Samoan Author Lani Wendt Young on Hawai'i, books, motherhood and literacy

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[Headshot: Courtesy Lani Wendt Young] [Poster: Seta "Mr. Setts" Aiolupotea for the Telesa Komiti i Hawai'i]

(Honolulu, HAWAI'I)--The first time she visited Hawai'i, Samoan Author Lani Wendt Young was just a little girl on vacation with her parents and siblings. She was nine and the family spent several days on O'ahu, enroute to Los Angeles, Calif., a trip she remembers fondly.

One Hot Man (what Lani calls her husband Darren Young), five children, a highly successful blog and a super popular book trilogy later – she arrived last night in Honolulu – where a growing fan base of tweens, teens, parents and grandparents are eager to meet the author of the Young Adult fiction Telesa Series set in Samoa.

“I’ve only been to Hawai'i once. When I was nine, my family went on holiday to LA and we spent a few days in Hawaii. It was my first taste of America, first time to a McDonalds. I remember Waikiki,” she told from Philadelphia early this week. “My fave memory is of Ala Moana Mall – my first time at a real mall and for a girl from Samoa, it was very WOW! Especially the Koi fish. My family didn’t go on lots of trips because there were a lot of us and it was very expensive, so I’ve never forgotten the memories of just being together with all my siblings and discovering new places with them.”

When Young quit her teaching job in Samoa in 2003, to become a full-time parent (to her then three children) she had no plan to write a book. While she loved her new role, she said “it was also driving me nuts.” She'd find catharsis online via Sleepless in Samoa, a blog she started in 2003.

“I discovered the online community of ‘mommy-bloggers’ and in particular, the smaller group of Pasifika women bloggers. So I got into blogging as a way to vent, rage, rant, and laugh. I had no plans to write a book then,” Young explained. “When I started, it was just me talking to myself, and now Sleepless in Samoa gets thousands of visits a month. Blogging remains my first love when it comes to writing. The difficult thing now is reconciling my in-your-face honest style of writing with the fact that so many people are reading it. It kinda ruins the fun sometimes, because I have to be conscious of the audience all the time.”

In 2009, Young, who has won awards for her short fiction, was commissioned to research and pen her first book, stories from survivors and emergency responders of the Sept. 29, 2009 tsunami that devastated Samoa, American Samoa and Tonga. The Australian Government provided funding to publish 5,000 copies of Pacific Tsunami: Galu Afi, a title that can be found in Hawai'i's public libraries.

Getting her second book published, however, Telesa: The Covenant Keeper (first book in the Telesa Series), was tough. Young's trilogy derives its title from the Telesa, the feared spirit women of Samoa, said to have the ability to slap, possess and even 'take' mortals alive. This book can also be found in local libraries.

“Many publishing companies and agents rejected the Telesa manuscript and that was discouraging. My husband Darren and my children were my rock of support each time I got another rejection letter. They’re the best cheerleading team any writer could ask for and their encouragement kept me writing and rewriting through the challenges,” said Young. “I’m grateful for digital publishing which makes it possible for a Samoan writer, writing a story that’s very entrenched ‘in Samoa’ – to take her writing to a global audience.”

In terms of accessibility and distribution, she guesses that “Telesa is probably the most accessible and most widely distributed work of Pacific Lit today – and that’s purely because it’s available as an e-book and I’ve made it available for free download three times over the last two years.”

“Over 60,000 people have gotten a free copy this way, and that’s only counting the LEGAL downloads,” she said. “As an English teacher, I’m passionate about promoting literacy and lighting the reading fire in our young Pacific people which is why I'm particularly excited about digital publishing and how it can make our stories more globally accessible.”

One of the reasons Young wrote Telesa is because she wanted a novel that one day, she could study with her high school students – a novel with characters, a setting and themes they could relate to. Her books are now being studied at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa, Auckland University, the University of Guam, many high schools throughout New Zealand and other universities that study Pacific Literature.

