Talking Story

middle grade author

004_ws

 

On June 21, 2013 I was privileged to meet some very talented young authors at Brigham Young University. Click on Fan Art to see how they answered the question, “What would you draw on the bottom of a surfboard to chase away a shark?”003_ws

Once a publisher makes the sign of the cross over your work, blessing it and pronouncing it fit for public consumption, a lot of people want to know about your writing process. It’s kinda like being the fat kid who suddenly loses a lot of weight; everybody wants to know how you did it, especially if all you ate were Cheetos and watermelon seeds and your cardio program consisted of dancing naked in the moonlight to a Johnny Cash soundtrack.

Wow. Think I just gave myself a nightmare!

Plotters want to read about how you outlined every nuance; pantsters want to hear how the story grew organically into tightly woven plot. Everybody’s looking for validation or insider tips, the secret decoder ring to success.

For me, the truth is really more mundane. I need a couple of things: a deadline and a target audience. Gallons of icy Diet Coke, bowls of almonds, grapes, or bits of cheese, a lock on my office door, and an excuse to avoid housework all help, but plotters and pansters aside, it’s all about the ability to sit down and work something through to the end.

For short pieces like articles, I keep an idea list on an electronic sticky note on my computer desktop. These are pure pantster exercises where I just think about the topic, consider the audience, and write. Most times they’re completed in one sitting, usually after couple of false starts until it suddenly clicks and comes together.

For bigger projects like novels, it’s all about the pre-production. Since One Boy, No Water and the rest of the Niuhi Shark Saga is set in Hawaii, several thousands of miles away from my current high desert home, I start by reading everything I can about Hawaiian history and culture, mostly dry historical and cultural tomes, the kinds of things I avoided like the plague when I was in school. Though the internet I listen to Hawaiian radio stations as I clean house to brush up on my Pidgin and read the Honolulu Star Advertiser to get an idea of current events. I also watch a lot of documentaries about sharks and try to keep up with some of the cutting edge research. I constantly read a lot of fiction—the great, the so-so, and the truly terrible regardless of genre. It all goes into my bubbling stew of a brain where my sub-conscious churns it all over and over, waiting to get the fermentation just right.

Meanwhile I try to be a good plotter and outline the novel at a very high level, usually using Scrivener’s corkboards. I may bang out a couple of chapters, but no real progress is made until like a circling shark the deadline bares its teeth and grins. I start to feel its breath on my neck—if sharks had breath—and see the dorsal fin slip under the water for the kill. I start to think less about the story and more about the audience. What do they expect? What do they want to have happen? How can I delight and change their expectations? Somewhere in my head the theme to Indiana Jones starts playing. That’s when I clear the decks, stop reading, get ahead on all the little writing projects, stock the fridge for the kids, and check the family calendar to be sure I can lock myself away for the next few weeks and write.

And I do, sometimes for twenty or more hours at a time. It helps that I’m an insomniac. It double helps that my family is pretty self-sufficient, at least in the short-run. Typically it’s a marathon writing session followed by a break of a day or so to recover and ice the tendonitis from typing so much. I’m also guilty of the cardinal sin of editing while I write, so a net day of 5,000 words was probably more like 9,000.

Like a classical plotter I know where the story needs to go, but how it gets there is always a surprise to me. I even work backwards sometimes from one plot point to another, so I never have a writer’s block excuse for not writing, just pure laziness or carpool duty. Or bruised elbows from my desktop. Thank goodness it’s cooling off enough for fuzzy long sleeves!

I’m more pantster than I like to admit, but it’s pretty apparent when you consider the lack of detail in my outlines. For example, my outline for Chapter 1 in book two simply says Kalei finds out about Zader. Not a lot to go on unless you can peek inside my head. (I don’t recommend it.)

A big writing day usually starts in the shower as I figure out how the next plot point is going to develop. You don’t wanna see my water bill. I take a lot of long showers. Life would be easier if I could connect to my inner muse by cleaning house or exercising, but apparently she’s a water muse. Tough when you live in a desert.

