So here's your chance to eavesdrop into our chat:
samuel: Hi Elizabeth!
me: sorry for taking long, I had a situation with the kids. They decided to fight all at once. ugh
samuel: Oh, no!
I only waited thirty seconds, so you're right on time.
me: Okay, I'm going to ask you a few questions, [I had found Samual so fascinating, I ended up asking him more than a few questions!] I'd love for you to elaborate. Ready?
samuel: That sounds great. Ready!
me: Okay, here it goes! Why write?
samuel: You know, I've been writing since I was eight. So maybe I should ask my 8-year old self. Why write? I guess he would say, because I love reading so much and this is one way of staying in that world.
I always loved characters, and I think through books (and films too) you get to know people at a level that sometimes you don't in real life. You really get to be "inside" someone, and I think that's very attractive.
me: Is This Burns My Heart your first book?
samuel: It's my first novel, and before that I wrote a novella called Shakespeare's Sonnets.
me: Oh, now you've got my curiosity. Before I ask you about This Burns My Heart, I'd love to know more about your novella. Care to share?
samuel: Yeah, I started out wanting to write scripts back in the day, and a producer I was working with was interested in that script--which was about the inspiration for the Sonnets.
At the time he was working with a book editor at Alyson Books and they learned about my work. Eventually, the producer and I parted ways, but I ended up writing a short novel (novella) based on the script. I sent it off to Alyson and the rest is history!
me: Wow, that sounds like a great way to wet your writerly feet. What have you learned from that experience?
samuel: That was the first time I was ever edited, copy-edited, and proof-read. So what I learned is that you'd better make your book worthy of all the time and expertise they're bestowing upon you.
me: That's a fabulous way to see what every published author goes through--even aspiring with their edits from critique partners. So, what is This Burns My Heart about?
samuel: This Burns My Heart is about a young woman growing up in South Korea in the 60s who has to choose between two different men, and she chooses the wrong one. Then, she has to live with the consequences of her choice. Later on, though, the man she turned down returns to her life, and she's given one last shot at happiness.
I was intrigued by the question of choice, and how it relates to fate. Do we all have one life that we're supposed to live, or do we all have different possible lives?
me: Ah, sounds like my kind of story. I love when a character endures failure and struggles for happiness. What inspired this story?
samuel: I was inspired by something that happened to my own mother. Right before she was supposed to marry my dad, a stranger came up to her and asked her out on a date. He was very handsome, and my mother was tempted.
But nobody would be crazy enough to cancel a wedding, so she just told him No. She did spend the rest of her life, though, wondering what would've happened if she'd said Yes.
I think we all wonder about that "What if?" That "other life" we imagine possible for us.
me: I believe using "what if" opens endless possibilities in our novels as well as real life. How is this story written--first or third person point of view?
samuel: That's a great question. I actually wrote it in the 1st person initially. Then I submitted it to an agent who read the first few chapters, and he suggested that I change it to 3rd. He was a smart guy whose opinion I valued, so I tried it out. And it really did work much better as a 3rd person narrative.
I'm a fan of both 1st and 3rd person. I think 1st person has a wonderful immediacy, and 3rd has that familiarity that's hard to beat.
me: I'm intrigued how a man would write first person through a woman, even 3rd! Was it a challenge to put your mindset into a female way of thinking? I assume since your story is about a young woman, it is through a female's point of view, correct?
samuel: Yeah, you know, I get asked that a lot. I didn't really think it was that unusual, until I started to get emails from people expressing surprise to find out I was a man. These are people who read the book early on, without knowing my name. And when I do readings, I inevitably get asked about that.
I didn't think it was hard. Partly because the character is based on my mother, and I know her incredibly well. I'm also very close to my two older sisters. I grew up watching them and observing them.
The challenging part, actually, was writing the male characters! I think women are much easier to write.
me: I'd love to know in greater detail what you mean that women are much easier to write when you're a man. How's that?
samuel: Oh, I don't mean that they're easier to write when you're man. I meant that I personally find female characters more compelling in historical fiction. I think because women have been the underdog historically, it's easier to draw the reader's sympathy and interest.
In my novel, for instance, because she's living in '60s South Korea--which is still a very traditional, patriarchal environment--she has to figure out how to rebel, and how to plot her way out of her cultural norms, and I think that's very interesting. How she upends the old-fashioned customs around her. If you're writing the male version of that character, I think it's harder to draw the reader's sympathy.
