Like One Fish Out of Water

The Niuhi Shark Saga

 

photo2_optHad a blast yesterday at BYU with the Kid Authors Camp kids. An amazingly smart, talented, and fearless group of writers. They asked all the tough questions about how contracts work, movie rights, and how they can publish their work when they’re ready, like in maybe another hour or so when they finish their last chapter. These kids are going places!photo1_opt

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I don’t believe in writer’s block, even though I’ve been stalled out on book three in the Niuhi Shark Saga for several months now. It’s not that I can’t write—I’ve continued to write and even publish other works—it’s that I haven’t wanted to work on the series.

It’s not block, it’s apathy.

Part of the apathy comes from the publisher wanting to wrap it up as a trilogy instead of  a five book series—oh, but Lehua, we’d like you to keep the third book’s ending open enough that if sales warrant it, there’s the option to write books four and five. In the meantime, we’d like to see something else. I could go on ad nauseam about the challenges of working with an understaffed, underfunded new publishing house, but if you’re a writer, you’ve heard it all before.

So five into three. Really three into one, since the first two are already published. No matter how you do the math, it doesn’t fit.

I thought about simply writing book three the way I originally envisioned it and then self-publishing four and five—heck, I’d give them away to anyone who asked.

But a series with three nice books sitting on a shelf and two only available on the nearest eReader didn’t feel right. I didn’t know what would. Some days I even convinced myself that I didn’t care, the same way people convince themselves that a large Diet Coke cancels out the buttered popcorn and peanut M&Ms they consume at a movie.

For the past year, every time I sit down to write I have to do it around the three-ton shark sitting on my keyboard. Go back to starring in Shark Week shows, I’d think. Aren’t there some white-bellied tourists from Wisconsin you can haunt? Unlike bigger budgeted publishing houses, in my experience, small presses don’t bug you much about deadlines, particularly when they’re busy trying to hook bigger fish.

It was therefore easy, sorta, to ignore Jaws Junior and the tsunami wave of story hovering over my head. Easy, that is, until book two started percolating through the kid-lit jungle net and kids started sending me email.

Aunty Lehua!!!!! I can’t believe you ended it that way!!!!!! What happens next?!!!!!!!

Middle grade readers love exclamation points.

They also send major guilt-trip vibes.

Working as a content editor with other authors made me realize my real problem wasn’t finding a way to tie up all the loose ends. It was reconciling what made sense in a third book based on the first two. In my head I had too much story. But if Zader chooses to do something else…

Suddenly, a completely new and different shape for a third book began to emerge. I bounced ideas off published authors who had read One Boy, No Water and One Shark, No Swim, but had no preconceived ideas of where the story was heading. I then went to my ace in the hole—a few middle grade readers–and asked what they’d like to see in the last book. While radically different from my original ideas, the new book three made sense.

With a clearer vision in mind, I finally feel ready to write the last book of Zader’s Niuhi shark saga. The series will end, questions will be answered, and Zader’s journey will be worth it—both for him and the reader.

I hope.

Cue the theme from Jaws.

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As the author of a series, I’m often asked by other writers about character development—specifically, how should characters change from one book to the next. I always say it all depends on whether your series is more like a fast-food burger or a chef’s table dining experience.

You know us Hawaiians; it’s all about the food.

When you walk into a burger joint, you pretty much know what you’re going to get. Some series, particularly detective fiction like Robert Parker’s Spencer series, are structured like your basic grilled patty in a bun. First book to last, Spencer changes his underwear and not much else. A crime is committed. It gets solved. Some shooting, drinking, and bed-hopping happens in between. The order the books are read in doesn’t matter much more than having a bacon cheeseburger one day and a jalapeño ranch burger the next.

For burger-lovers, this consistency is a good thing. For authors making bank with a series, it’s awesome. With infinite combinations of new toppings and special sauces to season the plot, there’s no reason to mess with the character of the ground chuck. And with no over-arching storyline, the series never ends.

