‘Learning is a side effect of writing.’
About author Chris McKinney
I grew up in rural Hawaiʻi across the street from a brackish shoreline. Some of my fondest memories are spearfishing, crabbing, and trolling the reefs of Kaneohe Bay. My neighborhood, Kahaluʻu, was predominantly Native Hawaiian, so I also vividly remember the island’s economic inequity. Both the ocean and socioeconomic class have always informed my writing.
Rural Hawaiʻi is a bizarre place. It’s a melding of Hawaiian and hyper-macho Japanese culture. Learning to hunt, fight, fish, and dive are male rites of passage. The 4x4 truck is the vehicle of choice. There are a lot of guns, drugs, MMA, bushcraft, and country music. Rural Hawaiʻi is the only place I know of that’s populated by rednecks of color.
This is the Hawaiʻi I wrote about for years, my first novel, The Tattoo, being the prime example. Six other books followed. Working with people like Wayne Wang, Dennis Leoni, Sung Kang, and Justin Chon, I almost sold this Hawaiʻi to Hollywood a few
times. After failing to do so, I wrote, and co-executive produced a low-budget indie film about this world in 2017. During the shoot, while piloting a flat-bottom skiff through the bay’s channels, it occurred to me that I’d forgotten the safe passages to open ocean. Simply put, being years removed from this place, I was out of touch. This was no longer my story to tell.
So I turned to sci-fi. When I began conceptualizing the Water City trilogy, I was spending a lot of time on the Big Island. By Hawaiʻi standards, the drive from Hilo to Waimea is a long one, and each time, I’d pass the telescopes on Mauna Kea and think about the protests against building more on Hawaii’s most sacred mountain. I’d ask myself what was at stake. Perhaps an entire culture. I knew I wanted a telescope in my new book, the biggest in the world. I visualized what this place would look like if nothing sacred remained.
I also spent time on the Kohala Coast, west of Mauna Kea. At certain points there, the drop from land to deep-sea is startling. I thought about how much of the ocean remains unexplored and began to imagine underwater cities. Why would we build there? What would the benefits be? Only the future can tell us, so I began creating a future. One with a main character who, like me, has gone through fatherhood, divorce, addiction, and, well, a lot of life, and thinks he understands his world but really doesn’t.
Learning is a side effect of writing. Through the process of drafting Midnight, Water City, I built on my own knowledge of marine biology, neuroscience, religion, and astrophysics. At the same time, I began with what was most familiar to me: noir, crime, and a setting close to home. Despite this shift, ocean and class continue to be at the heart of my work. My entire life, I’ve been surrounded by both; they are constants.