Category Archives: AUTHOR INTERVIEWS

A CHAT WITH… LEHUA PARKER

Lehua Parker is not only an enormously talented writer, but also an utterly lovely lady. Although she has been living among haoles for quite a while now, she is a true kama’aina. In the aloha spirit, she agreed to answer a few questions about her books and Hawaii.

LEHUA PARKER

Pasifika Tales: Pacific Literature enthusiasts are familiar with your Niuhi Shark Saga, which is absolutely amazing. But you also wrote another series, called Lauele Town Stories. Could you say something more about those tales?

Lehua Parker: Lauele Town Stories and The Niuhi Shark Saga are set in the same world, a place that’s mostly like modern Hawaii, but is also a place where the largely unseen world of myths and legends interact with humans. Like many small island towns, the residents’ lives in Lauele are entwined – some for generations.

The Niuhi books tell just a small sliver of what goes on in Lauele, and since it’s written for a middle grade/young adult audience there are only hints about larger, more adult motivations behind the action and plot in the series. The three Niuhi books are mostly told from Zader’s teenage point of view and are about his journey to discover who he really is and how he will live his life.

Lauele Town Stories are what I like to think of as side stories to the Niuhi books. They can be adult in nature and darker, but not always. They explore the clash of modern vs. traditional Hawaiian views of the world and the consequences of adult actions. Characters from the Niuhi books sometimes appear in Lauele Town Stories and when they do, readers often get a new perspective on events surrounding Zader.

PT: As for now, there are three stories in the series; three quite different stories. What was your inspiration for each of them?

LP: There are three published Lauele stories: ‘Birth’, ‘Tourists’, and ‘Sniff’.

‘Birth’ tells a little more about the day Uncle Kahana found Zader on the reef. In the Niuhi books, Zader has no idea that his birth begins the redemption portion of Uncle Kahana’s life. The most rational thing for Kahana to do when he finds a newborn infant is to call the authorities – not convince his niece to adopt it. This story explains a little more about why Kahana did what he did and why he’s so invested in Zader. ‘Birth’ is unusual in that there are two versions in one volume – one with a lot of Hawaiian Pidgin and the other in standard American English.

‘Tourists’ is really one long insider’s joke. Islanders know the most dangerous time to go swimming is after the sun goes down, that you never take a stone from a sacred place, and that tourists can really be a pain in the okole. The story also shows both Kalei and Kahana in a different light than the Niuhi books and explores other ways that they are connected.

‘Sniff’ started as a challenge from my sister to write something for a local newspaper’s short story contest and is the reason Lauele exists. I hadn’t written fiction for years and said I had no ideas. She said write about something a child knows is real but nobody believes. I laughed and said like monsters under the bed? But then I thought what if a child had a dangerous secret and thought the only way to protect his family was to deal with it himself?

After winning the contest, I was encouraged to keep writing. I started thinking about similar themes and parts of what eventually became both the Niuhi books and Lauele stories started pouring out. Eventually I went back to ‘Sniff’ and rewrote it the way I originally saw it in my mind – set in Lauele and sprinkled with Pidgin.

PT: Now, your books are set in the fictional town of Lauele. Does the place exist only in your imagination or is it modelled after a specific neighborhood?

LP: Lauele is entirely made up. Readers would have a hard time figuring out where on Oahu it would be because the sun sets in the ocean and rises over the mountains, which would put it on the Waikiki side, but the country living is more like Waimanalo or the north shore. The Hawaiian word lauele means to wander mentally or to imagine and that’s what I did as I created the valley, shoreline, roads, and harbor.

PT: Finish the sentence, please. Lauele town is…

LP: …a place where people who know how to see, listen, and feel can connect to the old Hawaii that lives just under the surface of everyday life.

PT: And the real Hawaii is…

LP: …home to many different cultures and people that are constantly redefining island style.

PT: Do you miss living in the 50th state?

LP: I miss my friends and family, of course. I miss the warm weather and the beach, especially when the snow is deep. My kids don’t have the same connections I do to the ocean and there are moments when that makes me sad. But a kumu hula (a Hawaiian dance/culture master) once said that wherever his feet walked was Hawaii and whatever breath he expelled was aloha. I try to keep that perspective and carry my Hawaiian-ness with me – even if it’s only on the inside.

