I’m working on an introduction to short story I wrote that’s going to be in an anthology of retold fairy and other traditional tales published by University of Hawaii. My into is waaaaaay overdue. I’m working on the fourth completely new version–I didn’t like my previous attempts. Hoping fourth time’s the charm.
But as I’ve been thinking about fairy tales and what makes a story Hawaiian vs Islander vs Malihini vs Outsider, I remembered the first time I heard a western fairy tale told through an islander lens. It was a record called Pidgin English Children’s Stories. I heard it in the “listening center” at Kahului or maybe Kihei elementary school, a corner of a large classroom that had a record player and a couple of big can headphones that connected into the player with giant phone jacks. The headphones were so big–or our heads were so small–we had to hold them onto our heads with both hands. When I close my eyes, I can still smell the dusty wood smell of the cabinet where the records were kept and even feel the wobbly cardboard cover. We had two records in our listening center–this one and “Paint it Black” by the Rolling Stones. Not kidding. Life really is weirder than fiction.
It’s also true that everything is on the internet. Originally recorded in 1961, I found one of the stories from the album–Cinderella–on YouTube. Listening to it again, here’s a lot I didn’t understand as a kid. But maybe the best stories are that way–they grow with us. If you’re interested, here’s the link. And now to get back to that intro I’m writing! (Sorry! It’s coming today, promise!)
May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in the United States (AAPI Month). Through out May, I’m going to be posting about books written by Pacific Islanders that celebrate island culture front and center. Up first:
There’s a wide range of what’s considered middle grade, with the sweet spot as a story that’s on at least a 5th grade reading level with a complex story structure centered around themes and characters that reflect the interests and lived experiences of 5th through about 9th graders. Crushes are perfect. Anger, loss, or awareness of a bigger world and the challenges it brings are also appropriate, as are wonder, joy, fear, and humor. Like kids developmentally this age, characters are often exploring away from adult safety nets, but there’s an underlying sense that while things may be different in the end, it’s going to be okay. Stories that deal with more mature themes–things that go beyond first kisses or delve into abuse–are generally considered Young Adult rather than Middle Grade.
And yes, those things happen to middle graders, too. However, most booksellers and librarians try to keep these imaginary boundaries drawn on their bookshelves, which is why Middle Grade is usually in the Children’s section and Young Adult is in the nomad-land of Teen Fiction, more commonly shelved by genre.
Without further ado, here are Pacific Islander Middle Grade titles you need to read. Click on the image to see it on Amazon.
In the story, 12 year old Kino and her mother move to Hawaii to live with her maternal grandparents in Kalihi, Oahu. With her grandfather ill and her family facing eviction from their home, Kino discovers that she has an ancient destiny to save both Hawaii and her grandfather by going back in time to 1825. There she meets the young Kamehameha III just prior to his ascension to the throne. After meeting with a kahuna at a heiau, it becomes clear that in order to return to her own time, Kino must go on a quest for four objects gathered from various parts of Oahu—and of course the young prince is going to come along.
As the adventure quest plot unfolds, Jen deftly weaves in aspects of Hawaiian culture and history. Islanders will recognize kapu customs, protocol, and Hawaiian legends such as night marchers, Pele, Kamapua‘a, sacred waterfalls, ‘aumakua, choking ghosts, and magic gourds and calabashes.
‘Ewa Which Way by Tyler Miranda peels back the bandage of what adults think adolescence is like to expose the raw, oozing strawberry of reality. I loved this book for its ability to show all the complicated rules, expectations, and entanglements of being a 12-year-old boy trying to make sense out of adult behavior. Set in ‘Ewa Beach, Hawaii in 1982, Landon DeSilva and his brother Luke know that lickins can fall from the sky like lightning, that a certain side-eye from a parent means a storm’s coming, and that sometimes no matter how long you hold your breath you can’t escape, but have to endure the wave to the end.
