Maui Nei

Art has been defined as the distortion of fact to arrive at truth. The best fiction is an artful diversion, another world to occupy for a short length of time. The worlds created by Toby Neal aren’t that far away for readers on Maui.

This prolific writer – 10 novels and counting – is a psychologist who has turned a lifetime in the islands into a wordsmith’s dream. She is a successful professional writer, both creatively and financially. With a considerable investment in money, time and hard work, Neal has exploited most, if not all, the possibilities presented by the Internet. She has gone from trying to sell her work through traditional publishers to e-book publishing. That was just a beginning, as abecedarian writers following that path soon learn.

By putting some 50 percent of her effort into marketing, Neal has been able to quit her day job and still earn an admirable living, one book sale at a time with no middlemen taking a cut of the proceeds. According to a blog, she earns something like $10,000 a month. Those kinds of sales – at roughly $4 a pop – result from assembling a production team, an active social media presence, and the creation of a series of female-centered crime novels that have hooked readers by the score.

It didn’t hurt that she sets her books in the islands, the latest two on Maui and a third with a denouement in the crater atop Haleakala.

The crime series is built around an engaging character, Lei Texeira, an impulse-driven detective who bags the bad guys while risking life, limb, professional reputation and personal relations. At the beginning of her latest novel, “Shattered Palms,” Neal quotes Proverbs 27:8: “Like a bird that strays from its nest is a man or woman who strays from home.” That could refer to Texeira’s romantic turmoil and/or to the endangered native birds being poached in the Waikamoi “cloud forest.”

In her previous “Somewhere on Maui” novel, which is a companion “romance” to the crime series, Lei just barely manages to finally marry the love of her life, a fellow Maui Police Department detective. She is monomaniacal by her job as an MPD detective.

The third of Neal’s latest novels is “Unsound,” a first-person account by a psychologist who works with the Hilo police department as a requested counselor and with possibly dangerous clients sent to her by the courts. She also references Lei Texeira, “that extraordinary young officer who’d shaken up the station and continued to make headlines as she barreled after bad guys.” In this book, the troubled psychologist seeks a kind of refuge in Haleakala Crater and ends up fighting for her life.

The novel that best captures what modern life is like on our island home is “Somewhere on Maui.” The central character, Zoe, is a freelance journalist working on a magazine piece about Internet dating while living in an ohana unit in Paia. Offering herself up on a dating site, she meets a muscle-flexing bodybuilder, a sexually attractive captain of industry and a local guy with very local sensibilities.

The local guy, Adam, loves surfing, his family and two hanai children. He grew to love the children during a short marriage to their unstable mother. A very island part of the story is his fight to formally adopt the keiki.

The Internet leads to Zoe having a date with Adam. It doesn’t go well. They later meet accidentally in a psychologist’s waiting room. Sparks fly, but both are gun-shy. He’s there due to anger issues. She is dealing with depression brought on by a failed marriage and a sense of Mainland oppression. She tells the shrink, “I can’t be myself right now.”

Neal handles the sex scenes in her latest books from a very female and romantic perspective. Her descriptions of the island itself appear a little muddled to a Maui-loving journalist but should be more than adequate for off-island readers.

Labeling Neal’s books as women’s fiction would be a mistake. The prose, which ranges from flowery to muscular, and the characters she creates should appeal to male readers as well. Her storylines are gripping, more than enough to keep a reader turning the pages, if that’s what it’s called on an e-book.

The entire inventory of Toby Neal books, each readable in four hours or so, is available from Amazon and other e-book sellers. Google Toby Neal for her website and blogs.

* Ron Youngblood is a retired editor and staff writer for The Maui News. His email address is

Maui Nei

The phone rang twice that morning. The first call was bad news about one of the outdoor cats. Malone had come down with several terminal health problems exacerbated by old age. The decision was made, reluctantly, to have him put down. Saying the fateful words spawned an emotional funk that shrouded the second call.

“Uncle Ron, it’s your nephew, Lance.” The voice disappeared in a welter of noise. He must be using a cellphone or a wireless extension. The voice asked about the weather on Maui. It asked about my health.

After years of silence, contact had been re-established with his mother only in the last year or so via emails and phone calls. She and her three sons are the only family left. Lance was the youngest of three nephews last seen during a Mainland trip 21 years before.

The voice quivered. He seemed to be crying, or trying not to cry. With the bad connection, it was hard to tell. Something was wrong. One statement came through clearly.

“Please don’t tell anyone, especially mom.” The voice went on to tell a tale. A friend at work had won a trip to Mexico for two. Lance had been asked to come along. The two of them planned to drive to Mayan ruins with “two guys” they had met in Mexico City.

They had been stopped by police. Lance, a former state police officer and holder of a university degree in jurisprudence, told the officers they could search the car. “They found a kilo of marijuana. I had no idea that crap was in the car.” The voice could be shaking due to extreme humiliation over the situation. The lousy connection made it hard to tell.

