I had the privilege to interview Lehua Parker, author of One Boy, No Water. It’s a very fun read, especially if you have middle grade children! Enjoy getting to know a little more about Lehua and her incredible book!
You grew up in Hawaii. How does your childhood compare to Zader’s?
In many ways, Zader and the gang are really a reflection of me, my friends and the things we did growing up. The series is chock full of inside jokes, everything from names and places to the adventures we had. Most kids in Hawaii grow up exploring tide pools, suffering through Summer Fun programs, flying kites, eating shave ice, and surfing. A lot of sixth graders apply to private schools for seventh grade in the hope of getting a scholarship or financial aid; that pressure is very real. Lua, hula dancing, the people living in Lauele town—all of the cultural aspects—are pretty typical of island life. Bullies who picked on someone just because they could were common when I was a kid, but that may be changing.
What do you think Zader’s strongest quality is?
That’s a tough one because I don’t think Zader recognizes it yet. One of the major themes in the series is family and what it means to call someone brother, mother, son, or uncle. Zader’s salvation or fall is going to rest with how he defines these relationships. He’s intensely loyal to family, so of course this is where both his greatest strengths and weaknesses are.
You do a fantastic job of portraying the Hawaiian culture. When you moved out of Hawaii, was it a culture shock for you, and how did you adjust?
Even though I’d spent more time on the mainland—what islanders call the continental United States —than most kids from Hawaii do, it was still a huge shock to go to college at BYU, Provo. I often misread social situations because I didn’t know the unspoken rules like a girl doesn’t ask a guy to dance, play racquetball, or to hang out at the movies unless she sees wedding bells in their futures. In Hawaii my best friends had always been guys who were buddies, not boyfriends, so I thought nothing of calling three different guys on a Saturday and meeting one to play volleyball in the morning, studying in the afternoon with another, and attending an evening play with a third. And did I mention these guys lived together? Like I said, I was clueless when it came to a lot of the social norms. I kept slipping into Pidgin, especially in the dorms or when I was tired, which confused everyone since I looked like I came from California, not Hawaii.
You’ve been visiting Hawaii recently. Would you ever want to move back there?
This summer was the first time we took our family back to Hawaii in five years. I was seriously homesick for the islands—jonesing for the food, the beach, the music, the people. As much as I was at home there, this time it hit me hard how foreign everything was to my kids, particularly my daughter. Things that were no big deal to me were often scary or uncomfortable for them. They didn’t know all the simple tricks that make life easier, like leaving your flip-flops upside down on the beach so they won’t burn your feet when you wear them later. It made me think back on how often I’ve been vaguely uneasy living on the mainland. Things like zippers on coats trip me up all the time; in fact I have a hard time remembering to wear a coat or toed-shoes when there’s snow on the ground. Socks? Gloves? Forget about it. It all comes down to our upbringing and I think the earliest years leave the greatest impression. This realization crystallized a couple of things for me. As much as I like to say I’m chucking it all and going to live in a tent on the beach, there’s no way I could move back to Hawaii until my kids are grown. It simply wouldn’t be fair to them.
Do you love to play in the water? What’s your favorite thing to do?
I am a total water baby. If there was a way to play in the water all day without getting a sunburn, I’d never leave the ocean until the sun started to set. My favorite vacations before our kids were born were SCUBA diving trips to remote places where all there was to do was to eat, read, or sleep until the next dive. If I could start my life over, I’d probably be a marine biologist, an underwater photographer, or dive boat operator living in a shack next to the world’s most amazing reefs.
How long did it take you to write the book before Jolly Fish Press picked it up?
It depends on when you start counting. The genesis of the Niuhi Shark Saga was in a movie I saw when I was seven about a boy with a shark’s mouth where his back should be. It’s the kind of image that tends to stick in an overactive imagination and over the years I thought about it often.
About eight years ago, I started playing around with a complicated braided novel for adults called Like One Fish Out of Water. I wrote a lot in a short period of time, mainly to amuse myself and avoid housework. I knew it had problems, not the least of which were an ill-defined target audience, more story than any one book could hold, too many points of view, and dialogue in Hawaiian Pidgin which I was certain no publisher would touch. Since I didn’t know what I was going to do with it, it was easy to set it aside for seven years when life got busy again.
A year ago I found myself at loose-ends again and starting thinking about taking pieces of the adult novel and turning it into a MG/YA series. At the same time through a chain of coincidences no one would believe I ended up pitching it to Executive Editor, Christopher Loke. Based on his interest, I submitted a package to Jolly Fish Press and outlined what I’d planned, thinking I’d get some good feedback, nothing more. When they came back with a five book offer a couple of weeks later, I didn’t believe them, especially when they wanted it with Pidgin. I actually called Chris on the phone to ask him why.
With the knowledge that the Pidgin dialogue was a go, the target audience was MG/YA, and that the story could span five books, I sat down and wrote One Boy, No Water in about two weeks last December, taking about 12,000 words from the adult manuscript and adding another 45,000 words and a plot to characters I’d lived with a long time. Knowing what I was going to do with it made all the difference. It’s not the typical journey to publication, I know.
Lehua Parker is originally from Hawaii and a graduate of The Kamehameha Schools and Brigham Young University. So far she has been a live television director, a school teacher, a courseware manager, an instructional designer, a sports coach, a theater critic, a SCUBA instructor, a poet, a web designer, a mother, and a wife. Her debut novel, One Boy, No Water is the first book in her MG/YA series the Niuhi Shark Saga. She currently lives in Utah with her husband, two children, four cats, two dogs, six horses, and assorted chickens. During the snowy Utah winters she dreams about the beach.