Talking Story

The Niuhi Shark Saga

1 2 3 5

PEAU Women’s Writing Crew
December 9, 2020
Prompt: pig, string or rope, bicycle
about 500 words


Tuna burst through ‘Alika’s bedroom door.

“‘Alika! Aunty—”

WHAM!

‘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.

Nothing.

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.

“Arnold!”

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.

Santa at Respite Beach.
Man, I need to get back to the ocean.

Ever enter a time warp? Sometimes it’s a good thing, like when you’re on a long plane ride and you fall asleep and 10 minutes later you’re landing halfway around the world. Score!

Other times you turn around and it’s been SIX MONTHS since you wrote a blog post. Or wrote anything longer than an article, essay, or short story. Six months that felt like a decade, the worst kind of time warp where you stand in line or get on a plane and months later discover you’re still right where you started.

Or mostly.

I know I was busy, so busy I didn’t have time to do anything except put out the fire right in front of me and beat out the new flames arising from all sides.

2020 sucked, folks. For everybody.

But although I don’t have a new novel or play to feel good about, I did do some writerly stuff. I did some developmental editing on a few titles ranging from middle grade speculative fiction to adult non-fiction; wrote and sold a few short stories and essays; taught a few classes; mentored a few burgeoning writers and editors who didn’t listen when I said writing is hard, go to med school instead; did the layouts for a few books; did some copyediting; and spoke at a few virtual conferences. I accepted a position as the Personal Voices Editor at Dialogue magazine and found lots of nicer ways to say, “Yes, you do have multiple PhDs from Ivy League schools–well done! Regardless, your manuscript is not a personal essay. It is a diatribe. Thanks for submitting. P.S.–It’s ZZzzzzzz.” I also got to tell some new writers that I loved their personal essays and, “Yes!” In November I started working with Pacific Island Knowledge 2 Action Resources (PIK2AR) in Utah as their Literary Coordinator and rebooted a women’s writing group and an adult book club, plus planned a kids’ literacy initiative and book club for 2021 with Pacific Heritage Academy.

Lots of work, but not a lot of new, creative words.

Like many, I had lots of personal drama and trauma in 2020. Adult kids moved back home to continue university classes online, and my husband stopped traveling for business and began working worldwide via Zoom from his home office. Everything we were looking forward to was canceled. We all stayed home, the longest I haven’t traveled since childhood. Kupuna died suddenly from heart attacks or had cancer or strokes, leading to new assisted living situations which ended up feeling like Covid jail when we could only visit through glass. It’s hard to hug through a window pane. But as hard as social isolation is, losing people is much, much harder. From mid-summer on, every week, then every few days, someone I knew from writer-world, ‘ohana, or my neighborhood died. I stopped counting at 18.

No wonder that for most of the year, I wasn’t able to write or edit my own words. I just couldn’t.

But life has to go on. I’ve realized that I need to write my words and tell my stories for my own sanity. When you can’t control anything in the real world, you can control your story.

Sugar-free gum and Diet Coke feed the muse. Or at least distract her so I can write!

Well, until your characters mount a rebellion and hijack the narrative. But that’s the fun part.

Coming up in 2021–more published short fiction in anthologies, a newly designed website (fingers crossed), AUDIO BOOKS for the Niuhi Shark Saga, the long-anticipated Hawaiians-in-space novella, a new horror series for kids, and new weekly Lauele Shorts on the blog–quick snapshot stories about favorite characters in the Lauele Universe. (Because when you’re leading a weekly writing group you have to–ahem–write.) As part of the literacy initiative, I’m going to write some new reader’s theater plays with Pacific Islander characters and themes for kids. There’re also three novel-length books I hope to draft in 2021, two set in Lauele and one not set in Hawaii at all.

Next to my computer are stacks of sugar-free gum and a new pink micro-fridge stocked with six Diet Cokes. (Thanks, Santa!) Writing is happening.

Thanks for hanging in there with me. Here’s to a brighter 2021: I wish all a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year!

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.”

Mic drop.

Lilinoe’s story.

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.

Sigh.

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.

Ho’omakaukau.

Pā!

Rell never imagined an 18th birthday like this.

