Return to Paradise: The Dread

There’s a massive shipping container parked outside my house. We’re packing. It’s really happening…we’re moving back to Samoa. And as I shift through piles of junk, sorting the useful from the useless, the reality of what we’re doing is slowly starting to sink in. Along with a bit of apprehension. Because even though moving home was my idea (but cleverly dressed up and presented to the family so they would THINK it was their idea…), Samoa aint perfect. Because nowhere is. And there’s some things I’m not looking forward to. Like –

1. Going to the bathroom in the middle of the night and having to tiptoe with wary apprehension as your eyes search everywhere for a cockroach that might run up your leg. Or a foot long centipede that might bite you. Or a big fat lizard that might drop off the ceiling onto your head and get tangled in your hair. Laughing. Samoa’s home, but I will miss being able to walk around my house at night without my bug and pestilence radar on.

2. Having to actually leave the house to buy groceries. I discovered online food shopping here a while back and it changed my life. Are you a hermit who hates putting on real clothes and going OUTSIDE your cave (the light…nooo its too bright!) , hates the time and energy involved in going to the store? When you could be sitting at your desk writing or eating? Or online chatting to your writer besties halfway round the world? If that’s you then you need online grocery shopping. I love buying everything from the safety of my office and then having it delivered to my very front door. I dread having to actually go to the store in Samoa, navigating dusty potholes, real live people, and did I mention there’s real live people out there?

3. Soul sucking, life suffocating HEAT. Samoa is hot. Drenched in humidity. Hot so that you step out of a cold shower and you’re sweating even before you finish putting clean clothes on. Hot so that you wither even in the shade. Hot so that you want to climb inside the freezer and live there.

4. Going for a walk or a run and having to watch out for barking, biting dogs that want to rip your leg open. Carrying a few stones in your pocket. Or wielding a stick. For those…#JustInCaseOfDog moments.

5. Leaving my Big Son behind. He will go with us for a few weeks to Samoa but then he starts university in Auckland at the end of February. This child has been my constant companion for eighteen years. I’ve only ever been apart from him for a few weeks at a time when I went overseas to have a new baby. Apart from the worrying about him as he navigates his first year away from home – I will miss him dreadfully as my friend. In the last year, our relationship has become less #MotherAndSon and more of #FriendsAndEquals. He’s funny. Insightful. And we can talk for hours about everything random under the sun. Its an oh-so inevitable thing because its time for me to let him go, but yes, the hardest thing about moving to Samoa, will be missing my firstborn child.

Aaargh, and now I’m getting super sad and this was supposed to be a lighthearted whine and whinge about going to Samoa! Back on track here, my question for you readers who have been to Samoa: I know you love the motherland, but what do YOU dread about going back? What gets on your nerves? Come on now…be honest!


Righteous Rape

The Samoa Observer interviewed the Chairman of the National Council of Churches and asked for his thoughts on the ‘epidemic of rape and sexual abuse’ in Samoa. His response was printed in the Sunday newspaper and can be read here:

While I think there was truth and helpful insight in some of his remarks, any ‘good’ to be found was overwhelmingly ruined by his counsel for women in abusive situations. I am appalled and saddened that a leader in a position of great influence has chosen to express views which are at best, ignorant and derogatory, and at worst – dangerous for women and children in our country.

An Open Letter to the Chairman of the National Council of Churches.

Dear Chairman,

You are absolutely right. As a Samoan woman – a daughter, a mother, and a teacher – I want to thank you for your wise reflections on the epidemic of rape and sexual abuse crimes in our country. It is inspired leadership like yours which stands as a beacon of light for the men (and women) of your nationwide flock. We must all give thanks, for it is counsel like yours, which guides us in our decision-making when it comes to raping and sexual abusing others. I certainly hope the journalist who interviewed you, did not misquote you, because there’s so many treasured nuggets of wisdom in your interview, things  which I only wish I’d known at various key moments in my life.

Like this one! “The reason why the law is broken so often in Samoa, is because for some, enjoyment was found and the girls have consented for this to happen, then they go and say they were raped.” Oh so true. When I was a high school English teacher, and a fourteen year old student came to me crying because her brother-in-law had raped her, again. And she had told her mother and her mother had slapped her face and told her off for wanting it and causing trouble for her older sister’s marriage.  And this student begged me not to tell anyone, or report it to the police or discuss it with her parents because “my family will beat me and I will have nowhere to go.” At the time, I was sad for her and didn’t know what to say or do to help this young girl. How misguided I was. She was obviously trying to destroy her family. I too, should have slapped her face for wanting to be raped. And perhaps suggested to her parents that they needed to have more family prayers. “Instead of family prayers, the young are out attending basketball and soccer games. This is why such crimes are increasing because parents are not taking the time to nurture their children well.”  Or told her family they needed to focus less on “education, sports and human rights…” because those things were leading them away from the light. Oh, and mobile phones and internet access were also playing a part – encouraging this girl to want sex with her brother-in-law. I’m glad you have identified the cause of the sexual abuse epidemic because you’re so right – if more women were just honest about how much they enjoyed sex with their fathers/brothers/uncles/cousins/abusive-partners and how much they LOVED being forced to have it – then the horrifying rape statistics would virtually, magically disappear.

