This is an updated version of a post that originally appeared in the September 2021 edition of my newsletter Readiculous Musings. You can subscribe for it HERE.
Love love love the cover for my newest Young Adult Rom Com, Once Upon a K-Prom (Out May 17, 2022 with Disney-Hyperion). My first foray into contemporary romance, it’s about a Korean-American girl who made a pact to go to prom with her childhood best friend. But when he moved away and became one of the biggest K-pop stars in the world, she thought that promise would never be fulfilled…until he shows up on her doorstep, cameras and all, to ask her to prom.✨PRE-ORDER Once Upon a K-Prom✨
Fun fact, we originally discussed doing a photoshoot to have real people on the cover, but the ideas we had for the design ultimately seemed like it would fit better with an illustrated style. And I’m so glad we went that route because…I mean, look at this gorgeous art!
The artist hit it out of the park. My publisher asked me to send them my thoughts on what I dreamed of for my cover and I immediately sent in the aesthetic board of my visual inspirations and some covers I loved for recent contemporary romances. And when they sent me Xiao Tong Kong’s first draft, I knew immediately I was in good hands.
I love all the details that the artist brought in from the book, including Robbie’s pink hair, Elena’s casual and comfortable style, and the butterfly corsage! You might notice that there are two different backgrounds, which represents that our two main characters, Elena and Robbie, are coming together from two different worlds. This cover is everything I could have dreamed of to represent K-Prom and more and I am so grateful for the entire team.
What would you do if the world’s biggest K-pop star asked you to prom? Perfect for fans of Jenny Han and Sandhya Menon, this hilarious and heartfelt novel brings the glamour and drama of the K-pop world straight to high school.
Elena Soo has always felt overshadowed. Whether by her more successful older sisters, her more popular twin brother, or her more outgoing best friend, everyone except Elena seems to know exactly who they are and what they want. But she is certain about one thing – she has no interest in going to prom. While the rest of the school is giddy over corsages and dresses, Elena would rather spend her time working to save the local community center, the one place that’s always made her feel like she belonged.
So when international K-pop superstar Robbie Choi shows up at her house to ask her to prom, Elena is more confused than ever. Because the one person who always accepted Elena as she is? Her childhood best friend, Robbie Choi. And the one thing she maybe, possibly, secretly wants more than anything? For the two of them to keep the promise they made each other as kids: to go to prom together. But that was seven year ago, and with this new K-pop persona, pink hair, and stylish clothes, Robbie is nothing like the sweet, goofy boy she remembers. The boy she shared all her secrets with. The boy she used to love.
Besides, prom with a guy who comes with hordes of screaming fans, online haters, and relentless paparazzi is the last thing Elena wants – even if she can’t stop thinking about Robbie’s smile…right?
I had so much fun writing this contemporary romcom, but I definitely had to kind of start from the beginning to discover my contemporary voice while staying true to my natural author voice that I’d found for Wicked Fox and Vicious Spirits. One of the things that helped me write this new kind of story was by incorporating a lot of things I love in the story. Including, but not limited to, K-Pop, Childhood Friends-to-Lovers, and complicated family dynamics! I hope you all enjoy Elena and Robbie and their budding romance!
Learn more about K-Prom HERE
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| TAGS:kprom, publishing, writing journey
This is an updated version of a post that originally appeared in the June 2019 edition of my newsletter Readiculous Musings. You can subscribe for it HERE.
It is the one month anniversary of WICKED FOX coming out. So, I think I am feeling a bit nostalgic and I am thinking a lot about what has brought me to this point. And one of the biggest factors was having a good community around me. Now I know that this phrase can be vague, especially to people just joining the writing and the publishing worlds. So, I thought I’d break down what types of communities there are and then give a few examples of how those communities have boosted me and helped me get to debut!
