DEBRA BOKUR – Award Winning Author Takes Her Readers Into Hawaiian Mystery

Frequently accused of drinking too much tea and getting lost deliberately, award-winning writer Debra Bokur is the author of the Dark Paradise Mysteries series (Kensington Books). She’s also a contributing author to Spreading the Word: Editors on Poetry (The Bench Press, 2001) and the former poetry editor at Many Mountains Moving literary journal. Bokur is an award-winning journalist and longtime contributor to national publications, including Global Traveler Magazine. She divides her time between Colorado and coastal Maine.

The Lava WitchIn a remote, mountainous area of a Maui forest near Haleakalā volcano, the naked body of a young woman is found hanging from a tree. The devil is in the details: the woman’s nostrils, mouth, and lungs are packed with lava sand. Her hands are bound in twine, and her feet are charred and blackened, suggesting a firewalking ceremony. Detective Kali Māhoe’s suspicions are immediately aroused. It has all the signs of ritual torture and murder.

But Kali’s investigation soon leads her down a winding trail of seemingly unconnected clues and diverging paths—from the hanging tree itself, a rare rainbow eucalyptus, to rumors of a witch haunting the high areas of the forest, to the legend of the ancient Hawaiian sorceress Pahulu, goddess of nightmares. Casting a shadow over it all—the possibility of a Sitting God, a spirit said to invade and possess the soul.

Aided by her uncle, Police Captain Walter Alaka’i, Officer David Hara, and the victim’s brother, Kali embarks down the darkest road of all. One that leads to the truth of the mountain’s deadly core and a dark side of the island for which even Kali is unprepared.

Recent Reviews:

“This procedural keeps readers guessing all the way to the gratifying solution. Fans of Tony Hillerman will be enthralled.” —Publishers Weekly STARRED REVIEW on The Lava Witch

“A cool police procedural with engaging characters and fascinating components.” —Kirkus Reviews on The Lava Witch

Controlling the Weather – Thanks for inviting me to post on your site today, George. As I prepare for the launch of The Lava Witch, I’ve been mulling over a few concepts that I suspect may be common among both readers and writers of mystery/crime fiction, all of which have coalesced into the notion of controlling the weather.

Consider this: Nearly everything in the world operates according to forces that are out of our control — day and night, tidal waves, tornadoes, disease outbreaks, growing old, watching the neighbors paint their house the wrong color. That’s plenty to dwell on, even on a sunny day, while we can still bolt up and down staircases with ease. When you add in the forces of malevolence, things take a much darker turn.

Like most people, I’ve encountered evil firsthand. Sometimes it’s shiny or dressed up with beguiling surface beauty meant to mislead and confuse; sometimes, it doesn’t bother to pretend to be anything but what it is —cruelty, malice, and deliberate mayhem unleashed to disrupt or destroy the lives and equilibrium of others.

While I’ve never actually talked to other mystery writers or readers about this, I’m sure I’m not alone when I say how satisfying and fulfilling it is to see darkness overcome by goodness and light. I believe it’s one of the reasons we love to read mysteries and thrillers. I know it’s one of the reasons I find it gratifying to write them. Sure, remedying all the ills of the real world and conquering evil in its multitude of forms is beyond my powers as a single human being; but as an author, I can control storms and decide when the sun comes out, and make certain that those who deliberately bring about pain, grief, and misery — at least within the pages of my books — are made fully accountable for their actions. And, I get to bring readers along for the ride, setting off with them on difficult journeys that I know will lead, at last, to a moment of resolution and healing.

How do our readers contact you?

Groups I belong to:

  • Sisters In Crime (National, Colorado, and New England chapters)
  • Mystery Writers of America
  • Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers
  • Colorado Authors League
  • International Thriller Writers
  • Society of American Travel Writers

14 Comments

  1. Donnell Ann Bell

    Yay, Kali Māhoe is back. I so enjoyed her in The Bone Field. The plot sounds amazing, Debra! Congratulations on your release and a starred review!

    Reply
  2. Margaret Mizushima

    Our heroes and heroines are always battling weather, terrain, and evil, which makes for a thrilling story. Thanks for this post, Debra and George. And like you, Debra, this mystery writer enjoys watching darkness succumb to the light.