Or this gem from you is a personal favorite of mine! Women need to fight back …bite them hard; leave a mark…failure to do so could be interpreted as the girl not really resisting and agreeing to sex.” .”  How I wish I’d had enlightened counsel like yours when I was a child. I was seven years old when I was sexually violated by a man much older and much bigger than me. I didn’t fight. Bite. Or scratch. Scream. Or leave any marks. No, I was just frozen. Silly little me! I was foolish enough to believe him when he said that he would kill me if I struggled. Or if I ever told anyone.  I did as I was told and so of course, I misled that man into thinking I was in delightful agreement with his wishes. Don’t worry, I’ve learned an important lesson
from that experience. I have three daughters and when they were only two years old, I made sure they were each trained by ninja assassins so they had black belts in karate and then also carried a ten inch blade and a machine gun at all times. At home, to preschool and to church. You know, so they could fight back and leave a mark in case they were ever attacked. So there would never be any
doubt that their little two year old selves WEREN’T really resisting.

There’s so much informed insight contained in your message, that I encourage everyone, everywhere to read it. Several times over. Read it to your sons so they will have a litany of reasons why it’s okay to rape women. Read it to your daughters so they will understand all the reasons why they will probably be raped one day – and if so, why it will be  their fault.

In conclusion, thank you Chairman for telling us that “I’m not making excuses for men – no man has the right to touch a woman physically, no matter what his reasons are.”

(Even if that reason has been sanctified and justified by the Chairman of the National Council of Churches.)

Sincerely and bitingly yours,

Lani Wendt Young

The Samoan Language: Why do Beauty Queens and Brisbane Mormons Need it?

This week’s column – I  take on the recent raging ruckus about the use of Samoan language in the Miss Samoa pageant AND that pesky Mormon church “banning” the use of Samoan in Brisbane.  And you have two options:

1. If you don’t feel like reading, you can WATCH/LISTEN to me tell you all about this column on YouTube. Click here:

2. You can read it on the Samoa Observer website. (see link below)

The Samoan language has been the hot topic lately – our right to speak it in Australian churches and local beauty pageants, whether or not it’s an “essential part of our identity, a gift from God”, or guaranteed to make it tough to get a job overseas, to only earn us “duck eggs”.

Sadly, I’ve never been a beauty pageant contestant (and my duck-egg silhouette ensures I probably never will) so I can’t comment on whether my verbal wizardry would have helped me win a shell crown.

I can say, that a Miss Samoa who can’t speak fluent English would be pretty useless because it doesn’t matter how we try to dress it up in tapa-cloth trappings, the role of our beauty queen is primarily Ambassadorial.

Sure, we like the illusion that she’s a demure, noble tamaita’i Samoa who spends her day making flower leis while reciting her family gafa, conversing knowledgeably on all
things cultural with matai barefoot in a fale somewhere, reading Bible stories to ragged village children (in Samoan of course) and always radiating purity. (And never sexuality.)

In that fantasy, yes, the Samoan language is essential…

Read the rest at the Samoa Observer Website: click here ––why-do-beauty-queens-and-brisbane-mormons-need-it

Adventures of a Watergirl

I went to Samoa in the weekend to support the Hot Man in his first ever Half-Ironman – as his watergirl. I got there late Friday night and couldn’t sleep because I was so nervous about his event. Major freaking out as I ruminated over the 101 things that could possibly go wrong as my forty-three year old husband attempted to swim 2km (in an open harbour where Jaw’s second cousin likes to hang out), bike 90km up curving mountainous pot-holed roads with no sidewalks or markings, and then run 21km through the center of Apia township in the blistering 30+ degree heat. The swim was particularly terrifying because he only just started swimming 5 months ago – I mean, the man would swim one lap and stop to puke because he felt so sick doing it…how in heck was he going to swim for an hour without dying? More importantly (because as usual, everything is about ME),  how was I going to stand it watching him swim for an hour as I imagined all the mutant colossal squid creatures that were waiting to devour him?

So yeah, by the time we loaded the car with all his gear at 4.30am, I was an emotional wreck because I’d already envisioned him: drowning, getting eaten by sharks, crashing his bike in a gully, getting hit by a nutso Samoan bus, collapsing in a heat stroked puddle, dying by brain aneurysm or heart attack. And yet I was supposed to be the motivating, positive supporter… Ha.

It’s exhausting being a watergirl. Emotionally AND physically. Especially if you’re coming from the depths of NZ winter and get the (dumb) idea to use your waiting watergirling time to get lots of sun so “I can be nice and tanned!” The Hot Man took five hours and fifty-one minutes to do the course. In that time I prayed…cheered…muttered curse words under my breath when I had to run from one end of town to the other with ice because the roads were blocked off…chatted with nice volunteers and spectators…AND made every effort to stand in the blazing sun the entire time. (I may also have gone to McDonalds for breakfast but that’s because an athlete has nothing nice to eat at their house and I needed sustenance that wasn’t a protein shake, energy bar or electrolyte gel…yuck, yuck, yuck.)  Which meant that by the time the Hot Man crossed the finish line brandishing the Samoan flag because he was the very first Samoan to finish – I was sunburnt – AND dizzy, dehydrated, vaguely delirious and wanted to vomit.

