story by Paul Wood
photos by Steve Brinkman
Let’s face it. Publishing is all about New York. It’s about power brokers and deal makers, boardrooms on the twenty-fifth floor where “literature” is a fast-moving commodity, where corporate lackeys strain to see the marketing wave that’s three waves out and scorn the heaps of well-meant manuscripts festering in the corner. It’s a world in which short men with wavy white hair and three-piece suits delight in poking their fingers into the chests of writers, saying “What the hell would make anyone want to read your book?”
On second thought, let’s not face it. After all, this is the age of the Internet and the cell phone, the age of lightning-quick manuscript submission, digital printing technology and on-line bookstores. Why not do publishing from the frizziest outback of America—say, from a weather-beaten country town on a remote Hawaiian island? Why not set up shop in a seventy-year-old, one-story house where time has warped gaps into the walls, gaps through which you can see ti leaves shining in the easy breezes? Why not do mainstream business from an inconsequential distance of 6,000 miles and, from there, watch your books ascend to the New York Times bestseller list?
Why not, indeed. Inner Ocean Publishing is doing exactly that from the Maui town of Makawao.
Makawao is about as far from Manhattan as a United States citizen can get, both in geographical location and in psychological dislocation. Far from being an international hub, it is just a place where two skinny country roads happen to intersect. One of these roads wiggles its way up the hump of Haleakala’s north rift zone, which is a natural breakwall against the rain-heavy winds from the Hana side. Tradewinds over Makawao tend to bring clouds and rainbows and then evaporate. The crossing road basically divides the area into pineapple fields (below) and cattle ranching (above).
At this crossroads, back in Territory days, local entrepreneurs constructed a couple of rows of shops on the model of a Hollywood western set. Inner Ocean Publishing operates out of one of those old buildings, wedged between a concrete supply yard and a take-home pizza shop. The building is what they call a “cane house”—a well-built plank box with nine-foot-high walls and a cheap roof that’s as old as your grandmother.
Why here? Says John Elder, who founded the company in 1999, “I’d rather live Upcountry and visit Manhattan than live in Manhattan and visit Upcountry.”
By the way, “Upcountry” is more than just a physical location—more than just a swath of Haleakala’s slopes and gulches with Makawao town at its scratchy hub. Upcountry is also a state of mind created over decades by a lot of alternatively minded settlers—from paniolo to painters, healers to higher-consciousness seekers, boutique merchants to body workers. Makawao still has olden days holdouts: Komoda’s bakery, Kitada’s diner. And yet within the same block or two, you can get yourself a massage, a Balinese blouse, a hypnotherapy session and a sack of medicinal herbs from China.
This context sheds some light on Elder’s comment that “Makawao just seemed like the logical place.” Inner Ocean Publishing’s mission is to produce books that promote personal growth and progressive action.