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M.I.A. Art & Literary Series Presents Don’t Look Back

Don't Look BackJoin us at the January 2013 M.I.A. Art & Literary Series evening on Monday, January 21 at Fresh Cafe’s Loft in Space (831 Queen St.), 7:30pm – 9:00pm, to hear readings from Don’t Look Back editor Christine Thomas and contributing writers, Timothy Dyke and J. Freen. The event is free and open to the public.

To whet your appetite, here’s a teaser taste of the three authors’ stories. (Click through for longer excerpts.)

Timothy Dyke’s story, “No Look Back,” inspired the anthology’s title. His take on the legend of Māui the Fisherman:

I’m trying to construct a tale about my friend, Logan Cabrera. It’s difficult for me to look back at all the events that happened between us and find one clear instance of narrativelaunch. I could begin on the day we met, or on the day I was born. I could focus on the way the trouble started. I could start with the morning I came out of the closet. I could begin today and move backward.

Back in the day, there was a high school teacher and a former student. Once upon a time, I drove the kid out to Sand Island when he was strung out on OxyContin. I could begin with the moment I picked up the telephone. I could describe the afternoon in Phoenix when I watched him snort heroin through the shaft of a ballpoint pen. Or I could start, as I often do, by wandering off on a tangent connected to some recent conversation from English class.

I teach an elective for high school seniors called “The Bible as Literature.” Early last semester, I was talking to my students about the story from Genesis about Lot and his wife. I find that story hard to analyze, and I was asking the kids in my class to explain specific plot points. Some of them have it in their heads that God destroyed Sodom to purge his land of gay people, and while I wasn’t necessarily trying to contradict their upbringings, I was attempting to steer them toward a more nuanced interpretation.

“Hey,” I asked my class as we got to the part where Lot’s wife turns to a pillar of salt. (She would have been fine if Lot had resisted the temptation to turn around and check on her.) “Doesn’t this remind you of the Greek myth of Orpheus?” They looked at me with mild recognition. “In Greek myth, Orpheus goes down to the underworld to rescue his lover, Eurydice.” I saw a kid move a thumb toward his iPhone, but I ignored him. “Do you all know this story?” Most did, but some didn’t, so we etched out important details: Orpheus is allowed to take Eurydice from Hades, but he’s told that when he exits the underworld, he’s not to look back at her. He starts walking and, as he gets anxious, he turns around to gaze behind. Eurydice disappears, never to return again. Erica, the girl with the mushroom design on her hoodie, announced that a Māui story went the same way.

Click here to read more of “No Look Back” by Timothy Dyke

J. Freen’s modern version of the legend of O‘ahu Nui, the Cannibal King, and the Ai Kanaka has been popular at our past reading events:

Try GoogleEarth 1188 Bishop Street, Honolulu, Hawai‘i. Take off from above the mainland, cross the Pacific in a second or two—makes you kind of dizzy the first time. Before you know it you’re above the harbor, coming in, coming in, mouse in hand—hold it—hovering above the office tower on the corner of Beretania and Bishop, at the gateway to the city’s financial and legal district. Lots of stuff goes on here, interesting stuff, but to find out you need to climb out of your computer screen, put on some clothes, some shoes, and hit the street for real.

It’s a toasty January morning in the city. You feel the sun on your face. You are standing on the corner, looking up at the steel and glass tower. In front of you is a short, dark-haired fellow dressed in a bland aloha shirt and neatly pressed slacks—the uniform of the local businessman. His name is Case Izumi. Follow him. He won’t notice you because, actually, you’re still back home, staring at the screen, dressed only in your underpants. I was just kidding about making you do anything realworld today.

His finger is on the button for floor number 21 and up we go. Suite 2110 is to his right, the door with the tasteful sign that reads: Alvin Alakawa, Attorney at Law. Push the door open, and the warm and pleasing face of the receptionist greets the visitor.

