Hawai‘i Writers Almanac: Darien Gee
A companion to our feature “The Hawai‘i Writer’s Life.”
A companion to our feature The Hawai‘i Writer’s Life, this compendium of writers, platforms, resources and more intends to map out our literary communities and individuals. It’s just getting started, but we hope it will grow to help them, and you, find each other, scheme together and maybe get some writing done.
WHO: Darien Gee, novelist and writing teacher.
WHAT: Eight novels.
WHY: People who write aren’t always a ton of fun, if you go by portrayals of writers in film and fiction such as The Great Santini and The Shining. (Living inside your head with a zoo-full of characters is, after all, one definition of psychotic). But Darien Gee is candid and witty as she dishes like a best friend sitting across a kitchen table. That’s what her books are like, too, the latest with words like “bread” and “Valentine” and “scrapbooking” in the titles. They focus on domestic lives beset by domestic troubles and tricky balancing acts. Writing about small kine lives is tricky, too, and Gee does it well.
Gee wrote four books under the name Mia King, then branched out under her own name for four more set in a small Illinois town called Avalon. She’s had big advances—for Friendship Bread—and, when times got tough, she self-published.
Married and the mother of three, the longtime Maui resident knows her genre. “These are midlist books,” she says. “You get $10,000 to $25,000 a book. Not a lot, but you build an audience.” Published in 2007, 2008 and 2009, her first three Mia Kings were successful.
Then 2007 came, and publishing virtually froze. Some publishing houses cut half their staffs and half their acquisitions. Because writers live in a time-delay world, where a book may take years to write and another year or two to publish, Gee wasn’t directly affected at first. She was writing while chaos reshaped the writing world, forcing publishers to consolidate, shuttering newspapers and closing hundreds of magazines (148 in six months over 2008-2009).
“To be honest, I never felt the effects of the economic crisis,” she says. “I thought, people will always buy a book if it’s the right book.” But when sales for the 2010 novel didn’t meet expectations, she turned to self-publishing—and found it hard going. In the end, the mother of two went back to school to get an MFA and position herself for teaching gigs. “No one knows what’s gonna sell, that’s the truth,” she says. “You let it go.”
In 2019, she attended AWP, the annual conference of the Association of Writers & Writing Programs. Looking around, she enjoyed what she saw. “There are a lot of young hungry writers out there, they’re well-prepared, they’re getting published in small places. We’re so lucky. We got books. We’re writers. We do what we do best, we tell stories. We write another book. We keep writing. We are storytellers.”