Feb. 28th: Creative Career Talk
—Salt Lake Center for Science Education, Rose Park
May 7-9th: Storymakers, Provo, UT
—Publishing with Ingram Spark
May 11 – June 9: Oahu Events
May 12-14th: Fantastic Literature of the Pacific Conference, UH Manoa, HI
June 4-7th: Children’s Literature Hawai’i Conference, Oahu
—Keynote speaker, book signings, workshops
—Original play produced by Honolulu Theater for Youth
Sept. 17-19th: FanX, Salt Lake City
—book signing, panels
Nov. 9-13th: 20Books Vegas
A good story is one that resonates with its audience.
This afternoon I had a lot of things I had to do. Writing deadlines dangerously due. Horses, cats, and dogs to care for. House to straighten. Plants to water. Chili to make. Did I mention deadlines?
So, of course, instead of putting my nose to the grindstone, I grabbed a book I’d been meaning to read since my college son came home for Christmas and said, “You need to read this.”
“Manga? I don’t read manga,” I said. “I can’t draw to save my life. When I was directing videos, they hired someone to redo my storyboards, they were so bad.”
“But you create stories. You need to read this.”
I thanked him and said I’d get to it. I knew he wouldn’t recommend it if he didn’t think it worthwhile. I stuck it on the credenza in the living room where it sat, staring at me, until today when I plunked down in front of the fireplace for a couple of hours.
Fireplaces and books are the one good thing about a snowy day.
I wasn’t avoiding writing—not really. Sometimes you do have to push through a tough spot, but I’m facing three tough spots in three different works, and I knew staring at the computer wasn’t going to solve any of them.
But maybe a couple of hours reading a book on craft would shake something loose.
Now I’ve read and studied a hundred or more books on writing and editing. I could start my own specialty bookstore with just what’s lying around my office. I’ve taught courses on story structure, and have edited professionally for decades.
But this book reminded me of a few things I haven’t thought of in years.
Manga in Theory and Practice by Hirohiko Araki is map of how he approaches his work as a mangata, an author and illustrator of Japanese manga. His best known work is JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, arguably one of the most successful shonen manga ever created. His primary target audience is boys 12 to 20, although the real audience is much wider.
Araki knows how to deliver what his readers (and editors) want, but his dissection of what makes good manga great seems diametrically opposed to what is generally considered good story structure to Western-trained writers. The action always rises. The hero always wins. The hero must act in a positive accordance with society’s values—even a seemingly bad action must be done for a noble reason.
In his book, Araki discusses his four key elements of manga: character, story, setting, and themes. The most important, he feels, is character. He spends a lot of time creating detailed character sheets before he writes one word or draws one line, and often includes things that strike me as uniquely Japanese, like listing a character’s blood type because that reveals important character traits. His approach is to create a cast of contrasting characters, give them motivations, and then turn them loose in settings. The dialogue and action flows organically—an approach also used by western writers like Stephen King.
Araki uses specific story beats to drive his story: ki-sho-ten-ketsu, introduction (ki), development (sho), twist (ten), and resolution (ketsu). While there can be several ten beats in a story, there is never the classic try-fail cycles we see in western literature. The action always rises and the antagonists increase in power as the hero grows. The best way to describe this is to think of an underdog baseball team who rises from backyard ball games to the world championship without ever losing a game.
It kinda boggled my mind.
But when I remembered his audience and why Araki writes, it all made sense.
Araki’s rules are founded on principles defined by his audience’s strong likes and dislikes. Heroes that fail? Boring. Heroes that make poor choices? Why am I wasting my time and money?
These conventions absolutely work for his audience—and that’s the key, I think.
Shonen manga readers identify with the heroes. They want to be entertained. They want to see themselves succeed. When the hero wins, it gives them hope that they, too, can face hard things and win.
I’m not certain if this structure and approach directly translates to western stories. For young readers, certainly. Others, probably not. But I’m going to think about this as I tackle my three stubborn works-in-progress.
There’s much more in Manga in Theory and Practice than what I’ve covered. I loved his focus on the first panel, that it makes or breaks the story if the reader won’t care enough to turn the page, and how he says write the story that speaks to you, put your ideals on the page, or the work won’t sing.
