Q&A with Sara Ackerman, Author of Red Sky Over Hawaii

by Heather Caliendo
sara ackerman interview - book club chat
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Sara Ackerman is the author of Red Sky Over Hawaii, which will publish on June 9.

Sara Ackerman writes books about love and life, and all of their messy and beautiful imperfections. She believes that the light is just as important as the dark, and that the world is in need of uplifting and heartwarming stories. Born and raised in Hawaii, she studied journalism and later earned graduate degrees in psychology and Chinese medicine. She blames Hawaii for her addiction to writing, and sees no end to its untapped stories.

The synopsis:

Inspired by real places and events of WWII, Red Sky Over Hawaii  by Sara Ackerman immerses the reader in a time of American history full of suspicion and peril in this lush and poignant tale about the indisputable power of doing the right thing against all odds.

The attack on Pearl Harbor changes everything for Lana Hitchcock. Arriving home on the Big Island too late to reconcile with her estranged father, she is left alone to untangle the clues of his legacy, which lead to a secret property tucked away in the remote rain forest of Kilauea volcano. When the government starts taking away her neighbors as suspected sympathizers, Lana shelters two young German girls, a Japanese fisherman and his son. As tensions escalate, they are forced into hiding—only to discover the hideaway house is not what they expected.

When a detainment camp is established nearby, Lana struggles to keep the secrets of those in her care. Trust could have dangerous consequences. As their lives weave together, Lana begins to understand the true meaning of family and how the bonds of love carry us through the worst times.

It sounds fantastic! Let’s get to know Sara Ackerman as she talks favorite novels, story inspirations and much more!

What are some of your favorite novels?

My all time favorites are Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver, The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd, any book by Alice Hoffman, and my most recent is Where The Crawdads Sing. These authors all have such a beautiful way with words. I love books set in nature, books that feature animals, and books with hints of magical realism. 

When did you know you wanted to become an author? 

There have been times throughout my life when I finished a book and thought, I want to be able to write one! I’ve always loved reading and writing, and used to compile books of my poems and give them out as gifts every year for Christmas. But it wasn’t until more recently––about 8 years ago––that I sat down and started writing my first novel. I was hooked right away, but I didn’t land an agent and publishing deal until my fourth one (Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers). When I started, I knew it would be a long process. I had a Post-It note that said Patience & Perseverance stuck to my door frame. That was my mantra.

What inspired you to write Red Sky Over Hawaii?

I’ll start with saying that Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (the setting) is one of my favorite places on earth. There is a vast and unearthly beauty there, and a very unique rainforest and ecosystem. I spend a lot of time exploring the backcountry and lava flows in the area. One day several years ago, I came upon a rustic old house tucked away in a remote part of the park. You would never even know it’s there. Needless to say, I was intrigued. When I dug deeper and found the house was originally built as a hideaway house in 1941 in case of a Japanese invasion, I knew I had to write a book about it someday. A year or so later, I met a woman who told me about her friend’s mother, who had been a little girl during the attack on Pearl Harbor and how her parents had been taken away and held for over a year by the FBI because they were German. I tracked down that story, which broke my heart, and decided I would merge the two and loosely base my story on them. Also, I’ve always been fascinated at how ordinary people band together during crises, and at the human capacity for resilience, so I wanted to explore this in my novel.

What type of research do you conduct for your novels?

This was the fun part! I went to the Volcano as much as possible (it’s a two-hour drive from where I live) while writing Red Sky Over Hawaii, but I’ve also spent a good portion of my life up there. I also lucked out by finding a very long and detailed publication on the National Park before, during, and in the aftermath of the war. Much of my information came from that. I also interviewed a few elders who lived at or had houses at Volcano back in the day. And finally, having written two previous Hawaii WWII novels, I had that knowledge tucked away in my brain, as well as stacks of books to draw from. 

How do you balance fact and fiction when it comes to writing historical fiction? 

It can be tricky. I do my best to be historically accurate. I spend a lot of time making sure I have the events, the language, the place, the food and those kinds of details as real as possible. With my books, I am placing fictitious characters into real world settings and turning them loose. I have to imagine a fair amount of their day to day experience, and that can be hard. Another big challenge for me is sticking to the dates and keeping track of all of timelines. With WWII, it can feel overwhelming. Right now, in the piece I’m writing (Radar Girls,about the top secret Women’s Air Raid Defense), the timeline is quite hard and fast but to make it work I think I am going to have to shift dates a little bit. Since it’s fiction, I believe that is okay, since people tend to be most interested in the story and the lives of the people in those times, rather than a specific date. As long as it’s not too far off!

What are you currently reading and what’s on your TBR (to be read) list?

I’m currently rereading The Great Gatsby for a class I teach. I love Fitzgerald’s imagery. And as far as my TBR, can I refer you to my Pinterest Book Love page, lol? I have a huge TBR, but I just got a box from Book of The Month with The Sun Down Motel and The Girl With The Louding Voice. I also want to read The Jane Austen Society, The Book of Longings, and The Scentkeeper, to name a few. As you can see, I read all kinds of books.

Click here to order Red Sky Over Hawaii by Sara Ackerman on Amazon. 

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2 comments

Sarah June 25, 2020 - 9:38 am

Wonderful Q&A! I love The Secret Life of Bees too and I can’t wait to finish Sara’s newest.

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Heather Caliendo June 28, 2020 - 6:14 pm

Thanks for reading!! Excited for it too!

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