Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Intriguing Observations: Blending Research with Real Life in Writing

The Intriguing Observations series was created to gather some of the greatest supporters and bloggers to provide their own insight on all things creative both in their ventures and their techniques. This week on the guest series is another all-star supporter and an outstanding wordsmith  Donna Galanti.

In writing my paranormal suspense novel A Human Element there were numerous spots I had to pull back and do research to blend the writing with my own experiences.

Ben Fieldstone in A Human Element, finds himself in dire circumstances stationed as a U.S. Navy photographer in Pearl Harbor. I too was stationed in Hawaii as a Navy photographer. I know of the dangers sailors can find themselves in on the island of Oahu if they’re not careful.

I was told not to go to the Pali Lookout alone, a spot far above Honolulu in the Ko’olau Mountains. It is set on cliffs with treacherous falls awaiting those who aren’t careful. Or those who are tossed off…or jump off. It’s known for its moaning, howling winds. People have disappeared up there, they’d say. It’s a haunted place where the ghosts of Hawaiian ancestors are said to roam.

Photo Credit
And rightfully so. It is a historic area that was the site of the bloody, historic Battle of Nu'uanu,
where Kamehameha I conquered the island of Oahu in 1795. This Hawaiian warrior king and his army arrived in hundreds of war canoes at Waikiki Beach. The Oahu warriors were led by Kalanikupule, the ruler of Maui and Oahu. Kamehameha's warriors headed to Nu'uanu Valley to face Kalanikupule's men. The battle was fierce and thousands of Kalanikupule's men were driven over the steep cliffs to their deaths. This fierce tale from history inspired me to set a particular dark scene at this spot for Ben. His battle for his own life.

Check out the amazing views from this spot, including the Old Pali Highway Trail where Ben finds himself taken – and tortured.

These photos, my own memories, and the violent history of this place re-forced this spot as a key
scene in A Human Element.

When I lived on Oahu I quickly discovered we white folks were called haoles by the natives. I had since forgotten how to pronounce it and found a site that pronounces all the words in the world for you. Here is the correct version of haole: I figured this would also come in handy during book readings, and I was right.

If you've ever visited Hawaii, you might have heard what sounds like another language but it's still English. Since the 1800's, workers from China, Japan, Korea, the Philippines, and Portugal have come to work the sugar plantations originally run by American missionaries. That mixture of nationalities developed into a common language called Pidgin English.

More than half of Hawaii's one million residents are estimated to speak Pidgin. That's according to two Linguists, Kent Sakoda and Jeff Seigal, who created the Pidgin Grammar Book. Hawaii has a population of a little over one million people. About 600,000 are estimated to speak a form of Creole language specific to Hawaii called Pigdin which is a mixture of Hawaiian, Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Korean and English.

I drew on my memories of Hawaii and experiences with locals speaking in native Pidgin English and found this reference site of words, definitions, and usage. In A Human Element, Ben frequents Chinatown and has an unfortunate run in with a homosexual prostitute who speaks Pidgin and is called as a “mahu.”

I also found a site that lists a quick cheat sheet on Hawaiian Pidgin English that helped me in my dialogue.

Here are three excerpts from A Human Element where the local Pidgin dialect comes into play:

Ben, drunk and beat up, hails a prostitute in Chinatown:

Beat up and with no prospects, he needed to find a 'relaxation parlor' and some company. It didn't take long in Chinatown for him to be approached. 
"Howzit, sailor? You hurt? Need some wahine to take care of you?"
"Maybe . . . you got a back room nearby?"
"Yeah, yeah, sure thing, sailor buggah. Da cute! Pretty gray eyes, too." She mixed in the local Pidgin dialect with English. "I'll wash your handsome face for free." She laughed as he touched his face, remembering the blood. He must be a scary sight. 

Ben is confronted by the prostitute’s pimp:
A massive local stood over him. He looked Samoan.
"You cheat me, stupid sailor boy? Is dat what you want to do?"
"Yeah, that's him, Koko." The transvestite stood next to his moke. His wig now back on,
but askew. He smiled at Ben and put his hands on his hips. He had blood on his face from where
Ben hit him. How could he have ever thought this was a pretty woman?
Ben stood up in a torpid daze and shook his head.
Before he could speak the giant grabbed his shirt and glared at him. "You see my girl
here? You ruin her pretty face so she can't make tricks and I'll kill you. She's my money-making

Ben is kidnapped and held at the Pali Lookout by two Samoans:

"I'll pay whatever you want," Ben said. "Just let me go now." His body ached everywhere
but he could think again.
"Don't give me your stink eye, boy." Koko slapped his head again. Ben turned his face
away. One of them pulled his head up by his hair and slapped duct tape on his mouth. Ben
"Got chicken skin there, eh?" Koko caressed his arms. "No one will hear you scream up
here. This is a haunted place. Your screams carry away on the wind, right, Kami?"
"Right, brah. People too scared to come up here at night with the ghosts of our ancestors
roaming about."