My son was happy to hear I finally read his book. He says he’s got a long list of friends in line to read it. I ordered my own copy of Manga in Theory and Practice to put on my bookshelf next to On Writing, Save the Cat, The Story Grid, and The Anatomy of Story.
Not all stories are western stories. It’s good to remember that.
Manga in Theory and Practice by Hirohiko Araki is available from Amazon in hardback and eBook.
Rell never imagined an 18th birthday like this.
When Rell’s stepmonster Regina summons her to Lauele, Hawai’i, she knows better than to expect umbrella drinks, birthday presents, and open arms. The most she hopes for is some quality time with her twin step-sisters, a walk on the beach, and a little fun at a charity auction sponsored by her father’s corporation.
From the moment Rell lands in Honolulu, her life turns upside down as she reconnects with her Hawaiian heritage and discovers she’s surrounded by hidden agendas, lies, and ancient family obligations.
To save Lauele and Get Wet Prosthetics, Rell will have to navigate an island filled with Menehune day laborers, a snow goddesses’ vacation rental, a toppled sacred ‘aumakua stone, disappearing clothing, ‘Ilima as a not-so-fairy-godmother, and—worst of all—her stepmonster’s lawyers.
Rell’s Kiss is a standalone novel inspired by Cinderella. It is Book 2 in Lauele Fractured Folktales, reimagined stories inspired by the world’s oldest tales retold with a Hawaiian twist.
Lauele Fractured Folktales are loosely connected standalone stories in the Lauele Universe that can be read in any order.
Rell’s Kiss features characters from the Niuhi Shark Saga trilogy and other works by Lehua Parker. Chronologically, Rell’s Kiss comes after the events in One Truth, No Lie, Book 3 in the Niuhi Shark Saga trilogy.
EBook available from Amazon and Kindle Unlimited. Paperbacks coming soon!
An earlier version of this story was published as Rell Goes Hawaiian in Fractured Slipper, a collection of Cinderella stories published by Tork Media.
When you’re dating a Niuhi shark in human form, there’s no such thing as a casual Hawaiian fling.
The last thing Justin wants is complications. Jilted at the altar, he’s spending his pre-paid Hawaiian honeymoon alone—sort of. Sasha, his ex, won’t get out of his head. Frustrated, he takes a walk at sunset and discovers a beautiful woman asleep on the sand.
But Pua’s not really a woman.
A shape-shifting Niuhi shark, Pua feels compelled to visit the beach at Lauele. She doesn’t care that it’s forbidden by her father, the ocean god Kanaloa, or that breaking kapu can only end in blood, tears, and teeth. Justin’s a tourist. Here today, gone tomorrow.
Nobody’d even miss him.
What starts out as a casual flirtation soon turns into a high-stakes cat and mouse courtship as neither Justin nor Pua are who—or what—they seem.
Lauele—and their world—will never be the same.
Pua’s Kiss is a standalone novel inspired by The Little Mermaid. It is Book 1 in Lauele Fractured Folktales, reimagined stories inspired by the world’s oldest tales retold with a Hawaiian twist.
Lauele Fractured Folktales are loosely connected standalone stories in the Lauele Universe that can be read in any order.
Pua’s Kiss features characters from the Niuhi Shark Saga trilogy and other works by Lehua Parker. Chronologically, Pua’s Kiss comes before the events in Birth/Hanau and One Boy, No Water, Book 1 in the Niuhi Shark Saga trilogy. It tells the story of how Zader’s parents met and the events that ignited the Niuhi Shark Saga trilogy.
EBook available from Amazon and Kindle Unlimited. Paperbacks coming soon!
An earlier version of this story was published as Pua’s Kiss in Fractured Sea, a collection of Little Mermaid stories published by Tork Media.
Lauele Fractured Folktales are here!
These newly imagined stories are loosely inspired by classic western fairy tales and told with a Hawaiian twist. First up are Pua’s Kiss and Rell’s Kiss. These stories will be available in eBook from Amazon and KU on January 8, 2020 and are published by Makena Press. Paperbacks will be available in February. Nani’s Kiss will be available in eBook in February, with paperback soon to follow.
