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18 Hawaii Books to Read This Summer

Our guide to new and notable books from local authors and publishers.


(page 3 of 5)

From Talking Story to Manuscript

Big Island writer Darien Gee guides would-be authors in writing their Hawaii memoirs.

Darien Gee understands putting pen to paper as much as anyone. After all, the Big Island best-selling author has seven books to her credit, including three written under the pseudonym Mia King.

After nearly 20 years teaching writing here and on the Mainland, Gee has distilled her advice in a new book from Watermark Publishing (disclosure: Watermark is a sister company within the aio group of companies that owns HONOLULU). Writing the Hawaii Memoir: Advice and Exercises to Help You Tell Your Story is exactly what the title claims. It includes nearly 30 writing exercises and practical tips, along with pithy words of encouragement from some of Hawaii’s best-known voices (Lee Cataluna, Craig Howes and Mark Panek, to name a few) to help aspiring writers make the leap from talking story to manuscript.

The Hawaii memoir—from Gov. Ben Cayetano’s ambitious tome to Olivia Breitha’s harrowing account of her exile to Kalaupapa—is as much a part of local culture as Portuguese sweet bread and tutu’s Hawaiian quilt. Unlike baking or quilting, though, writing has a special way of intimidating would-be storytellers.

“There are a lot of expectations about what good writing looks like, and that can throw people off,” Gee says. “We’re not looking for Pulitzer Prize-winning prose here. We’re just looking for real, authentic stories.”

For the uninitiated writer, Gee’s book works as a roadmap to getting memories on paper and then organizing those thoughts into a story. And while plenty of books on writing can be found at Barnes & Noble, none address the particular challenges involved in local writing.

“We have so much Asian culture in the Islands that there is a lot of You’re embarrassing the family or That’s a secret. What I’ve come to discover is that no one benefits from keeping our story secret,” she says.

In the book’s forward, Pamela Young, co-author of My Name is Makia: A Memoir, recounts how so much of her family’s immigrant past has been lost by the all-too-familiar We don’t talk about that mentality.

She recalls discovering a photograph of a hopeful, young version of her grandfather who was very different from the fatigued, hardened man in the portrait she grew up seeing. What happened to him during the years in between?

“I will never know, because Gung Gung (Grandfather) Young was not to be mentioned. That’s the way it was back then. Families were so focused on the future they often refused to look back, especially on the darker side of personal history,” she writes.

Straddling the line between talking stink and writing what’s true can trip up local writers, too. In fact, Gee spends a section talking specifically about this issue.

So what happens once you’ve gone through the process of writing down your story?

Most of us aren’t looking to become the next Joan Didion or David Sedaris. We just want something to share with family, a few friends and maybe the generation to come. In that case, several inexpensive options exist. With the wonders of print-on-demand publishing, “you can literally have a book in a week,” Gee says.

Ultimately, though, this book is about getting people on the path of writing, especially those of us who aren’t looking for huge commercial success and just want to preserve our unique Hawaii experience for posterity.

“Most writers will say, always write for yourself first. It keeps it real and true.”

What’s her big piece of advice? “Don’t edit, don’t judge. Just get it down. Once you get it all down, you can decide what to keep and what to get rid of. Until then, just write and tell the story as honestly and as fully as you can.”

The Bento Box Memoir

Here’s one of Darien Gee’s favorite writing exercises from Writing the Hawaii Memoir.

First, decide on how many compartments—or memories—your bento box will have (minimum three, maximum six). Second, choose a period of time or a theme. A period of time could be a single day, such as a birthday or wedding, while a theme focuses on an overall thought or feeling. Divide a piece of paper into the number of compartments you’ve chosen. Now fill each compartment. Don’t overthink it.

Jot a few notes for each compartment. After letting it sit, go back and circle a keyword or phrase in each section. Use the memories to start writing.

Example: Theme — Arts & Crafts

#1: Neighbor

  • Shari

  • Girl Scout Cookies

  • Stained Glass

#2: Craft Room

  • Beads

  • Buttons

  • Overwhelmed

#3: Friend

  • Mary

  • Hawaiian Sun

  • Hospital

#4: Self Portrait

  • Disappointed

  • Dad


Self-Publishing, Local Style

Here are a few local options for self-publishing your Hawaii memoir.

Belknap Publishing & Design, Independent Resources, belknappublishing.com

Mutual Publishing, under its Scripta imprint, mutualpublishing.com

Watermark Publishing, under its Legacy Isle Publishing imprint, legacyislepublishing.net

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