Tuesday, August 14, 2007
Deborah Atkinson at The Poisoned Pen
It was a fun evening at The Poisoned Pen last night. I went to meet Debby Atkinson, author of Fire Prayer. But it was a small group, and, as we waited for Barbara Peters, we introduced ourselves. Mystery and romance author Annette Mahon was there. Annette is originally from Hilo, Hawaii, and came to support Debby. Frederick Ramsay and his wife, Susan, were also there. Like Debby, Dr. Ramsay's publisher is Poisoned Pen Press, and he and Debby had done book signings together in Hawaii. The mystery field is definitely a small world.
When Barbara Peters arrived, she and Debby began by discussing the cover of Fire Prayer, Atkinson's latest mystery, published by Poisoned Pen Press. Barbara said it was a challenge to use that cover because it's controversial to use flowers on the front. Flowers indicate to some people that it's a romance. She said it's a hard-hitting book. Is the cover sending the right message?
Deborah's first book, Primitive Secrets, marked the original appearance of her character, Storm Kayama. Storm was just out of law school, clerking for her uncle in his firm. She finds him slumped over, dead in his office one day. It also introduced her Aunt Maile, a traditional healer and R.N.
Barbara and Debby discussed the fact that Hawaii has some of the same problems as Alaska and the Native Americans, medical problems such as diabetes and weight issues. They also mentioned that when Storm is in trouble, her ‛aumakua, or family totem, the pig, shows up. Storm herself is not a believer, but does begin to believe in her totem. Atkinson's books combine Hawaiian issues with contemporary issues that affect all of us. For instance, in her current book, Fire Prayer, there is a lot of corruption, and developers who pay for land. At the same time, the title itself comes from the sorcerers who lived on the island of Moloka‛i, and prayed for fire.
The Green Room is Atkinson's surfing mystery. In this one, she was trying to portray the excitement, danger and high stakes involved in the surfing competitions. It's a sport that is not well-known, but there is a great deal of money involved.
Debby's book, Fire Prayer, has just been released. It takes place on Moloka‛i, an island not as well known, but the one known to residents as the most Hawaiian of the islands. There actually was a protest at Moloka‛i Ranch, but not a death as there was in the book. Water rights were an issue at the time.
When Debby began to discuss the fact that, in the book, the residents of the small community are all tight mouthed, Barbara commented that it's a village mystery in its own way.
Debby said its a bit like working a jigsaw to make it all fit in the books. She and Barbara said she had problems with point of view in the first book, Primitive Secrets. Atkinson said she's learned a lot about writing as she went along.
She said there's a whole range of subjects she can use, living in Hawaii. So many mysteries set on the water deal only with drugs and money. Atkinson said the book she's working on now takes place on the main island, and has to do with a dive shop.
Debby said she likes to see what drives people, what in the past gets together with their present lives to drive them over the edge. That's certainly true in her latest book, Fire Prayer.
When asked what made her start writing mysteries, she said she had always wanted to write. She loved mysteries, and maybe she just wanted to participate or contribute to the genre. Her degree is in zoology, and she went to grad school in biochemistry, so her background is in the sciences.
She said she does keep an ongoing outline of each book, but often has to go back to check previous books for details, such as last names or Storm's birthday, if she even mentioned when her birthday was. She does backstory on Storm in order to get to know her.
Atkinson started writing in 1988 or 89, and started with magazine articles. Her first novel, which wasn't published, was a drug one. Her second book was Primitive Secrets, which was published by Poisoned Pen Press.
Barbara Peters said one thing people don't realize is that when working with manuscripts, much of the time is spent deleting material. Often authors don't know where their book starts. She said for some reason Chapter 4 can be the one that should start the book. Annette Mahon said she heard Chapter 3.
The small group made for a very informal, enjoyable evening at The Poisoned Pen. Poor Debby Atkinson, though, is leaving for home after touring for Fire Prayer, heading to the islands on Wednesday, when there is a hurricane predicted to hit on Tuesday.
Deborah Turrell Atkinson's website is www.debbyatkinson.com
Fire Prayer by Deborah Turrell Atkinson. Poisoned Pen Press, ©2007, ISBN 978-1-59058-402-6 (hardcover), 296p.