Inspiration is a funny thing. It can come to us like a lightning bolt, through the lyrics of a song, or in the fog of a dream. Ask any writer where their stories come from and you’ll get a myriad of answers, and in that vein I created the WHAT (What the Hell Are you Thinking?) interview. Always including in the WHAT is one random question to really dig down into the interviewees mind, and probably supply some illumination into my own as well.
Today’s guest for the WHAT is Kirby Michael Wright, who was born and raised in Honolulu and spent summers with his part-Hawaiian grandma on Moloka’i. He attended Punahou School on Oahu, where he once arm-wrestled Barrack Obama for a cigarette. He received his BA in English Literature from the University of California, San Diego. Anne Rice accepted him into the Creative Writing Program at San Francisco State University, where he was the first student in the history of the school to sweep the poetry awards. Wright received the 2018 Redwood Empire Mensa Award for Creative Nonfiction. His stories and stand-alone chapters have been published in over 200 literary journals and magazines worldwide.
Ideas for our books can come from just about anywhere, and sometimes even we can’t pinpoint exactly how or why. Did you have a specific origin point for your book?
I must admit most of my characters have been based on my immediate family. Now that I’m concentrating on Creative Nonfiction, I keep the names the same—that allows me to really dig into their personalities. Why? Because, to me, real names mean it’s no longer fiction and helps me mine the real stuff. I’m into exploring interior worlds to find out what makes my family tick. Perhaps, through this process, I’m trying to figure myself out as well.
Once the original concept existed, how did you build a plot around it?
I don’t have to invent much since I’m writing about what really happened. Sometimes I feel like a court reporter as the memories of family pop into my head. One on the techniques that really works for me is creating dialogue blocks between two or more characters and allowing them the freedom to ramble on. From there I edit out the weaker lines and mix in narration, gesture, etc. Dialogue is such a great place to start for writers because it helps you focus on the nuances of character by the way they deliver lines. I’ve been writing lots of pidgin English lately, the creole-type language spoken by locals in Hawaii. What’s interesting about that is different variations of pidgin English are spoken depending on which island you’re on.
Have you ever had the plot firmly in place, only to find it changing as the story moved from your mind to paper?
This may sound crazy, but I write the ending first. That way I have the Destination Shore in mind before I drop the oars in the water in Chapter One. I allow the chapters to unfold and almost never change plot points. In THE QUEEN OF MOLOKA’I, I did rearrange chapters to kill the slower pace of the rural setting. This was done through Julia’s flashback to her brief affair with the Englishman at the Moana Hotel in Waikiki. I love mixing rural with city, and that setting conflict helps me enter the mindset of my grandmother when she was a wild teen running the streets of Honolulu.
Do story ideas come to you often, or is fresh material hard to come by?
Julia Wright, my grandm,a was a firecracker so there’s no lack of material. My 300-page book covers only four years of her life! I do have to exercise my memory to remember the stories she told me about her life when I spent summers with her on her Moloka’i horse ranch. I’ve experimented with third person and first in various stories and both seem to work. However, when I write about Julia before I was born, that’s when I keep it third person.
I always get fresh ideas whenever I go overseas to lecture. But what comes out of that is usually poetry and flash (micro fiction). I wrote an entire book of verse in three weeks during my recent sojourn to Helsinki, the Finnish Archipelago, and Stockholm. In Stockholm, I stayed near the secret recording studio of ABBA.
How do you choose which story to write next, if you’ve got more than one percolating?
I have several projects on the backburner at any given time, but must focus on a single project to cross the finish line. Otherwise, I’d spend my days spinning in circles. When the other projects try seducing me to start them, I have to ignore their wanton wails. “In due time,” I tell them, “you’re time will come.”
I have lots of cats (check my Instagram) and I usually have at least one or two snuggling with me when I write. Do you have a writing buddy, or do you find it distracting?
I’m with you! I have three cats and all of them are Senior Citizens. It’s reassuring to have company when I’m writing, especially since they’re fairly quiet. My cats calm me down too when I’m feeling stressed, that is, when they’re not whining for snacks or regular meals. Hurray for felines!