Aloha Hawai’i

Greetings future Emma-addicts

(We hope once the book is out and you read it, we will have Emma-addicts who are clamoring for more adventures of Emma Elizabeth Jones, a request that we are happy to oblige.)

A recurring theme in Outsourcing Murder and the other mysteries in the series is the aura of Hawai’i. Emma, our protagonist, is a born and bred Midwesterner (like us), who spent her teen years in the Bay Area and is a University of Hawai’i graduate. Her off-again-on-again ‘ipo (sweetheart), Keoni, who is almost full-blooded Hawaiian, still lives in Hawai’i. Emma surfs regularly, listens to Hawaiian music, and even speaks Hawaiian, which she deemed an easier language to learn than the Greek and Latin her father, the Classics professor, tried to teach her. One of us has direct and painful experience with the dreaded Greek aorist infinitive and agrees that Emma made “a wise linguistic choice.” Besides, there is more cool Hawaiian music than cool Homeric Greek music. (Although it might be interesting to hear the Iliad done as rap music. Yo, Achilles!)

Emma’s interest in nā mea Hawai’i – Hawaiian things – mirrors our own and encompasses the native Hawaiian culture through its evolution as cultures of immigrants to the islands blended into the beautiful rainbow culture that is present-day Hawai’i. We are almost genetically programmed to be Hawai’i-philes. One of us was conceived there (courtesy of the Air Force posting of our reservist father) and we grew up listening to Hawaiian music including some of the old timers like the Kalima Brothers (“1000 pounds of melody”) and Alfred Apaka. (We also heard a lot of opera, provoking images of a grass-skirt clad tenor singing “La Boheme.”) The Davidson kids’ all-time favorite song was the “Hawaiian War Chant,” which we – or rather, our brother, who is convenient to blame for bad stuff since it was his fault most of the time – used to play at an unspeakable hour of the morning while we raced around the house whooping like nā mea pupule (crazy people). (Our mom and dad really don’t like the “Hawaiian War Chant.” They like it even less at five in the morning. Or six.)

Hawaiian music has evolved from classic Hawaiian and hapa-haole (English language with a smattering of Hawaiian) music through the Hawaiian Renaissance of the 1970s (Brothers Cazimero, Sunday Manoa, Keola Beamer) into contemporary Hawaiian music, all of which we enjoy. (Okay, we’re lying. ”Jawaiian” – Jamaican and Hawaiian music fusion – is the auditory equivalent of feasting on ganga (“weed”) flavored haupia (coconut pudding). Eew.) One of us has gone so far as to learn Hawaiian so she can a) understand Hawaiian music and b) make insightful comments regarding the daily commute like, “he pua’a pupuka nui e kalaiwa ana mai i kela ka’a” (“a big ugly pig is driving that car”). We both note that this is a highly useful phrase on California Highway 101 and the DC beltway, we have, unfortunately, had occasion to know. I’ll bet some of you have, too.

We’ve infused Emma with our taste in music. She has met and has the CDs of Maunalua, and ‘Ike Pono, and also enjoys Hapa and Mānoa DNA. Boyfriend Keoni plays Hawaiian music in a group (Hopena), well enough for some music gigs at the Mai Tai Bar at the Royal Hawaiian, where we’ve spent many evenings enjoying drinks with lots of dark rum and a umbrella garnish. In our next book, Keoni substitutes for one of the members of ‘Ike Pono. (Stan, we are sorry, but we are sending you to the mainland for a reason we haven’t thought of yet – you’ll have a great time, we promise. Keoni doesn’t play ‘ukulele nearly as well as you do, just well enough to “sub” for Dramatic Purposes.)

Not only Hawaiian language and music but also other aspects of Hawaiian culture (food!) are an important part of our writing, and our onsite research, such as eating malasadas. These Portuguese fried donuts with ‘ono (delicious) fillings are the absolute best empty calories either of us can name. (If there is a Hawaiian word for “Mecca” it would be “Leonard’s Malasadas.”) Besides, if the filling is lilikoi (passion fruit), it‘s a fruit, right? Another important contribution to Hawaiian food culture, in our humble opinion, is the manapua (the name of which is a contraction of mea ‘ono a nā pua’a – “delicious pig thing”). This steamed dumpling filled with sweet barbecued pork is reminiscent of a Chinese char siu bao. An unfortunate side effect of enjoying manapua and malasada is an an ‘opu nui (big belly). (Despite our surname, we never considered writing Emma as a Norge-phile. Lutefisk, anyone?)