But no matter how juicy, few people crave burgers all day every day. Variety being the spice of life, it should be no surprise that some series are the literary equivalent of a multi-course chef’s table meal. When you sit at the chef’s table in a restaurant, you relinquish control over your dining experience to the chef who determines the pacing, ingredients, and presentation of each course. For readers, it’s about savoring each dish on the way to dessert.

Think of the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling. In each book the wizardlings had adventures and obstacles, but there was a more important over-arching tale involving Voldermort and Harry that advanced until it was resolved at the end of the last book. Now imagine knowing from the beginning Dumbledor’s end game and Snape’s true character—you’d be eating dessert first and spoiling your appetite for all the delicious tension built in the previous six books.

Just as a chef considers the textures, flavors, and juxtapositions of each dish in his set menu, the author of a cohesive serial story forces characters to change and grow from book to book, ultimately piquing the reader’s hunger for the next course. In a burger book, character development is secondary to the plot. A juicy char-broiled book series is all about enjoying similar experiences with beloved characters over and over again.

Here’s another example.

The Niuhi Shark Saga is a multi-course luau complete with roasted pig, hula dancers, and cake. It’s one loooooong story broken into bite-sized MG/YA books.

Through the series Zader, the protagonist, changes from the odd kid who always has to be rescued to the kid who questions everything to the young man who determines for himself how he will live his life. In each book I have to consider where Zader is in terms of his eventual transformation and where the other characters are in relation to both Zader and their own conflicts and ambitions. It helps that many of my characters are going through adolescence, arguably the biggest transformative time in anyone’s life.

In book one, One Boy, No Water, Zader is hiding in the shadows. There’s a lot of symbolism about young, tender things growing in the protective safety of the reef. He has Uncle Kahana, Jay, and Char Siu to guide and support him, and he’s pretty comfortable being led. At the end, Zader recuses his brother from a paralyzing fear and himself from bullies. This triggers his predator nature, and it’s obvious he’s outgrown the idea of camouflage as safety.

In book two, One Shark, No Swim, Zader’s grown enough that he no longer accepts what he’s been told as fact. Uncle Kahana is unwilling to deal directly with the changes he sees in Zader, and that causes problems. Char Siu, Zader’s gal-pal, is starting to understand that there’s a big difference between boy-world and girl-world and she’s navigating deep water while the boys are still splashing in the shallows. Jay begins to get caught up in competitive surfing, leaving Zader alone on the sand. These conflicts and others finally drive Zader to listen only to himself and to make a choice no one expects.

In book three, tentatively titled One Fight, No Fist, there are consequences for Zader’s choices. He’s older, more secretive, and both less trusting and more protective of his family and friends. He’s bolder, more aggressive, and is ready to take the fight to his stalker. He’s so far from where he started, he’s almost a different person. Consequently, all of the other characters have to change and adjust to this new person—or better, don’t adjust—and the reader can watch the sparks fly.

The changes the Niuhi Shark Saga characters go through are really the storyline that ties the books together. Without character growth the series would be like The Simpsons tv show—Homer chasing one doughnut after another, hanging out at Moe’s, and never learning or suffering from the consequences of his adventures for more than 30 minutes.

Now there are a lot of doughnut lovers who crave that consistency. Go, Homer, go!

But if you’re in the mood for something different, try a little of my Niuhi Shark Saga lau lau and poi. But be sure to leave room for the killer pineapple-upside down cake. You won’t believe what happens next!

Excerpt from One Shark, No Swim available Sept. 21, 2013

 

full_2_bigJay and I were putting the finishing touches on our awesomest project ever: a cardboard sled shaped from Hari’s tv box. It was huge. We were sure we’d break land speed records racing down grass hills. We might even catch air.

Char Siu pranced over the curb and struck a pose, hands on her hips and one shoe delicately balanced on its point. “What do you think?”

