Star-Bulletin Features

Thursday, October 18, 2001

Chris McKinney says he wasn't about to write "The
Tattoo No. 2" when he tackled new subjects and new
voices in his latest book, "The Queen of Tears."

Blood, sweat
and ‘Tears’

Local author Chris McKinney
explores Hawaii's diversity
in 'Queen of Tears'

By Tino Ramirez
Special to the Star-Bulletin

With "The Queen of Tears" released this month, Chris McKinney is feeling satisfied. Although his second novel took the same time to write as 1999's "The Tattoo," about 18 months, there were other difficulties.

"The Tattoo," McKinney said, was written while working part time and completing a master's degree in English at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

"The Queen of Tears" was done while teaching college English courses full time.

And after winning critical and popular praise and two prestigious awards for "The Tattoo," there was some pressure to write something "just as good," said McKinney, who appeared last weekend at Windward Mall and Costco in Waipio to meet readers and sign copies of his two books.

About half the books he signed were "The Tattoo."

Chris McKinney autographed copies of his books
at Waldenbooks last week. More readings take
place through Dec. 8.

Although it's too early to gauge reader response to the book, he said, "I've satisfied myself, but the sense of satisfaction is different from the first one.

"The first one was just getting it done, writing a novel and having it published. With the second one, the sense of satisfaction came from not being stifled into writing about the same thing," he said.

"I was able to write something that was very different, not 'The Tattoo No. 2.' It helped me feel better about my writing because I think it shows a certain amount of versatility. I like messing around with different ideas and techniques."

In "The Queen of Tears," McKinney moves from "The Tattoo's" first-person narrative and strong central character to the third person and multiple characters. The new book, he pointed out, is also in the genre of Asian-American literature rather than "local."

"'Queen of Tears' is a broader Asian-American story," said McKinney, who is half Korean. "I also wanted to show (Hawaii's) diversity in the family -- not only regional diversity, like comparing Waianae to middle-class Hawaii, but also generational diversity."

Through Brandon, the family's youngest member, and his aunt Darian, he also wanted to illustrate an Americanized view of Hawaii, McKinney said.

"The further and further away you are from your ancestry, the more Americanized you get. Even though when you look at me I'm obviously Asian, I consider myself fully Americanized. I have a fetish for pop culture and all that stuff. I'm not saying it's a good thing or a bad thing but that it is a fact."

While author Tom Farber credits McKinney with revitalizing the genre of "Hawaii noir," McKinney said his novels' setting comes by default: He was born and raised in Hawaii, so it's likely his stories will always be centered here.

"The one thing I would want to avoid is rehashing the same story again and again," he added. "I'll write as long as I feel I have stories to tell, I guess. I don't know how consistent I'll be. It depends whether or not I have an idea."

With teaching at Honolulu Community College keeping him busy, he has not started his next novel, although he has ideas. While "The Tattoo" has been optioned for a movie, and at 28 he already has written two novels, McKinney doesn't expect his life to change.

"I'm still basically just like everybody else," he said. "I have my alarm clock, I wake up in the morning, I go to work. I come home from work and I relax. I don't think that's going to change anytime in the near future."

A taste of 'Queen'

"The Queen of Tears" readings:

>> Saturday: Costco Hawaii Kai, noon to 1 p.m.
>> Oct. 27: Waldenbooks Pearlridge, 1:30 to 2:30 p.m.
>> Nov. 3: Waldenbooks Kahala, noon to 1 p.m.; and Waldenbooks Ala Moana, 2 to 3 p.m.
>> Nov. 10: Sam's Club, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
>> Nov. 30: Barnes & Noble, 7 to 8 p.m.
>> Dec. 8: Waldenbooks Pearlridge, 1:30 to 2:30 p.m.

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