Talking Story

Mana’o (Thoughts)

I was in the middle of trying to organize some of my short stories for another project when I spotted Lani Young’s Instagram post. She was sending out a call for original short stories written by Pacific Island women for Va: Stories by Women of the Moana. The cover was stunning.

Fantastic! I have the perfect story in mind!

I reached out to Lani for more details. She told me she and Sisilia Eteuati were starting a new press called Tatou Publishing. The submission window for their first anthology was only two weeks long and closing on November 30th, in about twelve days, because publication was scheduled for Dec. 23, 2021.

It was like getting hit in the head by a falling coconut.

I didn’t have time to write a new story. I didn’t even have time to complete the projects I’d already committed to. A publication date about three weeks after the submission window closes is cray-cray. It’s beyond bold and non-traditional, it’s the kind of thing only true visionaries do, visionaries who see possibilities around corners, who get in their voyaging wa’a armed with a mental map of the stars and calabashes of water and taro and start paddling because they know they’ll find land. It’s out there. ‘Nuff waiting around for other people. Time to hele on out and go.

And I really wanted to be part of that expedition. But time. Life. Crap.

But I had just been going through my files trying to get a handle on what was published, what wasn’t, what needed some editorial TLC, and what needed to be chalked up to experience and deleted. As I looked over my files, I thought there were three possibilities. Long shots, honestly, since they’d already been rejected by other publishers.

“Brothers,” a contemporary MG/YA magical realism story, about 1500 words; “Close Encounters,” a contemporary adult flash fiction thriller, about 680 words; and “Nana‘ue,” which walked the line between an adult fable and magical realism and was based on an old Hawaiian legend and set in the ancient past. At 4,000 words, “Nana‘ue” was also significantly longer than the 3,000 word max they were looking for.

And each story had a shark at its heart.

I can’t submit these. They’ll think I’m crazy, a crazy shark lady. They’ll think all I do is sit in my office in the desert thousands of miles from the Hawai‘i and worry about sharks like some Jaws freak. Just sit your ‘okole in your chair, Lehua, and write the story you know they’ll like, the one that’s been itching behind your eyes for over five years.

And for about four days, I tried. But time. Life. Crap. As the clock ticked down, it was time for some hard truth.

If not for this anthology, then where? Who else is going to get what you were trying to say in these stories? And yeah, they’re all shark stories, but this anthology is for Pacific Islanders—sharks are ‘ohana. The worst they can say is, “No thank you.” Well, no, the worst they can say is, “WTF were you thinking? These stories suck. Please don’t waste our time again.”

But really, they’ll probably just say no.

So I did what I tell all my critique partners and students to do: chance ‘em. Full send. All three stories. Maybe they would pity publish one of them.

Maybe.

Remember when I said Lani and Sisilia were starting something new? This publishing experience has been very different. Within a few hours of submitting, I received enthusiastic feedback from Sisilia and Lani on all of my stories. They wanted all three.

At the time, I was excited. Now after reading about a third of the galley copy I have of Va: Stories by Women of the Moana, I’m humbled. The voices, the lived experiences, are raw and honest and incredible. I’ve laughed and cried and thought yes, sistah, I see you.

38 different women of moana wrote about 50 original works, resulting in more than 98,000 words in the anthology. The initial presales placed it #1 worldwide on Amazon in Pacific and Oceanic Literature. Just think about that for a second. According to traditional publishers, none of these stories nor the audience should exist.

Some of the stories and poems in Va: Stories by Women of the Moana don’t adhere to a western idea of story. They’re vignettes, slices of real life and characters that will stay with you long past their reading. I think that’s perfect because these are our stories, in our voices, no filter, no apologies. I find I’m reading my copy slowly, savoring the words, enjoying the journey.

I’m so glad I jumped in the Va canoe. We’re all paddling as hard as we can. We know land and our audience is out there. Meanwhile, I’m going to write the next story, the one I keep putting off, because now I have a destination to sail toward. And I have to wonder how many other Pacifica stories are going to be written and read simply because Lani and Sisilia have shown the way?

