How did you become a writer?
I think I’ve always identified as a writer—it was my passion as a teenager and my best subject. It was actually how I could afford university! At the same time, I grew up in an environment that deemed the professional writer path as a non-career choice. So I didn’t truly start writing until a few years ago. It has been a wild process.
At the start, I did a lot of research and found this British company that connected you to all agents related to the process of writing books—editors, illustrators, publishers. Through them I got connected with an editor who helped me with the technical aspects of writing and an analyst that identified the market, like different audience demographics, trends, what agents are looking for, etc. It was very business-like and money-focused. Even though that wasn’t a surprise, this was my first real “bump,” to realise how controlled the creative process was for the most essential parts of my content… Enough that my original literary adult manuscript turned into a young adult manuscript!
Did you feel your accomplishment as a writer was at stake?
It was a challenge to feel true inspiration to write when every content detail was so measured based on the economical impact of it in the market, for example, whether it left room for a sequel… After learning a great deal and grasping all the insights of the industry, I decided to move into greener pastures and found someone who accepted to work with me in a more collaborative manner. I’m still asked to consider the market but the focus is always on the story I’m telling and I’m very grateful for that. We consider such trends as feminism and intersectionality, and I feel like my vision is understood and protected.
What are the main topics of your writing?
My writing explores identity and loss from a multicultural lens—like what it means to be or feel culturally homeless, what it means to belong, how we find connection and meaning through a trickle-down kind of system: for my character, he tries to interpret his identity and how the world functions first through society, then through family, and eventually through himself. These ideas manifest in many ways throughout my work, like through gender roles, language, body expectations, etc. I’d describe my writing as me trying to make sense of all the heavy hearts, the wayward behaviors.
Have you been coping with identity and loss yourself?
Many of the situations and dynamics I explore definitely come from my own life, my friends and family, overheard conversations—everywhere! My geographical background plays the biggest role in this feeling. I was born in America but I didn’t grow up there. My mother is South Korean and I spent the first nine years of my life in Korea before we moved to Japan, where I’d spend another nine years, on and off. Then I went to Italy for my first year of university and I’ve practically been bouncing around Europe ever since!
Yet people see me and ask which state I’m from because of my accent, or I get asked a lot if I’m from South America because of my looks—when I visit California or Texas, people often speak to me in Spanish. When I used to visit my family in the States, they would be speaking German as that’s where they emigrated from! It was all very confusing for me and I used to feel so alone in it, seen but not recognized. Books and writing really helped me through some tough times, and eventually all I wanted to do was repay the favor, to contribute in my own way to our future generations.
Books and writing really helped me through some tough times, and eventually all I wanted to do was repay the favor, to contribute in my own way to our future generations.
As for loss, I approach the subject in several ways: through actual physical loss like death and lost homes, and loss of more conceptual things, like dreams and childhoods, time or unattainable family relationships, (life before COVID!), etc. In this way, I’m always grappling with loss! But seriously, it can come out in strange ways sometimes. For example, I felt my Korean grandmother slip away from me long ago through the loss of language and proximity. This feeling is very much related to her death. Writing about it really helps me process and accept these experiences, and I hope it helps others along the way too.
Although my debut will be characterized as Young Adult, it falls under the genre of a bildungsroman—the coming of age story. So these themes will be tackled in a way that allows us to see how we might’ve turned into the (hopefully well-adjusted, functioning) adults we are today.
Where in the publishing process is your book now?
Most of my manuscript is pretty much finished! Unfortunately, the COVID pandemic has drastically disturbed the technical parts of the publishing process, as the people I work with now are a small company based in the U.S. We had a tentative 2021 publishing date and now it’s been pushed to 2023. It might be rougher than we expected because uncertainty seems to have taken over the entire world… It was really terrifying at first, but now I see it as kind of poetic, evaluating the positives that came from this, which are that I’ll have the next year to massage the manuscript out, while I’m able to write more freely and for longer stints instead of in blocks. I’m also working on some other cool projects, like a picture book of essays about loss, and a story that explores our relationship to memory.
When did you join MOB?
I’ve been at MOB – Bailén technically since October 2019, but I had gone traveling shortly after joining, from December to what was supposed to be April but ended up being August via Covid! So I’d say my official start day is closer to mid-August 2020, as that’s when I started going more consistently and intentionally.
It’s important for me to make that distinction because this period informs my relationship to MOB, having really settled down here during a no-contact/no-social-events mood. I feel like I haven’t really had an opportunity to make the rounds or meet other people in my field and explore that side of MOB yet, so this is something I’m still looking forward to!