Interview by: Liri and Colleen
Q: Takeout or Homemade?
A: I gotta say takeout.
Q: What is your favorite food?
A: I can’t choose but I’ll say tacos.
Q: What is your writing tool preference?
A: Just a computer. I’m not like Nikki [Yoon].
Q: What are your most anticipated releases?
A: I was really looking forward to Renée’s book, but now it out so… And the next book is coming out really early next year, she’s like a machine. What else is coming up? I can see them on my shelf… Oh, I was really looking forward to Marie Lu’s book, The Kingdom of Back. And then there was Tahereh’s book, A Very Large Expanse of Sea, but that already came out. Those are the ones I’ve been really looking forward to.
Q: What advice would you give to your readers about writing?
A: I always quote Margaret Atwood, because I went to an event at the Canadian Embassy in Tokyo where she was talking, and she’s just an amazing human being, and she said basically read read read and write write write. And what she’s saying is read everything and anything you can get your hands on– stuff you’ll like, but also read stuff you might not like. Read stuff that is outside of your comfort zone. And expose yourself to different kinds of writing, so that as you write write write, you always start out imitating, so you’re going to copy authors but then eventually, you’ll deviate, and mix ,and synthesize and then form your own voice, and that takes a long time. So it’s like get started now. And just keep doing it, even if it’s not good, or even if you don’t feel like it just keep doing it.
Q: Where did you go to college and what did you major in in order to become a writer?
A: When I first wrote something, I was in first grade and entered a writing contest and I won, and my mom was so proud of me. Then I wrote a story in third grade, and made the whole class laugh. And I was like, I gotta keep doing this. And so, my favorite teachers in high school were my English teachers. I majored in English in college at UC Berkeley. And then I got my MFA in fiction at Emerson College in Boston, I just always knew that I wanted to write. So, that makes this publication really special for me.
Q: How does it feel to be in the same profession as your wife?
A: Yeah, it’s funny because we also met in writing school. We were in our first writing workshop together. and I was like oh my God, her stuff is so good. And then Nikki was saying the same stuff about my stuff. So we really kind of admired each other from the start, and we’ve been writing nonstop, ever since. Writing is like this big core part of our relationship. And when her stuff started blowing up it was like, we’re both on parallel tracks anyway. It’s awesome I’m nothing but happy for her and then she was like, just you wait, it’s gonna happen for you too. And go ahead, quit your job, keep writing. So I did and basically we both didn’t give up. And I swear to God, like 99% of it is just don’t give up. Most people never finish writing a book. Or have the grit to go through with revisions. So it’s all about sticking with it, even if you’re super miserable in writing and solitude.
Q: Would you ever consider writing a book with your wife?
A: I don’t know 😉
Q: What or who inspired you to write?
A: When I was a little kid, I don’t know what my dad’s problem was, but he was a big literature nerd too. He escaped poverty in Korea by studying English literature, specifically like the Victorians and metaphysics. And when we came to America when I was growing up, he let us read stuff that we should not have been reading. Like, we’re reading like Jase Lawrence, Joseph Conrad, and like Canterbury Tales, and this is when I was like nine. He’s super traditional, but he had this weird, like literary sort of pantheistic streak in him. So he was a contradiction. But so I would say my dad first inspired me and then I got trained to read whatever I could get my hands on, like Stephen King, I shouldn’t have been reading that. Then I read this one book called the Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury, and it’s about this group of kids who want to save their sick friend’s life by giving away a year of their own lives. And it’s kind of a creepy weird, now would be considered a middle grade, contemporary fantasy centered around Halloween. And I was like, I need to do this.
Q: What are your thoughts and feelings on exploring other genres or other kinds of books in the future?
A: I really have a speculative book in me somewhere. And I actually just sold an adult thriller, and this one is about the internet, so it’s about these 20-something sort of entrepreneurs, and they team up with like this reclusive psychopathic Mark Zuckerberg type to take down the big five and the Internet to atone for their sins. It’s called Version Zero (2021). It’s a techie thriller but it’s also kind of speculative and kind of like an old history too. So it’s a lot of things mashed up into one. And I know I have a fantasy in me and a horror story, I know there’s lots of things I want to write.
Q: What inspired Frank’s story?
A: I kind of started when I had my daughter. Like, when I had kids, both me and Nikki started thinking about our own childhoods a lot, because you see the world through their eyes, and I was fast forwarding into high school and stuff, and like my parents are pretty traditional like Frank’s and Joy’s. So I had to hide my whole love life from my parents, which if you think about it it’s kind of a strange thing to do, like it’s such an important thing and you’re hiding it from such important people in your life. Meanwhile, my friends are taking their girlfriend’s parents out to Cheesecake Factory and whatever. I’m sorry I can’t do that. Why can’t I do that? And that became the basis for the fake dating trope.
Q: Describe your novel in three words.
A: Acceptance is everything.
Q: Would you be interested in writing a prequel about Frank’s parents? About their story, how they moved from Korea to America and how they met, everything that Frank was interested in…
A: Yeah, I kind of would love to, like, people have brought up doing a companion novel, yeah not necessarily like a sequel or prequel but in that same universe. And the more people say it, the more I’m like huh!
