How I Found The Unexpected Story Behind Ho’onani: Hula Warrior

GUEST POST by Heather Gale

Do you love reading how authors find their idea?
I sure do, for inspiration and the gentle reminder that ideas are around us all the time.

Most like to write their idea down at that moment. I used to do the same, but with so many wonderful notes, I began to feel my destiny was in writing fiction! Looking back, because I love physics, my scribbles made the perfect science mystery steam-punk series based on another planet. And in a different lifetime. I realized I hadn’t found my passion, so I switched the theory around. I’d only write down an idea if it still clung to me the next day.

This was my game-changer. I finally saw where my heart lay, in stories about people who, despite the obstacles, made a difference.

So, if you’re at this point in your writing, lots of ideas but no story, try this as well. I hope it works for you too!

The day I discovered Ho’onani: Hula Warrior, I’d bought some old encyclopedias, on the hunt for a fresh untold story. I’d added sticky notes to the ones that piqued my interest and was on my ‘wait for tomorrow,’ program to discover which one made the cut before I did the research.
Now I know that’s not exactly scientific and maybe totally unorthodox, but it holds the kid-like element of surprise and fun.

That evening I decided a documentary would take my mind off all that heavy thinking.

I’m a fan of TED Talks and PBS so I scrolled through both, looking for something random and different. The title that caught my attention was from PBS; A Place in the Middle. Without looking any further, I moved my brain into neutral and hit the play button.

Except, my mind did not stay there for long. Swept along with the story, crying, cheering, then crying again for Ho’onani and her teacher, Kumu Hina, I made air pumps and high-five’s for the boys who accepted Ho’onani and girls who saw her for who she was, the way we all should. When the credits rolled up, I hit the play button again. And again. Then crawled into bed in the wee hours of the morning, emotionally satisfied.

The next day I could not stop talking or thinking about Ho’onani, Kumu Hina, and A Place in the Middle. I watched the documentary again, curious to know where my attention was grabbed so hard that it wouldn’t let go.

I still wasn’t thinking of a picture book at this stage. For some unexplained reason, in my mind ideas for a picture book came from reading newspaper articles and books. Documentaries were a primary resource.

That day I must have watched A Place in the Middle three or four more times in between reading their web site dedicated to the documentary. Impressed with the availability of educational resources, I learned more about the culture and noticed similarities and differences between Maori’s in New Zealand (my home country) and Hawaiian’s.

And then the big question hit me like a ball on a bat. Was there a picture book story tucked inside? This time, with single purpose, I re-watched A Place in the Middle and found the beginning and end to a possible story.

Time to reach out to the producers, Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson. Would they be interested in an unpublished author writing their picture book? I crafted my inquiry, ignored the thriving pile of doubts and pushed send on the email.

Sometimes you need to feel the fear, then jump anyway.

A reply came back fast. Dean and Joe wanted to meet me! ME!!

We agreed on a time and I paced the house, walked the dogs, ran the dogs, paced the house. But as soon as we chatted my nerves evaporated. We were on the same page with the documentary’s powerful message. They agreed to see my first draft. In return, I promised to deliver a non-obligatory story in six weeks. And when I turned off Skype it all seemed like a dream except . . . 6 weeks!?

I’d gotten more-than-a-little carried away.

Doubts crept in and, taking inspiration from Ho’onani, I shoved them aside. There was no time left in my schedule for worry.

I barely slept, writing, typing, editing, watching the documentary, writing some more. Keeping my word, just before six weeks were up, I sent the drafted idea to Dean and Joe.

And they said YES!

So, if you are gripped by an unshakeable story found in an unexpected place, trust your instinct, then write it.

Ideas for a story are everywhere, and I hope you get to hear ‘yes,’ too!

HEATHER GALE is a former orthotist and author originally from New Zealand. Heather loves stories of all kinds, but she especially loves those that feature real people like Ho’onani. She fell in love with the art of storytelling during long car rides, making up stories to go with the scenes flashing by. Heather has two sons and now lives in Toronto with her husband and their two dogs.



  1. Thank you for this wonderful account of how you became brave enough to write about Ho-onani. You mention that you sought the approval of the documentary filmmakers before proceeding. Was that purely for validating your take on their story? Did they have a role in finding a publisher or did you simply include them as a reference when you submitted the story?
    The artwork seems perfect for the book. Congratulations!


  2. Thank you, Heather, for taking us on your creative journey. I really like that you wait a day to see if your idea for a story is still with you before diving in – it’s like the PB writer’s version of think before you speak (note to self).


    1. Thank you, Lisa. That tip has saved me from going down a lot of rabbit holes only to find them fizzle out. I really like your connection to ‘think before you speak’ – exactly!


  3. Brilliant! Love how this unfolded for you in the right place, at the right time. And BRAVO to you for reaching out to make this book happen!


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