Tag Archives: interview

A CHAT WITH… LEHUA PARKER

Lehua Parker is an extraordinary person. Her talent, imagination, and brilliant sense of humour led to the creation of the Niuhi Shark Saga – an engaging trilogy for younger audiences. Do you want to know more about the books? Read on.

LEHUA PARKER

Pasifika Tales: How did you come up with the idea for the Niuhi Shark Saga?

Lehua Parker: Way back in second grade at Kahului Elementary, I saw a film called ‘Legends of Hawaii’. It told the story of Nanaue, the demi-god who could take shark or human form and how as a young man he lured people into the ocean and ate them. For decades I thought about how his human family hid him from the villagers and how his hunger was so great that he ate his friends. One wintry day, the snow outside was piled as high as the laundry in the hallway. Sorting clothes, I thought about Hawaii and this story again. I sat down and started what was going to be an adult novel that explored the relationship between a tourist and a Hawaiian demi-god. But these rascally kids kept popping up, and I wrote more about them than the adults. What if there was a kid who didn’t know he was a shark? What if instead of allowing him to prey on humans, his family did everything they could to keep him from becoming a monster? Once lightning struck and I realized Zader was allergic to water and Jay was a surfer, I abandoned the adult novel and started to write what became ‘One Boy, No Water’ and ‘One Shark, No Swim’.

PT: Was it difficult to write for a MG/YA audience? Did you encounter any challenges?

LP: The biggest challenge was writing an authentically Hawaiian story for island kids that would also be read by mainlanders and others not familiar with the culture. The first draft of ‘One Boy, No Water’ had a lot more Pidgin and far less explanation of cultural practices than the current third edition. I really wanted to write a story where island kids saw themselves and people they know that was also a story for kids who didn’t like to read. But the perceived market for these kinds of stories is very small, so I often found myself in a catch-22: the publisher didn’t want to invest in marketing because people weren’t buying the books in large numbers, but no one would buy books they didn’t know existed. In reaction to this, I wrote less Pidgin in ‘One Shark, No Swim’ and even less in ‘One Truth, No Lie’.

PT: The trilogy is based on Hawaiian tales and legends. Would you say that children and teenagers are drawn into stories of other worlds adjacent to our own?

LP: I think so. Fantasy and magic realism allow MG/YA readers to connect with difficult subjects in ways that are ‘safe.’ Zader is the ultimate outsider. On the surface, it’s because of his weird water allergy. But kids are smart. I think they look at Zader and see all the reasons kids are made to feel like outsiders to their peer groups, including race, religion, socio-economic status, scholastic ability, athletic ability, appearance, or sexual orientation. I think Zader’s journey from hiding who he is to using his weaknesses as strengths – and Jay’s journey, too – empowers kids to think about their own challenges differently.

PT: Although Hawaiian lore is omnipresent in the novels, you didn’t forget about the ‘real world’. You made Hawaii so vivid. Did you want to show readers what an incredible place the 50th state is?

LP: Oh, thank you! You’re too kind! Yes, I really wanted to show the real Hawaii, the Hawaii I grew up in, and not the plastic hula skirt version people think they know from television and movies. Remember I mentioned all the snow on the ground when I started ‘One Boy, No Water’? A lot of writing about Hawaii had to do with me being very homesick for the beach and island food. During the cold winter months where I live, local grocery stores and restaurants have ‘Hawaiian Days.’ They bust out paper flowers from India, masks from Papua New Guinea, samba music from Brazil, grass skirts from who knows where, and put canned pineapple on everything and call it Hawaiian. Frankly, some days it really gets on my nerves. Some of the writing was probably in reaction to this – you wanna see Hawaii? I’ll show you the real Hawaii!

PT: You were quite bold to incorporate Pidgin into the dialogues. Did you have any doubts whether or not this would be a good idea?

LP: I always wanted to use Pidgin – and to use more than what’s in the current editions. But books are funny things. They are commodities that have to meet market expectations and be profitable. The original publisher was targeting a mainstream USA market. For this market, there’s still too much Pidgin in the books. Outside of Hawaii, school kids really struggle, and at first glance, teachers and librarians think it’s poor grammar. Island kids and adults don’t have a problem with the Pidgin. They get excited to read it. But this puts me in a quandary for other stories I want to write in this world – how do I balance authenticity with marketability? Still trying to figure that out.

PT: Let’s focus on the characters for a moment. They are so well-developed! Who (or what) was your inspiration for them?

LP: Fearless authors and comedians like Lois-Ann Yamanaka, Amy Tan, Andy Bumatai, Rap Reiplinger, Kiana Davenport, and others showed me how to create characters that reflected the world around them. All of the characters in the Niuhi Shark Saga are either the kinds of people I had in my life – or wished I had – growing up. When I talk with island kids about the books, they all know somebody like Uncle Kahana, Jay, Char Siu, or Zader. I went to school with kids like Tunazilla, Alika, Maka, and Lisa Ling, and had teachers and neighbors just like the ones in the books.

PT: Which of the characters was most fun or difficult to write and why?

LP: I had the most fun with Ilima, the dog who is not a dog. When I first started writing her character, she was just a diva. But then I started to understand that she was so much more, and it became a lot of fun to think up ways to drop hints to the reader. One of the hardest was Jay in the third book. He goes through so many difficult things, and I hated that.

PT: What would you like readers – children and adults alike – to take away from the trilogy?

LP: To never be afraid to write your own truth. I hope people are entertained, of course, that the books bring back memories of hanabata days for adults and keeps kids engaged in reading a whole trilogy. But when I talk with school kids, I tell them that we each have our own stories, and those stories are important. If we don’t tell our stories, others will, and their false stories will become the truth for many. I tell them to be brave, to worry less about others say you can or can’t do, and just go for it.

PT: Will there be a continuation to the Niuhi Shark Saga?

LP: Yes. I have many more stories in my head, including some about Maka going to college, Lili and her birth mother, Ilima and Uncle Kahana solving other supernatural problems, and at least one book set during the time Zader was away in ‘One Truth, No Lie’ about a girl who can see ghosts and moves to Lauele and goes to Ridgemont with Char Siu, Maka, and Jay. There are also several short stories, including how Pua and Justin meet. Unfortunately, about two years ago, I put these stories on hold due to some ongoing challenges with the original publisher of the Niuhi Shark Saga that resulted in the eventual return of my rights to the series about a year ago. I’m hoping to return to them soon.

What are you working on right now and are there any new books on the horizon?

LP: A while ago, I decided to work on other projects, mainly short stories and essays which have been published in anthologies and literary journals. Right now, I’m working through a contract for five novellas based on fractured fairy tales. The first novella is called ‘Nani’s Kiss’, and it’s in ‘Fractured Beauty’, a boxed eBook set available in October from Amazon. ‘Nani’s Kiss’ is a sci-fi story loosely based on ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and features Polynesians in space. I’m just starting the second novella in the series, a sweet contemporary romance based on ‘Cinderella’. During the family vacation to Hawaii, Rell has to play nanny to her rotten younger step-siblings who do all they can to ruin her vacation and convince the Prince that Rell’s not the one. The ‘Fractured Slipper’ boxed set is scheduled for publication in December. I’ve got one more top-secret book in the works, but no publisher on the horizon. I’m hoping to return to Lauele Town and those stories in November.

