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he bills were piling up and Amber Mui Fah Stierli had to make a decision. She was working at the University of Hawai'i's Manoa Journal doing editorial and typesetting work, but the job was only part-time. With graduation coming up and rent bearing down on her, she knew she'd have to quit or get a second job. Manoa was “home” to Amber and she wasn't ready to leave, so she decided to get another part-time job.

“I was about to accept, with dread yet stubborn resolve, a night position as a newspaper sheet-feeder, when my boss at Manoa suggested an alternative: get my GE license and freelance as an editor/proofreader/typesetter. Immediately I felt lighter, excited. I took on a few freelance jobs. Then I got ambitious.”

That ambition drove Amber to start her own publishing company Monkeypod Ink, and three years later, her first book, Undrawn Lines: an anthology of short fiction was published.

“The anthology began from an observation: I was meeting strong writers, professionally and academically, here in Hawai'i-my home, their home-but they were sending their manuscripts to the Mainland for publication. Why? There is no market here for writing that is not set in Hawai'i.”

With vision, courage and determination, Amber set out to pioneer a new market for Hawaii's writers and help bring their manuscripts back home.

Undrawn Lines is a beautiful book that features fifteen stories from fifteen authors, each unique and well crafted. Many of the stories are set in Hawaii, but they are not limited to place-one story is set in Malaysia, another on the slopes of Kilimanjaro, and yet another in outer space. Among my favorites are Feng Hutchins' haunting story The Ghost Wedding, Brenda Kwon's literary examination of passivity in Everyday Practice, and Tamara Pavich's story on relationship struggle and homesickness in Change of Weather (full reviews and Q&A with the authors below). Together the stories make one impressive collection that's not to miss.

Recently, I had a chance to catch up with Amber and talk to her about this wonderful collection that she compiled, edited, and published. She's quite a remarkable woman who is dedicated to exemplifying the diversity of Hawaii-based writers and an inspiration that we can accomplish what we set our minds to.

Amber Stierli was born in the Nuuanu/Alewa Heights area and, except for a short stint as a fish processor in Alaska, has lived there since. Aside from being a publisher, she is also the book buyer at Jelly's: the original books, comics, games, and music store, as well as a substitute teacher in the Honolulu District.

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WOW: Congratulations on creating the exceptional anthology, Undrawn Lines! What inspired you to compile a book of Hawaii-based writers?

Amber: There's tremendous talent here, but a lot of these writers are not getting published locally. Why not create that option? I wanted people to see what's otherwise being published in mainland literary journals, or not at all. And I wanted to showcase their art in a book, crafted with respect and attention.

WOW: Well, you definitely accomplished that. Each story is unique in its own way and the variety of voices is refreshing. How did you find the writers for your anthology?

Amber: Some were pure gifts, others I specifically asked for. I sent out a call for submissions around March 2004 and received maybe 25-30 stories. I culled those down to eleven. The remaining four I got by luck and persistence. I asked certain people, certain strong writers I knew, and kept pestering them till they gave me something.

WOW: (laughs) I'm sure they appreciate the 'pestering' now. Was the selection process difficult?

Amber: Yes and no. For the most part, I could tell from the first paragraph whether or not it was a keeper. Some just weren't ready and no amount of editing could change that. If the piece showed promise but I couldn't use it, I sent the author a full critique.

WOW: That's rare... to get a critique from an editor and publisher, what a gift. So when you'd chosen the stories you wanted to publish, did you have to do a lot of editing?

Amber: Some more than others. I was wary of being too heavy-handed. I wanted any major changes to come from the authors, not me. So I tried to make it a real back-and-forth process-asking about the character's motive, asking for clarification on specific actions, asking if this or that is plausible-then listening, waiting. Sometimes I met up with the authors and had a face-to-face brainstorming session. I enjoyed that.

