‘Middle Son’ novelist Iida visits KSM

Her story on writing a story


Photo by Destinee Murray

Ms. Deborah Iida, author of the novel ‘Middle Son,’ visited the sophomore English classes, Oct. 3, 2014, at Kamehameha Maui to talk about her book, which they had just finished reading.

Deborah Iida, author of Middle Son, spoke to the sophomore English classes of Ms. Noelani Yatsushiro on yesterday. She told her story of writing Middle Son and later answered students’ questions.

Sophomores welcomed Ms. Iida when she entered Ms. Yatsushiroʻs class by lining up and chanting Oli Aloha. She was presented with a lei, and students read original poems based on characters, like William and Taizo, from her book.

To start her book talk, Ms. Iida said she was amazed at how people got different impressions from the same characters and told how everyone interprets the messages in her books in different ways.

She said that her journey to writing Middle Son began when she was growing up.

“I would read a book day up until ten years ago,” Ms. Iida said. She had a passion for reading and writing growing up.

During her sophomore year in high school, she was not selected to be in AP English.

“I could read and write but I wasn’t good at taking standardized tests,” she said. At that time, she felt like she wasn’t good enough, but that changed her next year of English.

As a junior, she had written a book report for her English class. In that class, students were required to read one book per quarter and write a report on it. In her first quarter, she read Les Miserables, which is over 1200 pages.

“When I got my report back, it had four A’s on it,” Ms. Iida said, “I was wondering why I got four A’s.”

Her teacher said it was because she had gotten an A for each quarter, meaning she did not need to do another book report for the rest of the year and that she didn’t need help to write and read better. This boosted, she said, boosted her self-esteem in terms of writing.

One of the moments in her adult years that planted a germ of an idea for Middle Son, when she was at a family party.

Her husband’s uncle came up to them, pointed to her husband, Harold, and said, “You were supposed to be mine.” Confused, Ms. Iida asked her husband what it meant. He explained that his father had promised the uncle that he could raise Harold; however, when Harold was born, his father went back on his promise and said he would give up his next son. At this time, Harold was the second son and fourth child in his family.

Fifteen years passed and, after having three more girls, the elder Iida’s had another son, their eighth child. Again, they would not give him up as promised.

This story fascinated Ms. Iida and got her to wondering “what if?” What if her husband’s father had kept his promise?

This was how Middle Son was formed.

Ms. Iida spent three years writing her novel, and she wrote it based on the death of William. However, when she came to the last chapter, she was tempted to write about Taizo’s death. This forced her to rewrite her entire book from the very beginning since the story had changed with his death.

She spent another three years re-writing Middle Son.

Finally, her story was complete but she had no idea what to do with it afterwards. Her husband suggested she attend the Annual Maui Writer’s Conference (now held on Oʻahu). It cost hundreds of dollars, but by splitting the costs with a “weird” roommate, she attended anyway.

“She liked to meditate naked…I was barely in the room,” Ms. Iida said to the giggles of the students listening.

At the end of the 3-day conference, the organizers announced that the first 50 pages of her book had won a first place Works in Progress award out of the many fledgling books that had been brought to the conference by the writers in attendance.

This persuaded her to search for an agent. She began by looking up the agents of authors of her favorite books or of authors who had written books similar to hers.

After reaching out to the various people on her list, she received a phone call at 4 in the morning. It was an agent begging to represent her.

The next step was finding a publishing company to buy her book. She said it was a hard process because publishers at the time were having difficulty understanding the “pidgin English” contained in the dialogue in Middle Son.

Eventually, a small publishing company gave her a contract. The book resonated with locals and Hawaiʻi students, and now, over 15 years later, she is retired and visits schools to speak about her book.

Iida has continued to write other manuscripts, though no others have been selected for publication so far.

“How do you become a better writer? This is how… The most important thing is… you’ve got to read,” Ms. Iida said.