One in a Million

Kaui Hart Hemmings beat the literary odds.

Photo by: Christina Simpkins

I once read that only one novel in 20,000 gets published. So imagine the likelihood that a novel would be optioned, then turned into a movie by Fox Searchlight.

With a famous director at the helm. Starring George Clooney. What are the chances of that?

Infinitesimal, which is why local author Kaui Hart Hemmings might want to buy a lottery ticket. She’s had the kind of lightning-bolt success about which most writers only fantasize.

Her novel, The Descendants, centers on a man whose ancestry goes back to Hawaiian alii and missionaries. He struggles to connect with his daughters and decide his family’s future while his wife is comatose. The book is based on Hemmings’ short story, “The Minor Wars.” The novel took less than nine months to write, she says, which, “Set me up for disaster! Nothing will ever be that easy again. I’d bang it out while she [her infant daughter, now age 5] napped. It was a writing exercise. Could I sit down again and get going? I had that fire and drive and wanted to make it work.”

It worked. When the book came out in 2007, reviewers called it “audacious,” and “stunning.” This spring, a movie version began filming on Oahu and Kauai.

“When I heard Alexander Payne was making it, I was thrilled,” says Hemmings. “I love his films.” Payne is an Oscar-winning screenwriter and directed Sideways. Before starting the shoot, Payne and his crew spent a lot of time here, Hemmings notes, checking out locations and questioning locals in pursuit of authenticity for the movie.

“I’m really happy about the people making the film,” says Hemmings, who is now at work on two novels. But she’s equally “proud of the Hawaii people I’ve gotten to connect them to.”

The Descendants is slated to come out in 2011.