coast of the Big Island, only to find it permanently closed because law enforcement authorities had arrested the proprietor as a fugitive from justice. My subsequent research established that he was far from the only wanted man to have been caught hiding out on the Big Island.

Lastly, I am an avid reader of the international press and had become fascinated by one of the most bizarre, unexplained misadventures in contemporary military history. No spoilers here. So voila! I had fugitives from a bizarre international incident living off the grid in rural Hawaii. All I had to do was find a unique way to imagine their deaths and unleash my chief detective on the case.

 

 

Problem analysis solution concept

 

 

 

What was your process for creating characters such as detective Koa Kāne?

Creating Koa Kāne involved an iterative process. Given my legal background and expertise, I wanted a character who would work with a prosecutor. Thus, Koa became a police detective. The story is set in Hawaii and draws on Hawaiian history, culture, and language. To effectively relate the culture and language, I wanted Koa to be Hawaiian. Like all good protagonists, he had to have a compelling backstory—one that drove his passion for justice. As a criminal lawyer, I have long been fascinated with the ways that people’s secret criminal acts shape their behavior. Regret, fear, guilt are powerful emotions that drive people to both good and bad ends. A cop with a deadly secret in his past provided lots of interesting hooks for a murder mystery. Thus, Koa became the killer turned cop with a potent passion to extract justice.

 

 

 

Investigations on Office Binder. Toned Image. 3D.

 

 

 

If you were to describe him, what are some of his characteristics?

Koa is smart and tenacious, but driven by remorse and guilt for having killed a man. Having escaped punishment for his crime, he is highly suspicious and paranoid about being conned, the way he deceived the police who investigated his crime. He is Hawaiian to the core, with a deep knowledge and appreciation of Hawaiian history and culture, but also worldly because of his military service. Viewing most politicians as disingenuous, he avoids getting involved in politics wherever possible, although he doesn’t fear confrontation when politicians attempt to impede his work. As the oldest living Kāne male, he is devoted to his family, especially his mother and sister, but deeply troubled by the disturbed and criminal behavior of his youngest brother. A loyal friend, his relationships with people run deep as exemplified by his bond with his giant fisherman buddy Hook Hao. He inspires loyalty in others, particularly Zeke Brown, the Hawaii county prosecutor. Ever playful with his girlfriend Nālani, he is proud of her expertise and accomplishments as a biologist and national park ranger.

 

 

 

Was it difficult writing about a police procedural?

Writing a police procedural required much research, but involved much fun. There are many tools available to writers. In my professional life, I had considerable experience with the legal side of criminal procedure, including warrants, searches, interrogations, prosecutors, grand juries, indictments, trials, and incarceration. I have used forensic text books, police equipment catalogues, and interviews with police officers to learn the more nitty-gritty side of police work. In this respect the annual Writer’s Police Academy, where federal, state, and local law enforcement officers teach police procedures was invaluable. 

 

 

 

POLICE PROCEDURES concept

 

 

 

 

What kind of political pressure does Koa Kane face when he begins to uncover the truth?

Although Hilo is a small town, it has a political elite that cherishes and nurtures power. Koa, on the other hand, grew up dirt poor and pulled himself up through tenacious hard work, and is driven by remorse and guilt to find justice for the victims of crime. He has little patience for politics and believes that the rich and famous commit just as many crimes as the poor and downtrodden. These differing perspectives create conflicts when Koa’s investigations touch on the political powerful or their wealthy constituents, especially because his police chief is close to, and protective of, the mayor.

 

 

 

What was your experience coming up with the plot for Off the Grid?

I knew from the outset how I wanted to begin Off The Grid and I also knew the general shape of the ending. I’ve heard other authors say that it’s the middle part of a novel where you find out if you really have an interesting story. So it was with Off The Grid. I also wanted to fashion a multi-layered mystery, and so Koa first follows a string of clues to the identity of the initially unidentified victims. As he solves that mystery, he must discover and pursue the killers, yet that too leads to yet another question—who is the mastermind behind it all. And why?