For Landon, things are bad at home, but not bad enough. Not enough for child protective services to swoop in and spirit Landon and Luke to a new home, not enough for the cops to do more than show up when his parents’ fights wake the neighbors, and not enough for his mother to realize her marriage is over. Throughout the novel Landon tries to figure out what he’s supposed to do when there’s really nothing he can. His parents’ troubles are deep—there’s guilt, prejudices of class and race, loss, alcohol abuse and valium popping coping mechanisms, unfulfilled expectations, and sheer dysfunction. Landon sees it all with the clarity of a twelve-year-old and his reactions and understandings are heartbreaking and true. Adult readers will read not only the story, but all the words and character motivations between the lines. It’s powerful, immediate, and like a bloody scrapped knee, painfully evocative of the transition between childhood and adulthood.
Find it on Amazon.
Other books to consider:
The Niuhi Shark Saga trilogy by Lehua Parker
ONE BOY, NO WATER
ONE SHARK, NO SWIM
ONE TRUTH, NO LIE
and upcoming Lauele Chicken Skin Story
UNDER KONA’S BED
While I try to trick myself into outlining, at my core I’m really a discovery writer flying by the seat of my pants. I’ve been working on what I call my “Hawaiians in Space” story for a few years now.
An early version was published in a fractured fairy tales collection, but honestly, that wasn’t the story I wanted to tell and not surprisingly, it wiffed on hitting the publisher’s target audience of Hallmark-loving romance readers. I tend to take traditional tales too far out of expectations for readers who love the predictability of those kinds of stories. I don’t like to color in the lines.
In rewrites I’ve untethered the story from it’s fairy tale roots, but it’s still not working.
Today I’ve rolled up my editing sleeves and am doing a full breakdown–character analysis, story beats, conflicts–the whole space enchilada that I never thought I had to do because–hello–it’s my story and I have it all in my head.
Yeah. Problem. That’s not what’s on the page. 🙄 Finding holes, plugging leaks, and hoping the third time’s the charm.
#amWriting #HawaiiansinSpace #ItsGoingToBeAThing
PEAU Women’s Writing Crew
January 7, 2021
Prompt: A New Year’s resolution, a pacifier, fireworks
about 300 words
by Lehua Parker
It was exactly the kind of thing Liz hated doing.
And guaranteed to make a much bigger mess before it was over. Her mother used to say cleaning closets was a lot like eating an artichoke—to get to the heart, you had to unpeel layers that were never going to ever fit together again.
But it was late November and her New Year’s resolution to organize—get rid of—all the boys’ old baby stuff boxed in the top her closet couldn’t be pushed to next year.
Standing on her tippy-toes, the first box teetered before tumbling over, showering her with bits of desiccated spider and gecko droppings.
“No, no, no!” she shrieked, shuddering as she dropped it. “Ugh! I did not sign up for this! This crap had better not be in my hair!”
She bent forward, shaking her head and running her fingers through her hair. When she was confident that nothing ugi was crawling along her scalp, she whipped her hair into a titah bun and sighed. “Just do it, Liz,” she said. “When you’re done, you can reward yourself with the last of the butter mochi before the kids get home from school.”
The first thing she saw when she opened the box was a long red string of stale firecrackers. She laughed. Paul must’ve confiscated them from Jay a couple of years ago. The burns on the ceiling and cement floor of the carport were still there. Fortunately, back then all Jay could get his hands on were firecrackers. Heaven only knew what he would do with grownup fireworks.
The next thing she pulled out made her pause: a pacifier without a nipple. Zader, she thought. Even as a baby he destroyed everything he chewed.
The Pasifika Enriching Arts of Utah (PEAU) Women’s Writing Crew meets online Thursdays at 8 pm MST. Here’s a link to all the latest info: https://pik2ar.org/peaulit/ All women writers are welcome, particularly those writing from a Pacific Islander perspective. Each week there are suggested writing prompts, group critique, and a craft discussion. After each workshop, I’ll post my example on my website. Most of the time, they’ll be little snapshots about characters from the Lauele Universe, including the Niuhi Shark Saga trilogy, Lauele Chicken Skin Stories, Lauele Fractured Folktales, and more.
