Penn Yan author releases new book, A Telling of Ancestors

Staff Writer
The Chronicle Express
Marion Balyszak

Marion Balyszak, of Penn Yan, announces the release of her book, A Telling of Ancestors, the first in the series, Emma Prince Kauai Mysteries.

A 31-year resident of Yates County, Balyszak is a former non-profit administrator, with a dual degree in history and anthropology, and a minor in museum studies. She ‘retired’ as director of the Finger Lake Institute at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in 2010, having decided to pursue a ‘new chapter’ after years of writing grants, research reports, and long-range plans, not to mention often working 60 to 80 hours a week. 

Her career also included earlier directorships at Seneca Lake Pure Waters Association, the Oliver House Museum in Penn Yan, Cayuga Museum in Auburn, and Seneca Falls Historical Society, along with board and trustee positions with such organizations as the New York Great Lakes Commission, Great Lakes Research Consortium, Seneca Lake Area Partners in Five Counties (SLAP-5), regional water quality committees, Western New York Association of Historical Agencies, and Yates County Chamber of Commerce.

She made her first trip to the north shore of Kauai in 2010 to visit daughter, Katie. 

Emma Prince Kauai Mysteries were inspired by chance after she picked up a book on local history while waiting in line for coffee in Hanalei and at that moment, plans to write a book about gardening changed to fiction. Extended time spent on Kauai since, a passion for history and mysteries with a twist of magical realism, have resulted in a modern-day mystery deeply intertwined with the history and legendary mythic past of Kauai. 

They say write what you know. So, when Balyszak set out to write Emma Prince Kauai Mysteries, she decided to do just that — except in her case it involved a sharp learning curve on Hawaiian history, culture, language, and mythology.

She amassed an ever-growing historical library, visited the Kauai Historical Society and Kauai Museum, utilized the extensive historical resources at the Prince-ville Public Library, conducted internet research, spoke to historians, read The Garden Island daily, including many of the newspaper’s archived articles, and explored the island’s wahi pana, ‘storied places.’  

For Ancestors, she attempted to craft a ka’ao, a fictional story, with an ‘alternative’ history, including a mo’olelo, a narrative or story tied to an historical figure — in this case historical events connected to the life and death nearly two centuries ago of Kaumuali’i, the last independent king of Kauai and Ni’ihau. Although a work of fiction, the book is infused with a generous dose of Hawaiian history and mythology, and what in some cases are more elusive snippets of information written or remembered in the historical annals by Hawaiian historians.

Readers will find a present deeply rooted in the mythic past, ancient legends, and spirituality, enhanced with a bit of mythology and ‘island magic,’  known as mana, a divine power of the gods and deified ancestral spirits, tied to such things as dreams, visions, omens, revelations of the night, and prayer — if you believe such things exist. Balyszak does.

Balyszak hopes her portrayal of paradise is “pono,” a fitting and proper depiction which is as realistic, accurate, and respectful as possible, as has been her intent all along. However, the author notes that while she has done her best to capture the island’s historical and cultural context as accurately as possible, any mistakes are entirely her own. 

Her hope is that readers of all ages and origins, whether island or mainland residents, tourists planning to visit the island, or armchair travelers, will gain an appreciation for something more than just an entertaining ‘story’ when at the end they close the book and want to delve deeper into what is truly an intriguing place.

Balyszak will release the second Emma Prince book, Waking the Sleeping Giant, in June, and is currently writing the third book, Beneath Still Waters.

Copies of Ancestors are available at Longs’ Cards and Books in Penn Yan, or in print and eBook formats from

Information about the books, author, and Kauai is available at Regional book events are pending. Balyszak and husband, Jim, now divide their time between Kauai and Penn Yan.