Monday, October 31, 2011

Interview with Samuel Park

I'm so excited today to welcome Samuel Park to my blog, author of This Burns My Heart. I've known Sam in the bloggy sense for a long time and recently read his beautiful novel. I was swept away by the lush details and elegant storytelling. Sam has created a truly gorgeous story, and I hope you all read it. A bit about the book:

In postwar South Korea, a country torn between past and present, we meet audacious, beautiful, and strong Soo-Ja Choi. On the eve of marriage to her weak, timid fiance, Soo-Ja falls in love with a young medical student. But out of duty to her family and her culture she turns him away, choosing instead a world that leaves her trapped by suffocating customs. Soo-Ja struggles to find happiness in a loveless marriage and to carve out a successful future for her only daughter. Forced by tradition to move in with her in-laws, she must navigate the dangers of a cruel household and pay the price of choosing the wrong husband. Meanwhile, the man she truly loves remains a lurking shadow in her life, reminding her constantly of the love she could have had.

And now, Samuel!

What kinds of questions did you set out to explore with Soo-Ja? (Beyond the question of "what if?")
Sam: Hi Sierra, thanks so much for having me on your blog! To answer your question, I wanted to explore father-daughter relationships. I'd always been fascinated by my grandfather's relationship to my mother, and how much the dynamic between them molded their personality. My mother's a very strong, independent person, and I think a lot of it had to do with my grandfather holding her in such high esteem as a child and teenager--very much the opposite of the norms in Korea at the time, which favored the oldest male son. But over the course of writing the book, I moved further and further away from this, so that the heroine's father is now only a secondary character. Ultimately, the initial premise wasn't what the book ended up being about. The book ended up becoming much more about Soo-Ja's relationship with her daughter.

How long did it take you to write and revise this book?
Sam: It took me about eight months to write the first draft. When I finished it, however, there were two glaring problems: in the second half of the book, the relationship between Soo-Ja and Yul didn't have enough "heat"; and Soo-Ja was a bit of a remote character, whose emotions were inaccessible for the reader. So I basically spent a year revising the book, describing Soo-Ja's emotions in more detail, and adding more scenes between Yul and her (about half of the scenes where they interact, like when they reunite in his hotel room, or when they wander around on their own through the streets of Seoul, were added at this stage).

One of the things I loved about the book was Soo-Ja's love for Korea. There is an opportunity for her and her family to immigrate--but far from the usual story of America being a better way of life, for Soo-Ja it isn't. This was refreshingly different, I felt. Can you talk a bit about the immigration theme for you?
Sam: A lot of that had to do with the structure of the book. The book, in terms of how I thought about it, was about a woman who loses her child twice and gets her back. So it's about going into this foreign world, and Soo-Ja is a bit like a classic hero from Homer or Virgil who has to fight the monsters to regain her daughter. Ultimately, once she regains her child, she has to go back home. The first time, she brings her daughter back from the streets of Pusan; the second time, she rescues her daughter from the even more tempting lure of California. But in both cases, the homecoming was an essential part of the journey, and so I knew Soo-Ja couldn't stay in Los Angeles; she had to bring her daughter home.

How was the agent and publication search for you with this book?
Sam: I sent out a lot of queries in the beginning, and got a few requests for partials, and whole manuscripts. It was an incredibly frustrating time, the first time I really doubted the quality of the manuscript. What I learned from the process is that it's a bit like matchmaking--and you need to get Nos from all the wrong people before you get to the person who's perfect for you. When I finally found Lisa, I got an instantly good vibe from her, and I especially liked the fact that she had a lot of notes for me, and I'm an obsessive reviser. A fun tidbit is that I asked her not to tell me when she submitted the manuscript; I didn't want to be on pins and needles waiting for the editors' responses. So when she called with news, it was a genuine surprise.