First, there is the macro level of the greater writing community. This community is all over the world and really only gets together during big events (such as Book Con, which I was lucky enough to attend this month!). Mostly, they interact online. So, you’ll find a lot of conversations happening on Twitter. This is great because it provides access to those who don’t have the physical, mental, or financial ability to travel to the big conferences each year. You can get advice from other writers or industry professionals, connect with new friends, and even pitch your manuscript in fun Twitter pitch events! This was my first introduction into the writing world. When I found writing Twitter, I was mostly silent, learning from those who came before me and their wise conversations. Then I slowly dipped my toe in over time. It gave me a chance to process my opinions on big topics and how I wanted to exist within the community.
Then, there is the more “medium” level of community. The one where you have something more specific connecting everyone in the group. This could be the genre you write, how you identify as a writer or person, or even just geographical location. I am personally in a few groups. One is for DVPit alumni (authors who found their agents or editors on the Twitter pitch event #DVPit), I’m also in a group for Asian authors, and then a group for authors debuting in the year 2019. It’s been great because sometimes your experiences are very specific and it’s nice to get people who can understand that and talk it out with you! All of these groups also live online (specifically in facebook groups). But I do know of some that utilize chat apps like Slack! This type of community gave me a chance to work out some of my more complicated feelings on things (such as my identity as a WOC and how I wanted to incorporate my Asian identity into my writing). It also gave me a chance to ask more nuanced questions on a forum other than Twitter.
Then there are the smaller groups, often they are critique groups. This can be anywhere from 2 to 20 people. And they are often the ones that you share your more personal ups and downs with. Also you share you manuscript with them so they can give you feedback! I love these groups because they are a safe space for a writer. They let us vent with no judgement and they know us better so they understand more innately why we think the way we do. Also, they help make our writing better! This type of group helped me build my skills in my writing as well as work out how I wanted to go about doing the nitty gritty like querying agents!
Finally, there are the small, tight, very personal groups. These are the people who know you inside and out. The people who are not just your critique partners but your friends who you would fight for through thick and thin. This is what my group of writing friends are to me. We call ourselves a lot of things. The more zany one being “writer cult” but the one we’re more widely known as is Writer’s Block Party (we have a blog of the same name). These ladies don’t just know about my writing, they know about my life. They know about tragedies I’ve gone through and joys I’ve experienced both in the publishing industry and outside of it. This type group is not necessarily common. So, I always tell people that it’s not necessary to have a group like WBP to survive the publishing industry. But, one of the reasons we bonded so wellwas our love of books and writing. We also didn’t immediately become as close as we are today. We built these friendships over years. I was just talking to one of the girls in the group about how the longest relationship (outside of family because Axie and I have known each other for 20+ years) is about 5 years. And most of us are just nowbeing published. So, that was a long journey together fighting for the same dream. It matters that we’ve been through it all together, because we have someone who understands all we’ve been through and has stuck by our side through it all! This type of group helped me survive. Not only writing, but life in general. They are my rock through everything I’ve been through the last three years!
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| TAGS:publishing, writing journey
Time for an end-of-the-year post where I talk about all the things that have happened this year and all the things I hope for the new year!
2018 has truly been a wild year for me! I got a book deal, I moved to NYC, I got a new job!
I was also lucky this year because I read and watched a lot of amazing things. So I thought I’d share some of my favorites with you all!
Favorites of 2018
Here is a list of my favorite reads (chosen from books I read this year, no necessarily all books that came out this year)
Favorite contemporary: THE SUN IS A STAR
I absolutely adored this unconventional formatting. I have to admit I was very worried about how this book would end because it was careening toward uncertainty and unhappiness, but it all came together in the end and I have to say I don’t think it could have ended any other way!
Favorite Fantasy: THE BELLES
Okay, to be fair, there were A LOT of books that could have fallen into this category, but I have to give it to The Belles. Part of it was because while this story had a lot of recognizable themes, it did not shy away from the hard observations about what our society (and often many fantasies) value when it comes to powerful, beautiful females. I loved that Camellia didn’t fit into an easy mold. She made me uncomfortable sometimes with her choices, but she never hid who she was. She was strong and driven. And at the end of the book she was someone I could respect.
