Friday, February 24, 2012

Sisters in Crime Interview with Deborah Turrell Atkinson

Today’s Sisters in Crime/Hawaii spotlight shines on author Deborah Turrell Atkinson. Debby lives in Honolulu, Hawaii, with her husband and their two teenage sons. She is a recipient of the University of Hawaii’s Meryl Clark Award for Fiction. Her mystery series, featuring attorney Storm Kayama, portrays an insiders’ view of Hawaii.

Sisters in Crime/Hawaii: Debby, you were the first president of the Hawaii Chapter of Sisters in Crime. When did you decide to open a chapter of the national organization, Sisters in Crime, Inc., in Hawaii?

Deborah Turrell Atkinson: I believe I made the decision late 2005 or early 2006 after talking to my good friend, Beth Wasson, who runs National, and a couple of other friends who started chapters in other states. Judy Clemens comes to mind--she started an Ohio chapter and also served as president of National. We had our first Hawaii SinC meeting in November, 2006.

Sisters in Crime/Hawaii: What goals did you set for the Hawaii Chapter and its members?

Deborah Turrell Atkinson: My goals were twofold: First, to follow the National Bylaws, which is actually a requirement of a chapter. This is to "combat discrimination against women in the mystery field, educate publishers and the general public as to inequities in the treatment of female authors, and raise the level of awareness of their contribution to the field. Membership is open to all persons worldwide who have a special interest in mystery writing and in furthering the purposes of Sisters in Crime; Inc."

My second goal was to not only encourage the writing of crime fiction, but to educate the members of SinC about the fields of law enforcement. We had speakers from numerous fields: a firearm expert from HPD, who brought an assortment of guns that we got to handle, an Assistant U.S. attorney, an expert in forensic entomology, the Deputy Scientific Director of the Central Identification Laboratory (who helped identify some of Jeffrey Dahmer's victims, the K-9 corps (and their handlers, of course) from the Honolulu Sheriff's Department, and others. Things were pretty lively at times!

Sisters in Crime/Hawaii: You set a high standard for SinC/Hawaii with a diverse group of excellent speakers. While the first mystery novel has been attributed to Edgar Allan Poe, some credit the true origin of the Mystery genre to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle or Agatha Christie. Sydney Lehua Iaukea's The Queen and I (A Story of Dispossessions and Reconnections in Hawaii,) though historical in nature, contains its own mystery and suspense. Does today’s Mystery/Suspense genre carry a broader definition, one that includes traces or even subplots of romance, science fiction, fantasy, and . . . well, most genres?

Deborah Turrell Atkinson: I'm not sure I'd apply a "broader definition" of mystery today. Too many people in the field will hotly contest the difference between thrillers, mysteries, suspense, romance, sci-fi, and so on. There can be overlap, however. You'll see romance in a thriller, but the main thrust of a thriller must still be that ticking bomb, the kidnapped child, the imminent threat. Or some sci-fi element can exist in a mystery, but the author has to stress the whodunnit rather than the futuristic aspect. Hope I'm making sense. If anything, the field has become more complicated since Arthur Conan Doyle.

Sisters in Crime/Hawaii: Even with the advent of limitless subgenres, I agree that the author has to stress the whodunnit in a mystery. Your latest novel, PLEASING THE DEAD, is set in Maui. What is the story’s main plot line, where did you get the inspiration for your protagonist Storm Kayama, and did you have to suffer through extended on-site research before writing the novel?

Deborah Turrell Atkinson: As you may know, Pleasing the Dead is the fourth book in the Storm Kayama series. The story revolves around the trafficking of young women for prostitution and the Yakuza in Hawaii (Maui in particular). I got the inspiration for that idea when I heard Janet Kamerman, the first woman special agent in charge of the Honolulu Division, FBI, speak about problems facing the islands. This was in 2008, and Agent Kamerman gave us a lot of information about how law enforcement has changed since Sept 11, 2001. When I asked her what unique problems the islands faced, she stressed the trafficking of young women, particularly from China and the Philippines.

My inspiration for Storm Kayama came from a character that developed in one of my first novels--one still in a drawer somewhere. I liked her so much, I decided to make her the protagonist of the next book, which ended up getting published. That was Primitive Secrets.

Sisters in Crime/Hawaii: I am reading Primitive Secrets this week and am enjoying the action as well as the setting, in the town of Hilo on The Big Island. Would you please share some information about your participation in Explore Hawaii Book & Music Tour at Borders in the San Francisco Bay Area?

Deborah Turrell Atkinson: That trip to San Francisco was great! What a privilege to be included, and to have my way paid in a gesture of aloha by HVCB! Joanna Carolan, children's author; Cheryl Tsutsumi, travel and food author; Ken Emerson, slack key guitarist; and I were part of one weekend's entourage. Other authors and musicians participated, too, at different times. 

Sisters in Crime/Hawaii: Just for fun, if Paris is not an option, then where would you most like to spend your time writing and why?

Deborah Turrell Atkinson: Paris would be nice!! Actually, though, when I'm writing, I'm best at my own desk. I've worked in hotel rooms, other people's homes, in coffee shops, where ever, but home is best. I treat writing as a job. I need to get to work everyday at about the same time. Though my kids are now older and out of the house, I still sit down around 9 or ten in the morning and often work through lunch into the afternoon.

Sisters in Crime/Hawaii: Thank you for this enjoyable visit today, Debby, and best of luck with your writing where ever you are.

You can find Deborah Turrell Atkinson at her new website:
and at:


  1. Human trafficking, what a current and horrendous topic! Congratulations on tackling this important story.

  2. Sad to say always happen now in our community!


Aloha and thank you for visiting today! All comments are welcome.
For those who prefer to comment via email: