Monday, September 18, 2017

Interview with novelist Young-Im Lee

Novelist Young-Im Lee joins me today and we’re chatting about her historical thriller, Forgotten Reflections.

Young-Im Lee was born in Mokpo, South Korea and relocated to Manila, Philippines at the age of one where she grew up in an international setting. She graduated with a BA in English Language and Literature from Seoul National University, and a MA in English Literary Studies from the University of York (UK). She currently resides in Seoul, South Korea.

Welcome, Young-Im. What inspired you to write this book?
This story is inspired by an actual event in my grandmother’s life. At around the age of seven, my grandmother stumbled on an underground bunker at her school where she found a particularly white sheet of paper. Without knowing the contents of the page, she had taken that peculiar sheet home. Her brother later discovered it to be a communist pamphlet and contacted the authorities, leading to the arrest and execution of over thirty communists, including my grandmother’s own teacher. For years after, my grandmother’s brother was on the run from family members of those executed that day.

Pieces of the plot have also been taken from my experience translating for U.S. and Filipino veterans of the Korean War who were visiting South Korea at the time. The little boy “Zion” in the story is dedicated to one Filipino soldier who had come back to Korea in search of a Korean boy who had been his “errand boy.” At the time, no newspaper or journalist was interested in an interview with a Filipino soldier. I am indebted to these nameless soldiers.

Excerpt from Forgotten Reflections:

Still to this day, the bright lights blind me. I often forget that there had once been a time when the only bright lights in this beautiful city were the bombs that blanketed the stars with ash and decimated the very ground I stand on. I rarely ever think of our brotherland still plunged in darkness just beyond the lights.
There are no landmarks to tell us what had happened other than a cemetery and museums that come in vogue once a year—a true testament of how our people tried our very best to forget the problems we cannot fix, as if the war isn’t still ongoing, marching to the rhythm of progress made in the past sixty years to eradicate all memories of our most recent trauma.
Make no mistake; the han still burns within us. We are reminded every so often of this unique brand of injustice by the rise in international tension from our non-compliant North Korean neighbors, only to momentarily reflect upon our past and relinquish our reflections as phantoms of a past that we hope will never return.
I miss my grandmother Iseul; I miss my grandfather with a deeper longing of never having known. Still, the bright lights taunt me; they command that I march forward, remember what must not be forgotten, lay to rest that which haunts us, and invent—imagine even—a world we must fight to create.
I promise, I will not forget.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I don’t know if I’ve ever considered myself a writer, although I remember feeling like I could become one when my first essay was published in a book.

Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
I am an English teacher here in Korea and feel very lucky to be a part of a child’s formative years! It is a pleasure to see the world as they see it, full of charm and optimism. My students have been my source of inspiration and a part of me writes for them because I know the struggles they will face in the coming years. I am very fortunate that I get to choose my working hours and the number of students I can take on, which has given me the time and space to get into the writing process.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I’m not sure if this is considered a quirk, but I am certainly a slow writer. Most of my writing is done is my head, meaning I spend a lot of time thinking of specific scenes and moments. Writing it down is just one part of the process where I try to connect these moments into a fluid narrative. If you watch me “write,” you’d likely see me on my bed with my eyes closed, or with a book in my hand or a movie playing in the background.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I grew up in the Philippines around the time pop was beginning to get very popular all over Southeast Asia. I remember singing and dancing to some of these songs, dreaming of being on stage. Now, being on stage terrifies me! Most of all, I remember being so enthralled with stories of all kind, including dramas, Hollywood films and American TV shows. I never thought writing a story could be someone’s job! I think I might have wanted to be a writer had I known.

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
I love connecting with readers. It has been a pleasure to get to know people from all over the world. Please feel free to connect with me through my social media sites. Most of all, I’d like to leave you with an encouragement to keep writing and to keep striving to create the world you want to be a part of.

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Thanks for being here today, Young-Im.

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