Talking Story

Pacific Literature


We are all products of our pasts, a combination of long ago childhood experiences and what we ate last night. Like an order of deluxe saimin noodles, Blood Orchids, the first book in The Lei Crime Series by Toby Neal is a multi-layered and nuanced murder mystery.

There are two mysteries—the noodles and miso soup of the novel. Lei Texeira is a beat cop in Hilo, Hawaii trying to figure out who’s murdering women and who’s playing a cat and mouse stalking game by leaving notes on her doorstep. There are a lot of possibilities and questions about whether it’s one perp or three and whether the crimes are related.

As the mystery deepens, Lei finds out more about her past and begins to understand how the abuses she triumphed in childhood continue to shape her today. Like thin slices of teri beef these revelations add substance to the soup by allowing the reader to infer more about the characters and their motivations than they know themselves.

There’s a budding romance angle—the chopped green onion—and extended family relationships—the pink and white striped fish cake—but the real seasoning is in Neal’s deft handling of the setting. It’s a difficult thing to write a novel for a wide audience that authentically portrays life in Hawaii and Toby’s nailed it. She balances on the fine high wire of explaining just enough that readers unfamiliar with the culture get it without boring or oversimplifying it in the eyes of islanders. There’s a little Pidgin dialogue in Blood Orchids—Pidgin Light, you could say—enough to add flavor without a lot of work on the part of non-native speakers.

One of the highest compliments I can give is that Toby makes the setting seem normal and natural. Yes, it’s set in Hawaii. Yes, there are beaches, kālua pig plate lunches, funerals with remembrance stones, and all respected elders are called aunty and uncle, but none of this is center stage or explained too deeply. It’s all about the characters and the story.

And what a story it is.

Blotoby_nealod Orchids, book one in The Lei Crime Series by Toby Neal is self-published and available as a trade paperback and eBook on Amazon and on her website. Can’t wait to read the sequels: Torch Ginger, Black Jasmine, and Broken Fern.

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Daughters of Fire by Tom Peek is an epic speculative novel set in contemporary Hawaii. Like a local plate lunch special, it’s a mix of many different genres, an unexpected combination of flavors and tastes that work well together. It’s a romance. It’s a murder mystery. It’s a political thriller. It’s a social commentary on traditional Pacific vs. western world views. It’s a speculative tale of ancient gods and goddesses, curses, prophecies, and traditions. It spans everything island-style from mo’o legends to bento boxes and from the politics of lounge singing to the politics of international stargazing.

On the surface, Daughters of Fire is the story of three strong Hawaiian women: an anthropologist who works with corporate developers to identify and preserve ancient sites, an elderly traditional healer and seer, and a young Hawaiian rights activist. The stories intertwine as a murder occurs, a controversial mega-tourist resort opens, legalize gambling rears its head, and reports of an imminent volcanic eruption are hidden from the public.

Despite its convoluted storylines, it’s an easy, entertaining read. Readers familiar with the landscape and culture will appreciate the authenticity and those new to Hawaii will get a taste of the complexity of island culture without feeling lost. If you’re looking for a book to take on a trip—or to remember your Big Island vacation—this one satisfies.

tom_peekDaughters of Fire by Tom Peek is published by Koa Books and is available as a trade paperback or eBook.

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Being a kid is complicated. There are rules, most of them unwritten, unspoken even, and heaven help you if you can’t unlock the secret code. Darrell H.Y. Lum not only has the key to the boy’s room in his collection of short stories in Pass On, No Pass Back!, he also has the contraband cigarettes.

And maybe a little something else.

The title refers to a kids’ game I remember well: somebody punches you in the arm, yells, “Pass on, no pass back!” and you have to find someone else to slam and pass it on. The playground politics in who you hit and how hard would make the UN weep. And Lum gets it.

Better yet, he helps us get it.

To anyone who grew up in Hawai‘i, Lum’s characters feel real. There’s tales of da Bag Man, karate class, scouts, toads, and mongooses from hell that still give me chicken skin. The stories are written in Hawaiian Pidgin English, a welcome sound of home for native speakers that adds another layer of authenticity to his words. Non-Pidgin speakers will have a tougher time, but it’s worth the work.

As a bonus there are also the comic strip adventures of Booly, Bullette, and Burrito by Art Kodani.

If you’re looking for authentic island writing, Pass On, No Pass Back! is fantastic.

Pass On, No Pass Back! by Darrell H.Y. Lum is published by Bamboo Ridge Press and available as a trade paperback from the publisher, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble.


Matthew Kaopio, the author of Hawaiian Family Album, is an extraordinarily talented mouth-brush painter. His illustrations intrigued me enough to pick up his book, but as good  as they are, they aren’t the heart and soul of his book.

His book is classic talk story—kids bugging a busy grandma to tell them family stories from her youth. In the eleven stories presented here, Grandma passes down Hawaiian culture and traditions and teaches the kids how to find their way through many of life’s difficulties.

