Talking Story

Lehua Parker

Lehua Parker is originally from Hawaii and a graduate of The Kamehameha Schools and Brigham Young University. So far she 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. Her debut novel, One Boy, No Water is the first book in her middle grade Niuhi Shark Adventure Series. She currently lives in Utah with her husband, two children, four cats, two dogs, seven horses, and assorted chickens. During the snowy Utah winters she dreams about the beach.

one:

(wŭn) Adj. Singular, a or an.

Example

English: Do you have an ‘ukulele?

Pidgin: Eh, get one ‘ukulele?

Note: ‘Ōlelo is a Hawaiian word meaning language, speech, word, etc.  To see the current list of Hawaiian and Pidgin words, definitions, and usage please click on

Pidgin Dictionary

 

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.

every time:

(ĕv‘rē tīm) Adj. Hawaiian Pidgin for all the time, always, habitually.

Example

English: Char Siu eats saimin often.

Pidgin: Ho, Char Siu, every time she go eat saimin!

Note: ‘Ōlelo is a Hawaiian word meaning language, speech, word, etc.  To see the current list of Hawaiian and Pidgin words, definitions, and usage please click on

Pidgin Dictionary

 

On Saturday, November 17, 2012, at the Layton Barnes & Noble, Na Keiki Ka Ua Kilihune Hula Halau performed at my book signing for One Boy, No Water.

After a welcoming oli, Kumu Hula Barcarse taught us about the Hawaiian alphabet through a song and hula I learned when I was their age! These talented kids performed using kala’au (wooden sticks) and niu (coconut shells) and chanted and sang as they danced. One of the crowd favorites was a lively Samoan dance accompanied by Kumu’s ‘ukulele. For some of the kids, at four years old, it was their first ever performance. (Special aloha goes out to the Dads who performed with their kids. You guys get my vote for Father of the Year.)

Too bad Aunty was so busy watching na keiki, she only got a few photos!

Mahalo nui loa to Kumu Barcarse and the youngest members of his dance school for their gift of hula, oli, and mele. They brought a lot of warm aloha to wintery Utah!

Fo’days:

(Fo’ DAZE)  Adj. Hawaiian Pidgin for a very long time, too long, forever, a lot, too much.

Example

“Wow, Uncle Kahana, you get mango fo’days!”

Note: ‘Ōlelo is a Hawaiian word meaning language, speech, word, etc.  To see the current list of Hawaiian and Pidgin words, definitions, and usage please click on

Pidgin Dictionary

 

All right, I confess. In One Boy, No Water, when I first wrote that Zader was allergic to water I didn’t think all the implications through. I was looking for a way to explain all the fiery pain and blisters that appear when water touched his skin that Liz, his adoptive mother, would buy and Uncle Kahana, who suspects the real reason, could say. An allergy excuse popped into my head. It was simple, sort of believable, and most people have enough experience with allergies not to wonder about it too much.

The first problems were easy to solve. Bathing? Zader uses oil and a raw sugar scrub to remove dirt and dead skin like the ancient Romans and Greeks did, although they used sand or salt instead of sugar. Rain? Carry an umbrella. Beach? Water-proof suit. Drinking? Once water’s past his lips, I decided, there’s no real problem, just some tingling, plus anything like juice or soda that’s not pure water is fine, just gotta watch out for condensation on the outside of a glass.

It’s good to be the king and make all the rules.

But after One Boy, No Water hit the bookstands, two things happened. First, I discovered that there really were people in the world who suffered from Zader’s condition. (The allergy one, not his real one, of course. If there are people in the world with his real problem, life is far more interesting and complicated than even I imagined and that’s saying a lot.)

Secondly, a waaaay too precocious child who lives in our neighborhood named Tate (Tater to his friends) read the book—and liked it. A lot. Tater tends to think deep thoughts about things that capture his imagination, and he likes to bounce his ideas off adults. His mind fascinates me; there’s a pretty rigid framework of how the world should work—like most kids his age, fairness is a big thing with him—from which he launches breathtaking flights of fantasy blended with reality. He makes connections between things that most never consider, like his opinion that scientists need to create a vaccine for bird flu. For birds. That way the birds won’t get sick with a flu that could mutate into something that destroys the human race.