Plotter-ish outlines give me a skeleton, off-the-cuff pantster writing allows me to dress the body in ways that keep me engaged and the material fresh, deadlines give me a reason to sit and finish, and the target audience reminds me who I’m writing for, which also keeps the inmates from taking over the asylum. My writing process works for me, but like a diet of watermelon seeds and caffeine, it’s not for everyone. I can’t even recommend it!

New press release for One Boy, No Water

For Immediate Release

Contact:
Kirk Cunningham,
Head Publicist
kirk@jollyfishpress.com
(801) 380-4503

 

OF SHARKS AND MEN

When old Uncle Kahana and his poi dog ‘Ilima find a newborn with a funny birthmark abandoned on a reef in Hawaii, he soon finds out just how special the child is: the boy is allergic to water. One drop on his skin and it’s like water on a white hot skillet; his allergies also make eating anything raw from the sea or rare meat impossible, which is simply absurd for an island dweller. Strangely, the boy’s peculiar allergies lead Uncle Kahana to believe this child is ‘ohana—family—and doesn’t have to work too hard to convince his niece and her family to adopt and give him a name—Alexander Kanoakai Westin, or “Zader” for short.

If only the rest of Zader’s life were so easy!

On the surface, despite his unusual allergies, Zader is an average eleven year old boy with typical challenges of fitting in with his peers, getting into a good prep school, and maintaining his relationship with his surfing crazed brother. In reality, Zader is Niuhi, a shark with the ability to turn into a person. As he matures and begins to adapt to his “allergies” in ways that make it easier to live a normal life, Zader’s world begins to turn upside down—he will not only have to come to terms with who he is, but what he is.

One Boy, No Water, Lehua Parker’s debut novel, is the first exciting installment in The Niuhi Shark Saga and is set to release September 29, 2012. Utilizing both Pidgin and English in her narrative, Parker accurately paints the vibrant culture and lifestyle of Hawaii, transporting her reader to the heart of the island where legend and tradition is as much a part of life as eating and drinking.

Parker, aka “Aunty Lehua,” is originally from Hawaii and a graduate of The Kamehameha Schools and Brigham Young University. As an advocate of Hawaiian culture and literature, her writings often feature her island heritage and the unique Hawaiian Pidgin. So far, Parker has been a live television director, a school teacher, a courseware manager, a sports coach, a theater critic, a SCUBA instructor, an author, a web designer, a mother, and a wife. She currently lives in Utah with her husband, two children, five cats, two dogs, seven horses, and assorted chickens. During the snowy winters she dreams about the beach.

One Boy, No Water is illustrated by award-winning illustrator, Corey Egbert.

For more details on One Boy, No Water, or to review the novel, please contact Kirk Cunningham at kirk@jollyfishpress.com.

Click here to visit the official site.

Title: One Boy, No Water
Author: Lehua Parker
Publisher: Jolly Fish Press, LLC
Trim: 5.5 in. x 8.5 in.
Format: Hardcover, Trade Paperback
Pages: 185
(HC) ISBN-13: 978-0-9848801-2-6
(TPB) ISBN-13: 978-0-9848801-7-1
(E-Book) ISBN-13: 978-0-9848801-8-8
Retail Price:
(HC) $24.95
(TPB) $14.95
(E-Book) $7.99
Genre: Middle-Grade, Young Adult
Region: US, CAN, UK, AU
Distributor(s): Ingram
Publication Date: September 29, 2012

crackseed-kaimukiAs a kid growing up in Hawaii, it was a big deal to go to the crack seed store. We’d scrounge a few pennies, nickels, and dimes from under the couch cushions, the ashtrays in the car, and the top of Dad’s dresser and beg for rides into town. Crack seed is what we called any kind of dried, pickled, or preserved fruit. We loved it better than candy.

Brought to Hawaii by thrifty Cantonese immigrants who worked on pineapple and sugar plantations, most crack seed was originally made from fruit scraps. Peels like lemon or mango or the pits of fruit like apricots or plums with just a scrap of deliciousness clinging to them were seasoned and preserved. First fished out of jars and later plastic packets, the flavors burst in your mouth: li hing mui, lemon peel, rock salt plum, dried mango, candied shredded ginger—salty, tart, spicy, sweet, wet, or dry. Every shop and family had their own secret recipes and flavors, and unlike candy, a little crack seed went a long way. A single lemon peel would last days because you ripped it into pinkie-nail-sized pieces and kept it in your mouth forever—the best thing for a sore throat.

