What did you Read and LOVE in High School English?

“Are your stories based on real experiences that have happened in your own life?” This is a question that I get a lot, and one that I’m sure a lot of writers get. I’ve been writing short fiction for a lot longer than I’ve been writing my (trashy) books and it’s been rewarding to see it published internationally. The first stories I wrote for publication were written because as a high school English teacher – I was frustrated by the lack of Pacific ‘flavored’ short fiction that could be used in the classroom. As a teacher of senior levels, I was looking for specific things when choosing material that I could study with my students. It had to :
• Be short – teenagers have short attention spans. Also an Eng period is usually only 45min long.
• Be set in an environment that my students could relate to, with characters that they could identify with and have situations that they themselves were familiar with.
• Have some of those “literary thingamajigs” that we Eng.Lit freaks love, like imagery, figurative language, and blah blah blah.
• Not suck. Not be boring or lame. Not be fake. Not be too simple or too complex or “fia deep”.
And yeah, that last one is the toughest requirement to meet because if there’s one thing I have learned from teaching teenagers? They have high standards when it comes to what they want to read, view and listen to. They have no patience with stuff that sucks. Oh and I gotta say that my 2 teens are the meanest readers ever. I give them something to test it, they will skim it for five seconds, make a face, roll their eyes and say, “Ugh, this is kind of awful.” And another one of my SUCK writing ideas gets relegated to the trash. Readers hate stuff that’s fake as well. Which is why most of my short fiction is inspired my own experiences in some way or another – or the experiences of people close to me. Here’s a breakdown of three of them,

*High School is a Jungle – Classic Lani. An English teacher’s first day on the job. Did I really drive a very loud V8 to school? Yes. Did I really wear stupid high heels to school? Yes, very stupid, very painful but daaayum I thought I was very hot. Did students confide their alien abductions and love dramas to me? Yes. Did boys really leave condoms on my windscreen and write BITCH on my car? Yes. Did I really tell them what they could do with the condoms in such a wickedly satisfying way? No. But I wish I had.

*Sina the Snake Killer – Sina confronts her phobias and fears and thus is able to right the imbalance of power in her (crappy) marriage. Am I married to a horrible chauvinistic pig like Sina? No. Am I terrified of snakes? Yes. Do I feel them slither all over me whenever I see one on TV? Yes. Do I go to extreme measures to make sure centipedes can’t get me? Yes. Do I find the whole afakasi girl vs. real Samoan girl conversation really funny? Hell yes. Do I know lots of women who endure crappy marriages and can surely use a little bit of Snake Killer confidence and power? Most definitely, yes.

*A True Samoan Woman – A NZ born Samoan has her idealized Samoa rocked to the core when she marries a ‘real’ Samoan and gets down with REAL life in Samoa. Do I get really irritated by overseas born Samoans who talk glowingly about how ‘precious and amazing and wonderful’ the culture and life is in Samoa when they havent ever lived it? Yes, I want to throw rocks at them. Do I really know someone who called their baby Peiosepua’a (looks like a pig)? Yes.

So yes, my fiction is based on fragments of my reality. And if you’re really close to me, you just might catch glimpses of yourself in my characters. Which reminds me of that quote –“Dont make a writer mad. Or else she might write you into one of her books and then kill you off. In the most painful way possible.”

Either way, I hope more P.I youth everywhere find my fiction worth being subjected to the next time they have to study short stories in a dreadfully dull English class. And I hope it doesnt get the dreaded eye-rolling, make a face because-this-sucks reaction.

Now, for this week’s question and giveaway: What book/story that you were forced to study in high school – did you REALLY enjoy? Why? How and why did it rock your world?

Everyone who gets in on this conversation with a comment goes into the draw to win ONE of the following prizes:
1. A copy of “Pacific Tsunami Galu Afi” By moi.
2. A luscious Frangipani coconut oil body indulgence set. (body oil, lotion, soap- all handmade from all organic Samoa ingredients.) Made by me, Ohmigosh can i get anymore clever
3. A beautiful gift from the legendary design store Plantation House. A handblocked elei travel purse like the one below.

Leave a comment and be in to enjoy some great Samoan gifts.Winners announced on the 31st of August and given their choice of gift!

