A Novel Idea

Au­thor Malia Mat­toch McManus’ new book, Dragon­fruit, pays a visit to Hawai‘i’s past—as well as a bit of her own.


HEN MALIA MAT­TOCH MCMANUS CAME OUT WITH HOME DE­SIGN TOME THE Hawai­ian House Now al­most a decade ago, it was safe to as­sume her sec­ond book would per­tain to a topic along sim­i­lar lines. So, a his­tor­i­cal fic­tion novel set in Hawai‘Hawai i i’ss most

Wtu­mul­tuous pe­riod is per­haps a genre even McManus her­self wasn’t ex­pect­ing to pen. But in­spi­ra­tion strikes at the most un­likely places, and for the Kailua-born writer and re­porter, it struck on an al­most-se­cluded beach on Moloka‘ i years ago. Now, with her first pub­lished novel al­ready gar­ner­ing rave re­views, McManus gives us the story be­hind her re­cently re­leased book, Dragon­fruit.

What prompted you to write

Many years ago, I was count­ing tur­tles overnight for the Na­ture Con­ser­vancy on Moloka‘ i. I heard a woman’s laugh com­ing from be­hind an aban­doned ruin on the beach. We looked for the woman but never found her, though her laugh went on through­out the night. This was the first an and, I think, last time I ’ve ever had this fee feel­ing. The friend I was count­ing the turt tur­tles with, who is part Hawai­ian, never couldc hear the woman as I did … “Be Be­cause that’s the crazy haole ghost,” [my friend,fr Pi‘ ikea’s] grand­fa­ther told me, na nam­ing an old Hawai‘ i mis­sion­ary fam­ily as the source of the ghost. I have no ideaid if Pi‘ i’s grand­fa­ther was just pulli pulling my leg, but it planted an idea in m my head—what would bring such awa woman to a place like that, and wh what would drive her to haunt it?

How does the novel come into play?

H DDragon­fruit’s main char­ac­ter, El­iza Daw­son, does not fit the pro­file of that gh ghost, but the ge­n­e­sis of her heart­break, ad­ventu ad­ven­ture and re­demp­tion came from that night. FromF there, years passed as I worked as a re­porter­rep and col­lected lit­tle bits and pieces dur­ing sto­ries about O‘ahu ceme­tery or ‘ Iolani Palace. Each Palace guide told a slightly dif­fer­ent ver­sion of events, and each de­tail is still lodged in my mind …

Are there any other per­sonal as­pects wo­ven into the stor y?

An­other dear Hawai‘ i friend, Heather Ho, had passed away in 9/11. I wanted to add some­thing about friend­ship and loss, but love too, and that’s where the com­po­nent of the friend­ship with Ka‘ iu­lani and the sto­ry­line of the Chinese fam­ily came in. I wanted to honor Heather’s roots in a way that was to­tally fic­tional to her ac­tual life, but al­lowed me to spend time read­ing about that com­mu­nity’s his­tory in Hawai‘ i, which is a fas­ci­nat­ing one.

Fi­nal de­tails came in as I took my young sons to Bishop Mu­seum once a week to walk through the Hawai­ian Hall. The col­lec­tion pro­vided ideas for the twists and turns and other char­ac­ters’ plot lines. The feather cloaks, old pho­to­graphs, price­less pieces—many found their way into this book that took me so long to write but I hope hon­ors the Hawai‘ i I find so rich and unique. This story couldn’t take place any­where else in the world than here …

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