Literature – NO CAN TAKE KALIHI OUTTA DA GUY

New Cedric Yamanaka short story collection finds publisher in Canada

Lee A. Tonouchi
Special to The Hawai’i Herald

Cedric Yamanaka. (Photo by Lee Tonouchi)

Even if you not one hardcore fan of fiction writer Cedric Yamanaka, you probably heard his name someplace cuz he’s one man of multimedias, brah. He used to be one television reporter for KITV News, one radio host for da program Aloha Shorts, and even one newspapah columnist for our very own Hawai’i Herald. He also worked for some of Hawai’i’s biggest companies helping dem with their communication needs. He currently stay da Director of Corporate Communications for the Queen’s Health System. Dis talented buggah’s been writing fiction for a few decades now. His first short story collection “In Good Company” came out from da University of Hawai’i Press in 2002. An’den his second collection “Made in Hawaii” came out just recently from Guernica World Editions.

LT: Congratulations Cedric! I wen notice that your publisher for your new collection stay all da way in Canada! Wassup wit that?

CY: I remember my professor Ian MacMillan at the University of Hawai’i; I remember visiting him in his office and he would be sending manuscripts out to various magazines out on the east coast. And I never in my wildest dreams thought about doing that. After “In Good Company,” I kinda thought about it; I kinda heard Ian’s voice in my ear so I started sending my stories out here and there and I got tons of rejections, but every now and then somebody would be kind enough to pick up one of the stories. And so they would be published in these obscure mainland magazines that nobody really hears about here in Hawai’i. And after a while, after a handful of them got published, I felt pretty good about the stories, but they were never published in Hawai’i so I thought wouldn’t it be great to share them with readers here. So I was fortunate that the Canadians liked what they saw and believed in it. I think it’s actually kind of cool that a Canadian publisher picked it up.

LT: So you know how David Hasselhoff stay big in Germany, are you big in Canada, Cedric?

CY: (Laughing) No, I’m not big anywhere, Lee. But we’ll see. The book is just being launched, I think. That’s one of the things about working with a Canadian publisher, I really don’t have much say in when the publication date is or what the marketing plan is.

LT: Yeah, wassup with your salt water fish cover? If people no read da back of da book dey might see da title “Made in Hawaii” and tink it’s one book about Hawai’i reef fish. You trying for trick unsuspecting fish enthusiasts into reading literature?

CY: (Laughing) You should’ve seen the original cover!

LT: Publishing experts say there’s little money for be made in publishing short story collections, cuz audiences wanna read novels. So at first I wuz wondering if you wuz anti-money li’dat Cedric, cuz you get not one, but TWO short story collections. But den I remembered that previous short stories you wrote, “The Lemon Tree Billiards House,” “The Sand Island Drive-In Anthem,” and “One Evening at the Blue Light Bar and Grill” wuz all made into short films. Den I thought about famous writer Stephen King and how da critically acclaimed movies “Shawshank Redemption” and “Stand By Me” wuz originally short stories he wrote. So what short story from “Made in Hawaii” you tink get da most potential for be one critically acclaimed Hollywood movie, and who’s your dream cast?

CY: I have to say I’ve been very lucky in that the directors that took those three short films that you mentioned, they brought three different types of vision to the stories. When you see these actors and these actresses take your stories and put life into it like that, that’s a tremendous rush, man. As far as the stories in “Made in Hawaii,” I’m thinking it could be two or three of ’em and you could have them be interwoven. But I also have a soft spot for “Tending Bar at the Happy Parrot Chinese Restaurant,” about the bartender who longs to be the next Bruce Lee and his struggle to make his mark. In my dream I would love to have Michelle Yeoh playing a role in there. Jet Li would be awesome, but I think our budget will probably be a little smaller than that (laughing).

LT: You get some stories with some pretty regular local people, like bus driver, accountant, realtor, but den you also get some really eccentric characters, like da UFC stalker, da wannabe hitman and even one Elvis tribute artist. How do you ground these wacky characters in reality?

CY: If you look at the stories, there’s some kind of serious ones and some on the lighter side and I think I try to do that intentionally. I kind of want to mix the hard questions that we all ask about life and death with some of the other more fun things like friendship and love. So if you go through the collection almost every story will fall into one of those categories, so it’s either a lighter one or it’s little bit more of a heavier one; couple of ’em will have a little bit of both. It’s like sweet and sour. You gotta shake it up and keep it fresh.

LT: Da main characters in lotta your stories like for wonder what if. What if I had told my braddah’s girlfriend that he wuz cheating on her? What if I nevah start working dis dead end bartender job? What if I had decided to pursue football in high school? Cuz da theme stay so prevalent, it kinda makes me wonder if da writer get any regrets in life. If you, Cedric Yamanaka, could see da multiverse and revisit one life decision you made, what fork in da road would you revisit? And how did things turn out for you in that alternate reality?

CY: So that’s a question I’ve been asking for decades, Lee, to be honest. The fork in the road was a career in journalism. I took that path and I thought to myself when I became a journalist I would see all of these stories that would just inspire me to write more fiction. But journalism was so demanding that I’m not really sure it really helped with the crafting of fiction more than placed you on a path towards kind of discovering and telling the truth. There was a path that went from either writing fiction or going onto the path of journalism. And I took the path of journalism and then at a certain point I went from journalism to corporate communications. So yeah, the question for me has always been what would’ve happened if I had just went on the path of art and just focused on writing novels. I pretty much think about that on a daily basis. I would probably be eating pork and beans a lot (laughing).

LT: Although all your stories stay about different characters, Kalihi kinda connects your stories togeddah. In your closing story, “Leaving Kalihi” da main character grows up wanting nahting more than to leave Kalihi. Yet aftah saving enough money for buy one home in Mililani he tells, “Funny. I always thought when the day came it would be like a dream come true.” When you wuz younger wuz that how you felt about Kalihi? An’den what wen change? How did Kalihi become so central to your writing?

CY: I’m not as young as I used to be and neither are the friends I hang out with and a lot of us are Kalihi guys. And we sit around lunch and dinners and we talk about that. Yeah, at some point we all wanted to get out and find a different world, but you can take the guy out of Kalihi, but I don’t know if you can take Kalihi out of that guy. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about Kalihi. So while we no longer live there physically, mentally we still do. It’s still home.

LT: What’s your fondest memories about growing up in Kalihi?

CY: You know Lee, that’s a great question, there’s so many of ’em and I think a lot of ’em are in my books. I remember hanging out with friends going to Kapalama canal, fishing for tilapia and medaka, eating plate lunches at Diner’s Drive In, and eating 99 cents Palace Saimin noodles back in the day. A lot of my friends have found their way into the books without them knowing it. They don’t know it’s them, but it’s them.

LT: So do you change da names because you don’t wanna pay dem royalties, li’dat?

CY: (Laughing) I change the names because I know they would want more of their part in the book if I used their real names! For the sake of artistic integrity all names have been changed to protect the innocent (laughing).

“Made in Hawaii” stay available now at da Shop in Kaimuk and Barnes & Noble at Ala Moana Shopping Center. Also available on top amazon.com.

Lee A. Tonouchi’s book “Significant Moments in da Life of Oriental Faddah and Son: One Hawai’i Okinawan Journal” won the Association for Asian American Studies Book Award. An’den his East West Players play “Three Year Swim Club” wuz one Los Angeles Times Critic’s Choice Selection.

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