One summer, about 12 years ago, Bill Fernandez decided to write a book.
It would be about his father, WA Fernandez, a struggling half-Hawaiian, and his mother, Agnes Scharsch, a cannery worker who was also half-Hawaiian.
“They finally found their pot of gold in this little town of Kapaa,” Fernandez said. “I wanted to write that story.”
Wife Judie recalls it pretty much the same way.
“He literally one day said, ‘I feel like writing a book.’ He sat down at the computer and away he went. This stuff just spewed out of him for hours. He spent six weeks on it and how came a novel.”
That first book outlines how his father opened the Roxy Theater, nearly went bankrupt, and when World War II broke out, that theater would be filled with soldiers each night. WA Fernandez made a small fortune, enough to send son Bill to Stanford University.
“He hit his pot of gold and that’s because of the war,” Fernandez said.
That story became Fernandez’ first memoir, “Rainbows Over Kapaa,” published in 2009.
Turns out, he was just getting started.
“I got intrigued with writing stories,” he said.
Since, the retired attorney, judge and mayor has quietly become one of Kauai’s most prolific writers. Two more memoirs, “Kauai Kids in Peace and War,” and “Hawaii in War and Peace,” followed. His three novels include “John Tana: An Adventure Tale of Old Hawaii,” “Cult of Ku: A Hawaiian Murder Mystery,” and his latest book, “Crime & Punishment in Hawaii.”
And he’s far from finished.
A sequel to John Tana will be released soon, and a third book will continue the tale of John Tana, whose story goes back to the mid-1800s when a sugar baron kicked him off his farmland on Maui.
The 86-year-old Fernandez, who lives in the Kapaa house that his mother bought with her pineapple earnings and where he grew up in, writes because he enjoys it, but because he wants to share what he experienced growing up in Hawaii. He knows well the struggles faced by Hawaiians, the racism, the injustices they endured, because he not only witnessed it, he lived it.
“If you want to learn about the Hawaii, read my books. Read about growing up on the island. Read about the trials and tribulations that Hawaiians went through in the earlier times,” he said “It can explain a lot that’s happening now.”
For a man whose career has been marked by academic, professional and personal success, Fernandez is a modest, humble man and rarely mentions his accomplishments. He is more apt to encourage his guests to share their stories and perspectives, than share his own.
Greeted as “Judge” by friends, Fernandez has given presentations on Hawaii’s history, served as president of the Kauai Historical Society and has been involved in community events.
His memoirs outline the stories of his childhood, his recollections of life on Kauai during World War II, and how that war changed both the future of Kauai and his own future.
His novels, which could be described as action/adventure/romance, are fiction, but contain pieces of Hawaii’s history, the good and the bad and the inequality of the times. While his novels are fascinating tales of crimes, deception, forbidden relationships, and family bonds, they also have historical significance.
In them, you’ll find a recap of the overthrow of Queen Liliuokalani and how Hawaii came to be under the rule of the United States, which remains a point of anger for many Hawaiians. He references the sovereignty movement and a “go-away haole” attitude that permeated part of Hawaii.
He said the Southern Jim Crow laws influenced Hawaii, particularly during the Massie case in 1931 and 1932. There was a lynch-mob mentality, which he writes of In Crime & Punishment.
“People of color here were treated no better than blacks of the south,” he said, “And they were spoken to derogatorily.”
He describes a “simmering anger” that built up as a result.
“For many, many years during my time, Hawaiians said, ‘Live and let live. Don’t make waves. Go along with it.’ Once the young Hawaiians realized they were being treated differently than others, there was a natural kickback.”
Crime & Punishment is written primarily from the point of view of local people who are trying to cope with this expansive racism.
Fernandez did extensive research into the Massie case, which has been written about by others, been spotlighted by an opera, and could be the subject of a movie.
“If you mentioned it to any Hawaiian, they know the story,” said Judie Fernandez, “because it shocked everyone. It was a pretty big story. It still is.”
Fernandez is not trying to stir up trouble or lead any kind of uprising.
“I’m a very loyal American, I love the United States,” he said. “But there is a reason for people to be angry.”
So others will understand, he wants to share what he has learned about Hawaii’s history. Those days of old Hawaii, he worries, will be forgotten.
“I might as well do something at my ancient age,” he said, laughing. “Besides that, I’ve got to keep my wife busy.”
Judie edits, markets and helps with cover designs of Bill’s book.
“I couldn’t do it without her. She just loves to read the books, which I have never completely understood,” he added.
Judie says it’s a dream to be working closely with her husband.
“We have fun,” she said.
And she knows exactly why she likes to read her husband’s writing.
“His books are filled with poetry,” she said. “When he gets into descriptions of land or spearfishing or anything of that sort which he had personal experiences in, it’s beautiful writing. He carries you away. You can see the fish and feel the water. I think it’s very poetic.
Bill honed his writing skills the old-fashioned way. He studied, he attended seminar, retreats, traveled, got feedback, and wrote.
The people he knew, the things he saw, the stories passed down, and what he did, are his life. He puts that life to paper.
“The experiences you have growing up are often the basis for the writing,” he said.
“Crime & Punishment in Hawaii” is Bill Fernandez latest book. The backcover outlines it:
Bootleggers seeking revenge threaten the lives of Grant Kingsley and his family. A white U.S. Navy wife accused five “colored” men of gang rape in Holululu. The military demands martial law, an end to democracy in Hawaii, and a hanging of the five locals.
Twelve-year-old Dan Kingsley and his schoolmates strive to deal with racial hatred caused by the rape claim and still remain loyal Americans. A Navy mob kills a Hawaiian defendant, increasing the racial tension.
The action accelerates to its conclusion with a dramatic trial, and battles on land and sea against the bootleggers.
Based on the rape-murder cases known as “the Massie cases” in 1931-32 Honolulu, this novel exposes the two-tiered society of favored white elite and minorities called “locals.”
The book is available at the Kauai Museum, the Kauai Store in Kapaa, The Bookstore in Hanapepe and amazon. It is $20.