A CHAT WITH… DAVID STRINGER

David Stringer is a) a very talented writer and b) an all-around nice guy. His novel, ‘Islands of the Heart’, was published in 2012. Don’t be surprised if one day you see a movie based on the story, as he is now working hard to finish a screenplay adaptation of the book. Wanna know more about David? Read on!

DAVID STRINGER

Pasifika Tales: If you were to describe your book, make a short summary for the readers, what would you say?

David Stringer: Essentially Islands is a story of people, a family, with secrets — some are hiding what they have done, others what has happened to them. So it’s how they deal with these, how it affects their lives and eventually, how the victims forgive those who hurt them. Perhaps more importantly it’s about how people can come to forgive themselves. And it happens to be set in Samoa and New Zealand with Pacific Island and Maori characters, so I guess it also kind of explores what it might be like to be PI / Maori in modern New Zealand.  Along the way it also tells the story of a violent man who comes to understand that his violence is the cause of all his problems rather than the solution.

PT: How did the book come into being? Who or what was your inspiration?

DS: Way back in 2004 my wife and I went through a sad time when our daughter and grandson left to live permanently in Australia. They had lived with us for nearly two years and he had become almost like another son to us, so close. I have always been a writer by nature so I decided to write my way through the pain. As a story idea, I had once been friends in my youth with a half-Samoan guy whom I admired because he was completely fearless. I had once seen him see off a motorbike gang singlehandedly. It kind of intrigued me — what would it be like to be so strong (and violent) that you basically had to fear no-one? Every male’s dream perhaps, but does it come with a cost?  Is there a price to pay at the end?  And so WOLF was born and I knocked out a few chapters (30,000 words) and sent them to a reviewer in the UK, Robin Lloyd-Jones (a Tutor in Creative Writing at Glasgow Uni and also Booker Prize nominee). Robin liked Islands and became both a mentor and editor. It was he who eventually suggested that the real theme of Islands was actually “Forgiveness”  rather than simply the effect of violence on people’s lives. A light bulb went on in my head and I re-wrote the book to reflect this theme, which I saw was indeed closer to what I was trying to say.

My wife and I moved to Australia ourselves in 2008 and I was overjoyed to be selected in a group of 16 writers by the Gold Coast Council to be mentored into completing our novels. Duly on the last day of 2009 I typed “The End”. My group all did critiques which were like gold, and I consequently re-wrote substantial parts of the 120,000 word manuscript. After some years of disappointment trying to get a publisher (even an agent was impossible — there are about 4 listed on the internet in NZ and one of these was dead!!), I published Islands myself in 2012.

PT: The story doesn’t revolve around one character only. There are quite a few of them. Care to share which were most difficult/fun to write?

DS: Well, Wolf was based on that fearless warrior of my youth, Karl, but as he was mixed-race, as is Wolf, I also was inspired in part by my own son who is half Samoan. He too is a tough cookie who served in the NZ Army in Timor. He can be seen in the end of the promotional video for Islands on my website: www.islandsoftheheart.wordpress.com. He provides the deeper more introspective side to Wolf. I would say that Wolf is the most complex character who completes the greatest character arc, so the novel is probably most about him.

PEPE, Wolf’s mother, just rose up fully formed in my mind. I guess she is just everything I intuitively feel a mature woman should be — not perfect,  yet shining with this deep innate wisdom and love, and able to endure all the pain and suffering of this world in her being. She is the character I feel I “know” the best, even though she is female.

PASIFIKA would be my favourite character. He too is not based on anyone I know but there is more than a hint of NZ’s greatest ever comedian, Billy T James,  in his irreverent yet childlike nature.  Fika is a naïf, a Samoan Peter Pan, who remains in awe of the world as he sees it. He was also the favourite character of all my writing group friends. He was most fun to write, usually cracking me up with his remarks.

STEVEN, Wolf’s father, was difficult to write. A deeply conflicted man desperate to come to terms with both his ageing and his sins. Highly intelligent yet torn with the feeling he is a loser, and worse, that he deserves to be living in this deep dark hell. He is crucial to the story but I found him painful to create.

TANIA, Wolf’s partner, is Pepe in her younger days. She already has Pepe’s depth of feeling and wisdom, but she’s a lot more feisty — a Maori warrior-woman who backs down to no-one and is more than a match for Wolf.

LIN, Wolf’s sister / cousin, is however the character I am in love with. She is a woman as ethereally beautiful and mysteriously female as Wolf is brutally manly; and she has paid a terrible price for being so desirable to men. Although we don’t see a lot of her, she is pivotal to almost every major part of the story structure, and there was no way I wasn’t going to end the whole novel with her. I fantasize about adapting Islands to the screen, and the last, haunting scene is Lin’s.

PT: Many characters means many storylines. Was it difficult to weave them all into one coherent narrative?

DS: Well thank you for saying the narrative was coherent!!  I do fear others may be less kind as it IS a seriously complex set of storylines. I felt I needed them all to fully develop the reader’s relationship to each character. I felt that without this, the reader wouldn’t be able to buy into the whole theme of forgiveness as it is developed in the novel. However it means four POV (point-of-view) characters which is definitely stretching things a bit. However I felt I knew and loved my characters enough to be comfortable in their skins whenever I had to change POV’s.  I guess the readers will be the final judges on that.  To be truthful I didn’t really find the novel that difficult to write — the scenes just formed in my mind like watching a movie, complete with action and dialogue, and my job was simply to put it all down on paper using the right words. I did however have to expend time and energy co-ordinating dates, times and places!! The novel is structured so that we get to know the characters most deeply in Part One, then as it goes into Part Two (the descent into the Night-World, or World of Trials, to follow standard mythology), it all picks up pace and tension and so is more plot-driven.

PT: Although the novel is a family saga of sorts, you touched on a lot of different topics: from politics to multiculturalism to everyday problems people face. Why did you decide to create such a complex plot?

DS: Well as I said before, it began as a quite simple idea but quickly became complex as I found the characters had darker sides and histories. To a large extent, as the creator, you do know what your beginning and ending are, but you have to navigate this maze of pathways which connects the two. At the end of the day, I found I simply couldn’t tell Wolf’s story without also telling Tania’s, Steven’s and Pepe’s at the very least. And then there are Lin and Fika who are not POV characters but are so pivotal to the plot and themes they have to be drawn with some depth. As for the politics etc., well I always wanted to write a NEW ZEALAND novel. When I was about 16 my English teacher gave me a copy of “Man Alone” probably the most iconic NZ novel. I adored it. I revered it. I always wanted to write a NZ novel that could stand up there alongside of it. Hence it has material germane only to NZ and NZ readers in some parts. This can be a weakness too sadly, as I found that the literary world doesn’t really have too much interest in NZ. The huge USA market for instance is self-obsessed to an almost “Trumpian” degree and even in Australia, you are starting with a handicap if you are touting a book set in Wanaka rather than the baked outback.