Va: Stories by Women of the Moana is available from Amazon, iTunes, Kobo, Smashwords, and other retailers. It’s a trip to the islands from the comfort of your couch for about the cost of a fancy coffee. Check it out. These aren’t the islands you think you know. It’s life, not a vacation.

#realrep #Va #TatouPub #PasifikaBook #Hawaiistories

On December 14, 2021, I participated in the Utah Library Advocates Press Conference as a representative of PIK2AR and PEAU Lit. The conference was called in response to the nation-wide organized efforts to censor books in school libraries, often without books going through an established book challenge or review process. Basically, someone complains–who may not even live in the school district–and books get quietly removed from school library shelves. Sometimes these books are simply tucked out of the way in someone’s office; sometimes they are permanently “checked-out” or weeded from the the library’s collection. Regardless, books are being removed from circulation without a proper review.

This is wrong and worrisome on so many levels, particularly since all of the current “problem” books in Utah are centered around BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ themes. At this press conference, representatives from the NAACP, Utah Pride, Equality Utah, ULA, UELMA, UEA, SchoollibraryPALs, and I spoke about first amendment rights, the need for all kids to see themselves as the center of the story, and how parents can have difficult conversations with their children. Not all books are for all children, but libraries need to have books that represent the entirety of their communities.

The following is the mana’o I shared. It’s written to be spoken, not read, so e kala mai, there are a lot of run on sentences.

____________________

Aloha awakea kakou.

My name is Lehua Parker, and I’m here on behalf of PIK2AR—Pacific Knowledge To Action Resources—and PEAU Lit—the literary arm of Pasifika Enriching Arts of Utah. I’m an author of stories for kids and adults that are deeply embedded in Native Hawaiian and Hawaiian island culture.

Do not let the blond hair and blue eyes fool you. I am kanaka maoli, Native Hawaiian and a graduate of The Kamehameha Schools.

Today, you’ve heard my esteemed colleagues talk about the importance of school libraries and authentic representation. I’d like to take a moment and talk a little bit about this from the perspective of an author who writes stories for an underserved readership.

As a child growing up in Hawai‘i, I never saw my family, friends, or neighbors represented in a book. And I know these books didn’t exist, because I was constantly on the prowl for them in both public and school libraries. I was the kid with their nose perpetually in a book—on a bus, at the beach, soccer practice—it didn’t matter, I had a book with me.

But my family and friends weren’t just invisible in books—it was all media. In the rare movie or television show, islanders were always the exotic hula dancer, the bartender, or the crook—never the center or the hero of the story, never seen nor validated, and never without a cultural narrative created and imposed by Hollywood.

Would it surprise you to learn that pineapple, coconut bras, and tiki curses that Bobby Brady faced are not Hawaiian?

Don’t get me started on pizza.

I remember so vividly the first time I saw my community authentically represented in media. It left such a lasting impact on my life, that when I decided to write my first novel, I knew it had to be about—and for—kids in Hawai‘i—that their authentic lives, experiences, and worldviews had to be firmly set as the center of the story.

I wish I could take you all to Hawai‘i to see the impact these books have had on kids. I’ve stood in crowded auditoriums with kids on the edge of their seats—they were that engaged with the idea that someone wrote a story about them that’s in a book.

“Aunty,” they say, “when you had a character say and do this—did you really mean…?!”

And yes, I tell them, I did.

More importantly—with a book in hand as proof, kids are thrilled by the possibility that they too can write their own stories and someone will read them. They matter that much.

I’ve talked with teachers, librarians, and parents—some with tears in their eyes—because for the first time their haumana, their keiki—their students and children—feel seen. For some kids, these books are the first ones they’ve read voluntarily in their entirety.

Think about that for a moment. Reading is critical to success in school, in work, in a child’s future, in our nation’s future. Kids hunger to read books that speak to their lived experiences. Why would we do anything to discourage that?

I want you to know that I recognize that not all books are for all kids. However, we have public processes that help us determine which books are appropriate for which grades in our communities, and it is imperative that these processes are followed. It is chilling to think that people believe we can circumvent proper review processes by bullying others into removing books from circulation, simply because a book is not right for their child.

