While I try to trick myself into outlining, at my core I’m really a discovery writer flying by the seat of my pants. I’ve been working on what I call my “Hawaiians in Space” story for a few years now.
An early version was published in a fractured fairy tales collection, but honestly, that wasn’t the story I wanted to tell and not surprisingly, it wiffed on hitting the publisher’s target audience of Hallmark-loving romance readers. I tend to take traditional tales too far out of expectations for readers who love the predictability of those kinds of stories. I don’t like to color in the lines.
In rewrites I’ve untethered the story from it’s fairy tale roots, but it’s still not working.
Today I’ve rolled up my editing sleeves and am doing a full breakdown–character analysis, story beats, conflicts–the whole space enchilada that I never thought I had to do because–hello–it’s my story and I have it all in my head.
Yeah. Problem. That’s not what’s on the page. 🙄 Finding holes, plugging leaks, and hoping the third time’s the charm.
#amWriting #HawaiiansinSpace #ItsGoingToBeAThing
You know how Boy Scouts are supposed to do a good deed each day? A couple of days ago I was the little old lady that got helped across the street–and the stakes were way higher than getting across the road.
I run on Diet Coke. It’s no secret–and cans are hands down the best. There’s an ongoing canned soda shortage in Utah. Right now canned Diet Coke is almost impossible to find and more valuable than gold to those who drink it like water.
So I’m in Costco. I know there’s no possibility that they have any, but it never hurts to check, right? I get near where the canned soda is kept. It’s right near the end of a row, but I’m on the wrong aisle, so I follow their stupid flow patterns and go ALL the way around until I’m in the right aisle coming from the “approved” direction. I’m almost there when a mom with two strapping teenage sons comes down the wrong way and stops at the soda.
I watch as one son loads cases of Mountain Dew and Sprite while the other son rummages and pulls up a case–35 cans!–of Diet Coke. “Hey, Mom!” he says, “I got the last one!” He puts it under their cart.
I call out, “Lucky!” Just teasing a bit.
“Oh,” he says. “Did you want Diet Coke?”
“Yeah, but it’s okay,” I say. “It’s not a big deal.”
“Oh, you can have it,” he says, picking it up again.
Oops. This was not my intention. “No, really,” I say. “It’s fine. I was just teasing a little.”
“No, take it,” he says, walking over.
His mother is staring daggers at me. I’m pretty sure she’s buying things for a Super Bowl party. Teen boys don’t drink Diet Coke, but she probably does. The kid’s not oblivious to the waves coming off Mom.
He glances at her, a bit confused. “What? It’s just Diet Coke.” He chucks it under my cart.
One of the sample ladies magically appears. She nervously says to the mom, “Go up to the front and tell them you want Diet Coke. They may have some in the back.” Sample Lady gets the stakes. Maybe over the past few months she’s seen blows over this and is tired of mopping up blood.
“Oh? There’s more in the back?” I say.
The mom and I both know that there’s no way there’s some in the back, but I’m thinking it’s a graceful out for me. I can just say, “No, you keep it and I’ll talk to somebody up front.”
But the kid is undeterred in doing his good deed. “See,” he says to his mom, “We can just ask up front.” He turns to me, face shinning with the good manners he’s been taught, and I see that doing this is very important to him. It’s cementing a pattern of thinking of others before himself.
Yeah, it’s Diet Coke, and it doesn’t mean much to him. But refusing it might make him feel less like helping others in the future.
I look at the mom and tell her she’s raised good sons with my eyes. I smile at the kid beneath my Covid mask and say, “Thanks. I really appreciate it.”
He grins and says, “No problem,” and turns to grab regular Coke.
And I hele’d out of there so fast smoke was probably coming off my sneakers.
It was 35 cans of Diet Coke after all.
#amwriting #musejuice #GoodDeeds #Momisstillprobablypissed
PEAU Women’s Writing Crew
January 7, 2021
Prompt: A New Year’s resolution, a pacifier, fireworks
about 300 words
by Lehua Parker
It was exactly the kind of thing Liz hated doing.
And guaranteed to make a much bigger mess before it was over. Her mother used to say cleaning closets was a lot like eating an artichoke—to get to the heart, you had to unpeel layers that were never going to ever fit together again.
But it was late November and her New Year’s resolution to organize—get rid of—all the boys’ old baby stuff boxed in the top her closet couldn’t be pushed to next year.
Standing on her tippy-toes, the first box teetered before tumbling over, showering her with bits of desiccated spider and gecko droppings.
“No, no, no!” she shrieked, shuddering as she dropped it. “Ugh! I did not sign up for this! This crap had better not be in my hair!”
She bent forward, shaking her head and running her fingers through her hair. When she was confident that nothing ugi was crawling along her scalp, she whipped her hair into a titah bun and sighed. “Just do it, Liz,” she said. “When you’re done, you can reward yourself with the last of the butter mochi before the kids get home from school.”
