Guest Post–Lehua Parker

Author Lehua Parker stopped by today to talk about her Middle Grade/Young Adult series, The Niuhi Shark Saga.  You can find her previous interview on the blog here.

lehua_parker_photo

When Pidgin Doesn’t Fly

It should’ve been obvious that when I intentionally wrote a series set in Hawaii with  dialogue in colloquial Hawaiian Pidgin English for MG/YA boys who don’t like to read, it was going to be a tough sell. Not only does my target audience not know I exist, they aren’t even looking.

It’s enough to make publishers and publicists resort to chucking bottles of gin and cases of cigarettes into volcanos as bribes to temperamental fire goddesses to help a sister out.

Sometimes it’s hard to get noticed.

The Niuhi Shark Saga was acquired by Jolly Fish Press (JFP) as a five book arc with the understanding that a new title would emerge from the womb ready to publish every nine months to a year. JFP is a brand-spanking-new traditional publisher ready to play midwife to the next blockbuster. Book 1, One Boy, No Water, was published in September 2012, the last of the three titles in JFP’s debut year. 2014, year three, will see eighteen.

OBNW_cover

Like most beginnings, it’s been a journey filled with growing pains. Based in Utah, JFP did get a few books stocked at local Barnes & Noble bookstores, hosted a few book signings, set-up a blog tour, created a book trailer, submitted One Boy, No Water for an American Book Award, and technically, the Niuhi Shark Saga is available world-wide. But inherently magical promises of catalog distribution aside, my core target audience is still in the middle of the Pacific ocean several thousands of miles away.

It all looked easier on paper.

On my own the best I could do was send a few copies to Hawaiian school libraries and folks back home that I thought might like it enough to recommend it to friends. Overworked, underappreciated,  and focused on their next titles, JFP’s attention was elsewhere. To be fair, this kind of debut author/publisher experience isn’t unusual regardless of whether you’re with a new small press or NY Big 6. Go forth and harness the power of social marketing, I was told.

Like a good soldier, I spent almost two years social media marketing like mad, building relationships with readers with smart phones and Facebook accounts, blogging about Hawaiian culture, books, and how I often felt like a fish out of water living so far from my island home. I met a lot of amazing people and had a few opportunities come my way, but it was soon painfully obvious that while having a social media platform is an essential connection with fans, if you’re unknown it’s not the mechanism for creating an MG/YA fanbase. Any school interest I raised left educators scratching their heads because outside of Hawaii, Pidgin has no place to roost.

When I heard from other ex-pat Hawaiians that their kids asked parents and grandparents to read the Pidgin parts to them, that kids stumbled over common Pidgin words and phrases, and worse, that some gave up, I knew I had to make a change. Adults who didn’t speak Pidgin had no problem; they easily got into Pidgin’s rhythms and figured out meaning from context. The kids who were stronger readers stuck with it, liking the characters and plot, eagerly begging me for the next in the series.

It wasn’t the story. It was the language.

When I wrote book 2, One Shark, No Swim, I cut most of the Pidgin. There’re a few words and phrases sprinkled throughout the dialogue, but nothing like what was in One Boy, No Water. JFP is publishing One Shark, No Swim on September 21, 2013. Early reviewers like it; almost no one misses the Pidgin.

OSNS_cover

I do, a little. After all, it was the I-hate-reading kid who seldom saw his authentic island lifestyle or characters like himself in the media that I was reaching out to with the series. But while I dream for a living, I’m pretty practical at my core.

While I was beating the bushes trying to figure out how to market the Niuhi Shark Saga on a shoestring, JFP was busily working like beavers in a log jam to even out the kinks in their distribution channels. They recently inked a deal with IPG, leading to new and improved marketing plans that include re-launching their backlist starting in January 2014.

You gotta love the can-do attitude of start-ups. Never underestimate the transformative power of espresso and interns.

With new distribution in place, JFP is giving me another chance to get it right. One Boy, No Water is getting a second edition make-over with English that sparkles with propriety and nary a da kine or get plenny fish in sight.

