I spent my entire childhood on the islands of Oahu and Hawaii, the most glorious days in the most remote, most beautiful place in the world. In my teens I skippered a small glass-bottom boat and worked as a deckhand on a deep-sea charter fishing boat. I also surfed my brains out. My friends were of every imaginable race, mostly all mixed up — haole, Japanese, Chinese, Hawaiian, Filipino, Portuguese, and many more. My stories mostly come from those guys and those times.
(The photos are of my parents.)
The most significant element of my life is the fact that I was raised, essentially, without a father. Although I had three of them, I knew none of them. My real father was killed in World War II; my first step-father died when I was ten; my second step-father was inaccessible.
My stories often explore friendship, loyalty, courage, honor, and the relationship between fathers and sons. That last part is for me; it’s what I do to fill the fatherless void in my life.
My stories come from the far corners of my mind, and if I’m lucky, from my deepest heart. Blue Skin of the Sea captured pieces of my own adolescence on the Big Island of Hawaii. Under the Blood-Red Sun explored a question I’d grown up with: What was it like in Honolulu on the day Pearl Harbor was bombed? Shark Bait was based on a good friend of mine, a kid who loved to fight, something I wanted no part of. But he had this magnetic pull on me. I really liked the guy.
Jungle Dogs grew out of a phrase that came to me one day as I was driving to the gym: “My hero is my dog.” Weird, how that phrase just popped up like that. But it made me think of heroes, the people we look up to in our lives. What makes them stand out? What makes them such extraordinary human beings? What is a hero?
The story began (quite unexpectedly, actually) as I was working on something else.
That weird phrase wouldn’t let go: my hero is my dog.
I day-dreamed. I considered possibilities.
I began to write: “Far out on the ocean a small reef of clouds…”
And I was gone. Slipped away into another world.
I love that part, that entering into new worlds.
I drew on my experiences delivering the morning paper in Kailua with the bats swooshing just overhead. I drew on friendships I had, on places I explored. I drew on my respect for strong father-son and strong sibling relationships. I drew on my gut feelings, looking for a heartbeat.
Which is where all good stories must begin.
When it comes to writing, I believe in magic. Generally, I have in mind a glimpse of where I want to go when I begin a novel. I try to sketch out a premise and possible storyline before I begin. It’s all extremely nebulous at this point, trying to create something out of nothing.
The magic comes, really, in the writing. Something happens between my fingertips and the keyboard. I don’t understand it, but it’s absolutely the most fabulous and surely the most mysterious part of the writing process: write, and things happen.
Of all my novels, Jungle Dogs is truly a result of that magic. This story just presented itself. And I am pleased that it did. It speaks to me in many ways.
From the universe.
A window, open to the Great Unknown.
I love being a writer, a daydreamer. Life is good, if we allow it to be.
© Graham Salisbury; this piece originally published by the Junior Literary Guild.