Needless to say, there is much more to Hawaiian culture than tiki bar umbrella drinks (part of Hawaiian tourist culture) and fat pills. As often as we’ve been to Hawai’i, we are always learning something new, which means The Next Trip is always market research that we hope will benefit and expand our writing. For example, did you know that there is a type of Hawaiian combat known as lua? And the Hawaiians had really cool weapons, like our favorite, lei o mano, which you can think of as a big ol’ club studded with shark teeth. (Guaranteed to scare off the next Jehovah’s Witness or Girl Scout Cookie Pusher who darkens your door. Oh, and it might work on the pua’a pupuka nui’s tire, too. Hmmm, one of us might try that on an annoying neighbor who keeps parking right across from her driveway even though it’s a no parking area. Strictly in the interests of “market research on the effect of sharks’ teeth on tires,” you understand.)

It’s not too early to wish our readers – no, not “happy holidays,” as we don’t do generic greetings – “Mele Kalikimaka a Hau’oli Makahiki Hou” which is, literally, “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.” And, “hau’oli heluhelu ‘ana” – happy reading!

Mahalo, e ke Akua

Happy Thanksgiving to all our friends who are not turkeys! Scratch that, how about, “Happy Thanksgiving! May the only turkey present at your table be Tom Gobbler — and not Great Aunt Gertrude who every year insists on rehashing your top ten most embarrassing childhood moments.” Book news first: current ETA is around 15 December for Outsourcing Murder to be orderable on Amazon (Nook, Kindle, and “Tree-Killer” versions). More on which below.

One of us had occasion to reflect on the meaning of Thanksgiving more closely during dinner with a college friend recently. This friend has a kind and loyal heart but she has a “glass half empty” approach to life. And be careful with the glass because you could drop it, cut yourself and bleed to death.  Her outlook on life is a lot like Eeyore’s. She insisted on discussing classmates who had died or were facing a life-threatening illness (self, family member, or pet) or had been unemployed for a long period of time. (Side note: the one of us on the receiving end of all this cheerful news refilled her wine glass a couple times as it approached half empty.)

Over the course of dinner, the aforementioned friend said, of another classmate, “Dear Karen is someone who always looks on the bright side of things no matter how bad they are,” as if that was a problem. Think about that statement for a moment. In a backhanded kind of way, this woman had encapsulated the meaning of Thanksgiving: giving thanks for the good things no matter that there are also bad things. That isn’t to say that everything is good, only that you should not let the bad things drown out your thanks to God for all the good in your life. The Apostle Paul in his letter to the church at Thessalonica, said “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances,” which is not the same as giving thanks for everything. For instance, you’re not really thankful when some jerk is tailgating you on the interstate. But, you could thank God for the honking big ticket Mr. Jerkface is going to get one of these days (remember that faith is belief in things unseen).

Back to our book. The delay in the ETA was not due to George Bush, the earthquake in Japan, the floods in Thailand, or even one sister’s screw-up. Okay, maybe a little of the latter. A contributing factor was that the talented artist doing our cover art was about 70% through the painting — which includes surfing and San Francisco motifs — when she encountered a problem. Her art supply dealer was out of her favorite brand and the substitute brand she was using had a cheap coating to make the surface feel higher quality than it really is. ‘Auwē (alas), when she went to add layers of paint to the work, the old layers had pilled, causing streaks and generally marring her work. She tried to salvage it, but the salvaged work was not up to her standards, so she is starting over.

Now, we could throw a fit over the delay, and moan and groan about our self-imposed schedule slipping, (and one of us did do that for thirty seconds), or be grateful that we have a wonderful artist creating a cover that captures the spirit of our work and who has high standards. Thank you, Sarah. The finished art will be worth the wait.

Everything takes practice to do well and that includes giving thanks. Not only is an “attitude of gratitude” a useful thing to contemplate on more than just Thanksgiving, it really does make you happier and, well, appreciative. To quote Pollyanna (or, more correctly, Hayley Mills playing Pollyanna quoting her father), “when you look for the bad in life expecting to find it, you surely will.”

Last year, one of us got hosed re: planned travel the day before Thanksgiving. Flight canceled, travel rebooked for mid-day on Thanksgiving. This was the best the airlines could do – everybody knows that this is one of the busiest times to travel and, short of Delta adding a new “roof rack” section, nobody was getting rebooked anywhere quickly. (Oh wait, haven’t I flown roof rack?) So, Thanksgiving didn’t actually start until 3:30, when the plane arrived. A friend picked her up at the airport, she got a few last minute things at the local grocery, began cooking at five (a glass of champagne made dinner prep more cheery) and dinner was served just before eight. This included a turkey breast stuffed with herbs under the skin, sweet potato soufflé with sherry and black walnuts, praline pumpkin pie, salad and biscuits (thank you, Pillsbury). It was one of the best Thanksgiving meals ever. The only thing missing was watching the Macy’s Parade while cooking and really, it’s the same floats and marginal Broadway show tunes every year so who cares? So dinner was delayed a bit – no worries.