After its Pidgin-ectomy, the Niuhi Shark Saga will still be a series set in authentic Hawaii with people who do more than tend bars and wear something other than Hollywood’s coconut bras and cellophane grass skirts. Perhaps unburdened by Pidgin the story of a boy who’s allergic to water and sharks that walk among men will finally soar high enough that reluctant readers surfing at Waimea Bay will notice. As any fisherman will tell you, it’s all about the bait.

***

Lehua Parker is originally from Hawaii and a graduate of The Kamehameha Schools and Brigham Young University. In addition to writing award-winning short fiction, poetry, and plays, she is the author of the Pacific literature MG/YA series the Niuhi Shark Saga published by Jolly Fish Press. One Boy, No Water and One Shark, No Swim are available now, book 3, One Fight, No Fist will be published in 2014.

So far Lehua has been a live television director, a school teacher, a courseware manager, an instructional designer, a sports coach, a theater critic, a SCUBA instructor, a playwright, a web designer, a book editor, a mother, and a wife. She currently lives in Utah with her husband, two children, three cats, two dogs, six horses, and assorted chickens. During the snowy Utah winters she dreams about the beach.

You can find Lehua on her website, Facebook, Twitter, or on the Niuhi Shark Saga website.

Author Corner–Lehua Parker

Today, Lehua Parker stopped by to chat with me about her Middle Grade/Young Adult series and to have some drinks.

lehua_parker_1

This is Lehua. Everyone say “Hi.”

E: Aloha, Lehua!  Welcome to Erindipity.  I made us up some fruity drinks with those little paper umbrellas in them.

L:  Howzit, Erin! They look delicious, but I better stick with Diet Coke. My editorial team has hot flashes if I use the word hell in a manuscript.  In book two, I described something as smelling like a lime margarita which immediately got nixed since “12 year olds wouldn’t know what that smells like.” But hand me an orangey-yellow umbrella and a pineapple wedge. I’ll pop them into my drink and try to keep them out of my nose as I sip.

E: You’re writing the Niuhi Shark Saga.  The first book is One Boy, No Water.  What can you tell us about it?

L:  The Niuhi Shark Saga is a middle grade/young adult speculative fiction series set in contemporary Hawaii. In the beginning of the series, Zader is eleven. He was found abandoned on the reef as an infant and raised by a loving, but unsuspecting Hawaiian family. Uncle Kahana knows that Zader is Niuhi, a shark in human form, and tries to protect him and those around him by saying Zader is allergic to water. Can you imagine living in tropical rainforest near the beach but unable to get wet? For an island kid that’s impossible.

On the surface, One Boy, No Water is about not fitting in and how you can’t always hide or run away from problems. Zader eventually faces the bullies and his troubling dreams and it’s that action that first begins to trigger his shark nature. Book 2 is called One Shark, No Swim and it chronicles Zader’s discovery of his Niuhi nature and brings him to the attention of Kalei, the reason his mother hid him among humans. In Book 3, tentatively titled One Truth, No Lie, Zader knows what he is and discovers all the whys and tries to protect his human family. Oh, and that’s in addition to doing well in a private school so he’ll keep his scholarship, dealing with a brother who’s now girl crazy, Uncle Kahana’s heart attack, caring for a dog that isn’t a dog, and forging a relationship with a sister he thought was imaginary. The mythical storylines are woven through typical island kid adventures and challenges with friends, family, and growing up.

OBNW_cover

E: The next book in the series is coming out soon.  What is the name of it and when can we get it?

L: Book 2 is called One Shark, No Swim and will be available in eBook, trade paperback , and hardback September 21, 2013. It’s published by Jolly Fish Press and can be purchased through Amazon, Barnes & Noble,  or from boutique bookstores in Hawaii and Utah.

OSNS_cover

E: What inspired you to write this series?

L: Since I grew up in Hawaii, some of the things are easy to spot; most island kids study karate/lua, dance hula, fly stunt kites, surf, go to Summer Fun, play in tide pools, and eat shave ice. But the heart of the story comes from a movie I watched when I was seven years old.