I know!

When you meet a young mind like this, you have to be careful not to stifling creative thought by bombarding it with too many adult concepts. You have to consider the real question. His solution to bird flu is less about science and more about a fear of something out of his control that destroys the human race, i.e. his family. The best response isn’t a technical explanation of all the reasons his idea is doomed to fail, but rather questions that eventually lead him to better understand and cope with his underlying fear.

As I said, his friends call him Tater.

Tater wandered over one afternoon to ask me a profoundly serious question: how was Zader baptized? Did I mention in addition to precocious he’s earnestly religious? With him, religion is kinda like remarking chocolate tastes good and hearing his “Well, duh,” response. Tater liked Zader, and his faith taught that baptism is essential, and not by a sprinkle, but by full immersion. Tater was concerned.

And I was a little trapped. You see, I feel very strongly that a person’s belief system, religious or not, must always be respected, and like Horton the elephant said, a person’s a person no matter how small.

Now I could have spent all day explaining to Tater the difference between fiction and reality, discussed religion as allegory or relative truth, or even said something flippant like they’d coated Zader in Crisco before baptizing him so the water didn’t touch his skin. But Tater sincerely wanted to know; he really cared about the answer.

For once, my brain engaged before my mouth and instead of saying all the knee-jerk adult things that popped into my head, I just smiled, shrugged my shoulders, and said I’d have to get back to him on that. Satisfied for the moment, he’d skipped back to his house, but I knew Tater wouldn’t forget. I’d have to come up with an answer.

Eventually I did what I usually do when I’ve thought and thought about something and haven’t a clue. I woke my husband up in the middle of the night to ask his opinion.

He looked at the clock. “Lehua, it’s three in the morning.”

“Is it?”

“Seriously. This is what keeps you up all night?”

“Not all nights.”

He rubbed his eyes and tried to focus. “Tater knows Zader’s fictional, right?”

“I think so. But there are people out there who can’t have water touch their skin. It’s not entirely hypothetical.”

“Tater and his questions,” he muttered. “Instead of encouraging him to read, somebody ought to hide his books and teach him to shoot baskets.” He thought for a moment. “Crisco,” he said.

“Thought of it.”

“And?”

“It doesn’t feel right.”

He sighed. “Is this your question or Tater’s?”

I just looked at him.

He shook his head and stared at the ceiling. “Okay, what if the water isn’t the important thing in a baptism? Clean water, dirty water, salt water, fresh water—none of that seems to matter. It’s the immersion that seems most important in Tater’s religion. So if Zader was a member of  Tater’s church, they’d fill a deep enough container with some kind of liquid he could tolerate and dunk him that way.”

“Would other the members accept it, though?”

“You’re asking me if a fictitious group of religious people would consider a theoretical baptism by immersion in a vat of melted chocolate kosher for a character in a book who’s allergic to water?”

I nodded.

He reached over and flicked off the light. “Yes,” he said, “they would. God’s grace and all that jazz. I’m going back to sleep. In the morning I’m hunting Tater down before school and teaching him how to throw a baseball.”

Olive oil, Kool-Aid, ice tea, guava juice—it makes as much sense as water, I guess. On a whim I went back to my computer and googled ‘can’t be baptized by immersion due to water allergy.’ To my utter amazement, I found several pontifications posts about it, most saying it was proof that God either didn’t exist, was a closet sadist, or played favorites—fill in your own anti-Christian baptism slogan here. A few mentioned divine grace making up what a willing spirit wanted, but weak flesh could not endure, citing references in the Bible where God seemed to make exceptions to some of His rules. The things insomniacs learn at four in the morning.

I talked it over with Tater, and he decided that God gave Zader his water allergy because he was special, so special he didn’t need baptism. Told you this kid was a deep thinker.

