Author J.F.R. Titchenell, Confessions of the Very First Zombie Slayer (That I Know Of), asked what scares me. Here’s my response.
Picking up The Niuhi Shark Saga, you’d think I was afraid of sharks. It’s right there in the title of the series. In the books people get stalked by sharks, bit by sharks, and die because of sharks. As an island kid growing up in the ocean during the 1970s—the premier Jaws era—it would make a lot of sense.
But sharks don’t scare me.
Being alone and misunderstood does.
You don’t have to be Sigmund Freud to figure out the sub-text of The Niuhi Shark Saga. I grew up a part-Hawaiian, but perpetually sunburned haole-looking girl in Kahului, Maui. From kindergarten through fourth grade, I was the only person with blond hair and blue-eyes in the entire school district, including the staff.
This didn’t change until my family moved to Kalama Valley on Oahu, where in 5th grade at Kamiloiki Elementary there were more kids who looked like me. But nobody spoke Pidgin, which I thought was the language of school. You can imagine my surprise when my teacher, nose in the air, told my mother I needed remedial English lessons and she was recommending me for Resource, which was code for special ed and not in her classroom. I didn’t need English lessons. I just needed to speak as I spoke at home at school.
The shock on Mrs. Goo’s face when I switched mid-sentence from Pidgin to perfect English was almost worth the hell of being in her class.
Almost. I won’t say more, except that when you’re a kid, being good at sports is crucial to overcoming prejudice. That, and a great right hook.
Consequently, a lot of my fiction involves a character that is isolated from others, usually for a reason he or she has no control over. In The Niuhi Shark Saga, Zader is isolated because he’s allergic to water. He’s the weird kid that others put up with because of his popular surfing star brother, Jay.
In One Boy, No Water, Zader fears being left behind if Jay and Char Siu get accepted into Ridgemont Academy for ninth grade. Without Jay around, there’s the real possibility that Zader will be the Blalah’s perpetual punching bag. But as the story progresses, Zader discovers that Jay needs him too, and that being different can be a source of strength.
In One Shark, No Swim and One Truth, No Lie, Zader and Jay learn that anything they love can be taken away. Because of love, Zader sacrifices himself and travels the world alone, wary that he will turn into the monster everyone thinks he is. Jay becomes consumed with revenge, loses his golden boy status, and has to humble himself and learn from others before he can find peace in the ocean again. Both Zader and Jay reject what others think are their destinies, and prove that family are people you choose and not necessarily related by blood.
The Niuhi Shark Saga takes place in modern Hawaii where all the Hawaiian myths, legends, and gods are real, but under the radar of most humans. It’s my hope that readers come away with a deeper understanding of island life than what’s reflected in Hollywood movies and shows like Hawaii 5-0.
And there are sharks. Did I mention the sharks? Monster-sized Niuhi sharks, with mouthfuls of teeth, all-consuming hunger, and extra-sensory perception. They are apex predators without a lick of human remorse or conscience.
Oh, and Niuhi sharks? They can appear in human form. Unlike Jaws, if a Niuhi shark is interested in you, even on land, you’re not safe. There is no bigger boat.