Interview with Robert McCaw

I have been lucky enough to ask the author of Fire and Vengeance a few questions, not only just about his upcoming release but his inspiration for his series protagonist and tips for new writers.

My review of his new release will be published on the day of release and I hope that you all enjoy it! Below is my interview and I want to thank not only Robert McCaw for his time but Michelle at FSB Associates for getting in touch to offer me this experience.

There are a lot of references and phrases/names linked to Hawai’i’s cultural background, I note from your website that you already have some understanding of this – did you have to do any further research when writing this novel, into either the culture of the island or its residents?

  • Writing Fire and Vengeance and the two earlier books in this series, Death of a Messenger and Off the Grid, entailed diverse research methods and approaches. To begin with, I personally visited virtually all of the places described in the books, often with a guide book and a camera in hand. Google maps and other Internet sites are useful starting points, but they cannot convey the feel of a place, its changing weather, or the little details that add authenticity. I also discussed—Hawaiians would say "talked story" about—many of the locations that appear in the books. These steps got me started. I then delved into the wealth of literature covering Hawaiian history, legends, and myths for historical and cultural context. I also turned to my extensive library of texts on Hawaiian archeology, political history, geology, art, lei making, fishing, clothing, aquaculture, seafaring, customs, Polynesian tattoos, and the Hawaiian language. The Pukui-Elbert, Hawaiian Dictionary, and Pukui’s book, Hawaiian Proverbs and Poetical Sayings, along with texts on Hawaiian plants and birds, are especially helpful, and are constant companions when I’m writing. I also consult with a Hawaiian linguist, who reviews my completed manuscripts to ensure the correct use of Hawaiian words and names.

Did you base Koa on a real person? His mannerisms and personality were so well written that it felt like he had to be based on someone real.

  • I am fond of saying that life is research for a novelist, and I routinely “collect” people, mannerisms, images, and phrases for use in my books. Most of the people you meet in my stories borrow the characteristics of real people that I've met or seen. I frequently mix and match, creating new characters out of multiple inspirations. Koa is such a compilation—assembled from aspects and mannerisms of military officers with whom I served, law enforcement personnel I’ve known, and others I’ve encountered. But, of course, in no small part he bears some resemblance to me.

As a lawyer you must very much stay within certain lines in order to get the job done, do you find it refreshing as an author to push the boundaries outside the normal to fully captivate your audience?

  • Good question. Yes, I find a novelist’s freedom refreshing, but it’s not without its limits. In litigation, a lawyer who veers too far from the factual record risks losing credibility with the judge or jury. A novelist, on the other hand, is free to invent, and many writers exercise this gift to the extreme, as in science or fantasy fiction. In the mystery/thriller genre, authors must gauge the extent to which their characters will depart from reality. Life is indeed often stranger than fiction, but there are real-world constraints worth considering. Many authors entertain their readers with superheroes or protagonists so damaged by drugs, alcohol, or life that their exploits defy rational belief. I want my characters, novel as some of them may seem, to be believable. That allows for much greater freedom than I enjoyed as a lawyer, but still requires restraint to maintain an aura of reality.

The main focus of the story is corruption surrounding the construction of a school on a volcanic vent. Was there a lot research into how these occur, the science behind their eruptions and connection to the actual volcano?

  • Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the southeastern side of the Big Island of Hawaii is one of nature's most fabulous wonders. I've visited it countless times, hiked through its craters, been inside its lava tubes, seen and smelled its sulfur pits, and observed first-hand the Kilauea volcano’s destructive powers. The scientific literature I’ve read on Hawaiian volcanology acknowledges the potential for an explosive disaster when hot lava encounters water, thus providing scientific support for a central premise of my story. Despite this general background on Hawaii's historical and ongoing volcanic activity, for Fire and Vengeance, I separately researched the volcanic history of Hualalai Mountain, which is on the opposite side of the Big Island from HVNP. The book not only accurately reflects Hualalai’s record of volcanism but also includes several delightful legends about past Hualalai eruptions.

The same can be said for Ikaika's situation, was there a lot of background research done into how brain tumours can affect behaviour?

  • My research into brain tumors took me deep into the fascinating world of recent advances in neuroscience. The combination of advances in real-time brain imaging, robotic surgery, and the flood of brain-damaged soldier-patients returning from Afghanistan and Iraq has revolutionized our understanding of the connections between brain injuries and behavior. As a reformed lawyer, I have a handle on most criminal legal issues, but sophisticated medicine requires an entirely different background. Finding accurate, yet understandable, medical terminology for the lay reader was a challenge. Fortunately, two doctor friends were kind enough to help me find the right balance.

Are there plans for Koa Kane mystery part 4?

  • Yes, but no spoilers!

What would you say to someone who wanted to start writing a novel? First steps, best outlook to have whilst writing, things you think they should know that maybe aren’t always apparent to new writers etc.

  • First and foremost, I'd say write what you know. Own your subject matter. Second, give your characters depth. Think of your characters as real people with all the baggage, trauma, and joy that life entails. You won’t necessarily incorporate this backstory directly into your manuscript, but you must know your characters' histories and experiences to make their words, gestures, actions, and interactions with other characters seem authentic. I’d also urge new writers to find trusted editors. Your work must always be your own, but a new or different perspective on your writing is a gift not to be taken lightly.

Do you have any favourite authors or books yourself that you always recommend?

  • I’ve recommended James A. Michener’s Hawaii to many friends planning to visit Hawaii. He paints a fabulous picture of the Islands from the moment they rose from the sea through modern times. He is also a master in a technique I try to emulate—turning the setting of a novel into one of its main characters

Robert's new instalment to the Koa Kane Hawaiian mystery series releases on 26th May in ebook, and a hardback will be available in the UK on 1st September:

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