In the future, I’m planning to write more Lauele Fractured Folktales based on the world’s oldest stories and told with a Hawaiian twist. What are some stories you’d like to see?
Pua’s Kiss is inspired by The Little Mermaid and tells the story of how Zader’s parents met. When you’re dating a Niuhi Shark in human form, there’s no such thing as a casual Hawaiian fling. It’s a prequel to the Niuhi Shark Saga trilogy, but it’s NOT for middle graders or elementary students. It’s a hard PG 13+ with a fade to black sex scene.
Rell’s Kiss. is inspired by Cinderella and tells the story of Rell Watanabe who is summoned to Lauele by her stepmonster and finds herself dealing with Menehune day laborers, Poliahu’s vacation rental, a desecrated ‘aumakua stone, and ‘Ilima as a not-so-fairy godmother. Rell never imagined her 18th birthday like this. The story takes place after the events in the Niuhi Shark Saga trilogy and is a sweet PG romance appropriate for all ages.
Nani’s Kiss is inspired by Sleeping Beauty and Beauty & the Beast. After discussing this story further with my editor, I decided to rework it significantly before publication. I’m hoping to release it in early February. The story takes place in the far future on the planet Hawaiki in the space port of Lauele Iki. It’s PG-13 for its mature themes of politics and violence, but PG in language and sex.
Lauele Fractured Folktales eBooks are currently only available on Amazon. More stores and formats coming soon.
Big Bad Chief Lino by L. Michelle Tago-Tu’itupou and illustrated by Ash Grover is an English language chapter book written to help kids connect with Samoan culture. Born and raised in American Samoa, Michelle first created this narrative as a bedtime story for her mainland-raised kids.
It’s a charming tale about four sisters with sick parents who have travel past scary Chief Lino to gather food. With echos of the classic Three Billy Goats Gruff, the sisters figure out how to face their fears to take care of their family and community. As in Samoan culture, ‘aiga is the heart of the story, and it solidly deliverers a message of compassion, interdependence, and inclusion.
Just like its original form, Big Bad Chief Lino is a perfect bedtime story. The illustrations by Ash Grover are fun and playful and help bring the characters and action to life. In her afterward, L. Michelle Tago-Tu’itupou says she plans to write more stories like this one so that island kids can see themselves in literature.
Big Bad Chief Lino by L. Michelle Tago-Tu’itupou and illustrated by Ash Grover is available in paperback from Amazon.
On the eve of the release of Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker, I’ve been thinking about my Star Wars boyfriend.
I first saw Star Wars at the Kapiolani Theater in Honolulu, late summer 1977, when it was called Star Wars and not A New Hope.
Mom was working, so Dad decided to take us to a Saturday matinee. The lines for Star Wars were hella-long, so at my father’s urging, my younger sister and I wormed our way to the front of the line and bought tickets. Dad sent me in to find seats while he and my sister stood in line for snacks. Kapiolani Theater was huge, about 800 seats, and only showed one movie at a time. I found good seats—not too close, not too far, and in the center of the screen—and sat down.
Somebody plunked down right next to me.
Startled, I turned to find Mike, a kid I knew from the YMCA after school program in Kahala. He went to Hahaione Elementary. I went to Kamiloiki. I was in 6th grade. He was in 5th. At the YMCA, he and I played basketball with the other 5th and 6th grade boys, running full out, barefoot, on sun-baked asphalt courts with loose gravel on top, the reason the bottoms of my feet were like leather.
Can’t run fast in slippahs, yeah?
“Hi,” Mike said.
“Hi, Mike.” I looked around. “Where’s your family?”
“I’m here by myself,” Mike said.
This blew my mind.
“Alone? Fo’real? That’s not safe,” I said. “You better sit with my family.”
Mike nodded. “Thanks. There was a skebe guy in the bathroom. He followed me from the bathroom and sat by me before I moved and sat by you.” He sucked his soda straw, the ice dregs rumbling. He shook his cup. “I’ve seen Star Wars fifteen times.”
“Way. This will be the third time today.”
Nobody has that much money, I thought.
“Shibai,” I said.
“It’s true. Just before the credits roll, I go hide in the bathroom. I close the stall door and squat on the toilet so nobody can see my legs. When they start letting people in for the next showing, I come out and get a seat. Nobody notices a single kid. Well, the skebe guys do.”