One of my favorites, Kāne-o-kekai: Man of the Sea, tells the story of a woman’s fall into the sea and her rescue by a great white shark. It reinforces other opinions I heard as a child that sharks were to be respected, but not necessarily feared, and that ancestors are always ready to help.

The stories are funny, scary, and heartwarming, the perfect length for just before bedtime reading for kids. If you’re looking for some authentic Hawaiian culture, this book’s a winner.

Hawaiian Family Album by Mathew Kaopio is published by Mutual Publishing and is available as a trade paperback from the publisher, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble.


When emigrants came to Hawai‘i they brought their food, their traditions, their languages—and their supernatural beings. Like the humans, the supernatural beings mixed and mingled with the locals and resulting stew is a ghost story hunter’s feast.

Obake Files by Glen Grant is a collection of his scholarly research into Hawai‘i’s supernatural world culled from first hand experiences, archives, and newspaper accounts over 25 years. The spine-tingling, chicken-skin tales are told in a matter of fact tone that makes them far scarier than any horror novel. You’ll find stories of fireballs, haunted houses and buildings, calling and choking ghosts, night marchers, ancestral bones, and modern encounters with Hawaiian gods and goddesses.

As any Hawaiian will tell you, there’s more to our world than meets the eye. Grant’s collection is reminiscent of the stories I heard—and the things I experienced—living in Hawai‘i. The encounters are broken into short entertaining segments perfect for on the go, got a minute reading.

Obake Files by Glen Grant is published by Mutual Publishing and available as a paperback directly from the publisher, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble.


Hawaiian Pidgin, as a language, is raw. It communicates on a visceral, no shibai level, cutting to the heart of the matter with a few quick words in an inflection that can leave you bloody on the floor. There’s a reason my kids don’t worry if I’m scolding in English; they know when I’m really mad the Pidgin comes out.

Significant Moments in da Life of Oriental Faddah and Son, One Hawai‘i Okinawan Journal by Lee A. Tonouchi is a powerful collection of epic poems written in Hawaiian Pidgin that tell the complicated story of multigenerational family relationships. It’s a semi-autobiographical journey from childhood into adulthood that made me laugh out loud, cry, and shake my head at Tonouchi’s very personal experiences that are on many levels so universal.

Tonouchi’s mastery of Pidgin rings true to the ear and heart with an eye for the significant detail that conveys pages of meaning in a few well-chosen phrases. I’ve never met Tonouchi, but I know his voice. I’m sure we hung out at the swings at Kahului Elementary, played shambattle at Summer Fun, and hid behind the oleander bushes at neighborhood backyard kanikapila jam sessions talking story, playing trumps, and swapping Diamond Head strawberry sodas.

Fo’real. His poetry is that good. If you’re a native Pidgin speaker, this book is a treasure.

Oriental Faddah and Son by Lee A. Tonouchi, published by Bess Press is available as a trade paperback directly from the publisher, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble and most stores where books are sold in Hawai‘i.


Today I’m part of a blog hop, officially known as The Next Big Thing. Many thanks to Elsie Park for inviting me to hop in after her.  You can check out her website here. Her debut book is called Shadows of Valor and will be available everywhere July 27, 2013! It is going to be great! Can’t wait.

If you’ve never heard of a blog hop, it’s a bit like a game of tag. Writers post about their works and link to other authors ahead and behind them in the chain. So, without further ado–

What is the working title of your next book? 

One Shark, No Swim, Book 2 in the Niuhi Shark Saga. It’s currently in editorial review at Jolly Fish Press and will come out late summer/fall 2013. It follows One Boy, No Water.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

The genesis for the series was a scene from Legends of Hawaii that I saw when I was seven years old. In the film a young Hawaiian boy’s shirt is ripped off to reveal gaping shark’s jaws where his back should be—it’s the kind of image that tends to stick with you if you have an overactive imagination.

What genre does your book fall under?

It straddles the line between Middle Grade and Young Adult. Technically, it’s fantasy, but it’s set in modern, every day Hawai’i. Supernatural things happen, but it’s all rather matter of fact. While Zader and his friends are twelve in One Shark, No Swim, the themes developed in the series are universal. It’s PG in content and language, making it appropriate for MG readers, but it wasn’t written specifically for an MG/YA audience. It’s an adventure series that appeals to adults, too, particularly if they’ve lived in Hawai’i.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Jackie Chan. Uncle Kahana, Zader, ‘Ilima, Jay, Char Siu—it doesn’t matter which character; the answer to this question is always Jackie Chan. (Call me!)

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Adopted twelve year old suspects there’s more to his birth family than he ever dreamed and the truth changes everything.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

The Niuhi Shark Saga is published by Jolly Fish Press.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

About six weeks split over nine months. Bursts of writing punctuated by life and lots of dust gathering.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

In book 2, Zader discovers a way he can take a shower without blistering, he meets both his biological parents (although he doesn’t know it), learns Filipino Kali-style knife fighting from a master, and Uncle Kahana and ‘Ilima don’t see eye to eye on what to tell Zader, Jay, and Char Siu about what’s really going on. And niuhi sharks! Lots of sharks.

