patricia park and alexandra kleeman + lauren groff!


2015.09.16:  patricia park and alexandra kleeman with anelise chen at aaww!

last wednesday, i went to a reading at the asian american writers' workshop with patricia park (re jane, viking books) and alexandra kleeman (you too can have a body like mine, harper books), and can i just say?  it's awesome to be able to sit and listen to someone say things about what it's like to be korean-american and just think, oh my god, that's exactly what it is!

  • PP:  with re jane, i kind of wanted to speak for queens.  queens suffers from a PR problem.
  • jane is a minority within a minority, which doesn't make sense to white americans who expect hyphenated americans to fit in within their minority groups.
  • AK:  it was very important for me to have a female protagonist.
    • wanted to create someone who was very sensitive and porous to the world around her
  • PP:  wanted to explore being mixed-race because, until very recently, korean society was very homogenous
    • PP:  jane eyre was such a refreshing departure from the disney characters i'd been weaned on.
  • Q:  were you thinking about the womanly traits usually attributed to female characters?
    • AK:  reading beckett, realized that you didn't need much to create empathetic characters
    • PP:  whether characters are likable or not, do they garner your sympathy?
    • AK:  we have a narrow scope for who we befriend or talk to in bars, but fiction allows usu to get to know someone we normally wouldn't.
  • Q:  this whole thing about how female characters should be likable also comes out in how both A and jane deal with how they should be likable.
    • PP:  yeah, i guess it's tough being a woman, isn't it?
    • for jane, the korean community is driven by nun-chi, which casts her as meek and subservient as an au pair -- the ways these cultural cues translate (or don't) cross-culturally.
  • AK:  the feedback cycle through which women constantly assess themselves -- it makes them very malleable.
  • PP:  i think cities shape people, as much as people shape cities.
  • PP:  it's funny how koreans have all these words for different categories of koreans.  (i.e. she isn't just a korean.  she's a korean-american who lives abroad, etcetera etcetera etcetera.) (my note:  seriously, the labels go on.)
  • AK:  my book is stripped down and generic, which comes from being biracial and asian-american and having moved a lot
    • moved 11 times before she was 13
    • they (these cities) had their differences but were also very much the same
    • this stuff that was supposed to be generic and normal was so strange to me (re: being biracial and growing up with different food/snacks).
  • PP:  was more concerned with getting the cultural context right than with modernization
  • re:  the MFA experience:  did you workshop the book?  how was the journey?
    • AK:  i'd recommend getting an MFA with conditions.
      • you can't really teach writing, but you can expand your mind.
      • feels like the classmates she was closest with/respected the most sit on her shoulders
      • with this book, got some really good feedback
      • felt like dickens, writing it a chapter at a time
    • PP:  chose BU because ha jin was there and it was only a year long
      • thought it'd be really efficient, but writing the book took a decade
      • ha jin was very refreshingly prescriptive.
      • "this is writing, right?  you go down all these dark alleys, only to realize you don't want to write about it after you've written about it."
    • AK:  the most helpful thing i got was from ben marcus -- he would take a story and say that i know where you're trying to go with this piece, so how great would it be if you put this first?
      • it's an incredibly difficult thing to do, and she still doesn't know how to do it.
  • AK:  the most upsetting thing about the best american poetry [scandal] is that anyone who just skims the story will land on the conclusion that it is easier if you're asian.
  • PP:  had one crotchety professor who commented that her characters sounded so assimilated
  • PP:  "going back to korea" / "going back to the motherland" -- we say this jokingly, but then we go to korea and realize we're foreigners

here's a slice of matcha custard pie from my favorite pie bakery, four and twenty blackbirds.

2015.09.23:  lauren groff at bookcourt!

tonight!  lauren groff (fates and furies, riverhead) is an absolute delight.  she's ebullient and bubbly and enthusiastic, and she read a bit then fielded Qs from the audience.

(there was also this awesome cake, inspired by the novel.)

  • "you're hitting me at the happiest time.  the birth of my children was great ... but it was painful and there was recovery."
  • (starts reading from the very beginning, then sees a child run up to her parent)  "i'm gonna read from a different part ...  i don't want to contribute to the dissolution of any minors."
  • re:  the play excerpts
    • it was so much fun [to write].
    • found out in the writing of them that she'll never write plays ... okay, maybe one.  but it'll never be put on.
    • tries to imagine everything fully, but playwrights have to take everything away (because plays are all dialogue).
  • Q:  what inspires you to write?
    • "anxiety?  the deep dark pit inside of me?"
    • wasn't good at anything else -- bartending, telemarketing ("i have a phobia of phones"), etcetera
    • "the thing that inspires me to write ... is that i have no other skills."
    • feels the urgency of story
  • "there's knausgaard who does it ... and doesn't stop!"  (re:  about writing an entire life in 16 pages or so)
  • "you teach yourself how to write whatever you're writing as you're writing it."
  • re:  the structure of fates and furies as a two-part book
    • with lotto's part, wanted to write a fairly straightforward bildungsroman
    • with mathilde's part, tried to puncture that -- it's told in short sections, jumping around in time
  • basically what i'm doing when i'm writing is gleefully amusing myself.
  • there's a secret structure in the second part that she's waiting for someone to discover.
  • "i love structure!"
  • re:  the lack of technology in the book:  i learned emoji yesterday.  people would send them to me, and i'd wonder where they were hiding them.
  • if you haven't read the iliad recently, it. is. the. most. perfect. book. that. ever. exists.
    • it has magic realism in ti!
  • basically everything i read in the long period of time i was working on this is reflected in this book.
  • i would watch a lot of youtube videos -- lots of youtube videos -- of operas and plays.
  • on not having a life:  "you guys have nyc!  i have alligators and heat.  and sand."
    • (she lives in central florida.)
  • publishing period for arcadia was two-and-a-half years
  • "i write things at the same time."
    • started fates and furies a little after she started arcadia
    • usually one fails.