On Saturday, at BNZ in Manukau, Lani Wendt Young embarks on her book tour for ‘The Bone Bearer‘, the final book in her ‘Telesa’ series. My two sisters – Talia, of ‘Talia’s Treats’, and Penina of Peninajoy.com – are responsible for putting together the book covers you see above. Penina did the photography, while Talia took care of the design.They have also, bless them, taken care of this Q&A with the author. Talia has kindly written the intro, and Penina, together with our teenage cousin Destiny Momoisea, put together the questions. So, a family affair really. Even more-so a family affair because I’m pretty sure Lani Wendt Young is also related to the boyfriend. Samoans ay, small world.
I know that regardless of whether you’ve read the books or not, you will find this interview interesting, insightful (great questions Pens & Destiny!) funny and inspiring. I hope that if you haven’t read the books yet, it will be the catalyst to doing so:
“Lani Wendt Young is, in her own words, “a blogger, mother of the Fabulous Five, a Demented Domestic Goddess, Wife of Hot Man, Long-Time-Ago-English Teacher, Dancer Only When Nobody’s Looking, and Baker of Too Many Desserts.” She’s also the author of the successful Young Adult contemporary romance series, Telesa, based on Samoan mythology. I’ve found her to be hilariously funny, both in person and on her blog, very focused and willing to gamble on sisters who’d never shot or designed book covers before! Lani kicks off the book tour for the conclusion of the series, “The Bone Bearer”, this Saturday at BNZ Manukau.”
1. For readers who aren’t Samoan or who are like me and just don’t know (lol) is there an actual Telesa legend in Samoa that you based your books around or did you create the Telesa mythology yourself?
Yes there are ‘real’ spirit women in Samoan mythology, called ‘teine Sa’ and Telesa is only one of them. Each of these spirit women is associated with a different village as the guardian for that area and there are different taboos and stories associated with each one. Letelesa is the teine Sa for the area that I grew up in and her name was often used as a warning for us young girls about things we shouldn’t do or else she would get angry and punish us. My curiosity about the teine Sa women is what led me to use these original myths as a springboard for my novels. I wanted to know more about these spirit women when I was growing up and no-one had any answers for me – so I made up my own. The Telesa women in my books are very much my own interpretation of the myths and complete fiction, as in, existing only in Lani’s head… I encourage all those interested in the ‘real’ teine Sa women, to ask their elders and learn more about our mythology.
2. Being polynesians, talking about romance in relationships and sex isn’t something that is discussed openly in our culture. Was it hard to write some of the more steamy scenes eg towards the end of the 2nd book and Leila loses control a bit with the guy in the parking lot of the hospital? and there’s also a lot of sexual tension in the Daniel Tahi book.
It got easier with each book…LOL. Yes its difficult to write about steamy things, especially when one is conscious of all those that will read them. As a Samoan woman, I am not really an individual – I am my parents, my siblings, my children, my extended family aiga, my village, my community and even my church – and its difficult to write romance with all those other forces arrayed before me!! But it was important to honestly portray some of the very real emotions and experiences of any young person falling in love for the first time. As a parent, I know how essential it is to have open discussions with my children about their sexuality and the choices they will be faced with as they get older – I don’t think enough of us are having those conversations with our children. Many mothers AND their daughters (and their grandmothers…) are reading these books and its my hope addressing issues of safe sex and navigating physical boundaries in a relationship in the Telesa series can spark some conversations…
3. You also wrote the Daniel novella from a guys perspective was that hard to do – did you need to ask ‘the hot man’ for his take on things or to get the inside workings of what a guys thinking?
Daniel’s book was the most fun for me to write. It was my chance to BE the guy and MAKE him think, feel and say exactly what I wanted him to ( how many times can a girl get to do that? LOL) I did try to get male input on it. I would talk to Darren about a certain situation in the book and bug him, ‘what would you be thinking at that moment?’ The problem was, he kept telling me, ‘Guys don’t think that much. Your Daniel has waaay too many words and thoughts!!’ The toughest thing for me to write in that book was the sections when umm…when Daniel gets…ummm…a little hot…. Trying to understand HOW exactly that feels for a guy made for some interesting writing conversations, LOL. Overall, my husband thinks the novella is hilarious and reminds me that Daniel is what a WOMAN wants him to be, and thinks like what a WOMAN wants him to….whereas I say Daniel is what more men SHOULD aspire to be like!
4. When you’re developing characters you write about do you loosely base them on people you know in real life. I know a lot of people asked you if Daniel Tahi was based on Ezra Taylor even before he became the ‘face’ of Daniel so was curious to see if you looked at people you knew to develop their characters.
Once and for all, Daniel is NOT based on Ezra Taylor, lol. The Telesa book was already with my editor and ready to go live when a friend of mine first suggested a rugby player called Ezra Taylor as a potential cover model. He certainly fit the physical specs tho and once I was able to find out a little more about him and his background, I was thrilled he could help because Ezra is such a positive role model for our PI youth – he’s more than a six pack and great tattoos.
