Interview with Lehua Parker, Author of the Niuhi Shark Saga

Here is a copy-paste version of an interview about a friend of mine, author Lehua Parker, by another friend of mine, author Johnny Worthen. I have had lunch with these to people, at a buffet nonetheless, and the conversation was definitely better than the food. Check it out!

By Johnny Worthen:
I met Michelle Lehua Parker at a writer’s conference in Provo Utah that damaged my short term memory and left me both traumatized and traumatized. That weekend we went to lunch together where I gave her every chance to pay for my meal. That has nothing to do with anything. I’m just saying, you know. Just saying.

Lehua came over the blog mansion the other day to give me a long overdue promised copy of One Boy, No Water, Book One in the Niuhi Shark Saga.

Not liking to be caught off guard, I’d had a catered snack bar set up for the holiday.

Johnny: Happy Tick Bite Prevention Week!

Lehua: Damn it! Not again!

J: What?

L: You’re confusing me with that other MG/YA Jolly Fish Press author, Amie Borst!

J: Whaa?

L: Good grief, Johnny! Don’t you read Facebook? She’s the one with the tick-bite Lyme disease and meat allergy! I’m the one with the gluten allergy from Hawaii. What’s that smell?

Pupu Platter, pronounced “poo-poo” is not what you think it is.
It is however, very expensive.
J: Hungry?

L: Like a shark.

J: I got a special treat just for you. A pupu platter.

L: Then why are we standing out here? You know us Hawaiians; it’s all about the food.

J: Help your—well, looks like you know what to do. Careful, those have bones—oh. I don’t think I’ve seen another human eat like that. You’re from Hawaii and your series is set there. How did you get to Utah where the only way to get poi is from loud shirted poi mules named Moki?

L: Like most foolish teens, I thought I wanted to get away from paradise and my parents and go to college. While at school I married a Montana cowboy who teased me by living in LA near the beach for a few years before dragging me kicking and screaming inland. Utah was the compromise. Thank goodness for the internet and overnight shipping.

J: So what’s your story about?

L: It’s a fish out of water tale. In many ways Zader is a typical island kid. He’s trying to fit in with his peers, keep up with his more popular brother, and get into a good prep school which is a big deal for 6th graders in Hawaii. But no matter how hard he tries, Zader’s anything but typical. He was found abandoned on a reef as an infant by Uncle Kahana and ‘Ilima and adopted by the Westin family. He’s allergic to water—one drop is like acid on his skin—absolutely ridiculous on a tropical island—and he can’t eat rare meat.

J: Tick bite?

L: That’s one theory. The wrong theory, but hey, whatever floats your boat. When Zader’s surf-crazed brother is scared out of the ocean by a shark sighting, it’s up to Zader to help him get back in the water. The whole series about finding yourself, defining family, and living in modern Hawaii, things I think will interest readers.

J: You obviously didn’t get the memo about romantic vampires. Still, you have a strong paranormal streak in you One Boy, No Water. Is there an original legend that sparked the idea?

L: There’s an original image. Imagine: seven years old, sitting on the cool concrete floor of the school cafeteria in the dark, watching a 16mm film projected on a white bed sheet. The movie’s about ancient Hawaiian legends, and it’s the first time I’m seeing people on the screen who look like my friends and neighbors who aren’t tending bar or shaking grass skirts on Hawaii Five-O. Act one: villagers are disappearing and it’s feared a man-eating shark is on the prowl. Act two: villagers rip the cape off a young boy to reveal a huge gaping shark’s mouth where his back should be! Ai-yah! The boy was actually a shark! And his family knew! And he was eating people he knew! Talk about a nightmare inspiring moment, right up there with the night swim scene in Jaws. Act three: I think about it for too many years and finally write my thoughts into a novel or five. The Niuhi Shark Saga is not a retelling of this Hawaiian legend, but that certainly was the genesis.

J: Zader, your main character is nothing like me. He lives in Hawaii, for one thing, and he’s probably good at portion control. Did you try the cream puffs? Who did you use as a model for him?