Her name is Kilikili, which means “fine misty rain” in Hawaiian. The kind of rain that often fills Nu‘uanu, the big valley behind downtown, in the morning and evening of a day like today. Kilikili’s last name is Pulena, a famous name in Hawai‘i, the family name of a long line of kings and nobles. She is proud of this but more proud, truth be told, of her two sons, Kai and Kawika, aged six and seven—kids she has raised as a single mom ever since their dad took off and left her to fend for herself, which she did, landing a job with big-time attorney and politician Al Alakawa. For six long years now she has been Al’s factotum, a fancy Latin word that means slave treated like dirt.

Click here to read more of “If You GoogleEarth 1188 Bishop Street” by J. Freen

Editor Christine Thomas was inspired to assemble an anthology of re-invented Hawaiian legends when she discovered that a story she had in the works bore similarities to an old Hawaiian myth:

Pua taps on the redwood door of Kai’s room, and then shouts her brother’s name loud as she walks in. The room is dark, the afternoon sun blocked by a coarse bamboo shade; when she rolls it up, Kai’s deep voice cracks, asking her to close it again. She hears but acts like she doesn’t, leaning over the bed to peer at his face, casting a new shadow over him. She keeps her voice crisp, not wanting to betray worry or acceptance of what could still just be elaborate self-pity.

“What you doing? I have for go school or work ev-ery frick-in day and you just lying in bed whenever you like. No fair.”

“Go. Away.”

“How ’bout I lie down and you go serve grumpy mainlanders at that dumbass Convention Center. ’Kay? Get up or you going be late.”

The mattress dips as she squeezes in beside him and then shakes as she forces a laugh. But when humor provokes no movement or response, the knots return to Pua’s stomach, tentacles tightening. Tutu leans her head in, then vanishes.

“You okay? Should I be worried?”

“It’s nothing. Just go. Go to work.”

“Tutu says you’re not eating. And you sit in here all day, see nobody or even talk. I mean, alone time is one thing, but…”

Silence.

“You need to eat, Kai. Get fresh air.”

She stares at the ti leaves outside the window, can almost feel the heat soaking into the soft fibers. She gets up and turns on some music. Still nothing.

She is definitely going to be late, and if it’s even one minute they dock her pay. So she asks the inevitable question, utters the name she thinks will rouse her brother and allow her into his thoughts.

“Is it Eliza?”

Click here to read more of “Places of Entry” by Christine Thomas

Geckos in the Garden

As we slide into summer, we spend more time pau hana on the lānai, listening to the sounds of the geckos calling to each other and swatting bugs…but do we ever think about the lives of those little creatures?

Two of our writers have, in very different ways.

In Gecko and Mosquito, a children’s book written and illustrated by the late Melissa DeSica, Gecko—the house bully—has embarked on a one-lizard mission to eat every bug in the hale. He’s only a few inches tall, but that’s still big enough to be a bully when there are smaller creatures around the house—like Mosquito and her friends.

“I’m the head honcho,
I’m bigger than you!
Who’s smarter? Who’s stronger?
Mo‘o, that’s who!”

Gecko may be bigger, but he’s definitely not smarter. And Mosquito is tired of being chased and harassed by the greedy fellow.

“I must find a good way to stop him somehow,
And help save my bug friends from being kau kau”

So all afternoon she racked her bug brain
For just the right plan to make Gecko refrain
From serving her friends as his Catch of the Day.
Why, he’d never imagine the trick SHE would play!

What is Mosquito’s clever plan to free the household bugs from Gecko’s tyranny? You’ll just have to pick up a copy of Gecko & Mosquito to find out!

For a different take on the secret lives of geckos, turn to University of Hawai‘i professor Gary Pak’s short story, “Language of the Geckos” in the anthology Don’t Look Back: Hawaiian Myths Made New, edited by Christine Thomas.

Gary’s story was inspired by ‘aumākua tales of the mo‘o:

In the evenings, when I was small, I would look out the screened windows of our house at the geckos, their translucent undersides sometimes showing an egg or two. Geckos covered the outside of our house, scurrying this way and that, calling or challenging each other with staccato voices, and once in a while one would find its way inside. I never was able to see it inside; it was just too elusive, too fast, too deceptive. But once in a while, its call would give it away, or in the morning I’d notice droppings on the kitchen counter or along the inside of a window. Geckos were all around us all the time.