Genius, I thought. And totally scary. What’s wrong with him? Movies by himself and hiding in the bathroom? Lucky we came along.
About this time, Dad and my sister appeared, carrying three small sodas and one large popcorn to share. “Hey, Dad, look who’s here. It’s Mike from YMCA.”
“Hi,” Mike said.
Dad didn’t bother acknowledging Mike, but his disapproval poured down on me like a tidal wave of ice. When Dad handed me my soda, I was shocked it was still liquid.
The lights dimmed. Star Wars sucked me into a world that delighted and sparked my imagination, starting with the very first line: A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…
Suddenly, hiding in the bathroom to see it again seemed like a perfectly reasonable thing to do.
The story, the scenes, the characters—all magical—despite Mike whispering to me that this next part was the best, watch for this, watch for that, (seriously, dude, shut-up), and despite the wrath I knew was waiting for me when the credits rolled and Mike slipped away again to the bathroom.
Over the years, my friends and I would discuss our theories about Luke, Leia, Han, and the Force. We broke down the story, looked for hidden meanings, and pondered the power of the Force. We cast ourselves in various roles. Others were always Luke, Leia, and Han; I was often cast as Admiral Ackbar—blah and a little bit creepy, but better, I thought, than friends who were assigned to be Jawas or Stormtroopers.
We were working with a story universe we created from two movies and one crappy holiday special that just confused us. (Life Day? This feels like a bad Andy Williams special. And no way Chewbacca has a son named Lumpy.)
In my mind, I made up my own character, a badass Jedi outside of the Skywalker clan. A cousin, maybe. We anticipated the next movie with all the zeal that my future kids would have for the next Harry Potter book. We debated, dreamed, and hoped.
We’re shaped by the stories we think about. Star Wars certainly changed how I viewed the world.
It also changed the way my father viewed me.
Later, no matter what I said, Dad never believed that I didn’t plan to meet Mike at the theater. In his mind, I ruined his special family movie by inviting an interloper, a boy, and played my father for a patsy in a burgeoning pre-pubescent romance. If Dad had stopped to really think about it, I never had time or opportunity to tell Mike when we’d be there. I didn’t know myself. More importantly, as any kid knows, there was never going to be a romance between an obey-all-the-rules 6th grade girl and a snot-nosed 5th grade boy with a dubious moral code, especially since I was a head taller and a much better basketball player.
Things changed between my dad and me that day, although I didn’t understand or recognize it at the time. I was now Suspect and Boy Crazy in his mind—pretty hilarious since all the guys that I went to dances with in high school except one (Hi Larry!) eventually came out of the closet. I never had a boyfriend until I went away to college, and that one I married. June marks our 33rd wedding anniversary.
Looking back, Dad should have known that the too-loud, awkward, bookish tomboy, all elbows and knees, was too busy competing with the boys or reading books to have time for romance.
Tonight I have tickets to the last Star Wars movie in the nine story arc. At the end of a 42 year journey, things are different. This time, near midnight, I am going to sit next to my boyfriend, in heated deluxe loungers, with reserved seats—no waiting in long lines except for popcorn and soda–which I probably won’t drink because I don’t want to take the chance that I’ll have to miss any part of the movie.
We will hold hands.
Maybe even smooch in the parking lot.
This week I’ve been in graphic design hell as I’ve been trying to create new covers for the first of three stories based on re-imagined western fairy tales with a Hawaiian twist. The books have been ready for quite awhile–it’s the eBook, paperback, and hardback covers that have been holding up publication.
The whole thing has been driving me crazy.
Once I have a solid concept, I turn the designs in progress to different focus groups. They’re told that the books are standalone serials that are only loosely linked through recurring characters and settings from other books I write and that they there are sci-fi or magical realism with romance elements. People looked at them and then submitted their feedback in writing. I took their feedback and refined the designs, eventually showing a new iteration to more focus groups until I thought I had the best cover possible given my limitations of time and money. The finer details got refined by a trusted handful of people.
Here’s where I started about a week ago.