And that’s my Next Big Thing! Now here are the fabulous authors I’ve tagged to tell you about their Next Big Thing!  They will be posting on 1/30/2013.   Enjoy!

Christine Haggerty

Emily Younker

Jennifer Griffith

Johnny Worthen


Great authors who’ve already posted their Next Big Thing that you shouldn’t miss!

Jo Ann Schneider

Ann Marie Meyers

Eric Bishop

Adrienne Monson

Elsie Park

Jenniffer Wardell

The Brothers Washburn

Teri Harman

Amie Borst


It’s no false crack; Hawaiian author Chris McKinney’s latest novel Boi No Good takes an unflinching look at a Hawaii that locals live in every day and tourists never see. It’s gritty, real, and not for the faint of heart.

McKinney’s characters are people I feel I know and grew up with, from the welfare ice queens to the keep Hawaiian lands in Hawaiian hands revolutionists, to the wanna be good but no can boyz to the Kahala private school we can make a difference politicians, he’s nailed them all.

I’m always amazed at the difference between the real Hawaii and Hollywood’s version. McKinney is an insider’s insider. He knows that beneath the tourist hula shows, pink manapua boxes, and Reyns Aloha shirts a rage simmers, Pele’s lava looking for a steam vent, an anger that wants to make a mark, a difference, to change the status quo. In some island circles these feelings are shoveled in and swallowed daily at the breakfast table right along with the shoyu rice, ketchup covered scrambled eggs, and fried spam.  Eventually, the bitterness starts to choke, and it can be do or die, especially in the it’s all about who you know climate of Hawaii. There is an underground attitude in the islands that violence is the universal language, a no push me or I going snap cock of the walk. And snap Boi does.

What I liked about this book is that there are no easy answers and most characters have redeeming qualities mixed with spectacular faults and myopic vision.

Boi No Good is raw, true, engaging, and sure to make you think. It’s the kind of story that stays with you long after you read the final page. But I gotta warn you, it’s graphic and in my opinion, for adults only.

Boi No Good is McKinney’s fourth book. All of his titles, Tatoo, Mililani Mauka, Bolohead Row, and Boi No Good can be found on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and local Hawaiian bookstores.


Dear ‘Ohana,

Mele Kalikimaka! We hope your family is well and enjoying all the aloha of the season. This past year we’ve felt especially blessed for all the good things in our lives. Here’s a quick snapshot.

Lili continues dancing hula in Halau Na Pua O Lauele and had a solo in their holiday performance at Ala Moana. Her halua is practicing hard and raising money to compete in next year’s Merry Monarch Festival. She is a sophomore at Ridgemont Academy and is the secretary of the Hui Lama club.

Jay and Zader are in Ms. Robinson’s sixth grade class at Lauele Elementary. We just learned that Jay was accepted to Ridgemont for 7th grade and Zader’s on the final waitlist. With Zader’s art talent, we think he’s a shoe-in for a final spot.

Speaking of art, if you’re headed to the Honolulu Arts Museum, check out Zader’s turtle carving in the Young Artist Showcase. It’s amazing!

After winning the last two Menehune surf meets, Jay’s taking a break from surfing to play flag football in the park. It’s odd seeing him out of the water, but I don’t miss all the wet towels and sand!

Both boys are studying Lua with Uncle Kahana, which probably means drinking soda and watching old Bruce Lee movies. At least they are staying out of trouble. I hope. You never know what’ll happen when Uncle Kahana and ‘Ilima get involved.

Along with all our aloha, we wish you and yours the best and brightest of the season and good fortune in the new year! A hui hou,

The Westin Ohana

Paul, Liz, Lilinoe, Jay, and Zader

PS: You can find out more about our adventures in One Boy, No Water by Lehua Parker. The Kindle version is on sale now through January 2!

In One Boy, No Water each chapter begins with a word or phrase in Hawaiian or Pidgin followed by its definition. This structure uses ‘ōlelo no‘eau, wise or entertaining sayings that reveal a hidden truth. Hawaiian relies heavily on poetic imagery, riddles, and puns to communicate significant truths veiled under casual conversation. Words and phrases can hold hidden layers of meaning called kaona, which is why songs about mist or fish or flowers or wind can leave old folks laughing and young ones wondering what’s so funny. Examples of ‘ōlelo no‘eau can be found on the Internet or in this book of collected wisdom:

 ‘Ōlelo No‘eau: Hawaiian Proverbs and Poetical Sayings

by Mary Kawena Pukui

Bishop Museum Press, 1983

Here are some of the newest ones I’ve come across:

 ·         ‘A‘a i ka hula, waiho ka hilahila i ka hale.

 When one wants to dance the hula, bashfulness should be left at home.

 ·         Hōhohua no ke kawa.

 A deep diving place indeed. Said of a topic that requires deep thinking.

I kani no ka pahu i ka ‘olohaka o loko.

It is the space inside that gives the drum it’s sound. The empty-headed person is the one who does the most talking.

        He manō holo ‘āina ke ali‘i.

 The chief is a shark that travels on land. Like a shark, the chief is not to be tampered with.


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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.