PT: Ok, let’s get back to your Lauele Town Stories. Are there any morals, life truths you wanted to convey to your readers?

LP: One of the reoccurring themes in my work is the idea that things are not what they seem. On the surface everything functions one way, but there are secret interconnected relationships. The interconnectedness is what holds the surface together. Curious people look behind the curtain and see the real Oz pulling the levers – and that knowledge can be life changing.

PT: Can we expect more Lauele Town stories?

LP: Upcoming Lauele stories tell about the meeting of Zader’s biological parents, Uncle Kahana’s youthful rejection of his father’s traditional teachings, how Hari came to run the local store, and Nili-boy’s brush with Pele. I have an idea – just an idea – for future Lauele stories that involve a series for younger children about Ilima’s adventures based on Hawaiian mythology. There’s also a novel in my head about Lili discovering her birth mother’s family that’s not told in the Niuhi books. While the Niuhi Shark Saga books are a trilogy, I think I’ll be writing Lauele Town Stories for years.

A CHAT WITH… SIENI A.M.

Sieni A.M. has just released her second novel, ‘Scar of the Bamboo Leaf’. Here you can read what inspired her to write this book, and how it may teach every single one of us to be a better person.

SIENI A.M.

Pasifika Tales: ‘Scar of the Bamboo Leaf’ is your second novel. I must say it is absolutely amazing. What inspired you to write it?

Sieni A.M.: Thank you! I wanted to write about imperfect, flawed characters, the challenges they face, and the ways in which they overcome their adversities. Out of the tests and difficulties they experience emerges nobility.

PT: Are any of the characters based on people you know in real life?

S. A.M.: The character of Kiva was inspired by a girl from my home community. She is the most radiant, beautiful person you will ever meet. She was born with a leg length deficiency, has been walking with a pronounced limp all her life, and is now attending university.

For the character of Ryler, I interviewed a graduate from the Coral Reef Academy in Samoa (American school for troubled boys). I was curious to learn about his life prior to and during Samoa. I wanted to see what impact the change in environment and culture did for him. And it did a lot. Samoa changed him for the better, but the change came firstly from within him. He made the initial steps and had the support around him to carry him forward.

PT: As you’ve mentioned, Kiva – the female protagonist in the book – is a teenage girl with a physical disability. Do you think it’s important to introduce such characters?

S. A.M.: I believe so, yes. Absolutely. Kiva has aspirations and dreams just like any other young woman and she doesn’t allow her disability to come in the way of that. Of course it isn’t easy, and she gets hurt over and over, but she also arises from those experiences. There’s much to learn from exemplars like her.

PT: What can such amazing people teach us? What message did you want to convey to your readers?

S. A.M.: Self-sacrifice. Humility. Beauty. Honesty. Purpose. However, once a story is out there it no longer belongs to the writer. A reader will interpret and connect to it in vastly different ways.

PT: The novel also emphasizes the importance of family and home. Samoa seems to be a kind of shelter for all the characters in the book…

S. A.M.: Yes, Samoa is the main setting for ‘Scar of the Bamboo Leaf’. It’s what I’m most intimately connected with – the culture, the landscape, the people. I also love to travel so the novel is also set in three other countries.

PT: Ok, what’s next for you? Can we expect another wonderful story?

S. A.M.: Something new is definitely brewing… So far there’s a woman florist, a beach cottage, a graveyard, and of course a guy. The first time she meets him, she saves his life then punches him in the face. It’ll be released in 2015.

A CHAT WITH… JACINTA TONGA

Jacinta Tonga, the author of a memoir called ‘A Remarkable Rotuman Woman’, was born and raised on the island of Rotuma and now lives in Suva, Fiji. She works as a Registered Nurse with the U.S. Peace Corps. In this interview she talks about her late grandmother, her book, and her country.

JACINTA TONGA

Pasifika Tales: Your book is quite an intimate memoir. Why did you decide to write and publish it?

Jacinta Tonga: Well, I promised my grandmother that one day I would write her stories. She was my role model and I want my nieces, nephews and their children to get to know her through my book.

PT: Was it difficult for you to relive your past?

JT: Yes, it was quite emotional, so I tried to be positive and reflect only on her funny stories. I had a wonderful upbringing. I understand each family have their own closet issues.

PT: And what was your family’s reaction to your book? Did they like it?