How has your life changed since the publication of This Burns My Heart?
Sam: People talk about how publishing a book won't change your life; how the writing life is not glamorous; how it can be even a letdown. That is all bullshit. Utter, complete bullshit. I roll my eyes when I hear that. Because it has *completely* changed my life. Having unfulfilled potential was an albatross around my neck; I felt completely frustrated that I had not achieved what I thought I could achieve. So when the book finally came out, and there it was--this tangible accomplishment--I could let out a sigh of relief. I hate when authors talk about how unglamorous it is--lies! I love seeing my book in an airport bookshop; I love flying to New York to meet my editor. Not being published felt like being stuck in a bad case of unrequited love; when the book came out, it felt like my lover was finally accepting me, embracing me. It became a two-way relationship, finally getting back as much as I was used to giving.
[Sierra's note: best answer ever! Thanks for being so honest here. I fully look forward to this feeling as well.]

Anything you would have done differently, either with the story or the journey to publication?
Sam: I might've let go of control a little earlier. My editor had to wrestle the manuscript out of my hands--I kept wanting to revise more. I also spent a lot of time emailing my publicist and marketing specialist to make suggestions, when in fact they had already covered all the bases. I think I worried unnecessarily, in the beginning.

What's next for you?
Sam: I'm working on my next novel. I tend to use my work as an opportunity to learn more about a subject, so I've been doing a lot of research and note-taking. Thank you so much for the wonderful questions! An honor to be a part of your blog. :)

Thank you, Sam, for taking the time. It is an utter thrill for me to hear from you after enjoying your book so much.

You can buy This Burns My Heart from:
Barnes and Noble
Simon & Schuster

Visit Sam's website and blog here.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Google Reader Roundup

  • I'm going to toot my own horn (tooooooot!) and give a link to my guest post at Roni Loren's blog this week on Chick Lit vs. Women's which I interview Roni's agent Sara Megibow. I've heard lots of positive feedback from this post so it's been great.
  • Ooh! Ooh! Edit! Posters for the Hunger Games movie have been released. Check it here to see Woody Harrelson as Haymitch (hmmm.), and the rest of the cast here.
  • Bookends' Jessica Faust wrote about the "archaic" query (don't get excited; she's saying why it isn't), and then Scott Eagan added his .02 to bring home the importance of a quick tool that sells you.
  • Rachelle Gardener tells us why a no is merely a no.A helpful post for those of you (oh whatevers, all of us!) who take rejections personally.
  • And in other NaNo prep, Alexandra Sokoloff gives us another epic post on the elements of Act 2 (part 1). (These NaNo prep posts are great for general craft, not just NaNo.)

Monday, October 24, 2011

Chick Lit vs. Women's Fiction

Today I'm guest posting as part of my regular monthly column over at Roni Loren's Fiction Groupie blog--and my post is about the differences between chick lit and women's fiction.

I asked agent Sara Megibow some questions about it and she provided some surprising information.

Go read!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Google Reader Roundup

  • (Another GO READ NOW post. But when you have time to read a longer post.)

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Subtleties of Friendship

Sometimes real life isn't as good as a novel.

I have a friend with whom I share many similarities, including small children, sense of humor, parenting ideals. We mesh well-- so well that she could easily be one of my closest friends. We've shared intimate confidences, and some pretty big life events together.


Something changed over the past few months. She pulled away and I was left going, "huh?" I don't want to go into too much here, but let's just say we don't talk nearly as often now--or at all, in fact, and our friendship seems to exist in a sort of suspended hiatus state. In lieu of any instance I can think of where I've offended her, I can only assume my company isn't as wonderful as I like to think it is. My resulting wounded feelings prevent me from asking her what's going on in the event that nothing's going on, and then it'll become a thing where it wasn't one (except it is) and I'll end up looking crazy. So I'm waiting and seeing. (And feeling hurt.) You can think what you want about that tactic, but just remember that there is, of course, much more to the story that isn't appropriate to go into here. Just know that this is the course of action that seems best at this point for me.

In novels, I love reading about strong female friendships where the friends never stop talking to one another for no apparent reason, who support each other always, and who are always there for each other. There isn't ever any drama, and neither party drifts off when there's a solid friendship in place. In short, the friends are reliable and true.