The voice said he was being held temporarily at the U.S. embassy. “What?” The voice disappeared in the noise. “I’ll turn you over to Sergeant Sam Roberts and he’ll explain” came through the noise. There was a pause.

A voice identified himself as Sgt. Sam Roberts. The connection was excellent. He explained the situation in detail. Lance was due in court. He would surely be acquitted, but it would be a couple of days before he could be released from custody. Could I come up with bail money? Yes. “We need $1,145. Could you do a wire transfer of the money?” Speed was important.

“We’ve handled situations like this before. It’s obvious your nephew is innocent but he is facing six or seven weeks in jail before he can be heard in court.” He asked me for Lance’s last name. I suffered brain fade and said I didn’t know. My sister had three husbands. Sgt. Roberts said he understood and would check the court document. There was a longish pause. He gave me Lance’s last name as Hampton.

Roberts detailed how I could send the money. He even knew the closest Western Union office. “It’s important you call me back as soon as possible with the tracking number. Don’t mention the reason or he’ll have trouble crossing the border.”

Money on its way within an hour, I called 1-514-649-7798 and heard “U.S. Embassy. How can I help?” The call was transferred to Roberts. I gave him the tracking number. In a subsequent call, Roberts said all was well and I was to call again the next day.

Overnight, 50 years of newsman skepticism finally kicked in. Too much wasn’t adding up. I checked a recent email from Lance. The last name was what I finally remembered. The next day: “Sergeant Roberts is away from his desk. Can you call back in an hour?” Wait an hour. Roberts said the bail money would be returned by certified embassy check “next week,” but “Lance” needed more money for expenses and to prevent him from “having to return and do community service.”

“This is beginning to sound like a scam,” Roberts was told. He put “Lance” back on the line. When asked, “Lance” said he’d changed his last name a year ago but hadn’t bothered with his email address. I asked him to name his two brothers. He didn’t answer and angrily accused me of doubting his identity. “Roberts” came back on the phone. Still fearing I was leaving my nephew in the lurch, I hung up.

I finally called my sister. Lance had taken her to a concert the night before. All they needed for identification was the tracking number.

My sister said a similar scam had been tried on her a year ago. Only a lack of funds and hours of checking had prevented it. We decided the con artists probably came up with the names and connections by hacking emails, from her Facebook page and the tag line on “Maui Nei” – all available on the Internet.

Lesson learned, a lesson that cost $1,145.

* Ron Youngblood is a retired editor and staff writer for The Maui News. His email is

Maui Nei

The fifth of eight children born to Manual and Mary Cravalho was a key player in a political revolution 60 years ago. Small in stature but large in shrewd intellect, Elmer F. Cravalho – he never used his middle name, Franklin – went from a hardscrabble childhood to a financial success that allowed him to legally adopt five children and support the education of 45 others in the Philippines.

The 1954 revolution by union-backed Democrats wrenched political power in Hawaii from the plantation-dominated Republicans. In an hourslong interview in 1987, Cravalho said the overthrow took guts since being aligned with the unions was considered tantamount to joining the Communist Party.

Nothing could be further from the facts. He was a capitalist, through and through – a capitalist with a desire to help his fellow Mauians.

Cravalho’s political career is well-known by Maui old-timers – territorial legislator, speaker of the House and mayor of Maui County. He was one of the architects of Maui’s early tourism policy: Cater to those who can afford to spend and protect local life to keep from ruining what attracted tourists. His financial acumen is less known.

His father was an elementary school teacher who became a principal. His son said for many years the maximum pay was $150 a month for a teacher and $300 a month for a principal. The large Cravalho family had to make do. “We didn’t have any money,” he said.

Manual Cravalho did manage to pick up small parcels of land, including the Waiakoa property I call home. Maui’s economy was at rock bottom and father Cravalho bought low-priced property on installments. Cash was in short supply on the island. Manual Cravalho later lost all of his holdings.

Those early years of having little or no money in the house shaped Elmer F. Cravalho’s ideas about spending. “I have a reputation for being tight. When you don’t have much they call you a tight bastard and then after a certain point, you become a fiscal conservative.” He told that as a joke, but it has more than a kernel of truth.

Although intent on becoming a farmer, Elmer F. Cravalho found himself a teacher in Haiku, Paia and Kula. Spending $250 and three months campaigning for his first term in the Legislature and getting elected meant he couldn’t commit to a year of teaching. He went to work as a $50-a-month janitor at Kula Gym and began building his personal assets by buying a hapai cow for $100 from Joe Medeiros. At the time, Cravalho didn’t have $100.

“Joe told me ‘you pay me bumbye when the calf comes.’ ” That sort of trust was a hallmark of Cravalho’s policies when he and six others raised $35 to start the Kula Credit Union, which eventually occupied a custom Waiakoa office now used as a veterinary clinic. The KCU had assets of $40 million and a collection rate of 98.6 percent when it merged with Maui Federal Credit Union earlier this year. A big part of the KCU success was due to Cravalho’s willingness to loan money on the basis of character.