But I did get over-zealous at times. In a few cases I rearranged the whole piece and cut out entire sections. Certain authors balked at these changes (and I don't blame them.as an editor, I'm quite brutal). Ultimately, I went with a version they were more or less comfortable with, though I kept a few of my changes -there's a point where I won't budge.

WOW: You sound like a joy to work with, both fair and stern. How about the order of the stories... how did you decide on that?

Amber: This was a whole process in itself. I spread out all the manuscripts on the floor in two rows, eight on top, seven on bottom. I thought of the first, eighth, and fifteenth as turning points—the first setting a certain course, the center changing dramatically, and the last leaving us with something that continues beyond the book. The stories in-between needed to lead us to each point. When figuring out where to place them, I considered their length, heaviness or lightness, whether or not they were set in Hawaii, and theme. I didn’t want too much similarity from piece to piece, yet enough connection to create transition.

I did this several times over different phases of production-rearranging, rearranging, rearranging. I also got a lot of help from family and friends. They read the entire book, sometimes more than once, and offered feedback. Their advice was crucial to my final decision about the order.

WOW: The way the book flows is impressive and just the right combination. When reading it you don't notice the transitions because it feels so right, only now that you mentioned it, I can see all the work you put into it! You've really raised the bar for yourself and Monkeypod Ink. By the way... how did you come up with the name, Monkeypod Ink?

Amber: Where I grew up in the Nuuanu/Alewa Heights area there was a park across the street with a big monkeypod tree near the center. Somehow I keep coming back to this tree, this type of wood. I've climbed its branches, sober as well as drunk (not recommended, by the way). Once I built a stool out of monkeypod wood-it's a lovely hardwood with a wild grain, a contrast of dark, dark patches and very light ones.

When trying to think of a company name, I wanted to communicate that this was a local business without using an oversaturated symbol like pineapple. I also wanted the name to reflect bookmaking. Thus Monkeypod Ink, wood and ink.

“... the most ambitious side of me wants to
change the face of publishing in Hawaii,
open it up so there are no boundaries.”

WOW: I've never heard of that wood, it sounds beautiful. But as a business owner, I know that coming up with a name is the least of your worries. There's publicity to deal with, advertising, bookkeeping, distribution, and human resources... what is the most challenging aspect of running a publishing company?

Amber: Being responsible for every facet. I’m not a multi-tasker, so juggling is a challenge. If I try to see the whole picture, I freak out. So I’ve learned to concentrate on one step at a time, and the power of intervals. This amount of time is set for book design, this amount for prepping galleys, this amount for accounting and taxes…oh, and I bought a punching bag. That helps a lot too.

WOW: (laughs) Now there's something I didn't think of, maybe I should look into it! I read that you paid for the printing of Undrawn Lines out of pocket, which exemplifies your dedication to this project and also your need for a punching bag. How did you ultimately choose a printer?

Amber: I really wanted to get it printed locally. But the quotes here were three times the amount of the mainland companies and I just couldn't afford it.

When I came across Malloy, I was immediately attracted to them. Their website was friendly, informative, environmentally conscious-their energy seemed to gel with the energy of the book. When I called them, they were very patient with my “beginner” questions. And the quote was right.

“... if you think about it too much,
you'll never take that first step.”

WOW: We admire your passion with this project-your commitment to voicing the diversity of Hawaii's writers. What do you hope to accomplish with this anthology?

Amber: Well, the most ambitious side of me wants to change the face of publishing in Hawaii, open it up so there are no boundaries. I want people to realize what incredible talent we have here-the stuff we're not seeing-to celebrate it. But mostly I want people to enjoy narrative. Telling and hearing stories, that's what this is about.

WOW: I think you've accomplished that with this anthology, and you're well on your way to changing the publishing world in Hawaii as well. Do you plan to publish any more anthologies?

Amber: No, no more anthologies. At least not for a long while. A novel maybe, or a how-to manual.

WOW: So are you currently accepting submissions/book proposals?