Good stories show such friendships weathering tests, like when one friend disagrees with the other and lets her know it, or when one hurts the other. But they always work through and get past it, because they're great friends -- and usually good people. In real life, nuances of behavior sometimes prevent solutions, or maybe one of the friends is selfish and lets the friendship go a bit (this is not in reference my story above). Friendships require careful care and watering, and in real life sometimes we can't or won't do that, and the friendship suffers sometimes irreversible damage.

Maeve Binchy and Rosamunde Pilcher are two authors who wrote epic sagas with enduring friendships in them. I'm very close to brain dead right now (Rainbow Puppy is teething and up frequently at night again) so I can't conjure any other examples to mind. But I want to hear your favorite fictional friendships. And of course, whether you find friendships in novels to be deliciously lovely escapes from our real-life entanglements?

Friday, October 14, 2011

Google Reader Roundup

  • GalleyCat's grammar PSA: stop abusing the word "literally." I actually saw someone post on Facebook last weekend that their heart literally exploded when they saw someone's picture and I thought, "Wow, how amazing that you could continue to Facebook after your heart had exploded! Well played, Mark Zuckerburg, well played."

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

5 Reasons Why Blogging Works for Writers

There’s been a lot of discussion about blogging for writers. Anne Allen summed up the whole thing in her post last Sunday, which mentions Roni Loren’s post "Is blogging dead" and also Meghan Ward’s numbers post “Is blogging a waste of time?” post.

I don’t know if anyone else said this, but I have a huge problem with the notion that high visitor numbers is the only way to get you published. That completely belies talent, fantastic stories, and worst of all, makes things a popularity contest rather than relying on actual merit. It reminds me of hiring managers who only look at resumes from candidates from top schools rather than anyone with the right experience.

Blogging for writers builds community with other writers and it often serves as an outlet for our profusion of words.

But does blogging sell books? This is the real question that I believe people are asking when they wonder if blogging is a waste of time. The answer is, blogging probably doesn’t sell books--not at the level of numbers that publishers need. But on the other hand, if you don’t blog, or stake a toe-hold for yourself in cyberland, then you are missing out on someone finding you. You have no idea what percentage of people not finding you may be, but why take the chance when social media tools are free?

For most of us, blogging isn’t going to be our ticket to the number one spot on the New York Times bestseller list. But here’s what I think having a blog and a Twitter account can do for the average writer:

1. Introduce you to other writers, with whom you can build relationships. These others writers might buy your book later on, or help publicize your book. Maybe the publicity doesn’t result in millions of sales, but you don't spend a dollar doing it! Or, the other writers might later recommend you to their agents, which is basically the golden ticket in querying.

2. Provide a place for you to showcase your writing and personality. Agents read writer blogs, and I know for a fact at least two unpubbed writers who have been solicited by agents after the agents read their blogs. As my writing pal and business colleague, Mike Chen, says, "I think the blog is just an area to show agents and pubs that you understand the industry, are involved, and have a strong writing style."

3. Provide an outlet for you to share your experiences. There’s so much information out there on craft and publishing, and things are changing fast. Blogs help us make sense of it all--I know I use mine as a way to sort through some of the issues I come across in my own writing.

4. Make you someone. You never know what will make your blog explode with popularity, which could lead to many doors being opened for you. Or it could lead to business. I met Mike Chen through blogging. Now we work together on many freelance projects, including author web sites. This has resulted in money in our pockets.

5. Spread your word. For published writers, you might not write what most of your followers want to read, but having a dedicated and popular blog can only help rather than hurt. And again I stress that it's a free publicity tool.

What do you think? What's your take on the whole issue?

Monday, October 10, 2011

Creativity is connecting things

“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people."
- Steve Jobs

I am not an Apple fan per se; that is I don't identify with them and I don't own an iPhone (but I do have an iPod). But with the untimely passing of Steve Jobs, there are lots of examples of his legacy going around, and this one is particularly wonderful. It applies well to both design and writing.

