wanted: a lei day story

 
     

Last week, I blogged about Lei Day, one of the most festive, feel-good days in Hawai’i for both kids and adults.

About ten years ago, I thought a lei day picture book would be a great idea — I imagined illustrations of kids dancing the hula, making their own flower lei, the pretty costumes of the lei day princesses, all the excitement of parents, teachers, and friends gathering for the program, etc. 

My initial story idea centered around a teacher asking her class to make a lei that represented their individual personalities (materials could include almost anything, not necessarily flowers). My main character, Ali, gathered different flowers from her neighbors, thus producing a friendship lei, since she valued people more than anything else.

I sent the manuscript on its way and received positive feedback:

Yes, we love the idea of a Lei Day book (great classroom application)! There’s definitely a need for more fiction set in contemporary Hawai’i! But the story isn’t strong enough.

So I revised and resubmitted. Still not strong enough. Suggestion that I convert it to easy-to-read format. Did that. Resubmitted. Sorry, too much exposition.

I thought a long time (couple of years), but still couldn’t come up with a stronger storyline. Then I received this photo of my great-niece, Melia:

       

Look at that face! Those sparkling eyes! And her name is Melia, which is Hawaiian for plumeria. This must be a sign! I immediately wrote an entirely different story, with Melia as my main character. After getting suggestions from my critique group, I resubmitted it. 

First response: Lovely story, but hook not strong enough to compete in today’s market.

Second response: Doesn’t resonate enough as written, but will be glad to look at a revision.

So here I am, struggling to find a stronger hook, trying to create a stronger emotional arc, and basically not blow this revision request. I know there is wide interest in the cultural aspects of this book (at least 6 editors have said so). I just need to find the right story . . .   

What do you do to get a fresh perspective on something that’s been in progress for a long time? How do you break out of predictable thinking patterns? How do you basically trade your tired old brain in for a new one?

And how do you know when it’s time to simply give up, and move on to something else?

Meanwhile, my nice brother, Newton, has sent me some photos taken just last week at my niece and nephew’s school Lei Day program. The theme was "Under the Sea." Enjoy, and send me some good, creative vibes, please!

        
                Kindergarten dancing to "Octopus’ Garden" (yay Beatles!)

       
                             Second grade dancing to "Surf"

       
                          Fifth grade dancing to "Surfin’ USA"

     
  

39 thoughts on “wanted: a lei day story

  1. Island life
    These pictures make me realize that island life is really a different culture than our own. Have you ever thought about it as a pen pal relationship where the mainland child gets to visit the the child in Hawaii? A travelogue perhaps with lots of pictures?

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  2. Congrats on the revision request—you know busy editors don’t ask for that if they don’t mean it.
    It IS hard, though, to revise something you’ve had around in your head for so long. I’m thinking funny might shake things up a bit. You are often quite amusing here in the soup, so what would you think of making the story a bit less serious? Or here’s a thought: can you bring PAUL into it?
    One thought: you write such fun, fact-filled posts. Any thought at all to also making this idea non-fiction? Not instead of, but in addition to?

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  3. What great photos!
    I run into this dilemma a lot. When do you just give up. But you’ve got something here, or you wouldn’t be getting so much interest and personal feedback from editors.
    My two cents: Let Lei Day be the background. Give your character a big problem (related to plumeria?!) that has nothing to do with Lei Day. As the problem unfolds, Lei Day preparations are underway or something, and the solution she discovers somehow comes from one aspect of the celebration.
    I say that like I know how to do this stuff. Ha! But it’s one possibility to explore, at least. Good luck!

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  4. I love your photos…
    I’ve been following your blog recently, because it’s so colorful and appealing, and your blog reminds me of Edna Cabcabin Moran (I really enjoyed meeting her and an few other fine people at Chautauqua a few years ago)! I agree with Anna, it’s fascinating, some of the differences, and it’s all so joyful!
    Thank you so much for your lovely blog and great good luck on your revision!
    http://www.Yellapalooza.com
    coming soon http://www.agywilson.com

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  5. And a thought…
    I think that there are so many cultural differences, and very few HUMAN ones. A great bit of advice from a couple of my writer friends is to determine what the character wants and why he/she can’t have it, and how you resolve it. THAT’S the story. Someone else had suggested using Lei Day (and isn’t that just fun to say?!)as a background, and that might very well work. Personally, though I’d make THE problem something all kids struggle with. What makes it unique is the circumstances and the way your character deals with it. And ABSOLUTELY what everyone else said. Editors don’t even respond half the time now with rejections, so to get personal stuff means they really, really want to be invested. Another personal note. I had a very personal pb that had a revision request a while ago. I wasn’t able to work through it, first because of ego stuff, and then because of circumstances. I wouldn’t suggest putting your work up for as long as I did (I do believe it’s a good story, it’ll find a home, no matter when). But perhaps doing something different for a short while, will help you to break through to the next side of your work.
    Again, GREAT GOOD LUCK!

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  6. Re: Island life
    Yes! I have thought of the penpal idea because when I was growing up I had several great penpals, and used to tell them all about Hawai’i. My problem is paring down a story enough to fit a picture book. Since I’m not an illustrator, I tend to overwrite. Thanks for your suggestion!

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  7. I’m thinking maybe I’m a nonfiction writer instead of a fiction one (identity crisis time)! But you’re right — it’s good to think of other possible formats.
    I love to write humorous stories — but strangely enough, they’re never multicultural. It’s like, Koreans aren’t funny or something. Of course that’s ridiculous! Paul? You know I could write volumes on him. No way would it fit in 1000 words or less . . .
    Thanks for your input!