Amber: Yes. Please keep it simple. No long explanations or summaries. Just send a hardcopy, along with your name and contact info to:

Monkeypod Ink
712 Kamuela Ave, #303
Honolulu, HI 96816-1177

WOW: So, Amber, where do you see (or would like to see) the market headed for Hawaii's writers?

Amber: Global, especially Asia. I'd like to see more literature exchange within Polynesia itself, then also with China, Japan, Korea, and the Philippines. We already have ties to these countries in our blood, why not create a bond in narrative also?

WOW: Good observation. Since this issue is called, “The Wings of Self-Promotion,” do you have any advice to share with our readers/writers?

Amber: Jump right in. Once you've made that commitment, you'll get yourself out of it one way or another. But if you wait, if you think about it too much, you'll never take that first step.

WOW: Thank you Amber, that's great advice. You've shared your heart with us and we wish you the best of luck in all your endeavors. We'll keep an eye on the newly changing market in Hawaii and on Monkeypod Ink.

Amber: Mahalo for this opportunity.

Contact Amber Mui Fah Stierli:
monkeypodink@hotmail.com

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Review of three stories from Undrawn Lines:

The Ghost Wedding
By Feng Feng Hutchins

Ghost stories are a deep-rooted part of Asian culture, but I was surprised and intrigued to hear of a "ghost wedding". The story begins with a dream Mrs. Moh has of her recently departed son. In the dream her son comes to her and tells her he's chosen a spirit bride. So Mrs. Moh contracts the town clairvoyant and asks her to arrange a wedding. The clairvoyant, Mrs. Wong agrees for a pricey sum and sets out to the cemetery to find the spirit bride. Mrs. Wong is unable to find the bride, but as a slightly unsavory character she quickly develops a scheme that involves a much bigger wedding for a much larger expense...

Feng Hutchins writes with raw, yet elaborate, attention to detail. I could smell the food being prepared, and see the characters first hand. The story isn't like anything you've read before and I always love an ending that lingers...something that leaves you wondering. I've been reading Feng's stories for years and they continue to amaze me. She seems to have found her niche.

Q&A:

What does participating in this anthology mean to you as a writer who resides in Hawaii?

Feng: It means exposure and recognition for my writing that would not be available from most local publishers. It gives me a chance to show the local writing community what I can do. People on the mainland can see that I can get my work published here-no small achievement.

What Hawaii-based markets do you submit to? And what types of submissions do they typically look for?

Feng: I have tried local literary magazines and children book publishers. Local publishers look for local stories dealing with Hawaiian culture. These stories often use pidgin language. Since I'm not raised in Hawaii, it's difficult to find an authentic voice for those kinds of stories. It's easy for an outsider to miss the subtleties of the Hawaiian worldview. Consequently I don't write those stories, and the result is that it's hard to get published locally. Not impossible, just hard.

Where did you draw your inspiration from when writing your story?

Feng: My inspiration came from my Chinese culture and family stories. I am inspired by ordinary women doing extraordinary things.

What are you working on right now?

Feng: I am currently working on two picture books and my collection of short of stories.

Feng Hutchin's Bio: 1 cup Sweet and Sour Mom; 1 cup Hot and Spicy Wife; 1/2 cup Dim Sum Lover; 1/4 cup Kungfu Movie Addict; 1 Tbs Storyteller; 1 pinch Miser. Stir in Chinese and Malaysian cultures to taste. Mix well and chill. Yields dozens of yummy stories, fun experiences and delightful friends. Visit Feng's blog: http://fenghutchins.blogspot.com


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Everyday Practice
By Brenda Kwon

“Everyday Practice” is the story of an average Joe, more passive than most, who finds himself in a battle with his cat and his routine one morning. The cat had been a present from his ex-girlfriend who'd left him eight weeks ago, and a reminder of his failed relationship.