In other words, I wasn’t a very good watergirl.

That afternoon, the Hot Man was cruising on an endorphin high – while I was hallucinating, standing in a cold shower and drinking heaps of water. I didn’t even go with him to the prizegiving because I was lying down in front of the fan. It took me 24 hrs to recover and by then it was time for me to get on a plane and fly back to Auckland winter.

But, heat exhaustion aside, I’m very grateful I got to be there when the Hot Man unleashed his ‘inner Ironman warrior.’ I’m in awe of his sheer will, endurance and fortitude. (And his man-warriorness in that triathlete skin suit aint half bad either…)



When Your Husband Runs Away From You


I used to say that the only way I could ever get a holiday from my Demented Domestic Goddess duties – was to get pregnant. Because then I would have to go live in New Zealand for a few months before and after the baby busted out because I have a small problem with sustaining an alien lifeform (I nearly die every time.) A rather extreme way to get a little ‘me-time’…

Now, the Hot Man is our resident ‘Demented Domestic God’ for a few months and he’s decided to cross a few things off his bucket list while he’s at it: a triathlon and a Half-Ironman.  So in between laundry and dishes and making sure everyone brushes their teeth – he also bikes, runs and swims a lot. It makes him very tired. And a little grouchy too because he has to reach a certain weight so he can’t eat what he wants to.

He’s been doing a fabulous job with the Domestic Duties though, making it possible for me to write lots. ( And eat lots…) Until he tells me that he has to go to Samoa to run in a half-marathon and get some training done in the humidity there. He’s going away for ten days, he says. So I can acclimatize, he says. It’s essential preparation for the Half-Ironman in August, he says.

Okaaaay, I say.  So he makes his flight bookings. Excitedly.

Then he tells me, when he comes BACK from his half-marathon, he has to go BACK to Samoa nine days after that so he can do a triathlon there. And be there for another ten days. So I can acclimatize, he says. I can’t do the Half-Ironman later in the year if I don’t do this triathlon first, he says. You know the roads there are very different from here in NZ, I’m taking my racing bike so I can get used to the terrain there, he says. We don’t want me to have any accidents in the Half-Ironman, he says.

No we don’t want that, I say.

So he makes his flight bookings. Gleefully.

I watch him pack all his gear. The bike, the protein powder, the carbo bars, the energy gels, the shoes. He’s excited and I’m excited for him. For the most part. It would help if he didn’t look so damn happy about the thought of escaping from us and the laundry and the dishes and the making of school lunches…

I wish I’d won the lottery  so I could afford to go with him. (Actually purchasing a lottery ticket would probably have been helpful with that.) I wish we didn’t have five children who needed looking after so I could go with him. I could drive alongside him while he runs on the road, blasting encouraging music, throwing water at him – all while I eat panipopo from Siaosi’s shop. While he’s recovering from his event, I could be meeting up with my girlfriends, Kristin and Kathy  for sundaes and gossip at McDonalds. ( okay, so we’re too old to be ‘girlfriends’ but you get the idea…) What a shaaamahzingly awesome trip it would have been. If I had gone.

But I didn’t.

Because I’m not the one who’s an athlete. Because I’m at home with the five children I gave birth to just so I could go on ‘holiday’ each time. And get a break from the rest of the children.

I’m such an idiot –  what I should have done  – is take up running. And run AWAY instead.


So You Want to Publish a Book?

An exciting part of this writing journey that I particularly treasure – is the opportunity it gives me to connect with lots of different Pacific writers and poets from all over the place. This blog post is for YOU, the writer and poet who has dallied with the thought of seeing your work in print and in digital format but have dismissed it as too fanciful and too expensive. If you dont have a writing dream then carry on about your business, this blogpost is not for you. (Its a really looooong blogpost too, so if youre going to read it, make yourself some popcorn first.)