PEAU Women’s Writing Crew
December 9, 2020
Prompt: pig, string or rope, bicycle
about 500 words
‘Alika and Arnold
by Lehua Parker
Tuna burst through ‘Alika’s bedroom door.
‘Alika’s punch landed solidly in her gut. “How many times I wen tell you no come—”
Tuna bent over, one arm on her stomach, the other braced against the door jam. “Banana leaves,” she wheezed. “Big bunches of ti leaves. Chicken wire.”
‘Alika stood there, mouth open and catching flies. “What? What you said?”
“Try look!” Tuna said, pointing toward the window.
Through the jalousies ‘Alika could see Uncle Butchie and Uncle Kawika rummaging in the back corner of Tutu’s lot.
“This pig more small than last year’s,” Uncle Butchie said. “At least we no need dig the imu deeper.”
“Yeah,” said Uncle Kawika. “Not too much rubbish to clear, either.”
Uncle Butchie jammed his shovel in the loose dirt. “You saw the banana stalks and ti leaves Myrna wen bring?”
“Yeah, get plenny. Eh, when you like do ‘em?” Uncle Butchie asked, tilting his head toward the pig pen.
“Bumbai,” Uncle Kawika said. “When ‘Alika-dem stay school. I no like him getting all ulukū.”
“Arnold,” ‘Alika breathed. He shoved Tuna aside and raced out of the room.
“Wait!” Tuna puffed. “Arnold’s not in the pen!”
Halfway down the hall, ‘Alika screeched to a halt. “Where?”
“I left him by the Nakamura’s side fence tied to the big coconut tree.”
‘Alika nodded and turned toward the front door. He gave Tuna one last look as she tried to stand up straight. “Eh, sorry, yeah?” he said as he slipped outside. “But I did tell you fo’ knock first.”
When ‘Alika rounded the corner by the Nakamura’s fence, all he saw was Tuna’s bike leaning against a coconut tree. “Arnold?” he whispered.
Creeping closer, he spotted some jute twine wrapped around the coconut trunk and disappearing into the hibiscus hedge. “Fo’real, Tunazilla?” he muttered. “This string wouldn’t hold a mongoose. Arnold better still be here or I’ll whop yo’ jaw fo’real.”
He ran his fingers along the string and crawled under the hedge to discover a big pig dozing in the shade.
Startled, the pig grunted and jumped. Seeing ‘Alika, his curly tail whirled like a hula hoop, and he made happy pig snuffle noises as he ran to him.
“Shhhhhhh,” said ‘Alika as he scratched behind Arnold’s ears. “It’s good to see you, too, buddy. But we’ve got to get out of here.” With one quick tug, ‘Alika snapped the string from the coconut tree and wrapped it around his hand.
What to do? Where to go?
‘Alika’s eyes landed on Tuna’s bike.
But it’s a girls’ bike, he thought. No way.
From the house Tutu’s voice called, “‘Alika! Your breakfast is getting cold. You better hurry or you going miss the bus!”
“Screw it,” ‘Alika said. “Sometimes you just gotta hele. C’mon, Arnold.”
‘Alika threw his leg over the bike seat and pedaled away, Arnold following like they’d done this a million times.
The Pasifika Enriching Arts of Utah (PEAU) Women’s Writing Crew meets online Thursdays at 8 pm MST. (I’ll post links and more info soon!) All women writers are welcome, particularly those writing from a Pacific Islander perspective. Each week there are suggested writing prompts, group critique, and a craft discussion. After each workshop, I’ll post my example on my website. Most of the time, they’ll be little snapshots about characters from the Lauele Universe, including the Niuhi Shark Saga trilogy, Lauele Chicken Skin Stories, Lauele Fractured Folktales, and more.
In mid-June, I gave a three day workshop at University of Hawaii, Manoa, via Zoom about how to take traditional stories—Western fairy tales, Hawaiian mo’oleleo, Asian folktales, whatever—and turn them into something new.
We spent some time talking about simple vs. complex story structures, inner and outer character arcs, and how so many traditional stories are missing key story beats that western audiences expect because traditional stories were created for entirely different purposes.