Both of us who comprise Maddi are grateful to have family and to be family. Nobody (OK, except God) knows the dirty details about the other like we do, and nobody (OK, except God) loves you anyway and is there for you like a sister. Oh, and we each thank God that our sister is not perfect; we have a balance of blackmail power, as it were.

Our Thanksgiving this year will be for friends, family, food, nice home, doggy kisses (hmm, that may be number one on the list), and the steadfastness of God.

Shall We Dance? Writing With a Partner

Greetings devoted readers!

Maybe I should make that “devoted reader” since it’s not clear we have more than one groupie – yet. Anyway, much of writing is discipline so here is the second installment in our blog. We intend to be semi-regular bloggers in order to entertain our readers on topics as diverse as cultural influences on our writing (or, where to find the best Mai Tai on Waikīkī), our favorite Hawaiian music groups and why we are writing them into our books, the canine and feline inspirations for our four-legged characters and true stories behind some of the inanities our character encounters in the corporate and technology worlds.

One of the questions friends often ask is how do we manage to write together, particularly when we are three time zones removed from one another. Surprisingly, it hasn’t been a challenge for us, not that it has been all beer and skittles (for the record, one of us likes Skittles, the other prefers Coconut M&Ms). Perhaps we did all our squabbling growing up. (Mom liked ME best, I just want to say for the record.) (Believe what makes you feel good, even if it’s wrong.)

One of the things that makes writing together easy for us is that we do not have the same strengths as writers but, as the Apostle Paul would say, we are all part of the body. Meaning, one person is a hand and the other is a foot in terms of getting the body of work up and running. (I know which one of us is the ‘okole, and it isn’t I, hee hee.) That is, one of us is “the organizer” in terms of plotting, outline, structure, and the up and down lifting of writing. The other one is the “tarter-upper.” That’s “tart” as in “adorn or decorate,” NOT as in “promiscuous.” The TU adds a turn of phrase, pads out the scene (What does so and so look like? What are his or her quirks? What does the scene look like?). It’s not quite that black and white, but you get the idea. We write well together because we acknowledge and use each other’s strengths.

A challenge for writing partners is ensuring that the writing hangs together and there is no obvious change of voice (i.e., when one of us takes over the writing). We are lucky that, as sisters, we share the same demented sense of humor, to the point where neither of us can, in many cases, remember who wrote what. That’s the idea, really, because “Maddi” is THE writer and nobody reading our work should be able to tell when The Other Sister started writing. Even more telling, in some cases when one of us is reviewing/editing/adding to a section, we find that the other one had the same idea. You end up deleting things you added because the other sister already put the same ideas in there. They say that old married couples can finish one another’s sentences. We do that a lot – only in our case, we start one another’s sentences – the one the other one was about to say. (For the record, I thought of spanikopita in the Greek restaurant scene first).

Writing with a partner has many advantages. For example, someone else is always editing your writing. That someone won’t hesitate to tell you when something isn’t working or needs to be changed (or she might just go ahead and change it). Or the reverse: when one of us needs reassurance that our writing is witty, the other is there to provide it (lying when necessary). (Except my stuff is always funny.) When you are having trouble writing a scene or a chapter, you can turn to the other writer to finish it up. Perhaps the best thing about writing together is it’s great fun. We email one another wacky articles (reality is more hilarious and odder than anything you can imagine as fiction) and bounce ideas off one another. We delight in writing particularly entertaining sections and sharing immediately.

We aren’t expecting that Maddi Davidson will be added to the pantheon of great American writers (Fitzgerald, Steinbeck, Hawthorne, note the absence of Hemingway because one of us things he is the most overrated writer on the planet…). (The other one of us thinks Dr. Seuss should be on the list.) We write because we like to laugh, and we like escapism, and it is a sad world in many respects, especially now. The nicest compliment – and validation of our writing – we received was when someone in a writing workshop said that she’d so much “awful stuff” in her life that she hadn’t been able to read more than a page or two for several years, until she started reading our writing submission. She was drawn in, found herself laughing, and read the entire chapter. That’s validation enough for what we do. Jesus put it more grandly: “In the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer! I have overcome the world.” We are not going to overcome the world, but we hope we can deliver some good cheer to our readers that might help them overcome at least some tribulation in their lives. “A merry heart doeth good like medicine.” We hope so.