Favorite Sequel: SMOKE IN THE SUN
There were a few sequels that came out this year that I enjoyed, but I gave this to Smoke in the Sun because I always enjoy a sequel that makes me see the characters in a new light and re-examine what I thought I knew from the previous book(s). This sequel definitely did that for me.
Favorite Re-read: TO ALL THE BOYS I’VE LOVED BEFORE
I re-read this series when the movie came out. And I have to say it keeps so well! I adore all the characters and while I also LOVE the movie, the books are a classic in my heart. Also, the very natural Korean moments will always mean something to me because it was one of the first time I read them in a contemporary YA novel!
Here’s a list of my favorite movies this year:
All-Time Fave: CRAZY RICH ASIANS
I mean, this HAS to go to Crazy Rich Asians. This movie meant so much for Asians in media. It was beautiful and vibrant and had moments of unapologetic and unexplained Asian-ness. It didn’t try to cater too much to the western gaze, it just was. And it also touched on issues of Asians from Asia vs Asians from the diaspora and how we see ourselves and our place in the world so differently. This really hit home for me and I am left having to examine how I feel about this topic in a deeper way than I ever have before.
Favorite Romance: TO ALL THE BOYS I’VE LOVED BEFORE
I love that TATBILB is unabashedly just a romance. It’s not trying to be an observation about being Asian or Asian American. It’s just a full on romance about a girl who also happens to be half-Korean. It is also so nostalgic about old movies that I loved growing up. It felt like a throwback to the heyday of John Hughes and 90s/00s teen romantic comedies that made me so excited for experiencing my first love. I am so excited they’re making the sequel to this movie and I will rewatch the first over and over until it comes out!
Favorite Drama: THE HATE U GIVE
I saw this movie twice and I cried both times. I might have cried MORE the second time because I noticed so many more details I didn’t see the first time. It’s a lot to take in because it handles police brutality and the death of a kid. But the movie (and the original book it was based on) handled the topic with such grace and depth. This is a repeat watch for sure!
Unexpected fave: ANT-MAN AND THE WASP
I did not know if I would like this sequel despite the fact that I was very entertained by the original. I know this might be weird of someone who loves fantasy and sci-fi, but I still can’t get over how they communicate with the ants. It just feels so weird! Anyway, this movie was great and it expanded on the events of the original film so well. It also ties well into INFINITY WAR really well and made me more excited for END GAME!
Best Action: BLACK PANTHER
Hands down, BEST Marvel movie ever. I know that there’s a lot of hype around Black Panther but that’s because it is deserved! I realize now that all of my favorite movies are ones where the villain is just as fleshed out as the hero. And they did that with Killmonger SO well. I mean it doesn’t hurt that everyone was beautiful in this movie. It also didn’t hurt that this is the first Marvel movie where all the women could arguably take on the men. So many dynamic and well developed female characters and I am here for it! Throw in amazing action scenes and a fantastic plot and this movie will probably be my favorite single superhero led Marvel movie for a long time!
Best adaptation/remake: LOVE, SIMON
Yes, yes, I know you’re pointing out that so many of the other movies I listed are adaptations, but I HAVE to include Love, Simon and I will put it here! It’s honesty such a sweet and wonderful story. It is also a really great adaptation of the original book. Every character was well cast and I really enjoyed the family dynamic as it played out on the screen. It felt so authentically high school to me, with all the insecurities and quiet moments that feel so important in the moment. I am crossing my fingers for a Leah on the Offbeat movie!
I wanted to do something I’ve seen other people do. I want to share a list of goals for 2019 (I’m hoping that having it written down will hold me accountable!) 2019 is going to be an interesting year as it will be my debut year! (OMG, I cannot believe WICKED FOX will be out in the world next year! Also, in case you didn’t know GUMIHO was retitled as WICKED FOX!)
