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.

1 comment:

Meghan Ward said...

Wonderful interview! I LOVE Sam's answer to "How has your life changed since the publication of This Burns My Heart?" SO glad to know that life on the other side is brighter than it is on this side :) And I agree with Roni - I'd want to know everything, too!

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