When I thought of an image to represent Heart of the Lilikoʻi, I imagined the west side of the Island of Hawaiʻi. Unlike the lush jungle of the Hilo side, the Kona side is dry down by the water. It’s a black rubble desert, except for the small plants, so green it hurts the eye, that begin the process of turning lava rock into soil.
I imagined the black rock and a lilikoʻi flower, a dirty work boot crushing the flower.
I imagined black rock in a cutaway view that showed a human heart (anatomical, not romantic) with lilikoʻi rootlets growing into and through it.
I imagined black rock and the koa tree, a broken open, slightly rotten passion fruit at the base.
But I left Hawaiʻi for the last time in 2007. I wouldn’t be able to set up a photo shoot to get exactly the look I wanted. I’d be working with clip art and photo licensing website images.
Searching on Hawaiʻi got me a lot of exactly what I didn’t want, tourism-oriented images of grass skirts and surfboards. Stereotyping is hard to get away from.
Finally, I found a few images I liked. I pulled the links together and all my requests, my hopes, and my concise list of what I didn’t want to see in the cover, and sent it to my publisher.
Several possible versions came back, and oh, was I happy to see this.
The cover for Heart of the Lilikoʻi.
I just finished a first draft in 11 days.
And I’m not even exhausted!
The complete first draft of Lysistrata Cove represents a change in my understanding of novel-writing. After two books that took me years to write and edit, I know now that I’m, first and foremost, telling a story, and that I work best when I know what the story is, how it got started and how it ends. I tried to leave things open, so that I could do what authors talk about all the time and learn from my characters, but it just left me floundering eventually, hunting and pecking for the impetus to throw them over the cliff or the strength they’ll need to figure out they have wings and can fly.
James and I developed a story, capable of being told in a handful of paragraphs. Then I mapped the story to the dramatic arc, the three-act play, Campbell’s hero cycle, Hauge’s six stage plot structure, using all to some degree and some quite carefully. Using Scrivener, I broke the story into sections (folders): Enemies, Softening, The Fall, Point of No Return, Major Setback, Dark Night of the Soul, and Epiphany and HEA (Happily Ever After). I wrote a synopsis for each scene (individual documents), with 4-6 scenes in each section.
Only at that point, when I had exported all that into MS Word and had a detailed, 10-page synopsis, did I go back and start doing character sketches.
Then I sat down, after several months of thinking over all that, getting to know these people in my head, and started writing. In writing, I didn’t linger on setting descriptions. Lots of scenes take place in amorphous surroundings, which I’m fleshing out in the second draft. But I got the thrust of it down. It’s tight, spare, and plain, but it drives.
Now I’ll go back and add some lushness. I’ll bring the sensual aspects into flower and consider where (not whether) to add more sex. After all, all the best reviews of my work praise the erotic bits.
Blue Water Dreams
First word to completed first draft: 1 year
First word to publication: 9 years, 3 months
Heart of the Lilikoi
First word to completed first draft: 6 years, 2 months
First word to publication: 6 years, 11 months
First word to completed first draft: 11 days
First word to projected publication: 10 months
If you have a voice and a following, especially among trans and genderqueer, lesbian, environmentalist, and anti-colonial communities, I’d love to send you a copy of Heart of the Lilikoʻi for your strings-free perusal. Publishers Weekly has called it “strong and satisfying” and picked out the “intensely vivid erotic encounters”.
Human remains tangled in lilikoʻi roots bring the authorities to Kerala’s construction site. Native Hawaiians say the passsion fruit vine marks an ancient burial ground protected by guardian spirits, the ʻaumakua. But these aren’t ancestral bones. The fractured skull points to murder.
Secrets, sabotage, and indigenous sovereignty campaigns hinder the project Kerala leads: building an eco-dream vacation home for Ravi, CEO of a solar power company. Proud to be a tough dyke in the trades, Kerala can’t believe she’s so hot for the masculine genderqueer scientist. Their sexual connection is volcanic but Ravi’s craving for love and family aggravates burn scars from Kerala’s past. As the lovers pursue justice for Hawaiʻi and its people, Ravi turns his gift for harnessing the sun’s strength toward cultivating his own power and Kerala wonders if building deep, lasting love could be even more satisfying than constructing a home to last the ages.
Heart of the Lilikoʻi will officially be released on October 13th, but advance copies (e-book or paperback) are available now for folks who would like to weigh in on it.