Back then, I never knew about their significance to the ‘āina, what they represented, their connection to Hawaiian mythology, or how some believe the mo‘o to be their ancestor or ‘aumakua (guardian spirit). It was something I never thought about. Like the spirits and ghosts that freely meandered all over the land of my birth, I just lived with them. They were just a part of me, and perhaps I could say that I was a part of them. Only later, as an adult, did I learn that geckos, or perhaps only some of them, were considered mo‘o and an important part of Hawaiian mythology and the Hawaiian ancestral belief system.

Click here to read an excerpt from “Language of the Geckos.”

Watermark Publishing Sweeps Hawai‘i Book Publishers Association Cookbook Awards Category

The annual Hawai‘i Book Publishers Association’s Ka Palapala Po‘okela Awards were announced Friday, May 11, 2012. Watermark Publishing’s nominees in the Cookbook category, A Sweet Dash of Aloha: Guilt-Free Hawai‘i Desserts & Snacks by Kapi‘olani Community College and The Hawai‘i Book of Rice: Tales, Trivia & 101 Great Recipes by Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi, swept the category, taking the top Award of Excellence and the Honorable Mention award, respectively.

The judges praised A Sweet Dash of Alohafor its departure from the norm in Island cookbooks, saying,

So many locally published cookbooks are mishmash collections of ‘local food’ recipes. A Sweet Dash of Aloha is a refreshing well-focused, well-written cookbook that offers a new angle on local flavors and ingredients, combining simplicity and clarity with a sophisticated understanding of food, nutrition and health.

The Hawai‘i Book of Rice received compliments for its comprehensive coverage of the Aloha State’s favorite grain:

Tsutsumi has compiled a collection of dishes that reflect local tastes while exploring new and creative uses of rice. With its recipes for salads, appetizers, entrées and desserts, The Hawaii Book of Rice is certainly versatile. The book’s chapter on the history of rice in Hawai‘i is a well-researched, delightful introduction to the recipes and offers a solid backdrop for the social and economic importance of this local staple.

This marks the fourth consecutive year that a Watermark Publishing title has received the Award of Excellence in Cookbooks. Last year’s Award of Excellence went to The Blue Tomato: The Inspirations Behind the Cuisine of Alan Wong by Chef Alan Wong and Arnold Hiura. Previous years’ recipients were Kau Kau: Cuisine & Culture in the Hawaiian Islands by Arnold Hiura (2010) and The Island Bistro Cookbook by Chef Chai Chaowasaree (2009).

Don’t Look Back: Hawaiian Myths Made New edited by Christine Thomas; Kapoho: Memoir of a Modern Pompeii by Frances Kakugawa; and The Cocktail Handbook: Cool Drinks from Hawai‘i’s Hottest Bartenders by Jesse Greenleaf and Amie Fujiwara were also nominated in other Ka Palapala Po‘okela categories, but did not take home awards.

Our nominees & winners. Back row, left to right: Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi (The Hawaii Book of Rice); Christine Thomas (Don’t Look Back); Amie Fujiwara and Jesse Greenleaf (The Cocktail Handbook); Watermark Publishing publisher George Engebretson. Front row: Wanda Adams and Adriana Torres Chong (A Sweet Dash of Aloha)

Each year, the Hawai‘i Book Publishers Association presents the Ka Palapala Po‘okela Awards to recognize and honor the best of Hawai‘i book publishing from the previous year. “Ka Palapala Po‘okela” literally translated from Hawaiian means “excellent manuscript. ”

Look Forward to These Don’t Look Back Readings

Don’t Look Back anthology editor Christine Thomas and nationally best-selling Big Island novelist Darien Gee (aka Mia King) will appear at multiple Big Island book signing events at the end of February for the new collection of modern mo‘olelo Don’t Look Back: Hawaiian Myths Made New, featuring their work and that of 15 other Hawai‘i writers. [See their full schedule here]