 

 

 

Writers plot washing line concept

 

 

 

Why did you pick Hawaii for the setting?

I first went to the Big Island of Hawaii in 1986 and fell in love with the mountains and incredibly varied landscapes and climates. When most people think of Hawaii, its beaches and palm trees come to mind, but the Big Island has much more—rain forests, cattle ranches, and alpine climates to name but a few of its charms. Mauna Kea reaches 14,000 feet above sea level and was once glaciated during the ice ages. It still collects several feet of snow most winters. The day atop the mountain arise before sunlight touches the rest of the island and the sun set on the land below before it fades from the mountain top. If the weather is right you can stand on the beach, looking up through the palm trees to see the snow-capped peak of Mauna Kea turn red at sunset.

I was lucky enough to meet real Hawaiians who shared their knowledge of this most special island. The land, its unique history, the culture of its people, and their language fascinated me. I quickly learned that there are two Hawaiis—the “tourist” Hawaii, largely manufactured by a sophisticated PR machine, and the real Hawaii, largely hidden from the tourists. In many ways, Hawaii itself, the real Hawaii, became one of the most important characters in Off The Grid.

 

 

 

Honolulu skyline with ocean front

 

 

 

What are some interesting facts you discovered in your research?

The ancient Hawaiians were great environmentalist. They imposed taboos restricting certain kinds of fishing during certain times of the year. They also created substantial aquaculture projects, raising fish in salt water ponds connected to the ocean. Their dry land farming systems produced surplus crops.

Lacking a written language, the ancient Hawaiians became great story tellers, not unlike the great epic poets of Greek and Roman antiquity, capturing their genealogical history in long poems, memorizing navigational information in chants, and explaining natural phenomena through legendary gods and goddesses.

Western businessmen—mostly sugar, pineapple, and cattle barons—spent years undermining the Hawaiian monarchy, whose sovereignty was recognized by the United States and many other nations, before these ruthless entrepreneurs staged a coup d’état, resulting in the expropriation of the Hawaiian Islands by the United States. For almost a hundred years thereafter, Hawaiians were forbidden to speak their native language in schools or government.

 

 

 

What were some challenges you faced while writing this book?

The biggest challenge that I faced, and the biggest challenge for most emerging authors, was finding a publisher. In today’s post-Amazon, super competitive publishing world, that is a tremendous obstacle for most emerging authors. I was extraordinarily fortunate to find Mel Parker, of Mel Parker Books, LLC, who became my agent and found a great publisher, Oceanview Publishing, for my book. Connecting with Oceanview Publishing has offered a second huge benefit. They have contracted to publish my third book—Fire and Vengeance—in 2020.

 

 

 

Business man pushing large stone up to hill , Business heavy tasks and problems concept.

 

 

 

What’s the best thing about being a writer?

As a lawyer I was always more or less constrained by the provable facts. A novelist’s freedom to invent stories and modify facts gets the creative juices flowing. Good review are also nice! But perhaps the most rewarding aspect of being a writer is to encounter the individual reader who says “I really liked your story!”

 

 

What kind of advice would you give to a new writer?

First, write what you know and love. Never attempt to jump on a “trend.” By the time your book gets written, edited, and published, the “trend” you sought to emulate will have passed into the dustbin. Second, find a good editor, one who will look at the substance of your story as well as the grammar and spelling. The exchange of ideas with a skillful editor will improve your work a hundred fold.

 

 

 

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Do you have any favorite quotes?

I will share four of my favorites quotes about truth.

