Jan 26, 2013

Fan girl alert! and interview with author Lani Wendt Young

So my friends and family know that I've been shouting a lot about a book series ever since I learned that it had Samoan mythology, spirit women (the spooky kind where we were hushed from speaking about growing up but did so anyway at slumber parties), epic romance, a fierce and powerful heroine, and some pretty kick butt villains. I was thinking, yes! finally! a story from the Pacific by a Pacific Island woman! (Because let's be honest, the last book I read by a Pacific woman was Sia Figiel's one back in high school.)

If that combination doesn't get your heart racing, then look at these covers: 

Book 1: Telesa: The Covenant Keeper

Book 2: When Water Burns

Ooh lah lah! Let me just say that these books are Young (Mature) Adult so despite these rather, um, fiery covers there are no racy scenes beyond what you would see in a PG-13 film.

So I got my sister to read them. My brother. Some girlfriends. And then I facebooked about it, emailed about it, wrote reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. I started following the author's blog, her facebook, and whatever other fan sites there were dedicated to this. I. am. a. huge. fan. My sister even says I have a girl crush on the author, which I probably do. 

And then I went to Samoa for the summer and learned that she would be there promoting her second book. Perfect timing right! So I rocked up to her book signing with my youngest in tow and there sitting behind that table surrounded by posters of Daniel's abs was author LANI WENDT YOUNG and the rugby star who is the face (or I should say abs) of Daniel in the series. Talk about a celebrity mash up!

To say I was nervous would be an understatement, and it wasn't because of the looming 6 foot 4 guy next to her. No. (Although he was really nice too, we talked about Israel, took pics, and when my daughter's sandal fell in the dirt he picked it up and gently placed it back on her foot). It was because I was finally meeting someone who I admire and felt an instant connection with just from reading her blog entries oceans and continents away. Her humor is synonymous with my own, and I just felt like we clicked.

Lani is a mother of five children under the age of 17. FIVE, people! That alone is a full time job in itself. But that doesn't stop her from doing what she loves. She's an English teacher turned writer. She bakes the really difficult stuff. She blogs. And when I say blog I mean she writes short stories about her writing experiences and family life. She runs marathons. And she's LOL hilarious. Welcome Lani!

1. First of all, how did you dream up the whole concept of these books?

I’ve always been fascinated by stories of ‘teine Sa’, or spirit women in Samoa. I grew up listening to the warnings of what we should and shouldn’t do in case we upset any of them, stories from those who had experienced their punishments/curses and more. As a teenager, I asked a lot of questions about the stories and was frustrated because people either didn’t have any answers OR they didn’t want to talk about ‘teine Sa’. A bit like He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named… When I started writing the first Telesa novel, it was with those early stories in my head. I took all my unanswered questions and let my overactive imagination make up all the ‘answers’! I had just finished reading the Twilight series and knew I wanted to write a book that would have at its paranormal fantasy center – a love story.  A love story that captured and recreated the fragile, breathless, exhilarating (and horribly depressing) experience of first love. For me, the power of the Twilight books is not the sparkly vampires and half-naked wolf boys – it’s the love story, as two people from very different backgrounds overcome overwhelming odds to forge a lasting relationship. I hope I am writing that kind of love story in the Telesa series.

2. If one were to teach Telesa: The Covenant Keeper to a high school English class, what themes would be taught? 
Identity and belonging are very strong themes throughout the books. Any story with young adults/teenagers in it, is going to deal with these issues in some form or another. Having characters of mixed ethnicity and cultural backgrounds makes that adolescent search for self even more tangled. Leila comes to Samoa in search of family and a place to belong and I think her journey mirrors what many multi-ethnic people go through at some point in their lives. Leila’s struggles with identity, sexuality and society’s expectations are resonating with teens and ex-teens all over the world. Feminism is another topic impossible to miss when doing a critique of Telesa. All the main characters are powerful female authority figures (with the exception of Daniel) and the book deals with issues of sisterhood, the mother-child relationship, sex, femininity and more. If I were to get back in the classroom in Samoa, I would also have my students look at themes of racism, colonialism, environmentalism, Christianity vs traditional spirituality.

3. What is Leila & Daniel's theme song? 

Too many to suit all the different twists and turns in their journey!