Why reinvent old myths? Noted Hawaiian language scholar Puakea Nogelmeier explains:

The perpetuity of myth and legend is, and has always been, paralleled by a lively tradition of distilling, retelling, and recasting the epics and grand tales in completely new, often abbreviated, contemporary forms. These recast stories are themselves brand-new and sometimes spontaneous productions. With themes and dynamics drawn from the classics, the characters are often contemporary and may barely reflect the original heroes and gods, the settings are intentionally familiar, and the issues and actions are intentionally current. The myths, in their “classical” forms, connect the common roots of human society from times ancient to today, while the recastings make the longevity of those attitudes, principles, and ethics immediately relevant.

The contemporary tales in this collection are presented as chants of celebration, arias of advice, and revelatory refrains, composed in resonance with the tempos and scales of stories long known and legends long told.

— Dr. M. Puakea Nogelmeier, foreword to Don’t Look Back

You won’t want to miss hearing these women read their captivating new takes on old stories. Here are short teaser excerpts from each of their tales to whet your appetite:

Darien Gee is the nationally bestselling author of Friendship Bread, as well as several other novels written under the name Mia King. Her books have been selections of the Doubleday, Literary Guild, and Book of the Month Club book clubs. Her second novel, Sweet Life, was nominated for a Ka Palapala Po‘okela award for excellence in Hawai‘i books. She lives with her family in upcountry Waimea on the island of Hawai‘i.

PELE IN THERAPY by Darien Gee

Inspired by the Legend of Pele’s Exile

There are variations to the story of how Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes, came to Hawai‘i, but a common one holds that she was exiled from Tahiti by her parents, who were concerned about Pele’s ongoing battles with her older sister, the water goddess Namaka o Kaha‘i, whose husband Pele had seduced. Contemporary folklore talks of Pele’s ability to change her form, and sightings of Pele as a beautiful young woman, an old hag, or a white dog abound, usually before a lava flow and as a test of people’s goodness and values.

 “Pele in Therapy” is a loose translation of Pele’s exile to Hawai‘i and her own awakening that occurs as a result. I entwined several Pele myths, both classical and contemporary, to create a modern view of the goddess. While I am loath to say that any deity would be in need of therapy, it is not inconceivable that the opportunity to “vent” might be welcome, especially when you consider that this particular goddess reigns over an active volcano.

* * *

When I open the door, there’s a striking young woman on my doorstep, her dark hair pulled away from her face. She’s wearing a sundress, but you can see the outline of her body through the thin fabric. Her figure is so perfect that I can’t stop staring. I have a weakness for dessert, for chocolate in particular, and I know I’ve let my body go. Normally I wouldn’t care, but being in Hawai‘i has made me envy youths with their flat stomachs and perfect breasts. And their butts—they have no cellulite. I can’t even remember life before cellulite.

The woman is muttering under her breath, twisting a loose strand of hair around a slender finger. I want to say she’s in her twenties but I can’t quite place her age.

“Can I help you?” I ask.

“I don’t have an appointment.” Her face is dark.

“That’s fine. I happen to have an opening…”

“I’m having a bad day,” she continues, forlorn. “I saw your sign outside. Find your inner goddess or something?”

“You mean ‘Discover the Goddess Within’?”

“Close enough.” She steps into the condo before I have a chance to invite her in.

I offer her water or tea but she shakes her head. We settle in the living room, which is more spacious and comfortable with the small changes I’ve made. The woman’s forehead is puckered in a frown.

“My love life,” she says. “It’s on the rocks.”

“I see.” I nod and clear my throat. “I should mention that there’s a ten percent discount if you pay for your session in cash…”

She ignores me. “I think he’s in love with someone else.” She lets out a heavy sigh and the whole room seems to sigh with her. “He saw me in a moment when I didn’t look like this…” She gestures to her body, her perfectly made-up self. “…And he fled.”