Many Pacific writers/poets have asked me about publishing their work online. This is my attempt to answer some of their questions and encourage all those with a writing dream – to have the courage to take that leap of faith and do what is necessary to put their voices out there. I am passionate about seeing more of our Pacific stories taken to a global audience and believe that digital publishing is an exciting avenue to make it happen – it’s the fastest, cheapest and simplest way to get our stories to the world. Self-publishing makes it possible for the artist to be in control of every step of the creative process – from packaging, pricing, distributing, marketing to promoting their book. It makes it possible for the artist to be in control of the financial returns of that book. I do not see it as a replacement for traditional publishing – but rather, as another option – particularly for those of us writing for a “niche market”. More than 30 lit agents and publishers rejected TELESA. ( And yes, I’m well aware that there are those who would argue TELESA is crap and deserved to be rejected, LOL.) One year later and TELESA has sold thousands of copies worldwide – initially to its FIRST target audience of Samoan/Pasifika youth – and then to a much wider multi-ethnic demographic. Love it or hate it, the TELESA publishing story demonstrates what most of us already suspected, there is a hunger for stories from the Pacific. Contemporary, ‘fanciful, fun’ stories written by us, about us and for us. It’s a hunger fuelled by our Pacific people worldwide but it’s also a hunger in Western readers who are intrigued by the richness of our unique cultures and mythology. Albert Wendt has said, “We need to write, paint, sculpt, weave, dance, sing, and think ourselves into existence. For too long other people have done it for us – and they’ve usually stereotyped us, or created versions of us that embody their own hang-ups and beliefs and prejudices about us. So we have to write our own stories.” 
A powerful truth, but I would also suggest – it’s not enough just to write our own stories, we must also take ownership of HOW those stories are shared and taken to the world, how they are packaged, produced and distributed. And yes, we must take ownership of the MONEY that our stories can generate. ( Yes, yes, I know that for many artists the “M” word is a very dirty word..kinda like poop. But let’s be honest here. if you can’t make money from your art, then you’re going to have to go work at a ‘real job’ to survive which means you wont have as much time in your life to create art…I dont know about you, but I would rather do what I love for 40 hours a week and get paid for it.)

  If you’re a Pacific writer with a dream to see your work in print – then maybe, self-publishing online is the answer you’re looking for.

If you have a novel or a bunch of short stories or a lovely array of poetry that you would like to publish yourself then here’s what I suggest (from my battle scarred experience.)

1. Have your manuscript edited by a professional editor. Somebody with a few clues about novels/poetry/short fiction. The longer the manuscript, the more essential an edit job is. Yes it will cost you money. But if you skip this part, you run the risk of your manuscript being total crap. Look around your networks first before you rush out to hire a scary editor stranger. Maybe there is an English teacher…or journalist type friend in your networks. If your collection is “just a little one” then at least make sure you have some awesome reader friends proof it for you. A fresh set of eyes will find lots of things you missed.

2. Get a cover design done. Yes you can pay hundreds and thousands for a stunning graphics artist designer company to make you a cover. OR you could again draw on your networks and collaborate on a cover with a lovely photographer friend…or a very clever computer wizz friend. Whatever you do, dont take a photo of your cat and make your own cover. Unless your book is only for your dear mum who is supposed to love everything you write. Even if it has a lame cover with your silly cat on it.

3. Print Copies: I get them done two ways.

– For the NZ, Samoa, American Samoa and Fiji audience, we have bulk print copies done with a NZ printing company. I convert my own Word document into a print template, send it to the printer in Tauranga via email and they send me the books when they’re done.

Please note, the process of putting your Word file into a print template took me a long time (and lots of curse words) to learn. But its not impossible to master. Dont ask me to show you because I might curse at you. I’m VERY stupid when it comes to technology so figuring out how to do this step will probably take a normal person like you, half an hour tops. Basically, you choose the template you want from Amazon createspace, download it, insert your Word document and then go thru and clean up all the messy bits. Then you save it as a PDF file and voila! Ready for the printer. Sounds easy, doesnt it? Well it wasn’t easy for me. There are formatter people you can pay to prep your file for you. A typical charge for this service is $90USD. I didnt know about formatter people when I first started but it wouldnt have mattered because I didnt have $90 USD anyway. If you’re techno stupid like me and you DO have some money, then I recommend you hire a formatter and save yourself the time. And cut down on the curse words in your life.

The more books we order, the cheaper the print cost. We get 2000 copies printed at a time for the Telesa books. Its expensive and I dont recommend this option unless you already have an order for 2000 copies of your new book. Otherwise you will be stuck with boxes of books getting moldy in your garage. You can get printing done quite cheaply at various printing companies throughout Asia, (China comes to mind here) but I havent tried it yet. (Its on my List of Things to Do.) We now have a distributor for the print books here in NZ and at home in Samoa which means we only have to supply to them and they take care of orders for bookshops etc. Im very grateful for the companies and online school/library suppliers that stock my print books. I love Auckland Libraries because they are fabulous supporters of the Telesa Series, (and because I spend way too much time there reading books when I should be writing.)It is almost impossible to get a self-published book into a chain bookstore. This is where I tell you how much I hate Whitcoulls NZ and you listen with a very polite face but inside you are secretly rolling your eyes, sick to bits of hearing me bash on stupid mega bookstores that won’t take a chance on a book that has sold more copies than many of the gleaming “artsy” books by other NZ authors – just because it doesnt have the magic stamp of a traditional publisher’s approvalAnd if I’m really in a wild mood, I then tell you that according to the Booksellers NZ professionals, “good sales of a fiction title would be around 3,000 copies” and I stamp my foot and yell at the Whitcoulls NZ management, MY BOOK HAS SOLD WAY MORE THAN THAT, SO THERE! And you try not to show me how much you wish you could run away and not have to listen to my ranting.  But indie bookshops are great. And Paper Plus NZ is WONDERFUL and I encourage you all to shop there. All the time. Because unlike stupid Whitcoulls  they do stock my books.  So please go into a Paper Plus today and hug somebody. Bake them cookies, tell them how fabulous they are for supporting Pacific literature, even when its self-published (and has words like ‘dalashious’ and ‘aikae’ in it. And too many descriptions of glistening, rippling brown boy muscles.)

