Read Joe Donatelli’s interview with humor columnist Charley Memminger, author of the tropical crime thriller ‘Aloha, Lady Blue.’
Charley Memminger is an award-winning humor columnist, screenwriter and author in Hawaii who just published his first novel, “Aloha, Lady Blue.”
The premise: Stryker McBride is a former crime reporter who lives on an expensive houseboat called–John MacDonald fans will appreciate this–“the Travis McGee.” When Stryker receives an unexpected SOS call from a sultry beauty queen, he agrees to look into the suspicious death of the woman’s grandfather. As Stryker investigates, he encounters a cast of characters as diverse as Hawaii itself, including Auntie Kealoha, a charming entertainer turned mobster and her 400-pound right-hand man, a Chinese-Hawaiian named Tiny Maunakea. Stryker discovers a deadly secret buried deep in the heart of Hawaii that has consequences much larger than one old man’s death.
Publisher’s Weekly gushed, “Deft storytelling, intrigue galore, and island splendor distinguish humor columnist Memminger’s strong first novel.”
Said A.J. Jacobs, editor-at-large for Esquire and national best-selling author, “Charley Memminger should be named Hawaii’s state gem. Sorry black coral, he’s just better than you are. His great first novel made me feel like I just took a Hawaiian vacation, and not your usual boring beach vacation, but a thrilling trip filled with corrupt cops and libidinous Russians.”
To get “Aloha, Lady Blue” published, Memminger, a former crime reporter himself, proved to be just as resourceful as his protagonist. He walked down all of publishing’s usual dark alleys, made a few unconventional leaps of logic and did some time in prison–sort of–until he was finally able to say aloha to “Aloha, Lady Blue.”
What makes Hawaii such a fun place to write about?
Hawaii is a true melting pot. We have just about every race you can name and the great culture of the Hawaiian people, who teach all visitors the meaning of aloha. One reason we all get along is because people in Hawaii are not politically correct when it comes to humor. We celebrate our differences and take a lot of shots at the various groups. The rest of the country would do well to learn from how we all live together in relative peace on a clutch of small islands in the middle of the Pacific. We, of course, have problems. There’s crime. But much of it is “island style” crime. I covered crime for many years in paradise and I try to share some of that in “Aloha, Lady Blue.” On a small island like Oahu, organized crime figures only live a few blocks away. When people are sent to prison, they are only up the road a bit. The beauty of Hawaii is something that the people who live here never take for granted. In “Aloha, Lady Blue” I wanted to show what living in the islands is really like. No cliches. From what the national reviewers are saying, I was able to get close to describing what life is like here. I’ve lived all over the world, and even went to kindergarten in Morocco. Trust me. Hawaii is the best place in the world to live!
Are any of the characters based on people you met while working for newspapers in Hawaii? I have to imagine you had plenty of source material.
I did develop some characters in “Aloha, Lady Blue” from either actually people I knew or met or people I heard about, like some of the great old time crime figures. If you’ve watched the original “Hawaii Five-0” and seen the quirky island characters often portrayed. they are real. They existed. I knew a 300-pound organized crime hitman named Ronnie Ching. He eventually pleaded guilty to killing four people, including the son of the Honolulu city prosecutor and a federal drug informant who he blew off a bar stool in broad daylight with a machine gun in a bar on Kapiolani Boulevard. He also killed a state senator. Before he went to the mainland to go to prison (not all prisoners are kept in Hawaii) he asked to speak personally to me. Criminals actually respected the press back in those days. He told me all about how he “made his bones,” killing his first person, and where he liked to get rid of the bodies. (He liked to bury them on a deserted beaches because “easy fo’ dig, eh?” My publisher insisted that my hero Stryker McBride not hang out with people like that. But I told her that’s the way it is in Hawaii. I based the character “Tiny Maunakea” on Ronnie Ching, who passed away several years ago.
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