Maka’ikiu Monday. Welcome Hawaiian author Terry Ambrose.
I met Terry Ambrose at Left Coast Crime—Honolulu Havoc in March. He served as moderator on the panel, “Writing Hawai’i: Surf’s up or is it a crime wave?” It was a fun panel. Terry kept it lively and informative. I think the panelists and the audience had a most enjoyable experience.
Terry is a a photographer and writer, the author of twelve novels including the Trouble in Paradise mystery series featuring Wilson McKenna, the Hawaii Parkour adventure series, and the License to Lie thriller series. He launches his newest series—the Seaside Bed and Breakfast mysteries—this week. A Treasure To Die For is the title. Look for it on Thursday, September 21.
Questions for Terry Ambrose
MT: Let’s start with you. You’ve been a skip tracer and debt collector. How does your background inform your stories?
TA: My characters come from a number of people I’ve met and experiences I’ve had over the years. In my Trouble in Paradise mysteries, McKenna was heavily influenced by my early career as a skip tracer. For those who don’t know, a skip tracer is someone who finds people who have not paid their bills. One thing a skip tracer does is see people at their worst. These are the people who either can’t, or won’t, pay their bills. Either scenario is one that’s difficult and gives tremendous insight into the human character.
MT: What drew you to writing mysteries?
TA: I started writing mysteries more than 20 years ago when the stress at work was becoming almost intolerable. At the time, I felt like murder might be my only option to solve some of the problems. But, being a huge chicken and not wanting to go to jail—which I figured would be an even worse option—I started writing a murder mystery. I’ve been on that path ever since.
MT: How would you characterize your mysteries? Cozy, hard-boiled, noir, humorous, zany, amateur, other? Why did you choose that sub-genre?
TA: I prefer stories that don’t have a lot of violence in them, so I’ve been gravitating toward the cozy genre for several years. I dove into the cozy mystery genre completely when I became involved in the Happy Homicides anthology project more than a year ago.
MT: Tell us about Wilson McKenna, landlord, womanizer, former skip-tracer. How does his personality get him into trouble in paradise?
TA: McKenna is a study in contrasts. He’s the guy who is slightly grumpy…okay, sometimes very grumpy…but quick witted and funny. Because he had to find people for a living, he has a curiosity to keep digging when any normal person would simply say, “Enough! Let the police handle it.” As a womanizer, McKenna is a failure. He did at one point fancy himself a bit of a Casanova, but he would panic when a pretty girl looked at him sideways. Eventually, the right woman did come along, and now he’s happily engaged—unless he screws that up.
MT: Marshall McLuhan said that if you don’t know if you will like a book, turn to page 69. If you like what you read there, you will like the book. What happens on page 69 of your latest book?
TA: This is an excerpt from page 69 (the Word doc) of A Treasure to Die For: A Seaside Cove Bed & Breakfast Mystery. Rick Atwood is the protagonist and one of the people he suspects is hiding something is Reese Potok.
When Rick held the door open for Reese, she narrowed her gaze at him. “Are you kidding me? An antique dealer? I thought we were going to see a document expert.”
Rick gestured for Reese to enter with a tilt of his head. As she passed, her eyes locked onto his. A hint of floral perfume hung in the air. She brushed away a lock of hair.
“You do that a lot, don’t you?” Rick said.
The heels brought her almost to eye level. Inches away. She whispered, “Do what?”
“Push your hair back.” His heart hammered in his chest.
“Observant, aren’t you?” She licked her lips.
Good God, what was he doing? He had a daughter. A business to run. With a hard swallow, he said, “It’s cute.”
She gave him a lopsided grin and mouthed, “Oh.”
When she slipped away, he allowed himself a moment to breathe a final wisp of perfume. Not until she glanced at him over her shoulder and tilted her head toward the back of the store did he step inside.
MT: How important is the Hawai’I setting to your stories?
TA: Hawai‘i is an extremely important part of the Trouble in Paradise series. From the mix of cultures to the weather, from the magnificent landscapes to the seediest parts of the islands, it all comes together to create an atmosphere that contributes to the book.
In my Seaside Cove Bed & Breakfast Mystery series, which launches on September 21 with “A Treasure to Die For,” the setting is fictional. For this series, the setting is the California coast, which contributes to a very different feeling in the book.
MT: Could the stories be set anywhere else? Why or why not?
TA: I think any story can be cast in a different location. The question is, should it be? For McKenna, he belongs in Hawai‘i and should stay there. For the Seaside Cove B&B Mysteries, those are set in a fictional location so I can do whatever I want! How much fun is that?
MT: What do you do to give readers a sense of Hawai’i and Hawaiian culture?
TA: In the Trouble in Paradise Mysteries, I try to contrast what the tourists see with what the locals see. McKenna is also fascinated by Hawaiian culture, including the legends, so he conveys that curiosity to the reader. In Maui Magic, the book revolved around the issues of water and pollution.
MT: What’s ahead for Wilson McKenna?
TA: I’m not sure what’s ahead for McKenna. He’s visited all of the major islands and had several adventures on O’ahu. He’s popped the question to his girlfriend, Benni Kapono, and so he might just have to start planning a wedding.
MT: What’s ahead for you in your career?
TA: I’m focused on bringing out the first three Seaside Cove Bed & Breakfast Mysteries. I’m also in the initial planning phases for the next Trouble in Paradise Mystery. It’s definitely a hectic schedule.
MT: Is there anything else you would like readers to know about you and/or your books?
TA: For me, the story is all about two things: the characters and the tension. If the characters aren’t believable or are two-dimensional, the story falls flat. If the story doesn’t maintain the right amount of tension, it will also fall flat. At the end of the day, it’s all about keeping the characters and the tension in balance. That’s what I continually strive for.