    Reply
    • Debra Bokur

      Thank you, Margaret. Here’s to Team Light 🙂

      Reply
  3. Barbara Nickless

    We must never give up the battle against evil–in the real world as well as in our fictional ones. Thanks for a great post!

    Reply
    • Debra Bokur

      Much appreciated, Barbara. The quest is everything.

      Reply
  4. Debra Bokur

    Thanks, Michael! It’s nice to be able to escape to the Islands, even if only in my imagination — especially on Rocky Mountain days like this when there are snow flurries blowing through my newly planted spring garden.

    Reply
  5. Joseph HAGGERTY

    I love inventing a little super natural even when it’s manufactured. The mystery of the investigation is one thing but when something comes along that can’t be explained, it adds to the mystery and since it’s fiction who can say if it’s real. Loved this post.

    Reply
    • Debra Bokur

      Thanks, Joseph – a little mystery keeps things interesting, I think.

      Reply
  6. Michael A. Black

    Your summary sounds like a fascinating novel, Debra. You’re totally right about being able to control things as an author. We need more books set in Hawaii. Best of luck to you.

    Reply
  7. Peg Brantley

    Justice being served while we’re alive to see it is one of the reasons crime fiction is so fabulous! Great post, thank you!

    Reply
    • Debra Bokur

      You’re very welcome. Agreed about crime fiction — and instant karma isn’t so bad, either!

      Reply
  8. Mare Sutro

    Overcoming the darkness is what it is all about. Thanks for sharing these wonderful insights!

    Reply
    • Debra Bokur

      It’s important not to let the darkness win, whatever form it takes.

      Reply

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DEBRA BOKUR – Loves Cold Weather Writes About Hawai’i

Debra Bokur has been at the writing game for more than 40 years but prefers to avoid saying exactly how many.

She’s worked as an editor and staff writer at newspapers and national magazines and as a full-time journalist (the real, old-fashioned kind), literary journal editor, screenwriter, and poet. She’s also done quite a bit of illustration work and spent several decades training horses and riders for competition in the sports of dressage and three-day eventing.

Debra is the recipient of multiple national writing awards, including a Lowell Thomas Award for travel journalism, and remains a columnist and feature writer at Global Traveler Magazine. She’s also senior researcher and writer for the Association of Safe International Road Travel. Both her jobs regularly take her to far-flung destinations in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. She doesn’t like flying but loves trains, prefers cold weather to hot; and strongly dislikes coffee, but drinks a truly impressive amount of tea on a daily basis.

Debra is the author of the Dark Paradise Mystery series from Kensington Books, including The Fire Thief (2020), The Bone Field (2021), and The Lava Witch (scheduled for release in 2022). When not traveling or writing, Debra spends her time hiking near her home high in the Rocky Mountains and renovating a haunted 1860s Victorian inn on the coast of Maine with her husband.

Do you write in more than one genre? I do. Besides crime/mystery fiction, I write magical realism and poetry. A lot of that has been published, and I’m working on a new mystery series that features elements of magical realism. Something I love to do, especially when working on a book, is to step away to write a short story, flash fiction piece, or poem. It helps me refocus. A topic I return to frequently is the re-telling of classic fairytales from a fresh or unusual angle.

You mentioned you prefer cold weather to hot, but your Dark Paradise Mystery series is set in Hawai’i. Why is that? I am definitely a cold weather person and am never happier than when the landscape is covered by deep snow or enveloped in cold winter mist. But Hawai’i is a definite exception—though my first trip there 25 years ago was under duress. I was the managing editor at a culinary magazine, and our food editor was suddenly unable to attend a food festival in Hawai’i that we’d agreed to cover. Our advertising team had already sold ad space around the expected story, and as anyone in magazine publishing knows, once ads have been sold, there’s absolutely going to be supporting editorial. I was the only staff member free to go. Plus, my husband had been invited to accompany me, and once he knew about it, there was no ducking out. So I went, grumbling all the way about sunburn, bugs, and the inferiority of palm trees to aspens. When we arrived, I realized I’d been a colossal idiot. It was pretty much love at first sight and is still the only tropical place I enjoy traveling to.

