If you’ve watched the popular TV series MODERN FAMILY, you already know that gay parenting has become mainstream. Gay men and lesbians are adopting kids and fathering kids in cooperative arrangements, and all kinds of literature from children’s books to literary fiction follows the trend. I chose to take a different angle on the issue in my newest Mahu Investigation, ZERO BREAK.
I was sitting at dinner with a group of other writers when I heard the following story. A gay man of my acquaintance had donated sperm to a lesbian couple, and one of the women had become pregnant twice, and given birth each time to a boy. The gay dad became a part of the family, visiting the boys regularly and developing a relationship with them.
Then the birth mom fell out of love with her partner, and in exploring her feelings decided she wanted to be with a man again. My friend was very upset, worrying that this new man in his sons’ lives would supplant him, and that the man, a foreign national, might even want to take the kids out of the country. And because of the agreement he signed with the two moms at the time of his donation, my friend had no legal standing.
It was a sad story—but as a crime writer, I immediately saw the possibilities for a mystery plot. Kill the birth mom, I thought. Then there would be at least two people – the bio dad, and the other mom – with very strong motives in wanting to maintain access to the children.
It was the right plot at the right time for my police procedural series, which began with MAHU in 2005. My hero, Honolulu homicide detective Kimo Kanapa’aka, is dragged out of the closet during an investigation in that book. (Mahu is a Hawaiian word which has its roots in the old Polynesian custom in which a family which only has sons will raise the youngest as a girl, to provide a caretaker for the parents when the other boys marry. Today it’s a derogatory word for homosexual—though one I am trying to reclaim through a positive usage.)
The Mahu series has tracked Kimo’s coming out process as he investigates cases that challenge him. He’s made gay friends and rededicated himself to his surfing hobby (MAHU SURFER); he’s begun dating (MAHU FIRE); survived a breakup and ended up with the guy of his dreams (MAHU VICE); and moved in with his partner and considered the nature of family (MAHU BLOOD). It was time for him and his partner to think about having children—and what better case to present him with than this one, where he had to explore the limits people will go to in order to bring kids into their lives.
I loved that this topic was current, and that the book might give readers some insight into the trend. I believe that thrillers, and all crime fiction, can have a social value by presenting controversial issues in compelling characters and an action-based plot. By the time a reader finishes one of my books, I hope he or she will feel satisfied, and perhaps have learned a little—whether it’s about same-sex relationships, surfing, or the Aloha State.
Hawaii is an ethnic melting pot whose diversity mirrors and even foreshadows the nation as a whole. I’ve made a point of providing diverse ethnicities in the books to represent this population. The birth mother in ZERO BREAK is haole, or white; her female partner is Chinese. As their sperm donor, they want a man with an Asian background so the kids will be a little like each of the two moms. Kimo is half Hawaiian, one quarter Japanese and one quarter haole. His partner, fire investigator Mike Riccardi, is half haole and half Korean. Rather than becoming a confusing mishmash, they all just get along, reflecting the aloha spirit of the fiftieth state.
The books aren’t all sweetness and light, however; some characters express prejudice and even hatred, and the motivations common to all people often lead to deadly outcomes. Since parenting – and the idea of who can or should be a parent—is such an explosive one, it seemed perfect as the basis for a thriller plot. I hope readers will agree.
To learn more about Neil, please visit his website.
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