Personally, I was rooting for the vat of  gooey chocolate, but what can you do? It’s Tater’s belief system after all.

 

Friday night the family and some friends went to see Cirque du Soleil’s Quidam. I’d seen other Cirque du Soleil shows, so I knew what to expect. My son Aaron not so much.

“Clowns!” He shuddered as we walked up the steps.

“Yeah. I told you it was a circus.”

“You’ve taken me to the circus. I remember the circus. Lots of red and gold. Elephants. Tigers. Girls in skimpy clothing sparkling on a trapeze.”  He gestured to the posters lining the walls. “Who in their right mind does a clowns-only circus?”

“Not orange wigged with big red noses and floppy shoes,” I said. “More refined. Think Marcel Marceau.”

French clowns,” he glowered.

“French Canadian,” I said. “There’s a difference.”

He sniffed. “There better not be any audience participation. Especially not involving clowns.”

“Uh, probably not,” I said as I spotted a mime stalking a level below us, randomly plucking people from their seats, adjusting a tie, flirting with a pretty girl, rubbing a bald man’s head for luck. “Here,” I said, handing him some cash, “Go get a snack.”

“Aaron still wearing his costume?” my husband Kevin asked as our son slipped down the aisle.

“Yeah. Surly Teenager,” I said, referring back to my response a few days ago when the kids’ piano teacher asked about Aaron’s non-costume at the Halloween recital.

“He really hates clowns,” Kevin mused.

“I noticed.”

“Goes back to the Halloween when he was two and the clown waiter at Olive Garden honked his nose at him. It’s like he has a big neon sign with an arrow over his head and a target on his back. Remember the rodeo clown this summer? Chased Aaron all the way up the bleachers pretending to steal his fries.”

“The audience thought Aaron was joking back,” I said.

“Not me. I saw the terror in his eyes when he realized the clown was following him up the stairs.”

I shrugged. “He might have been playing along.”

Kevin scoffed. “Playing? Try panic. He shrieked like a girl with a spider in her hair and sprinted to the top trailing fries and ketchup.”

“His seat was up there,” I said.

“Jeff was up there. Don’t you remember? Jeff stood up and Aaron cowered behind him.”

I smiled. “That’s what 6’6” uncles are for. Plus it got a big laugh.” I frowned. “Maybe sending him to get a snack wasn’t such a good idea.”

“Clowns. He hates them,” said my husband warming to his topic like a preacher on Sunday. “He’d rather swim with sharks.”

“That can be arranged,” I said.

A little while later Aaron was back in his seat munching on popcorn, the mime was safely backstage, and the house lights dimmed. A spotlight shone on a bored young girl meandering in a living room while her parents read the paper and ignored the thunderstorm outside. A headless giant carrying an enormous umbrella knocked on the door, entered, and handed the girl his hat.

“I don’t get it,” whispered my daughter Cheryl in my ear.

“Shhhhh!” I said. “Just watch.”

The giant left, the girl put the hat on her head, and Cirque du Soleil’s version of  the Cat in the Hat with Thing 1 and Thing 2 in tow appeared next, tilting the world sideways. The living room furniture with parents still seated flew to the rafters while a German guy inside a silver ring started spinning center stage.

“What? What’s going on?” Anxiety and confusion rained down as Cheryl practically climbed into my lap.

“It’s all her imagination! Shhhhh! Watch!” I growled.

“She’s got one messed up mind if this is her imagination,” muttered Cheryl, slinking back to her chair.

Cheryl pestered. What was going on, why were all these weird people on stage, and how come the girl’s parents didn’t react to any of it? She wanted to get a handle on the story. An evening at the Cirque is more like a concert than a play. Cheryl’s not mentally wired for a theme thinly disguised as a plot, something that exists to conveniently link all the pieces together as they explore concepts as squishy as imagination and childhood play. She’s my tenacious one, the one least easily distracted, the one who prods what’s on her plate, always wanting chicken to look like chicken and to hold all the sauces, please. Taking my cue from the high-flying parents now sinking out of sight behind the orchestra, I ignored her.

I let the magic happen.