Q: Where did you get the idea for “lake girlfriend”?
A: I don’t know, there’s like a mall I used to go to high school and it was like this weird little fountain in the middle of the mall. And there were all these coins in it. And then one day it was drained, all the coins were removed. And I was like, that means something. I don’t know what that means, like all the wishes, become someone else’s income. And I was like, why do we throw coins in fountains? And what do we expect is going to happen? like the coins don’t stay there forever. And there’s the act of making a wish, you know, it’s just the act it could be anything. It could be throwing, you know, dirty socks over your shoulder. It could be anything. And I think is fascinating that we feel the need to have these totems. And it could be for anything. And then I also watched the movie Lady In the Water by M. Night Shyamalan. His is a retelling of the lady in the lake, then I was like, let’s combine the two.
Q: Did you have like any sort of say in the cover design for the book?
A: Actually, Penguin was really awesome! They forwarded three artists, because the penguin designers, if you go to their cubicles at the offices in New York, they have boards and boards of just stuff like inspiration boards and Pinterest boards. And so, they read the book really closely. And they get inspired, like what can we make for it, and actually, I used to be a designer myself. So I gave them really specific requirements, I was like, I want it to be non gendered because boys have a problem reading books with girls on them for some reason, it’s just super annoying and I want it to be very graphic and eye catching, and so then that’s when they brought forward these three artists. And I chose Owen Gildersleeve’s work because he was so meticulous in cutting the paper. And he actually cuts the paper and then he layers it and then he puts it by a window, and he takes a photo from above. And that becomes the artwork, so the artwork is a physical piece. Then I asked what do we think about stained edges, and they said sweet, then I asked what do we think about illustrated endpapers, and they’re like, awesome, so I said great, because I have to have a design here. I just drew it beforehand and that’s the one in the final.
Q: What’s the story behind the endpapers?
A: It’s full of easter eggs of stuff that happened in the book, it’s basically a dream. That’s all I’ll say…
Q: So what was it like having finally gone through all those different random things you’d written, all those projects that you were really excited about, and finally land on this and have it be so successful and be so big?
A:It’s crazy, but also you know what, like, “read read read” and “write write write” is super true. It really matters that you have a body of work and it doesn’t matter if no one’s read it. What matters is you’ve worked through problems in writing. And committed to finishing stuff, that finished stuff becomes a habit. You always ship out the product, you know, you never leave things half finished. And then, so that by the time that opportunity comes like in this instance, it was a friend of a friend who knew an agent. And they said, oh you like to write? What kind of stuff do you have? And you don’t have just ideas you have fully formed work that you can then put on the table, and get the job. So, it’s really, really important. Practically speaking to just keep writing all kinds of different things and write whatever you like. Specifically, if you’re into space offers write space offers, you know, and don’t worry about what other people will think just get really freaky with it and like, stay freaky, because the freaky stuff– that’s what people love.
Q: Would you like to see your book turned into a movie?
A: Well, I mean it was optioned by Paramount, and the script is apparently done and turned in. I’ve been talking with the screenwriter. I was like, how’s it going. And we’ve had coffee and she’s picked my brain on things and she says it’s done, so now it’s in the giant horrific Hollywood machine and we’ll see what it spits up at the end, and when. Yeah I would love to see it, but I also want to see it done like super right, and that takes time. In the meantime, there’s always books.
Q: Are you one of those authors that can read while they write, or are you totally unable to?
A: I used to not be able to read anything but I’m taking a cue from my wife because she reads nonstop, it’s like 50 to 100 books a year. She’s crazy, and her strategy is to read something totally different from what you’re writing, that way your writing won’t start sounding like everything you’re reading. But anyways I just finished reading The Warehouse by Rob Hart, and it’s a dystopian thriller, where we all live and work in Amazon. And when I was writing Frankly In Love I was watching a bunch of horror movies.
Q: Give an example of a book you read while writing?
A: I read Dark Matter by Blake Crouch. He’s got this insane writing style, every paragraph is like a tweet basically. And you can’t stop turning the pages. It makes for like, super addictive reading, and I was like, I want to write a romance, like that. And that’s what influenced the format of Frankly In Love.
Q: Could you describe your writing process, things that you go through like traditions or patterns that you kind of follow?
A: Well practically speaking, I always write in the same place, so I have an orbit chair that I just sit in, and browse the internet for 30 minutes. And then I start writing, but like at the planning level, you know, there’s always like plotter or pantser. I’m like a plantser or like a plontser, yeah I’m kind of in between. And David Arnold actually had a great metaphor for that. It’s like you’re on a road trip at night, and you know you’re going to hit this city. But you have your headlights on and you can only see as far as your headlights, so you know you’re going to reach the city eventually, but you don’t know the specific path, you’re going to take to get to that city. And that’s kind of how I am. So I have a general long term outline but I don’t know, chapter by chapter, what’s going to happen. And that’s all right.