Talking Story

Writing is a reiterative process and creating the cover for a book is no different. The very talented Corey Egbert is the illustrator for the Niuhi Shark Saga and along with myself and the Jolly Fish Press team developed what eventually became the fantastic cover for One Boy, No Water. Surprisingly, our largest creative disagreement was over footwear.

Originally, Zader was going to be portrayed as wearing over-sized old-fashioned hip waders, the kind pineapple pickers used to wear. It’s not as odd as it sounds; it’s actually a plot point in the book. But when we saw the first draft, Christopher Loke, Executive Editor, didn’t like it. He thought it too clunky and wanted something more sleek and modern.

Corey’s next version was what Chris asked for, but I hated it. To my eye it was too girly. After some discussion, we decided to scrap the hip waders and a few other elements in our original design because we felt they were getting in the way of the emotion we wanted a potential reader to feel when he saw the cover.

Excited about the new direction, Chris asked, “What’s on Zader’s feet?”

“Slippahs or bare feet,” I said.

“On a reef?” He looked at me like I was crazy.

“It’s what kids wear,” I said.

“No, not Zader. It’s too dangerous for him to wear that. He wouldn’t do it.”

“He does in one part of the book,” said Kirk Cunningham, Head Publicist for Jolly Fish Press.

“Yeah, he does,” I said. “It’s in the climax.”

“No, it’s not right,” said Chris. “It’s not believable.”

We thought for a minute. I mentally flipped through images, trying to think of the kinds of footwear I’d seen around lava outcrops.

“What about deck shoes?” I asked.

“I LOVE deck shoes,” Chris exclaimed. “You mean the canvas-type shoes?”

“Deck shoes?” Corey asked.

“The kind from places like Landsend and LL Bean. I’ll send you some pictures,” I said.

“It’s deck shoes!” pronounced Chris, and we moved on.

But something about it bugged me and when I saw next draft, I realized why.

In Hawaii, I’ve never seen a local wear deck shoes to the beach or anywhere near water. It’s exclusively a tourist thing. The reason is simple: no matter how carefully you walk around reef, lava rocks, and the ocean, you’re still guaranteed to get your feet wet by either a rogue wave, bigger than expected splash, or unseen tide pool. In Hawaii, deck shoes, even the canvas ones, get ruined if they get ocean water in them—they never really dry out in the humidity and, well, can stink to high heaven if they’re worn again. Since you never, ever wear your shoes in a house in Hawaii (it’s considered very rude) the last thing you want to wear is stinky shoes you’ll have to take off in public.

I’m not sure why so many tourists wear them to the beach–if it’s because tourists get used to seeing these kinds of images in catalogs or because they think these kinds of shoes will protect their feet better or if they just wear shoes more often than locals–but our house was near a blow hole you could access by walking along lava rocks and tide pools and there wasn’t a day we didn’t see a tourist limping back to his car to nurse the blisters he got where the sand and saltwater’d rubbed his feet raw in his deck shoes.

As a local kid, Zader would never wear deck shoes on  a reef.

My hunch was confirmed when I showed the latest image to my kids and husband individually. After “wow” then very next thing each of them said was, “What’s he wearing on his feet?”

I decided I needed to bring up the footwear issue. Again.

JFP’s initial response was no, the deck shoes are great. Slippahs or bare feet would not be as elegant, especially with the heel toward the audience. But then the point was raised that one of our goals for the series was to be true to the local Hawaiian culture, even if that was counter-intuitive to the rest of the world. Corey was green-lighted to change it to slippahs.

I knew it was the right decision when I showed the final version of the cover to my Dad, Mr. Aloha himself, who’d never seen any of the other versions. The first thing he said wasn’t wow or that’s amazing or you’re going to sell a bazillion books with that cover. He said, “Oh, good. He’s in slippers.”

“Really, Dad? That’s the first thing you see? Fo’real?”

“The ghost shark thing is cool. Very sci-fi fantasy. It’s just that when you told me it was a reef scene I was a afraid he’d be in god-awful deck shoes or something.”

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When you’re allergic to water,
growing up in Hawaii
isn’t always paradise.

With Niuhi sharks,
even out of the water,
you’re not safe.

Everything you thought you knew
about Zader is a  lie.