She now has my full attention. Men!, I want to spit out, but instead I nod sympathetically. “I understand.” I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to always look so beautiful. People start to expect it, and the minute you have a bad hair day, their illusions are shattered. I pick up my notebook in an attempt to look like I’m doing something. I write the day’s date, the time, and realize I don’t even know her name.

“I’m Katherine,” I say. “And you are…?”

[Click here to read more from PELE IN THERAPY by Darien Gee]

* – * – *

Christine Thomas, editor of Don’t Look Back, was raised in Kailua and born in Honolulu, where she again resides, after earning a B.A. in English from the University of California at Berkeley and a master’s in creative writing from the University of East Anglia in England, as well as other stints living and working across the U.S. She has worked for more than fifteen years as a freelance features and travel writer and book critic and has taught creative writing and literature at Punahou School and to undergraduates across the country. Her short fiction has been published in anthologies and literary magazines in the U.S. and in the United Kingdom, and her current work-in-progress, To Lose is to Win, features inter-generational short stories spanning the globe.

PLACES OF ENTRY by Christine Thomas

Inspired by the Legend of Halemano

Halemano dreams of a woman named Kamalalawalu—the daughter of two high chiefs, raised under a strict kapu—but upon awakening can’t remember her name. He falls so deeply in love that he won’t eat or drink, becomes very ill, and finally dies. His sister, the sorceress Laenihi (who can transform into a fish), arrives at Halemano’s bedside at their grandmother’s house and brings him back to life. When Laenihi learns of the mysterious dream woman, she tells Halemano all about her, her favorite brother, and their beloved dogs.

I discovered the myth while doing research for my first novel at London’s British Library, which has a surprisingly ample Hawaiiana collection. About three-quarters of the way through my draft, I came upon “The Legend of Halemano” and realized its strange echo of my story. I hadn’t intended or ever thought of rewriting a myth, but there it was—an ancient tale to which my contemporary one was unintentionally connected. In retrospect, this discovery was the first seed of this collection, so I wanted to include a portion of the story to reveal how I unknowingly inverted the original myth.

* * *

Pua taps on the redwood door of Kai’s room, and then shouts her brother’s name loud as she walks in. The room is dark, the afternoon sun blocked by a coarse bamboo shade; when she rolls it up, Kai’s deep voice cracks, asking her to close it again. She hears but acts like she doesn’t, leaning over the bed to peer at his face, casting a new shadow over him. She keeps her voice crisp, not wanting to betray worry or acceptance of what could still just be elaborate self-pity.

“What you doing? I have for go school or work ev-ery frick-in day and you just lying in bed whenever you like. No fair.”

“Go. Away.”

“How ’bout I lie down and you go serve grumpy mainlanders at that dumbass Convention Center. ’Kay? Get up or you going be late.”

The mattress dips as she squeezes in beside him and then shakes as she forces a laugh. But when humor provokes no movement or response, the knots return to Pua’s stomach, tentacles tightening. Tutu leans her head in, then vanishes.

“You okay? Should I be worried?”

“It’s nothing. Just go. Go to work.”

“Tutu says you’re not eating. And you sit in here all day, see nobody or even talk. I mean, alone time is one thing, but…”

Silence.

“You need to eat, Kai. Get fresh air.”

She stares at the ti leaves outside the window, can almost feel the heat soaking into the soft fibers. She gets up and turns on some music. Still nothing.

She is definitely going to be late, and if it’s even one minute they dock her pay. So she asks the inevitable question, utters the name she thinks will rouse her brother and allow her into his thoughts.

“Is it Eliza?”

No response—not even a shift in position or tensing of muscles. He remains stiff, cold, as though long soaked in water.

She looks again at her watch. “Hey, I’ve gotta go. I’m really gonna be late.” She hesitates. “But I’ll be back later, ’kay?”

Then she creeps into the hall, afraid of what might happen if she stays, of what will happen if she leaves.

[Click here to read more from PLACES OF ENTRY by Christine Thomas]

Like what you’ve read? Purchase Don’t Look Back at our online store or your local bookstore or connect with Christine and Darien at one of their upcoming Big Island events.

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