One of my examples was Snow White, for the selfish reason that I was getting ready to write another novella for Tork Media as part of their Fractured Fairy Tales serials. It was due in completed form by mid-July. By mid-May, I’d done the research and had already pitched a couple ideas to my editor. I had a rough outline for my novella—as much of an outline as a pantster ever does—but I thought hearing a story pitch might be helpful for participants and lead into discussions about how publishers’, editors’, and agents’ ideas can shape a book, and how important it was to meet the audience’s expectations.
I also wanted participants to be fearless in giving and getting critique, so I set myself up as the first victim, pitching two different Snow White stories.
I knew the first example I gave wasn’t an appropriate Snow White story for Tork Media’s target audience. It featured drugs, mental illness, dysfunctional family dynamics, and a main character that wasn’t Disney warm and fuzzy. Once the gang realized I was serious about critique, they had no trouble telling me that.
Whew, I thought. They got it.
The second story I pitched was much closer to Snow White. It involved a young hula dancer named Hua (Snow White), a jealous older dancer, Nini (Wicked Witch), a phony hula ratings app (Mirror), Menehune that helped the young dancer (Dwarfs), a toady male dancer named Renten (the Huntsman), and diabolical sabotages at a high school hula competition where Hua could be crowned with a majorly made-up hula title as the greatest and youngest ever—and the reason Nini was jealous.
This one wasn’t as deep as the drug story, but it better fit the target audience. I was about to turn the pitching session to their stories when somebody said, “I don’t like Hua. I think this should be Lilinoe’s story. We don’t hear much about her in the Niuhi Shark Saga. She disappears, and that’s too bad.”
What they didn’t know was book three of the Niuhi Shark Saga was supposed to be One Dance, No Drum. It was supposed to be Lilinoe’s story, and in many ways, it was supposed to parallel Zader’s. It was a hula story, too, fame vs. love of the dance, and it was how Lili reconnected with her biological mother’s family—they’d come to see her while she was preparing and competing for Miss Aloha Hula at Merrie Monarch. The seeds for this story are all through the Niuhi Shark Saga, particularly early editions before the books got cut from five to three.
Okay. If this is now Lilinoe as Snow White, that makes this Snow White story much higher stakes and a lot more interesting for me to write. But it can’t be Merrie Monarch; Lili’s too young.
Loooong story short, I fell into a deep hole full of research about hula lore and protocols. I started thinking about where this story fit into the Lauele timeline and realized dance, poetry, and music would be the way Lili would deal with her grief and anger over Zader’s death and Jay’s loss of his leg.
Lili’d be torn between wanting to be the dutiful daughter and listening to her newly discovered mother (who’d keep butting in because to her it’s all about winning), listening to Liz (her adopted mother/bio-aunt) and others with more traditional hula views, and Lili’s own heart’s desire to dance as catharsis. Liz would also have a few choice things to say (and do!) about Nancy suddenly wanting to be the mother.
And what would Lilinoe dance? Not something typical. Of course! She and her kumu hula would create new hula—‘auana and kahiko—plus mele and oli centered in Lauele that expressed herself.
Wait. NEW hula, mele, and oli?!!! All about Lauele, Zader, Jay, and ‘ohana? That worked on at least two kaona levels? I think I’m giving myself a heart attack.
We are now so far from Snow White, there’s no going back.
There’s also no time. If I have to write poetry and beg someone to translate at least part of it into proper Hawaiian, there’s no way I’m hitting a mid-July completion for publication date.
This isn’t novella length, either. It feels novel-ish.
But sometimes the muse rides hell for leather. Like an ocean wave, you have to go with the flow. This story is not going to be Snow White. It’s not going to be One Dance, No Drum, either. Guess I need to sit my pants in my chair and let the words flow.
I’m going to be as surprised as anyone to see Lilinoe’s story unfold.
But, really, telling your own story beats reworking a traditional story any day.
