Part-time residents give 'Chicken Soup' island spin
By Wanda A. Adams
Advertiser Books Editor
Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen, motivational speakers turned authors, created a publishing juggernaut with the "chicken soup" concept. Their format has been unchanging since the first book was released in 1993: collections of inspirational short stories meant to comfort, sustain and equip readers to move forward. More than 30 "Soup for the Soul" sister books have been published.
In Hawai'i, however, we always have to do things a bit differently. And Canfield and Hansen, who spend part of each year here, understand that.
So it is that "Chicken Soup from the Soul of Hawai'i," released this week, takes a slightly different tack than the other books.
The title is atypical. The way the book came together is atypical. And the fact that it's themed around a place and not a particular relationship or interest is different.
"Hawai'i is more than a place; it's almost a metaphor," said Robin Stephens Rohr, who co-edited the book.
In it, writers were asked to think about the values that island cultures hold dear, and how these play out in our lives.
"The kupuna wisdom is the taproot of the culture, the old-fashioned values that will take us into the future forgiveness, courage, wanting to make a difference. The Dalai Lama said, 'my religion is kindness,' and that's such a theme of this book," Rohr said.
Impossible becomes possible
Rohr, a writer and photographer with an irrepressible sense of the positive, co-wrote "Powerstones Letters to a Goddess." She arrived for an interview about the book carrying a small, hand-made windmill she had picked up in Portugal.
"I think of Don Quixote tilting at windmills and dreaming 'the impossible dream.' This really was 'The Impossible Dream,' " she said, "but Jack and Mark let us go the distance to make it come true."
Rohr and two friends pitched the idea to Canfield and Hansen six years ago at a book marketing conference and got the OK to begin the effort "on spec," no guarantees.
Two years later, the friends went on to other projects, but Rohr persisted.
Eventually, Canfield and Hansen suggested she work with writer and editor Sharon Linnea, a New Yorker who had "Chicken Soup" experience and had written about Hawai'i ("Princess Kai'ulani: Hope of a Nation, Heart of a People"). The two became e-mail partners, juggling hundreds of manuscripts electronically across 6,000 miles.
Many of those in the book are not people you think of when the word "writer" comes up. But this is the nature of the "Chicken Soup" universe: to include the work of widely known writers alongside the first and only published pieces of people known for other pursuits, as well as everyday folk.
Robert Cazimero writes of the life lessons he absorbed as a young man from his kumu hula, the late Auntie Maiki Aiu Lake.
John Keola Lake explains ho'okipa, the value that epitomizes Hawaiian hospitality.
Dina Ruiz Eastwood tells of the circuitous life path that has led her to consider herself, at last, "Hawaiian All the Way."
Her husband, Clint, contributed a brief essay about why he feels "At Home in the Islands" when they're able to run away to their Maui retreat.
Cazimero admits he was hesitant after his friend Loretta Ables suggested he write a piece.
He had read some "Chicken Soup" books and found them uplifting, but his previous writing experience had been confined to songs and liner notes. "I stayed up nights worrying about it, I was always editing it and e-mailing it to different people and worrying about whether it made sense."
He was asked to write about an important life lesson, and he chose to recall how his hula teacher unwittingly prepared him to deal with her own death by gently showing him her disappointment when he shied away from attending someone else's funeral.
"I didn't think I had anything to offer at first, but, boy, I'm glad I did this, because from the experience of writing this I realized what I had learned," he said. "I'm sure we're all led to these experiences for a reason."
Strength from personalities
While acknowledging that "Chicken Soup" is the franchise name and, of course, had to be used, we asked Cazimero what Hawai'i's version of chicken soup would be. "Lu'au stew," he said. "You know, something with the kalo leaf or the poi gravy, that's Hawaiian."
John Keola Lake helped Rohr, his former student, with all the language translations for the book, sitting with her for hours reviewing manuscripts.
"The strength of the book comes from the personalities and individualities, so that you have this mixture. I think it's beautiful, a beautiful thing we have to share with the rest of the nation," said Lake.
"We can really use this kind of thing, this wisdom, especially from the elders. Maybe if we had paid attention to what they had to say, maybe we wouldn't have such a mess today."
His version of chicken soup Hawaiian-style? Portuguese bean soup, a dish he looks forward to whenever he gets together with the Portuguese side of his family. "Over the soup, we would be talking story, just like in the book," he said.
Elders, kids provide key
Rohr and company began the book by approaching elders and kids, two sources they wanted to be sure would be represented in the finished volume.
"It seemed like the right way, the respectful way, to approach the kupuna first," said Rohr. "This is the Hawaiian way, to get the permission, the blessing, before you start." (Cazimero's story, in fact, touches on the pitfalls of not proceeding in the proper fashion.)
Rohr, who has studied Hawaiian chant with Lake and served on an advisory board for the Naupaka Awards (which recognize individuals and businesses that perpetuate Hawaiian culture) sent out the word to such people in the community as Kanalu Young, Kenneth F. Brown, Kaniela Akaka, Nani Lim, Eddie and Myrna Kamae, the late George S. Kanahele and Gladys Brandt friends and friends of friends who passed the word among cultural practitioners, entertainers, kumu hula and others they knew.
Besides Cazimero and Lake, there are pieces by Nana Veary, Nalani Olds, and a three-generation trio Honey, Don and Hoku Ho.
And they approached schools, including Kamehameha, Punahou and others, to ask teachers to make writing "Chicken Soup" stories a part of curriculum. Gail Woliver, an English teacher at Kamehameha, made it the subject of a whole year's project.
Several students' essays made the final cut. "We went into the school and showed students how to write these kinds of stories and five of those students made it into the final book," said Rohr.
Celebrities were also asked to participate among them June Jones, Jason Scott Lee, Angela Perez Baraquio, Larry Price, Fred Hemmings, Danny Kaleikini, Bo Derek, Kelly Preston, Regis and Joy Philbin and Kenny Loggins.
Representatives of the self-help and motivational movements that spawned the "Chicken Soup" books are here, too: Gerry Jampolsky ("Love is Letting Go of Fear," "Forgiveness," "Shortcuts to God") and Paul Pearsall ("Toxic Success," "The Pleasure Prescription," "Miracle on Maui."
The book is rounded out by others known primarily as writers and storytellers Jeff Gere, Bruce Hale, Jana Wolff, Linda Tagawa, Glen Grant, Makia Malo, Darrell H.Y. Lum, Betty Fullard-Leo, Sue Cowing and several local journalists.
There are dozens of quotes splashed about the book and even some recipes from Hawai'i chefs. (How could you write about Hawai'i without the food?)
As with other "Chicken Soup" books, a portion of the proceeds will benefit charities in this case, the Polynesian Voyaging Society, The Ho'okako'o Corp. (which provides early childhood resources for Hawai'i children) and America's Promise Hawai'i (an agency that assists in childhood learning).
"The joy of the book was summed up perfectly for usÊby John DeFries on the Big Island: 'If everyone who has ever been loved, guided or healed by a kupuna of these Islands lit one candle in tribute to these wise and gracious elders at midnight, the light would be so bright that the Islands would look like they were drenched in the blazing noonday sun,'" Rohr said.
"That light is what guided on this journey to completion."