Monday, December 14, 2009

Guest Blogger Yvonne Lehman

What could be more romantic than writing a series of historical Hawaii novels? After all, Hawaii is a tourist mecca and thousands go there each year for vacations, weddings, and honeymoons.

I felt sure my words and imagination would just flow since I had written a contemporary Hawaii novel, my three daughters had visited there and I have a writer-friend, Carmen Leal, who lives there.

Well…not so!

I discovered there is much more to Hawaii than islands sparkling like jewels in the sea, warm breezes in the palm trees, beautiful girls swaying with the hula, and ukeleles softly playing.

I began my research by reading James Mitchner’s Hawaii and many other fiction and non-fiction books, and I searched the internet. The more I learned, the more there was to learn. This place of incredible beauty was also one of constant change and turmoil. Should I write about the eras of early missionaries, difference between myth and faith, numerous nationalities, royalty, whaling industry, ranching, or sugar production? What time period should I use since I’d have to work around, or include events like tsunamis, volcano eruptions, annexation into the U.S., and the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Then there was the problem of communication not only between Hawaii and the U.S. but also between the islands. I had to learn when travel changed from 5-6 month voyages to shorter periods and when horses were replaced by automobiles.

Carmen said Hawaii had cowboys before the U.S. I found the idea of a Hawaiian cowboy intriguing and decided to set my story primarily on the island of Hilo in 1889-90. My American characters had to travel by ship for five months from the U.S. to the island. For Aloha Love, I developed a Hawaiian rancher as my hero and included royalty and religious myths, as well as Christianity that had been taken there by missionaries.

The era of picture brides occurred in the early 1900’s when Hawaii’s main industry was exporting sugar to many countries. Thousands of Japanese men had traveled to Hawaii for work on the plantations. There were no women for them so the immigration office arranged to send their photos and information to Japan. A matchmaker paired them up with women who then traveled to Hawaii to be married as soon as they docked. I began to plan how an American woman could become symbolic of a picture bride. Picture Bride features the matchmaking process and sugar plantations, again with Hilo as the primary setting and includes some of Aloha Love’s characters.

I wanted to set the third novel, Love from Ashes, in 1946 after WWII. I already had a fair knowledge of the Pearl Harbor bombing but needed to research the effect it had on the people of Hawaii and how the thousands of Japanese there would be involved and treated. Since my readers would be familiar with the setting and my continuing characters from the first two books, I wanted this one set in Hilo too. However, I discovered a tsunami had destroyed much of Hilo, so I needed to work that into the story.

These books, which I thought would be my easiest to write, required more research, reading, studying, thinking, and work than any of my others. But I am pleased with what I learned and how the books turned out. Recently I heard from several readers who loved the stories. One was reminded of her sister’s Hawaiian wedding. The books reminded another of “the good old days.” Another said she skips paragraphs when reading, but didn’t skip a thing in the Hawaii books. Encouragement like that keeps me researching and writing.

Thanks to all my readers. I appreciate you.

MERRY CHRISTMAS to each of you.


Erica Vetsch said...

These sound wonderful! I love learning history through reading fiction.

Pepper Basham said...

Yvonne, what a wonderful surprise to see you visiting today. And fantastic tidbits about your books. Hawaian cowboy? Yipee! Cowboys in any shape or form sounds like a good idea to me ;-)

Rose said...


Your blog taught me things I didn't know. I can't wait to read the books. I like Erica love to learn history through reading.


Aggi Stevenson said...

Yvonne, As I sit here holding Aloha Love and Picture Bride in my hands,I will enjoy them even more knowing all the research that went into them. I just thought you already knew everything :)
Must say I am with Pepper on the Cowboy thing. Giddy up Go!