A BETTER VIEW OF PARADISE
BY RANDY SUE COBURN
When I began writing A Better View of Paradise several years ago, I worried about how the novel’s two major settings, were going to play off each other: Kaua`i, a spectacularly beautiful dot in the middle of the Pacific ocean where protagonist Stephanie Pollack spent the happiest part of her childhood, and Chicago, the tough-guy hometown of Hank, the difficult, demanding father who calibrated Stevie to achieve in the mainland world.
The two places are an odd mix, although the emergence of a President shaped by both Hawai`i and Chicago makes the combination seem less strange than it did when I started writing. And the more I wrote, the more Chicago and Hawai`i seemed—in pop quiz parlance—to contrast and compare.
Take curses, for instance. Hank’s beloved Cubs have the Billy Goat Curse, which has allegedly kept them from winning a World Series for over a hundred years. There’s a curse associated with the Hawaiian volcano goddess Pele, too. An avalanche of lava rocks gets mailed back to Hawai`i every year by tourists who claim Pele has cursed them for stealing her creations as souvenirs. And the great thing about these curses for me is that they both fit so well into my book!
In the course of my research, I discovered that not only did Frank Sinatra almost drown to death once in Kaua`i while filming a movie there, but this occurred soon after he had a big hit with “Chicago is My Kind of Town.” Plus baseball is very big in Hawai`i, where it can be played year round, and since tourism has replaced sugar and pineapples as the major island industries, it made sense for a Chicago-bred hotel man like Stevie’s father to be drawn there.
Stevie’s fractional Hawaiian blood comes from her mother’s side of the family. She had a Hawaiian great-great grandmother, though it was her lily-white, spiritually inclined British grandfather who gave Stevie her secret Hawaiian name—Makalani, which means “eyes of heaven.” Stevie is a complicated creature, harboring more than the standard share of internal contradictions, but then the genius of Hawai`i is how it mixes things up from so many different cultures to invent its own variations. So really, she fits right in.
Randy Sue Coburn, the author of A Better View of Paradise, also wrote Owl Island, the 2006 novel described by Kirkus as “beautifully realized” and “a perceptive assessment of what women do in love.” A former journalist, her screenplays include Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle, a film about Dorothy Parker that premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. Randy Sue’s film projects and ten-year stint as a writing instructor with The University of Washington subsidized the completion of Owl Island as well as Remembering Jody, the 1999 first novel hailed by Booklist as “a wry and compassionate emotional rollercoaster from a master storyteller.” She was born in Chicago, raised in South Carolina, and now lives in Seattle. Find out more at her website, http://randysuecoburn.com, or her Facebook page, www.facebook.com/randy.s.
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