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My dad told me: If you have to be anything, (1) be humble and (2) funny.
It wasn’t the pitch, or that agent, or whatever they tell you at panels that got me through this novel. It was what my dad said. My dad, your typical immigrant-with-$4-worth-of-change-in-his-pocket, who’s had every job from shoe shining to dry cleaning. Yes, that guy.
When I thought I’d run out of loans, or pissed after trashing months of writing, or sat in meetings with editors, I stuck to humility and humor. That’s really it. Being humble, even if I didn’t want to, forced me into the habit of listening. And being funny, well, that kept me thinking in creative ways. I even had the nerve to ask for the exposition or format of the novel to be just the way I wanted. I asked for more time, and despite my publisher’s warnings, I’d ask for more, more, more. And I got it all. Because when I talked to anyone, I became my dad. My dad kept it lighthearted and trusted people to trust him. It gave people confidence in him, me.
The Impossible Project provided Polaroids and film for the tour. Mostly I’m either sleeping or preparing to sleep.
You see, writing was hard. Harder than the sort of hard that I’d imagined. But the worst part was keeping myself together. I didn’t want to lose the excitement of sharing these characters and their relationships, or the after-feeling of reading a really wonderful passage, or sticking with my guns on the new things I dared to do as a poet writing fiction. Once again, laughing and being gracious reminded me that I didn’t write anyone else’s novel but mine.
When I finished, I was in California. I just hugged my parents. That was the end. I wasn’t jumping up and down. I only took a bath and slept right after. But when I came back to New York, my director at Columbia glimpsed at a few experimental snippets of the novel. He wrote to me, “I’m so impressed with you.” Of all the times, I don’t know why, but I cried a little then. I think I remembered that even if I didn’t ask for it, everyone around me accepted me and my hopes a long time ago.
Got to share my tattoo with Boston and DC. Guest of a Guest shot for us at the The Player’s Club in Manhattan. Schmoozed with audience members post-reading and saw my parents. Visit my Tumblr for more photos.
Just read your Beyonce Translation.
Curious, what factors into your decision to publish via blog or traditional submission/publication?
I think, at least for poets, and maybe fiction writers too, that we publish with journals to list them after our names. I.e. My name is Blah Blah, my works have appeared in Blah Blah Review and Blah Blah Quarterly. Other than that, even with the exposure, there isn’t a lot of desire to go through the submission process and wait, wait, wait, then publish. I have nothing against journals; they’ve been kind to me. But after I’d collected what seemed like legitimate publications, I was more open to publishing my work right on my own site.
You know what? A lot of journals run on normal terrain: WordPress, Blogger, Tumblr, sites with basic HTML. So why can’t I publish on my site? Not because I think, Wow, I need to become my own journal. But sort of. When my poems are shared, I want them linked here, so my site becomes a base for some (not all) of my poems–maybe the more intimate poems. I can also link the journal’s site on mine post-publication, so we become Google search engine buddies. Readers also don’t have to rummage through back copies of a journal, all of which they have to purchase. At the same time, if you have a piece forthcoming in a journal in 4 months, you can post another piece on your site in 2. This way, you’ll stream your poems to an audience rather than have 1 or 2 publications a year.
I don’t think this system would’ve always worked. Now, our technologically savvy generation is learning. There’s no excuse if a hopeful filmmaker doesn’t post on YouTube, Vimeo, or a musician doesn’t update a SoundCloud, use Audacity, or a socialite doesn’t upload on Twitter, Facebook. We have more world-wide access to an audience than ever. I guess that’s just it: How do we get our work in the reader’s hands? For me, I don’t need someone to buy an issue; I just want someone to look at my piece, and maybe, share it. I say: submit to journals and publish your favorites on your site. Build a reputation but also build an audience. A mainstream half-example: Louis C.K. sold his comedy special on his site and not through traditional means like DVD or iTunes. Sure, he’s Louis C.K., but he also took a huge risk. He’s proved that we can directly plug-in to the people we write for. How? Make it easier for them to find you; be good to your readers.
Something weird has happened. It was after the open mics in California back in July, and now, I’m nervous about this book tour. It starts Nov. 4th and we’re stopping by 6 cities. Cambridge (Out of the Blue Gallery), Princeton (Taplin Gallery), Philadelphia (Arts Garage), Baltimore (EMP Collective), Washington (Busboys & Poets), and New York (The Players Club). Driving down the East Coast in a van to read poems and a novel excerpt. But I’ve got a problem.
I can’t hold my bladder. I sit in the aisle seat in planes and movie theaters because I get up every hour and a half. But that time frame cuts down when I’m nervous. And I get really nervous before I’m up to read. Every step is a step into pee-trigger-territory. Then what. I’ll get on stage, read two lines of something, and then I need a bathroom break. I just need to pee. I’m reading my poem. And I need to pee. Not during one poem. All the poems. That means while everyone’s experiencing this reading, I am not. I’m not present. I’m meditating under a bright yellow waterfall and someone is whispering shhhh.
Book tour sponsored by Moleskine. Tickets here.
After a month, it triggered a Pavlovian response. Now every time I read out loud at my desk, on the train, in a shop anywhere, I have to pee. I could’ve just gone to the bathroom as a preemptive strike. Doesn’t matter. Reading my work out loud triggers an immediate pee response. Almost like I’ve been conditioned so I can’t experience my own pieces anymore. I just think: full bladder. And when I’m really old and they ask me how it’s like to look back at my work, I’ll probably say something stupid like, My poems make me want to pee.
