Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Samuel Park talks about This Burns My Heart (now in paperback!), writing without being institutionalized, and why writing the ending makes him want to put knives in his eyes, and more, more

Samuel Park's This Burns My Heart, about a young South Korean woman trapped in an unhappy marriage,  is one of my favorite novels of the year. A Starbucks Bookish Reading Club Selection and a Target Emerging Authors selection, it was also chosen as one of Amazon's Best Books of 2011, a People Magazine "Great Reads in Fiction," A Today Show's "Favorite Things," a Kirkus Reviews Best Fiction of 2011, a BookPage Best Books of 2011, and an Indie Next List Notable Book. There is also a fantastic video for his book here. 

Sam, himself, is smart, hilarious, and totally wonderful to talk with. I can't thank you enough, Sam for this wonderful interview! 

 What part of the creative process makes you want to put knives in your eyes and why?

Writing the ending. The easiest part for me is always writing the beginning. The first forty pages are always a breeze. The middle is also not an issue, although lots of people struggle in the middle. But
the ending for me, is always very hard. I rewrote the ending of THIS BURNS MY HEART something like, eight times. I actually wrote three different endings. My editor, agent, and I went back and forth, and it was coming down to the wire. I was rewriting that ending until as late as the night before it was supposed to go to the copyeditor. I think endings are hard because it's hard to write them unconsciously; by then, I know what the book is about, and so it's trickier to shut off
the intellect and just create.

If you couldn't be a writer, what would you be doing (and how would you like doing it?)

I would love to be an actor! I really love entertaining people. I did a reading once in Michigan, and afterwards, one of the ladies in the audience asked me, "Have you thought about pursuing the performing arts?" And I thought, "Funny you should ask..." Alas, the world will not have to worry about me unleashing my thespian talents onto it, since I'm quite happy being a writer. Writers are like Bottom, the Weaver in Midsummer Night's Dream: you want to, and you get to, play every part, though only on the page!

Do you ever worry that you might run into one of your characters, and if so would you apologize?

I would be terrified to run into the character of Eun-Mee in my book. She's a classic villain, but full of charms. I worry that she would rip me to shreds with her acid tongue--she holds no prisoners, and is the queen of passive-aggression. I would apologize for the way I portrayed her, but she would roll her eyes and say that she liked all
the attention, but why couldn't she have more pages devoted to her? "Next time," she would say, "Start the book with me! That heroine of yours, she is strictly secondary and what is up with those silly shoes she liked to wear?"

I personally feel if I wasn't writing, I would be institutionalized. Do you ever feel that way?

I think that's true for a lot of writers. I know you don't mean it this way, but I think writers suffer from all kinds of disorders that could be classified as crazy: obsessive-compulsive behavior, narcissistic personality disorder, dependent personality disorder, histrionic personality disorder, and so on. And the more successful the writer, the more those behaviors come up! But to go back to the original meaning of your question, I think that if I didn't have this outlet--which allows me to focus and have an ongoing passion--I would go crazy too. Whatever book I'm writing often becomes the organizing principle for my days--it's what I think about from morning to night.
The book becomes the country where I live. Without it, I might go insane. That's why vacation time is often really hard for me.

And some serious questions: How did writing This Burns My Heart change your writing--and change you?

This Burns My Heart changed me in the sense that I no longer feel like I have to prove myself all the time. That gets exhausting after a while. I think I used to feel a lot of frustration about my work--I knew that I had talent, so I couldn't understand why my work wasn't getting anywhere. And then the book came out, and all these good
things started happening, one after the other. It's fun when you have your moment--and I really do think everyone has their moment, it just comes at different times for different people. And it's even more fun when you're aware of it, and you learn to enjoy it and make the most of it, instead of questioning it. My book came out after many, many years of writing in the dark, and then finally someone gave me a light and say, "Hey, it's your turn now!" And I suspect you can relate to that, since Pictures of You was such a smash and a best seller, but it came out of a non-best selling period for you. I've been really fortunate--Today Show, People magazine, Costco, Target, Starbucks--and what makes it fun is that I'm completely aware of how fortunate I am and I don't take a single thing for granted.

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