Fruita author conveys passion for Hawaii in her new book
Local author Aline LaForge is a retired archaeologist with a deep love and passion for Hawaiian culture. She splits her time between her farm in Fruita and the island of Oahu, where she researches and writes. She has taken her love for Hawaii and translated it into a young-adult novel with magical elements.
Her new novel, Hooked by the Stars, tells the story of Lani and Meli, two teenage girls coming of age a thousand years apart. Lani is traveling with her people to help settle the present-day Hawaiian islands, believing she is leaving behind her first love, Kekoa. Meli is learning Lani’s tale through her Aunty Min’s storytelling in 1930s Hawaii, which was in a state of great transition as more and more outside influences affected traditional culture. Both girls are guided by Pueo, an owl native only to Hawaii.
LaReina Kalenian: Your novel includes beautiful descriptions of Hawaii and Nuku Hiva, the present-day Marquesas Islands. What kind of research did you do to understand both locales so well?
Aline LaForge: Every time I visited Hawaii I spent time at botanical gardens, forest preserves and sacred sites. I talked with park staff and locals. I spent the last two winters on Oahu, a chance to really get into the rhythm of the island. I started formal research when I began writing. I also read oral histories, interviews with Hawaiians who were born at the turn of the last century. As for Nuku Hiva, I couldn’t visit the islands, so I read archaeological reports, natural histories and ethnographic collections.
Kalenian: In the novel, Pueo is a short-eared owl who follows his human love, Lani, as her people travel to the island of Hawaii. Presently, this Hawaiian subspecies of short-eared owl is endangered and half of the proceeds of this book will go to Pueo Hui, a foundation established to study the population of the birds. How did you learn the story of Pueo? What inspired you to get involved with Pueo Hui?
LaForge: In 2013 I studied lomilomi massage on Maui. Our teacher spoke of the unique animals of Hawaii, including Pueo. I asked, ‘How did Pueo come to Hawaii?’ She said she didn’t know. The idea of such a journey intrigued me, and as I sat alone in her garden, the tale of Lani and Kekoa and the voyaging canoe came to me. It was serendipity that I stumbled across the Pueo Hui website. I contacted them to see if there was a way I could support their citizen science project, to give something back to Hawaii.
Kalenian: How were you able to intimately portray Hawaiian language and culture in the 1930s and ancient Nuku Hiva so well? It is clear you have a deep passion for Hawaii.
LaForge: The root of the story came from a source outside of me, definitely beyond my personal experience. I wrote the first draft in a notebook while listening to Lei’ohu Ryder or Makaha Sons of Ni’ihau. Once I knew how the book would end, I moved to the computer with my dog-eared Hawaiian dictionary always close at hand. Two books were invaluable, “Shoal of Time” by Gavan Daws and “Ku Kanaka: A Search for Hawaiian Values” by George Hu’eu Sanford Kanahele.
Kalenian: Why was it important to you for Meli’s portion of the novel to be set in the 1930s?
LaForge: Reviewers of the first draft asked me why Meli’s mother disappeared, and the only good answer seemed to be murder. The 1930s were a time of conflict. The suppression of Hawaiian language and culture by the missionaries almost erased the old ways. Social upheaval created by the sugarcane industry was fertile ground for political and union activists. Mainland influences included movie theaters, modern appliances and the growing presence of the U.S. armed services. Almost everyone knows what happened at Pearl Harbor in 1941, but few people know about the events that led up to the Hilo Massacre in 1938.
Kalenian: You chose to self-publish the novel through your establishment of Wise Bird Books, LLC, which is a route many authors are choosing these days. What are some of the positives and negatives of self-publishing?
LaForge: Writing can be an art form, and going independent allows creative freedom. Publishing is a business that requires hard work. For example, finding the linocut prints that fit the story was an exciting moment. The thrill was followed by months of negotiations and legal details. Self-publishing required an effort and expense that a traditionally published author doesn’t have, but I still get chicken skin when I open the book and see Hina, the goddess, casting the stars.
Kalenian: Do you have plans to publish any other literature through Wise Bird Books?
LaForge: There is a sequel to Meli’s story brewing, but marketing, book tours and the Pueo Hui are going to keep me busy until next spring. As for new publications, the door at Wise Bird Books LLC is always open.