A CHAT WITH… LEHUA PARKER

If you are Lehua Parker’s fan, you surely know about the two boxed sets that feature her novellas. What is more, you have probably already read them. Curious to find out what inspired Lehua to write the stories? Just read the interview.

LEHUA PARKER

Pasifika Tales: Why did you decide to take part in this project?

Lehua Parker: For the simplest of reasons: a friend asked me. Adrienne Monson is an author who writes paranormal romance. She asked if I’d be interested in writing five novellas based on classic fairy tales to go into boxed sets with five other authors. She had a publisher lined up who wanted wildly different genres. Novellas are about a third as long as novels, and so it seemed like something I could do around other projects.

PT: How big of a challenge was it for you?

LP: It was much harder than I anticipated. I’ve published short stories, plays, poetry, and novels; novellas are a different beast.  In ‘Nani’s Kiss’, I kept wanting to write either a much shorter or much longer story. To keep to the novella length, I had to gloss over a lot of background about the sci-fi setting and the Indian and Hawaiian cultural aspects. This required readers to do some heavy mental lifting to connect the dots – which they didn’t expect. Based on the book cover, it looked like all the stories would be fast, fluffy romances.

In ‘Rell Goes Hawaiian’, I made it a little easier on myself and the reader by setting the story in contemporary Hawaii and staying truer to the Cinderella fairy tale.

PT: Which novella was more fun to write?

LP: ‘Nani’s Kiss’ was fun because I had to do a lot of research about Indian Buddhist culture and had to imagine Polynesians voyaging through space. ‘Rell Goes Hawaiian’ was a blast because I got to revisit a world and characters I knew very well.  Originally, ‘Rell was set in Waikiki and she was a nanny for a rich family on vacation. But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get into that story. Finally, I gave myself permission to reimagined it in Lauele Town with Uncle Kahana, Ilima, and the rest of the gang and added cultural conflicts, a homecoming, and Hawaiian mythology. That’s when the fun began.

PT: You did not forget about incorporating Hawaiian / Polynesian cultures into the stories. Was it important to you to stay ‘faithful’ to your roots?

LP: Yes. There are thousands of authors who write romances and reimagined fairy tales for western readers. I want to write stories that resonate with a Pasifika audience. Last week, I was back in Hawaii, swimming in the ocean, eating too much, and poking around libraries and bookstores. It was discouraging to see how few titles are published about the Pasifika experience for a Pasifika audience. I get fan email from kids who are reading the Niuhi Shark Saga in school who tell me how excited they are to read Hawaiian and Pidgin words and to see characters just like people they know. So rather than write the same kind of story a thousand other authors are publishing, I try to write what’s in my heart, natoos, Poliahu’s house, and all.

PT: As you’ve mentioned, ‘Rell Goes Hawaiian’ is set in Lauele Town – a place known from the Niuhi Shark Saga. Why did you choose this particular setting?

LP: Firstly, because I wanted to write a new story for fans of the Niuhi series that continued a little bit after ‘One Truth, No Lie’.  Secondly, land ownership is a cultural concern in Hawaii. I only touched on this theme briefly in the Niuhi series when I explained why Lauele Town was so underdeveloped for such a highly desirable location on Oahu. As ‘Rell’ began to take shape, who controls, inherits, and uses land became a major theme. Lastly, I wanted to revisit beloved characters. Ilima as a fairy godmother simply cracked me up.

PT: Hawaiian culture is present in both novellas, but ‘Nani’s Kiss’ also draws from Indian culture. Where did this idea come from? 

LP: Before I wrote one word of ‘Nani’s Kiss’, I knew two things: the publisher wanted me to write a sci-fi story for the boxed set, and I wanted to somehow work Polynesian wayfinding into it. I needed an alien for the Beast. I was reading ‘Lincoln in the Bardo’ and started thinking about how the Bardo was a Buddhist place between death and rebirth. ‘What if’ questions poured out. Clashes between Hawaiian and Indian cultures and expectations, a galactic federation with debts owed, an ancient alien lifeform older than any other in existence, gender role expectations, alien communication dream sequences, Bardo sequences, reincarnation, a wicked Machiavellian stepmother – it was a lot to cram into a novella! I was so enamored by how the story was shaping up that I forgot it was supposed to be a retelling of ‘Beauty and the Beast’. In truth, it’s closer to a mash-up of Hawaiiana, Indian Buddhism, ‘Beauty and the Beast’, and ‘Sleeping Beauty’ plus a little too much late-night Diet Coke.

PT: I’d like to ask you about your plans. What can your fans expect from you in the near future?

LP: I have several irons in the fire. The one that’s closest to publication is the next Fractured series novella based on the ‘Little Mermaid’, which is about how Zader’s Niuhi mother Pua and human father Justin met.

Also in the writing queue is a middle grade novel with series potential about a critically ill Asian girl who escapes into a world where she’s an adventure hero called Roxie Sparkles.  Only she’s not. Another is a story about a part-Hawaiian teenage girl who comes to her grandmother’s house in Lauele because her father is in the military and on assignment to the Middle East. She discovers she can see all the ghosts and Hawaiian gods—and they want her to solve their problems. This one is set during the high school years Zader is away from Lauele Town and has all the characters from the Niuhi series – Uncle Kahana, Ilima, Jay, Maka, and Char Siu.

PT: So there will be more stories related to the Niuhi Shark Saga. But will you also surprise us with something completely new?

LP: There are more MG/YA and adult stories related to the Niuhi Shark Saga and Lauele Town that I plan to write and others that are totally unrelated. It’s hard to say which will be available to readers first since acquisition editors and publishers follow the market and give priority to what they think will sell best.

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