Jay didn’t glance up. “We’re busy, Char Siu.”

She thrust her lip out. “You never even looked.”

“You’re wearing your Mom’s old church shoes. Why? Did ‘Ilima eat one of your slippahs?” Jay yawned.

“I gotta practice, Jay. Lisa Ling told me all the girls wear heels at Ridgemont.”

Jay turned to me. “You ever see Lili wear heels to school?”

I shook my head. “No.” Our sister Lili was going to be a junior at Ridgemont next year.

“Her friends?”

“No.”

“Sounds like Lisa-kine shibai to me,” Jay said.

“You just don’t know, Jay,” Char Siu said. “We’re not in elementary any more. All the girls our age wear ‘em. You’ll see.”

“Good thing we’re not girls,” I said. “I wouldn’t last a minute walking around in those shoes. Pohō, that.”

“Hard for run li’dat,” Jay said. He looked up at her. “Hard for see li’dat, too.”

“It’s called make-up,” she said.

“I’ve seen make-up. My Mom wears make-up. Lili, too. Her stuff is all over the bathroom. But make-up doesn’t make mempachi eyes li’dat. That’s something else.”

I looked a little closer. Char Siu’s eyes did look bigger, rounder, like she’d opened the door and giant spiders jumped out. One eye twitched and then stuck half open-half closed.

“What’s wrong with your eye?” I asked.

“Nothing!”

“Then why is it sticking to your face like that?”

“Ho!” Char Siu reached up and peeled something off her eyelid. “The stupid Scotch tape won’t stay. I told Lisa it wasn’t right.”

One eyelid looked normal now and the other still looked like it was keeping track of a man-eating bug. She reached up and peeled something off the other eyelid and suddenly she looked normal.

Well, normal for Char Siu.

All excerpts and short stories copyright © 2012 by Lehua Parker. Excerpts from the Niuhi Shark Saga by permission of Jolly Fish Press, LLC. All rights reserved. Illustration by Corey Egbert. No part of these excerpts may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. No part of these short stories may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the author.

The wind-blown look.

The wind-blown look.

Photo-bombed by the horses.

Photo-bombed by the horses.

The Producer

The Producer

Even the cats wondered what the fuss was all about.

Even the cats wondered what the fuss was all about.

I hate getting my picture taken. The photos never look like me, the image of myself that lives inside my head. Frankly, I probably never looked liked the image in my head. I’m a writer. I have a great imagination.

As a writer, I spend most of my days in yoga pants and tee-shirts in front of my computer. It’s a big day if I have to buy groceries and talk to a cashier. Heaven help me if I actually have to walk into the school to pick up a kid.

But occasionally I do have to comb my hair, put some make-up on, find clothes without pukas or stains, and submit to being photographed. Book 2, One Shark, No Swim is about to be launched, so new photos were in order.

The photographer said, “I want to capture you in your natural environment.”

Looking down at my Will Work for Books sweatshirt, ratty stretch pants, hair stuffed in a messy pony, lying on the couch guzzling Diet Coke, I didn’t think he knew what he was getting into. “You mean you want to shoot at the house?” I asked.

“I want the readers to see the real you!”

Personally, I’ve always been a bigger fan of the fantasy. Reality always includes too many dishes, kids with sticky hands, and things that make you go ewww.

As we headed out the door to take some shots, my daughter the rodeo princess looked up. “Your make-up’s nice, Mom. Not too over-the-top. I mean, it’s not a like a Rodeo Clown or anything. Not-too-Momish either.”

“Great,” I said, “glad to know I hit the sweet-spot between hobo and whore.”

“I was going to say New York chic, but now that I look at you, it’s kinda more New York-Mom chic.

I don’t even know what that means. But the fun didn’t stop there. The whole barnyard had to get into the act.

