The 19th Biennial Conference on Literature and Hawai’i’s Children takes place June 7-9 at Chaminade University in Honolulu, Hawaii. I’ll be hosting two workshops–one specifically for teens–all about writing fiction in authentic Pacifica voices and answering questions about traditional and self publishing.
On Thursday, June 7 at 7 pm, the Honolulu Theater for Youth will be performing excerpts from works by Lee Cataluna, Patrick Ching, and Lehua Parker. The performances are also FREE, but you need tickets. (Link below)
The conference is FREE for all attendees, but you have to register. Teens will need parental/guardian permission to participate. (Link below)
Hope to see you there! Be sure to come by and talk story with me!
I’m five years old, laying on the carpet in our living room in Kahului, Maui. Evening trade winds tiptoe through the lanai door, bathing the house with the scent of Mom’s gardenia and naupaka bushes. On top the tv, an animated Santa Claus dances with a big red sack, singing about ashes and soot. My eyes dart to the flimsy cardboard cutout of a fireplace and chimney taped to the wall next to the Christmas tree. Panic bubbles. I can’t breathe.
He doesn’t even look up from the Honolulu Star Bulletin. “What?”
“How does Santa Claus come into the house?”
“Down da chimney, lolo. You deaf or wot? Jes’ listen to da song.” He turns a page.
I bite my lip. I have to know. “But Dad, Mom bought our chimney at Long’s. It doesn’t connect to the roof. Plus we no more snow! How da reindeer gonna land da sleigh on top da roof if no get snow?”
He flicks the edge of the newspaper down and peers at me. He shakes his head. “Moemoe time, Lehua. You need your rest.”
Tears well. No Santa. No presents. So unfair. Mainland kids get all the good stuffs. I try again. “Dad, fo’reals. Is Santa going skip us?”
Dad presses his lips tight and gives me small kine stink eye. He clears his throat and looks around the room. When he spocks the lanai door, his eyes light up. “You ever seen a house in Hawaii with no more sliding door?”
He nods. “Maika‘i. Every house get sliding doors. Das because in Hawai‘i, Santa comes through the lani door instead of down the chimney. In Hawai‘i we invite our guests into our homes like civilized people. We no make dem sneak in like one thief.”
I tip my head to the side, thinking. “But what about da reindeer?”
Dad clicks his tongue. “Da buggahs magic, yeah? They no need land. They just hover in the backyard and wait for Santa fo’ come back. Mebbe snack on da banana trees. Now go to bed!”
It’s not the first time I have to perform mental gymnastics to bridge what I see in movies, tv, and books with my oh, so different reality, but it’s one of the most memorable. At school the teachers try to prep us for mandatory standardized testing, tests we island kids consistently score lower on than our mainland peers.
“Class, what does it mean if the trees have no leaves?” Ms. Yamaguchi asks. “Lehua?”
“Uh, da trees stay make die dead?” I say. “Dey nevah get enough water?”
“No! It means it’s winter! The correct answer is winter! Coodesh! Pay attention. You kids trying fo’ fail?”
It would be many years later, when I am in college in Utah and walking through a virgin snowfall along a wooded path that I finally understand the imagery and symbolism in Conrad Aiken’s “Silent Snow, Secret Snow” in ways more profound than no leaves equals cold equals winter.
Which brings me, finally, to my point.
We need diversity in literature. Kids need access to stories that resonate with their experiences, that are full of people they know and love, that show themselves—their fully authentic selves—as powerful, valued, and real. We need Pacific voices raised in song, dance, print, film, tv—all forms of media, some not even invented yet.
I remember the profound impact of hearing Andy Bumatai, Frank Delima, and Rap Reiplinger on the radio. Hawaiian music, for sure, all the time, but spoken words, Pidgin words, so fast and funny, just like Steve Martin and Bill Cosby! To this day, my old fut classmates and I can still recite all the words to “Room Service” and “Fate Yanagi.”
And finally, I find them. Words on paper, in libraries, in books. Stories by Graham Salisbury, Lois-Ann Yamanaka, Darrell H. Y. Lum, Kiana Davenport, and Lee Tonouchi open my eyes to the possibility of using my history and experiences, my voice, to tell stories to an audience that didn’t need long explanations about why whistling in the dark is not a good thing, that a honi from Tutu was a given, or that wearing shoes in the house is the ultimate outsider insult.
