Santa Cruz Good Times

Thursday
Apr 17th
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

A Rare Bird

ararebird1Favorite local author James D. Houston pens another engrossing novel

When James D. Houston walks into your office and kindly asks if you might be willing to review his latest book, the answer, of course, is yes. Houston, a long-time local scribe who has achieved national acclaim for his writings, is a master of the written word. His books, including the recent release, “Bird of Another Heaven,” are gems. In addition, the fact that Houston is a down-to-earth gentleman puts yet another gold star in his grade book.

On this particular day, Houston places a galley copy of “Bird” into my hands. (The publisher, Knopf, hasn’t sent the hard copy to me yet. It will come soon.) The cover hints of a land and time far away—Hawaii, during the reign of its last king. The image urges the reader to open a page and dance into this world of Hawaiian culture, love, romance and family secrets.

In “Bird,” Houston tells the riveting fictional story about the last king, David Kalakaua. This historical novel is based on true stories surrounding the king’s death and the woman who was with him in his dying days. The tale flip flops between contemporary times when a man named Sheridan Brody is burning up the air waves with his popular radio show, “Sit Still and Listen,” and the late 1800s when Kalakaua was in discussions with the United States about the future of Hawaii. The link between these two worlds? A woman named Rosa who one day calls up Brody at his radio station.

In her elderly voice, Rosa asks about Brody’s identity. She’s only known one other man with that same first name—her son. This comes on the heels of us learning that Brody never knew his real father, a man whose first name was Sheridan. In a quest for answers about his father, Brody seeks out the sturdy but aging Rosa and finds her in a trailer, ready for him. It’s there, and in a humble diner, that Rosa reveals, piece by piece, Brody’s jigsaw puzzle life and ancestry. A tomb full of historical secrets is opened to Brody, and it all begins with his great-grandmother, Nani Keala, a half-Indian, half-Hawaiian woman who documented decades of her life in journals, which Rosa hands over to Brody. From there, he traces her delicate footsteps from her childhood and being orphaned as a young girl, to living with her aunt and attending a missionary school, to the day that she meets Kalakaua and is whisked away to a new life in Hawaii.

From there, controversy sets in as Nani is a marked woman. She is revered above the king’s other mistresses, and is targeted by a white man with a grudge against her father.

To reveal too much more of this story would be irresponsible. Here is a book that’s layered with intricacies and zig-zagging stories, turning up secret after secret. The most important secret, of course, is what happened in those final moments when the king died in San Francisco. How did he die? Natural causes … or not? And how does an audio recording serve as the crux from which this story is built? These are answers that can’t be shared here. Read the book. It’s more than worth it.

Houston has crafted together an exquisite tale that is beautifully written. This is his eighth novel, and like the rest will no doubt get favorable reviews. Houston has the fine touch of a writer who’s so skilled at his trade that he whisks you into a far away world, as if you’re entering a fairy tale, and takes you on an adventure that you’re sorry to see end. Such is the skill of a long-time expert scribe.

Behind-the-scenes, Houston has his own original way of penning his winning books. At the very top of the warm and inviting home that he shares on the Eastside of Santa Cruz with his wife Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston (also a highly noteworthy writer), is his office. It’s an enviable space for any writer, very loft-like, very creative. In this space, Houston pens all of his books—standing up, at the typewriter. While that may sound peculiar at first, it’s anything but for the novelist. He’s long been writing in this position after a bout with lower back pains, which he no longer has to deal with, thanks to the standing up and writing routine. As for still working on a typewriter, well, “I’ve been doing it for so long, for me it’s part of the creative process,” says Houston. He does, however, have someone put the manuscripts onto a computer.

But not all of this historical novel was imagined in that room. Much of it came from the land from which the story evolved: Hawaii. The mesmerizing tropical islands have been a favorite for the Houston couple for about 50 years. They were even married there. The couple is mutually intrigued by the Hawaiian culture, and for Jim, this foray into the ways of the Hawaiians dates back to his own father. “He was stationed at Pearl Harbor in the early 1920s and was there for three years, fell in love with Hawaiian music and something happened to him there,” Houston says.

The parallels are fascinating: As something positive happened to Houston’s father in Hawaii, something negative happened to the main character (Brody’s great-grandfather) in Hawaii. And likewise, the lure of Hawaii was passed down through both the novelist and his characters.

