Monday, October 03, 2011

(Re)Discovering Kiana Davenport

In the mid 1990s I was in The Spirit of '76 Bookstore in Marblehead looking for something wonderful to read when Bob, the genial owner of that store, said, “Have you read this?” He held out a book with a cover so beautiful it immediately had my interest. A beautiful, dark skinned woman with wild dark hair wearing a red sarong with white flowers on it was depicted in a stylized illustration that I loved. It was called Shark Dialogues and for the next few days I lay in the sun on Devereaux Beach completely enthralled. Set mostly in Hawaii, it was one of those sweeping family sagas but written by a real Hawaiian with first-hand knowledge of the traditions and the mysticism of her people.

I loved the book so much I couldn't stop talking about it and even bought copies to give to friends – one of whom stayed up all night to read it and was very crabby, but also besotted, the next day.

Recently I was reading a blog post on The Passive Voice in which PG told the tale of a writer who had chosen to go the indie e-book route when her former publishers would no longer promote her books. She gave credit to the great Joe Konrath and was doing fairly well as an indie. Then she signed a contract with a Big 6 house and they discovered her indie books they freaked out and are holding her book hostage while they behave in a most unprofessional manner toward her. The author was Kiana Davenport and, though I hadn't thought of her in years (I should have – I should have looked for more books by her but life got in the way). PG posted a link to her blog where she tells the story of what is going on with her books. I read the blog, posted comments to it and immediately went to Amazon and purchased her two indie books as well as the Kindle version of Shark Dialogues.

Her writing is even more beautiful than I remembered it. Back when I read Shark Dialogues I was a reader who dreamed about being a writer. Now as a writer I realize what an extraordinary gift she has for vibrant, scintilating prose with an economy of language and even when telling dark tales. Her collection of short stories, The House of Skin, is even more beautiful. Each tale is a jewel most of them dealing with the struggle of women in Pacific Islands – ranging from Hawaii to Fiji and Pentecost Island to Nauru – to find dignity, to endure abuse, to protect children while caring for their families. Some of the stories are painful to read but all of them leave you awed at the sheer power of the writing.

Her second book of stories is called Cannibal Nights and it is on my Kindle waiting for me as soon as I get caught up with a few other things but I am looking forward to reading it. I am also purchasing the e-books of her two novels, Houseof Many Gods and Song of the Exile. One of the things I realized while looking for the Kindle versions of these books is that, though the publisher charges $11.99 for these books – compared to the $2.99 to $4.99 most indie novels cost – the author sees no more profit on these books than we indies do. This is one of the realities that is fueling the revolution of authors away from the Big 6. They have abused authors long enough.

When I finished House of Skin I posted my appreciation on Ms. Davenport's Amazon Discussion Board. Much to my dismay she not only responded to my post but also sent me an email in which she told me a little more about what id going on with her struggles with the publisher and then told me the most flattering thing I could have imagined. She said she was in the middle of reading The Old Mermaid's Tale – a friend had recommended it to her – and she was loving it. I could have fainted from sheer joy.

We have since then exchanged a couple more emails and I treasure this exchange. And as I thought about Shark Dialogues, which I read a decade before I wrote The Old Mermaid's Tale, I had to admit that the love between my Clair and Baptiste was not unlike the love between her Pono and Duke, a powerful, all-consuming love that transcends everything – even life itself.
I am so happy to have rediscovered the work of this astonishing writer and I can do you no greater favor than to urge you to buy her books, especially her two short story collections. She is a writer of breath-taking beauty. Help support her and send a message to the Big 6 publishers – just like the Occupy Wall Street protestors are – we're tired of being screwed by their greed. Wise up.

Thanks for reading.

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