“Let’s try some shots by the aspens” was an invitation to the free-range chickens and guinea hens to peck at my feet, hopeful some old grapes or stale bread would come their way. “How about we try something with your arm on a fence rail” turned into a group photo. “Come here and we’ll sit and review what we’ve taken” was the cue for one of the cats to jump on the photographer’s lap and check out the photos. No, really. You’d have thought the cat was the producer if you’d seen the way he pushed us aside to see the viewfinder.

At one point I realized I was the center of attention for fifteen chickens, two guinea hens, three horses, two dogs, and two cats–and one poor photographer standing on a wrought iron lawn chair to get the right angle. No wonder all the critters were staring.

And wondering where the food was.

Probably should’ve gone with photos of them instead.

The following is an excerpt from One Shark, No Swim available everywhere September 21, 2013.

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When Kalei’s shark head broke the surface of the large saltwater pool at Piko Point, all he was thinking about was raw ahi tuna sliced thinly and spread like a fan on a bed of green cabbage. He smacked his lips remembering the last time—how the hot wasabi paste and shoyu burned his tongue and how the flavor of wood from the chopsticks lingered in the back of his throat long after he’d swallowed each morsel of fish.

Remember to chew, he thought. Humans chew.

For Kalei, eating fresh ahi was no big deal, but having someone else catch, clean, and serve it sashimi-style on a platter was once in a blue moon special. When a spicy sashimi craving hit, there was only one place to go: Hari’s in Lauele Town, Hawai‘i.

So really, how big could Hari’s new tv be? Kalei thought. Last night, Pua kept raving about how it’s just like being in the picture. Right. As if that’s even possible sitting at my table way off the lānai in the shadows of the oleander bushes. But with Pua, you never know. She’s so fascinated with humans, she’s becoming one. He scowled, annoyed that his sister Pua planned to live as human when her daughter Lē‘ia started school in the fall. Even if I thought Father would agree, I’d be against it. Whatever. No matter how she pleads, Pua can’t make me visit or stay, and I won’t, even if she promises to keep shoyu and wasabi in the boathouse and gets a big screen tv with premium sports channels. I’d still have to catch my own fish. And no way Pua’s ever gonna slice it and serve it to me on a platter. He nodded to himself. Regardless of what Pua does, I’m keeping my special table at Hari’s. It’s the only place I’ll ever be able to watch a football game or sumo match in peace.

Sumo! If that new tv of Hari’s is as big as Pua claims, I’ll have to make sure I’ve got more than a sashimi platter of fish in my gut before watching, something like a couple of monk seals or a huge chunk of pilot whale. All that sumo meat in slow motion is like catnip if I’m not careful and with Pua and Lē‘ia living in Lauele, we can’t afford another missing tourist rumor.

With only the moon as his witness, Kalei gracefully shifted from Niuhi shark to human form and started treading water, working his way to the edge of the tide pool. Pausing to wipe newly human eyes, Kalei inhaled his first breath of air, pulling the oxygen deep into his lungs. Forcing the last tang of seawater from his body, he paused.

Blood.

All excerpts and short stories copyright © 2012 by Lehua Parker. Excerpts from the Niuhi Shark Saga by permission of Jolly Fish Press, LLC. All rights reserved. Illustration by Corey Egbert. No part of these excerpts may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. No part of these short stories may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the author.

Before Jay saw the Niuhi Shark in One Boy, No Water he used to think sharks were no big deal. Hard to believe, yeah?

spot_boardI watched Jay make his bed. “Going surfing?”

“Yeah.”

“Early, yeah?”

“That’s when the waves best.”

“Meeting Frankie?”

Jay grabbed a t-shirt off the floor. Through the shirt he mumbled, “Later. He no like surf before dawn, the panty. He comes an hour or two after sunrise. He says his mother makes him do chores, but I know the truth. He’s scared of sharks.”

I thought about what I knew about sharks and decided Frankie had a point. “They come in at night to feed, yeah? In close to shore.” I said.

“So they say.” Jay picked up the sunscreen from under the dresser.

I cocked my head at him. “You not afraid?”

