The Hunger Games movie opens this weekend. My kids and I been waiting for over a year to see how this story and characters transition to the screen, sighing or exclaiming over every casting choice and set design chronicled in Entertainment Weekly. Wanting to be surprised, my son has refused to watch any trailers and has resorted to sticking his fingers in his ears when the ads come on tv.
I just finished re-reading the series and fell in love with Suzanne Collins’s imagination and writing style all over again. Like all really good fiction, it’s a story that can be read on many levels. It’s a little unfortunate that the one generating the most buzz around the tween and teen sets is about the love triangle between Katniss, Peeta, and Gale.
This is particularly frustrating to Aaron, my 14-year-old son. “Did any of these people actually read the book? Team Peeta? Team Gale? Get real.”
Cheryl, my 12-year-old daughter agrees. “This is not about the boys. It’s not even about the girl and the boys. It’s about Katniss. I hope the movie doesn’t screw that up.”
Me too. While The Hunger Games is ultimately a story about love, it’s not about the kind of teenage puppy love that features so prominently in Young Adult fiction. Aloof and prickly Katniss loves deeply; it is her greatest strength and weakness; it is her weapon and her shield. The arch villains in the novel—Snow and Coin—don’t understand love and that ultimately leads to each of their downfalls. Snow fails to understand that “forbidden” love is the biggest form of rebellion and galvanization to action, and Coin, well, what can you say about someone who thinks marriage is no more than a new housing assignment? It’s an epic failure on both their parts to understand that what motivates Katniss is not power, political change, safety, or even fear of death. It’s love for those she calls family that motivates Katniss to greatness, that throws her into a spotlight she’d rather not seek. As Machiavellian as some of her actions are, it’s her underlying motivation of love for her family that elevate her character into a real three-dimensional personality and out of the clichés of so much of Young Adult fiction.
Katniss is a pawn, but a pawn with teeth and claws. She can be manipulated, yet also understands something of the dance of illusion versus reality she has to move through to survive in Panem. She wastes very little time bemoaning how unfairly life in the Districts compares with the Capitol. Collins is a master of showing the contrasts and letting the reader come to the logical conclusion. Katniss doesn’t deal with what should be; she deals with what is right in front of her, and this keeps the novels from bogging down into an Orwellian treatise on human nature while still developing much deeper themes than survival and teen romance.
I can’t recall another character in fiction quite like her. Team Katniss anyone?
Remember those timed reading tests in elementary school? At high tech Kahului Elementary in 2nd grade, I remember my teacher pushing play on a cassette tape and then watching me as I read aloud and moved my finger along the text, keeping pace with the voice on the cassette. She held bent soda bottle caps in her hands and each time you met one of the milestones, she’d set one down on your desk. When you had three you were done. In the spirit of those timed tests, here’s a link where you can check out your reading speed. Apparently I’m still above Diamond Head Lemon-Lime, but not yet to Shhtrawbarry. Bummahs!
From One Boy, No Water
Book 1 of The Niuhi Shark Saga
“The shark,” said Uncle Kahana, finally blinking. “It wen come tangled in the net.” He shook his ice and looked in the bottom of the glass, seeing what we couldn’t imagine. “He jumped in to save the shark.” He gave his glass another shake. “Daddy knew the shark would make die dead if no cut free. He jumped in the lehua water with his long boning knife, grabbing the net through the bloody blossoms, sawing away. When Daddy left the boat, I leaned over the side and looked down into the water. Daddy stay so small and the shark so big! But he kept working, sliding his knife along the side of the shark, slicing through the net. When Daddy got to the last piece of netting trapping its tail, the shark turned, and his knife wen slip, just nicking the tip of the shark’s tail. I thought Daddy was make die dead. He’d freed the shark so it could feed on him more better. But the shark turned and paused. It looked him in the eye, with that fierce, cold Niuhi manō eye, jet black in the water.” Uncle Kahana shivered in the warm night. “Later, I saw that same eye, just one time that day, wen Daddy started for the surface. It looked up into my young eyes peering over the edge of the boat, and I saw its Niuhi heart. I no know what it saw in mines.”
Excerpted from One Boy, No Water by Lehua Parker. Copyright © 2012 by Lehua Parker. Excerpted by permission of Jolly Fish Press, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
- I already did the dishes.
