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.
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.