Darien Hsu Gee is the author of five novels published by Penguin Random House that have been translated into eleven languages. She won the 2019 Poetry Society of America’s Chapbook Fellowship award for Other Small Histories and the 2015 Hawai‘i Book Publishers’ Ka Palapala Poʻokela Award of Excellence for Writing the Hawai‘i Memoir. She is the recipient of a Sustainable Arts Foundation grant and a Vermont Studio Center fellowship. Gee holds a B.A. from Rice University and an M.F.A. from the Rainier Writing Workshop at Pacific Lutheran University. She lives with her family on the Big Island of Hawai‘i.
In this post, Hsu Gee explores the intricacies of crafting micro essays, a faster-than-usual publication process for her newest collection of work, and much more!
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Name: Darien Hsu Gee
Literary agent: Currently unagented. Past titles represented with Dorian Karchmar (William Morris Endeavor), Jenny Bent (Trident Media), Jean Naggar (JVLNA Literary Agency).
Book title: Allegiance: Micro Essays
Publisher: Legacy Isle Publishing (Haliʻa Aloha series)
Release date: October 27, 2020
Genre: Memoir/personal essay
Elevator pitch for the book: An evocative collection of micro essays about growing up Chinese American while navigating the complexities of family dynamics from childhood through the recent pandemic. Kirkus Reviews calls the work “taut and lyrical.”
Previous titles: Other Small Histories (Poetry Society of America), Writing the Hawaiʻi Memoir (Watermark Publishing), The Avalon Ladies Scrapbooking Society (Ballantine Books), and Friendship Bread (Ballantine Books). As Mia King, Table Manners (Berkley Books), Sweet Life (Berkley Books), and Good Things (Berkley Books).
What prompted you to write this book?
I recently launched a micro memoir writing program and hybrid publishing line with an indie publisher, Legacy Isle Publishing, and people kept wanting to know what exactly “micro” meant. I put the book together with a mix of short forms, all personal and true, with three sections – childhood, work life, family life/pandemic. I kept listening to what I thought the book wanted to be and did my best to honor that.
How long did it take to go from idea to publication?
Four months, which is incredibly fast, but since I was the de facto publisher of my own work with a very clear vision for what it would look like, I could make things happen that would not otherwise be possible in traditional publishing. The book itself is very lean, about 104 pages, including front and back matter. It helped that I’m a published author who understands deadlines and working under pressure, and I’m a ruthless self-editor, too. One significant change was that at first, I thought that it would be a collection of sample writing, but it became something more substantial and personal to me, so I had to carefully consider how the work fit together.
Were there any surprises or learning moments in the publishing process for this title?
There weren’t any surprises during the publishing process other than you always think it’s going to be easier or faster than it is, but there was one thing that happened right before the book was out. Allegiance has a couple of essays that touch on my estrangement from my only brother. It’s been going on for almost 20 years, but we were almost completely out of touch for the past ten years. A week before the book was published, he reached out to reconnect, something I didn’t think would ever happen. It is one of the biggest moments of 2020 for me, if not the biggest moment, and yes, that includes the pandemic. After several days of talking almost daily, I told him about the book and let him read an advanced copy. It became a huge source of healing and re-connection for both of us. I was reminded that we write for ourselves first, as honestly and generously as possible, rather than try to respond to the marketplace. I believe this is true even with fiction—you always want to follow the stories and ideas that are exciting and important to you.
Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book?
Some things were easier—I could see the shape of the book faster and could recognize when something wasn’t working. But I had to nudge myself to sit down and write, to battle resistance and dread, to keep my self-doubt at bay. Strangely enough, one thing that helped was the pandemic—while I had days where I could do absolutely nothing (and I mean nothing), I also had moments where I felt an urgency and immediacy, so I used that.
What do you hope readers will get out of your book?
I hope readers will be inspired to look at their own family history and be encouraged to tell their own stories, especially through the use of short forms or micro-narratives, which I think is appealing to both readers and writers.
If you could share one piece of advice with other authors, what would it be?
Be open to creative pivots. They don’t have to be permanent or forever, but a way to listen and honor your creative voice, especially if you’re feeling stuck or not sure what to do next.