- Frizzy? When you say frizzy I think Bozo the Clown. That’s not frizzy at all.
- What? That little thing? It’s so small I don’t think anyone noticed.
- A Lifetime movie? Sure, I’ll watch the game later.
- Wow, your toes are cold! Don’t go higher than my knees.
- I hung your laundry in the closet.
- I like it a little burnt.
- I’ll get up with the kids.
- I put new tires on your car.
- I saved the last one for you.
How does your significant someone say I love you? Happy Valentine’s Day!
No problem, I thought. An hour, tops.
The days went by and I didn’t even think about it. No need to rush. I’ve got a week.
And suddenly, I didn’t. It was DUE. I sat down at the computer and cracked my fingers, holding them poised over the keys, waiting for inspiration to strike.
I blinked. I wrote 50,000 words for book one, often writing 5,000 or more words in a day. It can’t be this hard to write a couple of summary paragraphs. Get a grip, I thought. It’s like cleaning the bathroom or doing the laundry. No matter how much you don’t want to do it, you just gotta. Rip the bandage already.
But that’s the crux of the problem, isn’t it? A blurb is not just a couple of paragraphs that summarize a book. It’s all about marketing, all about teasing, tantalizing, enticing someone who liked the cover enough to pick up the book (or to click on a link) to now open a wallet and spend hard-earned money to buy the book.
Now I’ve bought a lot of bad books based on fantastic blurbs, but I can’t remember buying a fantastic book with a bad blurb. Suddenly, the whole success of my book, of my series, of my life as an author is coming down to a couple of paragraphs.
Ai ka pressah!
Before I completely psyched myself out and started avoiding writing by doing the unthinkable–housework–I looked up ‘how to write a blurb’ on the internet. Here’s what I gleaned.
- The purpose of a blurb is to convince someone to buy the book. (Duh. If it were to convince someone eat chocolate, I wouldn’t be having a panic attack.)
- Don’t fall back on overused phrases or get stuck on awesome adjectives.
- The most frustrating blurbs are a simple selection of quotes from reviews. (No worries there.)
- Blurbs are usually about 100 words.
- Before writing a blurb, try to identify who the audience is, what the book is about, and what makes it special. (I’m beginning to think that not all how to blurb bloggers are geniuses at what they do. Maybe that’s why they have time to blog about blurb writing.)
- Boil it all down to a clear message, but at the same time give enough detail to tantalize. (For example…?)
- Start the copy in an arresting way that leaves the reader wanting more. (Ditto…?)
- Write a lot then cut, cut, cut.
- It’s a good idea to double-check that the names and plot-lines described in the blurb are actually in the book.
Given such cracker jack advice, which also included “try to at least skim the book,” I’m beginning to see why JFP asked me to write it. Besides being the cheapest option, at least they could be sure I actually knew the story and characters.
After pouring soda over ice and watching it fizz, then getting up to let the dogs out, I sat back down and stared at the monitor. This is Zader’s story, I thought. What does he want readers to know? Why should they listen to what he has to say? This is what he said.
Call me Zader. 11 years ago Uncle Kahana found me abandoned on a reef and gave me to the Westin family to raise. He says I can blame my allergies on the Hohonukai side of the family.
I can’t get wet.
I’m allergic to water, fresh or salt. One drop on my skin and it’s like a snake venom nuclear bomb. In an instant, my skin blisters and cracks until it finally turns gray and scaly and flakes off like a bad sunburn.
Don’t get me started on the other weirdness in my life, like the man with too many teeth, the trouble with ‘Ālika, or that my could-go-pro surfing brother Jay is afraid of sharks.
Sometimes life in paradise really sucks.
That’s it, at least until the editor’s red pen hits it.
For an author, once a debut novel has a publication date it’s no longer about writing, it’s about marketing. A large amount of time and energy is spent by publishers on getting the book in front of People Who Matter, begging them to first read it and then, cross your fingers, positively review it in blogs, book reviews, online services, catalogs–anywhere, really, where people who buy books might find out about your book and want to pick it up.
As a debut author, one thing I’ve been asked to do by Jolly Fish Press is to develop relationships within the middle grade/young adult authors’ community. They suggested I join various readers’ and writers’ online groups, read and review books for other authors, and generally play nice with others. It’s a lot like fourth grade where you get invited to birthday parties based on who you invited to yours.
