Monday, August 3, 2020

#AuthorInterview: Historical Fiction Interview with Linda Ulleseit, author of The Aloha Spirit: A Novel

War Era Historical

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Welcome to Historical Fiction Reader, Linda. It’s a pleasure to have you with us. To start things off, please tell us about THE ALOHA SPIRIT. 
The spirit of aloha is found in Hawaii’s fresh ocean air, the flowers, the trade winds . . . the natural beauty that smoothes the struggles of daily life. In 1922 Honolulu, unhappy in the adoptive family that’s raised her, Dolores begins to search for that spirit early on—and she begins by running away at sixteen to live with her newlywed friend Maria. 

Trying to find her own love, Dolores marries a young Portuguese man named Manolo. His large family embraces her, but when his drinking leads to physical abuse, only his relative Alberto comes to her rescue—and sparks a passion within Dolores that she hasn’t known before. Staunch Catholics can’t divorce, however; so, after the Pearl Harbor attack, Dolores flees with her two daughters to California, only to be followed by both Manolo and Alberto. In California, Manolo’s drinking problems continue—and Alberto’s begin. Outraged that yet another man in her life is turning to the bottle for answers, Dolores starts to doubt her feelings for Alberto. Is he only going to disappoint her, as Manolo has? Or is Alberto the embodiment of the aloha spirit she’s been seeking? 

What does the title of your book reference? What is the Aloha Spirit?  
The law in Hawaii actually states, “Aloha spirit is the coordination of mind and heart within each person. It brings each person to the self. Each person must think and emote good feelings to others.”As a native Californian, I cannot presume to fully comprehend what a Hawaiian means when referring to the spirit of aloha. On my many visits to Hawaii, though, the local people have been welcoming, with positive attitudes and respect for all life. The novel explores how someone can learn to have that positive attitude even if their personal life is a mess.

Your heroine, Dolores, finds herself in a troubled marriage. Why did you feel this challenging reality important to write about? 
I imagine that it’s easier to love yourself and the world around you when everything is going your way, but my main character’s life is not easy. Dolores’s mother dies when she is very young. As a child, she is abandoned by her father to a Hawaiian family that works her so hard she runs away. She marries early and has two children, one of whom blind. Her husband’s alcoholism and abuse are another level of difficulty for the young wife and mother. Like many mothers, she wants her daughters to be safe and to be goodhearted adults. She must overcome self-pity and despair to protect her daughters and model the aloha spirit for them.

THE ALOHA SPIRIT takes place in the early half of the twentieth century. How does the history of the period influence your narrative? 
In the 1920s, Hawaii itself was in transition. The monarchy had been overthrown and they were a territory of the United States, but not yet a state. This mirrors Dolores’s turbulent childhood. The attack on Pearl Harbor was a turning point for many lives, for Hawaii, and for the country. In THE ALOHA SPIRIT, it is the ultimate threat to Dolores’s family. She needs to take control to keep her daughters safe, and she must do it alone. Their physical safety becomes paramount. Once Dolores has removed them from Honolulu, she can begin to rebuild her own life.

Do you have a favorite scene in THE ALOHA SPIRIT? 
In Chapter 17, Manolo and Dolores go to the 1939 World’s Fair in San Francisco. The scene where they leave Honolulu on board the Matsonia ocean liner is one of my favorite scenes. It hints of the opulent fantasy life of the ship itself, which will remove them from reality for a short time. The celebratory atmosphere on the dock, with leis and music and people waving goodbye, is a nostalgic look back to a Hawai’i at the very beginning of tourism. For Dolores, it feels like the entire island is wishing them a successful trip that will reignite the passion in their marriage and banish the demons.

Authors are often forced to make sacrifices when composing their stories and I always wonder what ended up on the cutting room floor. Is there a character, scene, or concept you wish you could have spent more time on while writing THE ALOHA SPIRIT? 
THE ALOHA SPIRIT was inspired by the life of my husband’s grandmother. It’s not a biography since we really don’t know anything more than a sketchy outline of what she went through in her early years. Having said that, one of her daughters didn’t survive in the story (Oops! Spoiler alert!). I had to warn the real-life aunt who is still very much alive that she didn’t make it in the story. I wish I’d had more time to further develop the later parts of the story when Dolores’s daughters are grown and married. It’s important, though, to pick a stopping point for the story that makes sense and doesn’t drag out the novel.

If you could pick a fantasy cast – anyone at all, living or dead, at any point in their careers- to play your characters in a big-screen adaptation of THE ALOHA SPIRIT, who would you cast?
Dolores is strong-willed and determined. I’d like to see Daniela Ruah play her. Daniela may be too tall, but I do love her work on NCIS LA. Manolo is an intelligent man who becomes an alcoholic. He might be played by Portuguese actor Pedro Carvalho. Alberto is Manolo’s relative who falls in love with Dolores. He’s a surfer with an irrepressible sense of humor. I would love to see him played by James Franco.

What do you hope readers take from their experience of THE ALOHA SPIRIT?
In my own exploration of the concept, I discovered that in order to master the spirit of aloha you need to learn to love yourself first. You cannot be a positive force in the world if you don’t respect yourself. This is almost impossible to do alone since it’s human nature to doubt yourself. Dolores didn’t have her own family to help her. She had to lean on good friends and her husband’s family to help her. In the book, I call this family by heart instead of family by blood. I hope readers see that self-respect is important and that they learn to utilize their support structure.

What’s next for you? Any new writing projects in the wings? 
I write novels based on real women in my family. I’m about halfway done with the first draft of the next one, about Samantha Lockwood, who lived at Fort Snelling in Minnesota in the 1830s. It’s a fascinating time for the region. Fort Snelling hosted many important people during that decade, including Zachary Taylor, Jefferson Davis, Dred Scott, Will Clark, and Eliza Hamilton. Even Abraham Lincoln was in the area. This novel will feature three protagonists. The first is Samantha Lockwood, whose brother was a prominent judge in the area at the time. Next is The Day Sets, a Dakota woman whose father is an important chief and whose half-breed daughter is the future of the tribe. Finally, there is Harriet Robinson, the young slave who married Dred Scott at the fort. The story will center around how these three women learn to guide their own futures within the constraints of 19th-century society.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like a great story, Linda! I used to have a boyfriend on the Big Island and visited many times, and though we were both Haolies (sp?) I could definitely feel that Aloha Spirit emanating from most of the islanders.