Pamela Asbury-Smith Pens Archaeological Mysteries Set in Hawaii

A trip to Hawaii occupies a prominent place on my bucket list, so it’s a special pleasure to welcome mystery author Pamela Asbury-Smith to my blog. She spent fifteen years living in Hawaii and now writes mysteries set there. Below are her responses to my interview questions, followed by her bio and buy link:

Can you share with our readers a bit about PHANTOM AT HONOLULU HARBOR, your archaeological mystery set in Hawaii?

A dig near Honolulu Harbor has been targeted by vandals and a night watchman disappears during his shift. The lead archaeologist, Kristen Kelley, hires a private detective when the police show little interest in the case. After a skull turns up in the excavation, archaeologists discover it’s not part of an ancient Hawaiian burial, but that of a contemporary Caucasian, and an investigation is launched. Soon, mistrust begins to affect the crew. Faced with a murder investigation, Kristen begins to view the detective as more of an adversary than an ally. There begins the dance of attraction.   

You have such a wonderful background for writing this novel, having lived in Hawaii for fifteen years and participated in archaeological digs. What led you to decide to draw on your experiences to write fiction?           

I’ve been writing fiction since childhood, writing short stories. I later wrote    newsletters for the police department when I was working as a municipal court bailiff. In the evening, I wrote a gothic novel. (You know; It was a dark and stormy night!) I joined a writers’ critique group and wrote two more novels. (They were SciFi and not much better.) During that time, I wrote and published several short stories and a true crime. After a move to Hawai`i, I found another writer’s critique group, and continued writing short stories. The Hawai`i fiction came about when I was reading Hawai`i-centric novels that I felt had been written by non-professionals who were unfamiliar with Hawaiian culture. Writers are always told to “write what you know.” I thought I could and do it better. A friend who was an English professor invited me to attend her monthly writer’s workshops at Universoity of Hawai`i. During that time, I began writing a mystery, and set it at an archaeological site where I was working at the time. 

Can you tell us a bit about your protagonist, Kristen Kelley? To what extent is she modeled after yourself or other folks you’ve known in the field of archaeology?

My first-born daughter is named Kristen Kelly, and I borrowed her name for the main character, giving it a different spelling. That was the spark I needed to develop characters and keep writing. I used character traits I gleaned from other archaeologists I worked with, a bit of myself, and an image of how I would like to have been. I used names of friends and family, always with their permission, and altered the spelling.    

What steps did you take to develop your craft as a fiction writer?

Wrote, wrote, and wrote some more! Became part of critique groups and attended workshops. Read novels in my favored genre. Read my own writing aloud, to myself, to others, and listened to how it sounded as if it were happening.   

A related question: What advice would you give an aspiring mystery writer?

Attend book signings and listen to the author speak about their craft. Attend writer’s workshops geared to new writers and readers. Make friends with other writers, join organizations that support writers (SinC, MWA). Read what works for other mystery writers.   

Can you share with us a bit about your writing process?

Music helps put me in the mood for Hawai`i, along with the tools of the trade: a compass, a trowel for digging, a paintbrush to uncover delicate bones, a few stone flakes as artifacts, and a skull… plastic, of course. I keep a Hawaiian language dictionary by me, along with a map book of `Oahu streets, and have several reference books at hand. And a synonym finder!    

What was the most surprising and/or challenging thing you discovered about becoming a mystery author?

Speaking invitations! Women’s groups, professional writer’s organizations, classes, and encountering the occasional reader who really loved the novel, and wants to know when will I write another? They’re all flattering, but a bit scary for me to face crowds, and speak intelligently. More frightening is writing another that I feel is going to be a worthwhile sequel. 

 What are you currently working on?

Death In Waikīkī, based on a real crime that occurred many decades ago. It’s a challenge to keep it interesting and realistic. I’m trying to focus on that and write regularly.

When you’re not writing, what do you especially enjoy doing?

I recently moved into a Senior residence, and the regular games like Bingo and Rummikub are social and enjoyable. There are occasional animal presentations, mini-concerts, and seasonal parties for families. And I’m a TV Addict, preferring British TV!   

Is there anything you’d like to add, or wish I’d asked you that I didn’t?

My characters are all named for family and friends, but with altered spelling. I even used some of their physical attributes. People who know me well knew just who I had modeled the antagonist after. Writers are told to “kill our darlings.” I had a difficult time, but the resolution to that came in a sad way; A friend who agreed to be a character asked me to make her “skinny.” I did that, and even made her a paddler. Sadly, she passed away a few months ago. To honor her, I chose to give her character a final farewell in the Phantom sequel with a traditional Hawaiian funeral, a “paddle out,” to scatter her ashes in the ocean. This paddle out also honors the tragic losses in Lahaina.   


Worked as a civilian in law enforcement in the rainy Pacific Northwest, even attended the FBI Academy for Composite Artists. When faced with an empty nest, I fled to Paradise to fulfil a life-long dream of living in Hawaii. The work that came my way wasn’t challenging enough so I obtained a college degree in physical anthropology, a carefully-chosen career path. I was able to work on five of the Hawaiian islands, missing out only on Lāna`i. The most interesting was Kaho`olawe, an island that had been used as a bomb target for over 50 years. It required me to have an EOD escort due to the danger from existing ordnance. 

Pamela Asbury-Smith

Ola Aloha, E Aloha, Puʻu Aloha, Hanu ke aloha.

Live aloha, Be Aloha, share aloha, breathe aloha


Leave a Comment