When I was a kid the Yick Lung crack seed brand was king. We’d even tell jokes about it: Did you hear what Yick Lung’s class voted him? Most likely to suck-seed. (Hilarious when you’re 10, trust me.) Just watching the ads for it on Checkers and Pogo, Hawaii’s afterschool version of Captain Kangaroo, would make my mouth water. My hands-down favorite was rock salt plum. Every Christmas I’d find a bag in the toe of my stocking that I would hoard through January, savoring each piece, sucking all the goodness from each one until only a flavorless pit was left. It was the perfect book-reading snack.

Sadly, Yick Lung, a family-owned business started in the early 1900s, filed for bankruptcy in the mid-1990s, and while other crack seed and Hawaiian snack brands quickly filled the void, they aren’t the same. Disappointed, but undaunted, I’m still sampling them all, trying to replicate that wet, sweet, salty memory from the bottom of a Christmas stocking.

On Hawaiian playgrounds and beaches it’s common to hear Moms calling for little Kalani, Pua, or Lei, but usually you’re only hearing part of the story. Kids with Hawaiian names are often called by nicknames formed out of shorten versions of their full Hawaiian names. Most full Hawaiian names are unique to that individual; children are rarely named after someone else, and names are not borrowed from a lineage outside one’s own—at least not without specific permission.

Unlike Western names which tend to be a single or compound word, most Hawaiian names are much longer, combining at least a noun and adjective to convey a complete thought or idea. Phrases and even complete sentences as names are not unheard of, and in modern times when few speak Hawaiian, names are sometimes lifted from Hawaiian translations of the Bible or from well-loved songs and poems.

Traditionally, giving a child a Hawaiian name requires much prayer, reflection, and consultation with elders. Rather than simply choosing a name themselves, it’s not uncommon for parents to receive a name as a gift from a grandparent or other respected family member. Parents who break with protocol and tradition do so at a risk: I’ve had two cousins whose birth certificates had to be changed because an elder later said they were given the wrong Hawaiian name. Everyone tsk-tsk’d that the parents didn’t know what they were doing when they chose Hawaiian middle names based on the idea that they “sounded good” with the first names they’d picked.

Being asked to name a child is an honor that people take very seriously. Birth names are powerful and often express qualities hoped for or seen in a child. Once a name is needed, the entire ‘ohana starts looking for signs and inspiration. True Hawaiian names reveal themselves in many ways.

Inoa po: name in the night; a name received in a dream.

Inoa hoʻailona: name in a sign; a name received in the form of a vision or natural phenomenon

Inoa ‘ulaleo: voiced name; a name heard

Inoa ho’omanao: name that commemorates a person or event

Inoa kupuna: name that is handed down, an ancestral name

Inoa ewe: name that is based on traits or personality

I’m often startled at how aptly a traditionally given Hawaiian birth name fits the recipient, both the literal and figurative translations. I’m not sure if it’s a matter of the name fitting the child or the child adapting to the name, but time after time and in the most unlikely ways, the names fit.

There’s an added plus to having a Hawaiian middle name—no matter where you go outside of Hawaii, you’re guaranteed to have the longest, coolest middle name in any group, even if no one but your family can say it.

Return to Exile, the first book of The Hunter Chronicles  by E.J. Patten, tells the remarkable story of Sky Weathers and the secrets surrounding his birth that continue to haunt his nearly 12-year-old life. Constantly moving, his family never staying long enough to become part of a community, Sky is an experienced outsider with no close friends except his odd Uncle Phineas. Under his tutelage, Sky has learned all about puzzles, traps, and hunting—hunting monsters, that is. As the story opens, Sky has almost convinced himself that all of his Uncle’s fantastical stories are really just an extreme form of pretend, imagination gone wild, and nothing more.

