Interview with mystery author Robert McCaw


Welcome, readers. Today’s special author interview is
with Robert McCaw. We’re chatting about
his new mystery, Off the Grid.
Robert McCaw grew
up in a military family traveling the world. After graduating from Georgetown
University, he served as a lieutenant in the US Army before earning his law
degree from the University of Virginia. Thereafter he practiced as a partner in
a major international law firm in Washington, DC, and New York City—and
maintained a home on the Big Island of Hawai’i. McCaw brings a unique
authenticity to his Koa Kāne Hawaiian mystery novels in both his law legal
expertise and his ability to portray the richness of Hawai’i’s history,
culture, and people. McCaw lives in New York City and La Jolla, California,
with his wife, Calli.
Welcome, Robert.
Please tell us about your current release
Off The Grid
is a mystery/political thriller set on the Big Island of Hawaii—the real
Hawaii, beyond the palm trees, hula skirts, and tropical drinks of tourist
Hawaii. In many ways, Hawaii itself, its history, multicultural diversity, and
language is a character in the novel.
My protagonist,
Koa Kāne, is the chief detective of the Hilo, Hawaii police. He’s a cop with a
secret past, one that gives him an insight into the criminal mind, while
fueling his relentless pursuit of justice for victims. In Off The Grid,
Koa’s day starts when he’s called to the scene of a staged traffic accident and
escalates when a body turns up in a lava field. It doesn’t take Koa long to
discover that the victims are loners living under false identities off the grid
in rural Hawaii. His quest to learn their identities creates conflicts with
powerful government agencies and ultimately his own police chief. The trail
leads to one of the most bizarre, real-life, international events of the recent
past and to a surprise ending.
What inspired
you to write this book?
Hawaii inspired
me to write the Koa Kāne mystery series, starting with Death of a Messenger
in 2015, followed by Off The Grid in 2019, and Fire and Vengeance,
to be published next year. I first visited the Big Island in 1986 and fell in
love with its magic. Living there part-time for 20 years, I immersed myself in
its history and culture, talked story with local friends, both haole
(western) and Hawaiian, and visited most of the places where my stories take
Two unrelated
experiences inspired significant parts of Off The Grid. My wife and I
went to the home of a Big Island artist we had commissioned for a Hawaiian
themed painting. After a number of twists and turns in a remote part of the
island, we arrived at an isolated dwelling deep in the rain forest. Largely off
the grid, it was filled with mismatched objects, artist’s supplies, and
half-finished paintings. As I entered and scanned the great room, I knew I’d
discovered a ready-made template for a scene in a novel. The fact that the
artist’s retired husband seemed to have some clandestine military history only
added intriguing mystery possibilities.
Not too much
later, my wife and I drove up the somewhat more developed Kohala Coast to the
picturesque town of Hāwī to dine at one of our favorite casual restaurants, only
to find the place closed. We learned that the proprietor had been arrested as a
fugitive from justice. A little research revealed that he was far from the only
wanted man hiding out on the Big Island.
And so pieces of
Off The Grid came together.
What exciting
story are you working on next?
Fire and
, another unique and exciting Koa Kāne mystery, is
coming next year. It begins when a volcano erupts under an elementary school,
and Koa learns that the builders knew of, and concealed, the risk. The ensuing
investigation leads Koa into one of the most challenging investigations of his
career as he fights entrenched politicians to discover a shocking and
long-buried truth.
When did you
first consider yourself a writer?
Given my former
career as an attorney, it seems as though I have been writing most of my life.
I first turned to serious fiction when I started Death of a Messenger in
the late 1980s while I was still pursuing a full-time legal career. I worked on
that novel off and on until I retired and finally finished it. So if “writer” means
producing books for publication, you could say I’ve been “becoming” a writer
for a long time.
Do you write
full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than
write and how do you find time to write?
I write
regularly, but my days encompass many other activities, including time with
family and friends, travel, exercise, reading, cooking, and even a video game
or two, but little or no TV. That said, I try to spend some time every day
working on my latest writing project. That might entail sitting down at the
computer, researching, or just thinking and planning the next chapter or scene.
I agree with authors who say that successful writers are voracious readers and
believe that life is in many ways the best research for writing fiction. Thus,
I am always on the prowl for locations, situations, or characters that might
fit with my current project or inspire parts of the next one.
What would you
say is your interesting writing quirk?
I avoid the word
“very,” and think of my father every time that word crosses my mind. He told me
that whenever I use the word “very,” I should change it to “damned,” – as in
damned pretty -- and then delete it!
As a child, what
did you want to be when you grew up?
The list is
endless. My grandfather worked on a railroad, and I grew up with model trains.
So I wanted to be an engineer. My father was a military lawyer, so I wanted to
be a soldier, but not a lawyer. That only came later. We always had tools and a
workshop, and I tried my hand at cabinetry. I loved numbers and wanted to be a
mathematician until I figured out that math would likely be a pretty solitary
profession. Always fascinated by the stars, I seriously considered being an
astronomer. At one point, I even wanted to be a professional ping-pong player.
additional you want to share with the readers?
The luckiest
people are not, as commonly believed, the wealthiest. They are instead those
blessed with the power to make a life doing what they love. So go for it.
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