When trying to decide on doing print books, consider your target audience. The initial audience for Telesa is of course, Samoans and then all brown/Pacific people in general and then fabulous white/multi-hued people who enjoy a paranormal romance that doesnt have vampires in it. This meant we needed print books for Samoa because most readers there are not getting e-books. The two Samoa’s have been shamahzing when it comes to my books, so supportive and encouraging. In (the small town) of Apia alone, there are ten different stores which stock my books and the last time I did a book signing there, hundreds of people waited in line to shove past me and meet Ezra Taylor to get their book.

– To make your book available in print worldwide, you publish it through Creatspace Amazon. This is a print on demand company. You sign up for free. You upload your book and the cover, also for free. You click publish. (For free.) It then shows up on the Amazon sites for the USA, the UK etc. When a customer buys a print copy, Createspace prints ONE and posts it to them. You get a royalty cut. Did I mention all that was free for you the author? This means you dont have to invest money into printing lots of books (that will sit in your garage and get moldy.) Also, it means an author like me can write on a rock/in a coconut tree/lying on a beach/floating by a waterfall (and all the other silly places that silly people who believe in stereotypes assume that I write from) and still have her book available to the world and I dont have to pay crazy amounts to post it to people. All those people in Alaska/California/Utah etc that have print copies of my books, got them through Createspace. Lots of people in Australia got them there too. Which is why I cant sign them for you, no matter how nicely you ask me to.

The cool thing about Createspace is that you can purchase your own print books at the bare bones production cost, no matter how few you buy – and have them shipped wherever you want. If you only want to publish your book so you can get a few copies for your family or friends, this is a great way to do it. English teachers – its also a cool way to publish a collection of your student’s creative writing and have each student put in five dollars to get their very own hard copy of their very own words in print. Big Daughter writes poetry and I’m going to help her get her collection up onto Createspace so we can get her words “in print”. (Christmas present alert for all my family members…LOL)

4. E-books. I publish the Telesa Series digitally on Amazon but there are other places you can do it. Its a simple process. You convert your Word document to e-book format, upload it, upload your cover and then hit the publish button. Amazon pays you a 70% royalty for books that are priced over $2.99, so for every e-copy sold of Telesa, I get about $2.09. In my wild dreams, I sell hundreds…thousands of e-copies every week and dine on steak&lobster every other night with three different desserts to follow. (I also look like Naomi Campbell in my dreams and Thor is whisking me away to holiday in Asgard. Go figure.) But the reality is much different….*sigh*
E-books are wonderful though. And they are most definitely the fastest, cheapest and easiest way to take our Pacific stories to a global audience. You can pay a formatter to prep your manuscript. The most recent quote I got for this service was $15 USD. I learned how to do it all myself by studying this book:
     Self-Printed, The Sane Person’s Guide to Self Publishing by Catherine Ryan Howard.
Its only $4.99 for the ebook on Amazon and I recommend you get it if you want to get your writing published.

There ya have it! That’s my wannabe-helpful list for those of you with a publishing dream. What else would you like to know? Ask me in the comments section and I will try to answer or at least direct you to where I think you can find out.

I am Enough.

I blinked and 2012 streaked naked through my life, my messy house. And then it was gone. Just like that. Hello 2013!

Right, so I’m going to do something revolutionary (for me) this year.  I am not going to start the new year making a list of all the things I hate about myself and how to fix them. Lists for how to be prettier, nicer, smarter, skinnier, friendlier, wiser, neater and all the other kinds of stupid’er things I’m supposed to be in fantasy land. Ha. I am NOT even going to make any fitness and weight loss goals. I am not going to commit to running in any 102km relays. I am NOT going to visualize how happy I will be when I lose twenty pounds. Or get boob implants. Liposuction. A nip. Tuck. Botox. I’m not even going to waste a single minute cursing the science research/medical industry that wont invest money and effort into devising a pill that gives you instant boob implants, liposuction, plastic surgery and botox. A painless, simple, cheap pill. I’m not going to knock down Jenny Craig’s door the minute they open after the New Year holiday for cardboard food I will hate eating. Or buy an insanely overpriced gym membership to a gym I will hate going to.

No. Not wasting a breath on any of that crap this year.

Because this is the year that I turn forty thirty-six. I am not a simpering, eyelash-batting, breathy-voiced teenager freaking out over acne and wondering whether some cute boy likes me. And I am not a self-obsessed, self-possessed, party-going, table-dancing, skank mini-skirt wearing twenty-something year old either. Or a people-pleasing yes-kid starving for affirmation.