After 11 years of wandering, the Weathers family returns to their hometown of Exile with the expectation of finally settling down. When Uncle Phineas misses a scheduled rendezvous, everyone gets little edgy. Worried about Phineas and unable to resist exploring ancestral homelands, Sky embarks on a series of adventures that leads him to discovering who he is, his mysterious past, and the high stakes reason behind all of Phineas’ deadly serious games.

Patten has a lot of story and backstory to tell in this book, a horde of characters to introduce, and oodles of detail about monsters and the mayhem they cause. In his world, magic and monsters are not a matter of hocus-pocus, but rather science that’s not fully understood. For readers who love the minutiae and fine print of an imaginary world, there’s a lot here to chew on. Much of the plot hinges on the workings of monsters and hunters and how all the pieces fit—or seem to fit—together.

It’s obvious that Patten loves puzzles and games in all their forms including word play. He delights in turning phrases on their heads. His characters are witty, and the narrative is polished, perhaps a tad too highly. Occasionally the banter and action feel contrived, taking the reader out of the storyline and action simply to be clever. However, it’s likely that only adults with too much literary critique baggage will feel this way; young readers will likely be swept up in the richness of Sky’s journey and will enjoy the winks and laughs along the way.

Return to Exile is appropriate for those eight and older who can read near a 5th grade level or higher. While it’s easy to see how this action-packed fantasy appeals to boys, girls will also enjoy getting to know Sky and his monster hunter friends. Readers who liked The Hobbit, the Percy Jackson books, and Fablehaven series will find similarities here. The pacing and humor is certain to keep even reluctant young readers engaged and looking forward to the second book in the series.

Return to Exile, Snare 1 of The Hunter Chronicles is published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, authored by E.J. Patten, and beautifully illustrated by John Rocco. It can be ordered or purchased as an eBook or in hardback from Amazon and Barnes & Noble, as well as wherever fine books are sold.

In Hawaii, teachers never ask children to write their full names. There are never enough lines on the paper or time in the day. The reasons for this go back to naming traditions and an unusual law once on Hawaii’s books.

Wanting Hawaii to be more like the west, in 1860 King Kamehameha IV signed the Act to Regulate Names. From 1860 to 1967, all people born in Hawaii were required by law to have a family surname and an English first name, which explains why Robert, William, Mary, and Sarah started popping up in Kamakawiwaole, Asao, and Chung family trees in the nineteenth century.

Because of the naming law it became common in Hawaii’s mixed plate melting pot to give kids a middle name from each branch of the family tree. At a christening the kahu wouldn’t even blink at pronouncing an infant Joseph Makanani Atsushi Manchu Pacheco, except maybe to ask the parents if Makanani was little Joe’s entire Hawaiian name.

Most likely it wasn’t. On birth certificates, parents often list just part of a Hawaiian name, although this trend is changing. For example, my son’s middle name is list as Kalani on his birth certificate, but his full Hawaiian name is Ka Ikaika Mai O Ka Lani Wai. Despite its appearance, in comparison with the Hawaiian names my classmates have given their kids, it’s really only average in length.

As a language, Hawaiian is highly poetic and idiosyncratic. What’s translated literally is frequently not the whole story. Given the ancient Hawaiians’ love of puns and riddles, it’s not surprising that most Hawaiian names have a simple overt translation like “beautiful flower” along with a host of hidden and layered meanings. Because of this, the general rule of thumb for Hawaiian names is that the true meaning of a name is whatever the giver or owner say it is, regardless of grammar or literal translation.

In ancient Hawaii, names were precious and powerful, and true birth names were not shared casually. Families called children the equivalent of Stinky, Worthless, Ugly, or Wretched (and worse) to make them unappealing to evil spirits and others who might snatch a prized child. As Hawaiian faded from common daily use, these names lost their meaning and became…well, names. Sometimes these kinds of family nicknames were the only ones recorded or remembered, raising eyebrows when modern genealogists start translating.

Throughout their lives Hawaiians changed their names to commemorate deeds, abilities, or desires and were frequently called different names by family members, close friends, and co-workers. I can imagine the hair-pulling frustration of his majesty’s census keeper as he tried to maintain records in an era where there were no surnames and people changed names on a whim.