At one point, auditors went over the books and complained about him loaning money to individuals with little or no collateral. Cravalho simply pointed at the low, low default rate. He knew the borrowers and was confident they would repay the loans. They nearly always did.

Later, Cravalho became office manager for Maui Dry Goods, the parent company of a number of Maui businesses, including a car dealership. He said he made “a couple of bucks” on investments and started a piggery in Puunene. At one point, he had 1,500 pigs in addition to his cattle. A decade after being mayor, his yearly income was “in the six figures.”

As mayor, Cravalho was notorious for showing up for work at 6 a.m. to go through the county’s spreadsheets, looking for unnecessary expenses and ways of increasing revenue without hiking taxes.

His public life began because of severe drought in 1946. He became a leader of the Kula Independent Ranchers, helping to find range and water for stock. It was also his introduction to negotiating with government bureaucracies during the course of getting permits for government grazing land.

During that wide-ranging interview in 1987, Cravalho said he’d like his epitaph to read “he was one of us.”

With the merger this year of the Kula Credit Union and the Maui Federal Credit Union, Elmer F. Cravalho finally retired at age 84. He’d run the KCU without pay for more than 20 years. A capitalist? Yes. With a social conscience? Most definitely.

* Ron Youngblood is a retired editor and staff writer for The Maui News. His email address is

Maui Nei

They went away as boys and those who survived came home as men. Some volunteered to answer their country’s call and others were drafted. All collected memories, and sometimes guilt, they would like to forget.

In the world wars and Korea, the most extreme result of experiences etched on minds and souls was called shell shock. An infamous example came during WWII. Gen. George Patton angrily slapped an otherwise healthy soldier who had suffered a mental and emotional collapse. The general displayed the kind of incomprehension too often displayed by the public. The less obviously wounded hid their emotions. They lived in a society that said men don’t cry.

It wasn’t until long after the Vietnam War the result of buried memories was diagnosed as post-traumatic stress disorder, or not-so simply as PTSD. WWII and Korean War victims of the malady largely were ignored. Vietnam veterans carried the additional anger of coming home to a hostile public. More sufferers of PTSD are coming home from the Mideast.

One Mauian apparently was killed by PTSD. By all accounts, he was not diagnosed, but showed many of the symptoms. To protect the memory of this widely known island character, let’s call him James. This is his story.

Characteristically, James traveled a winding road on Maui. At one time, he was a professional diver, working with tourists and hunting the sea bottom off Lahaina for puka shells. For this high-risk job, he breathed through an air hose running from a gas-engine compressor on a boat.

“I nearly died when the compressor sucked in carbon monoxide from the exhaust,” James once said. His war experiences went untold. Although he maintained an interest in diving, he went ashore to work in construction. He didn’t want to dive, even recreationally. He wanted to remember the lush ocean off West Maui as it was, not as the barren reefs of today.

James dove into what he called nail-bending, taking on all sorts of jobs, including the construction of several clothing stores for the woman who shared his unsettled life for a time. At one point, he talked officials into renting him a state-owned house in Olinda and was introduced to marijuana, which proved to take the edges off his personality. It’s called self-medication.

Eventually, James acquired an Upcountry store. He bought a place devoted to outdoor and hunting gear and acquired a federal license to sell firearms. To maintain some sort of income, he slowly shifted from selling knives and guns to more benign goods.

James spent his days holding court behind a counter near the front entrance. He had a vintage M1 bayonet in the drawer under his cash register. Nearby was a fax machine he used for business and salty letters to the editor.

On the streets around his store he displayed a quick temper when faced by rowdies. Neighboring store operators appreciated his efforts. In his pocket, James carried a sap, a lead-weighted, leather cudgel that could flatten the biggest tough. In one boot, there was a .22-caliber pistol. At home, he had an AR15, the civilian version of the M16 assault rifle.

His temper was well-known. One individual goaded James. The first time, the confrontation was verbal. “The next time he gets in my face, I’m going to take him down,” James said.

A friend counseled restraint. “That’s what he wants you to do and you’ll end up in jail.” That same friend once responded angrily to a letter James had written. It was only by a feat of control – the effort was visible on his face – the friend escaped an extreme reaction.

One fateful day at a social event, James suffered a stroke. He awoke in the hospital, looked around, ripped the tubes out of his arm, got dressed and called for a cab to take him home. He claimed leaving the hospital against medical advice was due to a lack of insurance. Others should have known better. It was more likely not wanting someone else in control and a lack of trust that prompted the move.

James had lingering affects of the stroke, which could have been cured with drugs he would have received in the hospital. A couple of years later, he had another stroke. This one proved fatal for the Vietnam veteran. He didn’t need to die.

Other Mauians suffering from PTSD don’t need to suffer. Veterans of military service protected those of us who didn’t go. Now it’s time to fight for them.

* Ron Youngblood is a retired editor and staff writer for The Maui News. His email address is