PT: ‘Islands of the Heart’ – what does this title mean?

DS: It’s simply a double entendre: New Zealand and Samoa are such beautiful islands that they become a part of your heart once you have experienced them; and the people we love are also living in our hearts, yet they can become isolated and lonely, like islands, if we don’t cherish them enough.

PT: This book is your first novel. Do you have any plans to write more?

DS: Actually this is not my first novel — I wrote one in 1978 about which the least said the better. As for another? I truly cannot say. Writing Islands was probably the hardest and yet most rewarding thing I have ever done in my life, and it’s tempting to say, “Hey, why not do it all again?” But to be truthful, the chances of getting published are very, very slim and it hurts deeply, very deeply, to labour so over your creation only to see it condemned to some kind of literary black hole where nothing, not even light escapes. There’s not a day goes by that I don’t feel pain over how much I love Islands and the way it has simply sunk into oblivion, and I really don’t have any desire right now to repeat that. I’ll give you an example. I entered Islands into the NZ Post Book Awards in 2013 I think it was. TV 3 ‘s John Campbell was the chief judge. I duly packaged up all six books requested and sent them plus my $150 entry fee. I never heard one word back. Not even an e-mail saying Hey thanks, we got your book but it sucks. Nothing. That Black Hole again!! I sent John a letter letting him know what I thought of the way they encouraged NZ writers…but he ignored that too.  To this day I do not know where those six books are!!  Into the Black Hole I reckon. It’s around then I decided, No this is just too hard — nobody really gives a damn, no-one is interested.

I have written short stories published in anthologies and an essay I wrote got in the top 20 out of 200+ in Australia’s premier international Essay competition, The Calibre Prize, which I’m quite proud of. They can be read on my website mentioned above. There is also a Facebook page for Islands with some more reviews and recommendations etc.   As I said, I fantasize about Islands being made into a movie — I am sure that in the hands of the right director a really powerful NZ movie could be made. I began work on this last year and the first 10 pages of script can be seen on the above website. I’d like to complete it one day but I think I need some encouragement and even that’s not readily forthcoming. Last year the NZ Screenwriters’ Guild ran a competition for new screenwriters called “Seed Grants” where you qualified if you had written a major work of any kind, including a novel — so I qualified, and I sent my script ideas in but didn’t get selected. Fair enough, I can hack that, but now this year they have changed the entry requirements so that only people who have a major screenwriting or related media project (TV etc), to their name may enter — so that excludes me.

PT: Which Pacific writers do you admire?

DS: A rather curly question for me, this. You see I have never identified as a Pacific writer until the Tusitala competition and finding your wonderful website. I simply considered myself a NZ writer. I must admit it’s a rather romantic idea though isn’t it, to identify with the magnificent Pacific, which is such a strong motif throughout my novel too, by the way.

I have read Albert Wendt’s “Sons for the Return Home” (and loved the movie), and also “The Mango’s Kiss”.  Do you know that the two main characters in this latter book are Peleiupu and Tavita — the names of my wife and me!!! And the characters eloped, just as we did hahahaha, and it’s set in Savaii — the same as my own novel. I’d love to be able to tell Albert about that.  I have become more aware of Pacific writers thanks to the above influences I mentioned and I particularly enjoyed the short stories in “Our Heritage — The Ocean”.  Two stood out for me — Moana Leilua’s “In Masina’s Shoes”, which gave me a good laugh, and the quiet horror of Kelera Tuvou’s “Box of Broken Tunes” really moved me.

If the opportunity arises again to create something “Pacific”, I will grab it with both hands, because thanks to you and The Samoan Observer, I really do feel like a Pacific writer now. And many thanks for that.

The interview is presented without edits.

A CHAT WITH… MAUREEN FEPULEA’I

Maureen Fepulea’i surely is an extremely talented person. Not only is this Samoan-born lady an award winning playwright but also a very gifted writer. Her short story, ‘A Samoan Wife’, was one of the top stories in the Samoa Observer Tusitala Short Story Competition and thus was included in the compilation ‘Our Heritage, The Ocean’. But Maureen is also someone you should listen to. Her wise words really make people think. So, are you interested in getting to know more? Read on.

maureen-fepuleai

Pasifika Tales: Why did you decide to enter the Samoa Observer Tusitala Short Story Competition?

Maureen Fepulea’i: I decided to enter the Samoa Observer Tusitala Short Story Competition because I had a story to share. It also helped that there was prize money involved 🙂

PT: Did you have any idea that your piece would appear in the compilation? What was your initial reaction when you learnt about it?

MF: I found out that ‘The Samoan Wife’ was going to appear in the compilation, after the judging had been completed. I was very excited and at the same time, pretty surprised that my piece was to be included, considering the high calibre of the winners entries.

PT: As you’ve already mentioned, the story we are talking about is entitled ‘The Samoan Wife’. What does it mean to be a Samoan wife?

MF: I can only speak from my personal observations and experiences throughout my lifetime. Being a Samoan wife is to be strong in the face of adversity; to sacrifice self in the name of peace and harmony in the family; to submit to the will of your husband whether good or bad; to lose your precious status as ‘feagaiga’ because you are now married; to obey; to smile for the world to see that all is well in your aiga, regardless of whether it is or not; to clean up the mess made by your husband, your children, your in-laws, your parents; to love, cherish and honour your husband above all till death do you part; to be treated like the Princess that you are; to be honoured and respected for all that you do; to be a fierce, beautiful and intelligent and empowered individual.

PT: I’d say – and your story shows it quite clearly – that Samoan wives are strong enough to carry on with their duties no matter what happens behind closed doors. Would you agree?

MF: From my observations and also personal experience, I strongly agree with that statement. I wrote a play – ‘e ono tama’i pato’ that illustrates this very well. Unfortunately, the cost to the ‘Samoan wife’ is too high; mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually.

PT: You wrote a story that’s – apart from being very moving – extremely uplifting. Did you want to give women the courage to say: ‘It’s not OK the way it is’?

MF: I actually started writing ‘The Samoan Wife’ based on an experience my Mum had immediately after my Father died. Mum had brought Papa’s body back from Samoa to New Zealand and we were preparing for his funeral. I remember my Mum called out from her room and when we rushed in, her nose was bleeding and she said that she had seen my Father in the mirror. As my writing progressed, it developed into a story of empowerment for women but at the same time, illustrated the powerful conditioning of the Samoan wife’s mind to loyally protecting the image of ‘aiga’ at the expense of her truth and her personal dignity. I agree that I wanted women to know that “it isn’t OK the way it is” as well as for our Samoan women to know that they are not alone in what they are going through. Despite the masks we wear, we can all empathise to some degree, with what goes on behind closed doors.

