It's all in the details


POSTED: Sunday, March 08, 2009

Author Alan Brennert is the first to admit that he's obsessive. When composing a scene in his newly released historical novel “;Honolulu,”; for instance, he described the main character leaving a train station on King Street in the early 1900s and looking across the road. But what did she see? Because his research uncovered no photos, Brennert located and scoured, page by page, a city phone directory from that period and created a detailed map. Only then could he render the scene accurately.





        Book signings featuring “;Honolulu”; author Alan Brennert:

» Thursday: Waialua Library Author Festival, 6:30 p.m., 637-8286


» Friday: 6 p.m., Bookends Kailua, 261-1996


» Saturday: 1 p.m., Barnes & Noble Ala Moana, 949-7307




“;That alone took a week or more,”; Brennert laughed. “;It doesn't feel right to me to make this stuff up.”;

With a lyrical style and meticulous attention to factual detail, Brennert transported readers to 19th-century Kalaupapa in the best-selling “;Molokai,”; and has done something similar with “;Honolulu,”; a story about a young Korean picture bride who comes to Hawaii in 1914.

Brennert, who won an Emmy Award for writing and producing the long-running television series “;LA Law,”; returned to novel writing after NBC shelved a six-hour miniseries he had completed. A 1996 visit to Molokai inspired the tale of a girl growing up on the isolated peninsula that houses victims of Hansen's disease, or leprosy. While researching “;Molokai”; he uncovered material about the “;glamour days of Honolulu”; in the 1920s that kindled the subsequent novel.

“;It didn't really start to gel until I read about the 'Hotel of Sorrows,'”; said Brennert, who has visited Hawaii annually for 30 years. Neighbors gave the waterfront structure its name upon hearing betrothed women sobbing inside.

“;There were really two Honolulus at the time,”; he said, explaining the public fantasy seen by tourists, and the one that existed for native Hawaiians and immigrants. “;That dichotomy really interested me—that juxtaposition between image and reality. It actually became a major theme in the book.”;

Jed Gaines, founder and president of Read Aloud America and one of the creators of the Read Aloud Program in Hawaii, said Brennert “;has a gift of capturing actual history in a story form; even though he's a haole guy from California, you can tell he put many years into the research.”;

When “;Molokai”; was published, Gaines invited Brennert to read sections aloud to Kaunakakai residents, who received him warmly. Next weekend, Brennert will participate in the 15th-anniversary celebration of Read Aloud America at the Waikiki Aquarium.


An impressive master of many trades—DC Comics and short stories also comprise his resume—who seems prone to delve into the future or past, Brennert refuses to concentrate exclusively on one genre or form.

After a childhood spent reading Ray Bradbury, Brennert published his first novel at age 24, before beginning his long and impressive television career. This included regular or extended gigs writing episodes of “;The Twilight Zone,”; “;LA Law,”; “;Wonder Woman,”; “;The Outer Limits,”; “;Odyssey 5,”; “;Enterprise,”; “;China Beach,”; “;Fantasy Island,”; “;Simon and Simon”; and “;Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.”; He believes these experiences only perfected his craft.

“;In television and film you have to learn about structure,”; he said. “;You write outlines. You learn the mechanics. It's something that has improved me as a novelist.”; It also helped him remain confident enough to improvise, and “;let the research determine some of the twists and turns of the plot.”;