No problem, I thought. As much as I read, I can easily knock out a couple of book reviews a week. Glad to help other writers.
So I started reading and reviewing books on websites for debut and often self-published authors, the ones most willing to share their work and hungry for the buzz.
Words fail. After a few weeks and a couple dozen books later, it wasn’t just the grammar or misspelling or unintentional malaprop or errors with homophones throughout the texts–those can be easily fixed. The problems in these books were larger and more fundamental. Often there was no plot or even characters that made me care about what happened to them. There was no story. Reading those books was like having a conversation with my autistic nephew, perfectly clear in his mind and utterly confused in mine.
I wanted to be supportive; I really did. I tried to find good things to say about the novels, but when all I could honestly say is “I liked the cover” I knew I had to take a time out. I didn’t want to discourage people from writing, but I also didn’t want to say something was good when I couldn’t honestly recommend it to anyone.
I’m having a hard time figuring out my role here. I’m not the author’s editor, mother, or cheerleader. I’m not a credentialed book reviewer with followers hanging on my every word, which should make my opinion rather unimportant. However, I’ve seen “bad” reviews on some of these websites turn into ugly name-calling fests involving the reviewer, the author, the best friend, the mother, and sometimes even the publisher–reminding me again of fourth grade. I believe if you publish you should be grown-up enough to realize not everyone is going to like your work and that arguing, explaining, and name-calling never changes anyone’s opinion. It’s obvious that not everyone feels this way.
If I could only publish reviews about books that I liked, it would be much simpler. Unfortunately, these burgeoning author websites insist that if you get a free copy–e-book or print–you basically have to publicly review it or you’ll get kicked out of the club.
Be nice or else.
Which is unfortunate for everybody–readers, authors, and reviewers. If every indie, self-published, or small press book is four or five stars and fantastic, the reviews are meaningless and we’re back to relying on the opinions of the People Who Matter.
Remember Friday Night Frights? My cousins and I would stay up late sprawled out on the living room pune’e and watch all the B (and C and D) horror and Samurai movies, blankets and pillows over our heads most of the time. I think those classic 5-4-4 your pants monsters are to blame for all the emo wimpy YA/MG fantasy books on the market today. We’re all trying to convince ourselves that the things that left us sleeping with the lights on are no big deal. Jolly Fish Press graciously asked me to guest blog on this topic. The following is a repost.
I bet I wasn’t the only kid who read Bram Stoker’s Dracula or saw one of the million film adaptations in a gloomy movie theater and then went home to sleep with the covers tucked tightly around my neck. Sweat poured down my face in the tropical heat, but there was no way I’d chance a vampire bite by sleeping with my neck exposed or a window open.
Fast forward a few decades and you’d discover that some of us who’d snarfed garlicky snacks before bed and slept with crucifixes under our pillows grew up to be authors, the kind of storytellers who reimagined and repackaged our make-sure-the-closet-door-is-closed and check-under-the-bed childhood fears into books and movies that fuel a thriving multi-million dollar Young Adult and Middle Grade fantasy market. Vampires, shape-shifters, ghosts, witches, zombies—pick one and you’ll find it on the current bestsellers’ list—are all deeply rooted in our cultural subconscious because of folklore.
The reasons folklore themes are so popular with YA/MG readers are obvious. One of the main purposes of folklore is to transmit cultural values and morals, directly speaking to a maturing adolescent’s desire to understand himself and the society around him. Our truest folktales wend their themes of good versus evil through all cultures, eventually becoming familiar archetypes that caution, entertain, teach, and ignite the imagination. It’s not surprising that the same kinds of stories that enthralled adolescents 500 years ago still enchant authors and readers today—in a modern upside-down-through- the-cracked-looking-glass kind of way.
Traditionally, folklore, myths, legends, and fairytales aren’t concerned with understanding the bad guy. Things go bump, bite, and burp in the night simply because they can. Virtuous characters survive by embodying the traits that a culture most reveres while villains are hoist with their own petards. The moral lessons these stories impart are simple; good engenders good, bad gets what it deserves.
My, how times—and cultures—have changed.