I liked that flowers and borders framed the series as a set. The title fonts and center images gave clues about the genre for each story. The additional text explained that these were riffs on traditional fairy tales. Winner, winner, chicken dinner, right?
Public Focus Group Feedback #1
“Too much text.”
“These don’t look like they go together. Use the same fonts.”
“Fonts need work.”
“You can’t sell romances set in the same world with different genres. Are you stupid?”
“Everything is wrong. You need to hire me to create proper covers. You’re going to fail at this.”
(I looked up this person’s portfolio. Once I stopped laughing, I took everything they said with an ocean of salt.)
I dropped the floral border, change font colors and the bar/band textures, and other minor changes.
Public Focus Group Feedback #2
“Too much text.”
“Body parts are horrible on romance covers.”
“These look like different genres. One looks sci-fi, one looks chick-lit, and the other is just terrible.”
“Use the same font on all the titles.”
“The quality of the artwork with the flowers was better.”
“Unless you’re Stephen King, nobody cares what else you’ve written, and if you’re Stephen King, you don’t have to brag.”
“Rell is whiter than the others. Was this intentional?”
“Pua looks like she has mutton chops.”
“Unless Nani doesn’t have arms in the story, her truncated limbs are freaking me out.”
“You’re going to get sued for calling these Fractured Folktales. It’s too close to Fractured Fairytales.”
(Nope. No copyright issues. But thanks for the warning.)
“Fonts need work.”
“You’re hiding the beautiful artwork behind too much text. Let the art tell the story.”
“Hire me. These suck.”
(Also reviewed this person’s portfolio. Hard pass.)
Changed Rell from an ‘okole shot to a whole person, realigned all the images, used the same font for the titles, dropped top bar, and other small changes.
Public Focus Group Feedback #3
“I liked it with all the flowers better.”
“Fonts need work.”
“So much better without all that text.”
Changed Rell to a more active pose, changed title font styles and location, cropped images differently, other minor changes.
Small Focus Group Feedback 4
“There’s something weird about Pua’s stomach.”
“Mom, I’m busy with finals.”
“Come to bed. It’s 4:30 am.”
I think this where they will end up–or something very similar. The font snaps and can be read at thumbnail size for eBooks. I like that the women are strong and beautiful on the covers. We’ll test market them a little in eBook before committing to paperback and maybe hardback options. What do think?
And now to start on the backs and spines–and blurbs and meta data. Send chocolate. It’s going to be another long week.
Ho‘onani: Hula Warrior is a picture book written by Heather Gale, illustrated by Mika Song, and published by Tundra Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House. It’s based on the true story of Ho‘onani Kamai, a young gender queer girl growing up in Kalihi Valley who wants to lead the boys in a hula performance. Her story is also told in A Place in the Middle, a documentary written by Kumu Hina Wong-Kalu and produced and directed by Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson.
I first came to this story through the book. Things to love about the book in no particular order: it’s published by a mainstream publisher; it tells a story of empowerment; at its heart the message is inclusive and affirming; it uses Hawaiian language; it brings aspects of Hawaiian culture to a wide audience; it’s a picture book for kids about real people in Hawaii facing modern challenges, not geckos, turtles, or ancient legends. All of these things put this book squarely in the win column.
While there is much to love about the book, I was dismayed and disappointed that it didn’t appear to be a very Hawaiian telling of Ho‘onani’s experience. The story arc is very western—Ho‘onani’s sister Kana plays the traditional role of villain by not initially supporting her in leading the boys and is embarrassed by her being gender queer—called being in the middle in the story. But with encouragement from Kumu Hina, Ho‘onani, the hero, preservers, and Kana supports her in the end. There are other small things that bugged me as outsider-ish, like the illustrations of food on their plates and the curious mixture of proper Hawaiian language complete with kahako and ‘okina markings alongside phonetic interpretations such as “Hai alla, hai alla, eh-oi-ay!” in the dialogue. Really, they just should’ve stuck with the proper language in all the dialogue and used a pronunciation guide in the back.
With such a mixed bag, I didn’t quite know how to review this title.
But then I saw the documentary it’s based on, and it all became so much clearer.