JT: (The book received) a mixed reaction. Some (people) were surprised, others curious, and a few were disappointed. I did not inform them in advance. I remember one of my close cousins, Sharon Morris, who is more a sister said, I quote: ‘Jaz, I am proud of you. This book is really positive and I enjoyed it so much’. My mother is not really enthusiastic about the book, but she said that the old lady would be happy.

PT: Tell me something about your grandmother, Petera Veu. From what I can tell, she was a truly amazing woman.

JT: Yes, she was amazing and a role model to me. She was known to a lot of people to be an entertainer, and to an extend some people have commented that she was a very arrogant and mean old lady. As we are all aware, people who speak their mind and are upfront with their opinions are known to be very rude at times. She was all that, and I had never known her to say or does anything that she did not agree with.

PT: You two seemed very close. How would you describe your relationship?

JT: My grandmother was more a mother to me then my own mother. My mother is there, but the old lady brought me up. She fed me, put clothes on my back and paid for all my expenses, even my school fees. I would not have been where I am today if not for her. I wish she could have lived longer so I could have given her back a little of what she has given me.

PT: Do you think you are a lot like your grandmother?

JT: Not really, my sister Mareta and my cousin Sharon are a splitting image of her in every way. Personality wise, I am very sensitive and definitely a follower, not a leader. My grandmother was a born leader. She was friendly, kind, domineering but definitely not sensitive. She seemed to thrill in a heated argument and she was pretty good at convincing people to follow her ideas. I do not know how she did it. Maybe people just got tired of trying to prove their point.

PT: Let’s focus on Rotuman culture for a moment. Would you say it shaped you as a person? I’m asking because, as a child, you didn’t always follow the traditions of your country…

JT: Yes, in a way. I did not always follow the Rotuman culture or pay particular attention to it because my grandmother had a culture of her own. It made her happy when you did what she wanted and to me, she was everything. Before I broke any rules, even without her physical present there, I could actually see her face. At that time, if you asked me who I feared the most – God, teachers, parents or my grandmother – my answer would definitely be my grandmother. Anyway, sorry I am drifting away, but our culture did shape me in some way, especially when I left home to move to Fiji and then finally to Tonga. My identity is Rotuman, so I learn to associate myself with my heritage.

PT: Rotuma – your true home?

JT: Yes, my true home even though my grandmother’s ancestors are from Wallis and Futuna.

PT: If you were to say what places are worth visiting in Fiji, what would you choose?

JT: I would say visit Rotuma for its amazing beaches and friendly people, Savusavu to see the hot springs and Taveuni to see their famous waterfalls. If you happen to be travelling to Fiji make sure you coordinate your trip to fall during the Hibiscus week, which is around August 3rd, so that if you are bored with nature you have a carnival to attend.

A CHAT WITH… TANYA TAIMANGLO

Not only is she an extremely talented writer, but also an utterly lovely person. A mother and a wife, a true Wonder Woman – Tanya Taimanglo – agreed to answer a few questions regarding her book, ‘Attitude 13’, as well as her beloved Guam. Here’s what she had to say…

TANYA TAIMANGLO

Pasifika Tales: Why did you decide to write ‘Attitude 13’?

Tanya Taimanglo: There wasn’t a large body of Chamorro literature out there in 2010, and what was available was mainly textbook style or history. There was some fiction and I wanted to add a collection of stories that reflected the culture of Guam. I think we, Chamorros, need it.

PT: Where did you draw your inspiration from?

TT: I’ve always loved writing and much of my writing reflects how I was raised in a Chamorro-Korean household. Tie in an American influence, and I guess you have me. I observe life around me. I people watch and spin off scenarios in my mind and jot those down as well. Some of these observations will be inspiring enough to flesh out into a short story or full novel.

PT: Are any of the stories based on real-life events?

TT: There are 13 short stories in my collection and while none of them are directly autobiographical, many strands of my life are woven into these narratives. Characters may mirror people I know, but I hope that universal themes presented in these stories tie the reader to the text.

PT: Which story do you like the most?

TT: That’s a tough one. I love some stories more than others, but I have to say I’m quite fond of ‘Off Road’, the 13th story. I love cinema and would like to believe that one day a Chamorro will win an Oscar.

PT: Would you say that your book describes the real Guam?