“I did my degree in English Literature (and Women’s Studies) and I’m a qualified English teacher – so it’s a huge thrill for me to have my books studied in schools and universities,” she enthused. “Telesa is magical realism. It draws on myths and legends to provide a framework for the Young Adult story of romance interwoven with the search for identity. Students at Auckland University and the University of Guam have sent me copies of essays and papers they’ve written on the Telesa book and it’s rather mind-blowing for me to see all the discussion and ideas they have come up with. I’m like: 'Wow! Is all that really in my book?!'”

Young, who has been living in New Zealand for three years, traveled to Philadelphia for the first time early this week to accept an invite from the Commonwealth Education Trust to assist with putting together a How to Write Books For Children curriculum. The curriculum is for a free online course that targets writers in developing nations and her trip to the three-day workshop was funded by CET.
“The goal is to get more of our indigenous stories out there so I'm thrilled to be involved with such a project,” she said.

Young left Philadelphia Oct. 23 and arrived in Hawai'i last night. We asked her what she most looks forward to during her time on O'ahu. At the top of her list is spending time with women she has 'met 'online.

“I am most looking forward to spending time with women who I have ‘met’ online while blogging ande writing Telesa,” she says. “I’ve made some great friends through reading their blogs and having their support while writing the Telesa books – I’m excited to hang out with them in real life!”

As she is staying near La'ie, reminded Young of the shrimp trucks nearby in Kahuku.

“I'm going to eat lots and lots of shrimp! I love seafood,” she said.

At the top of her 'take home to New Zealand' list? A doll for sweet little Bella, youngest of the five children, who gets a lot of mentions in her mommy's blogs and posts.

“I'd like to find a doll or stuffed toy of some kind from Hawai'i for my daughter Bella,” she said. “Every city I go to on my book travels, even if I'm just stopping at their airport, I try to get her a doll or toy from that place. She’s building a little collection.”

When we asked Young how it is she balances home life and her celebrity author status, she was very candid.

“My family will tell you I don’t balance well at all. I’m usually falling down all over the place when it comes to keeping up with parenting and everything else,” she told “I couldn’t do what I do without my husband Darren. He’s the strong, steady, patient and organized element to my chaotically creative, always-late, dismally unorganized self. The water to my fire?!”

Young also credits her children, “the Fab5”, as they are known to her readers and followers. On a serious note, she adds: “there are particular challenges associated for a woman trying to write alongside parenting and its essential that she have a supportive partner.”

“We are very blessed also to have some rather awesome children. My two teenagers are 18 and 15 and they do a lot in the home – they cook, clean, babysit, AND listen to my writing ideas and tell me if they are horrible,” she said. “I wrote the first Telesa book around the children – at the dining table while the Fab5 were doing homework, in the kitchen while I was cooking dinn, outside while they were playing in the back yard. Having said that, I don’t think I could have written the Telesa books at any earlier point in my life because caring for them when they were babies and toddlers was so consuming. Now, the children are older, they have their responsibilities in the home all sussed and they go to school everyday – so I can write furiously while they’re gone. For anyone out there trying to be a writer, its essential that they make writing a priority that can fit in with their family and work life. You can't wait for the ‘right time’, or ‘right place’ or ‘right mood.’ You have to be disciplined and MAKE time for writing to happen. Even if that time is in the middle of the night.”

In December the Young family will move back home, to independent Samoa. Darren Young aka Hot Man, owns a steel fabrication company in Samoa and while they've been in New Zealand for three years, Lani says they “have kind of been living in two countries because Darren still does work projects in Samoa and so we go home a lot.”

“We’d like to have the family live in ONE country though, so we are moving back to Samoa in December. We’re in the process of building a house there. Everyone is looking forward to it,” she said. “I can do my work anywhere but so much of my creative inspiration comes from being at home in Samoa so I’m very excited to hurry up and get settled there. I’m working on two books for release in 2014, as well as my ongoing series, the Alofa Covenant Chronicles. So lots more writing from me.”

Her trip to Hawai'i, she says “is only possible because of an awesome team of women – some I haven’t even met in person yet – who have supported my blog and my books right from the start.”

