Talking Story

Hawaii books

I’ve often thought that rather than wait patiently in the shadows for someone at the publishing table to notice and make room, it’s better to build your own table. Tatou Publishing has not only built a table, they’ve prepared a feast.

Traditional publishers in the USA believe there is no market for Pacific literature stories, that islanders don’t read or buy books, that words in Pidgin or Hawaiian or any other language are confusing. I can tell a good story, they say, but to reach a wider audience, I should really just write books about American girls who sparkle. That’s something they can sell.

Unfortunately, that’s not an exaggeration. Publishers and editors have really said this to me. I think their frankness comes from the cognitive dissonance they experience when they see what looks like a fluffy middle-aged white woman submitting manuscripts that bleed saltwater and taste of taro and red earth.

They just don’t get it—and they really can’t. They don’t have the tastebuds.

Other Pasifika writers have heard this, too. We’re told to be patient, to write literary fiction, not space stories or fantasy or urban romance. We’re supposed to fit neatly in a box.

Tired of this rhetoric, Tatou Publishing was born. A call went out from Lani Young and Sisilia Eteuati for original short stories and poems from women across the vast Pacific. It speaks volumes about colonial chains that many saw women and assumed only cis-gendered were welcome, but our pan-Pacific realities have bigger hearts and lives than that. Tatou Publishing assumed that was understood. Going forward, the wahine energy message is clearer. Women means all women.

Their first project is ambitious—there was only a two week submission window for original stories and poems that ended on Nov. 30, 2021 and publication was fast-tracked for December 23, 2021.


That’s the number of authors whose work was accepted into the inaugural anthology. I’m not sure what the final word count was, somewhere in the 90,000 word range. That’s not just amazing, that’s unprecedented. It’s impossible, according to publishers. There aren’t that many people writing these kinds of stories in the world, let alone women.

That’s why Lani and Sisilia built their own table, a ginormous table, big enough to hold a feast of words, of stories, of lives told in authentic voices. Better loosen your belt. There are more courses—flavors and textures—than your tongue can hold.

The authors range from experienced to noobie, from stay-at-home moms to lawyers, educators, business owners and everything in between and beyond. This is the start of something special.

From the back of the book—

Stories that tell covid to eat sh!*, where a Centipede God watches on with wry humour and wrath, where a sexy Samoan goes on a hot Tinder date in Honolulu, where a New Zealand doctor is horrified to be stuck at her cousin’s kava drink up in Fiji, stories where Ancestors and Atua live and breathe. Stories that defy colonial boundaries, and draw on the storytelling and oratory that is our inheritance. Immerse yourself in the intrigue, fantasy, humour and magic of beautiful strong stories by 37 writers from across the Moana.

Chimamanda Adichie speaks about the danger of the single story. In this book you will travel across oceans and meet diverse and deep characters in over 50 rich stories from Cook Island, Chamorro, Erub Island (Torres Strait), Fijian, Hawaiian, Maori, Ni-Vanuatu, Papua New Guinean, Rotuman, Samoan and Tongan writers.

Mark your calendars:  Va – Stories by Women of the Moana, available Dec 23, 2021 on Amazon and other retailers in eBook and paperback.

It’s gonna be epic.


This week I’ve been in graphic design hell as I’ve been trying to create new covers for the first of three stories based on re-imagined western fairy tales with a Hawaiian twist. The books have been ready for quite awhile–it’s the eBook, paperback, and hardback covers that have been holding up publication.

The whole thing has been driving me crazy.

Once I have a solid concept, I turn the designs in progress to different focus groups. They’re told that the books are standalone serials that are only loosely linked through recurring characters and settings from other books I write and that they there are sci-fi or magical realism with romance elements. People looked at them and then submitted their feedback in writing. I took their feedback and refined the designs, eventually showing a new iteration to more focus groups until I thought I had the best cover possible given my limitations of time and money. The finer details got refined by a trusted handful of people.

Here’s where I started about a week ago.

I liked that flowers and borders framed the series as a set. The title fonts and center images gave clues about the genre for each story. The additional text explained that these were riffs on traditional fairy tales. Winner, winner, chicken dinner, right?



Public Focus Group Feedback #1

“Too busy.”

“Too much text.”

“These don’t look like they go together. Use the same fonts.”

“Fonts need work.”

“You can’t sell romances set in the same world with different genres. Are you stupid?”

“Everything is wrong. You need to hire me to create proper covers. You’re going to fail at this.”

(I looked up this person’s portfolio. Once I stopped laughing, I took everything they said with an ocean of salt.)


I dropped the floral border, change font colors and the bar/band textures, and other minor changes.

Public Focus Group Feedback #2

“Too much text.”

“Body parts are horrible on romance covers.”

“These look like different genres. One looks sci-fi, one looks chick-lit, and the other is just terrible.”

“Use the same font on all the titles.”

“The quality of the artwork with the flowers was better.”

“Unless you’re Stephen King, nobody cares what else you’ve written, and if you’re Stephen King, you don’t have to brag.”

“Rell is whiter than the others. Was this intentional?”

“Pua looks like she has mutton chops.”

“Unless Nani doesn’t have arms in the story, her truncated limbs are freaking me out.”

“You’re going to get sued for calling these Fractured Folktales. It’s too close to Fractured Fairytales.”

(Nope. No copyright issues. But thanks for the warning.)

“Fonts need work.”

“You’re hiding the beautiful artwork behind too much text. Let the art tell the story.”

“Hire me. These suck.”

(Also reviewed this person’s portfolio. Hard pass.)


Changed Rell from an ‘okole shot to a whole person, realigned all the images, used the same font for the titles, dropped top bar, and other small changes.


Public Focus Group Feedback #3


“I liked it with all the flowers better.”


“Fonts need work.”

“So much better without all that text.”


Changed Rell to a more active pose, changed title font styles and location, cropped images differently, other minor changes.

Small Focus Group Feedback 4

“It’s fine.”

“There’s something weird about Pua’s stomach.”

“Mom, I’m busy with finals.”

“Come to bed. It’s 4:30 am.”


I think this where they will end up–or something very similar. The font snaps and can be read at thumbnail size for eBooks. I like that the women are strong and beautiful on the covers. We’ll test market them a little in eBook before committing to paperback and maybe hardback options. What do think?

And now to start on the backs and spines–and blurbs and meta data. Send chocolate. It’s going to be another long week.

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