Certainly as I continue writing and get better, and continue reading with a critical eye, I keep adding on what I already know. I also add new tricks I learn either by reading or critique. And sometimes, I do feel downright guilty--like a mimic, like I haven't come up with anything original at all--only watched and studied and mimicked others and applied what they've done in my own way.

But I do like his last line, that we think about it more. I think that's true.

What do you think? Does this quote resonate with you?

Friday, October 7, 2011

Google Reader Roundup

  • What is this bookish thing? Usually I resist such mass collection, but in this case I wasn't able to resist. I signed up. I don't know.
  • Nathan Bransford reminds us not to be jerks--with a helpful guide on how to tell if you're being one.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

4 Writer Afflictions

Everyone knows we writers are slightly insane. And yes, if we sit our butts in our chairs all day and write, we have it pretty good, even though what's really going on is a whole host of afflictions to suffer from.

1. Tendonitis.
You get this from sitting with your laptop on your lap in a completely horrid position, not ergonomic at all, and you don't care because you need to keep writing. But your arm and wrist aches when you're done for the day.
Solution: Get new arms. Or, try changing your position from time to time. Yes, this means not lying in bed while typing, I know.

2. Teeth grinding and jaw clenching.
Seems like lots of us do this and I think I know why: we're frustrated but instead of going for a good power walk, we just grit our teeth. Ouch! I actually have headaches most days from this activity.
Solution: Write full time. It is completely frustrating thinking of great plot points and not being able to drop life and go write.

3. Too many cats.
You're guilty of this and you know it. Cats are furry and quiet (for the most part) and don't require walks. They're excellent writing buddies.
Solution: well, it isn't to get a dog--that's a problem too. Why do you need a solution for this?!

4. Depression.
It's funny how many of us have suffered at some point in varying degrees from depression. I think the why is obvious: we are sensitive and we think too much.
Solution: drugs, or Lolcats, or good therapy.

What afflictions do you suffer from? Tell me!

Monday, October 3, 2011

3 Ways to Avoid Repeating Words

I was perusing a magazine this weekend and came across this funny Old Spice ad:

Oh dear. Funny, yes, but the copy? You can click the image to enlarge, but here's what it says: "Somewhere in there there's a man in there." Woah! Who forgot to edit that ? And if it was edited, then oh God why? Sounds like whoever wrote that (and, um, edited it, too) forgot the rule of writing that says it sucks to have the same words repeated. Nay, not only sucks--but makes for some crappy, eye-stumbling wordage.

Repeating words too close together (in the same paragraph or sentence) is something I've been called on many times--even recently, so this ad really caught my eye--sadly, for all the wrong reasons. Repeating words is one of those editing things that happens when your eye starts glazing over from reading the same bit of prose repeatedly. Here are some tricks for remedying the problem:

1. Read your story aloud.
This is time-consuming and noisy, but definitely affords you a way of looking at your prose by listening to it. Maybe your ears will tell you what your eyes can't: your words are repetitive.

2. Rest your manuscript.
Perhaps the most annoying thing to do of all is make yourself set your manuscript down for weeks before looking at it again. But truly, how else will you see that you repeated "mangled dog-chum" four times on a page without the refreshed eyes of a six-week vacation?

3. Be careful with the fancy words.
Basically a variation on killing your darlings, you know damn well when you're using words that aren't alll that common--even when they're common. I shall explain. I'm currently reading The Woodcutter by Reginald Hill (a freaking fantastic read, by the way) and he has this paragraph where something is described as "grisly." Grisly is a great word, and not uncommon, but you want to use it with care--you want to use it to show something poarticularly gross, like a decapitated body, especially one your character might have been involved with. Hill used grisly to describe just that, but on the next page at the start of a new chapter, used the word again in a different, lighter context. Say what you want for clever connections, but it didn't work for me. Grisly is one of those words that carries particular emphasis and you want to be careful with ones like that.

I've given three ways to remedy these things. For a great list on all the ways we repeat words in stories, see this post from the Self Editing blog.

Can you think of any more ways to catch these little buggars? Does this problem plague you? I want to hear about it.