And it did. I watched my kids get drawn into the performances, relaxing and letting their guards down as the colors, sounds, and energy washed over them. They stopped worrying and thinking and began experiencing. Crafted and honed so that the impossible seemed effortless, the acts were splendid, building thrills and laughter throughout the show in stormy rollercoaster waves. It was, quite simply, wonderful.

And Aaron’s favorite part? The scenes with the clowns and audience participation!

Radical

(RAD-ee-koh) Adj. Hawaiian Pidgin for extreme, pushing limits and boundaries, on the edge. Sometimes shortened to “rad” or used as “radical out” to describe something radical to the max.

Example

“Ho, Jay was on the edge of his board balancing j’like he was Jackie Chan! I thought no way, but then he wen snap his board back from the jaws of death. He so radical!”

Note: ‘Ōlelo is a Hawaiian word meaning language, speech, word, etc.  To see the current list of Hawaiian and Pidgin words, definitions, and usage please click on

Pidgin Dictionary

 

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!

When you ask anyone with any knowledge of Hawaiian history or culture to name the most culturally significant scholars who preserved ancient knowledge, Mary Kawena Pukui will top the list. More than any single person I can think of, her work paved the way for rebirth of the Hawaiian Renaissance in the 1970s.

Born in 1895 and following the ancient traditions of hānai, she was initially raised by her mother’s parents in Kā‘u on the Big Island. It was during this time that she learned to cherish her Hawaiian heritage and began building her formidable foundation as a Hawaiian scholar, dancer, composer, and educator.

Her grandmother had been a hula dancer in the court of Queen Emma and taught her chants and stories. From her grandfather, a traditional healer who was known as a kahuna pale keiki (obstetrician) who used lomi lomi (massage), laʻau lapaʻau (herbal medicine), ho‘oponopono (forgiveness), and pule (prayer) came her great knowledge and understanding of the Hawaiian people’s relationship between the spiritual and mundane.

Mrs. Pukui composed over 150 songs, recorded miles of audiotape, published over 50 books including Nānā i ke Kumu (Look to the Source), and co-authored the definitive Hawaiian-English Dictionary in 1957. Bishop Museum, that bastion of Hawaiian culture where she worked as an ethnological assistant, has preserved her notes, film clips, and oral histories. They are considered priceless.

In my mind, Mary Kawena Pukui stands as a giant among Hawaiian scholars. Hero worship isn’t going too far.

Which makes the story my grandmother told me all the more mind blowing.

It was a couple of days before the publication of One Boy, No Water. I’d called her to wish her happy birthday and to find out how the party she’d hosted—champagne and cake—for friends in her retirement community turned out. Talk turned to the book. Ever mindful about manners and proper protocol, she asked if I had an acknowledgement section in the book.

“Yeah, Grammie, I do.”

“Well, did you remember to thank everyone? You didn’t write that book alone.”

“Yeah, I thanked my family for their support, Kamehameha Schools for my education, and people like Mary Kawena Pukui for their preservation of Hawaiian history and culture.”

“Oh, Aunty Mary! Good, you remembered her.”

Aunty Mary? “Grammie, I’m talking about Mary Kawena Pukui, the mother of the Hawaiian Renaissance.”

“Yeah, Aunty Mary! After school, we used to go to Bishop Museum and run up and down the stairs and take all the covers off the displays and she’d chase us around the halls and finally call the police station (Grammie’s father was with the HPD) and say, ‘George! Your kids are driving me nuts! Come get them!’ Oh, we loved to tease Aunty Mary! She and my Dad were good friends. She used to come to our house often.”

And my mouth is on the floor and I start to think about it and realize that her family home in Kalihi was a block or two from Bishop Museum and my Grammie isn’t joking. She kept telling me stories and I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea that the woman who wrote at least 20 books on my shelves about Hawaiian history and culture was Aunty Mary to my grandmother!

Blows my mind almost as much as the idea of Grammie and her siblings playing hide and go seek in Bishop Museum’s hallowed halls after school!

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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.