All school libraries must have books that represent the entirety of their communities.

It truly is a matter of life and death. It is a matter of being seen.

Mahalo nui loa a me aloha no. Thank you for your time and consideration.

____________________

If bullying is not okay on the playground, why are we allowing it in the library? What are we really teaching our children? I invite you to get involved, to educate yourself and others on the critical services libraries provide for everyone in their communities. Rather than worrying about what another kid has in their backpack, send your child to the library with lists of good books you’d like them to explore.

#RealRep #challengebooks #Hawaiibooks #justreadconfunit

 

 

“How did you dare?”

After talking with students at Kealakehe Intermediate over the internet for a bit, I read chapter one from ONE BOY, NO WATER, and looked up. Most of the kids seemed stunned. “I’ve never heard anyone read a story that had Pidgin in it before,” one student said.

Another raised his hand. “How did you dare? How did you know you could do that?” Lots of kids nodded. They wanted to know this, too.

I blinked hard. “I just did,” I said. “And if I did, you can too. Don’t be scared. Just do it.”

I’ve been thinking about this exchange a lot this afternoon. It’s why real representation in literature is so important. All kids deserve–need–to see themselves as the center of stories that affirm their lived experiences. Sometimes all it takes is someone telling them it’s okay; they can do this; permission granted.

It was maybe eight years ago that I noticed a lot more awareness, more buzz, about the startling lack of diversity in middle grade and young adult literature. In the USA, it started with recognizing we were a multicultural nation that woefully underrepresented the crazy quilt reality of our society. The lack of diverse representation was being talked about in ways and in circles that I hadn’t heard before.

It was the very existence of the conversations that was new, not the concepts. Growing up, I was surrounded by misrepresentation, appropriation, and outright fabrication of my Native Hawaiian—kanaka maoli—culture in media. All islanders were hula dancers, bartenders, or crooks, with the occasional beach bum thrown in. Books, television, and films never reflected my reality of doctors, lawyers, businesspeople, teachers, musicians, comedians, philanthropists, homemakers, and yeah, houseless people struggling in makeshift camps.

With awareness and conversation came movements like #weneeddiversebooks and #ownvoices. Traditional publishers created new imprints and solicited manuscripts from writers of all backgrounds, experiences, and frames of reference. There was a lot of hope.

Then reality set in and things started to get weird.

One of the biggest challenges is that with new perspectives, the stake holders and kingmakers—the acquisition editors and marketing teams—generally do not have the background to accurately assess whether or not a manuscript authentically represents what it purports to. In today’s cancel culture, few are willing to risk being wrong.

Authors are also eyeing the swing of public opinion’s guillotine. Over the last few years, I’ve talked with many established authors who want to write stories about characters who aren’t like themselves—ethnically, neurotypically, sexually orientated, physically abled, faith-believing or disbelieving, from different socioeconomic communities—the whole spectrum of humanity. These authors’ genres and target audiences range widely, from picture books to adult high fantasy, romance, and horror. These are exactly the kinds of stories that will reach under severed readers and bring more threads to our literary tapestry. But they’re scared. They’re convinced writing outside of their perceived and approved wheelhouse is career suicide.

And these stories aren’t being written.

Some authors have pivoted to writing about animals instead of children. Some write fantasy, where it’s easier to blend cultures into something familiar, but new. Others have doubled down and do not describe the physical characteristics of their characters at all. I was part of a panel of authors at an event where a White college student called out a well-known (and really wonderful) White male author of middle grade books. She publicly chastised him for only writing White characters in his series. He gently asked her where that was in the text—and of course, it wasn’t. He had been very careful to only use generic physical descriptions like tall, athletic, old, young, or wearing a blue shirt. The college student had brought her own biases with her.

We all do.

The pendulum’s backlash is twice as harsh as its front swing.

I believe it’s important to recognize that not all stories are ours to tell. But rather than #ownvoices, I think we should be focusing on authentic representation, what I’ve coined as #RealRep (because ain’t nobody got time to spell #AuthenticRepresentation).