His aunt sets him up on a date, but he only goes through the motions-living had become a set of tasks. It wasn't until his cat defiled his work shoe that he began to feel. Breaking his routine broke his passivity and renewed his outlook on the little things in life-things like feeling the water cascade down his shoulders in the shower. It was only then that he remembered his childhood, that he was different once-he wouldn't dip his steak in ketchup like the rest of his family did-and he could be different again, break out on his own...

This well structured story takes place in one morning with a series of flashbacks interwoven into the storyline. Brenda Kwon writes poetic prose with attention to theme, time, space, and character development. Mostly written in narrative, she adds spare dialogue that hits the mark when most needed. What a delightful and perceptive read!

Q&A:

What does participating in this anthology mean to you as a writer who resides in Hawaii?

Brenda: There's been a recent explosion in the language arts, particularly with spoken word and performance poetry, and those things have added to the literary voice here. I was born and raised on O'ahu, so I've seen the artistic climate really change. I met Amber when I was running a poetry series called “Rhythm&Rhyme” over at Coffee Talk. She told me about the anthology she wanted to put together, and I was excited about it because it seemed to take all the experimentalism I was seeing in the performance poetry community and put it on the page in the medium of the short story. I think Amber's begun something here, adding one more voice and one more complicated dimension to what we consider “Local”.

What Hawaii-based markets do you submit to? And what types of submissions do they typically look for?

Brenda: I've been really grateful to Bamboo Ridge for publishing my work and for giving me feedback. That group is comprised of seasoned writers who are so well-read and so aware of language. It's true that they look for stories about “Local life”--after all, Bamboo Ridge was born out of the need for local people to speak for themselves at a time when everyone thought “Local Literature” was an oxymoron. And that they continue to do that is so important. Sometimes they're criticized for being “exclusionary,” but their mission and vision about perpetuating Local writing have always been clear.

If you want to read other types of work, then you have to open up that space, and that's exactly what Amber did. And I think Amber proved there's absolutely space in which people can do that.

As for spoken word, that's a little different because you're not really “submitting” work--you're performing it. When I was doing slam, I was a regular at Hawai'i Slam, but I also began my own poetry series called re:VERSES, which was a platform for writers to read in a non-competitive format. The pieces that people respond to the most seem to be the ones in which the poet is calling out for the truth. That's encouraging to me that people come looking for the truth.

Where did you draw your inspiration from when writing your story?

Brenda: I've been studying meditation and mindfulness for years, and at the time I wrote Everyday Practice, I started to understand that all the events we experience in life are external to who we are. The problem is that we over-identify with them and begin defining ourselves by what happens, and since that always changes, it's hard to find a center. Getting out of that cycle involves awareness, and that awareness can come in the most unexpected moments--like listening to water running in the shower. So I started thinking about what would happen if that moment of discovery happened to someone whom people might not associate with spirituality: like your everyday Local Joe. A lot of times, Local people and culture are dismissed as simplistic or unsophisticated, and I wanted to challenge that. I have a lot of affection for my character, for the people in his life--the auntie, his nosey mother, his distressed girlfriend--because they're real and honest.

And while the main character knows he should appreciate everything around him, he can't because he's lost the ability to be present, to see meaning. And so the actions of his ornery cat become the catalyst to his realization. It needed to happen through something he couldn't control, and he definitely can't control his cat.

What are you working on right now?

Brenda: I spent last year in Korea on Fulbright fellowship teaching American Literature at Korea University. The experience of being in “the home country” was so complicated and strange, especially since I was born and raised in Hawai'i and speak almost no Korean. What I went through is the basis of the novel I'm writing, entitled “Mother Tongue”. I still do the occasional spoken word piece, but I've pulled back from performing almost entirely. These days, my dream is to be in front of my computer and write.