It’s no longer acceptable to simply fear and defeat the monster in the closet; we insist our heroes unlock the door, invite him in, and serve him a sugar-free organic macrobiotic snack. We want to understand him, save him, and show the world that it was all a misunderstanding. Popular modern vampire characters like Edward Cullen, Angel, Stefan Salvatore, and Eric Northman differ from the folkloric vampire in ways that make them less pee your pants terrifying and more like the odd vegan neighbor down the street who doesn’t like cats and wears sunglasses at night. For YA and MG readers, that’s key. Adolescents easily identify with the outsider; modern stories that take an archetypical irredeemable monster and turn him into a big misunderstood galoot are especially appealing because if the heroine can overlook the fact that the love of her life sees her wedding bouquet as garnish, there’s a good chance that the cute girl on the bus will overlook a slight overbite. Or propensity to snort instead of laugh. Or a closeted obsession with anime cos-play. The possibilities are as endless as the hope it propagates.
Which brings me full circle: if many of today’s YA/MG authors are reimagining the folklore monsters that made us sleep with the lights on and covers over our heads in ways that allow the protagonist to vanquish evil social prejudices and cuddle up with the claws, I wonder what kinds of stories we’ll be reading in twenty years or so when the kids who grew up leaving the windows and closet doors open and eating garlic-free midnight snacks get around to activating their voice recognition storyware and reimagining things that go bump, snuggle, and kiss in the night. Will they look back and say it’s all Edward’s fault?
PROVO, UT—Jolly Fish Press (JFP) has successfully acquired the North American distribution and publication rights to Lehua Parker’s debut children’s book, One Boy, No Water.
One Boy, No Water, the first of five books in the Niuhi Shark Adventure Series, is a fantasy based on an island folklore centered on the Niuhi shark people in Hawaii— imagine water people, angry teenagers, confused parents, a looming mystery, and man- eating sharks! The book is scheduled for a Fall 2012 release.
Originally from Hawaii and a graduate of The Kamehameha Schools, Parker—also known as “Aunty Lehua”—has always been an advocate of Hawaiian culture and literature. Her writings often feature her island heritage and the unique Hawaiian pidgin.
The Niuhi Shark Adventure Series will be JFP’s first middle grade series to be released in the Fall of 2012.
I’ve been working off and on a middle grade children’s series set in Hawaii for several years. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy writing it—I did—and it wasn’t that I kept running out of ideas—if anything, I had too many. The problem was a much bigger question.
What was I going to do with it when it was done?
There are as many reasons to write as there are writers, some of them noble and pure of purpose and others more, ahem, monetary in nature. The “what to do with it” question was compounded by the fact that my kolohe characters kept insisting on talking in pidgin. Hawaiian Pidgin English, as in Not Standard English which is what most middle grade kids are learning to read in America. No publisher in his right mind would want to tackle a problem like this and the dearth of Hawaiian writers on the national stage publishing works with pidgin seemed to back up this theory, Lois Ann Yamanka and Graham Salisbury being the few exceptions that prove the rule.
So the series lurked in the background of my mind and computer, rising to the surface when no other productive use of my time could be found to avoid housework. What can I say? Laundry has to get done and dishes washed, but like death and taxes I try to avoid them as long as possible. “Working on the series” sounded like a great excuse to me.
A couple of months ago, bored and looking for “a project,” I attended a workshop on the emerging field of self-publishing. Books and publishing—the act of getting the stories into the hands and minds of readers—are undergoing a revolution not seen since Gutenburg showed off his fancy new press. Ebook readers and new distribution channels have created unparalleled opportunities for authors to reach highly targeted audiences and to achieve that basest reason of all for writing: a paycheck.
I would have shouted eureka, but that would have been a little cliché.
Now that I knew what I was going to do with it, I set about writing again and putting all of the building blocks in place to self-publish. Author website and store, check. Blog, check. Fan Facebook page, check. Research best practices, check. Someone to do cover art, check.
And then a little voice said, “Why are you doing all of this?”
“’Cause I have to do something with all these words and stories,” I replied. “No one else will.”
“How do you know?” the voice chided. “Did you ever give anyone the chance to say yes?”
Huh. All of this work was based on the assumption that no mainland publisher would be interested in a middle grade series with pidgin dialogue.
And I was wrong.
Through a series of events that no one would believe if I told them, I got the series in front of a real live traditional mainland book publisher who is seriously considering the books for publication on the national level in a five book, five year deal that doesn’t seem real. The details are still being worked out and nothing is final until the ink is dried on the contract, but wow lau-lau, apparently there is a Santa Claus, Virginia, and for Lehua, a mainland publisher who thinks there’s a market for middle grade fiction with pidgin dialogue.