I could write stories where the burden to bridge is on the mainland, not the islands. I could write stories for kids in Waimanalo, Kona, Hana, Lihue.
But there’s a catch. The reality is that there are many more readers outside of Hawai‘i nei than in it. Books for niche audiences are a tough sell for traditional publishers who are driven by the bottom line. And while self-publishing or small press publishing is viable for genres like romance, thrillers, and sci-fi, it’s next to impossible for middle grade and young adult books who need the vast marketing channels of a traditional publisher to reach schools and libraries.
I try not to let that matter.
On the mainland, I tell people my books are not for everyone. If you don’t know the difference between mauka and makai, you’re probably going to struggle a bit with the language. You’ll miss a lot of the in-jokes and clues as to what’s really going on with the characters and plot. You’ll have to work a lot harder.
But it will be worth it.
Ilima, everyone’s favorite dog who isn’t a dog, is back in a new adventure!
In Rell Goes Hawaiian, you’ll catch up with Ilima, Uncle Kahana, Jerry Santos, and other characters from The Niuhi Shark Saga in a newly imagined version of Cinderella.
When Rell Watanabe is summoned from the mainland by her stepmonster Regina to Poliahu’s estate in upcountry Lauele, Hawaii, she should’ve known it wasn’t to celebrate her birthday. Despite Jerry Santo’s aloha hospitality, being in paradise isn’t all fun in the sun. Rell spends her birthday signing papers, taking care of her bratty stepsisters, and preparing for a big auction to benefit the International Abilities Surf Camp sponsored by Jay Westin and Nili-boy.
After Rell’s wicked stepsisters push the sacred aumakua stone Pohaku into the big saltwater pool at Piko Point, things rapidly fall apart. Banned from attending the auction, Rell wishes on a star and gets waaaaay more than she bargained for when Ilima shows up to settle a score.
Things take a sinister turn when Rell discovers the real reason Regina is sponsoring the auction and her plans for Rell’s family land in Lauele. It’s going to take more than Ilima’s bibbitty-bobbity-boo to make things right—but don’t call ever call Ilima a fairy godmother.
Rell Goes Hawaiian is a magical realism story where the supernatural and the ordinary live side-by-side. Menehune and other Hawaiian legends of gods and goddess walk Lauele Town. Don’t blink or you’ll miss them.
Rell Goes Hawaiian is a novella included in Fractured Slipper, a boxed set of 5 Cinderella novellas by award-winning and best-selling authors. Fractured Slipper is Book 2 in the Fairy Talk Ink series.
Until January 18, 2018, you can pre-order the eBook of Fractured Slipper for only 99 cents!
Fairy Tale Ink Series
Includes Nani’s Kiss, a tale of Polynesians in space.
Includes: Rell Goes Hawaiian, a Lauele Town Novella
Kino and the King by Jen Angeli is a middle grade adventure quest set in Hawaii. Cutting to the chase, we need more stories like this one where island kids see themselves as the heroes and Hawaiian culture as something both amazing and ordinary, rather than sensationally exotic.
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.
1825 is a significant time in Hawaiian history, after the fall of the kapu system and during the first years of the Protestant missionaries’ influence. Hawaii is experiencing the growing pangs of contact with the wider world. In the story there’s a glimpse of the monumental civic and cultural challenges, but Jen is always conscious of her 4th – 8th grade audience and keeps the action moving. Topics are lightly touched upon in a way that can start discussions about these important topics. Kino and the King is respectful of Hawaiian history and culture. Teachers, parents, and librarians will find it provides a springboard for further reflection, study, and inquiry.
But as good as 1825 was, I gotta say I liked the modern conflicts best. Mean girls, romantic interests, class wars, private school snobbery, leasehold vs. fee simple landownership, high cost of living in paradise, afterschool enrichment classes in Hawaiian—it’s all here. Anyone growing up in Hawaii will instantly relate to Kino’s modern world—and those far from home will probably crave spam musubi reading about it.