“Truth never damages a cause that is just.” ― Mahatma Gandhi

“In a room where people unanimously maintain a conspiracy of silence, one word of truth
sounds like a pistol shot.” ― Czesław Miłosz

“It takes two to speak the truth—one to speak, and another to hear.” Thoreau: A Week on the Concord and Marrimack Rivers

“History warns us that it is the customary fate of a new truths to begin as heresies and to end as superstitions.” T. H. Huxley: The Coming of Age of “The Origins of Species”

 

 

 

BobMcCaw_2019_Version_4 - Calli P. McCaw photographer

 

 

Robert B. McCaw, a seasoned attorney and veteran of many headline-grabbing cases, blends his decades-old passion for Hawaiian history with a life-long enthusiasm for crime fiction to create the compelling protagonist, Chief Detective Koa Kāne, in Death of a Messenger. A former US Army officer and judicial clerk at the US Supreme Court, McCaw’s firsthand military experience, legal expertise, and immersion in all things Hawaiian lend the characters in this richly layered thriller unparalleled authenticity. An avid photographer and part-time resident of the Big Island since the 1990s, he and his wife split their time between New York and Hawaii.

Death of a Messenger is the first novel of the Koa Kāne Hawaiian Mystery series.

 

Website | Amazon | Twitter

 

 

 

 

Allison Brennan on Writing & The Lucy Kincaid series

Allison Brennan image

 

 

Allison Brennan discusses writing and her new books in the Lucy Kincaid series, STORM WARNING and NOTHING TO HIDE.

 

 

How do you determine if your idea is viable enough for a complete novel?

Because I don’t plot, every book idea evolves as I’m writing. Usually, I have a spark of an idea — a premise, a set-up, a character conflict — something that interests me. If the idea isn’t working, I tweak it as I write. Sometimes, a story just flows and the idea was better than I thought. Other times, the initial idea isn’t strong enough to carry a novel — I’ve actually written a couple short stories/novellas on ideas that were good but not “big” enough for 100,000 words. But after three dozen books, I usually know based on the initial story concept whether the idea is viable.

 

 

 

Viability Word Thermometer Potetential Success Business Measurem

 

 

 

Do you approach writing every book the same or does it vary?

Yes. I start with an idea and a character and go from there. I don’t plot. I start at the beginning and write (mostly) linearly. At about the end of the first act (roughly page 100-150) I almost always get stuck and go back to the beginning. I add/cut/edit extensively. Then I finish the book. The first 150 pages usually takes me twice as long to write as the last 300 pages. And, ironically, it’s usually the first act that has more editorial notes than the last act. Go figure! But I can’t seem to do it any other way.

 

 

What are the bare essentials of your writing process? 

A computer and caffeine. LOL. Seriously, I write every day. I start in the morning and write until the kids come home from school—and often later. I wish I could say I write XXX number of words a day then shut it off, but no. I write anywhere from 1,000 to 5,000 a day. Some days—especially in the last act as I’m nearing the end of the book and am really excited about what’s happening, I can write up to 10,000 words in a day. It’s rare, and they need a lot of editing! (For example, once I wrote an entire chapter with no dialogue tags because I was typing so fast!) 

 

 

 

The effects of caffeine on the brain image from coffee beans

 

 

 

 

How would you say your writing process has changed over the years?

Mostly, no. But I have noticed one fundamental change. My first five or six books I wrote from beginning to end, a “sloppy copy” and when back to edit. I wrote fast, a lot of it was a mess, but I had the confidence that I could clean it up in edits. Now, I can’t seem to do that. I edit as I go. About book seven, I realized that if I think I’m writing something that isn’t working, I can’t continue. I have to go back and fix it. This isn’t about the word choices or grammar, it’s about story. If the story isn’t working quite right, I can’t continue without fixing it. The good news is that my first draft is usually really clean and tight. The bad news is that it takes me a lot longer to write that first draft. Now, and for about the last 10-15 books, at the beginning of the writing day, I re-read the last scene or chapter I wrote to get me back into the story (editing as necessary) then write the next scene or chapter. 

 

How do you break down your story into scenes?

Instinct. 

 

 

 

Black luminous computer keyboard and edit key. Conceptual 3D rendering

 

 

 

 

Did you enjoy writing the next Lucy Kincaid books, Storm Warning and Nothing to Hide?