The first thing she saw when she opened the box was a long red string of stale firecrackers. She laughed. Paul must’ve confiscated them from Jay a couple of years ago. The burns on the ceiling and cement floor of the carport were still there. Fortunately, back then all Jay could get his hands on were firecrackers. Heaven only knew what he would do with grownup fireworks.
The next thing she pulled out made her pause: a pacifier without a nipple. Zader, she thought. Even as a baby he destroyed everything he chewed.
The Pasifika Enriching Arts of Utah (PEAU) Women’s Writing Crew meets online Thursdays at 8 pm MST. Here’s a link to all the latest info: https://pik2ar.org/peaulit/ 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.
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’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.
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.
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.
Ever enter a time warp? Sometimes it’s a good thing, like when you’re on a long plane ride and you fall asleep and 10 minutes later you’re landing halfway around the world. Score!
Other times you turn around and it’s been SIX MONTHS since you wrote a blog post. Or wrote anything longer than an article, essay, or short story. Six months that felt like a decade, the worst kind of time warp where you stand in line or get on a plane and months later discover you’re still right where you started.
I know I was busy, so busy I didn’t have time to do anything except put out the fire right in front of me and beat out the new flames arising from all sides.
2020 sucked, folks. For everybody.
But although I don’t have a new novel or play to feel good about, I did do some writerly stuff. I did some developmental editing on a few titles ranging from middle grade speculative fiction to adult non-fiction; wrote and sold a few short stories and essays; taught a few classes; mentored a few burgeoning writers and editors who didn’t listen when I said writing is hard, go to med school instead; did the layouts for a few books; did some copyediting; and spoke at a few virtual conferences. I accepted a position as the Personal Voices Editor at Dialogue magazine and found lots of nicer ways to say, “Yes, you do have multiple PhDs from Ivy League schools–well done! Regardless, your manuscript is not a personal essay. It is a diatribe. Thanks for submitting. P.S.–It’s ZZzzzzzz.” I also got to tell some new writers that I loved their personal essays and, “Yes!” In November I started working with Pacific Island Knowledge 2 Action Resources (PIK2AR) in Utah as their Literary Coordinator and rebooted a women’s writing group and an adult book club, plus planned a kids’ literacy initiative and book club for 2021 with Pacific Heritage Academy.
Lots of work, but not a lot of new, creative words.
Like many, I had lots of personal drama and trauma in 2020. Adult kids moved back home to continue university classes online, and my husband stopped traveling for business and began working worldwide via Zoom from his home office. Everything we were looking forward to was canceled. We all stayed home, the longest I haven’t traveled since childhood. Kupuna died suddenly from heart attacks or had cancer or strokes, leading to new assisted living situations which ended up feeling like Covid jail when we could only visit through glass. It’s hard to hug through a window pane. But as hard as social isolation is, losing people is much, much harder. From mid-summer on, every week, then every few days, someone I knew from writer-world, ‘ohana, or my neighborhood died. I stopped counting at 18.
No wonder that for most of the year, I wasn’t able to write or edit my own words. I just couldn’t.
But life has to go on. I’ve realized that I need to write my words and tell my stories for my own sanity. When you can’t control anything in the real world, you can control your story.
Well, until your characters mount a rebellion and hijack the narrative. But that’s the fun part.
Coming up in 2021–more published short fiction in anthologies, a newly designed website (fingers crossed), AUDIO BOOKS for the Niuhi Shark Saga, the long-anticipated Hawaiians-in-space novella, a new horror series for kids, and new weekly Lauele Shorts on the blog–quick snapshot stories about favorite characters in the Lauele Universe. (Because when you’re leading a weekly writing group you have to–ahem–write.) As part of the literacy initiative, I’m going to write some new reader’s theater plays with Pacific Islander characters and themes for kids. There’re also three novel-length books I hope to draft in 2021, two set in Lauele and one not set in Hawaii at all.
Next to my computer are stacks of sugar-free gum and a new pink micro-fridge stocked with six Diet Cokes. (Thanks, Santa!) Writing is happening.
Thanks for hanging in there with me. Here’s to a brighter 2021: I wish all a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year!
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.”
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.
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.
Published in 2011, Up Among the Stars is a continuation of Matthew Kaopio, Jr.’s novel Written in the Sky. I was excited to read it. I’ve loved Matthew’s books, and I wanted to know what happened to ‘Ikauikalani, the young homeless boy living in Ala Moana Park.
Up Among the Stars starts strong. ‘Ikaui is growing up and finding his place in the world. He’s got an ‘ohana that he looks out for, from Mom and Pops to Gladness for whom he does yard work. But being on your own is dangerous. There’s a skeebie guy who stalks ‘Ikaui, offering drugs and demanding unsavory favors. When Ala Moana Park is closed, the homeless scatter, and ‘Ikaui spends the night in a graveyard that morphs into wandering old O’ahu with a man who only speaks Hawaiian and calls himself ‘Ikauikalani.