Readers of The Niuhi Shark Saga books are certain to enjoy Kino and the King. Can’t wait for Jen Angeli’s next adventure.
Kino and the King by Jen Angeli is available in eBook and paperback from Amazon.
A Polynesians in Space Novella for
eBook Boxed Set 99 Cents until June 1, 2017
Click on the Book Nerd graphic to enter a drawing for a free $25 Amazon gift card as our mahalo nui loa for supporting our series.
He opens his mouth, but doesn’t say what’s on the tip of his tongue. He pauses, then asks, “I know you think of me as a fishing hook. What’s your nattoo for Lolo?”
I hang my head. “Pua‘a,” I mutter.
He stops mid-rub. “No way. Your symbol for our sister is a pig? Where is it?”
I don’t want to answer, but Imi’s relentless.
“Tell me, Nani, or I’ll strip search you myself. You know I can.”
“Are you on my side or not?” I scowl.
“Where’s our sister’s nattoo, Nani?”
I sigh. “On my okole. Left cheek.”
~Nani’s Kiss, Fractured Beauty
Kakau is the Hawaiian tradition of tattoo. I’ve always been fascinated by the history of kakau throughout Polynesia and love to hear personal stories about the images people choose to wear on their skin. Challenged to write a series of stories about Polynesians in the future, I knew kakau had to be a part of it.
Long before Disney’s Moana and Maui’s dancing tattoo version of himself that functions in the story as his Jimmy Cricket conscience, I had the what if idea of nanobots as tattoo ink. What if tattoos weren’t permanent? What if nanobot technology could change tattoos? What if you had to learn how to control them? What if there was an app that controlled them and it was in the hands of a villain?
What if, what if, what if?
In Nani’s Kiss, a Fairy Tale Five novella in the boxed set Fractured Beauty, Nani’s secret thoughts are displayed on her body by her nattoos, nanobots that form images.
I gotta tell you, I’m loving this story device. It’s set to appear in other stories, including the second boxed set of novellas from the Fairy Tale Five, Fractured Slipper, available September 2017.
Nani’s Kiss in Fractured Beauty is available in eBook. On June 1, 2017, the price jumps to $4.99, so don’t miss out!
Four authors accepted a challenge from Tork Media Publishing: reimagine the classic western fairy tale Beauty and the Beast.
Angela Brimhall’s beast is a terrifying sea monster cursed by a scorned gypsy. He must risk all to save the strong-willed princess before losing his last chance at love and redemption, becoming forever damned to the briny deep.
Lehua Parker’s Nani is trapped by Indian and Hawaiian traditions and a fiancé locked in stasis in a medi-mod. Cultures and expectations collide in this sci-fi futuristic world where nano-bot tattoos and dreams reveal the secret of Nani’s heart.
Angela Corbett’s Ledger is determined to find out more about the mysterious woman who saved him from certain death and uncover the secrets of Withering Woods, but some beasts are better left caged.
Adrienne Monson’s Arabella rushes to an enchanted castle to pay her father’s debt, but is met with a burly beast with a mysterious past. It’s a howling paranormal regency romp that will keep you turning pages well past your bedtime.
It’s Disney’s Moana. That’s really what it comes down to.
A couple of years ago, when Disney announced that in the tradition of Aladdin, Mulan, Pocahontas, and Frozen, they were bringing to the screen Moana, a Polynesian princess tale, I was excited. When I learned that the story involved the demi-god Maui and ocean voyaging, I thought here was a movie I could take my kids to where we could talk about ancestral knowledge and what it means to be a literal descendant of the historical Maui and his sons.
And then I saw the trailers. Maui didn’t look anything like what I imagined the real Maui looked like—frankly, he didn’t even look human. And he was kind of an egotistical jerk. And a buffoon. And what was up with the nonsensical bits of crap around his neck and the random leaves for a malo? None of the sets and costumes seemed to belong to any particular island culture. I saw elements of Maori, Samoan, Tongan, and Fijian cultures—and precious little that was clearly Hawaiian. It was like someone had taken Pasifika and mashed it into a blender and—
Moana is no more an authentic reflection of Polynesian culture than Mulan reflects China, Aladdin reflects Arabia, Pocahontas reflects Powhatans, or Frozen reflects Scandinavia. All of these stories are set in an alternate world—let’s call it Disneyland—that borrows heavily from real-world cultures to tell very classically western stories in the archetypical hero’s journey or mono-myth form. These stories follow specific patterns that start with a call to adventure, followed by an ordeal, a transformation, and an eventual return.