When Rell’s stepmonster Regina summons her to Lauele, Hawai’i, she knows better than to expect umbrella drinks, birthday presents, and open arms. The most she hopes for is some quality time with her twin step-sisters, a walk on the beach, and a little fun at a charity auction sponsored by her father’s corporation.

From the moment Rell lands in Honolulu, her life turns upside down as she reconnects with her Hawaiian heritage and discovers she’s surrounded by hidden agendas, lies, and ancient family obligations.

To save Lauele and Get Wet Prosthetics, Rell will have to navigate an island filled with Menehune day laborers, a snow goddesses’ vacation rental, a toppled sacred ‘aumakua stone, disappearing clothing, ‘Ilima as a not-so-fairy-godmother, and—worst of all—her stepmonster’s lawyers.

________

Rell’s Kiss is a standalone novel inspired by Cinderella. It is Book 2 in Lauele Fractured Folktales, reimagined stories inspired by the world’s oldest tales retold with a Hawaiian twist.

Lauele Fractured Folktales are loosely connected standalone stories in the Lauele Universe that can be read in any order.

Rell’s Kiss features characters from the Niuhi Shark Saga trilogy and other works by Lehua Parker. Chronologically, Rell’s Kiss comes after the events in One Truth, No Lie, Book 3 in the Niuhi Shark Saga trilogy.

EBook available from Amazon and Kindle Unlimited. Paperbacks coming soon!

An earlier version of this story was published as Rell Goes Hawaiian in Fractured Slipper, a collection of Cinderella stories published by Tork Media.

When you’re dating a Niuhi shark in human form, there’s no such thing as a casual Hawaiian fling.

The last thing Justin wants is complications. Jilted at the altar, he’s spending his pre-paid Hawaiian honeymoon alone—sort of. Sasha, his ex, won’t get out of his head. Frustrated, he takes a walk at sunset and discovers a beautiful woman asleep on the sand.

But Pua’s not really a woman.

A shape-shifting Niuhi shark, Pua feels compelled to visit the beach at Lauele. She doesn’t care that it’s forbidden by her father, the ocean god Kanaloa, or that breaking kapu can only end in blood, tears, and teeth. Justin’s a tourist. Here today, gone tomorrow.

Nobody’d even miss him.

What starts out as a casual flirtation soon turns into a high-stakes cat and mouse courtship as neither Justin nor Pua are who—or what—they seem.

Lauele—and their world—will never be the same.

________

Pua’s Kiss is a standalone novel inspired by The Little Mermaid. It is Book 1 in Lauele Fractured Folktales, reimagined stories inspired by the world’s oldest tales retold with a Hawaiian twist.

Lauele Fractured Folktales are loosely connected standalone stories in the Lauele Universe that can be read in any order.

Pua’s Kiss features characters from the Niuhi Shark Saga trilogy and other works by Lehua Parker. Chronologically, Pua’s Kiss comes before the events in Birth/Hanau and One Boy, No Water, Book 1 in the Niuhi Shark Saga trilogy. It tells the story of how Zader’s parents met and the events that ignited the Niuhi Shark Saga trilogy.

EBook available from Amazon and Kindle Unlimited. Paperbacks coming soon!

An earlier version of this story was published as Pua’s Kiss in Fractured Sea, a collection of Little Mermaid stories published by Tork Media.

 

I was talking with students at Ka ‘Umeke Ka’eo School, in Hilo, Hawaii. The kids were asking really good questions about language, sub-text, themes, metaphor, and symbolism. The kids were excited to discover that what they suspected in The Niuhi Shark Saga was true: everything was intentional and had meaning. The series was full of kaona to the max.

We were in a groove.

And then it happened.

“Aunty, what is the significance of the turtle?” a boy asked, pointing to the books in my hand.

My jaw hit the floor.

“You mean the turtle on the cover of book two, One Shark, No Swim?” I said.

He nodded, earnest and perplexed. He’d read the books a couple of times, but couldn’t figure out why in the world a turtle was featured on the cover. In a series where even the names and occupations carry deep meaning, he knew he must be missing something—something important.

I closed my mouth, thinking.