PT: Domestic violence is a big problem throughout the Pacific. Actually, in ‘Our Heritage the Ocean’ there is another emotionally charged piece – Sina Retzlaff’s ‘Unborn Child’ – that deals with the same subject. Do you think that talking about it openly can bring about some changes?

MF: I think that talking about it openly is always a good thing. My concern is that it usually ends at the talking stage, until the next workshop or fono or “domestic violence awareness event”. I believe that it is like the scripture in the book of James – Faith without works is dead. So is talk without works. I believe that churches need to take a greater responsibility in teaching and educating families about the feagaiga of respecting for, taking care and protecting our wives, husbands and children. I believe that our Matai and Family leaders need to take a stronger lead and set premium examples of how to treat one another. I believe that our children need to have their voices heard in their respective aiga. We are an oratory culture – we are also a culture of action and service. This needs to go hand in hand when it comes to addressing and deleting family violence from our collective mindsets. Don’t get me started…

PT: So now getting back to you… You are an accomplished playwright, but do you plan to write more? Publish a book maybe?

MF: I so plan to write more. I have many stories lined up inside my head bursting to come forth. Whether they come out in poetry form, song form, script form or story/book form remains to be seen. All I can say for now is, “watch this space” auuuuuuuuu lol.

PT: Would you encourage your fellow Pacific Islanders to become tellers of tales? There are so many talented people from the region, aren’t there?

MF: ABSOLUTELY!!! Your life is your story! Your observations and experiences are the content of your manuscript! You don’t have to be formally trained or educated to share your story. Your story may be exactly what somebody else needs to read to be inspired or motivated to take the next step for empowering themselves. Your story may come out as drawings, sculptures, song, poetry, script, written story or performance theatre…however you choose to share your story, please do!

A CHAT WITH… JUNE PERKINS

June Perkins is a writer and a poet, who has just published a fantastic collection of poems for children called ‘Magic Fish Dreaming’. This lovely lady took time to answer a few questions regarding her book. If you are curious what she had to say, read on!

june-perkins

Pasifika Tales: ‘Magic Fish Dreaming’ is a collection of poems for children. Why did you write it?

June Perkins: I began writing the poems that became ‘Magic Fish Dreaming’ when my children were young (the youngest was four and eldest eight) and we lived in Far North Queensland.

I started a community arts project called ‘Ripple’, combining poetry and photography for National Poetry week and ran workshops to encourage people of all ages to write and recite poems for poetry week.  This was funded by a regional art development fund grant from my local council.  Many of the workshops were with children in schools, and as I prepared them I realized there weren’t that many poems reflecting the lives of the children I was visiting, so I began to write some especially for them and often with them. I loved these school visits and the germ of an idea for a place based poetry book that children of Far North Queensland would see themselves represented in was born, even though I didn’t realize it at first.

Every now and then I had a poem published in a regional anthology, the title poem of the book was accepted into an anthology of Queensland Writers. I began and maintained a blog called ‘Ripple Poetry’.

I worked on the text for the book for over eight years, but it was the move to Brisbane, Queensland, away from Tully, Far North Queensland, and back into a city environment, as well as missing our old home’s more natural environment, that motivated me to finish this project as a tribute to our old home and our life and community there.

PT: Is this book only for children?

JP: The book is by no means only for children, and nor is it for children of a specific age. I wanted a book that parents, grandparents and teachers could enjoy as much as their children, and perhaps read it at another level. I dearly wanted to create a book children could grow up with, and gain more understanding of some poems over time by revisiting them.

Some of the poems are for readers to perform together, and this can be people of any age who like dialogue or participatory poems. I came across a lot of these when preparing my workshops for schools and was also influenced by Owen Allen, a poet from the Tablelands. He creates sound scape poems with the noises of the rainforest as a backdrop provided by the audience and they are just amazing.

I liked the idea of making poetry more accessible to people who might have lost their love of it through the magic of a picture book format.

PT: It’s not a secret that children are a very demanding audience. Weren’t you scared that the book might not suit their tastes?

JP: I like, not fear the fact, that children are so honest with their feedback. But I think for anyone to face a fear of writing for children, I think you just take your poems or stories to children whilst you are writing them, and listen to them and immerse yourself in their imaginative way of seeing the world.  As well as being a mum, I did a bit of teacher aiding whilst living in Far North Queensland and that gave me confidence that I was on the right track with the poems. I ran a creativity lunch time club that was a lot of fun, and we went questing for stories and poems.

I was lucky to find an editor, Matilda Elliot, who worked in early childhood at various points during her career, and she strongly believed these poems would work with children.  We would talk about which poems to include and which to leave out. Yes, there were many more poems than those that made the final cut. Some poems I included underwent several edits until I was completely happy with them and felt they would have a lovely almost musical beat for children to respond to.

We looked at taking children on a journey through the poems, so that although each poem was distinct, the poems could be arranged in a sequence that made you interested and intrigued. Helene Magisson, the illustrator, added the dimension of an illustration that would open a door into the poems that might be a little more demanding. When she came on board the project I just knew in my bones it was going to work. You can read more about the collaboration with Helene here.

And then, to top it all off, was the work our designer Heidi Den Ronden did, who got the text to do things I could never have thought of, so you can see her skills at work as well. She visually transformed text to be playful for children. You can find out more about Heidi here.

I had a chance to test this out further at an event in Brisbane called the Big Draw, where illustrators and writers share their work with the public. The response of the children to the three poems I chose to read them was really intriguing. They checked out the illustrations closely and loved the detail and humour in the words, and the art.

PT: What makes this book special?

JP: I think two major things – its setting in Far North Queensland and that the poems and art are in equal balance, without one being more or less important than the other. It is a sincere collaboration with an illustrator who adds an extra dimension to the work with her interpretation of the poems through her illustration.

Although I have written poetry for a very long time I never expected my first solo book to be a fully illustrated children’s book. And yet as it unfolded it felt like a special book I was meant to write.

PT: Could you share what the poems are about?

JP: When I read a poem aloud in public, I tend to give it very little introduction and let a poem speak for itself, although with this book the illustrator also plays a vital role.

I might ask: Have you lived in Far North Queensland?  Do you know what a cassowary is? Have you ever seen a Ulysses butterfly? Have you ever been on a fishing trip with your family and there was someone that just wouldn’t stop making noise? With this book I can also show them in the illustration what it is so they can have a picture to help them if their answer is ‘no’.  I like to ask people, especially children and youth, what they think it means and see what their interpretation is.

The key to understanding these poems is that they work at a literal level, and tell a story, about children on a hot day in classroom, or a mother bird waiting for father bird to return home, or the magic that might be possible if a fairy’s tooth was discovered and could grant wishes.

They have another level where they explore questions like what can a teacher do with a restless classroom to help children learn, what will happen to a tree if too many people visit it as a tourist attraction, and what lies beyond this life – after the caterpillar becomes a butterfly and then all too quickly disappears. The poems don’t necessarily give an answer to the questions they pose, but they invite the reader to think, imagine, explore, and discover.