Harry Potter, Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, The Lion King, and Disney Princess movies like Moana and Frozen all follow the same basic hero’s journey storyline. Like most mono-myth stories, they are set in a world that is similar to, but slightly askew from the real world. Sometimes this new world has magic or talking animals or objects that are cursed. Most of the time the audience simply goes along with the fantastical elements because they are part of this kind of story tradition. Do we really know how the Force works or if House Elves exist? No. And when the goal is entertainment, it doesn’t really matter.
That’s another key: entertainment. As much as we’d like to believe otherwise, children and adults go to these kinds of movies to be entertained, not educated. Disney knows this.
The unfortunate disconnect was that so many people with deep Oceania roots wanted something different, something that was an authentic reflection of indigenous island culture and storytelling. What we got instead was a western pop-culture mono-myth story set in Disneyland’s Polynesia. It’s like going to a luau and being served rice and teriyaki chicken instead of kalua pork and poi—really disappointing, I know.
I still took my kids to see Moana.
I thought the story was amazing, even through it’s not Polynesian in form or content. I liked that Moana’s gender wasn’t a limiting factor when it came to being a leader, solving problems, or persevering when it was easier to quit. I liked the ideas about the importance of self-sacrifice for a greater good, the love and influence of family that stretches beyond this mortal plane, and the conflict between following your heart and fulfilling what you think is your destiny.
Above all, I liked the way the ocean was animated. The colors, shadows, currents—all beautifully articulated. And while the voyaging canoes didn’t look very much like the great wa‘a I knew, my heart did leap to see them soar across the ocean. I loved the brief moments about wayfinding by stars, currents, water temperature, and marine life.
Moana did start conversations with my kids.
We talked about the elements in the architecture, traditions, clothing, etc., and which island’s cultures probably sparked the designs. We talked about the great trade routes, ocean currents, social and political factors, and migration patterns that settled Polynesia from Asia and the Americas and back again, and how new genetic evidence is proving that ancient people traveled farther and more frequently than we realized.
Well, than western scholars realized. In Pasifika we have our own stories, genealogies, and histories. More on this in another article.
But the most important things my kids and I discussed were the concept of stories. It’s very simple.
Our stories define us. Moana is not my story; it’s Disney’s. It doesn’t define my Hawaiian heritage any more than Frozen defined my Scandinavian ancestors. Nothing Disney does defines me or changes one iota of who I am.
Despite all the uproar over cultural appropriation, I think the average person knows Moana is set in Disneyland—not living, breathing Oceania. Cultural appropriation is not a western thing; it’s a human thing. I’ve experienced it all over the world. Every culture in contact with another borrows what appeals. Like Tamatoa the crab says in Moana, it’s glam, it’s shiny, so I’m going to stick it on my shell and make it a part of me.
The big take away is this: If we do not write our own stories, we cannot be surprised when outsiders attempt to write them. With no other voices in popular culture, these stories become the truth for the majority, and we soon find ourselves living in a world enamored with Bobby Brady’s tiki curse, hip-hop hula, and coconut bras.
If we want to change the popular cultural narrative about what it means to be Hawaiian, Samoan, Maori—we need to tell our own stories in our own voices. It means supporting our Pasifika artists, musicians, dancers, and writers with more than our applause and appreciation.
Otherwise only those with Disneyland resources will fill the void—and the narrative—with what appeals to the masses.
The following is a true ghost story I wrote for Sick Pilgrim, a blog on Patheos.com. Happy October!
Alone in our girls’ dorm rooms in the 1980s, high school summer band camp at Kamehameha was nothing like a slasher-teen movie. Lights went out at 10:30 pm and stayed out until 6 am reveille. Worn out, and with the axe of immediate expulsion looming over our heads, in our practical cotton t-shirts and jogging shorts, we were more interested in sleep than high jinx.
