Thursday, June 16, 2016

You Never Know

A corollary to “Why Not?” in my April 17, 2016 posting is “You Never Know.”  You might as well do it because you never know where your efforts may lead.

So, with this in mind, last week, I decided to put up three more books on Amazon in a print-on-demand format. Each book has, I think, a “you-never-know” feel about it. Perhaps the book will take off. 

The first one is is a color version of my companion guide to From the Good Mountain. You can find out more about this book on my website here: 

Why go to the trouble of making a color version? It isn’t as if people interested in making books in the fifteenth century are beating down the door to get a copy in black and white. No, not that at all. It has happened that a Korean publisher has purchased the rights to translate the book into Korean and, what is more, the publisher would only do it if the book were in color. So, with an attitude of “why not?” I sent the digital color files to Seoul. Who knew that Koreans would be interested in this book? Then I thought: who knows? Maybe English speakers might also be interested in a color version.

Here are a few pages from the color version. Yes, it is a bit more expensive, but you never know. Maybe it will attract more customers.

The next book I made available on Amazon is Mango Rain. I tried and failed to get American publishers interested in the book. So, I translated it into Portuguese and sent it to a publisher in São Paulo, Brinque Book. After ten or so years, the book is still in print and doing quite well. It won an award and is part of the school curriculum. 

Mango Rain is about creativity. It tells of a little boy named Thomas who spies a bottle cap on a ground. Such an insignificant thing, but to Thomas, the bottle cap blossoms into an idea: Thomas will make his own toy car. The book draws on the metaphore of a mango tree. As the tree blossoms and bears fruit which slowly ripen in the hot African sun, Thomas collects what he needs, and with the help of his father, builds a toy car.  

This Thomas is the same Thomas many American children have already met in my book Rain School, now part of many school curricula. 

So, maybe my publishing Mango Rain, in English may attract many of the same readers. You never can tell.

The last book is Kahalaopuna, a traditional Hawaiian story of pono righteousness and aloha mercy. It tells of a beautiful maiden and her jealous suitor. In this Othello-like tale, the suitor winds up as part of the ridge on Mānoa Valley’s southeast side. I can see his outline from my kitchen window.

In 2001, I turned the traditional tale into an illustrated children’s book as part of the efforts of the residents of Mānoa Valley to prevent the electric company from erecting huge high-tension poles on Wa‘ahila Ridge. The sale of the book was to help off-set the legal costs involved in confronting Hawaiian Electric. In small part because of the book, in large part because of the efforts of the people of this valley and of the organization Mālama Mānoa, Hawaiian Electric decided to forego installing the poles.

A few weeks ago, a church in the valley asked me to come and read my story (which I’ll do tomorrow). They were disappointed to find out that the 2001 book is out-of-print. Last week, I decided to make it available once again. This time I turned it into a bilingual book, fixed up some of the images digitally, and put it up for sale on Amazon. I thought, once again, why not? And besides, I can’t know where this book will take me next.


Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Covering Bases

Making a cover for your book is one of the hardest things to do. A cover is like clothing. How many times have you said before some important event, “What am I going to wear?” You know you want to make a great impression, but you don’t know what will do the trick.

Covers, too, need to make a lasting impression. They need to do the trick. But how? My goddaughter Emma Rose, who’s in elementary school, had some pretty right-on criticisms of the proposed cover for her mother’s new book. Here’s what she said:

  • Okay. That part's too dark. 
  • That photo is over-processed. 
  • Why is that font so fussy? 
  • Why didn't they use the whole space on this part—what's all the white space about? 
  • And this section over here? Bor-ing. 
  • This background needs to be lightened up, because you can't read the type over it. 
  • Too many different fonts. 
  • This one looks like they typed it in an office. 
  • This one is very good. 
  • No no no no no.
  • This one will be good if they move the title up more so it's not covering the town part of the photo; it should be covering the sky….

Okay, let’s consider what she said.

Dark covers don’t appeal to people, especially to children, who, it seems—and I got this from a librarian friend—always head for the light, bright book.

Book covers need to be clear in their message. The images shouldn’t be overworked, and the typeface shouldn’t be too fussy nor should there be too many different faces [fonts]. One face or two is all you need. 

The cover, of course, can’t be borrrrrring. But what does that mean? It probably means that there is something mysterious on the cover. It might mean that there is a comical illustration. It might just be that there is a nice, friendly person or animal on the cover. Scary is good, but not for all ages.

Don’t let the type cover up the image. After all, it is the image that will sell the book. In fact, it seems that one overriding factor for a children’s picture book is that the image and the message it conveys be seen from across the room. Like a magnet, the image has to draw the kid in and get the little reader to open the book.

Consider the overall design. By this, consider the negative space, the “white space,” as Emma Rose puts it. Make sure that there is a balance between what is there and what is just plain background.