I always love writing. I’m doing what I love. Even when I’m struggling with a story or a scene, I love it. Storm Warning was particularly fun because I knew it was going to be a novella and I could focus on one linear story. The benefit is that I don’t worry about sub-plots, and the story itself tends to be more fast-paced. This has been true for all the novellas I’ve written, so they’re a lot of fun to write. Nothing to Hide started with a solid premise — I wanted to call the book Two Lies and a Truth because each of the widows lied to Lucy about something and Sean’s son Jesse lied to him about something. The book is really about the lies we tell to protect others, and the lies we tell to protect ourselves. 

Anyway, by the end of the book I loved the way it turned out, though I’ll admit at the beginning of the third act I had no idea how I was going to catch the killer (though by that point I knew who it was. And no, I didn’t know when I first started writing who was guilty!)

 

 

 

Nothing to Hide image

 

 

 

How are these two stories related to one another?

They really aren’t, other than sharing the main characters. In fact, Storm Warning more directly relates to the upcoming Lucy Kincaid book Cut and Run. The novella was set against the backdrop of a storm and flooding outside San Antonio. In the beginning of Cut and Run which takes place two months later, Lucy’s team identifies four bodies that had been uncovered in a mass grave after the flood waters passed. Nothing to Hide takes place between those two stories.

 

 

 

Storm Warning image

 

 

 

How does Lucy’s background in psychology help her solve cases?

Criminal psychology has always fascinated me, and I’ve read a lot of books about the subject, as well as true crime. Psychology is a tool that can be learned, but mostly it’s a tool that many cops use based solely on experience. So to me, Lucy has the best of both worlds—she’s been trained in criminal psychology, and she has a lot of experience both before and after she became an FBI agent. Now that she has nearly two years under her belt as an agent, she has more confidence in her abilities, but she still calls in those who have more experience to help—as any good investigator will do. 

 

 

 

Successful Investigation, File closed and Case Solved

 

 

 

What dilemma is she facing trying to solve the crimes in Nothing to Hide?

The biggest problem with this case is that there is no apparent motive. The victims are very loosely connected (all married men under forty, all driving home alone at night, all killed by the side of the road when they exited their vehicle for no known reason.) But the men didn’t know each other; no one in their circles knew each other. They were of different races and socio-economic status. They had different family structures. The attack itself was quick but not painless, and as Lucy and her partner quickly learn, each injury was specific. The lack of motive for these crimes is what is keeping Lucy from solving it quickly—plus, there is little forensic evidence. If the crimes are truly random, Lucy recognizes that they won’t be able to solve the murders until the killer slips up and there’s a witness or physical evidence left behind. And so far, nothing. 

As an aside, I wrote the killer so smart that even I had a hard time figuring out how to solve the crimes! I went back to a statement made by retired cop Lee Lofland in one of his blogs: every contact leaves a trace. That means that the killer had to have left something behind, even if they don’t know what it is. So they go back and look more carefully at each crime scene. And while the evidence they do find doesn’t give them enough to find the killer, it does give them a direction to pursue.

 

 

 

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New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Allison Brennan believes that life is too short to be bored, so she had five children and writes three books a year.

Allison has penned more than two dozen thrillers and many short stories. RT Book Reviews calls Allison “a master of suspense” and her books “haunting,” “mesmerizing,” “pulse-pounding” and “emotionally complex.” RT also said that “The Lucy Kincaid/Sean Rogan books are getting better and better!”

COLD SNAP, was a finalist for Best Thriller in the Thriller Awards (ITW) and FEAR NO EVIL (2007) and COMPULSION (2015) won the Daphne du Maurier award. Allison has been nominated multiple times for RWA’s Best Romantic Suspense award, and the Kiss of Death’s Daphne award.

Allison lives in Northern California with her husband, five children, and assorted pets. Her current release is STORM WARNING: A Lucy Kincaid Novella, and NOTHING TO HIDE Lucy Kincaid #14 Available now.

 

www.allisonbrennan.com