 I am a WOMAN, dammit. A 5″10, CENSORED pound woman who’s given birth to four children and tried to stay sane while raising five. A big, brown Polynesian woman with big hips, bold thighs, and lush curves in unwanted unexpected places. I’ve got centipede pattern stitch scars across my non-existent ab’s from triple c-sections. And whispered tiger stripe stretch marks everywhere else that tell their story of baby growing. Breasts that have nourished life – and bled for it. Arms that have rocked a crying child a thousand times, a thousand nights. Hands that have labored over chocolate cakes, kids homework from hell, hair braiding, kids’ eczema, cleaned up puke, poop, paint and parties, given hugs (and yeah, maybe these hands have pinched naughty kids a few times too…wielded a salu…possibly)

 I am a mother with a loud voice who can laugh with her children, cry with them and fight for them.  I am a wife with a patient heart who knows how to love through the good, the bad and the ugly times. I am a daughter who knows that the best way to love her parents – is from a distance – with carefully constructed fences of self-built self-worth. I am a sister who’s made mistakes – and is learning from them. I am a teacher who knows how to make learning a journey of discovery with her students. I am an author who writes Pasifika love stories – and loves it.  I am blessed. I am grateful.

I am all these things and more. I am me and I am not going to waste time on trying to be anything different. This quote from a very wise woman, Marjorie Hinckley is perfect, “We women have a lot to learn about simplifying our lives. We have to decide what is important and then move along at a pace that is comfortable for us. We have to develop the maturity to stop trying to prove something. We have to learn to be content with what we are.” I think I am finally ready to stop trying to prove myself.

This year, I will not be driven by self-loathing. This year I will endeavour to incorporate into my life – more of those elements that uplift, energize and inspire me. For example, I hate running (and dieting). With a passion. But I love love love dancing. (and eating.) With a passion. This year I’m going to sign up for fun stuff like Hot Hula and also finally learn how to tango. (hopefully the Hot Man will agree to sign up to be my Antonio-Banderas-dance partner!) I’m going to make the time to prepare the foods that I love and take a cooking class so I can stop eating cans of tuna for dinner followed by three different kinds of cake (since thats all I know how to make with any kind of skill…) Bring on the seafood extravaganza menu!

I want to (finally) learn to swim. Go to a Coldplay concert. Meet up with fabulous author friends at the RT Convention in the US. Write more books about lots of luscious, bold Pasifika women (and beautiful hot guys…of course) Take the Fab5 to Disneyland. Get my NZ driver’s license so I can actually drive OUTSIDE West Auckland, see more of New Zealand with my family.  Get out of my hermit cave more. I will try new things and search for new experiences that will bring joy to my life and the lives of those I love.

My resolutions for 2013? To be fierce, fiery and bold – in person and not just on paper. To love better, dance and laugh more. To be content with me.

To say, ‘I am enough.’ And mean it.

What do you hope for from YOUR 2013?

A Week in Samoa

I’m in Samoa – staying with my parents but otherwise completely alone. No Hot Man. No Fabulous Five. I was invited to attend the 2012 SPACLAL Pacific Literature Conference held at the National University of Samoa and I had to give a presentation thingamajig about electronic books and self-publishing and social media etc. It was a great opportunity to meet some amazing Pacific writers…like the Tongan poet Konai Helu Thaman, Samoan poet Rev. Ruperake Petaia, Cook Island poet Audrey Brown Pereira, Fijian poet Darren Kamali and his partner in life and poetry – Grace Taylor. And to re-connect with others who have mentored and inspired me…poet and academic Selina Tusitala Marsh and writer Emma Kruse-Vaai. I just wanted to absorb their creative wonderfulness by being in the same Samoan fale/house with them…but I even got to chat with them…have dinner with them…talk writing with them…fan the same flies away from our lunch…

This was my second SPACLAL conference. Dr Sina Vaai invited me to be on a Writer’s Panel at the SPACLAL conference in 2004. I was terrified because I hadnt written any books then and the short stories I HAD written – I was submitting to journals everywhere using different made-up names so nobody would know I’d written such rubbbish. In 2004, I felt like a big fat liar sitting next to REAL writers who were brave enough to write their REAL names on their writing. Fast forward to now. I didnt feel like such a big fat liar. And I even had some books with my REAL name on them. But – it didnt really help. Because I was still terrified. And freaked out about presenting. It didnt help that I wore a stunning puletasi which was so stunning it was a heat trap. And I was sweating in a puddle of humidity. And when I stood up to present, I was soooooo hot that my glasses fogged up. And I couldnt see anybody. And so I had to take them off. And then I REALLY couldnt see anybody. (which was maybe a good thing.) But talking about electronic books and self-publishing was kinda like setting off a bomb in that gathering because lots of the writers present hadnt heard of such stuff and had never considered there might be another way to get their stories out to the world. I left the conference with lots of requests from people wanting to  learn more about this publishing avenue.

Some of the highlights of the week for me?

*Meeting Konai Helu Thaman who knocked down many walls for Pacific women writers. Listening to  her explain the background inspiration for her poem, ‘You the Choice of my Parents’ – which tore at my 14yr old heart and fervent imagination when we studied it in English class.

