Memminger Pens A Witty New Novel
“It was one of those typically blustery mornings in late August when rain squalls march across Kaneohe Bay from the eastern ocean, one after the other like soggy invading battalions. I was in the day cabin of the Travis McGee, nursing along my first meal of the day, which I had come to refer to as Honey Bunches of Budweiser because it sounded healthier than ‘swigging beer for breakfast.’”
Thus begins the breezy, witty and hilarious first novel by Charley Memminger, Hawaii’s local boy making a big splash on the national scene with the publication of Aloha, Lady Blue.
I read the book and I have to be honest: It’s darn good. Memminger is a former crime reporter turned humor columnist turned scriptwriter turned novelist. He draws from his deep local roots and experiences to etch characters who are colorful, unforgettable and bitingly authentic.
As you probably guessed from the opening salvo, Memminger pays tribute to (but doesn’t copy) one of his primary influences, the John D. MacDonald Travis McGee series (I read them all and loved them).
I recently sat down with Memminger at Kaneohe Yacht Club, which he’s renamed the Bayview Yacht Club in his book, home of heroic yet comically flawed hero Stryker McBride.
JM: Your book really captures Hawaii perfectly. Unlike so many books set in Hawaii, Aloha, Lady Blue didn’t make me cringe. I didn’t cringe at the story, at fake Hawaiian names, fake locations or fake pidgin …
CM: I didn’t want any clichés; I didn’t want that for this book. If I hit a cliché, then I tried to turn it upside down. I wanted it to have a comic element, even though it’s kind of a dark story in the end. So, yeah, you have characters with weird names. But weird names are part of Hawaii. We know that.
JM: But they’re not condescendingly weird.
CM: Right, but my publisher didn’t understand. It’s not condescending, that’s just what their names are. You know, you have a Bumpy Kanahele, or you have a Chinky Mahoe. These are their names. So I have a Tiny Maunakea and Aunty Kealoha.
JM: You based characters on real people …
CM: I did a couple things. I tried to base some characters on real people whom I knew, because it’s easier to write and it comes off more authentic to the reader, I think, when they sense that there’s some realism here. So I knew Ronnie Ching, the hit man. He was a 300-pound hit man and he killed prosecutor Charles Marsland’s son. And he blew a guy off the barstool at the Brass Door Lounge on Kapiolani Boulevard in broad daylight.
He eventually pleaded guilty to four murders. I met him. He asked to speak to me before he went to prison … and he told me things that never came out: how he killed his first person, where he buried him, where he liked to bury them …
JM: That’s all in your book.
CM: It’s in the book. Tiny Maunakea – the name matches the character. He’s this huge guy, the hit man. I didn’t want any clearly good guys and clearly bad guys.
JM: But that’s life.
CM: Right. So Stryker does some things that aren’t that good. And he hangs out with bad guys. And my publisher said, you can’t have your hero hanging out with a hit man. And I said, it’s a small island. That’s what happens.
JM: When you write about people you know, how do you know you’re not going to tick some people off?
CH: I was a humor columnist for 10 years. I pissed a lot of people off. You can’t worry about that. I mean, come on.
JM: If everybody likes you, you’re doing something wrong.
CM: Right. And writing a humor column doesn’t mean you’re a comedian. You’re dealing with really serious issues a lot of the time.
I covered organized crime for a long time. I covered federal, state courts, all the federal agencies and stuff. I really didn’t get a serious death threat until I started writing a humor column. I wrote a column on mopeds, making fun of them, and so I received this note. He threatened to blow me away with a .357 Magnum – for making fun of mopeds. I dealt with hit men and everything and I never got a threat. They were gentlemen! (laughs) I mean, they would kill you if they were paid to, but other than that, they were gentlemen.
Aloha, Lady Blue is available in bookstores and online. I know you’ll like it. I did.