In preparation for the avalanche of media coverage that will be exploding like a volcano (talk about mixing some bad metaphors), I have set up a Google Alert with my name, and lo and behold, I actually got a hit. The article is from my hometown newspaper, the Warren Reporter. It all looks good, except they said my novel came out last month. But hey, press is press, so I’m grateful.
The other bit of news I found today was that an email interview I did a little while ago got in The Korea Daily. It’s been there for about two weeks, so if I hadn’t been so lazy setting up my Google Alert, maybe this would’ve been my first. In any case, for those who want to read the interview in English that I’d originally done with the reporter, check out the exchange below. The Korean version has been shifted around here and there, but it’s basically the same thing.
1. What current writing projects do you have in works? What other activities are you currently involved in?
I’m halfway through one novel and a quarter of a way through another. The one that’s 50% done is a sci-fi novel, and I’m at the point where the book is going to turn in a very different direction, so I decided to go to the other book, which is a more conventional story of a brother and a sister. I’m sort of hot on this one right now, so I’ll keep going until it cools down. I’ve written one novel, but these two are proving to be very different creatures.Having a full-time job and writing in my spare time keeps me very busy, so my extracurricular activities are minimal. When the weather gets nice again, I’ll get back to playing tennis. And watching the Mets play baseball. Hopefully they’ll have some better luck this year.
2. What genre of written work do you like most and what genre do you want to write yourself?
Mostly I stick to what is commonly referred to as “literary fiction,” real-life types of stories. However, as I mentioned, I am writing a sci-fi novel, and another book I’m planning to write is a mystery. Genre really doesn’t concern me, though. The more important thing is to just keep writing about things and people that interest me and let the genre come naturally. I have a feeling that for most writers, you don’t pick the genre — the genre picks you.
3. Who are your favorite writers and why?
If I had to pick one writer, it would be Richard Yates. He wrote with such devastating honesty, unafraid to show the faults of his characters. Some others: Stewart O’Nan (nobody can get under the skin of a character better than Stewart O’Nan; he’s never written the same book twice); Don Lee (for someone who’s such an exquisite writer, Lee never short changes the reader when it comes to entertainment); Brian Morton (a master of switching points of view to create tension, drama, and humor). You can take a look at the Writers page on my website to see the complete list as it stands today: http://www.sungjwoo.com/writers/.
4. How has your Korean American background had an effect on your writing inspirations and style? Did it have a positive effect or did it rather provide obstacles for you?
Considering the subject of my novel, I’d say my background had a profound and positive effect on my writing. The story of Everything Asian is the story of my own life. Like the protagonist David Kim, at 10, I immigrated to the U.S. from South Korea with almost no knowledge of the English language to reunite with my father. I spent most of my adolescence working in a similar gift shop. But at the same time, the book is a work of fiction, and better for it. For example, one key element of Everything Asian is the relationship between David and his father, and if someone were to compare the facts of my life to the novel, they would find a great disparity. My own father was a distant man who only spoke out of necessity, while in my novel, the father is an emotionally effusive character.
This is the power of fiction, to reimagine a different past, to relive certain moments of your life through characters you’ve created, which in turn become their lives and no longer yours. I suppose you could call it a form of therapy, but then again, what art isn’t?
5. What advice would you give the next generation of Korean American youth wanting to become writers?
I don’t mean to sound like Nike, but their slogan is apt: just do it. You become what you do, so if you want to become a writer, you must write. It helps to write every day, even if it’s for half an hour or just fifteen minutes. You have to sit in front of that computer and pay your dues. I’d also recommend that they be afraid of nothing, that they shouldn’t edit themselves in any way from their feelings or desires. The best work comes from the heart, so the more you’re able to peel away those layers that prevent you from getting to the truth — sociological, personal, religious, whatever — the more true your work will be. Because there’s nothing more beautiful than truth.
Also — there’s no such thing as writing without reading. Read, read, read! Novels, nonfiction, newspaper, screenplays — anything and everything.
6. What inspired you to start writing? When did you decide to become a writer?
I was a sophomore in high school. The year had just begun, and my English class was in the library. We were supposed to pick out a book to read, and I’d chosen Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage.
“You’re not actually going to read that, are you?”
His name was Claude, and he wasn’t a friend yet, but by the time we graduated, he became one of the best.
With my Crane book in hand, Claude walked up to the rack of paperbacks and replaced it with Stephen King’s The Dead Zone.
“But I’ve seen the movie,” I told him.
“It’s different, ” he said.
And was it ever. Before The Dead Zone, I never knew you could read for pleasure. As I read more, I realized that maybe, just maybe, I could write a story like these wonderful works of fiction.