As for the title, “Bird of Another Heaven,” it comes up a few times, most importantly as how the king sees Nani, as a “rare and singular bird,” writes Houston in the novel. Likewise, this “Bird” is also a rare and singular book.ararebird2





















James D. Houston will do a reading and signing at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 29 at the Capitola Book Café, 1475 41st Ave., Capitola. For more information, call 462-4415. Likewise, he’ll be speaking at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, May 8 at Bookshop Santa Cruz, 1520 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. For more information, call 423-0900.
Comments (0)Add Comment

Write comment
smaller | bigger

busy
 

Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share

 

Growing Hope

Campos Seguros combats sexual assault in the Watsonville farmworker community Farm work was a way of life for Rocio Camargo, who grew up in Watsonville as the daughter of Mexican immigrants. Her parents met while working the fields 30 years ago, and her father went on to run Fuentes Berry Farms.

 

Cardinal Grand Cross in the Sky

Following Holy Week (passion, death and burial of the Pisces World Teacher) and Easter Sunday (Resurrection Festival), from April 19 to the 23, the long-awaited and discussed Cardinal Cross of Change appears in the sky, composed of Cardinal signs Aries, Libra, Cancer, and Capricorn, with planets (13-14 degrees) Uranus (in Aries), Jupiter (in Cancer), Mars (in Libra) and Pluto (in Capricorn), an actual geometrical square or cross configuration. Cardinal signs mark the seasons of change, initiating new realities.

 

Sugar: The New Tobacco?

Proposed bill would require warning labels on sugary drinks Will soda and other saccharine libations soon come with a health warning? They will if it’s up to our state senator, Bill Monning (D-Carmel). On Feb. 27, Monning proposed first-of-its-kind legislation that would require a consumer warning label be placed on sugar-sweetened beverages sold in California. SB 1000, also known as the Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Safety Warning Act, was proposed to provide vital information to consumers about the harmful effects of consuming sugary drinks, such as sodas, sports drinks, energy drinks, and sweetened teas.

 

Lens Crafter

Secret photographer’s talent exposed in ‘Finding Vivian Maier’ Talk about a treasure hunt. In 2007, John Maloof, a real estate agent in the Chicago area, bought some miscellaneous boxes at an estate auction across the street, hoping to find some material for a book about his neighborhood. Disappointed not to find anything he could use for his project, Maloof had, instead, stumbled into one of the greatest discoveries in 20th century photography—the previously unknown but amazingly prolific work of amateur street photographer Vivian Maier.
Sign up for Tomorrow's Good Times Today
Upcoming arts & events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments

 

Foodie File: Red Apple Cafe

Breakfast takes center stage at Gracia Krakauer's Red Apple Cafe Before they moved to Aptos, Gracia and her husband Dan Krakauer would visit friends in Santa Cruz County and eat at the Red Apple Café all the time. Then they moved up here from Santa Monica five years ago, and bought the Aptos location (there’s a separate one in Watsonville) from the family who owned it for two decades.

 

How would you feel about a tech industry boom in Santa Cruz?

I feel like it would ruin the small old-town feeling of Santa Cruz. It wouldn’t be the same Surf City kind of vacation town that it is. Antoinette BennettSanta Cruz | Construction Management

 

Best of Santa Cruz County

The 2013 Santa Cruz County Readers' Poll and Critics’ Picks It’s our biggest issue of the year, and in it, your votes—more than 6,500 of them—determined the winners of The Best of Santa Cruz County Readers’ Poll. New to the long list of local restaurants, shops and other notables that captured your interest: Best Beer Selection, Best Locally Owned Business, Best Customer Service and Best Marijuana Dispensary. In the meantime, many readers were ever so chatty online about potential new categories. Some of the suggestions that stood out: Best Teen Program and Best Web Design/Designer. But what about: Dog Park, Church, Hotel, Local Farm, Therapist (I second that!) or Sports Bar—not to be confused with Bra. Our favorite suggestion: Best Act of Kindness—one reader noted Café Gratitude and the free meals it offered to the Santa Cruz Police Department in the aftermath of recent crimes. Perhaps some of these can be woven into next year’s ballot, so stay tuned. In the meantime, enjoy the following pages and take note of our Critics’ Picks, too, beginning on page 91. A big thanks for voting—and for reading—and an even bigger congratulations to all of the winners. Enjoy.  -Greg Archer, EditorBest of Santa Cruz County Readers’ Poll INDEX

 

Trout Gulch Vineyards

Cinsault 2012—la grande plage diurne The most popular wines on store shelves are those most generally known and available—Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, which are all superb for sure. But when you come across a more unusual varietal, like Trout Gulch Vineyards’ Cinsault ($18), it opens up a whole new world.