Sprawled on the cool, polished cement floor in Kahului Elementary School’s cafeteria, all my second grade friends and I were excited about movie day. This year’s movie was from the Legends of Hawaii series. When it first began, we immediately started tittering about the half-naked ancient Hawaiian kids running around on screen. But a few minutes later no one cared that people’s okoles were hanging out because we got sucked into the story about a group of boys a little older than us who went swimming and fishing together. Mysteriously, one by one they started disappearing, never to be seen again. Finally an elder says it has to be a shark.

As seven year olds we lived in the ocean all weekend long and this was before Jaws. We knew we had to watch out for jellyfish and big waves, but we rarely heard about sharks. The idea that our playground could be deadly was new and unnerving. 

In the movie, the adults worry and try to keep an eye on the boys, but BAM! One minute a boy’s picking seaweed and the next, he’s gone! There doesn’t seem to be anything anyone can do until finally someone rips the cloak off the shoulders of a boy to reveal a gapping shark’s mouth where his back should be.

“Aiyah!” we all screamed, “It’s him! He’s a shark!

Talk about the stuff of nightmares!

Over decades, parts of the story would drift through my mind and I would realize some important things that I missed as a kid, like the idea that the shark-boy’s parents kept this secret hidden his entire life. Think about that for a moment. He always wore a cloak while everybody else was running around in loin cloths. How could people have missed this? Another big idea was that the shark-boy was eating people he knew. His friends were disappearing, not random strangers.

It made my head spin.

Eventually, all the answers to the why, how, and what if questions I asked myself about this ancient Hawaiian legend twisted and turned into the Niuhi Shark Saga. Zader’s story is not a retelling of this legend, but the idea that danger could hide in plain sight and be hidden even from itself all began one humid afternoon in a cafeteria on Maui.

E: You’re originally from Hawaii.  How is island life different from living on the mainland?  Aside from that whole not being surrounded by gorgeous beaches and all.

L: I live in the high desert mountains of Utah where snow doesn’t come with fruit-flavored syrup from October to May. Even after twenty years, the cold is hard for me. I’m always under-dressed and freezing because it still doesn’t occur to me to wear shoes and a jacket. After the cold, like all Hawaiians, it’s all about missing the food, the ocean, the people, and the music.

E: In terms of YA literature, what areas do you think are being underrepresented and is your series helping to fill in any of those gaps?

L: If you look at the book shelves for middle grade fiction, there’re a lot of stories where the adults are stupid and the kids are smart and the plots are mostly about how the kids save the day. Parents are dysfunctional, abusive, or absent. I try to write stories where the family is a strength that unites against outside forces. Zader’s family has his back one hundred percent. However it’s his desire to protect them and his 12 year old understanding of the world that complicates things.

E: Do you have an idea of how many books will be in the series, or are you seeing where the stories take you?

L: My contract with Jolly Fish Press is for five books and I have a five book arc in my head. However, the Niuhi Shark Saga is only a small part of a very complex multi-generational story, and is the only part appropriate for a middle grade/young adult audience. I’ve written some novellas and side stories for adults about events in this world that affect Zader, but aren’t about him. I’m self-publishing these pieces as I have time. Book 3 is due to my editor in January 2014. After it’s finished I may write more pieces of the series for adult readers and perhaps work on something entirely unrelated for a while.

E: What’s a piece of advice you would give a young person about writing?

L: Read. Read everything you can and find the stories that speak to you. Read classics, good fiction, mediocre fiction, and truly terrible fiction and learn how to tell the difference. Deconstruct movies, novels, and video games to understand how the story was put together and why that matters. Scribble, share what you write, and listen when critics say something isn’t working for them, but find your own solutions to the problems they raise because it’s your story and you know best how to fix it. Write because you love it, but get a degree because even though you’re the next JK Rowling, you’ll still have to make rent.

You can find Lehua on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and her blog.