*Hanging out with Selina Tusitala Marsh, the rockstar NZ/Samoan poet who is the coolest, funnest woman in literature. EVER. ( I mean, heck, the woman does kickboxing. And runs half-marathons. And can apppreciate fun, fantasy ‘trash’ fiction. Can’t get much cooler than that!) We bonded over Nalini Singh novels at the last Writers Festival we went to and I had to laugh at her presentation on ‘Afakasi Women in Pacific Lit’…because while she included an analysis of my TELESA book, she also livened up everyone’s day with lots of cover-pics from Singh’s romance/erotica books. Woohoo! (and you thought my book had a hot cover.)

*Listening to Tunumafono Apelu Aiavao, (a silver-haired, very distinguished gentleman) talk poetry. And tell us about ‘that night…back in 1970’s…when we were having a few drinks together with Konai Helu Thaman…and she danced for us…and I couldnt sleep that night thinking about her beauty…so I wrote a poem about her body and its sensual swaying in the night…’  And then reading that poem for us and others. The discussion that followed was a welcome reminder for me that I shouldn’t be as freaked out as I have been, about writing about sensuality as a Pacific woman. All these other groundbreaking Pacific writers have been doing it for ages. I don’t know if the rules are different for Pacific WOMEN…but be prepared for a lot more ‘freedom of expression’ in my next books.

*Performing a reading of my blog at the Poetry Evening. I’m a rule breaker who doesnt write poetry so instead I go to a poetry recital and read blog extracts instead. And tell everyone about Skanky Ho’s in West Auckland and the sad fact that no, they are not serving Diet coke and Doritos at the gym. It was my first time to do a reading from my blog and it was a blast. I had so much fun with it and the audience seemed to enjoy it as well. Although Rev. Ruperake Petaia was on next after me and he had to say, “I feel like the severe grandfather figure who must tell you all to stop laughing and screaming hysterically and attempt to inject some sombreness and gravity to the occasion” Performing did give me an idea though – I’m going to video more of my blog pieces and get them up on YouTube. (that should really embarass the Fab5. Which of course is always my goal in life.)

*The food. Yeah, yeah, yeah. So I’m superficial like that. But you know me well enough by now to know that everything is about food. The conference was catered by Taro King and they make the bestest refreshments. They even put lolisaiga powder on their fresh pineapple. (Which makes them worthy of celestial honors in my estimation.) My week in Samoa would not have been complete without oka and fried breadfruit from Paddles Restaurant. Sashimi and pok’e from Amanaki Restaurant. Octopus in coconut cream (faiai fe’e) from Netties MiniMart. Cream puffs from PlantationHouse High Tea. Lychee, mangoes and papaya from the trees outside. Bananas in coconut cream (fa’alifu fa’i) from Siaosi’s shop. Hunks of hot bread and slabs of melting butter. And keke pua’a. And pineapple pie.  Everything tastes better in Samoa. I’m not sure why…

*The creative battery recharge. I savored sunsets on the Apia Harbor seawall. Delighted in sand and sun and the lilting sounds of the ocean. Mused on all the colors of a tropical garden – fiery fuschia, pert pinks, raging reds, solemn greens, velvet purples… Chickens nestled in a cozy cluster on the doorstep. Even the busy heat, dust and dirt of a crowded day in Apia. All of it refreshed and rejuvenated my writing fire. I’m so ready to write write write now…

The Next Book Out Soon

I’m working to finish the Daniel novella in time for a Christmas release. One thing I love about writing Daniel? He’s got a sense of humor that Leila lacks and he can be WAY more fun to write… Here’s his take on the Jason’s hospital confesion scene from the first Telesa book.
                                                         Daniel Tahi Speaks.

By the time I get to the door of Jason’s room, Leila is standing by his bed. He’s awake. His eyes are  a brilliant blue. And they’re staring up at my girlfriend with undisguised joy. He’s not some washed out, frail palagi nerdy scientist anymore. No. He’s stronger, he’s smiling. And while I stand there in the doorway, he kisses her hand. WTF?! And then he speaks, “I wasn’t joking, Leila. They tell me I’ve been dying for the last three days. And trust me, I felt like it. But you know the one thing that kept me hanging on? The one thing I kept fighting for?”

 I know what the answer is before he says it. Because it would be my answer too if I were in his shoes. (Or in his hospital bed.) And it’s that realization which is the only thing stopping me from punching a hole in the wall right now. Oh yeah, and because its seriously uncool to beat up people when they’re recovering from knocking on death’s door.

 “You. And my promise to you.” I knew it. He’s crazy about her. And I just helped save his life. Just great.

 Leila’s crying. “Jason, no…”

 I want to get the hell out of there but I can’t. Im frozen in place because I want to know what she’s going to say. I need to know. Is this where she wakes up to the fact she’s crazy in love with this volcano man and his ocean eyes? Is this where she turns to me and says, sorry Daniel, I have to listen to my heart. And my heart is screaming Jason’s name?

 He’s still talking. Why can’t he shut up already? “No, please, let me finish. Let a critically ill dude speak. Please?”