Write me at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet me @DenaWrites. Tell me who you talk to, what venues you use (blogs, websites, magazines, groups, etc) and why you think the book could be a good fit for your friends and followers. I’m traveling Maine on my sailboat and my internet access is spotty, at best, so don’t despair if I fail to respond promptly. I will reply to every request.
With almost a month yet to go before Heart of the Lilikoʻi becomes widely available, Publishers Weekly has weighed in on the book and found it good. The online review is not yet available [Update: Publishers Weekly reviews Heart of the Liliko’i], but the print edition has this to say:
Hankins (Blue Water Dreams) tackles weighty political and personal subjects in this intriguing contemporary. Kerala is the construction project manager on an experimental, environmentally-conscious vacation home, and comes under increasing pressure as progress is delayed by sabotage and threats. She’s usually only interested in women, so she’s surprised to fall for the home’s financial backer, Ravi, who’s transmasculine and genderqueer. The two suss out the boundaries of their newfound relationship as they get to the heart of the project’s troubles, but everything is further disrupted when they discover a corpse on the property. Hankins constructs a heartfelt relationship between her leads. Mutual lust and the contrast between the no-nonsense Kerala and starry-eyed Ravi lead to some intensely vivid erotic encounters. In constructing artificial-sounding dialogues about Hawaiian independence, green technology, and nonbinary gender, Hankins borders on the preachy, but the core romantic story is strong and satisfying.
While not without its caveats, this review thrills me. The most important part of a romance is the growth of interest, respect, and love between the leads (which, by the way, is a great way to pare down the clunky phrase “main characters”). And as I’ve said before, I believe that we reveal more than our bodies through sexual intimacy. I’m so glad that the reviewer saw that the character of these people was so crucial to the sex they had.
“a heartfelt relationship”
“intensely vivid erotic encounters”
“strong and satisfying”
It’s no coincidence that my first book was about a woman who wants to sail away.
I bought my first boat at 23 years old and left Seattle the next year. Starting in 1999 my life became one of traveling until I couldn’t anymore and then working until I could travel again.
A few years back, I got my captain’s license, a 50 ton Master license to be precise, with the idea that it would make me more employable in new ports. Instead of getting me work as a captain, it has garnered me a new amount of respect in other ways.
I’ve done electrical work on other people’s boats and sold marine hardware. I much prefer the first.
Without a home base, I do upkeep on my own boat wherever I am. Instead of sailing away for a vacation, I’m living my life at sea.
My boat is better than 50 years old, so there’s always something to be done.
Not all jobs are painless. Hauling myself down the anchor rode so I could remove it from the rudder entailed using the barnacled hull as a lever.
But even that work is a joy compared to stultifying in a port, wishing I was sailing.
This is the life for me.
While I honestly enjoyed each story in Come Again, I truly loved, and was even moved by, a select few. My favorite story in the collection was Gift by Dena Hankins. Gift features two women in their 60’s and 70’s exploring lesbian sex for the first time. They have been sleeping together for a few weeks, but the story focuses on a new toy they test together, leading to a new level of pleasure neither woman has ever experienced. Gift not only turned me on, but deeply moved me as well. In the story, one of the women deals with physical disability and mobility issues. With the introduction of the new toy, she is able to reclaim her sexuality in spite of her limited mobility and engage fully with her lover for the first time. For the first time, my eyes welled with tears while reading erotica – a true testament to the undeniable beauty of Gift and Dena Hankins’ talent as an author. –Formidable Femme
I’m the opposite of speechless – I want to chatter about my excitement without pausing for breath!
What a, well, gift to be read by someone who engaged with my writing on this level. No lie, I brought tears to my own eyes writing this story, but that’s me and my very own textured imaginary version of this story. To read that this Femme was right there with me…
Floating, flying happiness.
Come Again: Sex Toy Erotica is doing so well out in the world. I’m tickled to be singled out for appreciation among a strong group of stories.
I found an even better version of one review of “Gift”, in Come Again: Sex Toy Erotica, on Goodreads:
The Gift, by Dina Hankins is a remarkably tender, sexy story of senior lovers, Helen and Margaret. As a senior woman this one resonates with me, for sure. It’s gratifying to see stories of senior sex included in erotica anthologies. After all just because the packaging has changed doesn’t mean the fires within aren’t still burning.
Love this stuff!
