When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I didn’t think of myself as a writer until I swept the awards at San Francisco State University. I was denied admission into the MFA Program before this unprecedented achievement, with the majority of tenured professors voting against me. So, I waltzed into the Creative Writing office and knocked on the Chair’s door, who happened to be Frances Mayes (Under the Tuscan Sun). I told Frances I had an appointment with SFSU’s president to discuss me being denied, and she suddenly said I was worthy of being admitted. That’s when I realized how much of getting ahead as a writer was political and that the majority of professors didn’t know their butt from a hole in the ground.
Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre?
I think creative nonfiction is an interesting crossroads between fiction and nonfiction, one in which my narrative voice helps shape a historical setting with a focal character in the middle. I usually stick to third person but will be exploring first person in my next book. Creative nonfiction is an excellent way of documenting the lives of family members who have made a difference in your life. Now I don’t mean writing down sugar-coated commercials about relatives for posterity. That’s boring. I mean, who wants to read a brag book? I challenge myself to capture the psychological underpinnings of character by exploring the deep dark interior world of a particular relative, then attempt to gaze out at the world through his or her eyes. Try it. If you can see their parents and siblings through their unique vision, you’re on to something important.
Are you a full-time or part-time writer and how does that affect your writing?
I write full time but have to work part-time as an accountant to pay the bills. There have been times when opportunities opened up overseas. I lectured with the poet Gary Snyder at the Hong Kong International Writers Conference and they paid me the equivalent of what a Hong Kong bank VP makes. My latest journey was to Finland as an Artist-in-Residence, where I explored Helsinki, Stockholm, and the Finnish Archipelago.
What are some day jobs you have held?
In Hawaii, I built lagoon walls, planted coconut trees, and did pick-and-shovel construction in Waikiki. Yes, I wore a hard hat. My work background in San Diego includes car sales at Team Nissan in Encinitas and Rancho Olds on Clairemont Mesa Boulevard. I was also the PR Director for the Carlsbad Inn, where I ran the Great Mercedes Benz Giveaway as a promotion. I am a Current Writer at the San Diego Reader. I’m best known for my gonzo journalism, particularly my take on the First Day of the Del Mar Races. Occasionally I do freelance work and have been paid for pieces in Writer’s Digest, Green Magazine, and Southword Journal out of Ireland.
What have you written so far?
I have written thirteen books to date in various genres, including flash (micro stories), poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction. I have been published in over three-hundred university literary journals, including Harpur Palate, 580 Split, Reed Magazine, Blue Mesa Review, Artful Dodge, Moon City Review, Hawai’i Review, Honolulu Weekly, Hawai’i Pacific Review, and SDSU’s Pacific Review. I also write plays and screenplays. I won the 2018 Las Vegas Screenplay Contest and a stage play set in the Deep South took Third Place at the 2018 Caanes Screenplay Contest. Sometimes I harvest material from my stories when crafting plays such as HOUDINI, which was performed at the Actors Alliance Festival in San Diego. Cross-pollination is a great way to get a lot of material out there fast. My first book of poetry took First Place at the San Diego Book Awards. My most recent play is As Big as a Dallas Cowboy, which opens in downtown Honolulu on April 13th, 2019. The play’s opening coincides with my Honolulu book tour for The Queen of Moloka’i.
How do you feel about indie/alternative vs. conventional publishing?
I’m supportive of writers and poets who go the indie route because of the difficulty landing a publishing contract and/or finding an agent. It’s brutal out there for literary writers because the big publishing houses are mostly interested in making money, not promoting literature. There are exceptions to the rule of course, but generally the big publishers evaluate a manuscript by first considering its monetary value as a mass-marketed commodity. It sucks. I think the editors in New York who work for those houses should be ashamed of themselves. And to top it off, the biggies have many of the top newspaper reviewers in their pockets and can get them to say almost anything about a book they want promoted. Some publishers even go as far as contacting Hollywood celebrities to obtain one-line blurbs. I doubt those stars seldom read even two pages of books they’re touting. Very sad. I fear greed is destroying good literature by discouraging deserving writers and poets.
Is there any marketing technique you used that had an immediate impact on your sales figures?
