Talk Story: Patrick Ching

LIHUE— As he grew up in the lush valleys of Oahu, local author Patrick Ching was often fascinated watching the frogs, lizards and birds of his island home.

And although he struggled with English and grammar in school, the Kauai resident was never deterred from wanting to write about Hawaii animals for the state’s children. 

“I was kind of a slow reader to start with and the things that made me want to learn and read were learning about animals that I saw,” Ching said. “I still can’t spell or punctuate properly but I really love putting books together, pictures and words, for people like me that were intimidated by too much words.” 

Ching graduated from Moanalua High School in Oahu in 1980 and attended the University of Hawaii at Leeward College. He received a scholarship in 1980 to attend the Otis College for Art and Design where he studied artistry. In addition to creating works of literature, Ching is also a renowned artist.

Ching moved to Kauai in 1984 to work as a ranger for the National Wildlife Refuge and wrote the children’s novels “Sea Turtles of Hawaii,” “The Hawaiian Monk Seal” and “Honu and Hina.”  

“I write for people like me that maybe are afraid of a lot of words and putting things simply is harder than using big words,” he said. “Big words are easier to use. Writing for a children’s base is a lot harder. You have to be really conscious of reading level of the people reading your books or even mom reading to her kids.”  

The Garden Island: What does writing mean to you?

PC: It’s a way you can share your knowledge and excitement with the world and hopefully get people excited about their life and what’s around them.

TGI: How do you come up with the ideas for your stories?

PC: They kind of write themselves. They’re basically things I’m totally into. In high school, I came across a copy of my first book. My friend and I actually wrote this book in high school, it’s called ‘How Fo’ Surf.’ It’s a little Pidgin English surf instruction manual that’s a best-selling book today but we drew this on the desk in our art class and then we had to scrub it off, but later on we redid it in a book form and this was one of my first books; How Fo’ Surf. It was a family court judge that suggested it to me ’cause he knew I liked to surf and to drawing and he said, ‘If you come up with a little cartoon, surf instruction manual, you’ll get started in publishing.’

TGI: Did you always have a passion for writing?

PC: Not really. I was humiliated as an elementary school kid with reading and writing but I am creative and I like the way words tumble and so that’s what I really liked about writing poetry and books and stuff. It almost isn’t as important as the actual word compared to the music you make when you say it. 

TGI: What inspires you to create your stories?

PC: I think the animals. I love animals. I like to write about animals; turtles seals. As far as authors that inspire me, I don’t know, there’s definitely some artists that inspire me, the late Herb Kane and John Pitre, who lives in Hawaii. These are a couple of, not just artists, I admire, but people who really get things done in the world. My first break was from Buddy Bess at Bess Press and they’re the people that publish my coloring books. That was a big point in my life so I really like Bess Press for the kind of books they put out. Dale Madden of Island Heritage, I’ve worked with for about 30 years and I learned a lot from him. There’s a couple of publishers that I admire and respect in Hawaii. 

TGI: How did you feel when your first book got published?

PC: I felt like I was pretty smart. I think I know actually that it brought joy to a lot of people, to a lot of parents that wanted to teach their kids about animals. The coloring books had a full page of picture and two little paragraphs or sentences about the animal. I found that writing small amounts makes more people read it. So, I was happy that my art was teaching people about nature. 

TGI: Do you have any favorite stories that you’ve written?

PC: I think the Hawaiian Monk Seal was a book that was really easy for me to write but it’s all about Hawaiian monk seals, which I spent a lot of time my life with as a wildlife ranger. In the remote atolls living with them. This was an animal that I never, ever got to see live while I was growing up. They were almost mythical. They never came around the main islands in those days. So when I finally got to be with them, to see them, I was so thrilled and I’m really happy that they’re feeling comfortable enough to come around the main Hawaiian islands. I love it, going to the oceans and seeing the monk seals while I’m surfing — one on the sand that people are getting excited about.

TGI: What would you like to do with your writing in the future?  

PC: I like to write things that appeal to people all over the world and so far my books have been pretty Hawaii based. They’ve been about Hawaiian animals, Hawaiian wildlife. I’ve been published by many different publishers and now I’m publishing through my own publishing company, ‘Naturally Hawaiian Publishing,’ but what I’m looking to do in the future is write books with a range, books that aren’t just specific to Hawaii and a lot of these will be artistic insights, artistic instruction.

TGI: What are you interested in writing about?

PC:  Many things. My whole life is so diverse but basically it’s nature, wildlife and more and more I’m going to be writing about artistic insights, how to get people excited about themselves, their artistic selves.

TGI: How long have you been writing? 

PC: Pretty soon after high school. My actual first books were coloring books. I was kind of angry that we didn’t have books about Hawaiian wildlife, native animals. We had a lot of knowledge about the animals the Polynesians brought with them on the canoes but not about the animals that were here before people. So, in my day growing up, there wasn’t enough literature about them so I started with a coloring book called native animals of Hawaii and because my books sold really well, I found it easy to get a publishing deal any time I wanted to come up with a new book. The publishers were very receptive to me ’cause my books, I guess they sell well for a long time.

TGI: How do you feel about creating stories for children?

PC: Well, that’s a very important audience. I feel I can do it well cause it’s real easy for me to imagine I’m a 4-year-old and it’s easy for my family and friends, too. 

TGI: What do you think of the release of your book, ‘The Tale of Rabbit Island?’

PC: That one is actually a reprint of a book I wrote kind of a long time ago. It’s kind of site specific to the islands off of Oahu, one particularly called Rabbit Island. It’s a story about a rabbit that loved the birds there and it really focuses on, too, on the real name of Rabbit Island, which is Manana, which most people don’t know. There’s an interesting and true story about how it got that nickname but also as important is its real name. ‘The Tale of Rabbit Island’ is a total day dream. I needed to find a reason why they called it Rabbit Island, so I made one up in a day dream and it’s just me enjoying the freedom of making up a story. I’m really happy it’s coming back, in order to make it come back, I just really had to raise the money for it myself. The publishing industry is changing. I think the publishers are depending more on the authors to invest in their own books, which I think is a smart idea and if an author believes in their book enough then they should invest in it.

TGI: What advice would you give to people who are interested in writing or who are interested in publishing a book?

PC: I would encourage them to go and create their own book. It’s not like in days before. When I was growing up you had to find a publisher to believe in you and that could invest $20,000 or more to publish your book. So, very few people got books published about 20 years ago. Now, with different programs, there’s so many ways you can go and make your own book on a computer or use a template, Shutterfly, or somebody. I really encourage people to get their books made and done and hold it in your hand. If your book is very salable and has a lot of potential in a wide market, then you can make a book that can repay you the investment you put in but even that in itself is a challenge. It takes risk, dedication and to make a book that actually pays your investment back, that’s not easy and it’s not common. Most of the self-published books are gonna be for the gratification of the person making it, that they’ve published a book, but most of them won’t see their financial return back unless you have a book that appeals to enough people that will buy it to make for consecutive printings. 

TGI: What’s your favorite moment of writing?

PC: I don’t know if there’s a favorite moment. I do know that making books is one of the things that kept me up late at night. As late as I could stay up. I loved putting books together. Still, with all the art that I do, with all the art shows, the things that keep me up — art — putting words and pictures together in a book. Every time you come out with a book that gets published, a bit of your life is left on Earth that will last a lot longer than I will. So, with every book, it’s like a birth, a birth of a child. 


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