TT: That’s a tricky question. On one hand, my stories serve as ambassadors to the culture for those outside of it, on the other hand, the people I hope the stories reflect may not feel as if describes the ‘real Guam’. I don’t stress about that too much. The stories are my interpretation of the Chamorro culture I love. It’s my form of art and I would hope the real Guam comes through.

PT: What do you love about the island?

TT: Guam will always be my home. I miss the warm weather, the sense of family and the slower pace of island living.

PT: And what do you hate?

TT: I don’t miss the ravages of typhoons quite frankly. I once managed without electricity for about 8 weeks, with spotty water service too. I recall getting ready for my ten year high school reunion using bottled water to bathe. Definitely don’t miss that.

PT: Chamorro culture is worth cultivating, isn’t it?

TT: Definitely! All culture is. I don’t speak my native tongue, which I can change over time and practice. But, I do impart on my children aspects of our culture I value as tenets for my life. We are a strong, proud people who have endured so much. I come from a line that dates back to 2,000 B.C. That is remarkable. True, there is no pure Chamorro, but the culture is wonderful and we must keep it alive.

PT: You’ve been living in mainland US for quite a few years. Can you see yourself coming back to Guam one day?

TT: I never say never. As a Navy spouse, Washington State is my home now, and formerly San Diego, California. When I got married on Guam, ten years ago, I made my husband promise we would come back some day. I will always love my island home. I don’t know where the next ten years will take us, but I know I will have a warm, sunny place to return to if I needed.

A CHAT WITH… SIENI A.M.

Sieni A.M. is a Samoan author whose debut novel, ‘Illumine Her’, has won the hearts of hundreds of readers all over the world. If you want to know what this sweet, lovely, and funny lady had to say about her book, life, and work, just read the interview.

SIENI A.M.

Pasifika Tales: Your first book, ‘Illumine Her’, is categorized as a Paranormal or Supernatural Romance. Do you like this genre?

Sieni A.M.: I do! I was a reader before I became a writer, and the supernatural/paranormal genre is what hooked me in. There’s something about this genre that can embed messages in a subtle way, or in a way that might appeal to readers that they may not otherwise want to read about straight up. When I started writing ‘Illumine Her’, Chase was the first character to evolve, and I knew he would be different. He was a lot of fun to develop.

PT: What was the inspiration for the plot? It is, I must say, very intriguing and unusual.

S. A.M.: Thank you! I wanted to write a love story – one that focused on a connection that served to draw out one’s purpose in life and the difficulties one might have in achieving them. This is what I love most about Alana’s character. She knows what she wants and tries hard to get there despite a little adversity along the way. After her father’s death, she mourns for him for years. It consumes and changes her. The element of death and the afterlife is something that has always interested me – it’s inevitable and shouldn’t be something to be feared – and I attempted to portray this in as reverent a manner as possible.

PT: Samoa plays a big role in your novel. I would even say that it is one of the characters. Your descriptions of the island life and traditions are beyond amazing. Was it hard to depict the place so faithfully?

S. A.M.: To be honest, it was the easiest part of the writing process because I drew on my experiences growing up there – the humidity, the rain, the power outages, etc. all plays a role. You’ll hear writers say this over and over again, ‘Write what you know’, and I followed that advice. But I also learned that if you’re unsure about something, research it. I did that, too. Everything fell into place afterwards.

PT: Your book contains a lot of Samoan words and phrases, which is absolutely fantastic. Do you think they make the whole story more realistic, ‘more indigenous’?

S. A.M.: I think they do. It can enrich the reading experience for both Samoan speakers and non-Samoan speakers, and there’s a glossary at the beginning of the book with the translations in English for ease of reference. I initially worried that some readers wouldn’t be able to connect to it for this very reason, but the message in the book is a universal one, and as a result I’ve had readers contact me from around the globe, which has been so encouraging and subsequently quashed my worries away.

PT: You were born and raised in Samoa. Now you’re living in Israel. How did you end up there? Would you like to come back to your home country one day?

S. A.M.: My husband and I moved here after university to work. It’s been our home for ten years and our kids were born here, but there’ll always be a place in our hearts for Samoa.

PT: What are you working on right now?

