Friday, October 11, 2019

Interview with mystery author Robert McCaw

Welcome, readers. Today’s special author interview is with Robert McCaw. We’re chatting about his new mystery, Off the Grid.

Robert McCaw grew up in a military family traveling the world. After graduating from Georgetown University, he served as a lieutenant in the US Army before earning his law degree from the University of Virginia. Thereafter he practiced as a partner in a major international law firm in Washington, DC, and New York City—and maintained a home on the Big Island of Hawai’i. McCaw brings a unique authenticity to his Koa Kāne Hawaiian mystery novels in both his law legal expertise and his ability to portray the richness of Hawai’i’s history, culture, and people. McCaw lives in New York City and La Jolla, California, with his wife, Calli.

Welcome, Robert. Please tell us about your current release.
Off The Grid is a mystery/political thriller set on the Big Island of Hawaii—the real Hawaii, beyond the palm trees, hula skirts, and tropical drinks of tourist Hawaii. In many ways, Hawaii itself, its history, multicultural diversity, and language is a character in the novel.

My protagonist, Koa Kāne, is the chief detective of the Hilo, Hawaii police. He’s a cop with a secret past, one that gives him an insight into the criminal mind, while fueling his relentless pursuit of justice for victims. In Off The Grid, Koa’s day starts when he’s called to the scene of a staged traffic accident and escalates when a body turns up in a lava field. It doesn’t take Koa long to discover that the victims are loners living under false identities off the grid in rural Hawaii. His quest to learn their identities creates conflicts with powerful government agencies and ultimately his own police chief. The trail leads to one of the most bizarre, real-life, international events of the recent past and to a surprise ending.

What inspired you to write this book?
Hawaii inspired me to write the Koa Kāne mystery series, starting with Death of a Messenger in 2015, followed by Off The Grid in 2019, and Fire and Vengeance, to be published next year. I first visited the Big Island in 1986 and fell in love with its magic. Living there part-time for 20 years, I immersed myself in its history and culture, talked story with local friends, both haole (western) and Hawaiian, and visited most of the places where my stories take place.

Two unrelated experiences inspired significant parts of Off The Grid. My wife and I went to the home of a Big Island artist we had commissioned for a Hawaiian themed painting. After a number of twists and turns in a remote part of the island, we arrived at an isolated dwelling deep in the rain forest. Largely off the grid, it was filled with mismatched objects, artist’s supplies, and half-finished paintings. As I entered and scanned the great room, I knew I’d discovered a ready-made template for a scene in a novel. The fact that the artist’s retired husband seemed to have some clandestine military history only added intriguing mystery possibilities.

Not too much later, my wife and I drove up the somewhat more developed Kohala Coast to the picturesque town of Hāwī to dine at one of our favorite casual restaurants, only to find the place closed. We learned that the proprietor had been arrested as a fugitive from justice. A little research revealed that he was far from the only wanted man hiding out on the Big Island.

And so pieces of Off The Grid came together.

What exciting story are you working on next?
Fire and Vengeance, another unique and exciting Koa Kāne mystery, is coming next year. It begins when a volcano erupts under an elementary school, and Koa learns that the builders knew of, and concealed, the risk. The ensuing investigation leads Koa into one of the most challenging investigations of his career as he fights entrenched politicians to discover a shocking and long-buried truth.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Given my former career as an attorney, it seems as though I have been writing most of my life. I first turned to serious fiction when I started Death of a Messenger in the late 1980s while I was still pursuing a full-time legal career. I worked on that novel off and on until I retired and finally finished it. So if “writer” means producing books for publication, you could say I’ve been “becoming” a writer for a long time.

Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
I write regularly, but my days encompass many other activities, including time with family and friends, travel, exercise, reading, cooking, and even a video game or two, but little or no TV. That said, I try to spend some time every day working on my latest writing project. That might entail sitting down at the computer, researching, or just thinking and planning the next chapter or scene. I agree with authors who say that successful writers are voracious readers and believe that life is in many ways the best research for writing fiction. Thus, I am always on the prowl for locations, situations, or characters that might fit with my current project or inspire parts of the next one.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I avoid the word “very,” and think of my father every time that word crosses my mind. He told me that whenever I use the word “very,” I should change it to “damned,” – as in damned pretty -- and then delete it!

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
The list is endless. My grandfather worked on a railroad, and I grew up with model trains. So I wanted to be an engineer. My father was a military lawyer, so I wanted to be a soldier, but not a lawyer. That only came later. We always had tools and a workshop, and I tried my hand at cabinetry. I loved numbers and wanted to be a mathematician until I figured out that math would likely be a pretty solitary profession. Always fascinated by the stars, I seriously considered being an astronomer. At one point, I even wanted to be a professional ping-pong player.

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
The luckiest people are not, as commonly believed, the wealthiest. They are instead those blessed with the power to make a life doing what they love. So go for it.

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