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  8. Are you back from Scotland? We’ve missed you!
    I like your suggestion. In the past I got hung up on trying to include too much cultural description. I like that the solution would be somehow related to the celebration, rather than the problem itself caused by the celebration. Hmmmm, something to think about. Thanks!

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  9. 1st off – great pics & your great niece is absolutely adorable! Her smile made me smile right away!
    I do like the previous idea about having Lei Day be in the background and having the problem be something that could happen to any child – but, is solved in a manner unique to Melia’s culture.
    Perhaps, like in your photos, Melia is in a dance for the school program and she injures her ankle (or something like that) and is afraid she won’t be able to dance. Or, she longs to be the featured dancer, but someone else is chosen (and appears to be better) – how does Melia support her (or not!)
    I was reading something today about changing the way we look at things being the way to completely turn things around. It’s not always easy – especially when we feel entrenched in our view of things – but, it is doable!

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  10. Re: And a thought…
    Thanks for all your good thoughts and suggestions! You’re right about my needing a story problem that has universal resonance. Creating viable conflict has always been my stumbling block — since my real life is spent trying to avoid conflict at all costs!
    I had the pleasure of interviewing Edna recently — http://jamarattigan.livejournal.com/81024.html.
    Don’t know whether you saw it or not :)!
    Thanks so much for commenting.

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  11. Please, don’t give up! It IS a fantastic idea, as all those editors have said. Without seeing the ms, of course I may be tossing it suggestions you’ve already tried, or won’t even work, but here’s what I’m wondering. I love the picture of your niece, but maybe the heroine is already a fulfilled child, as Melia appears to be, who doesn’t need Lei Day? Should the character be more on the outside, unsure of friendships, for instance, and Lei Day helps her get closer to that? Or maybe two different friends, perhaps from different cultures, (perhaps boy and girl) which would show the reality of present day Hawaii, should be central rather than one person? Sometimes I focus on one image/idea such as leis but need another strand — a story idea kicking around in my brain that I can add as another layer. So thinking away from Lei Day about some unrelated story re children may also help. Good luck! I want to read this book!

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  12. Hmm…that’s what I was thinking: Your lei day book might be better served as a nonfiction book. I love, love, love the overall idea, and I hope you pursue it.
    (I’ve been really busy with Coral these days, so I haven’t had time to respond to all your beautiful posts. But oh…they’re such a spot of sunshine — or tea, if you will. Thank you for brightening my days.

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  13. Thanks for your encouragement, Julia (that’s my niece’s name, too)! đŸ™‚
    I like your suggestion of Melia having a problem with the dance or something like that. All kids are insecure about learning something new. And there’s the competitive aspect, or jealousy.
    I’m thinking Paul or Bob or Colin could shake me out of my lethargy!

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  14. Yes, I do feel it’s made the rounds. Of course, through the years, different versions have made the rounds here and there. In my heart I know this story could be stronger, better.

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  15. I love the idea of thinking away and creating another strand. Right now I think I’m too focussed on lei making itself. There are definite possibilities regarding bringing in another child with a different culture, or an outsider (perhaps mainlander), who is not familiar with Lei day customs. I know what I want the final picture of this book to be — children holding hands in a circle, forming a human lei — a symbol of friendship and inclusiveness.
    The story should lead up to what prompts the children to do this. Thanks, Jeannine!

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  16. Thanks for liking this idea, Melodye! I actually just discovered a brand new nonfiction book on Lei Day coming out any day now, published by Bess Press, a regional publisher in Hawai’i. Other than that, there’s nothing else on this subject for kids that’s still in print that I know of.
    BTW, has anyone ever mentioned that you resemble Kim Catrall?

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  17. You’re getting such good ideas. I hope something sparks for you!
    And yes, those eyes. I know, in the photo, they’re just the happy, bright eyes of a confident child. But…for a story…I’m seeing some mischief in them, too–a plan, a game.
    Anything there for you?

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  18. Thanks, Jama! Well, nobody, and that certainly includes me, can tell you what story to write. But I know I love for people to throw out some suggestions for me to consider, at least. Hope you find the perfect approach for you.

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  19. Thanks for this!
    I’ll book mark it (I also have vision problems, so will copy and make it larger) for later today as a reward. In the middle of revisions (doncha love Rhyme Zone?) and that’s one of the ways I prod myself into achieving my goals. Today is a boal of Pistachio Almond and your wonderful interview! Thanks!

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  20. I love all these pictures! And your niece is adorable!
    I’m clueless about PBs, but I think you’ve had several good suggestions here. Good luck!

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  21. I’m not an author, but I second and third and fourth what folks are saying about the comments from editors. Good thing you’ve got that feedback and at least there’s that interest.
    And don’t have an identity crisis. We love you just the way you are.
    Good luck!
    Jules, 7-Imp

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  22. If the comments are “not strong enough,” the questions I would focus on would be these:
    What is the conflict?
    What’s at stake?
    Good luck! We know you have the talent!
    Love the octopus hats, btw.

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  23. Lei Day Picture Book

    You have a great picture book theme. Reading your May Day post, I was very interested in the history of lei making and the variety of flowers in Hawaii. I think that would be a great story angle — Malia learning the history, and imagining/relating to what it was like in an earlier time. ~ Lois B.

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