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17 comments

  1. Do I have to choose just one? *SUPER GEEK ALERT, SUPER GEEK ALERT*. I LOVED- "The Gift of the Magi"- a Christmas story where a young couple with no money, each sell their most valued possesion to buy a gift for the other. And both by gifts which would have complemented that which they had already sold. It captures true love- sacrificing the best that you have, for the person you love. It made me think of my dad, who would always push away whatever 'special' food there was and claim he didn't want any just so each of the people he loved, us kid, could have bigger pieces. I gave this story to the love of my life for our first Christmas together, when we too were flat broke. Katherine Mansfield's 'Miss Brill' made me cry and realise how wonderful it was to live in Samoa where old people are treasured rather than abandoned to a cold lonely flat. And Shakespeare's Macbeth. Yes really. I thought 'A Midsummer's Nights Dream' ridiculousness was only exceeded by the foolisness of 'Romeo and Juliet', Romeo had been in love with Rosamund 2 seconds before, had he but waited another 2 seconds… Then in 5th form we did Macbeth and I fell in love with Shakespeare. Lady Macbeth was so ambitious, so evil and so clever- what a role model! "Look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent beneath it" I have in no way taken this advice!!! 🙂 Teine Samoa

  2. A – another novel comment post writer just like me! Gift of the Magi – I only read it when i had to teach it to 5th formers at SamCo and so by then I was a little bit too cynical to appreciate it. Im in awe that you loved Katherine Mansfield story. I never understood them and still dont. (shh dont tell any of my ex-students that). Macbeth is my ALL TIME FAVORITE play in the universe. All the universes in all the alternate realities. My favorite teaching experience was doing a production of Macbeth with my fourth formers at RLS. We set Macbeth in olden day Samoa and I loved every minute of seeing that drama come alive in a very Samoan way. Thank you to all the students who made that dream come true for me! I didnt like Romeo and Juliet much either…until i watched the Leonardo diCaprio movie and fell in love with the whole modern adaptation of it. The music, the set, the costumes. Big Sigh. My dream dream job? To be a producer/director of Shakespearean dramas set in Samoa. (more big sighs…)Oh and the short story that shook me up bigtime when i was a kid – Examination Day. Kids that get killed because theyre too smart? Really disturbed me. Never forgot that one.See I told you I am a novel comment writer…i need to stop now.

  3. Ok I can admit to slightly loving that Dicaprio version too- but I put that down to stunning cinematography. Oh and you are so making me wish I was in your class. I would have LOVED to do a Samoanized version of Macbeth. *Bg Sigh* Perhaps it's not too late! Hmmmm…. I also loved Mansfield's "The Doll House"- her writing is so incredibly sensitive and sad. I don't know why that struck such a cord since I was a pretty happy (and insensitive) kid. Oh and I still want a Doll House with a lamp that lights. That's why I must have a daughter- so I can 'give' her that (and then play with it myself) like the good mother I am. I also liked Examination Day though it didn't immediately come to mind. OMG this is again way too novel-like. I promise to restrain myself in future comments (oh and just before I do, I was going to comment on your other blog, that your very beautiful sister in the Cook Islands was also behind my last waxing experience and that hurt so much it was over a year ago!!!) TS

  4. Here's my high school short stories one-up/one-down:Down – I can't even remember the name of the short story, but it's about an old lady who is alone, she goes to visit her husband's grave once a year, and she's coming to the point where she won't be able to live alone anymore. It still makes me so sad to think about it. Then I go super psycho sad and think, I hope my daughter won't let me be so lonely when I'm a rickety old lady, I hope the hubby dies before coz I can't STAND the thought of him being alone and helpless like this old lady, etc :(Up – Lamb to the Slaughter. What a man deserves to get when he treats his wife no good…a smack in the chops (please laugh).(By the way, Examination Day really freaked me out too *shiver*)

  5. The first book that I ever read for school and loved was Cue For Treason by Geoffrey Trease in grade five. At the end of the year, my teacher presented me with my very own copy and it still sits on my shelf at home. A few years later, I had to read The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton – a book that left me with a lot to think about as I was growing up. At twelve years old, the cute guy movie wasn't bad either!

  6. Bina – that story about the old lady was called The Bath and it has got to be the single most depressing story i have ever read. They had it at RLSS. I read it with Faikakala's english class when i was teaching them. I remember givnig them an assignment to go interview one their grandparents etc and she didnt do it! (see Faikakala, english teachers have really loooooooong memories)I was very hurt, so there.Lamb to the Slaughter is classic revenge, awesome stuff.One year we turned it into a murder mystery game.Teinekanata, hearing that you still have the book yr teacher gave you touches the hearts of teachers everywhere. (we like hearing that students didnt just chuck our books and our lessons into the rubbish) I forgot about The Outsiders – i loved that one. It amazes me even more that the author was a teenag girl when she wrote it. And yes, the cute guy movie? A DEFINITE plus for upping the enjoyment factor. I got the book for my kids to read last year and they love it. Sign of great book – your parents,kids and then one day yr grandkids still think its cool.