It’s tempting to spend all one’s time on Amazon’s author pages, refreshing the reviews page. Has anyone talked about my work?
I stayed away a while and, what do you know, when I went back on, I saw some great mentions of my story in Come Again: Sex Toy Erotica!
I am a genre writer, when it comes right down to it. I like beats. I like pulses and plans and fulfilling the expectations I create. Whether it’s romance or SF, I like having an agreement with the reader and working within that to surprise and delight them.
Fortunately, I know that doesn’t mean being inconsequential, ignored, or disrespected…at least, not across the board. I read Snow Crash for the first time in a 400-level Frontiers in Literature course at University of Washington. An excellent gender studies teacher introduced me to Patrick Califia in a course on Outsider Lit. My Chivalric Romantic Literature course might have started with the French lais and English Breton lays and ended with Chretien de Troyes, but I knew that Nora Roberts was continuing to present heroic figures who prioritized love and honor over practicality. And now I’ve found Bold Strokes Books.
I’m glad to be writing erotica, romance, and science fiction. Whether or not my books “transcend” their genres, I find plenty of respect, attention, and consequence in exploring lives within these frames.
Thank you, to all the genre fiction readers out there. May I continue to surprise you while fulfilling our agreement and delight you with the creativity I bring to the art and craft of writing.
I’ve recently found the Facebook phenomenon called Binders. The Binders Full of Women Writers and the spin-off groups for subcategories like romance, travel, and “rainbow” writers are active, vibrant communities of women sharing their successes and spreading word of opportunities.
The romance binder has organized a Work in Progress (WIP) Wednesday. I imagine the intent was less transparent than this post, but being new to the binders makes me want to show some appreciation for these women and their willingness to support one another. I’ve gotten new Twitter followers from the binders already, and now I’m hoping to see some new traffic on this site.
With that background established, I’ll move on to the actual purpose of the post. Heart of the Lilikoi comes out October 13th and I’ll debut it at the Provincetown Women’s Week in Massachusetts. It is still my work in progress, though I’ve sent it to my Bold Strokes Books editor and my Hawaiian-language editor.
Romantic suspense is a new subgenre for me and I found it both fun and tough to write. Fun in that I was able to explore human motivation in all its aspects, not just the romantic. Tough in that I have a hard time getting into the heads of characters I don’t like. Living with these people for such a long time, living in Hawaii with them and shaping their reality with my words, tested my determination. I move often and easily, but I stuck with these folks to the end of the first draft and through subsequent rewrites. Now that I’ve reached the point where my world is getting outside visitors, I’m looking forward to jumping back in and seeing how I like the place I spent so much time.
Here’s a taste of the beginning.
Kerala circled the plot of land, striding from the black beach cliff to the rough lump of exposed pāhoehoe lava that marked the far edge of the construction site. Salt glistened in the bright, tropical sunlight wherever waves had crashed ashore. The Kona side of the Island of Hawai’i didn’t get enough rain to wash it away.
She mounted the hill and turned to look back at the marker flags and check their positions. The litany of what’s-next flowed inexorably in her thoughts, but her eyes focused on the job at hand. She took a step to the left.
The hill disintegrated under her boots.
Surfing the lava-rock wave, Kerala dropped ten feet in an instant and thought, oh, shit.
Near the bottom, her feet scraped against the flattening slope and she crumpled, curling and dropping a shoulder faster than thought. She and the rubble hit the bottom of the grade and she rolled until she cleared the falling debris.
Momentum spent, she lay on her side and kept her arms around her head for a moment, listening to the ground. Adrenaline sharpened her senses. Tender, tough greenery lay smashed under her. Its freshness complicated the smells of saltwater, dirt, and sun-heated lava rock. She listened closely, tensed to move, but only small spills continued from the top of the new slope. When she confirmed she wouldn’t be buried under another rock fall, she rolled onto her back and stretched out flat. She opened her eyes gingerly and blinked into the tropical sun, feeling along her bones and muscles from the inside. No real injury.
A burst of fury propelled her to her feet.
Shouts and commotion from the top of the hill cascaded toward her as several men slid-fell to where she stood. By the time they reached her, she had checked the newly exposed rock for clues on why the grade had given way. She would hurt like a bitch later, but she’d use the adrenaline high while it lasted.
When the crew supervisor, Jack Zelinski, stepped forward, he did so with all the care of a handler feeding a tiger.