PT: That is certainly true that every person can interpret the same poem differently. But is there a message that you – as the author of the book – wanted to convey?

JP: I don’t think I intentionally set out with a specific message, but I do care about trees, plants, people, and that probably comes across in the poems.

I’d love there to be more respect and understanding of the diversity of the people in Australia and the world; so it was important to me that the illustrator also respected that diversity and could show it with sensitivity. I think Helene captured the diversity of Australia, so children of many backgrounds can see themselves on the poetry quest of this book.

I love poetry and creativity, and feel that in life we can find poetry and beauty almost everywhere if we look for it and find where it is hiding.  A poet and an artist can then bring it into focus and make it dance. That might be something that is embedded in the poems, now that I think about it.

PT: There’s a lot about nature. Was it your aim to make nature ‘fun’ for kids? Or to teach them that it’s important to respect the environment?

JP: I think both. I wrote about nature a lot because I felt so connected to it when living in Far North Queensland, and I never wanted to forget that feeling of connection.

Nature in that space seemed to me like a beautiful gallery of art, just appearing before me and my children when we went on walks in the rainforest, at the beach, or through the fields of cane.

‘Hunting For A Poem’ was inspired by going for a nature walk with an artist and carer for the environment, who was to become a very good friend. She would take children for nature walks and also teach them about art. My daughter got to know her and went to art workshops with her. I think nature is not only fun but can inspire art and creativity.

PT: Now, your book was published thanks to crowdfunding. Do you think this is a good option for authors?

JP: I think if you have a vision of a very specific book that you don’t think a publisher would want to take a risk on, but you think the world needs your book, go for it. But be prepared for the roller coaster ride it will be.  Do make sure you find out a lot about the publishing process, and gather a professional team with a designer, editor, and if you need them illustrator.

It helps if you have a lot of support for your project through the community for which you are creating and do a lot of linking and networking prior to going for it. This increases your chance of success and helps you to gauge the potential response of the audience for the work you are creating. You are crowd funding, so you need a crowd to respond.

PT: What advice would you give to those writers who consider crowdfunding?

JP: I wrote a whole article on this you can find at the Queensland Writer’s Centre here.

My main advice would be to prepare well, prepare your product well, make a good video, and have a realistic timeline for your project. Do lots and lots of preparation. It might be a good idea to do some Kickstarter training courses. I did one with the Children’s Book Academy, and my mentor for this course was a brilliant support in the lead up to and during my Kickstarter.

You can learn a lot from studying crowd funding efforts of others in your genre and think about what made their project successful – this really helps a lot.

PT: Do you have plans to write more?

Whilst crowd funding my book, I applied for and won a mentorship with the Australian Society of Authors to work on picture book manuscripts that I had also been writing since moving to Brisbane. I had had some of these critiqued by Write Links,  a group that is especially there to develop the craft and opportunities for authors for children and young adults, prior to this application. They were big supporters of my crowd funding efforts.

Whilst I pack my crowd funded book I have been working on several picture books and next step is to send these to traditional publishers, and also think about if any of them might be a more crowd funded project. I am open to working independently or with a publisher.

Publishing requires a lot of work and sometimes takes too much time away from my actual writing. It would be lovely to have the support of a publishing company, although doing my own project has given me a lot of confidence.

It was a special moment to have my writing mentor attend the launch of ‘Magic Fish Dreaming’ and say that I had many more gems to share that we had been working on.

One of my friends from Write Links spoke at the launch about how proud and happy they were to have been involved in the journey of the book. This meant a great deal to have the respect of peers, many of them traditionally published and some independent publishers, but most of all I enjoyed receiving my  first fan message from a nine year old reader, passed on by her mother, just a few days after the launch.

Dear June,

I enjoyed ‘Magic Fish Dreaming’ A-L-O-T. I really enjoyed ‘Brahminy Bravery.’ Where do you get your ideas from? Where did you learn the stories in your poems?

Thank you

Sharada

A CHAT WITH… PAULA QUINENE

Paula Quinene has been known for writing about…food; Chamorro food to be more precise. Her two cookbooks will definitely make your mouth water, but her debut novel – an erotic historical romance entitled ‘Conquered’ – will leave your mouth wide open. Interested to know more? Just read the interview.

paula-quinene

Pasifika Tales: Up until now you were focused on Chamorro recipes cookbooks. What inspired you to write a novel?

Paula Quinene: I was in the midst of working on my two Guam cookbooks. The first was a pure cookbook, the second was a cookbook and memoir book. The idea for the novel was to combine food, memories, and history. I was so mahȧlang, or homesick, that it seemed like the natural progression in my string of Guam books.

PT: The story is set in 1940s. Was it your idea right from the beginning? Why didn’t you choose a contemporary setting?

PQ: Yes, it was my idea from the start. Guam’s liberation is so important to the Chamorros, the natives of Guam and the Mariana Islands. Our liberation from the Japanese by the Americans during WWII has been celebrated on Guam and around the world for decades. When most folks think of WWII in the Pacific, they think Pearl Harbor. I felt it was important to share that after Pearl Harbor was bombed, the Japanese bombed and occupied Guam for almost three years.

PT: How did you come up with the plot?

PQ: During one of my visits to Guam, I spent some time at my sister-in-law’s house. Her backyard was so beautiful. It was the inspiration for the main setting in ‘Conquered’. I had to find a military unit that came as close to that area of Guam so that he would somehow bump into my heroine. The main plot revolves around the movement of that particular unit. For the subplots, I wanted gut-wrenching, emotional scenes to develop the romance, the sex, and to showcase the Chamorro culture.

PT: Do you think that your book may help get readers interested in Guam’s history?

PQ: The short excerpt I had sent to my then potential editor, Stacey Donovan, definitely got her interested. Those who don’t know much about Guam will learn a ton. Some Chamorros reading the novel will have a handful of ‘aha’ moments. History buffs may be motivated to dig further into Guam’s past as there are references to both the Spanish and American colonization’s before WWII.

PT: ‘Conquered’ is not only a purely historical novel; it is actually an erotic historical romance. I’d say it’s a bold combination. Do you agree?

PQ: Yes. My senior paper in high school was ‘Conformity vs Non-Conformity’, and I was all for being a non-conformist. I believe in pushing the limits, in go big or go home, as long as no one gets hurt.

PT: Why did you decide to venture into the erotic romance genre?

PQ: The romance novels I read as a teen and young adult just didn’t have enough erotic scenes, but they were always loving and romantic. Besides, by the time of ‘Conquered’s publication, it was a plus that explicit books were more acceptable. Sex was so taboo for adults to talk about while I was growing up. Even the loving, romantic kind. Coming from a very cultural and Catholic background, I wanted to say, ‘Hey, sex can be full of love, fun, and pleasure. It will enhance a marriage if you are open and accepting of mutually acceptable activities.’

PT: Was it difficult to handle the erotic scenes without crossing the line of good taste?

PQ: Initially, I used too many somewhat lewd words for that time period. I took my editor’s advice and changed the words. The sex scenes in romance novels I read in the past were in very good taste. I don’t remember the details of such scenes, but I remember words like womanhood and manhood.