- Finish book 2 in my WICKED FOX/GUMIHO duology
- Finish writing Middle Grade Work in Progress (WiP)
- Get my next Young Adult WiP in good shape
- Write more consistently (not necessarily every day, but enough that I feel like I am pushing my writing forward every week)
- Keep my eyes on my own paper and don’t compare myself and my journey to others!
- Enjoy all things big & small about debut year
- Become a Better Editor
- Continue developing diverse stories at my job and boost diverse creators
- Continue managing my anxiety so debut year doesn’t negatively affect it.
- Eat healthier
- Exercise more regularly
- Continue to develop positive relationships
- Show appreciation and gratitude to the friends and family who are there for me (both old and new!)
- Recognize when social situations/relationships are creating more negative than positives in my life and work on walking away
- Learn that I don’t have to say “yes” all the time
Thank you for coming along on my 2018 journey and I look forward to sharing 2019 (and my debut year) with you all!
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| TAGS:hope, reading, writing journey
Hi everyone! I wanted to write a post because I have a really fun announcement. My good friend, Claribel Ortega, has long been an up-and-coming voice in the publishing world. She started a podcast, Write or Die Podcast, this year to highlight the journeys of writers and their struggles to achieve their dream of being published authors.
Write or Die is a podcast that aims to share the real stories about what it takes to become an author – the gritty, infuriating, pull your hair out because it’s been years – stories of writers who didn’t give up despite it all, and are now living out their dream. It’s hosted by authors Claribel Ortega & Kat Cho and releases every Friday.
You’ve probably guessed the announcement by this blurb (and from the title of this post), but I’m going to say it anyway…
I am the new co-host of Write or Die Podcast! 🎉😍😱💯📚
I am so excited to get to spend time talking to inspirational authors with my best friend! Hope you guys can tune in and check it out. If you want some suggestions then here’s the episode that inspired us to try out this co-hosting thing, my interview: Ghostober Episode 3: Kat Cho & The Monthly Whale Fight
And here’s my first official episode as co-host (we get to interview the amazing Laura Sebastian, author of ASH PRINCESS): Episode 21: Laura Sebastian & The Great Publishing Bake Off
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| TAGS:podcast, writing advice, writing journey, writing tools
Hello strangers, remember me? I’m the person that’s supposed to keep this blog updated, even though I haven’t posted in MONTHS. I apologize for my LONG absence, but to be fair you can still find me pretty regularly over at Writer’s Block Party! And I have been much better at keeping up my new(ish) Authortube/Booktube vlog over at YouTube.
STILL, this blog was my first love and I’ve been horrible at keeping it updated. Partly because I did want to try out those other formats of connecting with everyone (vlogging is fun but time consuming, y’all!)
Also, because my writing has…not been going well. So, I thought I might talk about fallow periods and the search for motivation and inspiration when you’re a writer or a creator.
According to Cambridge dictionary “fallow” means: Fallow land is not planted with crops, in order to improve the quality of the soil A fallow period of time is one in which very little happens.
But Mirriam-Webster has a girl’s back because this is the first thing that pops up in their definition:
Way to both support and subtweet me Mirriam-Webster!
ANYWAY! You get the gist. It’s a period of time where a writer is not writing. There should be a sub-definition that says “a period of time where a writer questions all their life choices and regrets everything.”
The idea of a fallow period for writers is not new. However, if you look at the origin of the word it’s a time when fields don’t produce crops, but it’s ALSO a time when the fields are regenerating nutrients to be able to grow crops again! This definitely changed my view on the time periods when I couldn’t write and how I would treat them. This idea was first presented to me when a CP sent me this post.
So, instead of just seeing periods of time where I’m not creating as a negative, I see it as a chance to rejuvinate my creative well and to refresh my mind. I try to read all the books I couldn’t concentrate on when I was actively writing or revising. I use it to watch all the shows I’d been missing out on. And I pursue other creative endeavors because I know that when I’m actively writing I can’t do many other creative things at the same time. So, right now that’s being more active on my Instagram
And on my youtube channel!
