Hawaiian author Kaui Hart Hemmings returns with The Possibilities, the story of Sarah St. John, a woman struggling to return to life after the death of her adult son in an avalanche. We asked her a few questions about the new book and what she’s working on next.
Though The Possibilities is a book about grief, it also deals with the way that parents and children’s relationships change as they reach adulthood. What interested you in this topic?
It’s a process that involves a lot of loss and a lot of gain, a lot of nostalgia, hope, mystery, and miscalculations. You can know your family so well, but only in terms of that particular relationship. You don’t know them as friends or colleagues. I’ll always be interested in this topic. I don’t think I’ll ever be writing about wars or someone in an office coming to terms with his or her identity. I like small relationships—minor wars.
"I don’t think I’ll ever be writing about wars or someone in an office coming to terms with his or her identity. I like small relationships—minor wars."
What is the significance of the title?
The novel explores freedom and choice, and I want to show that there are so many variations, opportunities and possibilities for all choices and directions. There are so many ways our lives can go—it’s exhilarating and scary.
You couldn’t have chosen a more different setting for your second book—what inspired you to set this novel in Colorado?
I went to Colorado College then moved to Breckenridge after graduation. It’s a place I love and try to return to as much as possible.
How much pressure did you feel writing a follow-up to a book as successful as The Descendants?
None at all. The Descendants as a novel, despite great reviews, didn’t really get read until the film was made. I don’t even think of it as a great success. It’s just a book, and I’ve written another book, and I’m just going to keep writing what I’m interested in and hopefully, it will get read. There’s my own pressure, but I’m not a big enough writer to feel anyone’s expectations. I’m still new at this.
Like The Descendants, The Possibilities has been optioned for film, to be directed by Jason Reitman (Labor Day). Do you have a dream cast? How do you feel about seeing your work on the big screen?
I have ideas about who would be great in the roles of these characters, but you can’t really cast things in your mind—you need to see auditions. Who would have thought Matthew Lillard could be George Clooney’s rival? I didn’t—until I saw his taped audition. I loved seeing my work, and Alexander Payne’s work, on screen. What’s not to love? It’s another layer, dimension—a second act. It keeps your book alive, and it’s so much fun.
The relationship between Sarah and Billy (Cully’s dad) is so realistic and touching. Where did that come from?
Maybe it’s something I wish I had, or do have with my own parents. It’s a great privilege to feel annoyance, frustration, love and joy with your loved ones. I hug my family and yell at them all the time.
Losing a child is certainly a parent’s worst nightmare. As a parent yourself, did you find the scenes that describe Sarah’s grief difficult to write?
It’s difficult because you never know if you’re getting it right, but then I think to myself: there is no “right.” Your character is going to grieve and express this grief the only way she can. And so I just stay in character and write.
What are you reading right now?
I’m reading The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. She writes in a way I never could. I’m rather spare.
What’s next for you?
A YA book called Juniors, to be published Fall 2015, I think.
RELATED IN BOOKPAGE: Read our review of The Possibilities.