Talking Story

Lauele Universe Stories

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


‘Alika and Arnold

by Lehua Parker

 

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.

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!

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.


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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.