It’s a beautiful day to be a golem in NYC.
Category Archives: Novel
My good friend Nova Ren Suma, who also happens to be an amazing writer and author of Dani Noir (aka Fade Out), Imaginary Girls, and the forthcoming 17 & Gone, recently tagged me in the “Next Big Thing Blog Hop” interview series.
The point of the series is to give you some insight into an upcoming book or in my case, a work-in-progress.
While I usually don’t like to talk about my novel, I’m looking forward to re-engaging with my writing after a pregnancy-induced months-long hiatus–and excited about participating in this blog series. It is time to germinate all these dormant thoughts about my novel, even if it means stepping away from motherhood and thrusting my newborn daughter into someone else’s arms for a few hours to do so. Also, now that I consider my novel more finished than unfinished, it’s nice to share some of my thoughts with the public.
Here goes… because the Next Big Thing in my writing life is THIS:
What is your working title of your book (or story)?
Golem of Korea. Or Golem of Seoul. I haven’t decided. (And now you know why my blog features a picture of a golem).
Where did the idea come from for the book?
My book is inspired by my parents who were immigrants to this country. I began to think, “What if they had an additional culture outside of Korean culture from which to draw for wisdom and insight? What if they embraced a hybrid identity? How would this impact their world view?”
I wondered what could save a couple of immigrants–and drawing from my own Korean Jewish life, I created a golem for my characters.
Also, I want to note that over the course of writing this novel, the golem has been the saving grace of my characters and for me as the writer. The golem has kept me adventurous as a writer–every time I’ve felt stuck, I let the golem loose, and it has led me to different spaces and story lines. So the golem has saved me, too.
What genre does your book fall under?
Literary fiction. Asian American literature. New York literature. Historical fiction. Magical Realism. Someone dared called it “fantasy” (if golem literature is a subset of “fantasy”). Golem literature. If I add a university, can it also be a campus novel?
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
This is when I wish there were more actors of Asian/Korean descent in Hollywood. Right now I can pick from John Cho, Bobby Lee, Daniel Dae Kim, and Ken Jeong…? So, John Cho and Bobby Lee. Seriously, we need more actors of Asian descent.
Also, I love B.D. Wong so much–I should write a character for B.D. Wong to inhabit. I also wonder if I can create a part for Jon Hamm, because–because I am a bit enamored with him.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Yong Kim is a war-traumatized North Korean man homesick for a time and place to which he can never return; upon immigrating to the United States in 1973, he builds a golem to help him cope–in doing so, he establishes a new relationship with his future.
(I find writing one-sentence synopses of my work so difficult).
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? (my note: in reality, these aren’t the two only outcomes for a book–you can self-publish, you can have the book represented by an agent, the book can find its way to a big publishing company, or its way to a small press, among so many other things).
Can you predict the future? I can’t. I don’t know what will happen, but I do hope that my book is represented by an agent who believes in me and my work, and finds its home at a publishing company with an editor who loves and supports my novel.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
It’s hard to say–it took years and years. I had a stroke, and recovered from the stroke, and even had a baby during the course of writing this thing. It’s taken a long time to write, so I’m going to say it took my entire life. This novel is my life to date.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
A little bit of Midnight’s Children (my book is about nations), a little bit of The Wind Up Bird Chronicle (there are underground tunnels and talking animals). And because there’s a golem, a little bit of Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
See my answer above regarding from where the idea for this novel comes. My mom and dad. My late Jewish mother-in-law as well. And the idea of monsters. The idea of being able to create companionship and resolve loneliness–it’s awful lonely to be an immigrant in America. The idea of nations. The idea of war. The idea of rescue. The idea of hybrid identity. The idea of New York City.
Mostly, I was inspired by New York City. This book is a way for me to always find my way back to New York City.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
There is a character named The Frog. He is not an actual frog.
Now I’m supposed to tag five writers to take on these “Next Big Thing” questions themselves…I asked a number of writer friends who blog, but did not get to five. *shrug* In which case, I’ll list the three who were game–and urge you to do this on your end, if you wish. Or–I’m happy to tag you!
Can’t wait to hear your answers to these questions!
Guernica, a litmag I’ve long admired, is commemorating End Times with a series of flash fiction this week. I am honored and delighted that my flash piece entitled “Maps” is up today and part of the End Times series.
“Maps” happens to be an excerpt from my novel-in-progress; I have an ongoing obsession with the Apocalypse and so I am happy that my two greatest obsessions to date (my novel and the Apocalypse) are represented. I hope you enjoy reading it.
