Talking Story

hawaii writers

airplaneWhen I was nine I flew all the way to Salt Lake City, Utah from Honolulu, Oahu all by myself. I had to change planes in San Francisco, but I wasn’t worried. I had my snacks, a couple of good books, and I looked forward to the movie—any movie—on the plane. The stewardesses matter of factly handed me off to each other, and sitting in their airport lounge waiting for my last flight was eye-opening and educational, although I still don’t understand why bras that make points are better than bras that curve.

It’s amazing what people will say if you’re quiet and holding a book.

Everything was 5 by 5. I was flying under the stewardesses’ radar and hearing all about Brad and Belinda and something about a layover and cockpit that didn’t involve airplanes when I decided that what this live-action play needed was a couple of snacks. I pulled out a sandwich bag, untwisted the tie, and started to munch.

“Oh, #*^&*@#$^%$! What the hell is that?” screeched a southern bleached blonde with pointy tips.

“Cuttle fish,” I said, using my best company manners to shake the bag open wider and holding it out toward her. “You like?”

“@#$^&*@#&%$%^!!!”

Wow, I never know that was possible, I thought, filing the phrase away for future reference. Does that mean yes or no? “It’s ‘ono. I mean, it’s good. Packed fresh this morning.”

“Relax,” laughed a perky brunette, “I’ve tried it before. It’s dried and shredded squid. They eat it in Asia.”

“Fish jerky?!” The southern belle’s painted on eyebrows couldn’t go higher.

“No,” I said earnestly, thinking of beef jerky. “Jerky’s hard and tough. This is soft and kinda salty-sweet. A little chewy. You like?”

She shuddered and closed her eyes, the cat eyeliner and turquoise lids reminding me of King Tut. “I need a drink,” she said.

The brunette laughed again and reached under a counter for a mini bottle. “Hair of the dog?”

“A whole poodle, if you’ve got it.”

I thought about my other snack bags filled with kakimochi, iso peanuts, and crack seed. Should I bring those out to be polite? I wondered. Nah, I decided, anybody who eats dog hair but turns up her nose at cuttle fish doesn’t deserve them.

Like most people, I have a cell phone. Everyone in our house does. It’s come to the point where the only people who call our house line are elderly relatives who think it costs too much to call a cell phone—and telemarketers.

I know all about do not call lists and escalating to call center managers and saying phrases like do not call again, take me off your list, and no matter how many times you call I will not donate/buy/recommend your product/service/time share. With all the loopholes that basically come down to if I’ve used, thought about, or stood in the vicinity of their product, they can call me, it’s a losing battle.

Since I work from home, I’m the one who answers most of the telemarketing calls, about three or so a month. I used to hate them, but now they go something like this:

“Hello?”

Long pause while the telemarketer rushes to unmute the mic and swallow coffee, surprised by a live person on the end of the line. “Good afternoon! Is um, La…Lei…um, Ms. Parker available?”

Now I know it’s a telemarketer. Even my ninety-two year old grandmother can say my name.

“Carlotta Tuskadora! Don’t even try!” I snarl.

“Wha…”

“You can call from a different number, but I still know it’s you! He’s not leaving me, you hear? I don’t care if the paternity tests came back positive. Those twins are your problem, not mine!”

“Ma’am? I think—”

“You may be my half-sister, but he’s my boyfriend! We’re getting married and moving to Toronto. I’ll get my operation there, and then we’ll see who’s the fat one!”

“I don’t—”

“That’s right you don’t! The solicitation charges didn’t stick; judge gave me probation, so you can just forget about me going to county lock-up any time soon.”

“Ma’am—”

“Don’t call again, Carly, or I’m calling the cops. Oh, yeah. Tell Mama I said hey.”

And then I hang up.

It’s even more fun if the telemarketer is a dude!

Less, if it turns out it really was my ninety-two year old grandma.

We were in a big wholesale to the public store, you know, the kind with the cement floors and warehouse chic décor that sells everything from light bulbs to canapés in convenient packs of 60, when my son lugged over a 20 pound bag labeled Assorted Asian Rice Crackers.

“Hey, Mom! Didn’t you buy something like this the last time we were in Hawaii?”

I looked at the product through the bag. It was a little anemic to my eye. There weren’t very many squares stained a rich, dark shoyu brown or covered with black strips of nori. The fiery red chili pepper crescents were missing from the mix and so were the iso peanuts. There were a few with sesame seeds, and something that looked like wasabi peanuts, but later turned out to be rice puffs with a little wasabi seasoning, not anything like the blow your socks off and clear your sinuses for a week snacks I ate as a kid. There was also a disturbing number of almonds and plain peanuts in the mix and something about low sodium on the label.

Back when there was a crack seed store in every town in Hawaii, rice crackers came in a dazzling variety of textures, flavors, and crunch. There was an art to mixing them, each variety hand-selected and scooped measure by measure from large glass jars into paper sacks and weighed, combining sweet, salty, spicy, nutty, and crunchy into the perfect snack blend. We called it arare, kakimochi, or mochi crunch and packed it in school lunches, on summer fun excursions, and best of all, snuck it into movie theaters to mix in the popcorn tub with M&Ms or Milk Duds. Dipping your hand in the bucket while the movie played was a treasure hunt, the flavor combinations bold and unforgettable and often more entertaining than the movie, especially if someone’s handful had too many chili pepper crescents or wasabi peas and the straw was sucking more air than soda.

I looked at the bag of watered-down, Americanized snacks and smiled. “Toss it in the cart,” I said. “I think I saw a 90 pack of microwave popcorn next to a 10 pound bag of M&Ms on aisle 7.”

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!

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