Still, the idea of most of the things I’m doing is to work toward being able to write again. So I try to find inspiration and motivation in everything I do. I keep journals and lists of ideas as they come to me. And I try to let myself write if I want to, but I don’t set any deadlines and let it just flow naturally. This way, I find that most of the things I end up writing during my fallow periods is very personal and it helps to bring my stories closer to my heart.
What do you guys do during your fallow periods? How do you refill your creative wells?
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| TAGS:hope, random thoughts, writing advice, writing journey
Hey guys, I am so excited to share the first ever podcast interview I’ve ever done! It was with 88 Cups of Tea one of my ABSOLUTE FAVES! And I am still pinching myself because I can’t believe I had this amazing experience. It was for their celebratory 88th episode (congratulations Yin and Moonlyn!) and I was one of the lucky listeners picked to interview. Previous episodes of 88 Cups of Tea included interviews with greats like Leigh Bardugo, Jenny Han, Alexandra Bracken, Renee Ahdieh, and V.E. Schwab! So I am so star-struck by this podcast and Yin (the amazing host!)
I’d say definitely check out all the episodes and listen to all 8 amazing listener interviews on this super fun episode (I’m around the 1:37:40 point)
Ya’ll. The 88th episode has arrived. Dun dun DUN! Today’s milestone episode is proudly sponsored by Sun Basket and BookCon. It features eight incredible listeners from our 88 Cups of Tea community. I remember when I first launched this podcast, the 88th episode seemed so far fetched.
And visit their website for the show notes and their archive of all the episodes: HERE
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| TAGS:podcast, writing advice, writing journey
I want to write an honest post about something that has always worried me and probably will always worry me as I keep writing about my heritage. It’s a special kind of imposter syndrome, the fear that I am appropriating my own culture for my art.
There are so many conversations about #ownvoices and #ownyourown. There are so many people saying meaningful and important things. Sometimes I try to chime in, but I always feel like others say it better, so signal boosting has been my main activity.
The way I see the world is a bit of a hybrid. I’ve spoken to many POC Americans who admit to feeling like they live in-between. Between the world of their parents/ancestors and the world they were born into. We are American but we have a qualifier in front. We are Something(-)American.
But, I chose to write a book about my culture as a Korean girl. And I also chose to write a book ONLY about being Korean (aka, not about being Korean American). So, I had to accept a few things about myself and my book.
1) I am Korean but I was not raised there, so I still see my heritage through a version of an American POV.
2) My parents picked what Korean ideals to raise us with so I lived their version of Korean culture.
3) I learned new things about my roots as an adult, but those aren’t as deeply ingrained in me as what I was raised with.
How I try to keep learning in my writing and in my identity
I am Korean 100% by genetics and blood, but I am a Korean American by upbringing. That means that I need to own what I know and fill in what I don’t with diligent research (just like any other writer).
The book I wrote is my heritage and my culture. But I knew being a Korean girl and being a person of color does not give me carte blanche to write whatever I want. I went to a semester abroad in Korea and visited many times as a child, but that doesn’t mean I instinctively know what I’m talking about when I write a contemporary Korean story. So, I went to Korea (multiple times) and I asked Korean people to clarify things as I wrote it. I asked Korean beta readers to read it. I asked my grandmother questions, my aunts, my cousin, my Korean language teacher. I wanted to ensure that I wasn’t just coasting on my bloodline to assume that I was getting it right.
I believe that we need to own our heritage in our writing. I also think we need to know our limitations and be sure that when we present our stories we are always doing due diligence.
I am proud and excited about this book I’ve created. But I am always learning and that excites me. I never want to stop learning. When we stop learning life can get pretty boring. And I refuse to live a boring life.
That’s why I’m a writer.