Getting author interviews is terrific. It’s a way to share your interior world with people interested in you work, which is something most readers are interested in. And if you have an affinity for a writer you’re going to want to buy his or her book right? Another technique that works is to contact libraries directly and ask them to buy the book. Since I am a regional writer of the South Pacific, I focus on the libraries in the islands. It’s also not a bad idea to get on your local TV talk shows, particularly the weekday morning news. I noticed an increased turnout at my signings after my appearance on Fox News in Honolulu.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Read other writers but develop your own voice. Always remember the term “Best Seller” doesn’t necessarily mean the book possesses any literary value. I checked out some of the most popular books on The New York Times Best Seller List and they were filled with horror and gore because the big publishers think that sells. Sad. Those books may be popular now, but they will not stand the test of time. Did you know that The Great Gatsby sold less that 5,000 copies after it was released? Look at it now.
Submit your work to university literary reviews and journals. Get rejected? Submit again and again. Submit multiple times to increase your chances of publication. Take rejection with a grain of salt. Say out loud, “It’s their loss.” If you must choose between online and hard copy publication, I’d go with online because more people will read it. Edit like crazy. Take the advice of editors and keep revising until you have polished jewels. Don’t try to be the next Hemingway, Plath, or Fitzgerald. Just be yourself. Bring your own unique vision into this world by sharing it on paper.
Five chapters from The Queen of Moloka’i manuscript were published online during the writing process. These acceptances gave me momentum. I have found that, by submitting chapters as stand-alone stories, you soon find out if your chapters are worthwhile. My advice to any wannabe writer is to get his or her work in the pages of respected magazines. Yes, it’s great to strive for The New Yorker like Salinger, but there are many other important publications as well. Once my chapters were online, I hunkered down and re-edited them to make them even stronger. I also think it’s important for people to get down the stories of their elders before they pass. Just remember to get down both sides of the coin—the good with the bad.
Can you share with readers a little bit about your latest book?
We are on the verge of the Roaring Twenties in Honolulu. Julia Wright and Sue, her big sister, have met a pair of dashing English brothers sent to Hawaii by a wealthy father to avoid the draft in their home country. Sue strikes gold, receiving a marriage proposal from her overseas beau. Sixteen-year-old Julia has a passionate affair with the younger brother but must fend for herself after he leaves her pregnant. Julia’s rebound affair with a Portuguese sea merchant gets her pregnant again and she now has two infant sons to raise. Luckily, her mother allows her to live at the family home and they raise the half-brothers as best as they can. Then local boy Chipper Gilman returns a hero from the Great War. He’s seven years Julia’s senior and has admired her since her girlhood days. He secures a job at a ranch on the island of Moloka’i and invites Julia to join him, but without her sons. He says they will get married and she can send for her boys if she adapts to the rural lifestyle. Julia leaves her sons behind for her mother to take care of, convinced she can become a country girl. She’s tested every step of the way on the rural island and begins doubting Chipper ever intended to marry her at all.
What made you decide to sit down and actually start writing this book?
Remembering my grandmother and deciding her life should be recorded. Julia Wright was one of six children that grew up in Palolo Valley. Julia was a party girl in Waikiki. She made big mistakes in love, especially after meeting a blond Englishman at the Moana Hotel. He left her hapai (pregnant) after promising he’d send for her once he got settled in San Francisco. Julia never heard from the Englishman again and gave birth to my father the first day of world peace. Then she met a Portuguese sea merchant at the Young Hotel downtown and soon she was hapai again. Julia was forced to raise both sons in her mother’s tiny rental in Kaimuki. Her third love interest was Chipper, a decorated war vet. Chipper asked her to accompany him to the Molokai Ranch, where he’d secured a job as a paniolo (cowboy). Julia said she would. Chipper told her she couldn’t bring her sons along until she proved she could handle the rural lifestyle. She was caught between the fear of becoming an old maid raising two half-brothers or the possibility of marrying her teenage crush.
If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
I believe that honor would be shared by Ernest Hemingway and James Joyce. Both writers were extremely influential in my growth as a writer because their coming of age stories resonated with me. In Our Time tracks the maturation process of Nick Adams, particularly his changing relationship with his doctor father and with Marjorie. I love that zone between childhood and adulthood because I feel that’s where the person you become is formed, and both Hemingway and Joyce are masters at revealing the psychological undercurrents of their boy characters. In his story “Araby,” Joyce examines an Irish boy’s crush on Mangan’s sister and his journey to a distant carnival to bring her back the Holy Grail as a sign of his undying devotion.
Want to know more about Kirby?
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2 responses to “Kirby Michael Wright, author of The Queen of Moloka’i”
Kirby freely offers very constructive tips for budding writers trying to get their work published. I wish I’d seen something similar years ago that would have saved a lot of grief and hardship. Well done Ms Hayes.
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Join me in Honolulu for my first Book Signing: https://www.gohawaii.com/islands/events/the-queen-of-molokai-book-signing