Sunday, October 6, 2013

Meet Aunty Lehua, Author of YA Niuhi Shark Saga

Fast Forward is an author interview about the writer’s second novel in a series. My guest today is Lehua Parker, a special lady who has a talent for making the impossible sound absolutely normal. At least, that is my reaction to her stories. Known to many, in the Hawaiian fashion, as Aunty Lehua, she is originally from Hawaii, a graduate of The Kamehameha Schools and Brigham Young University. As an advocate of Hawaiian culture and literature, her writings often feature her island heritage and the unique Hawaiian Pidgin.

Lehua tells tales that are difficult for me to describe. Rather than trying, I have asked her to give us all the details! 
Author Lehua Parker
FAST FORWARD: Welcome and Aloha, Lehua. A story’s protagonist often reflects an author’s personality, or displays characteristics the author has chosen to explore. Can you please share with us some of the back story that defines your protagonist but isn’t included in the published novels?

LEHUA PARKER: Thanks for hosting, me Gail! Alexander Kaonakai Westin—Zader—is found abandoned on a reef as an infant and adopted by a local Hawaiian family. He’s got a few quirks that set him apart from most kids, like being allergic to water. The entire Niuhi Shark Saga is about Zader discovering his backstory and deciding how he will live his life once he knows the truth about his parents and who he really is, so I can’t share too much about Zader. However, I can tell you more about Uncle Kahana, a secondary character that fills a similar role as Professor Dumbledore in the Harry Potter series. 

In my series Uncle Kahana serves first as protector, then mentor, and finally an adversary to Zader as he navigates through the challenges of understanding why he’s not like other kids. I have a whole backstory to Uncle Kahana that’s hinted at but not explained. On the surface, Uncle Kahana seems like an old beach bum, someone who is a little odd and lives off what he can gather from the ocean and the charity of others. His four-legged companion is ‘Ilima, who isn’t the dog she seems. 

The real backstory is that Kahana’s father was a lua master and the person responsible for remembering all the family’s ancient Hawaiian history, genealogy, and cultural knowledge. Somewhere in his youth, Kahana had a fight with his father, denied his teachings as Hawaiian superstitions, chose a more Western world view, entered the military, and went to Vietnam. During this time ‘Ilima leaves him, his father and sister dies, and he finds himself returning to Lauele Town, trying to fulfill a kupuna/kahu/kahuna role for his family without the formal training. 

By the time Zader enters his life, he’s in his mid-sixties and has made peace—mostly—with his past. He’s seen as a Hawaiian culture leader in the community, but a lot of what he says is based on his own assumptions because he never learned the truth—and that trips him up.

He also owns most of the beach-front land in Lauele Town and refuses development, which is why the area has a by-gone era feel to it. Kahana lets people believe Hari owns the store he lives above because he likes to fly under the radar and it’s easier for him to do the kinds of things he needs to do if everyone thinks he’s just “one broke ‘okole old man.” Someday I’ll write Kahana’s story, but it’s a little too mature and complicated to cram into an MG/YA series! 

FAST FORWARD: After writing the first novel in a series, it seems that subsequent novels would flow out fully formed. The author has the basics down: format for the storyline; a feel for the proper number of plot lines and chapters; techniques for creating a charismatic protagonist and supporting characters; secrets to making the antagonist likeable; and guidelines for adding conflict right up to and through the denouement. How has writing become easier for you; and what remains as difficult now as when you wrote the first novel? 

LEHUA PARKER: The most challenging part continues to be morphing what I had in my head as a side plot to a complicated adult novel into a cohesive series for middle grade and young adult readers. While kids today go through the same challenges I did at their age, it all looks so different! It’s tough sometimes to channel an authentic 12 year old boy’s voice when I’m late for carpool. It’s also a struggle to strike the right balance between explaining enough about words like kapu and li hing mui so mainland readers can follow the action without boring island kids. But with book two, I feel that I really understand my main characters, which does make the writing easier. I can put them in different kinds of situations or combinations and know exactly what they’ll say and do. One of the big secrets to the Niuhi Shark Saga is that it’s really one long story broken into smaller, middle grade bite-size books. 

FAST FORWARD: To hold a reader’s attention, a series protagonist must continue to grow or change in each novel. Without revealing any spoilers, how has your protagonist developed or changed from Book #1? 

LEHUA PARKER: In book 2, One Shark, No Swim, Zader’s eyes are beginning to open. He’s a little older and less trusting of the information adults give him. He questions more and looks for his own answers. As he matures, his other nature rises to the surface and he becomes constantly hungry, more aggressive, and restless at night. Uncle Kahana sees the changes, but still believes he’s in control—until the moment he’s not. 

FAST FORWARD: A series requires the presence of a continuing main character. Often, however, there is another recurring character. The almost infinite pairings of main characters with guy/girl Fridays or wingmen could claim its own category on Jeopardy. Is there a recurring secondary character in your series? What is the purpose/role of that character within the plot? 

LEHUA PARKER: Since Zader, the protagonist of the Niuhi Shark Saga, is eleven at the beginning of the series, there’s a whole host of recurring characters. There’s Jay, his almost twin brother who is the popular athlete, surfing star, and good student Zader often wishes he could be. Char Siu is the gal-pal who’s firmly in Zader’s corner and provides a cooler head to Jay’s sometimes testosterone-driven ideas. She’s also a foil for exploring the differences between girls and boys.  

Lauele Town is full of characters islanders know well—from teachers who go out of their way to help kids get into private schools to the aunties who teach ukulele lessons at Summer Fun to school bullies who fight simply because they can. Throughout the series I’m hoping to build a rich environment where island kids feel at home and mainland kids feel like Hawaii’s a real place with real people and not some Hollywood set full of coconut bras and tiki curses.  

FAST FORWARD: Researching a new novel takes the author on a journey to many new places, whether through books, movies, newspapers, or physical travel. What did you most enjoy about the research process of your second novel, and where did your research take you? 

LEHUA PARKER: One of the most eye-opening experiences was returning home to Hawaii with my family after being away for five years. When my kids were little and we’d visit, nothing about Hawaii seemed to faze them—not the ocean, the food, the local customs, or the environment. Now that they’re teens, it’s all foreign to them. Observing their reactions to everything from jellyfish to purple taro rolls to afternoon rainstorms really showed me how different life in Hawaii is from the mainland. I had to laugh at things like leaving your slippahs upside down on the beach—so intuitive to island kid and so surprising to mine when they burnt their feet packing up to head back to the hotel. Simply being in Hawaii again, smelling the plumeria and hearing people talk as they walked through Costco made it so much easier to sit in my mainland office in the middle of a snowstorm and write book 2. It also makes a good excuse for another trip before book 3! 

Where can fans of your novels find you and your books on the Internet? 

Blog & Free Short Stories:

All things Niuhi Shark Saga:

Twitter: @LehuaParker

Books: One Boy, No Water and One Shark, No Swim are available online as trade paperbacks, hardcovers, and eBooks through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iTunes.

In October I will be signing books at various Barnes & Nobles in Utah—please check my websites for updated locations and dates. This fall I am also visiting many schools. If anyone is interested in an in-person or on-line author visit, please contact me at