“No.”

“No?”

“No. Terrified,” Jay confessed.

“You ever seen a shark? I mean, out there, surfing?” I asked.

“Couple times.” He paused, sunscreen white on his nose. “Plenny times. I seen them along the reef bottom, cruising out by first breaks at Nalupūkī.”

“Fo’real?” I asked.

“Yeah, fo’real.”

“How big?”

“Small. Baby kine. An occasional bigger one, two to three feet. Once, I seen one about nine feet, longer than me on my board. Mostly black tip reef.” Jay shrugged. “Not too big.”

“Big enough.”

He nodded. “One time when I dove under a wave I seen one out in the distance, a hammerhead. Had to be twelve, maybe fourteen feet.” He shook his head. “That time I got out.”

I watched him take an old beach towel from the back of our door and toss it over his shoulder. “Why?” I asked. “If you know they’re there, why surf at all?”

Jay turned to me, chewing on his bottom lip, choosing his words carefully. “Don’t tell Mom, yeah? But one time, I was hanging out with some seagulls, just floating out past first breaks when I saw a shark go after a bird that was floating right by me. The bugger was so fast! He hit the bird and swallowed it before the bird even knew it was coming. I was sitting on my board not fifteen feet away and the shark went after the bird. He’d rather have a mouthful of feathers than a chunk out of me. That’s when I knew.” His eyes held mine. “I knew then that it didn’t matter if I was surfing in the early dawn or high noon, in shallow water or deep, by myself or with choke guys. If a shark wanted me, it would have me. There’s nothing I can do, except stay out of the water. And I can’t do that.” He looked down. “If no can do nothing, waste time being scared, yeah? And I no like waste time when the waves are pumping. Besides, everybody knows sharks only like white meat. Good thing I’m tan.” He grinned and opened our bedroom door.

“Jay,” I said.

“Yeah?”

“Be careful, yeah?”

“Always, brah, always.”

All excerpts and short stories copyright © 2012 by Lehua Parker. Excerpts from the Niuhi Shark Saga by permission of Jolly Fish Press, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of these excerpts may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. No part of these short stories may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the author.

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My cousins, sister, and  I were supposed to be doing the dishes, so of course we were fighting.

“Bruce! Don’t dump silverware in the rubbish can!” I shrieked.

“What? What did I do?” Eyes wide and fake innocent.

“You threw away the fork when you scraped the plate,” my sister Heidi said. “I saw.”

“Not!” Bruce snapped.

“Yes!” Heidi said, tipping the rubbish can forward. “You can just see the edge of it right there!”

“Where?” Bruce said.

“Right there! Under the napkin!” Heidi said.

“Busted!” Carly chortled, putting leftovers in the fridge.

“Get it out,” I said.

“No way,” Bruce whined; “It’s ugi! I’m not putting my hand in there!”

I turned from the sink where I was washing the chopping knife. “Do it!”

“Make me,” he said.

I waved the knife at him. “Eyes or alas, your choice!”

“You gonna get it now, Bruce,” Taylor said, dumping a stack of plates on the counter.

“Better choose alas, Bruce,” said Glen with a sly eye. “It’s not like you going need them.”

“Ooooooooh!” everybody inhaled.

“Good one, Glen!” said Taylor the troublemaker.

“I mean it, Bruce!” I snarled and waved the knife some more.

“That’s not how you hold a knife, Lehua.” Uncle Dave stood in the doorway, amused.

We all jumped back. Although if we were going to get caught fighting, we’d rather it was by Uncle Dave than anyone else. Anyone else usually involved more chores and sometimes lickings. With Uncle Dave the odds were better he’d just say knock it off. On a really good day, he’d just laugh and take us to the beach to cool off.

“What?” I asked, soap suds dripping off my wrist and running down my elbow.