PT: Do you plan to further explore the world of literary fiction? Is there a new novel on the horizon?

PQ: Literary fiction? No. I’ve been on the fence with another erotic romance novel since 2014, working on it a tiny, tiny bit here and there. It will bring Guam’s history into a more recent decade, but will be a while before the story is ready for an editor. The heroine of my novel-in-the-works is the granddaughter of the heroine in ‘Conquered’.

PT: Now, because you are an expert when it comes to Chamorro cuisine, would you mind sharing your favourite Chamorro recipe?

PQ: I love a lot of Chamorro food, but boñelos aga’ is my favorite because I can remember it from forever ago as a child. It’s also something my mom taught me how to make, scooping the batter with my hand and dropping it into the oil between my thumb and index finger. My life is so grounded because of the culture and traditions I was brought up in, much of which was family life around food. My kids love this dessert, and it’s something they can pass on to their children.

Boñelos Aga’ [Banana doughnuts]

This will yield a small batch of boñelos, which should be quite soft even after it has completely cooled. Making boñelos aga requires minimal adjustments to the dough depending on how much water is in the bananas. Do not add more flour than listed.

Makes about 40 doughnuts.

INGREDIENTS

SET 1

3 cups overripe, smashed bananas (previously frozen and thawed to room temperature is best)

1 cup sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla

SET 2

2½ cups flour (¼ cup more may be needed)

2 teaspoons baking powder

SET 3

Vegetable oil for deep frying

Tools: large pot, ladle with holes, medium bowl, colander, napkins, long butter knife

DIRECTIONS

Fill the large pot halfway with oil. Heat the oil on medium heat.

While it’s heating, combine the smashed bananas, sugar, and vanilla in a large bowl.

Add 2½ cups flour and baking powder. Mix thoroughly.

Depending on the ripeness of the bananas or if they were previously frozen, you may or may not need the remaining ¼ cup of flour.

Check the thickness of the ‘cake mix-like’ batter. The batter should be a bit thicker than cake mix, but not at all like bread dough. Take a scoop in your hand. Drop it into the rest of the mixture. The scoop should retain some of its shape without completely blending into the mix. It will flatten out, but you should be able to see the outline.

If you are not sure, leave out the extra flour for now.

Test your ‘batter dropping’ technique. Scoop a small amount of batter into the palm of your dominant hand. Make a circle with your thumb and fingers. Turn your ‘circled fingers’ to drop some batter back into the bowl. This takes a little bit of practice. If you can squeeze the batter out and let the trail of batter fall onto itself in the oil, your doughnuts have a good chance of turning out round. If not, and the boñelos has a tail, more crunchy parts to eat! You can always use two small spoons, or a small cookie-dough scoop.

When the oil is hot, drop about a teaspoon of batter into the oil. The dough should turn into a puffy ball. The batter may fall to the bottom of the pot, but rises as it cooks. It will only stay at the bottom a few seconds. If it sits longer, the oil is not hot enough. Use a butter knife to tease the doughnut from the bottom of the pot, and discard. Wait five minutes for the oil to continue to heat.

Test a bigger doughnut. Scoop enough batter in your hand to form one doughnut. Position your hand about an inch above the surface of the oil then squeeze the batter through your thumb and fingers. If the batter falls to the bottom of the pot, let it cook for two minutes. If it doesn’t rise after two minutes, nudge it free with a long utensil.

The oil should be hot enough to cook the center of the boñelos and brown the outside of the doughnut within 15 minutes.

Cool the larger test doughnut on a napkin. Open the doughnut and check to see if it is cooked. Check carefully as there will be chunks of banana in the boñelos. If in doubt whether there is enough flour, go ahead and add the remaining ¼ cup of flour. Mix this very well.

Continue to squeeze batter into the oil without overcrowding the pot. The entire first batch of doughnuts may need nudging from the bottom of the pot.

The doughnuts in the remaining batches should float to the surface of the oil on their own.

Drain doughnuts in a colander then transfer to a napkin-lined dish.

A CHAT WITH… STEPHEN TENORIO JR.

Stephen Tenorio Jr. is a multi-talented person. He is a writer, painter, attorney, and a former JAG officer. He comes from the Marianas, a place so close to his heart that it provided the setting for his novel, ‘An Ocean in a Cup’. Do you want to know more about the book? Read the interview.

STEPHEN TENORIO JR

Pasifika Tales:  If you were to summarize the plot of your book, ‘An Ocean in a Cup’, in just a few sentences, what would you say?

Stephen Tenorio Jr.: A story cataloging a young and good-hearted man’s life in the beautiful Marianas islands, tribulations of human behavior in small islands, and the haunted state he endures caused by an unknown illness that often overwhelms him with despair, anxiety, and fear. Beneath the general plot, there is layer of consciousness, and then other layers beneath.

PT: Tomas, the protagonist of the book, is a very interesting character. Who or what was your inspiration?

STJ: Tomas is somebody many young islanders in the mid to late 70s on Guam were encouraged to be – respectful, humble, a hard worker, and helpful. In some ways, maybe he is Charon for the reader, or a demurred Beatrice or Virgil.

PT: Did you also have your sources of inspiration for supporting characters? Because I must admit they are as intriguing as Tomas.

STJ: Most of the characters are based off actual people I’ve met or knew about, even the bad ones. Some of the dialogue are comments or perceptions I remembered, and human interaction that were brought to my attention or I observed first hand.

PT: You’ll probably agree that your novel is not an easy read. It’s a multi-layered story that every reader might interpret differently. Was this your aim from the beginning?

STJ: I thought that the ‘multi-layering’ would have been apparent the first time I tried to get it out in the public because the novel is entrenched with rows of symbolism and prose. I think the first chapter was demonstrative of the level of reading the reader had to manage. Interestingly, several years after publication, I met three people (by happenstance, at different times) on Guam who read my book and all went to a US college in the east coast. They all conveyed they were familiar with my literary style of writing because their studies included a list of interpretive fiction. Since, I’ve had this liberal presumption that interpretive fiction has a wider audience on the east coast in the US.

Interpretive fiction is not new with respect to literature but like calculus it is distinct from its brethren within its own discipline. And like calculus, interpretive fiction will attract only those invested into its critical and complex nature because it is taxing on the mind.

Generally, the feedback has been consistent in that the novel reads as interpretive fiction. Interpretive fiction separates from the ‘escapism’ type of work most people are familiar because it requires the reader to ‘stop, think, and reflect’.  Even a simple online search is telling: interpretive literature is described as a fictitious narrative to illustrate one or more practical truths, moral principles or codes of ethics. Unfortunately, its anatomy is incapable of being an ‘easy read’.

I’ve had some college students tell me that the novel seems like a collection of short stories, each chapter having its own parable or moral lesson. I regard that as a good perspective that explains the novel’s multi-faceted structure.