 Yeah Leila, let him speak. We all want to hear this. Not.

 “Leila, you asked me to be your friend. And nothing else.” That was news to me. It’s good news right? I’m reeling here. Trying to stay upright but the world is determined to knock me over.  “And I am. But nearly dying does something to a person y’know? It makes him realize that life is short. And you have to grab at every moment, every happiness with both hands. Tight. And not let go.”

 I’m going to grab onto his neck. Tight. And not let go.

 “So yes, I’m your friend and I’m one hundred percent committed to helping you deal with your problem. But you gotta know…”

 Here it comes. Here it comes. Wait for it. Brace yourself. You must not beat up a sick man. You must not beat up a sick man in a hospital bed. You must not beat up a sick man…

 “I’m in love with you Leila.”

 There, he said it. Now I know what getting hit by a truck must feel like. I wonder if Leila knows I’m standing right here. And then I’m sure she knows. Because she tries to shut him up. “Jason, no, you don’t know what you’re saying. You’re sick. You need to rest. Listen to your nurses.”  She’s covering for him. Trying to salvage something from the wreckage. But what? My heart? My pride? Or his?

 For a critically ill dude, he sure is tough to shut up. “I’ve never been more sure of anything in my whole life. I’ve loved you from that first night you bewitched me with your fake bimbo-ness. And then when I watched over you as you slept during that storm, then I was sure.”

 You. Slept. With. Leila. (During a storm?!  Why a storm? What does a storm have to do with this?)

 The words hit me where I don’t want them to. Low. In the gut. Everybody in the room heard him. Leila heard him. The palagi friends heard him. The nurses heard him. ( They’re rolling their eyes at the love drama. Nurses at the Samoa National hospital are not known for their sensitivity or patience with people’s feelings.)  Everybody just heard him declare his undying love for my girlfriend. Everybody now knows that he’s been in love with her since forever. And oh yeah, by the way, they spent the night together too.

 I’m either the world’s dumbest boyfriend. Or this volcano scientist’s mind is seriously screwed up from telesa poison.

Daniel Tahi’s Novella will be released in time for Christmas 2012. Available in e-book format only from Amazon. This will be a companion book to the first Telesa book – The Covenant Keeper. Now is a good time to get your copy of the Telesa book, Amazon has it on .99cent sale for one week only. Telesa:The Covenant Keeper .99cent SALE  Gift an e-copy to friends and family so they can stop borrowing YOUR copy! lol.

Let’s Talk About Sex

Little Daughter is not so little anymore. She’s ten years old and wanted to know, “When is puberty going to happen to me?…Why does it have to happen?…Do I have to use tampons cos they look nasty…” And other such curious questions.

I answered her the bestest way I could. Because I’m all about openness and honesty and good communication with my children.

And then she asked the million dollar question. The one that has most of us scrambling through the litany of crap fanciful stories/explanations we’ve ever heard. Like, storks that fly in your window with babies, cabbages that sprout chubby infants, fairies that sprinkle baby-making dust, and invisible baby delivery trucks that leave them on your doorstep or under a coconut tree. THAT question.

“So how do you make a baby anyway?”

This is not the first time that Little Daughter has asked me where babies come from. No. The first time she asked me how did a baby get into my big fat stomach – I told her “God put it there.” (And then when the baby came out and she wanted to know, ‘why is your stomach still fat?’ – I told her, the baby forgot to take all her luggage with her when she moved out.) And that answer was enough for her.

Not anymore. Now she wanted to know what did getting a monthly period have to do with babies? And the specifics of baby-making and baby-growing.

I was not fussed. Or bothered. I’ve done this twice already you know. Talked to Big Son and Big Daughter about sex and babies and condoms and everything in between. So yeah, I was cool with this conversation.  I told Little Daughter about sperm and eggs. And (very vaguely), I told her how they get together and start growing a baby. And how it was a beautiful and blessed thing.

She still looked puzzled. “But if a man has sperm and a woman has eggs – how does the sperm get to the egg then?”

Little Daughter wanted specifics. So I gave them to her. A bit more detailed and specific than simply, “Sex is a beautiful, sacred thing. A gift from God.” Just like the parenting textbooks tell me, I used correct terminology. Words like ‘penis’, ‘vagina’, ‘uterus’ blah blah blah.

What happened next?

Little Daughter burst into tears. Exclaimed in utter horror. “That’s the most disgusting thing I’ve ever heard.”

I tried to fix it. Talked about joy and happiness and tenderness and closeness and love and all that blah blah blah – but she wasnt convinced. Sex is still disgusting. Horrifying. And it didnt seem to help when I told her, “Its not horrible. That’s how we helped to make you and you’re a wonderful child and we love you so much.”

Look of disgust. “Ewwwwwww, that’s even worse. You and Dad do that?” More tears.

I think my daughter has been traumatized for life. I really screwed up this sex-talk.

What have I learned from this?
1. Every child is different. What works for one won’t necessarily work for the other.
2. I should have just told Little Daughter that babies are made with sprinkles of fairy dust. Cabbages. And storks.