1. This Burns My Heart was one of my favorite reads last year. You did an excellent job of telling the story from a woman’s point of view. What inspired you to tell what is loosely your mother’s story and how did you manage to capture the female voice so well?
Thank you for your kind words--I’m thrilled that you liked the book! I was inspired to tell my mother’s story by two things that happened around the same time: one, my sister gave birth to a daughter, which led me to wonder about mother-daughter relationships; two, I moved for my job, and for the first time in years, I was living in a different state than my mother. Being apart from her helped me think of her as her own person, rather than just as my mother, and it helped me realize what an incredible life she’d led, and what an amazing story it would make. In terms of capturing a female voice, I think it comes from growing up around older sisters. From an early age, I cared about what they cared about, and essentially would adopt their point of view in most matters, especially matters of the heart.
2. What was the hardest part of writing This Burns My Heart?
Writing the central love relationship between Yul and Soo-Ja. I had to rewrite that many times, because it was very tricky to get it right. Weirdly enough, it’s the part that’s at the heart of the book, and what keeps the readers connected to the story. I have a suspicion that whatever you happen to have the most trouble with—the stumbling block—always ends up being the thing that readers like most.
3. Would you consider This Burns My Heart to be historical fiction or contemporary
literature and why?
4. Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
The book is about a woman who makes a wrong choice and has to live with the consequences of that choice. And I think the message is that there’s no point in dwelling on what could’ve been, or what might’ve been, because whatever life you led—no matter how hard it was—was the life you were meant to have. And if you eschew bitterness and approach your days with virtue, strength, and kindness, eventually that life you lost—the good life—will find its way back to you. And this time you’ll have really earned it and will doubly appreciate it, because of what came before.
5. What books have most influenced your life most?
I learned to write from reading Michael Cunningham’s The Hours. That was like my M.F.A. in Creative Writing: just reading that book line by line, sentence by sentence, and seeing how he would craft beautiful language. I’m also a big, big fan of Prep, by Curtis Sittenfeld. That book really taught me that you could create great drama from everyday life, and you could just focus on the domestic routines of the characters. Finally, I adore Pride and Prejudice, especially Austen’s unerring sense of character and plot.
6. If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
I had an actual mentor in Don Roos, the screenwriter. I was something like 22 at the time I met him, and I was a terrible, terrible writer. But Don did something amazing to me: he said, “You’re very talented, and I really enjoyed what you wrote.” At that age, that can be a transformative moment. I guess it was a self-fulfilling prophecy, and I try to do the same to young writers who come my way. I have this saying that goes, “You cannot overestimate people enough.”
7. What book are you reading now?
Right now I’ve been researching a lot for my next book, so I’ve been reading old annual agricultural reports. I’ve also been reading books about history and architecture.
8. What’s next for you?
I’m working on a new book, and because I’m superstitious I try to say as little as possible about it until I’m completely finished. But I can share that it’s again about a mother-daughter relationship, and again it’s set in a foreign country. And, like This Burns My Heart, it’ll deal with a lot of strong emotions.
9. I know from your tweets that you’re a fan of reality TV. What’s your favorite show and
which reality TV character do you love to hate and why?
My favorite show is Survivor, which I watch obsessively. My friends know better than to call me on Wednesdays when it’s on! She’s not on anymore, but I used to love to hate Kelly Bensimon of Real Housewives of New York City. As a writer, you’re also an amateur therapist. I would have a field day with Ms. Bensimon if she were my patient. We could really go to town.
10. Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
I want to say that I’m super, super grateful to readers for supporting the book. I’m always amazed when I go online and see people quoting lines from the book, or having discussions about the characters. It’s incredible to me that the world of the book feels as real to my readers as it does to me. They talk about the characters as if they were real people, and for a writer, I can’t imagine anything more gratifying than that!
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