Published in 2011, Up Among the Stars is a continuation of Matthew Kaopio, Jr.’s novel Written in the Sky. I was excited to read it. I’ve loved Matthew’s books, and I wanted to know what happened to ‘Ikauikalani, the young homeless boy living in Ala Moana Park.
Up Among the Stars starts strong. ‘Ikaui is growing up and finding his place in the world. He’s got an ‘ohana that he looks out for, from Mom and Pops to Gladness for whom he does yard work. But being on your own is dangerous. There’s a skeebie guy who stalks ‘Ikaui, offering drugs and demanding unsavory favors. When Ala Moana Park is closed, the homeless scatter, and ‘Ikaui spends the night in a graveyard that morphs into wandering old O’ahu with a man who only speaks Hawaiian and calls himself ‘Ikauikalani.
There are tantalizing glimpses of the story’s amazing potential throughout the novel, but much of what is teased doesn’t come to fruition. The ending is rushed and confusing and would have benefited by good editing to help Matthew draw out story elements that were in Matthew’s head, but not yet on paper. Unfortunately, the latter third of the novel reads more like an author’s draft than a polished story.
My guess is that Matthew intended to write at least another ‘Ikauikalani novel, one that explored ‘Ikaui getting to know his blood ‘ohana, connecting more fully to his spiritual gifts, finding his voice as an advocate for Hawaiian culture, furthering his formal education at a place like Kamehameha, and continuing his spiritual classroom lessons with beings from all over the universe. ‘Ikaui was an extraordinary young man with an amazing destiny to fulfill.
Sadly, Matthew Kaopio Jr. died on December 25, 2018, having been in a care facility for several years. He carries ‘Ikauikalani and others with him into the land of dreams. Rest in peace, Matthew. A hui hou.
Up Among the Stars is published by Mutual Publishing and is available from Amazon in paperback.
I don’t know how I missed these books, but I am so glad I found them. Thanhha Lai’s writing is charming, funny, and oh, so real.
In Inside Out and Back Again, Thanhha pulls her readers into a fictional world based on her experiences as a child in Viet Nam, fleeting at the fall of Saigon, and emigrating to America.
In Listen, Slowly, Thanhha explores living in two worlds as a teen who has cultural and family roots in Viet Nam, but feels very American growing up in California.
Inside Out and Back Again went through many versions over many years as Thanhha experimented with different voices and styles. After starting with long, flowy passages that just didn’t seem like a 10 year old’s voice, and then moving to Hemmingway-ish close third-person, one day she started jotting down just how Ha, the 10 year old female protagonist, was feeling.
And that was powerful.
Told in free verse poetry, Inside Out and Back Again, shows the reader snapshots into the mind and heart of Ha during a single year, 1975-1976, a year where she and her family escape Viet Nam during the fall of Saigon, survive as boat people, and eventually settle in rural American. Through Ha’s eyes, we experience random acts of kindness, prejudice, fear, hope, longing, acceptance, and despair. While told in English, the free verse poetry feels like lyrical, poetical forms of Vietnamese, blended with sucker punches of raw emotion. With Thanhha’s prose stripped down to the bare essentials, readers find space to fill in the gaps with their own experiences. The good, the bad, and the ugly are pitch-perfect of that time and of fourth grade politics. It’s a book that invites lots of discussion and deep thinking and, I hope, will inspire others to write their own tales. In the edition I read there was a lot of supplemental materials perfect for reading groups and the classroom.
Listen, Slowly, is about a second generation twelve year old Vietnamese girl growing up in California and reluctantly accompanying her grandmother back to Viet Nam one summer to learn more about what happened to her grandfather. It’s a classic insider/outsider story. Mai starts her journey with the goal of returning to Cali as soon as she can, but learns to love and appreciate her Vietanmese-ness and finds space within herself to bridge both worlds. Materialism, family obligations, roles in society, and worldviews are big themes. I think upper MG and YA readers will relate to Mai, and that can spark a lot of conversations about privilege, race, and what is owed.
Both books are available on Amazon and other fine bookstores. Go read ‘em, go read ‘em, go.
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.