Ironically, the English first name/family surname only standardized things on paper. With so many Georges, Johns, and Ruths running around, kids were often called by a nickname or middle name, which made the first day of a new school year particularly fun when you discovered Kawika was really Aloysius or Bartholomew.

Sitting in the dark with the dogs under my feet, kids sleeping upstairs, and husband zonked out on the couch, I take a moment to think about each of my characters in ways that never appear in the novels. How one of them sleeps with a flashlight. How meatloaf reminds another of cat food. The way a character holds a pencil, eats breakfast cereal, or sings along to the radio. More importantly, I think about what each of them desires most, holding fast to the knowledge that for them I can, unlike for my kids upstairs, really make all their dreams come true.

In the middle of the night I want to play fairy godmother and send Cinderella to the ball. She’s had a miserable life, but wait! There’s beauty under the ashes and soot. She dances with the prince, loses a shoe, but in the end he finds her and they live happily ever after in a big palace, dinning on sumptuous calorie-free chocolates with their children who never ever do things like throw up on the carpet or scatter Lego shrapnel down the stairs. Cinderella, eternally blissful in her big poofy sleeved dress, minuscule waist, and tiny glass heels. Sigh. Such a happy, happy life.

Oh, gag. I’m doing it again.

Too often burgeoning authors treat their characters like pampered privileged children, skipping right to the happy ending and bypassing the juicy details of the journey. In these stories dangers lurk in the shadows, something vaguely bad guys in black hats, but it’s all okay; everybody’s wearing a safety helmet and a lifeguard’s on duty; the sharks have teeth, but are vegan and just wanna be friends. These kinds of stories are full of quirky, loveable characters and stirring descriptions of conversations over cups of tea, but usually lack that vital spark called plot.

The real point, Constant Reader, is that as an author I have to love you more and my characters less. I have to find ways to make you fall in love with them and then take you both on a journey that thrills and chills, pausing just long enough to warm you back to your safe zone before plunging you down, down, down to despair and disbelief. Rather than the maudlin fairy godmother paving Cinderella’s path to happiness, I have to be Murphy’s Law, the minefield under the playground, the shark in the idyllic lagoon.

Cup of tea, anyone?

There’s been a lot of debate in the blogosphere lately about the future of digital books. Most of the debates center around price point, format, and distribution channels. Traditional publishers are bemoaning the self-publishing frenzy as the death of good, quality fiction that has at least kissed an editor and proofreader’s desks, and big eBook distributors like Amazon and Barnes & Noble are fighting over formats, traditional vs. wholesale pricing models, and proprietary content. Small imprints and large publishing houses alike are clamoring that Amazon is trying to seduce authors away from them and into the brave, new world of self-publishing, while authors are busy running numbers, looking for the magic option that allows them to make rent next month. It’s all about getting a bigger slice of the digital book pie.

From what I’ve seen, most industry players think of eBooks as digital versions of print on a  page. Out of all the work they do to create a print book—from editing, book design, and marketing—most simply take the final text file and tweak it so it looks good on various eReaders and add a jpeg of the book cover. There are several easy to use and inexpensive software programs that do a reasonable job of creating digital books from text files; it’s no wonder that many authors are now choosing to self-publish. Unfortunately, based on the thousand or so eBooks I’ve read on a variety of devices, “reasonable” is really all you get with a digital book, regardless if published by self-starters or the big boys.

Did I mention most people think in terms of simply translating print on a page to print on a screen?

But as an author and former interactive instructional designer, I think the industry is missing a huge opportunity. While the vast majority of adult and young adult fiction works well as Print on a Screen, I think there is a market in the middle grade, chapter, picture, and non-fiction book arenas for what I call Enhanced Interactive versions.