#RealRep allows authors the freedom to write all kinds of stories. Writers can easily imagine how it feels to be different or alone or special or even ordinary. Most stories have underlying themes like love, family, courage, perseverance, or adventure and are told through emotions and experiences that are universal to the human condition. Where we are vary is in the specifics, constraints, opportunities, and pressures.

My advice to authors who want to tell stories about people, places, and experiences out of their own wheelhouse is to pause for a second to consider what’s sparking the story. What draws to you this story; why do you want to tell it; what are you hoping your audience will take away from it; how will you do your best to avoid harmful stereotypes, characterizations, and tokenisms; and how would you feel if you were portrayed this way?

If you’re comfortable with your answers, then research, research, research. Google, YouTube, and the library are your friends. Most importantly, connect with this community. Find people who have first-hand knowledge and experience with the cultures, issues, locations, and worldviews you want to explore. Get the nuances and details right before publication, but don’t let fear of getting them wrong stop you from starting. Refinement often comes after the first drafts when you engage beta and sensitivity readers. And it is readers. There is no “authority” that blesses any one point of view or lived experience. You’ll need a variety of responses to see the middle.

Remember, the goal is authenticity, not wide-eyed Pollyanna optimism. It’s okay if some readers are uncomfortable. Just make sure the discomfort is calculated and coming from the things you intend.

To publishers, remember that none of us are fully aware of our biases. We always think we know more than we do. Recognize you don’t always have the staff or experience to identify authenticity in manuscripts, particularly ones that defy expectations. If the story is compelling, engage your own experts to assess if it rings true–and it will take experts because no human experience is a monolith.

If we want to create a more inclusive world, we must teach compassion to children. One of the best ways to do this is to provide them books that allow them to walk in others’ shoes. To teachers and librarians, you are the frontline. Use your budgets to curate collections that serve your entire community.

To those in the corps calling for diversity in literature, keep beating those drums and encouraging people to write their own stories in their own voices.

Writing is an art, but publishing is a business, and like all businesses, it’s profit driven.  Buy books you like and want to see more of and leave positive reviews. Create grassroots buzz. It’s that simple.

Authentic representation. #RealRep. Spread the word.

 

Last year, at the start of the pandemic, we took an unused corner of our property and built a huge garden–14 raised beds, each 30′ long and either 18″ or 3′ wide, with a drip irrigation system, climbing trellises, weed barriers, and gavel between the beds. Over four of the beds, we built a greenhouse to extend our growing season. Everything was designed by Kevin. We harvested enough potatoes, carrots, onions, corn, tomatoes, squash, and other veggies and herbs to feed a neighborhood. I say we, but in reality it was College Son and Kevin who did 90% of the work.

 
Today I planted flowers on my deck. I think that says a lot about hope and progress.
 
#2021 #brightfuture #stillplantedveggiestoo

I’m working on an introduction to short story I wrote that’s going to be in an anthology of retold fairy and other traditional tales published by University of Hawaii. My into is waaaaaay overdue. I’m working on the fourth completely new version–I didn’t like my previous attempts. Hoping fourth time’s the charm.

But as I’ve been thinking about fairy tales and what makes a story Hawaiian vs Islander vs Malihini vs Outsider, I remembered the first time I heard a western fairy tale told through an islander lens. It was a record called Pidgin English Children’s Stories. I heard  it in the “listening center” at Kahului or maybe Kihei elementary school, a corner of a large classroom that had a record player and a couple of big can headphones that connected into the player with giant phone jacks. The headphones were so big–or our heads were so small–we had to hold  them onto our heads with both hands. When I close my eyes, I can still smell the dusty wood smell of the cabinet where the records were kept and even  feel the wobbly cardboard cover. We had two records in our listening center–this one and “Paint it Black” by the Rolling Stones. Not kidding. Life really is weirder than fiction.

It’s also true that everything is on the internet. Originally recorded in 1961, I found one of the stories from the album–Cinderella–on YouTube. Listening to it again, here’s a lot I didn’t understand as a kid. But maybe the best stories are that way–they grow with us. If you’re interested, here’s the link. And now to get back to that intro I’m writing! (Sorry! It’s coming today, promise!)