  7. Omg @ Lamb to the Slaughter. Bina I remember that. I hated it…didn't understand it at all…just goes to show what a F.O.B I was lol. One story I can recall – "The Necklace" by Guy de Maupassant – about the lady who borrowed a jewel necklace from someone to wear at a party, loses it and is forced to loan the money to buy a new necklace (and takes her and her husband 10 years to earn the money to pay back the loan)…only to discover that the original necklace borrowed was not made of real jewels and not worth even a quarter of the price they paid for the new one. That sucks. What struck me is that misfortune can happen to anyone…and in my young life where misfortune struck me on a daily basis, I could totally relate. As for books, I enjoyed the books we read in primary more than secondary. Plays? I choose Midsummer Nights Dream…we read through this over and over, reenacted the play a gazillion times, knew every soliliquoy (sp?) off by heart to the point where I was determined to name my first born Lysander. Or Puck 🙂

  8. How nice to read about the inspiration behind your writing. I love knowing the history/origin of all stories.As for your SamCo list of books, I also got the same. I can;t remember which year we studied 'To Kill a Mockingbird' by Harper Lee… that was good. I think 'Romeo and Juliet' was in Yr 9 (btw I love the modern movie too… and I've watched the part where Des'ree sings, about a million times), and 'MacBeth' came in at a later stage. I can't remember the others now. I also studied 'Jane Eyre' but can't recall if that was SamCo or in Oz.

  9. CocoGirl i nver read Midsummer Nites Dream – were Lysander and Puck hot and handsome characters? Elizabeth – I agree 'To Kill a Mockingbird' is pure gold when it comes to reading material. Atticus was just the coolest, wisest fictional man ever. I think i wanted to marry him when i was at school. (after Harrison Ford in Star Wars) I will betray my Eng Lit ignorance and say that I never read Jane Eyre. Or Wuthering HEights. Yes, very slack i know!

  10. Can really only remember Across the Barricades… Probably because it's a love story and I'm just a soppy type of person… And I probably view the Irish in a way too romantic light… And seeing the film Once probably didn't help that…Fingers crossed for the giveaway! 😉 xo

  11. AHA! i had completely forgotten about that book – thanks lilidonna. Across the Barricades was very gripping stuff. Kevin and Sadie's love story was great reading. Once the Irish rugby team came to play in Samoa and i met some of the team at a nightclub and I was so DUH that i was trying to talk to them about Across the Barricades…because of course i figured EVERY Irish person had read it and was as enamoured of it as i was.

  12. LOL at your Irish rugby boy story!!! Ih and I realise I have already commented too much on this post but I couldn't resist saying that I randomly googled myself a couple of years back (as one does) and was slightly bemused to find a model analysis of a story I wrote whe I was about 14. Now kids are being forced to read my story in school! TS http://englishonline.tki.org.nz/English-Online/Teacher-needs/Teaching+%26+Learning+sequences/Archived-English-Online-units/English-Units-NCEA-Level-2/Le-Tusitala-The-Storyteller/Learning-task-2-Exploring-language-techniques

  13. Just enjoying the snow outside my window down in Wellington… Back to my comment – many moons ago in Samoa, we studied a lot of Witi Ihimaera's stories e.g Kingfisher come home, The beginning of the tournament, A game of cards etc.. I really enjoyed those plus 'Examination Day' and 'The Lottery' those twist in the tale stories never failed to horrify me back in the day. Thinking back to those days, we never had much Pasifika material available to us so I am very grateful to you and other Pasifika writers who have produced material which our young ones can relate to.

  14. We had to read and act out the play, "My Fair Lady". Without even reading a sentence of the script/story, I judged it as LAME! Then our English teacher brought the movie to class. We were all hooked after that. The story was witty and we could relate… especially when Eliza Doolittle had to recite proper English. Our English teacher brought a new prospective to us!

  15. Awesome post!!IN high school I lo-oved The Time Machine by Wells, Emma by Austen, The Great Gatsby, Dickens, Twain, Catcher In The Rye. I hated Moby Dick, Grapes of Wrath, & anything by James Fenimore Cooper.Ellie

  16. Nice to hear from you ReaderWriter – Im so envious that Wellington got real snow and we didnt up here in Auckland. My little ones kept asking me, wheres our snow mum?! The Lottery was a terrifying story, *shudder*. Carey Ann – I never read the play but I adored the movie. Me and my siblings watched it a million times over when we were little and Im pretty sure i still know most of the words.School of T – I 100% agree with you. Moby Dick was awful. Horrible. Ugh.

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