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Hi, dear reader! Welcome to the first blog entry of Maddi Davidson, aspiring murder mystery author(s). Before anybody thinks the plural means I have an incipient case of multiple personality disorder, I should mention that “Maddi” is comprised of two sisters who write together. (One of us is Mom’s favorite. The other isn’t.) As this is my/our first blog entry, my/our first big decision is whether to say “we” or “I.” “We” seems too self-important, if not downright imperial. On the other hand, it’s kind of hard to talk about how to write with another person if I – or we – or should that be ‘one?’- does not acknowledge that there is another writing partner. We are sisters, not conjoined (Siamese) twins, so “we” seems apropos. Also, while we have similar mindsets – to the point where, when we are reviewing our work, we can’t always recall who wrote which section – we are not always of one mind, so we can’t really go with “I.” Bother. After fro-ing and to-ing, I’m going with “we.” Maybe. Anyway, this is the first of what we hope will be many blog entries about the delights of writing as Maddi Davidson.

As it happens, we are currently delighted since our first mystery is about to be published (OK, self-published): Outsourcing Murder, a Miss-Information Technology (IT) mystery. Part chick lit, part IT geek scene, we think the IT industry is an untapped genre for murder mysteries. Especially since, as both of us have worked in IT for years, we can think of plenty of occasions on which one or the other of us felt slightly homicidal and we know that the poor, long-suffering consumers of technology feel homicidal pretty much every time there’s a system upgrade. We state at the outset for readers who claim to recognize a character or incident in our book: we can neither confirm nor deny that we are getting even for corporate weirdness that one or the other of us has experienced by recasting it as fiction. Writing well is the best revenge, heeheehee.

One of the admonitions all writers hear is, “write what you know.” In our case, writing what we know includes writing about things that are interesting to us. Emma Jones, our protagonist, escapes the weird and wacky world of her job as an information technology consultant by going surfing, a passion that we share with Emma. An added plus to sharing a hobby with Emma is that we consider surf-aris to Hawai’i to be “market research.” So is sampling Mai Tais at different venues (a personal favorite: the one at the Halekulani on Waikīkī. No self respecting Mai Tai should ever have pineapple juice in it, ick).

Surfing is magical in that, more than any other activity we know (except illicit substances we wouldn’t consider inhaling, snorting, or popping), it helps you forget what ails you. (At least until you develop new surf-related ailments from overusing muscles that don’t get taxed very much in the day-to-day show. Pass the Mineral Ice, thanks a bunch.) After an hour or so in the water and some tasty waves, you forget what was really bugging you before you paddled out. Surfing has other fringe benefits, too like natural hair highlights – courtesy of sun and saltwater – nicely toned muscles (particularly after a trip to Hawai’i where it’s warm enough you can stay out for hours), and nice wildlife sightings like honu (green sea turtles), dolphins, occasional whales, seals, including (on one occasion on Kaua’i, a Hawaiian monk seal that flippered through the surf lineup). Sharks are – auwē (alas) – part of the seascape but not a part you usually aspire to getting up close and personal with. Neither of us has ever seen one out in the water but (cue theme music from Jaws), you know they are out there. Ick.

Surfing is magical in that, unlike most other sports, you can remember all your really good moments – the hurricane swell where one of us caught her best wave evah, brah, the day when four dolphins caught the set wave of the day and one leaped over the surf lineup, the beautiful atmospherics, even in cold and sharky Northern California on days where the sky and sea are almost exactly the same color. As the saying goes, “there’s no problem a good day of surfing won’t cure,” and it’s pretty nearly the truth. Surfing provides a background for our story and an underpinning for Emma’s life and romance with her off-again, on-again ‘ipo (sweetheart) Keoni – and that’s also true for one of us whose ‘ipo taught her to surf, for which she is eternally grateful.

Like Emma, we’ve had our share of encounters with wave hogs who want to M&T – monopolize waves and terrorize other surfers – and, while nobody has ever gotten into a physical fight, one of us drove a goshdarn bully off who was being Mr. Nasty Pants to all the newbie surfers out in the lineup. (And wherever you are, GB, “get over yourself: it was a two-foot wave!”) It’s another thing we share as writers and sisters: we really like getting out there and getting wet, and neither of us is going to put up with jerks. No, indeedy. Surfing together gives us more food for thought, and fodder for our book(s), since we are currently working on the second and third books in our Miss-Information Technology series, one of which takes place in Hawai’i.

Stay tuned for more information on where to order Outsourcing Murder – coming soon to an online bookstore near you – and more on how we write, edit, and create together. The miracle of the Internet – 3,000 and some miles is nothing if you have the right writing partner. Even if one of us is The Good Child and the other isn’t.

Seeya out in the lineup – Maddi