Big breath.

I opened it to tell him the truth.

“I wanted to use sea creatures on the covers to give readers hints about what was important in each book. A shark made sense for book 1, One Boy, No Water. An octopus made sense for book 3, One Truth, No Lie. But I didn’t want to use a shark again on book 2—I thought two sharks and an octopus would make book 3 seem out of place. We were under a tight deadline to publish the editions with the black tattoo covers. Manta rays, seahorse, eels—nothing I could get the rights to really resonated or matched the other art. And then someone found research that said Asian markets liked books with turtles on them. It was easy to get the rights to a turtle image. So that’s what we did.”

Pause.

You could cut the disappointment with a knife.

I said, “So the turtle means nothing to the story. What do you think should be on the cover?”

“‘Ilima!”

No hesitation.

I looked around the room. Lots of heads were nodding.

“You guys agree? What do you want to see on the cover?”

‘Ilima, they roared.

Back in the car, my husband gave me side-eye. “The kids don’t like the turtle,” he said.

“Nope. But that’s the first time someone’s mentioned it. ‘Ilima’s not a sea creature, though,” I said.

“Hmmmm,” he said.

And then it happened again that night in Kailua-Kona at Kahakai Elementary.

A teacher walked up with the books in her hands. “Lehua, I’ve read the books over and over looking for it. What is the significance of the turtle?”

My husband bit his lip and didn’t dare make eye contact with me.

Again, I told the truth.

Major disappointment.

I hate that.

So I asked, “What do you think should be on the cover?”

“‘Ilima!” she said.

“Yeah!” others said.

“But she’s not a sea creature,” I said.

It was like I was talking Greek.

“What does that have to do with it?” people asked.

And that’s when I realized that the covers should really be about what people loved—and they loved ‘Ilima.

So, back in my office in the snowy, cold Rocky Mountains, I began researching ideas for ‘Ilima and considering changing the cover of book 2. ‘Ilima doing what? Sleeping? Scratching? Walking on the reef? Sniffing?

No. ‘Ilima to the rescue!

And like starting to clean a closet or eating an artichoke, one small change exploded into many more changes that just wouldn’t fit back in the box.

Swapping an insignificant turtle for ‘Ilima has now become new covers and branding for the entire series.

I’m excited about these new covers. We’re getting ready to release new editions of the all three books with the new covers in eBook, paperback, and HARDBACK. Production is also beginning on audiobooks for the series.

But in the meantime, here’s ‘Ilima as she’ll appear on the cover of One Shark, No Swim.

Sorry, turtle. Time for you to go.

Here’s a preview of the cover of a new work in progress called Birth/Hanau. Ever wonder what really happened the day Uncle Kahana and ‘Ilima found Zader on the reef at Piko Point? How did Zader become part of the Westin ‘Ohana? This novella answers those questions and more. In this book, the same story is told twice–once in Standard American English and once with a lot of Hawaiian and Pidgin mixed in with the English. It’s an experiment and story that I hope you’ll enjoy. It’s coming soon–more details when I know ’em.


 

Hey, Gang!

I’m fleeing the snowy Utah winter to talk story, teach workshops, and work with some incredible keiki on the Big Island of Hawai’i. So excited! I’ll post some of the students’ work when I get back. (If I come back!)

 

Feb. 22: Kahakai Elementary, Kailua-Kona

Feb. 25 – Mar. 1: The Kamehameha Schools, Kea’au

Feb. 27: Ke Kula ‘o Nāwahīokalaniʻōpuʻu, Kea’au

Feb. 27: ‘Ohana Story Night, The Kamehameha Schools, Kea’au, 5 pm

Mar. 1: Ka ʻUmeke Kāʻeo PCS, Hilo

Mar. 2: Basically Books, Hilo, 1 pm Book Signing

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)

Download the flyer with the schedule and more info.

Conference Registration

Free Tickets to Honolulu Theater for Youth performances of work by Lee Cataluna, Patrick Ching, and Lehua Parker.

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.

Aiyah!

“Dad!”

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?”

“No.”

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?”

Sigh.

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.”

That’s powerful.

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.

Promise.

1 2 3 5

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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.