To Emma Rose’s comments, I might add a few questions you might ask yourself about the cover you’ve just come up with:
  • What part of the book does the cover show?
  • Does the cover tell you what kind of book it is?
  • Does the cover show the best part of the book?
  • Does the cover promise more than the book actually gives?
  • What is the order: author then title or title then author?
  • What stands out the most, the title, the author, or the image?
It is, let’s face it, easier to criticize whether constructively or destructively a cover. What is difficult is to come up with a cover out of thin air. Creation is…well…like the Big Bang. It starts with nothing, gets super heated, and expands at an alarming rate. Before you know it, you have too many ideas and you are faced with too many choices. 

What to do?  I suppose that the best advice is to keep it simple. Instead of trying to cover all of your bases and tell everything about your book with your cover, just settle on one idea. If your idea is appealing, the reader will open the book, guaranteed.

I can’t say that all of my covers have been successful. In fact, I’d say that some of them are fairly dismal. Had Emma Rose been standing by my side, she might have pointed out some fairly obvious booboos. But, I hope that with the above, you might form a checklist of do’s and don’ts.

Here’s the first attempt of a cover for my next book You Can Write Hieroglyphs

At first I thought my cover looked cool . . . and mysterious. (I wonder what you think.) But then I thought about the “rules” about keeping the cover light-colored and kid-friendly. Besides what was so enticing about gold hieroglyphs? And what did this have to do with the contents of the book? Finally, who were my readers? So I scrapped my first cover and came up with this:

When I got the proof back from CreateSpace, I realized I still hadn't followed the "no-dark" rule. So I lightened the owl. For now, unless I think of something better, I am sticking with this cover. 

I’ve published You Can Write Hieroglyphs through my Mānoa Press. (You can get a copy here: ) I want the book to be a follow up of my Seeker of Knowledge, about François Champollion’s decipherment of ancient Egyptian, which I published through Houghton Mifflin over fifteen years ago.

You Can Write Hieroglyphs was inspired by Kurt Wiese’s 1946 Caldecott Honor book, You Can Write Chinese, a book which I loved as a second grader. 

I remember refusing to go to bed until I had copied all of the Chinese characters in the book. Here is one of the pages I copied that night:

Although Wiese’s book is terribly out-dated, it did something magical: it inspired me to spend a lifetime learning Chinese. We authors should all be so lucky to have written a book with that kind of power. 

And one more thought: did Wiese’s cover draw me in? I don’t know now. Something, though, got me to check the book out and take it home from my school library.

As for my You Can Write Hieroglyphs, here below are a few sample pages. I'm just betting there will be some kid out there that, like long-ago me, who will delight in the beauty of these hieroglyphs, copied after a scribe who lived centuries and centuries ago.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

A Long Time

It’s been a long time. I guess I was lazy or bored or both. Probably I just forgot how much time has really passed since my last posting. At least, I’d like to blame my absence on the fleeting passage of time.

But a few weeks ago, I dusted off a few manuscripts in my desk and decided to publish them myself—print-on-demand-wise. I guess I finally realized the power of ‘why not?’

There are so many obstacles in one's way, so many powerful excuses, so much procrastination in life; yet like some bully you finally tell off, the obstacles, the excuses, the mañanas vanish with two simple words: ‘why not?’ Why not publish those manuscripts? Why not tell people about them in this blog? Why not redo your website so that these new books have a prominent place? 

And so, here is an introduction to four new books from my Mānoa Press. You can find them on Amazon. Just paste the title in the search box. The books are $12.50 or less. [Click on images to enlarge.]

The first book I want to tell you about is Miss Margaret, Cat Magnet [$9.75]. The germ of this book began many, many years ago, when my wife bought a patchwork doll made by Sonja Hagemann of Hale‘iwa. The creator had stuck a cloth cat to the doll. I was fascinated and wondered what it would be like if a girl had the power to attract cats just as a magnet attracts iron. It took several years to come up with a story. When I did, I had to bring Margaret to life in a drawing, but I liked nothing I did—until I met Pamela Telford of Maui. Her flowing, red hair stopped me dead in my tracks, and I went home to find a red-haired Margaret smiling from my drawing board.

Book two is very, very different from the whimsical nature of Miss Margaret. In Bright Star [$12.50], we meet an African king named Njoya [en-joy-ah], who lived a hundred years ago in the grasslands of the modern African nation of Cameroon. 

This book, too, began many years ago, as I was working on my book about Sequoyah, the Cherokee man who invented writing for his people. That book was published by Houghton Mifflin and was honored with many awards. As for Bright Star, I could find no publisher for it. Africa is too far away, too complicated for most publishers. It is hard for them to understand what happened there a hundred years ago. As for readers of such a story about an African king, where would they come from? I would like to think that such readers exist. After all, Njoya was unlike 99.9% of all the people who have ever lived. He was a Peter the Great, a George Washington of sorts, a man who understood his people and saw their potential. He stood up to colonialism in a way that made him more powerful than any rebellious leader, any guerrilla fighter or terrorist with a mass of weapons. He had but one weapon, his dignity and his belief in his people.