Here’s to the new year!
I hated having to go to a new school, and the change between Kahului Elementary on Maui and Kamiloiki Elementary on Oahu couldn’t have been more dramatic. At Kahului the kids were only one or two generations from the sugar cane plantation and lived in multi-generational homes. The teachers taught in pidgin, and everyone had one pair of slippahs, period.
At Kamiloki the kids were Japanese or haole from upper-middle class families and never wore the same clothes twice. Most kids were simply marking time in a public elementary on their way to a private intermediate school and had extra tutoring classes on weekends and afternoons to give them an extra edge. No one spoke pidgin, not even the kids, something I didn’t realize until the first parent-teacher conferences when Mrs. Goo, nose in the air, sniffed that I needed to learn standard English; my pidgin was deplorable.
“Excuse me?” said Mom. Since I only spoke standard English to my mother, a haole from the mainland, she was understandably confused.
“I said Lehua does not speak English well. Her constant use of pidgin disrupts the class and the teaching I am doing. We speak English in this school, and Lehua does not.” She sniffed again. She was lucky it wasn’t raining.
“Lehua, would you come here a moment?” she called.
I popped my head into the doorway. “Yes, Mom?” I said.
“Mrs. Goo says you need to speak standard English in class, not pidgin. She seems to think you can’t.”
“Oh. I thought pidgin was for school and English was for home,” I said in perfect non-pidgin accented English. I glanced at Mrs. Goo. She was catching flies, her mouth was so open.
“You need to speak as you are spoken to,” Mom clarified.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t realize what I was doing. I think in both, so it’s hard sometimes to remember which I’m speaking. I’ll pay more attention.” I gave Mrs. Goo side eye. Wow, I thought, she going for one fly catching record!
“Thank you. Now wait for me outside,” said Mom. “We’ll discuss this more at home.”
Oh, great, I thought, more drilling with tree/three, sshtreet/street, libarry/library. Shoulda sparked out da rules befoa time. At least I no going get lickins tonight. I hope.
Unfortunately, things haven’t changed all that much since I was in Elementary school. Every school has its own rules and customs and heaven help the kid who can’t figure out which teacher is mean, which likes to joke, and when you can and can’t ask to go to the bathroom.
My kids, Aaron and Cheryl, are both going to new schools this year, moving from a private school to public schools. While I knew there would be differences, I never expected some of the things we’ve discovered.
New School Rules
“My teacher isn’t assigning us cubbies, so every day you use a different one.”
“’Cause there are 30 cubbies and 31 students, so someone isn’t going to get one.”
“So what happens if you don’t get one? Where do you put your stuff?”
“I dunno; I’ve gotten one every day!”
“Only 6th grade boys get the swings. You’re supposed to do a cool trick off the swing. If you land it, you get more street cred with the boys. If you biff it, all the girls come fluttering to see if you’re okay. It’s a win-win.”
“My teacher has a thing about walking in the halls. He keeps yelling “space and pace” and “quiet!” We’re supposed to march single file, with our arms folded, hugging the wall and the blue line. It’s like an Olympic sport with him. He wants us to beat the other classes, whatever that means.”
“The idea of hot school lunches is more exciting than the real thing.”
“Let’s just say they rank below the Train and Wendy’s, around McDonald’s level. That’s pretty bad.”
“You’re saying you want me to buy more ham and turkey?”
“There’s this kid on the bus who wants to sit by me every day.”
“She’s only in 1st grade, though.”
“Maybe she wants to sit by you so she can feel like one of the big girls.”
“Uh, I don’t think so. She keeps talking about how it’s a good thing I’m not a stranger. Otherwise, she’d kill me.”
“Find somewhere else to sit.”
“Tell me about it.”
“I finally have a locker.”
“Yeah. Only it’s as far away from my class and the band room as possible.”
“I can’t. If the security cameras catch me at my locker after school starts or running in the halls, I lose a whole citizenship grade for the semester. Citizenship is 50% of your overall grade in each class.”
“What? What’re you supposed to do with your trumpet if they won’t let you use your locker during the day and you can’t have it in your regular classes?”
“I have no idea. Quit band?”