Brenda Kwon's Bio: Brenda Kwon is a poet, writer, and educator born and raised in Hawai'i. The author of Beyond Ke'eaumoku: Koreans, Nationalism, and Local Culture in Hawai'i and co-editor of YOBO: Korean American Writing in Hawai'i, her work has appeared in various journals and anthologies, and she has performed her poetry in Honolulu, Los Angeles, Boston, New York, and Seoul.

A 2005-2006 Fulbright Fellow, she co-hosts the monthly poetry series re:VERSES and teaches at Honolulu Community College.


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Change of Weather
By Tamara Pavich

Tamara's story is the first one out the gate and a perfect beginning to this wonderful anthology. The story is about a couple that go on a second honeymoon to Hawaii for their year anniversary. The first one wasn't a 'real one' according to apparently superficial bride. So while she spends her days getting endless treatments done at the resort spa, Frank spends his days seeing the sights and immersing himself in the culture. However, the Hawaiian countryside reminds him of his roots, growing up in Iowa as a pig farmer, and he quickly becomes homesick. He shaves off his mustache revealing the harelip he'd kept hidden for a year from his wife, and experiences an awakening that comes like a quick change in weather.

Tamara Pavich is a seasoned writer whose exquisite prose seems to roll effortlessly from her pen. Is there such a thing as a perfect story? If there were then this one would be in the running.

Q&A:

What does participating in this anthology mean to you as a writer who resides in Hawaii?

Tamara: I moved to Honolulu from Iowa nine years ago, and one of the first Hawaiian words I learned was “malihini.” I'm grateful that Amber found a spot in this anthology for a “malihini story.” The places I know best are in the Midwestern U.S., so in the story, I took my unhappy Midwesterner to Hawaii and gave him an experience of Oahu as a tourist, which had a bearing on his problems back home.

What Hawaii-based markets do you submit to? And what types of submissions do they typically look for?

Tamara: A long time ago, I submitted to a local contest and won with another malihini story. The former editors of Hawaii Review requested and published a couple of my Midwest stories. But I have not submitted my work here, mainly because I usually write about Midwesterners at home in the Midwest. I have assumed--maybe wrongly--that the setting and subject matter of my work wouldn't match the needs of local journals.

Actually, I once read this story at a public event at UH, and the local people in the audience laughed quite a bit at the character's perceptions of Oahu, his trouble with place names, his toe-cramps from wearing slippers, his curiosity about wild pigs. A couple of them stayed and talked with me about it later. I think in some ways, the story is more entertaining for people who are intimately familiar with this place and culture--that familiarity contrasts with the tourist's wonder and confusion.

Where did you draw your inspiration from when writing your story?

Tamara: From my own experience as a newcomer, sometimes homesick for the familiar. For the first year or so, I had trouble with Hawaiian place-names, mixing up the syllables. When I say that five seconds after hearing a name, the character Frank “couldn't remember if it was Maka-something or Kama-something,” I'm speaking from my own memories. He's constantly comparing, too, imagining the weather back home, the snow and slush, while he watches the never-changing weathercast here. He thinks of the cornfields back home when he sees the field in Kahuku. He wants to see a wild pig and compare it to his pig-farming experience in Iowa. I constantly made those comparisons when I first moved here.

My husband, his siblings, his mother and uncles all grew up here and went to Kamehameha Schools, and through them and their circle of friends, I've experienced the warmth and patience that I attribute to Kimo in the story.

What are you working on right now?

Tamara: I'm working on a story collection, a novella and stories set in the Midwest. I'm writing about rural and small-town people mostly.

Tamara Pavich's Bio: Born and raised in Iowa, Tamara is a PhD candidate at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa where she has won the Clark Award With Distinction, first prize in the Saiki Short Fiction Contest, and, most recently, the Ian Macmillan Fiction Award. Natural Bridge, Green Hills Literary Lantern, and Hawai'i Review have published her short fiction. She is at work on a collection of stories and a novel of stories.


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Be sure to pick up a copy of Undrawn Lines while it's still available. Mahalo.


 

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