When I create a character, I draw on bits and pieces of people I know. Sometimes it’s a ‘vibe’ or feeling Im trying to add to a book that guides a character’s creation. Example, my daughter and I were chatting about how so many of my female characters are ‘messed up’…and have troubled relationships with their mothers, and are very angst-ridden people. She said, ‘Mum, you need to make a girl who’s strong, confident, fun, relaxed to be around, and not all emotionally mixed up inside. And she needs to get along with her mother!’ I agreed and so that’s how the character of Talei came about in the third book.
5. One thing I’ve loved seeing is young polynesian people getting into reading BOOKS and enjoying them! Reading books isn’t something that is done so much nowadays with the internet etc … You’ve mentioned in your bio and other blog pieces I’ve read that you were a real bookworm growing up. What were your favourite books and authors as a child or teen?
The Narnia Series – I loved how one could access whole other worlds of magic and fantasy through ordinary things like a wardrobe! Also am a big fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little House on the Prairie books. I still re-read them now as an adult and am reminded how even the minute details of family life can make for fascinating stories. Enid Blyton books rocked my world. So did Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden mysteries.
6. I know you’re super busy so do you still find time to pick up a book and read nowadays? and if so what was the last book you read?
Definitely. I read even more now that Im a writer. When Im deep in the middle of writing a book, I tend to read a different novel every two days because that’s how I relax and get creatively recharged. When Im done with writing a book, I read less and go to lots of movies to relax! The last book I read was an advance copy of RED HILL by Jamie McGuire – NYT Bestselling author of ‘Beautiful Disaster’ and the Providence Series. That’s the super cool thing about being friends with super cool writers, you get to read their books before they come out! It’s a post-apocalyptic novel with zombies – but very much a woman’s story about motherhood, survival and how love for ones child can power us to do extraordinary things. It comes out in October but you can preorder it now online.
7. Any literary heroes who inspired you to write or who have influenced your writing style in any way?
I love the way Amy Tan, Alice Walker, Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison – draw on interwoven threads of feminism and culture in their books. Amy Tan in particular explores mother daughter relationships in her novels so beautifully and powerfully. Stephanie Meyer is an example to me of how its possible for a busy mum of young children to write great stories.
8. When I’m at work I need to listen to music to help me concentrate. When you write do you like to write with music or do you need total peace & quiet to be able to concentrate. Do you have a certain routine you get into when you’re on a roll with your writing?
I write to music – mainly because I write at home in the middle of life with five kids and so blasting music with my earphones locked is the only way to block out the domestic drama. I also tend to tweet a lot when Im on a roll with my writing…random thoughts, questions, comments, short quotes from what Ive just written.
9. You must have learned so much with this whole process of writing your books, getting them published, promoting them etc …. What would you say would be the most valuable lesson you learned as an author and also personally for Lani Wendt-Young?
1. Writing books is hard work. It doesn’t matter how much you ‘love’ to do something, when it becomes your job, it’s still exhausting and there are days when it bores you to tears and you wish you could do something else. Like anything else in life – endurance, persistence, commitment and discipline are key for any measure of success.
2. I continue to be blown away by how supportive and encouraging readers are, especially Pasifika communities worldwide. The only reason why these books have gone anywhere is because of the generosity and enthusiasm of readers who take the lead in sharing, promoting the series and organizing book events. The TELESA readers are the very best part of this journey.
10. Advice for any up & coming young writers out there?
Read a lot. Write a lot. Find inspiration in your everyday life and surroundings. Learn about digital publishing and be brave enough to take control of your writing and how it will be shared with the world.
11. Favourite TV series or character?
Ahhh so many! Am hooked on Downton Abbey right now. Longtime fan of Grey’s Anatomy and True Blood.
12. Favourite holiday destination?
Home. Sorry, I’m a hermit. Don’t really like to travel. My idea of a holiday is a sparkling clean and tidy house, a Kindle loaded with lots of good books, plenty of snacks and Diet Coke – and my children out of the house for the whole day.
13. What do you have on heavy rotation on your car stereo or ipod right now?
Matt Corby – Resolution, Fun – Some Nights,
14. For all the Telesa fans out there – is this really the end of the Telesa series or do you think you’ll expand it past the trilogy?
When I typed THE END for Leila and Daniel, I meant it – that couple have been through so much already, I want them to have a chance for happiness and some ‘regular life’! But I haven’t ruled out a future series that involves Moon and Ryan…. In the meantime, I’m working on another book in the Telesa world already, a companion book in the series. It’s got Teuila and Keahi in it and starts up eight years after the end of ‘The Bone Bearer.’ I would like to also give Talei her own book one day.
15. Whats next for Lani?
Travel – the book tour for The Bone Bearer kicks off this weekend in Auckland then I go to Brisbane and Samoa, a few more places in NZ and then to Hawaii. When that’s done, its family time. I’ve written four TELESA books in the last 2 and ½ years and its time to focus on my family a bit more. We’re moving back home to Samoa in December which is both exciting and challenging to prepare for. I cant wait to be back home and settled because Samoa is where the best writing happens!