I know that slays a lot of male sleep-away camp fantasies, but it’s the truth.
When I woke, the first thing I noticed was the light.
The moon was full or nearly so; it flooded my second story window and dripped down the walls. No wonder I couldn’t sleep.
As the upperclassman on duty, I’d gone to bed with my door cracked just enough to hear if a girl on my floor needed help in the middle of the night. The second night of camp was always the worst. The excitement of being away has worn off, and the real work of marching and music’s begun. It’s the night freshmen start counting the days and wonder if they can make it through the week.
Drenched in moonlight, I lay there for a moment, breathing in jasmine and hibiscus from the hedge outside. Hot and humid as only Hawaii can get, I kicked off the bed sheet, wishing for my ceiling fan at home. A glance at my watch told me it was 1:23 am.
I’m never going back to sleep.
But then I heard the unmistakable sounds of a door opening and the slap, slap, slap of rubber slippahs flip-flopping down the hall.
Wonderful. Sunburn, heat stroke, or homesick? My money was on a dehydration headache. Tylenol and Gatorade to the rescue.
I grabbed my glasses, rolled out of bed, and pulled my door wide.
Through windows set above each dorm room door, moonlight fell like water, cascading through the inky darkness to puddle on polished cement like God’s own spotlight. From the far end of the hall to my right, someone approached.
Slap, slap, slap.
The door on my left swung open; a senior rubbed her eyes and scowled. “Somebody sick?”
I shrugged. “Headed this way. Not fast. Probably not a puker.”
We glanced toward the communal bathroom door across the hall from us.
Slap, slap, slap.
The steps grew heavier, closer, and we could see a dark shadow breaking the beams of light as it traveled down the hallway.
Slap, slap, slap.
“Stupid freshmen. They never drink enough.” She craned around me. “Hey,” she hiss-whispered. “Are you sick or do you just have to pee?”
Slap, slap, slap.
It was only one doorway, one beam of light away.
All of the hair, fine and downy-soft, rose along my arms. My scalp prickled.
“Eh, who’s there?” I called.
Slap, slap, slap.
Right in front of us.
But no one was there.
Unwavering, the footsteps passed, stomping down the stairs to the main floor. We heard the crash bar on the main door collapse, the door swish open, and felt the night rush in, running like fingertips through our hair, caressing our bare legs as the building breathed. We didn’t hear the footsteps continue down the sidewalk, just the sound of the heavy metal door resettling in its frame. Once again, the building held its breath.
In the stillness, the taste of fresh coconut burned in the back of my throat.
She and I exchanged just one look, then turned back into our rooms. This time I shut my door tight and said a little prayer for those who walk the night.
Later, I heard stories from boarders who called that dorm home all school year long. It’s the ghost of a pregnant student who hung herself; it’s an ‘aumakua of a girl from Hilo, from Lihue, from Kahului; it’s a prank; it’s a dream; it’s the haunting of an ancient kahu priest bound to stones stolen from his heiau altar—everyone knows unscrupulous foreigners reused finished stones after the Hawaiian gods fell.
None of those stories feels right.
I once dared to ask our kahu, the resident campus chaplain. He smiled and fiddled with his rosary as he told me that over the years, many people had seen unusual things in that dorm. When called, he’d come to them in the middle of the night with prayers and ti leaves, saltwater and aloha. He believed whatever walks these halls is harmless, and like all souls deserves our kindness. E ho‘okikaha me ka maluhia, he said. Let it wander in peace.
You’re wearing that? No. Go change. It’s too wrinkled. What do you mean there’s no iron? The rental has a coffee maker, a microwave, a washer and dryer, but no iron? Figure it out. You can’t go looking like that.
You, go shave again. Yes, I mean it. See all of this under your chin? That can’t be there. There’s a new razor and shaving cream in my bag in the bathroom. I don’t want to hear how you’re sunburned and itchy, just do it.
We need to buy a lei. No, I don’t want to go to Royal Lei Shoppe. She’ll think that’s too expensive. Safeway has leis. We’ll get one there. Something nice, but not too nice.Why? Because the best is too nice and that’s worse than not bringing anything at all.