Over the years, I’ve been back many times, usually on assignment. During those excursions—and because of the fact that the magazines I’ve worked for have almost always focused on wellness, spirituality, herbal medicines, and similar topics—I’ve been deeply fortunate to have met and formed lasting relationships with elders, healers, and wisdom keepers from the Hawaiian culture. My book series grew out of my fascination with how such a remarkably beautiful landscape can harbor so much darkness.

Where do you write? What, if any distractions, do you allow? We live in a heavily forested corner of the Rocky Mountains at 8,400 feet, where I’ve created a mountain garden that’s home to numerous birds, foxes, rabbits, raccoons, and other wildlife. My writing room looks out on that space and is filled with meaningful objects that inspire me—books, letters, postcards, treasures, and talismans. While that’s the place I’m most productive and feel I do my best work, I’ve trained myself to write just about anywhere, which is necessary because of work travel. On planes, I’m too stressed to write (even though my husband is an experienced pilot who’s been trying for decades to explain bumpy air to me), but I’m particularly prolific on trains, buses, and in airports. As for distractions: cat, dog, and wildlife distractions are all completely acceptable, as are calls from my son (who’s been living in Iceland for a long time) and knocks on the door from my husband inviting me for a walk or announcing that a cake fell into his shopping cart at the store and I should stop working long enough to have a slice.

What brought you to writing? As the above references to animals and wildlife are no doubt clues, I was that intensely shy loner kid who always felt more comfortable hanging out with my pets and a good book than socializing with other humans. I was the eldest of five children, and our home was always filled with drama. I found that escaping into a story was a good way to cope. My mother used to read to us when we were young, and it was usually a mystery by Dashiell Hammett or Agatha Christie. As I got older, I discovered other authors and began writing my own stories. While I was spectacularly useless at math and science, I always excelled at writing and creative pursuits. I was lucky to be encouraged in that direction—and to have serious mentors later in life who became dear friends, including the late author Jack D. Hunter (The Blue Max and many other books), poet Ruth Moon Kempher, and literary journal publisher Colette Trent.

What kind of research do you do? Tons. Because my books deal with ancient Hawaiian legends and mythology, I spend lots of time reading works by anthropologists and other experts. One challenge is that much of Hawaiian history is oral, and the collected stories vary to a huge degree depending upon how the stories were handed down through individual families. After I have a working draft, I show it to one or more Native Hawaiian friends who let me know if I’m off track or have missed a vital point.

What is the best book you’ve ever read? Tough—but I’ll say Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman, which is stunningly imaginative and lyrical; and—not to be a cliché—The Lord of the Rings. I’ve re-read this trilogy at least two dozen times over the years, and it still acts as a portal, startles me with the beauty of the writing and imagery, and inspires me to be a better storyteller.

Please share your publication and new book information. The Bone Field (book #2 in my Dark Paradise Mystery series) is now available at all the usual outlets, as is the first book, The Fire Thief.

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Bone-Field-Dark-Paradise-Mystery-ebook/dp/B08GYF75SM
Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-bone-field-debra-bokur/1137556797
BookBub: https://www.bookbub.com/books/the-bone-field-a-dark-paradise-mystery-book-2-by-debra-bokur
IndieBound: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781496727756

Links to my articles on CrimeReads:

https://crimereads.com/gothic-tea-a-dark-history-of-tea-in-fiction-and-real-life/
https://crimereads.com/while-the-world-is-on-lockdown-crime-fiction-is-the-perfect-way-to-travel/

Contact info:

Website: https://www.debrabokur.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/debrabokur
Twitter: https://twitter.com/spatravelpro?lang=en
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/debrabokur/?hl=en

4 Comments

  1. Violet Moore

    WITH THE WORLD ON LOCKDOWN, CRIME FICTION IS THE PERFECT WAY TO TRAVEL is a great blog post. Traveling through books is the great escape.

    Reply
    • Debra Bokur

      It truly is. Thank you for taking the time to read the post, Violet — and happy armchair travels to you.

      Reply
  2. Michael A. Black

    Wow, with all you have going on I’m amazed that you’re such a prolific writer. Hawaii seems a bit underused lately in mystery fiction. Good luck with your series.

    Reply
    • Debra Bokur

      Thank you, Michael! Making Hawaii the setting for the series has a built-in benefit: visits are required for research, right? That means enforced vacation time when I can let those daily deadlines relax for a bit.

      Reply

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