When I get stuck on my novel revision, it’s like sitting in a room with furniture covering every wall, including possible doorways out. There is something going on with my novel that is not right/should not be there/needs to be moved so that I can get unstuck.
Oftentimes, it’s my tyranny as a writer in a previous draft that causes a block in a subsequent revision–usually it is because I’ve forced the characters to do something that is unnatural and against their will. Or I’ve just cluttered the draft with unnecessary, incongruous details. Either way, I and my novel end up with roadblocks.
So it is with this point in my revision. There are more than a couple instances of roadblock going on in my novel. Because I’ll look at a chapter and just SIT there, wondering where to go from there. And I’ll see no openings, no windows, no doors, not even a trapdoor (okay, I haven’t yet looked for a trapdoor, and maybe I should). It feels like a dead-end, in which case I have no choice but to take the whole damn room apart, or demolish it altogether.
It’s scary to delete entire chapters. Sometimes it has to be done.
In the interim, I’m working on strengthening chapters and scenes that do work. I wrote five sentences of my novel revision the other day. This, my friends, is a miracle. Because that’s the most I’ve written in my novel in weeks. Weeks. Weeeeeeks. Some people say you get a burst of creativity when you’re in my specific physical condition–but I’ve just gotten massive creativity constipation.
It just so happens that another dam is breaking, too. I built up an emotional wall to brace myself for a personal event–and it isn’t the healthiest of things to do, and certainly not healthy for writing. It’s more honest to fall and cry and stand back up than it is for me to stand rigid and quivering. And I’m stronger when I stand after falling. And a good cry is even better for my writing.
Sorry for being so vague. Personal stuff.
And then there’s more personal stuff that is challenging me to open up, that makes me less alone on this earth, and yet makes me feel more alone than ever. It’s good stuff but again, sorry for being so vague. Personal stuff yet again.
I’ve also stepped back in as Fiction Editor over at Kartika Review. If you’re Asian American and/or write about Asian American related writing (whether theme or character), please send your fiction in.
And being as I’m in NYC for a few weeks, I’m surrounded by readings. The big reading event of Fall 2012 was the Junot Díaz reading at Barnes & Noble on Union Square. There were hundreds of people at that reading. I showed up over an hour in advance of start time, and got myself a seat (my friend had gotten there about ten minutes earlier and saved me a seat). There were hundreds of people behind me standing. There were people downstairs trying to get up to the reading. NYPD was there for crowd control. It was awesome to see literature need rock-star-crowd-control measure.
I live-tweeted the reading (Junot makes his readings less about reading and more about a dialogue with his audience, so there are good tidbits all around). Here are a few excerpts from my live-tweets:
“ppl in the back we love u. It’s one thing 2 hv a fucking seat. It’s another 2 hv 2 stand the fuck up.” –Junot Diaz (2 the capacity crowd)
“when ur rendering chars on paper, u’ve gotta be strategic. Chars hv no weight until u attach them to relationships.” — Junot Díaz
“male representation is so absurd, trivial. Despite the over abundance of men the internal lives of boys are overlooked.”-Junot Diaz
“what’s intriguing w most of us is it’s so much easier to live w the safety of work unrealized. It’s safe.” –Junot Diaz
“Truth is Tht safety of work unrealized does not in any way compare to flawed beauty of work realized.” –Junot Diaz
“first you have to suck for a long time. The only thing Tht separates a published writer is a tolerance for imperfection.” –Junot Diaz
“this is a wired generation. My MIT students ask me where my reading is. Lookitupmotherfucker dot com!”–Junot Diaz
“get to fucking work, yo.” -Junot Diaz
If ur an immigrant what the fuck haven’t u survived? –Junot Diaz
It is u & ur story, fuck everybody else. The best part is when it’s done every1 will get their say so why give them say before? -Junot Diaz
I don’t know about you, but listening to Junot always flips a light switch on in my head.
I hope you’re finding the doors in your work. I’m trying to find the doors in mine. I’m so determined to get some work done.
These days, I’m blogging here and I’m writing in my Moleskine journal–but I’m not writing my novel. I want to write my novel, but it’s just not happening; I’m either forcing something that doesn’t belong in the novel and/or I am on the brink of a breakthrough. Or I have to just admit that I don’t write well at all in the Summer.
There is a small part of me that says “That’s okay, you’re still writing,” but the rest of me is completely discouraged and self-condemning.