S. A.M.: I’m currently working on my second novel entitled ‘Scar of the Bamboo Leaf’. It’s a coming of age, inspirational contemporary romance about an intuitive 15 year old girl who’s an artist and an angry 17 year old boy who’s trying to find his way. It’s a story about love in all of its forms, where it only becomes real when it is tested.

PT: When can we expect it?

S. A.M.: I’m aiming for an April or May release. Finger’s crossed! (and if I can get volunteers to look after my kids, I’ll write quicker!).

PT: Do you plan to write and publish more?

S. A.M.: I hope to. As long as the ideas keep coming in, I’ll always be drawn to penning them down.

A CHAT WITH… JAN WALKER

Have you already read ‘A Farm in the South Pacific Sea’? This fantastic book was written by Jan Walker – an incredibly talented and very warm person. She was kind enough to answer a few questions about her South Sea tale. Here’s what she had to say…

JAN WALKER

Pasifika Tales: Jan, why did you decide to write ‘A Farm in the South Pacific Sea’?

Jan Walker: My cousin June, the protagonist in the book, and I made the decision when I visited her on Maui in 1984. She knew I had two nontraditional textbooks for incarcerated adults about to be published by a small publishing company, and she’d read other material I’d written over the years. She wanted her story told and believed I could write it. During that visit, June told me her Tonga journals had been lost. She’d given them to her older sister who was allegedly contracting with a writer in the Chicago area to recreate and publish June’s story as nonfiction.

June was devastated by the loss of the journals, by her sister’s excuses for the writer who allegedly misplaced them, and by the final conclusion that the story really wouldn’t sell anyway; there just wouldn’t be enough interest in the U.S. I understood my cousin’s anger and sorrow. Her health was already in decline so we started developing a timeline for the Tonga years. She dug through files for stories she’d written in an attempt to reconstruct her adventure, and for any correspondence she had from that time. I carried a large stack of papers back to the mainland with a promise to begin background research. It was intense, time consuming work. Still, June wanted me to do the writing no matter how long it took.

PT: Did you have any doubts or second thoughts?

JW: Yes, many doubts. How could I write about the Kingdom of Tonga, a place I’d never been with a government unlike anything I’d experienced? How could I write about scuba diving? How could I portray June as the strong, independent woman I knew her to be so that came through for readers?

As those doubts were dispelled, I still wondered if writing about a living king and several other living people was proper. June understood that. She wanted a completed story that she could read and share with a few people. I achieved that for her well before her death in 1994. After she died, I put the manuscript in a box and wrote other books. When I learned of King Tupou IV’s death in 2006, I started rewriting the book for publication. The kingdom went through a tumultuous time, as characters in my book had predicted. As you might guess, it was June who informed me of those predictions, but I attributed them to a native character in the book.

PT: Where did you draw your inspiration from?

JW: From June and her personal strengths, first, but also from extensive research. I had a sense that she could be a small voice for the people living on remote islands in the vast South Pacific Sea.

I also believe that the abuses and losses she suffered through her life could be shown as part of her life without making her appear to be a pitiful victim, but rather a strong female survivor. I taught adult felons inside medium security prisons and maximum security units. I have studied victimizers and victims, and worked with them to help them make healthy choices as they do their time and work toward release back to their families and communities. Perhaps that work served as part of my inspiration.

PT: It must have been hard to write about someone else’s life. What was the writing process like for you?

JW: Yes, it is difficult to write about someone else’s life. I knew the book would have to be a fictionalized account of June’s adventure to provide me author freedom to create. I wrote an extensive backstory of her life prior to her Tonga adventure. Also, I created lists of everything I would need to know about the South Pacific and set up files and cross reference guides. I read extensively and amassed a large file of photocopied material.

June gave me photo albums that included pictures of her Mango Island fale (house), the church and school, the in-sea farm site, and many pictures of the people. Most of the pictures were taken with a Polaroid camera and have faded. To say the photos helped me write the story and describe settings and scenes would be an understatement.

PT: Did June give you any advice?

JW: She often told me to write more sex scenes, both loving and forced. She often said: ‘Sex sells.’ We argued about that off and on over the years. I wanted to draw on the depths of her character. She talked at times about the problems she’d encountered through life from the onset of puberty. She was very attractive; she often got unwanted attention from men in all facets of her life. In the end, she found the way I handled her sexuality an appropriate balance for the story.