“When I contacted them that I would be coming this way IF anyone could possibly set up a small book signing – the response was overwhelming,” she said. “Lormona Meredith and the team have worked tirelessly to organize a range of book activities, offer accommodation and promote the events, and I’m humbled by their generosity and commitment to supporting a Pasifika sister blogger/author. I have no idea how many people in Hawaii have read the Telesa books, or even if there ARE any others in Hawaii who have read the books! But I’m looking forward to connecting with those who have and having the opportunity to thank them in person for keeping me company on the Telesa Series writing journey.”

Meredith said none of this would have been possible without the hardworking efforts and creativity of “the fiery women” who constitute the Telesa Hawai’i Komiti: Theresa Schubert, Jennifer Lemalu-Meredith, Jessica Garlock, Alice Te Punga Somerville, Lima Faumuina Tufaga, Janice Faitala, Patrice Sa’u, Leinati Fuatogi, Sina Thomsen, Heather Amituana'i-Tiuli and Tina Mata'afa-Tufele, as well as the in-kind support from the following sponsors: BYU-Hawai’i Samoan Chapter, BYU-Hawai’i Bookstore, BYU-H English Department, Pacific Literature at UH Manoa, Center for Pacific Island Studies at UH Manoa, UH Manoa English Department, UH Manoa Creative Writing, UH Samoan Studies Department, Farrington High School, Polynesian Cultural Center, Soul de Cuba Cafe, Jenn Lemalu Photography, Seta “Mr. Setts” Aiolupotea and Faletuiga's

The Telesa Hawai'i Komiti is honored to host Lani in Hawai'i, “a unique place for any storytelling,” adds Meredith.

“Its geographical location has made it' home' for various Pacific Island communities and presents it as a hub for cross cultural interactions for the United States Mainland, Pacific and Asian societies,” said Meredith. “Lani’s achievements in the creative writing world as well as her success as a self-publishing author and blogger has spanned across these societies and revived a growing interest in Pacific Literature. Her recently published Telesa Series specifically targeted for the Young Adult audience have appealed to readers of all ages, across the world. This phenomenon has also triggered an increased cultural awareness in young Pacific Island readers and has inspired many to believe that you can do anything if you set your heart to it, even if you come from a small tiny island nation called Samoa.”

Lani will be interviewed by Delia Parker-Ulima and Bella Finau-Faumuina of the 2Busy Moms OC16 TV Show. The interview will be aired sometime early December. Meredith encourages everyone to come out, meet Lani and “have fun with us at any of these public events and if you have her books already – bring them with you!”

Lani's TELESA Series – Telesa: The Covenant Keeper, When Water Burns and The Bone Bearer, plus the I am Daniel Tahi novella – will be available for purchase at her book signing events. Each book is $20.

Here is Lani Wendt Young's schedule of public events:

BOOK SIGNING: Saturday, Oct. 26 at 7-9 p.m. at the Aloha Center (Room 155/165) at the Brigham Young University-Hawai'i campus in La'ie. Host is the BYU-H Samoan Chapter. Contact is Patrice Sa'u, (808) 636-4323.

MUSICAL FIRESIDE: Sunday, Oct. 27 at 7 p.m., a Young Single Adult and Youth 'Musical Fireside' hosted by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints Waipahu First Samoan Ward. Contact is Heather Amituana'i-Tiuli (808) 683-9390.

BOOK SIGNING: Monday, Oct. 28, 10 a.m. at the BYU-H Bookstore in the Aloha Center. Host is the BYU-H Bookstore. Contact is Jenn Lemalu-Meredith (808) 220-5043.

FINAL BOOK SIGNING: Monday, Oct. 28, 4-5:30 p.m., Room 410 at Kuykendall Hall on the University of Hawai'i at Manoa Campus. Host is the UH Manoa English Department. Contact is Alice Te Punga Somerville (808) 799-8225.

Lani departs Honolulu Monday evening, Oct. 28.

To see more of Lani's work, go to

LIKE these fan pages on Facebook to stay up to date on Lani's Hawai'i Tour: Telesa Trilogy – Hawai’i Fan Club; Faletuiga and Tautalatala Media Community.

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