Saturday, February 9, 2013

"Aloha, Lady Blue"

Charley Memminger is a national award-winning humor columnist, screenwriter, and author who is based in Hawaii. A former crime and investigative reporter, Memminger's work has appeared nationally in magazines and newspapers. He was twice named the top humor columnist in the country by the National Society for Newspaper Columnists. He lives in the sleepy windward Oahu bay town of Kaneohe.

Memminger applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Aloha, Lady Blue, and reported the following:
Aloha, Lady Blue is a tropical thriller set in Hawaii with a lot of humor. My background is as a former newspaper crime and investigative reporter. I eventually moved to writing a national award-winning humor column, “Honolulu Lite.” I used a lot of what I learned about organized crime in Hawaii either first hand or anecdotally in the novel … wanting to avoid all clichés about the Islands.

I purposely wanted the book to start off slow, with the hero, Stryker McBride still suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome from being shot by a rogue cop a few years earlier. He’s introduced in Chapter One drinking beer for breakfast (what he calls “Honey Bunches of Budweiser” because it sounds better than swilling beer for breakfast). My agent/editor at Inkwell Management thought the book started out too slow so I wrote a prologue to get some drama in the opening and give a hint at why Stryker is so messed up.

A long lead in, sorry, but it explains why Page 69 (Chapter 7) might not seem very exciting. As Stryker is pulled out of self-imposed exile as a night watchman at a small suburban yacht club on the Windward side of Oahu where he lives on a houseboat named the “Travis McGee,” his investigation into the death of a wealthy elderly Chinese man moves slowly as he re-enters life.

On Page 69 he is at the Honolulu Building Permit Office where he is looking at the original plans of a ritzy housing development where Wai Lo Fat drowned in a few inches of water in a taro patch curiously set in the middle of the private upscale colony.

Excerpt from Page 69:
A young haole clerk in the subdivision section of the Building Permits Office dragged out an enormous plat map book that looked like something you find in a wizard’s lair. When he plopped it down on the table dust actually puffed into the air.

“Kala Lane Estates, Kala Lane Estates,” he said turning the giant pages. He had spiked cobalt blue hair and metal studs and rings and other piercings through his lips, eyebrows, nose and ears. He looked like the victim of a fragmentation grenade explosion.

“There,” he said, pointing at the yellowed page with a finger decorated with silver death skull ring.

I looked at the map, running my own finger from where I remember the front gate of Kala Lane Estates having been and along the roads I had driven to get to Amber’s house. I was surprised to see there was no taro patch. Just lines laying out subdivision plans for houses that weren’t there.

I showed him where I was looking and said, “There aren’t any houses here. I was just there a few days go.”
I like to write each chapter with a beginning, middle and an end. And the end is where the payoff usually comes. I want some kind of surprise at the end of each chapter. In this case, Stryker inadvertently insults the young man:
“You really get into your work here, huh?"

"Ah," he said, smiling. "A subtle put-down of a lowly city clerk who doesn't match the stereotypical assumptions about how a minor government bureaucrat should look and act."

"Sorry," I said. "I'm just always pleasantly surprised when I meet someone who is good at their job."

"Dude, I'm a grad student in Advanced Urban Planning at the University of Hawaii and an adjunct professor of Urban Design Theory at Honolulu Pacific College," he said. "Working here, man, is hands-on history. To me, these maps and records are an archaeological gold mine. The entire transformation of Oahu from an idyllic, environmentally sensitive, sustainable agriculture-based society into the fucked up mishmash of architectural and urban planning bullshit it is documented in disgusting detail all around me."
Stryker feels bad after the kid goes on a rant about how the islands have been ruined by development. So the payoff comes on Pages 70 and 71 when he tells the kid there is a beautiful taro patch in the middle of the Kala Lanes subdivision.
"This spot here in Kala Lane Estates where there are supposed to be bunch of multi-million dollar houses but they aren't there?" I said.

He nodded, tugging on one of his facial implements.

"There's a big taro patch. Right here in the middle of the subdivision. Beautiful green plants, pure running water, a grass shack and a raised dirt pathway for strolling through the whole thing."

His metal-fringed mouth actually dropped open for a second. Then he smiled.

"Dude, that is so cool," he said. "I'd like to see it. I'd really like to see it."
So Page 69 of Aloha, Lady Blue is a tad slow, but on purpose. And it does introduce an interesting character in the anarchist, intellectual bureaucrat. The book is chock-full of unusual characters, again, to avoid the typical Hawaii clichés. And it’s one of the small steps of Stryker’s re-emergence into the world, a journey that ultimately will heal him psychically but will force him to face a second attempt on his life as he gets closer to the ultimate secret in the book, which goes all the back to when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.
Learn more about Aloha, Lady Blue at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue