This week I’ve been in graphic design hell as I’ve been trying to create new covers for the first of three stories based on re-imagined western fairy tales with a Hawaiian twist. The books have been ready for quite awhile–it’s the eBook, paperback, and hardback covers that have been holding up publication.
The whole thing has been driving me crazy.
Once I have a solid concept, I turn the designs in progress to different focus groups. They’re told that the books are standalone serials that are only loosely linked through recurring characters and settings from other books I write and that they there are sci-fi or magical realism with romance elements. People looked at them and then submitted their feedback in writing. I took their feedback and refined the designs, eventually showing a new iteration to more focus groups until I thought I had the best cover possible given my limitations of time and money. The finer details got refined by a trusted handful of people.
Here’s where I started about a week ago.
I liked that flowers and borders framed the series as a set. The title fonts and center images gave clues about the genre for each story. The additional text explained that these were riffs on traditional fairy tales. Winner, winner, chicken dinner, right?
Public Focus Group Feedback #1
“Too much text.”
“These don’t look like they go together. Use the same fonts.”
“Fonts need work.”
“You can’t sell romances set in the same world with different genres. Are you stupid?”
“Everything is wrong. You need to hire me to create proper covers. You’re going to fail at this.”
(I looked up this person’s portfolio. Once I stopped laughing, I took everything they said with an ocean of salt.)
I dropped the floral border, change font colors and the bar/band textures, and other minor changes.
Public Focus Group Feedback #2
“Too much text.”
“Body parts are horrible on romance covers.”
“These look like different genres. One looks sci-fi, one looks chick-lit, and the other is just terrible.”
“Use the same font on all the titles.”
“The quality of the artwork with the flowers was better.”
“Unless you’re Stephen King, nobody cares what else you’ve written, and if you’re Stephen King, you don’t have to brag.”
“Rell is whiter than the others. Was this intentional?”
“Pua looks like she has mutton chops.”
“Unless Nani doesn’t have arms in the story, her truncated limbs are freaking me out.”
“You’re going to get sued for calling these Fractured Folktales. It’s too close to Fractured Fairytales.”
(Nope. No copyright issues. But thanks for the warning.)
“Fonts need work.”
“You’re hiding the beautiful artwork behind too much text. Let the art tell the story.”
“Hire me. These suck.”
(Also reviewed this person’s portfolio. Hard pass.)
Changed Rell from an ‘okole shot to a whole person, realigned all the images, used the same font for the titles, dropped top bar, and other small changes.
Public Focus Group Feedback #3
“I liked it with all the flowers better.”
“Fonts need work.”
“So much better without all that text.”
Changed Rell to a more active pose, changed title font styles and location, cropped images differently, other minor changes.
Small Focus Group Feedback 4
“There’s something weird about Pua’s stomach.”
“Mom, I’m busy with finals.”
“Come to bed. It’s 4:30 am.”
I think this where they will end up–or something very similar. The font snaps and can be read at thumbnail size for eBooks. I like that the women are strong and beautiful on the covers. We’ll test market them a little in eBook before committing to paperback and maybe hardback options. What do think?
And now to start on the backs and spines–and blurbs and meta data. Send chocolate. It’s going to be another long week.
‘Aumakua whisper in my ear.
I want to ride the lightning.
In the shower this morning, an entire story burst into my head. It’s a post-apocalyptic tale set in Hawaii and told from the perspective of a young local girl who learns to survive through traditional Hawaiian ways as taught by her grandfather. She’ll have to be very, very clever.
I think it’s partially Mauna Kea on my mind.
Before we can create the world we want to live in, we have to first imagine it, and then believe it’s possible. That’s the power of story. It seeps into subconscious cracks. Without saying it baldly, a story like this says, “Of course, Hawaiians thrive in the future, and their culture flourishes. Duh! A return to internalizing traditional values can help heal the world.”
There is always a but.
So much else to do today. Deadlines are looming on other projects. I just…can’t.
But I see you, little one, standing in the shadows, with your puka shirt and “Wot? I owe you money?” look in your eye. You have a lot to tell me.
I want to listen and talk story with you.
Soon, titah. Promise.
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
Hot off the presses and ready for young readers and those young at heart is R. Keao Nesmith’s Hawaiian translation of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Full confession: my Hawaiian is nowhere fluent enough to understand the text. But I love speaking the words aloud and picking out the things I do know.
This translation is important because it demonstrates that Hawaiian is a living, breathing language. When kids read modern stories they relate to, doors open in their minds that develop compassion, a wider understanding of the world around them, and a love of learning. More than just the story of a kid with magical powers, the Harry Potter series delves into deeper themes of social activism, class struggles, and group think. Kids see others like them rising up and making a difference and think, “Hey! Maybe me, too!” Pretty powerful stuff.
For those and other reasons, I’m excited to see this new translation. If you’re lucky enough to live near Hilo, Hawaii, you can get a copy at Basically Books. Otherwise, you’ll have to order it from Amazon. While it ships for free with Prime, it can take a few weeks for delivery since it ships from England.
Now if we could just get a few modern stories by Hawaiian authors translated into Hawaiian…
“Maverick” is a short story that was originally published by Griffin Press in Apocalypse Utah, an anthology of horror stories by Utah authors. I’ve had a request to use it in a class at Utah State University, so Makena Press has reprinted it as a Kindle eBook. It’s a quick read–and has nothing to do with Hawaii.
But the main character is certainly badass.
Here’s the blurb:
In post-apocalyptic Heber City, Utah, an 11 year-old girl searches for ChapStick and magazines in an abandoned Mavericks convenience store and runs into two drifters who get more than they bargained for.
You can pick it up on Amazon for 99 cents.
I’ve been working a new novella that’s set in imaginary Lauele, Hawaii. It’s going into a boxed set of novellas by the Fairy Tale Ink authors, this one called Fractured Sea, that retells the classic Little Mermaid fairy tale. It seems like a perfect fit for my stories of Niuhi, sharks that can appear as people, right?
Wrong. So wrong.
This has been the most difficult piece I’ve ever written. The story has fought me at every turn, refusing to fit into the mold of a Western fairy tale. I’ve struggled, writing and rewriting, and eventually throwing out 90% of what was in my original manuscript. I’ve wanted to quit and then feared I’d have to because for the first time in my life I COULDN’T DELIVER.
But then, finally, at 2 am Monday morning, it clicked. I stopped trying to write the story I thought I needed to tell and started listening to the story that wanted to be spoken. I’m behind, desperately behind, but I think I see the way through and that’s more than half the battle.
While there are elements that can be mapped to the Little Mermaid, it’s much more a story about ocean ecology, colonialism, tourism, personal sacrifice, and how a wise ocean god plans for his people’s future. There are analogies and metaphors that I hope will lead readers to think more deeply about the relationships they have with both the mundane and the supernatural.
I know it’s a little ambitious and probably ridiculous to cram all of this in a story that readers are expecting to be a fluffy romance about unrequited love, but apparently these are the kinds of mo’olelo–of stories–that resonate with me.
And I can only write the words I’m given. The stories are always a gift.
Today I ran across a TedxManoa talk given by Brandy McDougall back in 2012. (Click to view her talk.) I wish I’d seen it sooner. It speaks to the need of writing stories, our stories, as a political and cultural narrative.
The stories are always a gift.
Note: Tales From Pasifika is a website dedicated to reviewing stories that explore Polynesian and Oceanic cultures and themes. If you’re looking for a good book that fits into the Pacific-Lit category, this is the place. The following is an excerpt from their review of Nani’s Kiss, one of the five novellas in the Fractured Beauty boxed set. To see the full review, click here.
Tales From Pasifika Review
Nani has always known that one day she will marry Arjun. Even though she doesn’t know him very well, even though she is not sure she really loves him, she understands this is her destiny. Their parents arranged it a long time ago and Nani must fulfill their wishes. If only it was so simple. Unfortunately, it isn’t.
Arjun is dying. Since he collapsed, he has been locked in stasis in a medi-mod. What if he doesn’t survive? What will happen to their future? Risking everything, Nani is desperate to bring her fiancé back to life.
Is it possible to write a futuristic story anchored in traditional cultures? You have to admit, it is no mean feat. Lehua Parker dared try to do just that. And I think it’s safe to say she has succeeded.
‘Nani’s Kiss’ is a sci-fiction version of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ (only the beast is not who you expect it is), which takes from Hawaiian and Indian cultures. It’s a rather unusual mix and one that can be easily ruined. But Lehua Parker managed to keep the right proportions of all the elements, thanks to which the novella makes an interesting read.
The storyline engages the reader right from the beginning, and as it evolves you become more and more curious as to what will happen next. The unforeseen twists and turns keep you riveted and don’t let you get bored even for a short while. However, they also require your undivided attention.
I have to warn you that this novella is not the easiest to read. If you want to follow the plot, you really have to concentrate on the words. There are a lot of fictional names of characters and places you may simply have trouble keeping in mind. They make the story slightly confusing, which for some readers may be a minor put off.
The characters themselves are incredibly well-built for such a short tale. They are believable, and we must remember that the novella takes place in the future, and easy to relate to. With their hopes, dreams, and fears, they are like ordinary human beings. And despite the fact that their backgrounds are not as clearly shown as we would all want, you get the feeling that you know their past quite well.
Now, although the story isn’t set in Hawaii, the local customs and practices are very noticeable. Especially the tradition of tattooing. But forget about permanent drawings here. In the world the author has created, nano-bot tattoos appear and then dissolve, only to reappear on a different part of a person’s body. The images they form reveal the intimate secrets of one’s heart and soul, and for a novice are impossible to hide.
The idea – a brilliant idea – of giving a futuristic twist to one of the oldest Polynesian traditions shows how the past can connect with the future. It also reminds us that some things in life should never be forgotten.
‘Nani’s Kiss’ is without a doubt a very interesting novella. The concept is truly fascinating, so I am positive you won’t feel let down when you give it a try. I definitely recommend it!
Mahalo nui nui, Tales From Pasifika! You can find Nani’s Kiss in Fractured Beauty on Amazon. More in the Fractured Series by Fairy Tale Ink coming soon.
But I’m going to tell you about my now seventeen year old daughter instead.
When she was starting kindergarten at a private school, they had a get to know the parents, classmates, and teacher picnic. At the picnic I overheard a boy tell his friends how much he loved to chase and kiss girls. I said something to his mother and the teacher, who both laughed it off.
On the way home, I told my daughter if anyone tried to kiss her and she didn’t want to, she had the right to say no–loud and long–until they stopped. And if they kept pursuing, she had the right to make them stop. I said she might get in trouble at school at first, but I would never be mad at her and would explain to the grown-ups.
Sure enough, I got a call the first day of school. I walked into the principal’s office and faced an outraged parent, teacher, and principal who wanted to suspend my daughter for punching a boy in the eye—violence and hitting would not be tolerated.
I calmly asked my daughter to explain what happened. She described how this boy was chasing all the girls at recess, knocking them down, and kissing them—and was encouraging other boys to do this, too. She matter of factly said she’d told him she didn’t want to kiss, he told her she’d better run, and she’d said no and if you try to kiss me again, I’ll punch you. He tried, so she socked him. He ran to the teacher, crying. My daughter also said we didn’t have to worry or punish the boy because in her opinion the problem was solved because she didn’t think he would try to kiss her again. Could she go color now? I gave her a hug and sent her out of the room.
I wish I could say the adults—all women—immediately got it, but they didn’t. I insisted that punishing my daughter for defending herself against unwanted sexual advances was exactly the wrong message. Remember, this was supposed to be a progressive, enlighten private school. I ended their boys will be boys defense with my daughter always has my permission to defend herself against assault.
This boy continued to kiss unwilling girls until my daughter taught them it was okay to fight back. She told the girls not to run or cry, but to tell him no and to punch if he didn’t listen. She said sometimes a punch works best, but to use words first. She also said don’t be mad at him, he’ll figure it out eventually.
The wisdom of a five year old.
After a few more bruises and visits to the principal, his parents acknowledged there might be a problem and got him some counseling.
Knowing that you have the right to say no and to defend yourself—and others—is not a magical protection shield. But maybe if more five year olds felt empowered to stand up for themselves, fewer perpetrators would grow up thinking behavior like this is okay.
#metoo is hashtag used to to increase awareness of sexual harassment and assault on Twitter and Facebook. The original call for stories looked like this: “If every person who has been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote “Me too” as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.” In my original Facebook post I left out a very important detail to this story, the part where I wished someone had told five year old me what I told my daughter. For all men and women who get this, thank you. Your voices, examples, and actions make a difference. For those who never considered what happened to them in the hallways or playground as sexual harassment or assault and have now realized that snapping bra straps, flipping up skirts, and chasing girls to kiss them is a forerunner to more serious issues, this can be an eye-opening experience. Let’s teach our children better and resist ideas that downplay these incidents as kids will be kids.
Elsie Park is soft-spoken, unassuming, warm, and generous. She’s the kind of person who goes out of her way to make sure everyone is welcomed and comfortable, the kind of person who drops off a meal or an encouraging note simply because she recognizes a need. She makes honest human connections and is one of those rare souls who truly cheers and delights in others’ successes.
What many don’t know is she’s a complete badass in disguise.
Seriously. This petite, nurturing, and loving wife, mother, and musician used to be a wildfire hotshot, a security guard, and a police officer. You underestimate her talent, drive, and backbone of steel when you put her a June Cleaver box. She chooses to be soft and kind.
It’s no surprise to me that when Jolly Fish Press imploded last October, Elsie grabbed her bootstraps and hiked her way to a new publisher who appreciated her work and talent.
You can read my original review of Shadows of Valor here and her author interview here. It’s a great clean romance story, perfect for those afternoons when you need an escape into a world of knights, intrigue–and cinnamon.
Shadows of Valor by Elsie Park is available in eBook and paperback from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
Connect with Elsie Park
So humbled and honored that One Truth, No Lie, book three in the Niuhi Shark Saga, is a 2016 Whitney Award Nominee. Mahalo nui loa to all the readers who nominated it.