There are tantalizing glimpses of the story’s amazing potential throughout the novel, but much of what is teased doesn’t come to fruition. The ending is rushed and confusing and would have benefited by good editing to help Matthew draw out story elements that were in Matthew’s head, but not yet on paper. Unfortunately, the latter third of the novel reads more like an author’s draft than a polished story.
My guess is that Matthew intended to write at least another ‘Ikauikalani novel, one that explored ‘Ikaui getting to know his blood ‘ohana, connecting more fully to his spiritual gifts, finding his voice as an advocate for Hawaiian culture, furthering his formal education at a place like Kamehameha, and continuing his spiritual classroom lessons with beings from all over the universe. ‘Ikaui was an extraordinary young man with an amazing destiny to fulfill.
Sadly, Matthew Kaopio Jr. died on December 25, 2018, having been in a care facility for several years. He carries ‘Ikauikalani and others with him into the land of dreams. Rest in peace, Matthew. A hui hou.
Up Among the Stars is published by Mutual Publishing and is available from Amazon in paperback.
I’ve often said that humans are hardwired to learn through story. It’s no surprise then that certain patterns resonate across cultures and geographic boundaries. In the West, we’re thrilled by stories that follow what Joseph Campbell and others describe as the Hero’s Journey or the Monomyth. Star Wars, Harry Potter, Lilo & Stitch, The Lion King, The Hobbit, The Hunger Games–are all based on familiar patterns found in the Hero’s Journey. But there are other stories–Hawaiian mo’olelo, Asian folktales, Pasifika myths and legends, fairy tales, and African folktales for example–that are structurally very different. Those differences can really confuse western readers by upsetting their expectations. In this workshop series, we’re going to break down stories and learn to map them forwards and backwards, molding them into original compositions that breathe new life into well-worn tales. We’re going to talk about the reader’s expectations and including the necessary story beats that meet them. Here’s to taking old stories and making them sparkle for modern readers.
And by all that is holy, pray that we can have lively discussions via Zoom!
With Covid-19 and the world changing in ways unimaginable, most of my spring and summer calendar was tossed out the window. One of the things I had really been looking forward to was spending a month on Oahu from mid-May to mid-June. I was going to research, talk story with lots of people, teach a few workshops, make a few presentations, and recharge my writing batteries. And swim in the ocean. And eat. And dream. Bummed does not begin to describe my feelings when none of that was possible–well, except the eat part. Sometime I wonder if the 19 in Covid really stands for how many pounds you gain during quarantine.
But where there’s a will, there’s a way. While some of the events have been pushed to next year, some of them are going forward via Zoom. Remember the old PBS kids’ show Zoom? Like Joey on Friends, I always wanted to be a Zoom kid. Never thought I’d be one at my age!
I don’t know how I missed these books, but I am so glad I found them. Thanhha Lai’s writing is charming, funny, and oh, so real.
In Inside Out and Back Again, Thanhha pulls her readers into a fictional world based on her experiences as a child in Viet Nam, fleeting at the fall of Saigon, and emigrating to America.
In Listen, Slowly, Thanhha explores living in two worlds as a teen who has cultural and family roots in Viet Nam, but feels very American growing up in California.
Inside Out and Back Again went through many versions over many years as Thanhha experimented with different voices and styles. After starting with long, flowy passages that just didn’t seem like a 10 year old’s voice, and then moving to Hemmingway-ish close third-person, one day she started jotting down just how Ha, the 10 year old female protagonist, was feeling.
And that was powerful.
Told in free verse poetry, Inside Out and Back Again, shows the reader snapshots into the mind and heart of Ha during a single year, 1975-1976, a year where she and her family escape Viet Nam during the fall of Saigon, survive as boat people, and eventually settle in rural American. Through Ha’s eyes, we experience random acts of kindness, prejudice, fear, hope, longing, acceptance, and despair. While told in English, the free verse poetry feels like lyrical, poetical forms of Vietnamese, blended with sucker punches of raw emotion. With Thanhha’s prose stripped down to the bare essentials, readers find space to fill in the gaps with their own experiences. The good, the bad, and the ugly are pitch-perfect of that time and of fourth grade politics. It’s a book that invites lots of discussion and deep thinking and, I hope, will inspire others to write their own tales. In the edition I read there was a lot of supplemental materials perfect for reading groups and the classroom.
Listen, Slowly, is about a second generation twelve year old Vietnamese girl growing up in California and reluctantly accompanying her grandmother back to Viet Nam one summer to learn more about what happened to her grandfather. It’s a classic insider/outsider story. Mai starts her journey with the goal of returning to Cali as soon as she can, but learns to love and appreciate her Vietanmese-ness and finds space within herself to bridge both worlds. Materialism, family obligations, roles in society, and worldviews are big themes. I think upper MG and YA readers will relate to Mai, and that can spark a lot of conversations about privilege, race, and what is owed.
Both books are available on Amazon and other fine bookstores. Go read ‘em, go read ‘em, go.