A Place in the Middle is the story I wish Ho‘onani: Hula Warrior more faithfully told. It’s definitely from a Hawaiian perspective. It doesn’t need a western hero-villain arc to discuss the evolution of mahu—kane-wahine and wahine-kane—people in the middle—from our ancestral past to modern day realities. In the documentary, Ho‘onani is simply who she is, and she has the grace and maturity to articulate that while some people don’t understand her, that’s just who they are, just like she’s just the way she is. The world will catch up to her someday and until then, she’s going to continue to lead, learn, and teach. Kumu Hina’s example and message that breaks down to as a kid, sometimes you have to bend to others’ expectations, but when you’re a grown-up, you won’t is chicken-skin powerful. Ho‘onani is supported by her school, family, and community. We’re on the journey to see her in action. She’s not a problem to solve.
And I really like that.
I also like that she calls herself a girl because she has physical girl parts, but identifies as in the middle because she possess both masculine and feminine energy. Refreshingly, neither the documentary nor the book discuss her sexual orientation. Sexual orientation is often confused with identity and can pull the focus away from exploring cultural gender roles, which is really what this story is about.
Should you buy Ho‘onani: Hula Warrior ?
Absolutely. We need more books like this one. The only way this will happen is if we can demonstrate to traditional publishers that there is a demand for these kinds of books.
But be sure to watch the documentary, A Place in the Middle. Just click here or on the title in this article to get to the website where you can view it for FREE. There are also free classroom materials and other short videos on that website.
Taken together, the book and documentary will give folks a lot to think and talk about with their keiki. And that’s a good thing.
“Gamble” is a new short story I wrote that’s coming out in an anthology called Grifty Shades of Fey, published by Fiction Vortex.
It’s a noir story, kinda like a something from the 1950s in tone. “Gamble” is about a mortal named Jace, the goddess of Chance, a kidnapped woman about to be whisked away to another dimension by some serious baddies, and a pair of dice that reveal whether a venture will be successful–or not. There’s nothing particularly Hawaiian in this one, but it was a lot of fun to write.
Grifty Shades of Fey features stories about fairies, brownies, and other creatures that go bump in the night by best-selling fantasy, horror, and speculative fiction authors. It’s only available for a short time in hardback, paperback, and eBook. Click on the link below to order your copies in time for Christmas.
One day Mom called me in from playing. She gave me a tuna fish sandwich and some carrot sticks and said there was a brand new TV show just for me. I don’t remember eating lunch, but I do remember a big yellow bird and a monster in a trash can.
For years, Sesame Street kept me company while I ate lunch. Later, when it switched to late afternoon, I knew when it was over, Dad would be walking through the door.
I haven’t watched Sesame Street in decades. My kids seldom watched it, probably because by the time they were born there were so many shows—entire channels!—just for them, that Sesame Street was lost in the crowd. But last night I watched Sesame Street’s 50th Anniversary Celebration on PBS.org, streaming it when convenient, freed from my childhood angst of clock-watching to be sure I didn’t miss it.
I knew when it started that things could not be the same, but I was still shocked to hear Not Big Bird’s Voice and Not Grover and Not Kermit and Not Oscar.
Seeing Bob made me tear up. He’ll always be in his thirties and forties to me.
There were no palm trees or beaches on Sesame Street, and that in itself was endlessly fascinating. Kids wore shoes ALL the time! They lived in big brick buildings with gigantic concrete steps they could sit on. They could walk on sidewalks to Mr. Hooper’s Store where there was not a single crack seed jar in the joint. And while kids were shown running and playing on grass in the opening song, I never saw kids doing that on Sesame Street.
No wonder they wore shoes all the time.
A loaf of bread, a container of milk, and a stick of butter.
How did anyone buy a single stick of butter? And why a container of milk, not a carton? Didn’t mainland milk come in a waxed paper cartons with Lani Moo or hibiscuses on them?
So many questions!
50 years later, people still remember the songs, sketches, characters, and the promise of Sesame Street. Muppets and humans in all shapes, sizes, ages, abilities, and colors were portrayed as family, and by extension, so were we. Sesame Street created a television community that stretched from Hawai’i to New York and beyond. In a time when people are theoretically more connected than ever, there’s no show like this one that rallies children from all walks of life into a community. There are simply too many choices now.
A little ironic, don’t you think?