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in the United States (AAPI Month). Through out May, I’m going to be posting about books written by Pacific Islanders that celebrate island culture front and center.  Up first:

MIDDLE GRADE

There’s a wide range of what’s considered middle grade, with the sweet spot as a story that’s on at least a 5th grade reading level with a complex story structure centered around themes and characters  that reflect the interests and lived experiences of 5th through about 9th graders. Crushes are perfect. Anger, loss, or awareness of a bigger world and the challenges it brings are also appropriate, as are wonder, joy, fear, and humor. Like kids developmentally this age, characters are often exploring away from adult safety nets, but there’s an underlying sense that while things may be different in the end, it’s going to be okay. Stories that deal with more mature themes–things that go beyond first kisses or delve into abuse–are generally considered Young Adult rather than Middle Grade.

And yes, those things happen to middle graders, too. However, most booksellers and librarians try to keep these imaginary boundaries drawn on their bookshelves, which is why Middle Grade is usually in the Children’s section and Young Adult is in the nomad-land of Teen Fiction, more commonly shelved by genre.

Without further ado, here are Pacific Islander Middle Grade titles you need to read. Click on the image to see it on Amazon.


In the story, 12 year old Kino and her mother move to Hawaii to live with her maternal grandparents in Kalihi, Oahu. With her grandfather ill and her family facing eviction from their home, Kino discovers that she has an ancient destiny to save both Hawaii and her grandfather by going back in time to 1825. There she meets the young Kamehameha III just prior to his ascension to the throne. After meeting with a kahuna at a heiau, it becomes clear that in order to return to her own time,  Kino must go on a quest for four objects gathered from various parts of Oahu—and of course the young prince is going to come along.

As the adventure quest plot unfolds, Jen deftly weaves in aspects of Hawaiian culture and history. Islanders will recognize kapu customs, protocol, and Hawaiian legends such as night marchers, Pele, Kamapua‘a, sacred waterfalls, ‘aumakua, choking ghosts, and magic gourds and calabashes.

Find it on Amazon.

 

 


‘Ewa Which Way by Tyler Miranda peels back the bandage of what adults think adolescence is like to expose the raw, oozing strawberry of reality. I loved this book for its ability to show all the complicated rules, expectations, and entanglements of being a 12-year-old boy trying to make sense out of adult behavior. Set in ‘Ewa Beach, Hawaii in 1982, Landon DeSilva and his brother Luke know that lickins can fall from the sky like lightning, that a certain side-eye from a parent means a storm’s coming, and that sometimes no matter how long you hold your breath you can’t escape, but have to endure the wave to the end.

For Landon, things are bad at home, but not bad enough. Not enough for child protective services to swoop in and spirit Landon and Luke to a new home, not enough for the cops to do more than show up when his parents’ fights wake the neighbors, and not enough for his mother to realize her marriage is over. Throughout the novel Landon tries to figure out what he’s supposed to do when there’s really nothing he can. His parents’ troubles are deep—there’s guilt, prejudices of class and race, loss, alcohol abuse and valium popping coping mechanisms, unfulfilled expectations, and sheer dysfunction. Landon sees it all with the clarity of a twelve-year-old and his reactions and understandings are heartbreaking and true. Adult readers will read not only the story, but all the words and character motivations between the lines. It’s powerful, immediate, and like a bloody scrapped knee, painfully evocative of the transition between childhood and adulthood.

Find it on Amazon.

 


Other books to consider:

The Calvin Coconut series by Graham Salisbury

The Niuhi Shark Saga trilogy by Lehua Parker
ONE BOY, NO WATER
ONE SHARK, NO SWIM
ONE TRUTH, NO LIE