In learning the local dialect I also had to reacquaint myself with the logistics of the island of Oahu. This involved looking at online maps and researching the history of the locales used. I poured through articles and statistics to choose the best pieces to incorporate in A Human Element.

How do you blend research with your own experiences?


One by one, Laura Armstrong’s friends and adoptive family members are being murdered, and despite her unique healing powers, she can do nothing to stop it. The savage killer haunts her dreams, tormenting her with the promise that she is next.

Determined to find the killer, she follows her visions to the site of a crashed meteorite–her hometown. There, she meets Ben Fieldstone, who seeks answers about his parents’ death the night the meteorite struck. In a race to stop a mad man, they unravel a frightening secret that binds them together. But the killer’s desire to destroy Laura face-to-face leads to a showdown that puts Laura and Ben’s emotional relationship and Laura’s pure spirit to the test.

With the killer closing in, Laura discovers her destiny is linked to his and she has two choices–
redeem him or kill him.

Readers who devour paranormal books with a smidge of horror and steam will enjoy A HUMAN ELEMENT, the new novel about loss, redemption, and love.

Reviewers are saying…“A HUMAN ELEMENT is an elegant and haunting first novel. Unrelenting, devious but full of heart. Highly recommended.” –Jonathan Maberry, New York Times best-selling author of ASSASSIN’S CODE and DEAD OF NIGHT

“A HUMAN ELEMENT is a haunting look at what it means to be human. It’s a suspenseful ride through life and love…and death, with a killer so evil you can’t help but be afraid. An excellent read.” –Janice Gable Bashman, author of WANTED UNDEAD OR ALIVE, nominated for a Bram Stoker Award.

Donna Galanti is the author of the dark novel A Human Element (Echelon Press). She won first place for Words on the Wall Fiction at the 2011 Philadelphia Writer’s Conference. Donna has a B.A. in English and a background in marketing. She is a member of International Thriller Writers, The Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group and Pennwriters. She lives with her family in an old farmhouse in PA with lots of nooks, fireplaces, and stinkbugs. Visit her at:

LIKE Donna’s Author Facebook page for news and updates! Her tour runs through April 11thh with book giveaways, more guest posts, and interview fun, and a chance to win the big prize giveaway! So pop over to her blog to see the full tour schedule.

Connect with Donna here:

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DonnaGalanti said...

P.W. Thanks so much for having me on your awesome blog today! Its been fun.

PW Creighton said...

Thank you for sharing your insight today Donna, I would love to climb to the Pali Lookout and grab some shots. It sounds amazing and A Human Element is certainly an intriguing story.

Kathryn Craft said...

Donna, I loved the multi-media nature of this post! Sounds, visuals—what fun, you had me clicking all over the place.

The internet thankfully makes research so much easier, but there is nothing like relying upon your own impressions, like your memories of Hawaii. Looks like you did a great job with the Pidgin English.

I've had had amazing experiences with in-person research for my own novels. Eerie stuff like finding a bench on the Penn campus in front of the social work building, exactly where I'd placed one, or finding the name "J. Turner" on the mailbox at my great-grandfather's southern Illinois farm where I'd set my first novel—for character Joe Turner. Kind of makes you wonder how powerful an informed imagination really is!

DonnaGalanti said...

Kathryn, thanks for stopping by and getting so much out of this! You must have some psychic connection to your we all? And you bring to light the power of our minds when it comes to creating...and the mystical wonder about what materializes from things we are connected to - near or far, like that bench and mailbox.

PW Creighton said...

Kathryn, Donna.. that's certainly something. When I was writing Nightfall I had this picture of the small New England coastal town that was quaint yet trapped between universities.. last summer's trip I stumbled across that town on the way to Salem. It's weird how things like that work.

Catherine Stine said...

The Ben/Samoan/Pali lookout site scene is my fave so far in AHE!!! I knew that you must have been there, because the prose was so vivid and scary!

DonnaGalanti said...

Catherine, thanks for reading A Human Element. That scene sounds like it stuck out in your mind. More scare to be had in the sequel I'm writing - A Hidden Element! I am nearly done with your book, Fireseed One - everyone an excellent futuristic YA thriller by Catherine Stine.

DonnaGalanti said...

P.W., I hope you took pics of that town you stumbled upon. Its like it was in your mind and waiting to be discovered. How strange and wonderful!

Michele Shaw said...

I find myself using my own experiences in the oddest ways. It's usually funny, little everyday things that get added in to my books. Just the other day I added a convo I overheard in a doctor's waiting room that struck me funny and had so much "voice" to it. I put my character in that same situation...she was overhearing the convo and reacting. It really worked and built on her character. Thanks for a great post, Donna.

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