PT: Speaking of your cousin and her incredible story … How much of the novel is true, and how much is pure fiction?

JW: This is all true: estrangement from her father from age 9 to full adulthood due to her mother divorcing him, taking June from their Chicago home but leaving June’s older sister behind; lifelong conflict with her controlling mother; June’s three marriages, the first at 17 and its events that are revealed near the end of the book; the man she loved who died in England; the reason the second and third marriages failed; learning to pilot small planes; ownership of an apartment building in Seattle; working in shipyards in Seattle and then with Morrison-Knudsen, civil engineers, in San Francisco; leaving Seattle to live in Hawaii after her third divorce and the brief look at that life; the Hawaii dive that opens the book; her search for a place to try in-sea spiny lobster farming and her connections to research laboratories in Florida and Australia; her arrival in Nuku’alofa and her stay at Beach House; meeting the man I call Tavita and traveling to the Ha’apai on his boat; all the events that occur on that trip; and the events as they unfold over the years in Tonga. The Fiji story is absolutely true.

I exaggerated parts of the post Tonga romance. The man I call Tavita outlived June. He and I corresponded at length after her death. Her health was seriously impaired shortly after she returned to Hawaii, when she was living on Maui. She heard a small plane’s engine failing and saw the plane plunge into the ocean near Lahaina. She yelled to someone nearby to call for help, then plunged into the water and swam to the plane where she helped the struggling pilot get out of his seat harness. She kept his head above water until help arrived. Remember, she’d had a punctured and collapsed lung for the Fiji ordeal, and damage from smoking since her teen years. That taxed her lungs so severely that she had to start using oxygen. She was treated for the rest of her life for COPD. She developed breast cancer that couldn’t be treated due to her already failing health.

PT: Let me ask you about other characters. Have you met any of the people that are portrayed in the book?

JW: I didn’t meet but did correspond with the woman I call Betty Peace Corps in the book. The man I call Tomasi did move to Los Angeles. He remained in touch with June, so she knew he fathered several children. I corresponded with two of the three ‘little Junies,’ as she called them. Tavita had helped her stay in touch with them. She transmitted money to them through him. He helped them with purchasing cars and paying education fees. I saw the relationship they maintained through the years as a love story of an important sort. They lived out their lives in two different worlds, each with personal struggles.

PT: The ending of the story is extremely emotional and I do believe everyone would love to know what happened afterwards. Could you tell us a bit more not only about June, but also about people she met during her time in the Kingdom of Tonga?

JW: June returned first to Honolulu and continued to work with the seafood company there as they explored in-sea farming ventures. She did bookkeeping for a clinic that assisted abuse victims. She stayed in touch with the families on Mango Island, collected clothing and other items they requested and shipped them out three or four times a year. She grieved deeply when the character I call Rosie Jamieson – Beach House owner, died. As noted above, she stayed in touch with the Tongan Junes, and dispersed funds to them through Tavita. She followed Tongan news, and always had tidbits about the king.

She moved to Oahu shortly after the pilot rescue on Maui. I visited her at least twice a year for the last ten years of her life. June didn’t travel far from her apartment in those years. She hated being seen in public with oxygen tubes in her nostrils.

PT: Let’s focus on Pasifika for a moment. The way you described Tonga is simply amazing. Have you had a chance to visit the islands?

JW: I have not visited Tonga, except through June’s eyes and our conversations, and through extensive reading. June’s photos helped. Visiting remote places on Maui, Oahu and the big island of Hawaii helped me imagine life on Tongatapu and Mango Islands. I would love to visit Tonga one day to see what I might have described differently.

PT: I know you’ve been to Hawaii a couple of times. What are your thoughts on the Blue Continent?

JW: Actually, I’ve been to Hawaii too many times to count. How can I answer that in a few words? I grew up near, and still live near Puget Sound, an inlet of the Pacific Ocean. I have view of the Sound, and Mount Rainier in the distance, from my home, and easy access to the beach. I also visit ocean beaches in Washington, Oregon and California quite regularly. I respect and revere the sea—all seas.

I worry about damaged coral reefs, bombed out atolls, depleted vegetation on remote islands, rogue nets entangling sea creatures. I believe the peoples of every land touched by the sea must share their love of their place by caring for it and sharing their stories. I believe the power of stories is as profound as the power of the seas.