and upcoming Lauele Chicken Skin Story
UNDER KONA’S BED

  • The caress of humidity and the weight of bushy, bushy hair.
  • The way the elderly security guard’s curt aloha changes when you catch his eye and say, “Oh, ovah dere? Eh, mahalo, Uncle. I get ‘em now.”
  • How his smile now reaches his eyes.
  • Breathing after saltwater goes up your nose and finally clears decades of desert from your sinuses.
  • The newly sharp scent of everything—plumeria, red dirt, garbage, gecko dust, keawe smoke, laundry soap, and coconut sunscreen slathered on pink skin carrying big Matsumoto’s rainbow shave ice.
  • When driving along Kamehameha highway, wave as you slow just enough to let cars merge or turn in front of you because giving them two of your seconds now can literally save hours for others later.
  • Quick car beeps are for howzit; long honks are from the mainland.
  • Modesty and respect are mindsets and not measured in inches.
  • “Where are you from?” and “Where did you go to school?” are the first steps in an intricate how-are-we-related dance.
  • ‘Ohana means EVERY TIME you walk past a certain bakery, the owner chases you through the parking lot and gives you loaves of his amazing bread because you are friends with his cousin’s cousin’s friend.
  • Nervous tourists constantly approach you with questions because you seem to know things like how to get places, what to order, and where bathrooms are. You have to remind yourself to switch off the Pidgin when you respond.
  • It’s “locals,” not Hawaiians, unless they are kanaka maoli.
  • Don’t ask cashiers and security guards where’s a good place to eat. Ask them where THEY like to eat. Kalua pork wrapped in luau leaves and cooked in an imu is a thousand times better than in an Instant Pot, crockpot, or oven. Real plate lunches have poi as a side option. Real haupia tastes like coconut, not cornstarch.
  • Kids and teachers give you side eye when you first walk through the door. You can almost see the WTF thought balloons over their heads. But five minutes later they are calling you Aunty and laughing. They never ask how to pronounce Lehua or Niuhi. Their burning questions are all about ‘Ilima, the dog who obviously isn’t just a dog.

#homeagain #amwriting #HawaiiStories #OneBoyNoWater

When the college kids first moved back home, device chargers and cables started disappearing. I stomped around the house, ticked that I suddenly couldn’t plug in my phone or tablet while on the couch or in the kitchen or at any place I was used to.

There was much grumbling and stink-eye flying on my part and some non-committal shrugging from the rest of the adults in the house.

After a couple weeks of this, I didn’t have to look anymore. Great, I thought, people are leaving my stuff alone.

Nope. I found out this weekend that my husband has a hidden stash of chargers and cables. He’s been secretly replacing the ones that go missing before I realize they’re gone.  For a YEAR. 🤣

#truelove #don’ttouchmystuff #HomeU #keepMomhappy

For a while now, my style has been best described as tropical middle-aged frump with a side of at-least-I’m-not-naked–a.k.a. old fut titah-rella with shoes. But there was a time when I wore smart business attire, cocktail dresses, and even formal wear. I’ve kept all the classic and timeless pieces in my closet, waiting for day the when I’d need them again.

Y’all, this closet is chocked full and the size of a kid’s bedroom. In the original house plan, it was an office.

But since October, I’ve lost some of my fluffy, so much that I have to get new everything. Apparently, my family thinks it’s a problem when my yoga pants fall off as I walk upstairs. This is the result of a permanent lifestyle change, not a diet. These clothes are never going to fit again.

It’s strangely hard to purge my closet. Some of it is fear–what if I need these clothes again? Then there’s the memories attached to certain things. And the freak out at the waste that I didn’t comprehend until it was Marie Kondo’d in front of me. (Still tags on this? Really?! What was I thinking?!!!)

It’s taken me days to go through it all, and I had a couple of minor panic attacks where I temporarily “rescued” a few things.

But I then I thought about the woman having the right kinds of clothes for a new job. I thought about the plus-sized teen needing something for a special dance and the grandma that would love to wear bling-y palm trees and pineapples to bingo. These gently/only once/never-worn clothes are going to be put to good use, far better than faux soothing any hoarder-anxiety.

And me? I’ll still look on-brand as a middle-aged bag lady author. I’m holding onto a bunch of hoodies, a couple of pairs of jeans that I can keep up with a new baseball belt–a truly magical invention–and a few t-shirts. They’ll be easy to find among the rows of empty hangers.

#notallgoingtofitinthecar #donations #onlypantswithbeltloopsfornow #newclothesinsummer

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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.