PSA: The wholesale price of cream puffs doubles
if you have chocolate lines on them like these.
L: Cream puffs are delicious, but contain gluten which is evil beyond poison apple; for me it’s in the kryptonite range. Pass the sashimi. Thanks. Here’s a shameful secret—all the characters are me. The too busy Mom, the picked on kid, the popular surfer dude, the wise Uncle, the rascal dog, the athletic girl who wants to be one of the boys—they all live inside me and aren’t based on anyone else. Like the three faces of Eve, I’ve discovered when I let the characters out to tell the story, it works. Does that sound unbalanced?

J: Only if you have a drinking problem. If you do, you’re sure to be a big hit. Do you have a secret addiction?

L: Haagen Daz Chocolate Peanut Butter ice cream. It used to be Mayan Chocolate, but they stopped making it.

J: Better stick to middle grade, then. Tell me about the Hawaiian dialects and language you use in your book and pass the cookie tray.

L: Take them all! I wanted to write a story for kids who know the real Hawaii, not the Hollywood version, and that meant writing the way people talk when the tourists aren’t around. It’s called Hawaiian Pidgin English. In the series I’ve Anglicized Pidgin to make it more friendly to non-native speakers, but some of the feedback I’ve gotten is that it’s still too much for middle grade readers. While it will continue to be part of the series, there will be less of it in future books.

J: One Boy, No Water is book one in a series. How many do you foresee?

L: My publishing contract says five, so Zader’s story will be five middle grade/young adult novels. I know how the series ends, but not what happens between where I am in book 3 and the final chapter of book 5. However, I have many more stories set in fictional Lauele Town kicking around in my head. Most of them are not middle grade. While I may branch out and write other things, I think I will be living in Lauele long enough to look for a house, not a rental.

J: I’m always interested to hear how authors made the journey from writing a book to having a publisher. Your story, if I remember it right, makes me want to disembowel myself with a shrimp fork. No two journeys are alike. Please share it with my readers.

L: I read books like you’re eating those cookies. I studied the writing craft, but after winning a few awards and publishing as a teen, I didn’t do anything with fiction for decades until one day I got a wild hair and decided to go to a writer’s conference. I had an idea, but was sure no publisher would want anything with Pidgin in it. At the conference I learned about self-publishing eBooks; they looked like an elegant solution for my weird ideas with their low start-up costs and a long shelf-life, which would give me time to build an audience. I went home and decided to pull Zader’s story out of a too complicated adult novel I’d started eight years ago. A middle grade series seemed like a quick, low-risk way to figure out the publishing biz. Originally I planned to publish two versions in each eBook, one in standard American English and the other in hard-core Pidgin. A month later I kinda, sorta had a couple of novels in very rough form, a brand-new website and Facebook fan page, and a short-term business plan. That’s when I unexpectedly ending up pitching the series to Christopher Loke, Executive Editor at Jolly Fish Press who told me to send him a submission package because he thought he could sell it. A month later I had a five book deal. Three weeks after that I finished book one, One Boy, No Water, which published nine months later in September 2012.
Johnny! Stop it! If you jam that fork any deeper, you’re going to need stitches and I’m gonna be pissed if you bleed all over my car on the way to the hospital! It was timing, dude, and karma that I was already decently dressed and wearing mascara the night of the JFP presentation, so I went instead of lying on the couch with a good book and pint of ice cream. Johnny! Grinding the fork isn’t helping!

J: How do you like working with Jolly Fish Press?

L: Wait! Use this tea towel as a compress! That’s better. I think it’s clotting.
JFP is a young press, which is why they looked at my work in the first place. A few months later they switched to reviewing mostly agented submissions, so I think I hit the sweet spot of preparation and opportunity. JFP has done fantastic things for my series, like getting it in front of reviewers, on the shelves in Barnes & Noble, and nominating it for an American Book Award. They want long-term relationships with their authors and have created a collaborative, supportive environment at both the JFP corporate level and among their authors at the personal level. They allow me to put my two cents in everything from the artwork to off-wall marketing ideas. They don’t always go along with my ideas, of course, but they do listen. That’s important to me.

