With the launch party for One Boy, No Water just ten days away, I’ve been doing some publicity interviews. (I know!) One of the questions that keeps popping up is about the genesis of the story. People want to know which Hawaiian myth or legend it comes from and if it’s a myth or a legend. Here’s the real scoop.
Those that parse such distinctions define a legend as a story about actual events or people that sometimes include imaginative elements, or as I like to think of them, the stuff that makes the story good. Myths are defined as stories that are considered completely imaginary that attempt to explain the natural world through symbolism. Personally, I think it’s all a matter of cultural bias. One person’s myth is another’s legend. It all depends on world-view. Out of respect, I tend to call all these kinds of stories legends.
With One Boy, No Water and the rest of the Niuhi Shark Saga, there’s been some confusion, especially in the earliest press releases. I don’t think Jolly Fish Press, the publisher, got it initially. There isn’t a Niuhi shark legend in traditional Hawaiian literature, but Hawaiian culture, traditions, and legends do play an important role in the series.
Most cultures have stories about shape-shifters. Throughout the Pacific there are lots of stories about gods and demi-gods who could change form, including human to shark. Niuhi is the Hawaiian word for “shark large enough to eat a human” which I used to describe beings who are really sharks that are self-aware in their role as predators and can appear as people on land. In my imagination I created a backstory where at one point they lived side-by-side with ancient Hawaiians who knew and accepted what they were. After western contact and the fall of the kapu system, the Niuhi moved away and into hiding. In my books only a few people remember the stories and fewer believe, only the ones with ancestral family ties to Niuhi.
To be clear, there is a Hawaiian legend about a boy named Nanaue who is raised as a human but can turn into a shark. Nanaue eats unsuspecting villagers until they unmask and banish him. There are other Hawaiian legends about humans that can turn into sharks that help fishermen and those lost at sea, and even legends about deified ancestors appearing as sharks and protecting family members, all of which influenced the series, but do not define its story arc. The series is not a retelling of Nanaue. Promise.
Where I think the confusion crept in was when I told JFP that Uncle Kahana, the mentor character, would also bring in other Hawaiian legends into storyline, allowing me to share some Hawaiian culture and lore with the rest of the world. I’m talking about Menehunes, ghosts, and other supernatural beings. I think that got twisted a little to imply that the story itself is from a Hawaiian legend.
While it’s being marketed as middle grade and book one is appropriate for that age group, in my mind the whole series is more young adult coming of age and is about eventually choosing to define yourself and how you want to live your life despite what others want you to do. Unknown to Zader is his true nature and the reason he’s been hidden among Uncle Kahana’s family. In One Boy, No Water he gets some strong hints that things are not what he thought they were. After leaving him alone for 12 years, in book 2, his biological family begins to interact with him and more of his true nature rises to the surface. Above all the mystery is a more mundane story about a kid who doesn’t fit in and what choices he and his friends make as they grow up in modern Hawaii.
One Boy, No Water is at its heart a Hawaiian story and like most Hawaiian stories is full of hidden meanings called kaona. Nothing is what it appears to be on the surface. Even Zader’s Hawaiian name is a clue: Kaona-kai, a hidden or concealed sea. It’s my hope that the series is enjoyed by both kinds of readers: the careful readers who search for clues and the deeper kaona and those who would rather just enjoy the ride, taking the saga along the surface all the way to the beach.
Either way, it’s going to be a wild ride!