TODAY.COM: ”Samuel Park’s This Burns My Heart is a remarkable debut novel that comes steeped in romance and cultural history… Soo-Ja Choi, Park’s protagonist, is an ambitious young woman trapped in the oppressive South Korea of the 1960s. Yearning to realize her dreams of becoming a diplomat in Seoul, Soo-Ja makes a hasty choice that comes with a price.”
I know, amazing, right? So I had the great opportunity to interview Samuel. Here we go!
1) How did the concept of this book come to be, or evolve?
Hi Lydia! Thank you so much for having me on your blog. I'm delighted to be here! Originally, the book was going to be about a father-daughter relationship. But in the course of writing it, as it so often happens, that became a secondary subplot. I realized that that wasn't what the book was about. So I cut out the first 70 pages that I'd originally written, and went in a different direction, describing the moment when my main character chose who to marry. I realized that that's what the book was really about--a woman making the wrong decision, and seeing how that affected the rest of her life. Those first 70 pages, though, set during the Korean War, became a memory that the heroine describes when she first meets the man she falls in love with, Yul.
2) What was the hardest part of writing it?
Writing the book was a very easy, joyful time. The hard part came after. Sometime before I finished the manuscript, my agent left the business. She gave me the name of a colleague of hers at the same agency, a very powerful and well-known agent. When I finished the manuscript, I sent it to her and kept my fingers crossed. Within a matter of days, however, she passed. That sent me into a tailspin; it was one of those so-close-and-yet-so-far kind of situations. After that, it just went from bad to worse. I kept querying, and I'd get an occasional request for a full, but nothing would come of it. That summer, right after I'd finished the book, was really the hardest. When I finally got a Yes from Lisa Grubka, at Foundry, it was really exciting. Now I'm glad those other agents turned me down, 'cos it paved the way for me to find Lisa, who is an amazing agent. I think I appreciate her more because I went through a period where I just didn't think I would ever find representation.
3) Okay, so I come from a Korean family. I know my mom would freak out if I wrote this book, worrying about "Everyone will think this is a thinly veiled autobiography about me!" How did your family handle the subject matter of this book?
My mother and I have a deal: I can't tell people *how much* was based on real life, and I can't say *which* parts were based on her life. That way I am able to preserve her privacy, while still being truthful about my inspirations. At the end of the day, it's a work of fiction. Even though my mother inspired Soo-Ja (the main character), she's not Soo-Ja, if that makes sense. Actually, *I* am Soo-Ja!
You're especially right about how tricky it is to write a book like this as a Korean person. Korean children, like Chinese, live under a doctrine of filial piety, under which you practically worship your parents. I was so worried about what my mother would think, that I didn't even tell her I was writing a book about her life. I only told her after the book sold. I think I was in complete denial that she would eventually read it. She hasn't yet, but I suspect when the Korean edition comes out, there will be some fireworks in the Park home! But all kidding aside, my mother really loves the whole enterprise of publication. She asks me all the time what the latest review was. When the Boston Globe review came out, which was mixed, she was very mad at the reviewer.
4) Illuminate us with something that surprised you about the publishing process, during the time AFTER your book sold. (Okay, that's just me being nosy, but I get to ask the questions, so what the heck.)
A number of things surprised me about the publishing process, and here are two of them:
1. I had no idea how "daily" the whole process is. I thought I was just going to hear from the publisher maybe once or twice a year. Not so. At peak times, I would get an email almost every day from my editor, her assistant, or from the publicist, or the marketing specialist. There was always so much to go over-- galleys, blurbs, jackets, bookseller reviews, industry reviews. I didn't know how "social," in other words, the process can be, especially since you spend so much time writing by yourself. I think that's actually one of the most fun things about the process--getting to work with people who are passionate about the book that you wrote.
2. I was also surprised by how important it is to have friends who support you. For instance, I thought, back in the day, that if you do a reading, people automatically show up. Not so. Unless you're a big best-selling author, you need to hustle up your own audience. My friends, bless their hearts, really came out in force, and showed up to my readings. If you think you "have it made" once you've sold a book, you're in for a surprise. After you sell the book, you're at the mercy of people more than ever before. It's a surprisingly vulnerable position. You're at the mercy of people who may or may not show up to support you. You're at the mercy of reviewers who may or may not like your book. You end up having to completely give up control. Having said that, I was lucky that it all turned out well--I've had as few as ten and as many as 80 show up at my events, and I was just as thankful for those ten as I was for the 80.
Thanks again, Lydia, for hosting me! It was an absolute pleasure!
You're very welcome, Samuel. :) And I have a particular treat for you guys too. Here's the trailer, in case that review above wasn't spectacular enough!
Tomorrow on March 15th, please stop by Julie Dao's blog where Samuel will discuss the importance of the First Five Pages!
Ooh, and more good stuff. Please check out Sarah Fine's blog where she's discussing the highly debatable subject of the Prologue: Do or Don't?