No, not that one. See the brown edges? It’s past its prime. None of these look good. We need a fresh lei. I know if we had gone to an actual flower shop like you suggested I’d have better options, but we don’t have time to go somewhere else. On time is late. No, that’s cheap orchids. It’s a tourist lei. The ginger is nice, but it won’t last. Pikake is good, but look, see how the ribbon is crushed? That one is Micronesia-style; she’s Hawaiian. Yes, that matters. Carnation? Are you kidding me? Here. This one: tuberose and ilima. It smells good—and it’s not too cheap, not too expensive.
Yes, I took the Safeway sticker off the box.
Remember, no slouching. Is that gum in your mouth? Get rid of it. Leave your hat in the car. No cell phones. Stay engaged, but do not interrupt. Children are meant to be seen and not heard. If we eat, your fork is on your left; your water glass is on your right. Napkins on your lap first thing. When we’re done, fold your napkin; don’t wad it up. Cloth napkins, honey. I know because it’s always cloth.
Smile. Remember, everything is fine, everybody is good. We’re all good. Yes, everybody. Do not mention You Know Who or You Know What.
Okay, let’s go. Why are you kids freaking out? She’s your great-grandmother. Just be yourself.
When I was five we lived in a house on the beach at Kihei Lagoon. I remember getting up as dawn was just a shell-pink hint in the sky and running barefoot down the grass and onto the cool damp sand. It was rare, very rare to walk along the water’s edge and find a miracle: a small glass ball that had broken free from a Japanese fisherman’s net to float through miles of open Pacific Ocean to land at my feet. I only found two—one faint green and the other amber, but I remember marveling at the slightly misshapen glass spheres melted and shaped from discarded liquor bottles. It was the kind of thing that would hold a mermaid’s wish or a message from a sea star, and I never forgot the sense of magic and wonder they brought.
It was the distance, I think. How could something travel so far?
Now as I wander along beaches it’s not quaint glass balls or even shells that I find. It’s plastic. Bent, broken, sun-bleached discards from Asia, America, Australia. Bits of bins, bags, and ephemeral stuff too travel-worn and trashed to identify properly. It’s everywhere with more coming ashore on each tide.
I admit I’m a casual recycler. I understand reduce, reuse, and recycle, and I do my part to live lightly on the earth as long as it’s simple, practical, and fairly painless. Compared to true eco-warriors I’m a poser.
But seeing the pervasive plastics in our oceans and along our beaches have made me more concerned than all the weeping Indians, earth-warming alarmists, and give a hoot owls combined. When I see the damage to our reefs from abandoned fishing nets that drag along fragile coral, when there are more white bags than white sand, and when the levels of toxicity in our fish make them unsafe to eat I have to ask how do we stop? We can’t strain the ocean and pull every bit of trash out—where would we even put it? This is not a California-Hong Kong-Sydney problem. It’s a world problem.
I have the glass balls to prove it.
Knowing when I was going to get mail used to be a simple thing. Never on Sundays. Around 11:20 am Monday through Friday and around noon on Saturday. There was no reason to keep checking the mailbox—one delivery a day brought all I was going to get until the next time the mailman made her rounds.
Yeah, our mailman was a lady, but we still called her the mailman. When I was little I thought the word was mail ma’am. I also thought the song Cherish You was all about cherry shoes, but that’s another blog post.
Growing up in Hawaii, I could predict when I might get a card or letter from my mainland family. Christmas and birthdays were a sure thing. Presidents’ Day, Groundhogs Day, Flag Day—not so much. I’d haunt the mailbox the week before an anticipated arrival but ignore it the rest of the time. A kid can only get so excited about Hawaiian Electric bills, Longs ads, and mail addressed to Resident.
But with email, you just never know. Any second somebody could be sending that all important message, the one you didn’t know you were waiting for until it arrived. I find myself reaching for my smartphone and checking my inbox way too often in meetings, watching tv, at kids’ soccer games—even church. I’m starting to feel like Linus with his blankie.
I’m not ADD. I can choose when I’m going to pay attention and can sustain that attention for a scarily long time when I’m engaged. My problem is low boredom threshold.
It’s easier to let people think I’m ADD.