So that's why I find male characters harder to write.
me: To get such detail in the place and time, you must've done lots of research. Where did you get all your information from?
samuel: I read books, and watched a lot of movies from the period. I also called my mother a lot for information!
me: I take it that your mind is pretty flexible to even set the stage of believability with your readers, and it's wonderful that you have a real life model to go by. Did you ask any female friends to proof your story for accuracy?
samual: That's such a great question! I didn't overtly ask, but coincidentally, everyone who read the early draft was a female reader, mostly because most of my friends are women. Most of their feedback had to do with plot, or language.
me: Did you have a say in the title?
samuel: I did. It was between this and another one, THE FOUR GENTLEMEN FLOWERS. My editor joked that it sounded like old men engaging in horticulture.
I asked a friend of mine, what do you think? And she said, "Something with fire and heart is more exciting."
me: Do you see a direct connection between your storyline and title?
samuel: Yes, especially the "this" in the title. What is "this"? What is the thing that is causing the heroine such pain? It turns out, of course, that it's her being separated from the man that she loves, and her not being able to live the life that she dreams of.
me: How long did it take, from inkling to the waiting after copyediting, to get This Burns My Heart done?
samuel: Four years, maybe? Yeah, I think it took that long. It's kind of amazing to me how long it takes.
me: Did you let your characters tell their own story, or did you create an outline, graph, chart?
In other words, are you a pantser or a plotter?
samuel: Oh, that's a good question. The story actually kept changing.
What is that? Oh, I never heard that before, but that is genius!
I guess I'm a bit of both. Basically, I know the broad contours of the story. And then, I try to plot it out 2 scenes in advance. So at any given moment, I know what happens 2 scenes later. But I don't know any more than that. So if something happens in the middle of those 2 scenes, we may end up going in a different direction.
me: Ah, that sounds like the way I write...
samuel: Does it? Yes, great minds think alike!
me: As an author, I know the long and dreary road to published. Tell us about your road to Simon & Schuster.
samuel: Well, it's a funny story. I asked my agent not to tell me when the manuscript was in submission.
I'm a very superstitious person, and I was convinced that I was going to jinx it.
So I said to her, "I don't want to know when you send it out."
So when I got the call, it was a complete surprise. Weirdly enough, the same day I got the call I was supposed to be in New York for something else, but my flight got cancelled due to snow.
me: Wise! I feel that also kept you from worrying so much, too...
samuel: Yes, exactly! I'm a bit of a worrier, and I wanted to spare myself the anxiety. This way, I got to just relax and continue on with my life.
me: Ugh, anxiety, the little creature that loves to follow me everywhere. When does your book release?
samuel: Tell me about it! The paperback just came out March 6th.
me: Congratulations, I'm excited for you! How has that been for you?
samuel: It's been good. I can't complain!
me: Where can my readers find your book?
samuel: They can find it at wherever they like to shop best--their indie bookstore, or Amazon, or B&N.
me: One more question and I'll set you to your merry way--how has being a college professor helped with your writing?
samuel: It has helped me in the sense that when I teach, I end up reading passages out loud to my students all the time, and I think reading great literature out loud is a great way of getting your mind tuned in to powerful language. Cheever, for instance, has such a knack for sentences, and I feel inspired whenever I read him.
me: Okay, I lied--one more question! Any burning last words you'd like to share?
samuel: Sure! Starbucks is doing a promotion for its customers the week of March 13, so you can read the book for free if you join their Digital Network.
me: Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts, heart, and soul with us, Samual!
samuel: Thank you so much Elizabeth! I really enjoyed doing this e-chat with you! Thank you for hosting me on your blog--it was a pleasure.
CoOl stuff about our Samual:
Originally born in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Korean-American author Samuel Park is the author of THIS BURNS MY HEART, which was chosen as one of Amazon’s Best Books of 2011, a People magazine “Great Reads in Fiction,” and one of the Today Show’s “Favorite Things.” THIS BURNS MY HEART was also a Kirkus Reviews’ Best Fiction of 2011, a BookPage Best Book of 2011, and an Indie Next List Notable Book.
Now a word from Samual...
I'm excited to share news that the book is going to be a Starbucks Bookish Reading Club selection for the week of March 13. The promotion allows Starbucks customers to read the book for free for 2 weeks when signed into the Starbucks Digital Network at the stores. THIS BURNS MY HEART is set in South Korea in the '60s, and is about a young woman trapped in an unhappy marriage who is given one last chance at happiness.
Visit Samuel Park at his website here!
Watch the book trailer:
Thank you, Samuel, this was the funnest interview I've ever done! I don't know about you, but I'm intrigued with his book. Here's your chance to win a print copy of This Burns My Heart--two winners!
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