Coldplay – ‘Fix You’ and ‘Paradise’.  UB40 – Cant Help Falling in Love

The faces of Leila & Daniel in the series:

 (L-R Model Faith Wulf, rugby player Ezra Taylor. Photo: Jordan Kwan)

     4. What alternative names did you have for Leila & Daniel? How did you settle for these two? (And does it have something to do with Lani & Darren? just a lil observation ;) 

      LOL I didn’t even get the connection with Lani and Darren until I read this! Maybe it’s a deeeeeeeply subconscious thang! #Not.
Seriously though, I wanted Leila’s name to be one that had a Samoan translation, and one that connected with the storyline. Her original name then was supposed to be ‘Pele’ – which can be ‘Bella’ in English. That’s my daughter’s name and she is named after her great-grandmother. Both women are strong, fiercely feisty and beautiful – even though one is only five and the other is in her eighties. BUT, for Twilight obvious reasons, I couldn’t name my MC ‘Bella’, so I settled for Leila Pele Folger. Leila because I’ve always thought it was a beautiful name. Folger is the name of a family we knew when we were living in Washington D.C. Daniel is a Biblical name and one that denotes honor, faith, courage and strength. I knew a Tongan boy called Daniel a long time ago and I’ve never forgotten what he explained to me about how a boy in Tonga would go about respectfully ‘courting’ a girl he liked. ‘Tahi’ means ocean in Tongan which of course is perfect for Daniel in the story. Some of my characters are named after real people… I taught a student called Sarona and she was a stunning young woman with long black hair (she was very sweet and shy though, not mean and nasty at all like MY Sarona!)  

5.  The Bone Bearer, the third and final book in the Telesa trilogy, is set for release sometime in 2013. Can you give us a little teaser to hold us over? What is written on say, line 4 on page 44? 

There are some new characters introduced in the third book that I’m very excited about. One of them is a young woman from Fiji. Many of our Samoan legends have very close ties with our cousins in Fiji and I am drawing on these in the next book.

People say they wish they could see the future. People say what a wonderful gift that would be. Sometimes, people are fools… As long as I can remember, my mother has glimpsed the future. It is a heavy burden she carries and one I pray I will never be cursed with. Because if you can see the future, then you can never truly live in the present. The gift of prophecy, seer and revelator is a curse. For of what use is seeing the future without the power to change it? My mother could not avert hurricanes. Heal scarred heart tissue. Stop my father from falling in love with another woman. Make my teacher be a nice person who didn’t have a fondness for using a cane on her students.  No, my mother could not change the future. But that didn’t mean she gave up trying. And so hers was a life spent always running, trying to change tomorrow. And having to decide what to let be. And what to try and influence.  My mother can glimpse the future. She can’t change it.
But I can. 

Oooh! Very exciting stuff! 

6. Tell us a little about yourself. When you're not writing, reading, baking, running after your kids, what do you do to relax? 

I love going to the movies and it drives me nuts that they don’t make more movies that I like! Chick-flicks, romantic comedies are my ideal relaxation. And clever, witty action movies like The Avengers. I would give up donuts forever to have the scriptwriter and the producer of The Avengers  make a Telesa movie…*dreamy sigh*.  After watching a great movie, I always come home super-hyped to write stuff. 

7. What top 3 secrets would you give an aspiring writer who's working on a book for the first time? 

 1. Don’t get distracted by OTHER book ideas. Start a book, set yourself a deadline and stick with it. Too often when the writing gets boring and too much like hard work – we jump and start a different book…then when that gets boring we jump again…and nothing ever gets finished. Don’t kid yourself. Writing a book is WORK. Its not fun all the time. I allow myself to write TWO books at once. Both have different deadlines. Both are very different from each other. I go back and forth working on each one throughout my writing day so I don’t get too sick of one.

2. Read. Everything and anything. How can you recognize what makes a good story (or a crap one) if you don’t read lots of good (and lots of crap) books?

3. Write every book for YOU. If you’re not excited about reading your own book, then how in heck can you expect anybody else to be? 

8. How has your writing evolved since the first books? 

*I’m not so scared anymore. Of what people will think. Of my writing. Of me. Of the ‘me’ they think I am by reading my writing. I’m more inclined now to write whatever the hell I want and say it the way I want to without instinctive self-censorship.

*I write shorter. I need fewer words to say the same amount of stuff. 
* I have more faith in my readers. I used to think that I needed to describe EVERYTHING and babysit readers, holding their hand to guide them through the story. Now, I give them waaaay more credit…and let the story flow and just hope everybody keeps up.

And there you have it. Some very sound advice and encouragement right there! THANK YOU LANI! 

If you haven't had the chance, check out Daniel's novella: I am Daniel Tahi 

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