“Nobody’s going to be afraid if you wave a knife like that at them.” We all looked at the knife in my hand, nonplussed. “Give it,” he said. “When you’re in a knife fight, you gotta hold the blade like this.” He whipped it around, sharp edge up. “Stand like this. Put your weight like this. See?”

We nodded.

It didn’t matter that Uncle Dave was almost as wide as he was tall. We watched him weave the knife through the air, shifting and swaying like a palm tree in the breeze. I kept thinking about West Side Story. I didn’t think the Jetts knew what Uncle Dave knew.

“That’s how you hold a knife,” he said and handed it back.

“Thanks, Uncle,” I said. “Now everybody back to work!” Being bossy comes naturally when you’re the oldest cousin and expected to keep everyone else in line. “Bruce, get the fork out of the rubbish can.”

“No,” he pouted.

I waved the knife at him the way Uncle Dave taught me. “Do it!”

“Okay, okay,” Bruce grumbled, “no need get huffy about it.”

“Not bad, Lehua,” Uncle Dave laughed, “not bad.”

More than 30 years later when I was writing the first draft of One Shark, No Swim it suddenly occurred to me that Zader was fascinated with knives—that’s one of the reasons he carves. When I wrote that lua training scene it was really Uncle Dave I saw in my mind dancing and fighting off imaginary dragons with a kitchen knife. A hui hou, Uncle Dave. Rest in peace.

Book 2 is heading to the copy editor where all the commas get put into the right places!

Until then, here’s a little taste of One Shark, No Swim.

full_9_bigI climbed on the toilet tank and stuck my head out the window. The drop was near the front door to Hari’s store. A little below me and to the left was the hand railing for the upstairs lānai that ran along Uncle Kahana’s living room. I was pretty sure I could make it.

Pretty sure.

I was holding onto the window frame hugging the outside wall with the ball of my right foot resting on the railing when I heard a plop. I looked down. A young haole girl with a sunburned nose was looking up at me. A large yellow and orange shave ice was melting at her feet.

“Mom!” she yelled. “There’s a naked boy covered in lipstick climbing out a window!”

I froze. I couldn’t go back and I couldn’t go forward.

“Jeanie!” a woman’s voice scolded from the store.

“Mom! He’s got weeds wrapped around his ankle and wrist!”

Please, let me die and end this, I prayed. But whatever happens, please don’t let anyone show up with a smart phone or camera. If this gets out I’ll never live it down.

“Go away!” I mouthed at her.

“He wants me to go away!”

“What did I say about telling stories?” the woman said.

“But Mom, this time it’s true!”

I sensed more commotion under me, shadows and light flickering like schools of fish on the reef. I peered down.

“Jeanie! Look what you did! Your snow cone’s all over—” the voice trailed off.

Bleach blond hair and mega-sized sunglasses stared up at me. I closed my eyes.

Next to me the sliding door swept open and a strong brown arm wrapped around my body, lifting me over the railing and onto the lānai. Uncle Kahana leaned down.

“Aloha! So sorry about the shave ice! Tell the girl at the counter Kahana said to give you a new one! On the house, of course! Have a nice day!”

As he pushed me through the open door and into living room I heard the woman say, “Hush, Jeanie, hush! I told you it’s another culture! The whole island is like going to Chinatown in San Francisco. Now do you want a free snow cone or not?”

All excerpts and short stories copyright © 2012 by Lehua Parker. Excerpts from the Niuhi Shark Saga by permission of Jolly Fish Press, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of these excerpts may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. No part of these short stories may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the author.

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On June 21, 2013 I was privileged to meet some very talented young authors at Brigham Young University. Click on Fan Art to see how they answered the question, “What would you draw on the bottom of a surfboard to chase away a shark?”003_ws

Click here to go to
the Niuhi Shark Website.
One Boy, No Water
Zader's living like a fish out of water.
One Shark, No Swim
Because even out of the water Zader's not safe.
Birth
Uncle Kahana and Ilima find Zader abandoned on the reef at Piko Point as a baby.