J: Who, besides me, are your favorite authors and influenced your writing?

L: Books are like gluten-free Oreos with ice cold milk, remember? Diana Gabaldon, Stephen King, Kiana Davenport, Chris McKinny, Lois-Ann Yamanaka, Michael Crichton, Chaim Potok—I could make a list far longer than anyone would care to read.

J: I love your cover. Who did it? How did you get it?

L: The cover and illustrations were done by the very talented Corey Egbert. JFP brought Corey in and we met a couple of times with JFP and brainstormed the art concepts I thought Zader on the cover with a wave shark about to eat him while he’s oblivious was a good metaphor for what happens in the book. Cory has never been to Hawaii, so I set up a Pinterest board and posted all kinds of images for him to use as reference. You can see them and what we’re working on for book 2 here: http://pinterest.com/lehuaparker/

J: What’s your writing process, do you surround yourself with hibiscus plants, pineapple juice and HoMedics Sound Machines set to “soothing surf?”

L: All that and more to make me feel like I’m being productive when I’m not. I listen to Hawaiian radio. I watch Shark Week videos. I read tons of books about esoteric Hawaiian cultural studies. In a pinch, I even do laundry and housework. I procrastinate until the deadline looms and then I sit down and write the book.

J: When might we expect to see the next in the series?

L: Book 2, One Shark, No Swim is scheduled for August 10, 2013. It’s in editorial review and Corey’s started the illustrations, but I haven’t heard or seen anything yet, although Chris did say the first editorial reviewers told him that it was “very clean” which I think means my spelling and punctuation were mostly correct.

J: Try the caviar. If you like fish flavored salt, you can do no better than caviar.

L: Then you haven’t tried dried cuttle-fish.

J: Cuddle what?

L: Cuttle-fish. It’s basically squid jerky. Salty-fishy-sweet. Or opae, tiny dried freshwater shrimp. When I was a kid we used to eat them like candy. Caviar’s too squishy; it reminds me of trout-flavored saltwater tapioca pudding. Or fish eyeball stew. Don’t ask. Although this isn’t bad. You must have splurged for the good stuff.

J: I hear your book is big in Hawaii. How can you market there from Utah?

L: You got it backwards. I think the book would be big in Hawaii. It’s selling in the Utah region, mainly due to published reviews and book signings. I have officially leveraged all my friends and relatives and am now selling to strangers, which is a good thing. Between lowering the eBook price to $2.99 and some recent publicity in Hawaii, One Boy, No Water is starting to go home with island readers. Hawaiian bookstores are beginning to contact JFP to ask when I’ll be in the islands for book signings, so things are looking up. The whole process is a lot slower than anyone imagines. I’m not expecting to do a book tour in Hawaii until mid-2014 at the earliest, probably after Book 3, One Fight, No Fist, is published. I might try to do some author appearances at Hawaiian schools via Skype next school year, which I think will help, but my main focus right now is writing book 3. I have a hard time mentally switching hats from author to marketer, so I try to work on one or the other in punctuated bursts.

J: Where can my five regular readers find you on the internet?
FACEBOOK
WEBSITE
JOLLY FISH
AMAZON
BARNES AND NOBLE
Twitter: @LehuaParker
Goodreads:
Pinterest
J: Grab a “to-go” box. Look at all this food. Those buffalo wings will be tasty tonight. Just zap them for 45 seconds.

L: I’m taking the spam musubi and coconut mochi, too. Don’t forget the malasadas.

J: Is that what they’re called? You can’t eat malasadas.

L: No, but the kids can. That will distract them from the cone sushi.

J: Thanks for coming to the blog mansion. Here you go.

L: What’s this?

J: It’s an itemized bill for the buffet. Dutch treat.


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