To be honest, I’m not done with the book. When I say not done, I mean my edits are in another window beside this one on my laptop right now. Not done. Not there yet, but might be good to collect my thoughts halfway for the curious.
Red? There’s fantasy. There’s a satirical bent. Energy, weapons, fieldwork, deserts, training prisons. A seed of an idea started during my undergrad in Irvine where I studied Dante. Dante thesis. Dante dreams. Even further back, as a baby, my mom played old cassette tapes of Korean folktales. Any tale coming from the East is messed up. I’m talking: a village that can’t pay the forest tiger, so the tiger rapes the youngest girl. She gets pregnant with the tiger’s son who becomes Venus and shits and those become countries. That messed up. My teens consisted of Toriyama’s fight sequences, Park Chan-wook’s incest, Miyazaki’s gods and children. Later, poets and thinkers: Dazai, Parra, Alberti, Boethius, and yes, Beyoncé. Just watching B at Revel made me light up across the board, the set up, the movement, the volume, that sweat and performance. I thought of spirit, body, space, society.
Otherwise, it’d be a different sort of novel. Not as violent and gory. Not making a point of excess in fights and how it bares itself. Then making fun of that point.
Sera, an attention-seeking outcast, sets free a demonic criminal in this energy-enhanced otherworld. Punished with the death of her mother and exiled from a systematic society, Sera seeks refuge on Earth and trains for vengeance under her new OCD-conscious teacher and ill-fated love, the criminal.
In this Murakami-meets-Kill-Bill tale, Sera is stuck between righteousness and carnage and learns the limits of her body while she ventures through worlds of diamonds, jade, and perpetual sunset. Her goal: to obtain the animalistic and all-consuming level of red. Sera’s fight is a fight that ignores the inner voice of dogged fear that she must learn most—her own desperation for forgiveness.
How did this happen? Nothing else was going for me. Not talent nor background. But something strange happens when you cut the crap. Stop hyping yourself with I can do this, I’m smart too. Instead I started where I was honest: I don’t know what I’m doing, I don’t have experience or taste. And a lot of people want me to stop. I started there. That’s when I began to grow, very recently.
I’d been rejected from agents, at least 90, for a year before I started Red. I’d score a call back here and there, but things never got going. It was over for me. I did what ghosts do. I wandered saying fuck it, fuck it, fuck it. I don’t have money. I’m across the country from anyone I know. Haven’t been to a hospital in years. Just keep going, just keep going. I was so scared my hands shook on the train from Harlem to downtown where I worked. I was so scared all the time.
So how? Before I started, I told myself no one would read Red but me. I’d finish it, cry a little, put it under the shelf, go swimming, and float in someone else’s pool. Then this happened: I wrote the first draft in 3 months. Took all the hardships behind me to brave that. When I used to dance, that endurance. When I lived without parents in high school, that courage. When my relationship failed, that wisdom. In the scope of things, it all contributed at once.
This is that book. I read a section at Word Bookstore in Brooklyn last night. Guess what? 10 people. But 10 people stayed. 10 people wanted the book. The pre-orders were in. A little crowd of surprised people including myself. What, me? Did you say you wanted to not only read but purchase my book? My eyeballs get all red thinking about it.
I’m told the novel will be out October 31st at the earliest. Out on Amazon.com, RedtheNovel.com, and select bookstores. Until then, the Collective Presse under Writer’s Bloq launched a Kickstarter. It’ll aid the project (though Red is scheduled for release either way) and fund the book tour in November where I’ll come to read in major cities. The Presse and I would love your support on the Kickstarter. I pledged. Emptied my bank. Even a dollar would be generous! To pledge: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/writersbloq/writers-bloq-launches-the-quarterly-novels-and-blo
I’ve worked for a nice agency, nicer agents, editors, and memorized contracts, templates at you-name-them publishing houses. Worked for journals and critics, worked for free. But the Collective was the first to whoop my ass. They got in my space, read the novel, said How dare you keep this to yourself, you selfish girl, and signed me on. Probably the most sound and reliable and radical contract for writers I’ve read. I was skeptical. But you know me. When I want something, I seize it with the iron grip of my balls.
1. I’m terrified of public speaking. So I decided to drop by open mics in LA, jump in front of an audience, and read some poetry.
Stage fright is maybe the only thing I can depend on. I’ve had a sterile Korean-Catholic upbringing. I’m the youngest child of the youngest son on my father’s side. I come from the practice of shutting up. There’s no natural part of me that unveils, confides, and opens. But somehow, artists that meet their audience at eye-level profoundly inspire me. They’re available— available? —I guess that and tangible.
And I learned that reading out loud almost mimics praise (of language, of people, of memory). For me, that was powerful. Of course, I’m still a horrible reader: I go to the bathroom twice, I run out of saliva, I trip over the speaker cord, I talk way too fast, the hand holding the paper shakes, and my mouth is weirdly close to the microphone, but there’s a joy that I’m experiencing while reading to an alert public. It’s like allowing myself to feel consoled.
Last week, I reached my goal of 60K words in 3 months. Above is the second half of my progress thermometer (you’ve seen the first half). The blocks of color show however much I wrote in one sitting. Towards the middle, you can see my desperation. I’m forcing myself. All the short spurts. I feel like I just got out alive.
Plot maps are something new to me. I drew out the settings in my novel: the rivers, the forest, the town, the underground water system, animals, plants, etc. It felt natural and along the lines of the storyboards and visual charts I’ve become obsessed with. I have between 15-20 pages of maps. It’s something I want to continue. It’s fun and I don’t know when I’ve become so playful with the process. But I recommend plot maps.