At times, I get comments that the novel’s level and nature of reading is similar to Joyce, Proust, Faulkner. Others tell me the layering reminds them of theological narratives dense with passages that are heavy with symbolism. Again, the consistency towards interpretive fiction surfaces.

I intended my work to be full with euphony. I wanted the aesthetic of each paragraph or chapter to be able to survive independently in a coherent literary state without the support of the novel in its entirety. I wanted the reader to be able to tear a page or chapter out and that page or chapter, in itself, would contain layers of literary pieces that would offer the reader value.

But above all, I wrote for the student – when I was a literature teacher, I realized there wasn’t enough good Pacific Literature pieces that challenged the reader to truly reflect on human nature and engage their critical thinking skills from narratives that represented the Marianas. So yes, the design included multi-layers, aesthetics, euphony, and symbolism as pillars of the composition.

Interestingly, I offered some teachers free novels – they just didn’t take them, even a classroom set for resource. I only had one high school teacher take me up on the offer. Ironically, this was a type of experience that would have likely made it into the novel. (So if you know a teacher interested in a class set, I think I have one or two I could send).

I didn’t set out to write interpretive fiction. I just wanted to tell a story in an artistic way. Like a child, the novel matured on its own.

PT: What should readers take away from Tomas’s story? Is there a message you wanted to convey?

STJ: I think the ‘take-away’ to finishing the novel is similar to the internal take-away you may get from completing a marathon or summiting a mountain. The satisfaction you get from accomplishing such a challenging task is the reward of completing something difficult while not being so verbose about the fibers of the achievement. This novel is like a marathon for the mind or a mountain for an introspective person.

A friend once said about my novel – ‘There are some things that made me really think about stuff. Some paragraphs I kept reading over and over because it made me re-think about how we see things back home.’ Interestingly she told me it took her about three-in-half months to finish the book, because she kept going back to re-read the marked paragraphs and taking her time before moving on to the next page. She seemed solemn about her reflections — I think her experience hit it right on the nail for me about how to finish the novel.

Often I do get specific comments about how some parts remind readers about certain hypocrisies of island life, a couple of times I’ve been told some of the characters reminded a reader of their grandparents as to the values they held – or mentors that advocated a principle about life they prized. One professor noted that I described ‘Chamorro-isms’ in my novel. In these instances, I am happy that some of my readers connected the fiction to their personal life or thoughts. These revelations are on target. It’s a great feeling to know these connections are surfacing.

Finally, I have those who just like reading passages and have no regard for the novel as a whole. They describe my work as flowery and poetic. They might not know the story at all or discovered any revelation in the novel, but instead were just entertained or affected by the euphony and prose. It’s fun to hear this type of feedback discussing the aesthetic appeal about the prose. The comments are beautiful layered frostings on a plain cupcake.

PT: Your book is set in the Marianas and is beautifully adorned with Chamorro words, which add authenticity to the whole story. How important was it for you to incorporate the local language into the narrative?

STJ: The selection of Chamorro words was predominantly driven by euphony. Sometimes, I spent days reconstructing the preceding paragraphs before the introduction of a Chamorro word so the reader could experience the optimal pleasantness in learning or reading that Chamorro word.

For example, ‘gamson’ in Chamorro means octopus. It’s such a pleasant word to say and the definition brings an active and vivid image to front. I remember reconstructing the entire story of that section in the novel just so the Chamorro ‘gamson’ would appeal to the reader.

I wanted Chamorro words that somebody in some other country could read and experience enjoyment. A word that would stick in the mind because it was pleasant to say and rewarding to know what the word meant.

PT: You are from Guam. Would you agree with me that there are very few local authors recognized by a wider audience? Do you think this can be changed?

STJ: Most of the people I have met that enjoyed my novel and would discuss it in part were readers who yearned for that deep dive into ponderous thought and critical reflection. Coupled with the literary density of my novel, my presumption is that my novel won’t get much traction in the general audience because of its literary persona. Again, interpretive fiction is an acquired taste and the opposite of the more popular and welcomed ‘escapism’ fiction. So access to a wider audience for my work will always be challenging because although its good and valued reading it is not necessarily fun reading.

As for local authors — in general — I’ve experienced the challenges that lay ahead for them in the local community. Notably, there is enough fictional work on Guam to have a secondary curriculum dedicated. Yet in light of the available work, we are still far from getting anything established near the levels of other ethnic and cultural communities that promote their local authors on a consistent platform that impacts the ‘wider’ audiences. Unfortunately, I don’t have any point of reference to offer advice on how local authors can gain a wider audience outside of Guam.

Can it be changed – on Guam in getting a wider audience? I tried to change it, in some ways, but I had no success. Before leaving Guam, I had some good insight into what type of books appealed to the island, based on consumer data someone shared. Additionally, some seasoned librarians also shared with me their thoughts about the degree of penetration the libraries have on the island. This knowledge allowed me to have a new perspective about the challenges authors may have on Guam in promoting their work. It’s a labor of love.

PT: Which Pacific authors should people be reading?

STJ: I am a big fan of Jose Rizal. I have him up there with Steinbeck and Dickens.

A CHAT WITH… LYNN PULOU-ALAIMALO

Lynn Pulou-Alaimalo is a name you should know. This very talented lady – proud of her Samoan blood – is an emerging writer of both fiction and non-fiction. Her debut novel, ‘Lovefolds of Our Upbringing’, is not only an engaging story but also a wonderful introduction to the Samoan culture. Are you interested in learning more about this title? Read on.

 LYNN PULOU-ALAIMALO

Pasifika Tales: ‘Lovefolds of Our Upbringing’ is the first instalment in the Aiga series. Aiga is a very important word for Samoans. Is this why you chose it to interlink your stories?

Lynn Pulou-Alaimalo: ‘Lovefolds of Our Upbringing’ is my very first instalment focused on family life and customary norms in Samoa. Aiga means family in Samoan. Aiga is very important to the Samoan people. Whether it is a family that’s close-knitted or a crabs-in-a-bucket type of family, it is sacred and everyone belongs to one. The aiga in Samoa is also a core curriculum of its own, where a child experiences the good, the bad, the beautiful and the odds about family, but at the end of the day of course, ‘family’s all we got.’

PT: Could you describe briefly what the series is about?

LPA: This series is ultimately a reveling story about the Samoan life, a humble beginning and family values. It exhibits a humble upbringing of a Samoan family which depicts a relatable experience for most Samoans. My upbringing is a compendium of mannerisms, respect, strict discipline, the church, culture and a covenant of ‘family over everything’. ‘Lovefolds…’ depicts a viewpoint for each character about his or her upbringing, especially a close-knitted life in a Samoan family. This book is focused on the beginning especially. Which means every single extraordinary person got their start in a simple way. They all have something in common and that is the beginning.

The fluidity of Pintail ensembles a continuance of ‘Lovefolds…’, but differently in a way that when the children leaves home, they will adapt into the Westernized life in America. They will see places they’ve seen on TV commercials, huge airplanes, tall buildings and also experience a life without Mom and Dad nearby and open stores on Sundays – everything rare or doesn’t exist in the islands. ‘Pintail…’ describes a notable cliché that most Samoans have adapted to in a unique way. No matter where we are in this world – through distance, changes and Westernized influences, a foundation grounds us to remember that through it all, our lives were weaved from a structure of God, family and culture.

