Thursday, May 28, 2020

Debra Bokur

Debra Bokur is an author, journalist, editor, screenwriter, and illustrator. Her work has appeared in a variety of domestic and international media outlets, including National Geographic Traveler, Islands, Spa Magazine, Experience Life Magazine, Natural Home, Yoga Journal, Global Traveler, and Women’s Adventure. She is a recipient of the 2015 Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Award.

Bokur's new novel is The Fire Thief.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

Titles are often why I purchase a book (and usually a guarantee of why I’ll choose an ice cream flavor). I wanted my book title to convey a sense of darkness and mystery. I think The Fire Thief suggests both those things, while hopefully offering an intriguing hook—how does someone steal fire? My working title had been Stealing Fire, but that became refined during the process of writing.

What's in a name?

Names! I go down rabbit holes when it comes to naming characters. Choosing a name for my Hawaiian detective, who also happens to be a kahu, or spiritual leader, was a struggle. I finally settled on Kali, but only after much deliberation. In the end, it was because the commonly accepted Hawaiian definition of the name is “someone who hesitates,” while in Hindu legend, the name refers to a powerful, dark goddess. There’s also a Greek translation, where the name means “rosebud.” I liked this weird mix of meanings, because she’s complicated and layered, and all of those qualities can be found in her personality, from the gentleness of a rosebud and the ferocity of an angry goddess to the simple human quality of hesitating.

When I settled on the surname for her uncle, Police Captain Walter Alaka’i, it was because Alaka’i translates to “leader.” He’s an older family member with many more years of experience as a policeman than Kali has as a detective, and it seemed fitting; particularly given that elder members of traditional Hawaiian families are treated with respect. His first name, Walter, is the result of having known several Walters during my life; all of them were strong, trustworthy, reliable people.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your novel?

My teenage self would hardly be surprised that I’d written a mystery novel, but maybe disappointed that it didn’t feature horses, crumbling mansions or an English village. I love those types of mysteries, but I think maybe writing them would spoil some of the pleasure and escapism for me as a reader and fan of that particular niche.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

Writing the beginnings and endings are the easiest part of the process for me, perhaps because I start with a one-sentence thought in my head: Because X happens, it will ultimately result in Y taking place. I want to both set a mood very quickly, and drive toward a final thought. It’s all that stuff in the middle that’s the challenge.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

Well, it’s yes and no when it comes to similarities. My lead detective practices yoga, has long hair, and shares her world with a large, part-Weimaraner dog, all of which apply to me, but that’s pretty much it. I don’t run (she does), drink coffee (never! I’m a tea addict), or have any tattoos. And physically, we’re nothing alike—I’m a short brunette with green eyes. Unlike Kali, I’m pretty disciplined about my eating habits (organic, mostly vegetarian foods), so our shopping lists would have nothing in common. I did have a Jeep with a persnickety transmission once upon a time, however, and I do prefer solitary endeavors to group pursuits. Like Kali, nature is a huge component of my life. I’ve lived in plenty of cities, including New York, Washington DC, and Edinburgh, and it doesn’t suit me—much like my detective, I need forests and wild pathways to feel whole and happy.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

I’d say travel and music have been the most important non-literary influences in my work. I use music to put myself into a particular mental space. For The Fire Thief, it was Hawaiian music and nature sounds; for poetry and magical realism, it’s often classical music or a total immersion into Sigur Ros’s body of work. I believe that rhythm is an essential component of good writing, and music teaches this, along with how to organize many parts into a cohesive whole. I think that may happen naturally and subconsciously if music is playing in the background while writing.

Also, I’ve traveled for my day job as a magazine editor and journalist for over thirty years, with periods that have required up to three international trips in a single month. That’s provided me with a truly wonderful opportunity to see the world, and to be exposed to a huge variety of cultures, traditions, foods, architecture and styles. It’s also been great for allowing me to indulge in two of my favorite creative pursuits: filling notebooks by hand while on trains and planes, and observing people. I have a favorite pastime whenever I’m on assignment: I make it a point to start the day early in a cafĂ© local to the destination. Armed with a pot of tea, a plate of croissants, and my notebook, I watch how people interact, how they dress and move, how they commute, what they order off the menu. This habit helps, I believe, in creating fictional characters who feel authentic and individual.
Visit Debra Bokur's website.

--Marshal Zeringue