The third and the fourth books are a re-publication of my second children’s book about Polynesian navigation, The Island-below-the-Star, which came out in 1998. The remake is called: Island below the Star [$12.00], for which there is both an English and Hawaiian version. The new edition contains a star map as well as a series of maps so that the reader can follow the progress of the five brothers as they make their way up from the Marquesas Islands in the south to Hawai‘i. To find out more, see my website: 

In the coming months, I hope to dust off many more of my manuscripts and get them out there. After all, why not?

Sunday, October 26, 2014

United Nations Day II

After I had posted my poem a few days ago, I realized I should translate it. So, I put it into French, Hawaiian, and Persian. This last was the most difficult. Fortunately, I had the help of a Persian professor, Ladan Hamedani, at the University of Hawai‘i to smooth out my "wrinkly" Persian. 

Perhaps in the coming weeks, I will add more translations. Perhaps I will post the poem on Facebook and ask for translations. I wonder if I will get any volunteers, any responses. The blogosphere is so saturated these days. 

We'll see. Click to enlarge.

Monday, October 20, 2014

United Nations Day

This coming Friday, October 24, is United Nations Day. I remember celebrating that when I was a kid in school. I don’t know if anyone celebrates it anymore, but I thought I would by posting this about a poem I wrote.

Last week, my poem was read at the United Nations Plaza during the award ceremony held by the Jane Addams Peace Association. I was delighted. (Each year the Jane Addams Peace Association recognizes those children’s books which promote world peace.)

I have two people to thank for getting me to write this poem in the first place. 

The first is a woman who contacted me last May about judging the best short stories submitted by Muslim children living in the U.K. and about writing a poem for their magazine Young Muslim Writers Awards, which is funded by a charity called Muslim Hands. 

I was a bit hesitant. What kind of organization was Muslim Hands? What kind of magazine did they put out? And most important, did I feel up to writing a poem for children, thinking that it needed to be in rhyme? 

So I checked out the organization and the magazine: religious in nature and a promoter of such social values as harmony, truthfulness, and responsibility. That sounded ok to me. As for writing the poem, I decided, after talking with my writer-friend Sue Cowing, that it didn’t have to be in rhyme. That sounded ok to me, too. Even so, I didn’t have a clue what I was going to write about and without that I knew my muse wouldn’t come calling. 

The second person I’d like to thank is Maya Soetero Ng, the President’s sister, who provided the subject for my poem. In June, I was part of a panel discussion which Maya chaired. The panel was on writing children’s books and relevant topics for such books. One of those topics was the importance of using children’s books to promote peace. After the discussion, I told Maya about the poem I had to write. We both agreed that it should be about peace.

All I had to do now was wait for my muse to show up, which would be last minute, if I knew my muse. (As expected she showed up the day before the deadline.) I wrote the poem and sent it off. About two weeks ago I decided to illustrate the what I had written. Then on a whim I sent it to the Jane Addams Peace Association, from whom I had received two awards. And thus it happened that my poem was read during last week’s ceremony.

Here’s the poem [click to enlarge]:

Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Black Orchid Code

After such a long silence, I wonder whether I will connect with any of my former readers. Eight months is a long time. 

During that time I have busied myself with pursuits other than blog writing. I wrote a book about the Latin poet Horace, which you can read about here:

I also "reconnected" with a box of oil paints that had once belonged to me as a teenager, my father before that, and his father before that. The result has been a series of seascapes that is fast filling up my house.

And, I found time around Christmas to write a chapter book, which I am self-publishing through CreateSpace and which is available at their online store and on

The book is called The Black Orchid Code. Here is the front cover of the paper back.

And this is the back cover.

About seven or more years ago, I came up with the idea for this story. The idea seemed fun, and I shared it with my mentor Harriett Oberhaus, who immediately loved it.

We spent the afternoon thinking of all kinds of plot points. We even came up with the main characters and the locale: Long Beach, California, where I grew up and where there was a park, an old pine tree, and the streets I knew so well. My notebook was filled with ideas. 

But actually sitting down to turn these ideas into a book didn’t seem fun but hard work. So, the years passed until last Christmas, when I stumbled across a half-written first chapter. As I began to rewrite the chapter, I could see the other chapters in my mind and in no time I had a first draft of the entire book. 

I have always loved languages and this book fits right in with this passion. In fact, I remember a Reader’s Digest article back in the 60s about plant communication and plant feelings. Perhaps I wondered then what it would be like to communicate with a plant, that is, have a real conversation with it. And thus it was in the 1960s, I suppose, that the real germ of The Black Orchid Code began to take root. 

Here is the title page, table of contents as well as the first chapter of the book. You can also order the book on for less than $9.

Happy reading! [Click on each image to enlarge.]