I’ll be doing readings and signings again this year in Provincetown, MA. Women’s Week is a lively, fabulous bundle of events which take advantage of the beach atmosphere to offer a little bit of everything. Raucous dance parties, teeming crowds of women holding hands, and packed houses for concerts and shows alternate with quiet time on the sand, gentle music at the cafes around midday, and dozens of readings hosted by a handful of LGBTQ publishers.
I’ll be in my element at the sex scene reading. I know the audience will enjoy Kerala and Ravi’s electric attraction. I’ll be a bit more nervous at the other, titled “It’s a Zoo in Here: Four Legged Heroes”. I’ve had cats most of my life and a couple dogs that touched me deeply. But I wouldn’t say it’s a natural, enduring aspect of my writing for the leads to be bonded with animal companions.
Bogart, Kerala’s dog in Heart of the Lilikoi, is a window into her capacity to love and an important creature for her ability to cope with the terrible things that happen to her. He is bright and loyal, well-trained and choosey about who he warms to. It’s lucky that Bogart likes Ravi, and Ravi knows it!
My schedule for the week of October 12-:
Monday, 12th, 2pm: Signing at Recovering Hearts with other Bold Strokes Books authors Radclyffe, Missouri Vaun, Franci McMahon, Laydin Michaels, MJ Williamz, and Jo Victor
Wednesday, 14th, 1pm: Reading at the Provincetown Hotel at Gabriel’s in “It’s a Zoo in Here: Four Legged Heroes” with moderator Barbara Ann Wright and readers D. Jackson Leigh, Franci McMahon, CA Popovich, Radclyffe, and Jo Victor
Wednesday, 14th, 3:15pm: Signing at Recovering Hearts with D. Jackson Leigh, Franci McMahon, CA Popovich, Radclyffe, and Jo Victor
Thursday, 15th, 1pm: Reading at the Provincetown Hotel at Gabriel’s in “Between the Sheets: Erotic Readings” with moderator Missouri Vaun and readers Tina Michele, Nell Stark, Ali Vali, D. Jackson Leigh, and MJ Williamz
Thursday, 15th, 3:15pm: Signing at Recovering Hearts with Tina Michele, Nell Stark, Ali Vali, D. Jackson Leigh, and MJ Williamz
Saturday, 17th, 2pm: Moderating at the Provincetown Public Library for “Readings that Define the Author’s Voice” with readers Franci McMahon, Ali Vali, Justine Saracen, Jo Victor, Melissa Brayden, Missouri Vaun
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.
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”
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.
Heart of the Lilikoi is romantic suspense, with plenty of the usual Dena Hankins flavor. Gender, social justice, steamy sex, colonialism, and the concept of home get a thorough exploration against a background of passion and regret, love and hope.
Heart of the Lilikoi contrasts with Blue Water Dreams in almost as many ways as it is similar. The main characters are older, more mature, and far more sure of what they want. The suspense creates a darker tone, and it’s harder to see how these amazing people are going to end up together.
Here’s the blurb for the back of the book:
Human remains tangled in lilikoi roots bring the authorities to Kerala’s construction site. Native Hawaiians say the passion fruit vine marks an ancient burial ground protected by guardian spirits, the ’aumakua. 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 Hawaii 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.