I’ve been writing books set in Hawaii since 2005, way before Hawaii 5-0 hit big. The first was for Operation Love, but the more notable book was A Little Harmless Pleasure. I didn’t plan on a series in Hawaii. A Little Harmless Sex was set in Georgia and the plan had been to have it end in New Orleans. I was writing it the August of 2005. After Katrina hit, I just couldn’t finish it there.
So I moved it to Hawaii. Just on a whim. See, at the time, it was considered a faux pas to write in Hawaii. It was seen as a place only for vacations. For an aspiring author, there was no way to be taken seriously, and it was too much of a chance. Or that was what I was told at the first RWA National I attended in 2004.
It was one piece of advice in a long line of insane rules that authors cultivate. But, it was still hard and I am definitely a capricorn at heart. I like to play it safe with work a lot of times. I take chances, but they are calculated risks. Still, when the opportunity rose, I took it. With three years in Hawaii, I understood what it was like to live there, not vacation there. Definitely different things.
With two main series set there, as well as three spinoff series and various Santini books set there, not to mention the THREE new series I am planning right now, I have learned a few things about building a book and/or series around an exotic location like Hawaii.
Here are some things I think that every author needs to keep in mind when writing in an exotic location.
The location is ALWAYS part of the book
I like this in any book, but it is doubly true with books set in exotic locations. Why do readers sometimes pick up a book set in Hawaii? They want to escape with romance and experience Hawaii. I try my best to present Hawaii in a way that a local would understand, but also entice the reader. I know that a lot of people may not have been to Hawaii. Description of the climate, culture, and current events are very important. What do they eat? What are their schools like? What is the most common activity of the locals? All of these things can add to your book and develop a more exciting read for the reader.
Research, Research, Research
If you do not live in the location you are writing about, make sure to do your research. Even after living in Hawaii, I always look things up. A location is a living, breathing thing. It will change over time. You need to make sure you aren’t writing about a location that you remember from ten years ago. Case and point: Hawaii is building a rail system on Oahu. It is has had a direct impact on all facets of their lives. I follow a lot of Hawaiian folks on social media. Politicians, news folks, and just regular residents all have their opinions on the rail system. Following the discussion gives me a better understanding about what is going on and how individual lives and the island is being affected.
Show respect to the location and the people
Don’t write a book that mocks or attacks the location. Even if the book is set in the USSR during the height of the cold war, mocking the people will not win you many, if any, loyal readers. Respect their religion, beliefs, and customs. You can point out the injustices, but as a romance author, taking those on might bog down your book. If your characters are mistreated by a government, that works well but do not raise it to the level of being disrespectful.
Don’t overplay your hand
One of the mistakes I made early on was not having a Hawaiian dictionary of sorts. Much of the slang is different than on the mainland and it confuses people in books. I had one reviewer complain of typos through one of my Harmless books. After searching, both my editor and I realized that she was complaining about things like “Bra” instead of “Bro.” The use of local slag helps adds a more realistic tone, but make sure you let your readers know what it is.
Find the common thread
The most common denominator in a romance is that our protagonists are looking for love. Or they might not be looking for it, but in the end, that is what they get. It is a human connection we all feel, something that many people want. But, finding something beyond that helps too. While much of it will be exotic or alien (we can be talking about different planets here), you need to make it tangible for the reader to relate to. As I stated, romances are all about finding love and a happily-ever-after. But there are many other things in there.
A regular thread in my books set in Hawaii for haoles (newcomers to the islands) is finding a place they belong. Not only in location but with people they love. Showing your reader that connection, one that they can relate to and understand, will give your reader a connection to your characters.
Series primarily set in Hawaii
- The Harmless Series
- A Little Harmless Military Romance
- Task Force Hawaii
- Hawaiian Holidays (returning soon)