Beyond the current standard of linking to internal dictionaries, providing the capability for user-specific notes, highlights, and bookmarks, and simple chapter-based menu structures, Enhanced Interactive versions elevate the reading experience to a whole new level. For example, an EI version of a book that explores a foreign culture or science concepts could link to additional information embedded in the digital book (but not included in the print version—differentiating and driving more people to the digital version) or maintained on external websites. In picture or chapter books, young readers could color or embellish illustrations, watch characters come to life through animation, or even add their own drawings to stories or new words to pictures—everything from writing an entirely original narrative to the existing illustrations to adding their own wacky nouns, adverbs, and verbs á la mad libs. Cookbooks linked to the internet could provide an outlet for home cooks to share their adaptations, tips, and photos. EI books could even take a cue from  social media to create virtual book clubs filled with all the minutiae an author knows about his characters, plots, and backstories, along with all the things he writes that never (and often for good reason) make it into the book.  For the rabid fan, too much is never enough.

The possibilities are endless; I could write 20 blogs on how Enhanced Interactive versions of various book types could function and the markets they’d appeal to. In a nutshell, simply think of all the ways we game, learn, communicate, and interact with digital media and embed these features in digital text through icons, color cues, menus, tabs—whatever you can imagine. That’s my vision of Enhanced Interactive digital books.

Of course, not all digital books would make great EI books. But designed, targeted, and marketed to the right audiences, EI books have the potential to revolutionize the publishing industry in ways as profound as Gutenberg’s wonderful moveable type and the Kindle’s digital format.

All of  which should be good news to traditional publishers. Since creating versions of digital books that go beyond print on a screen requires skill sets and deeper pockets most self-publishers possess, this EI market fits squarely into the bailiwick of imprint and large publication houses. Properly managed, publishers could turn their versions of EI digital books into virtual seals of approval, allowing them to quietly reassume their self-appointed gate-keeper roles as guardians of good writing and purveyors of quality product.  The crowd goes wild.

I know just the series to start.

I admit it. I’m not a scrapbooker. I have boxes and files of my children’s lives stashed in random places in my office and in directories on my computer because I know this stuff is too important to throw away, but the thought of sorting through it all to create a meaningful tapestry gives me hives. So when I started getting invites from friends to join Pinterest, the image sharing social networking site, I ignored them. After all, did I really need to spend more time looking at cute bedroom designs I’d never use or read recipes for dishes I’d never cook? Did I mention I’m not the scrapbooking type?

But a couple of days ago, Kirk Cunningham, my publicist at Jolly Fish Press, sent me an email detailing what he wanted me to do with social media to promote my book One Boy, No Water and The Niuhi Shark Adventure Series. Pinterest was on his list, although he listed it only as an option rather than a must do like Facebook and Twitter. Thinking perhaps someday some bored tech savvy tween or teen might check out Pinterest, I half-flippantly wrote back that I was thinking about creating some Pinterest boards based on the main characters. I set up an account and started playing around, first looking for images of food I describe in the book. You know us Hawaiians; it’s all about the food.

Oh. My. Pinterest.

A few clicks and suddenly all of the images in my head about my characters’ likes and dislikes exploded onto the screen. I realized I could pin images about places, food, activities, music—everything from hula halaus to old pineapple plantation hip waders to custom surfboard art—to create complete character profiles and share them with anybody who wanted to know more about the people in my books, more than I could ever write in a novel. Characters who were already living and breathing in my own head could come alive in ways I didn’t anticipate.

Holy cow. What a way to blow an afternoon!

Pinterest as a character design tool is not perfect. Many of the images I wanted to pin to a character didn’t work, probably due to an issue with the originating site not wanting to share images. I get it, but it’s frustrating. I also have to remind myself not to switch back and forth in my descriptions from author to character. I finally decided to create these boards as if they were done by the characters themselves to keep the descriptions from feeling a little schizophrenic. Besides, if a picture is really worth a thousand words, I don’t think I really need to add much, which is probably why most of my pins are labeled in caveman speak.

Still, I gotta admit, it’s a lot more fun than I ever imagined. Maybe someday I will get those scrapbooks organized. (Don’t hold your breath!)

To see how the character profiles are evolving, check out Lehua Parker on Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/lehuaparker/

Sign up for

Talking Story Newsletter

and receive free Lauele Universe bonus material and tips from the Lehua Writing Academy.

Click here to go to
The Niuhi Shark Website.

Get the Books

Amazon
Barnes & Noble

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.