And then I have ‘Colorful deeds’ and ‘Blessings Unfold’ coming along which are going to be inspired by my adventures around the world.

PT: What (or who) was your inspiration?

LPA: My inspiration is truly my upbringing and the ones who gave me that upbringing. By observation, the love Samoan parents invest in to see their children grow, helped me to not only write but to adapt well in a melting pot of diverse cultures and changes when I left home. I wanted to move away from the archipelago to seek opportunities and travel the world. Joining the military became my foot-in-the-door opportunity to transfer a canvas of what I was seeing into a mosaic of different settings in my stories.

PT: The first book of the series introduces readers to the Tala family. The way you portrayed the characters is quite marvelous. Did you base them on real-life people?

LPA: I did base them on a real setting from encounters and experiences around friends as well as families. Like the character of Iulia – she’s a combination of many Samoan mothers and neighbors in my upbringing. Lectures and earful sessions are quite frankly a common norm for the Samoan mother and that particularly inspired my Iulia character. I wrote a lot of what I experienced into most of my characters too. From things I’ve heard and experienced myself, I was able to mold my characters well in this book. These particular moments and experiences written into each chapter became a relatable aha moment for my readers. Common experiences helped me to shape a lot of the events in my book, while other familiarities exhibits events still remarkably withheld under taboos.

PT: The story of the Tala family is solidly anchored in Samoan culture. Could you explain – especially for those readers who are not familiar with the islands – the values that constitute the core of Samoan way of being?

LPA: Samoan values are relatable to most in mannerisms and dogmatic practices which surfaces among people. Respect is common. Basic etiquettes and the respective way of treating people professionally and personally are also common. Love, respect, and honor goes beyond values people embrace in the Samoan culture. These values are a representation of us, our ancestors as well as the Samoan culture.

PT: Would you say these values are still present in the everyday lives of Samoan people? As we all know, cultures constantly evolve.

LPA: I know that we are still able to practice and embrace our culture freely because of these core values. It has been 3000 years since the Samoan culture evolved around changes from the first explorer received on the shores to the European settlers who brought the word of Jesus Christ to the archipelagos. These values are very much present and still echo around the cultural functions, family events and ceremonies practiced by the Samoan people today.

PT: Now, your next book, the second instalment in the Aiga series, is due to be released in June. What can you reveal about it?

LPA: Yes, ‘Pintail Foundation’ is the second book of the Aiga Series. It is a continuation of the Tala Family’s voyage. Tala’s children are all leaving home, one after another, and most of their experiences is a cultural shock. I received several inquiries about its name. But it’s just my own modest title which follows a Samoan proverb. In Samoa, there’s a Samoan proverb that my people are well versed in that goes, ‘E lele le toloa ae ma’au I le vai.’ – ‘No matter where a gray duck flies, it will always return to its wetlands’. Wherever Samoans may pursue endeavors in this world, they will always remember the tides, biomes, and aura of their beginning. From cities, skyscrapers and countries afar… home remains unforgotten to Samoans.

PT: Apart from the Aiga series books, are you working on anything else at the moment?

LPA: I’m currently working on literary journals with my writer’s associations. Outside of that, I focus my writings on the growing issues in West Papua. I like to write blogs and short stories when time permits. Other times as a reviewer for the Asian & Pacific Islander American Scholarship, I review essays and stories by younger generations in our South Pacific ring, who shares stories and common goals about life as an Asian Pacific Islander and attending college.

A CHAT WITH… TANYA TAIMANGLO

Who doesn’t know the famous Wonder Woman from Guam? Tanya Taimanglo, one of the most talented writers from the Pacific region, very kindly answered a few questions about her novel, ‘Secret Shopper’. Hopefully we won’t have to wait long for her next book…

TANYA TAIMANGLO

Pasifika Tales: ‘Secret Shopper’ – fiction or maybe not?

Tanya Taimanglo: I’ve been asked this a lot, especially from family and friends. Safe answer? Fiction, rooted in some personal experiences.

PT: You created a set of extremely believable characters. Who was your inspiration?

TT: Phoenix, the main goddess in training in my story was an alternate version of me. I used her to get through feelings of loss, especially about losing my father and leaving Guam. The family in this story mirrors mine to an extent, especially the comical but loving Korean mother. The ex from hell, well, no comment. And, Thomas, sigh…perhaps a culmination of all my dream guys’ traits.

PT: Quite honestly… How personal is this novel for you?

TT: I would say it’s extremely personal. I wrote it during many midnight sessions like I was possessed, and because my young children were asleep. I’d share the events with my mother who sat eagerly every morning to hear what happened to Phoenix next, like she was some friend I was gossiping about. Phoenix was the young girl who could, one who was more adventurous than me.

PT: The name of the main female character – Phoenix – is not entirely coincidental, is it?

TT: I love everything that a phoenix represents. I like the idea of rebirth and second chances, so no it was not coincidental; Phoenix was named so because she deserved it.

PT: ‘Secret Shopper’ is not just a romance. It’s a beautiful tale of self-discovery. Was it your intention from the beginning?

TT: I don’t think I started out the story knowing this. Themes arise like cream sometimes. I knew the events and the ending, but as I wrote her journey, I didn’t want it to be cliché. Girl meets boy and falls in love? So boring. I wanted it to be girl loses boy, meets her true self, and then falls in love with new boy only if he was worthy.

PT: You are from Guam, which is something you’re obviously very proud of. There are quite a few references to the island and Chamorro culture in your book…

TT: So, yes, I am proud. You are a great observer. Being Chamorro, especially one living in the states, we often times wear our culture on our sleeves. (Literally, so we could be identified by others). I made many references to Guam and some of my observations came through as one who left the island for some time and returns with a different ‘prescription’ of sorts in viewing their home. It is an identifiable phenomenon with the diaspora.

PT: For those who don’t know much about Guam… Could you ‘explain’ the ‘cultural tidbits’ that appear in ‘Secret Shopper’?

TT: Gosh. Food? The cuisine is mentioned quite a bit, from kelaguen to barbecue. There are references to songs and legends, as in our mermaid tale, Sirena. The weather on Guam is its own character too. There are also observations of the people and their behaviors. And, the way Phoenix exists in the world is a result of her Chamorro/Korean upbringing.

PT: I cannot refrain myself from asking… When can we expect a new book from Tanya Taimanglo?

TT: Please ask, I consider it a fire under my writer’s butt. I have several projects in both women’s lit and Young Adult genres in the works. I’m looking forward to releasing, indie style or via an agent and publisher, YA stories. My arsenal is building up, but I’ve found less time to write and edit lately. I do have ‘Attitude 13 Volume 2’ in the works, and that is firming up to be my next release. Let’s hope within the year. Some stories require more baking time than others.

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.