I have friends who write everyday–they write through the blocks and they turn in complete novel manuscripts within a year’s time. That is so not me. There are writers who take ten years to write a novel–that’s more like me. Writers-who-take-years-to-write-a-novel are traumatized by that creative timespan. We are asked “How’s your novel coming along?” way more often for starters.
I think part of the pressure comes from the fact that most writers don’t talk publicly about the dark parts of writing–the blocks, and the days you sit in front of your computer and all you do is revise one damn paragraph. And the days you sit in front of your computer and you can’t think of a single idea. Or the day you sit in front of your computer and you delete every single word you wrote in the last four weeks.
We writers like to, in the public eye, present writing as “magical.” We like to prolong the myth of genius. That the words come out of thin air and shine with brilliance on the page. There are movies that show writers in action–like Katherine Turner in “Romancing the Stone” tearing her hair out while writing (but that typing never stops, does it?) or Nicholas Cage in “Adaptation” (okay at least there, writing block is accurately depicted–for like Charlie, I often negotiate brownies as reward for words written). And I love the depiction of a writer-gone-astray by Michael Douglas in “Wonderboys” (but even then, he’s written an over-long novel, and again, the typing doesn’t stop). But those are stories–stories don’t happen without Something Awful happening–and the Something Awful for a writer equals struggling with a long project. But even in movies, the writing happens, and no one in real life likes to talk about those horrible days and horrible weeks and horrible months where the writing doesn’t happen. Because it makes us seem less than perfect. Because it makes us look stupid. Because it’s tragic.
So in sum, I feel imperfect. I feel stupid. I feel tragic.
So there’s that.
And then I think in my case, my novel is waiting for me to grow up. This novel and its story is bigger than I am. And I wonder if I fail it, every day. Even on my best days, I fear to fail my novel.
In my worse moments, I think that even if I don’t finish this thing a lot of good has come out of it–my novel has made me a better person. It has stretched me. It has been the thing that drove me to recover from my stroke. It has been the thing of so many lessons learned–lessons that I could not have learned any other way than facing a blank page and exploring worlds with the goal of seeking understanding and communicating understanding. It has made me grow up. It has given me comfort. And it has kicked my ass. Everyone needs a good ass-kicking now and then.
But on the worst days, I look at my novel and wonder if I should walk away from it. The only things that keep me from walking away is the incredible encouragement I’ve received from my writing mentors–and my amazing writer mentors are not men or women who give out encouragement lightly. So I keep at it. On my very worst days, my mentors save my novel’s ass.
So for now, I am gestating, in more ways than one. The words and ideas will come. It’s just summertime, I guess, when writing traditionally doesn’t happen for me.
<hits head on table>Looked at my novel-in-progress; it is such a mess and I HATE it today. I know I must soldier on, because I am probably near a breakthrough moment if I hate it this much, but it is agonizing and awful and I feel hopeless. </hits head on table>*
*table on which I am slamming my head is pictured above.
There are a lot of new directives in my life these days, all to a good and healthy end. And so I thought to myself, if everything is on a timeline and I’m to be so disciplined, I’ve got to do the same with my novel manuscript.
Truth be told, I’ve been
revising rewriting my novel-in-progress like it’s a day at the spa–with languid leisure. A page here, a page there. An occasional chapter. When I’ve come across a bump in plot or character, I let the mystery wash over me and then when the uncertainty became too uncomfortable, I’d go do something other than write, something other than stick to my chair and computer screen.
Writing has been a daily part of my life, but the great urgency I felt after my stroke (as only a brush with death can achieve) to finish a draft of my novel-in-progress, the very thing that got me to finish a draft, has been languishing for some time.
But I am now once again writing with exigency. Because I have to finish a major rewrite of this novel by the end of 2012. Because if I don’t finish a major rewrite, I’ll have deep regrets, and any discomfort I feel now as I navigate the interstitial spaces of my novel is going to be nowhere near the pain I’ll feel next year when I look at a half-finished novel revision.
I am the slowest writer I know. Writing with urgency for me means muscling through the pain and making a deep commitment to stick with my manuscript even if tomorrow is another day. It means I am still a slow writer. It does not mean writing two thousand words a day, because for me, five hundred words a day is a good writing day. But I know I can and will do it.
So I’m making it public: I’m finishing a major rewrite of this novel by year-end. That gives me about seven months, which I think is completely doable, even at my elephantine writing pace.