As a final note, someone recently shared THIS ARTICLE called “The Year in Hyphenates.” It’s a very honest and insightful article about what it’s like to be raised Asian American/Canadian and the in-between identity that is often created. I gotta be honest, I actually teared up reading it because it resonated so deeply with my own struggles as an Asian American. Often times I felt not Korean enough and not American enough at the same time. And I know that these struggles have bled over into my creative identity. I want to say this to any POC/Native/marginalized creators of #ownvoices reading this post. You are NOT responsible for representing your whole community. You can only tell YOUR story fully and honestly. As long as you love your story and feel like you’re representing YOUR experience well in your #ownvoices, then I’m sure you’re doing a wonderful job.
Keep dreaming! Keep creating!
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| TAGS:ownvoices, OwnYourOwn, random thoughts, writing journey
Oct18, 2016 |
Hey guys, I know I haven’t written in a bit, and that’s partly because I didn’t have too much to write about. My day job has been really busy and I am finished with my bigger round of revisions (finally!). However, I came back to talk about something that has been a theme of many conversations I have lately:
Here’s the thing. We talk a lot about the struggle to get accepted, to find someone to champion us (whether that’s an agent or editor). But there’s not always talk about the moments right after. The moments where your happiness is peppered with sudden drops in your stomach that someone is going to come in and say, “You’re a fraud and you don’t belong here. Get out!”
I don’t know if this is because of the fact that we’re creatives or because of the amount of time we spend receiving rejection after rejection. I think it’s probably a decent mix of both because I know people who found agents at many different points in their journey and they all admit to feeling the dreaded imposter syndrome.
Personally, I feel it every time someone new follows me on Twitter and they’re somehow tied to the industry.
I think to myself, “Do they know that I’m a total newb and I have nothing interesting to say?”
I’ve actually told my friend that I worry they’ll be annoyed with how many GIFs I post. Which, let’s be honest, I do way too much.
But, I will say, that when someone else comes to me with their fears of being labeled a fraud, it’s way easier for me to say, “No, you’re not!”
Maybe because it’s easier for us to defend our friends and see their genius than it is for us to see it in ourselves. Or maybe because I am just too close to my own fears to see past them. But I do know (logically) that the publishing industry is not a charity. It is not a place where people give you a contract or a book deal because of pity or because they had an “off” day. It’s because they see talent in you. And, sometimes we need a kick in the teeth to remember that.
So, this post is trying to be that kick for anyone who needs it (including myself!).
We work hard to get here. If you did all the right things (got CPs, beta readers, wrote a kick-butt query letter, entered the right pitch events, and kept a professional hat on the whole time) then when you get that offer and you feel that happy high, know that you DESERVE THIS! You are amazing and you worked hard!
Seriously you guys, agents reject 96% of author submissions. So, if you got an offer then you deserve this!
No two authors have the same journey! There are different “magic numbers” for everyone.
In an industry with so many opinions and paths, it’s sometimes hard to navigate and know what direction to go in. However, it’s also a community that is full of surprises and wonderful things around the corner. If you have a vision for your work and a good head on your shoulders, then you’re doing well. And, it doesn’t hurt to get a good group of Critique Partners and fellow writers behind you to support you during your down times.
If writing is your dream and your passion, then don’t let doubts bring you down. (I’m not saying you will be able to rid yourself of doubts, but just acknowledge them for what they are, insecurities that probably don’t have too much basis in actual fact).
I also think that admitting you have these fears is healthy, too. If you have a trusted group of friends or critique partners, then I’m sure they’d understand the feeling and be able to talk you through it.
But, at the end of the day, we have to all remember that we are amazing for trying and for fighting and for never giving up on our dreams. We ARE writers and we DO deserve to be here!
And now, bask in a montage of Leslie Knope compliments!
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| TAGS:random thoughts, writing journey
Jun22, 2016 |
YA Interrobang wrote a wonderful intro article about it HERE. I’ll just blurb part of it to explain the gist of it:
We are going to #OwnYourOwn, with advice, with encouragement, with anecdotes so that you can know just how long we’ve been where you are, and how eagerly we’re waiting for you to take our hands and step forward to where we are. You are not alone on this path. You are not alone in your #ownvoices.
For my post, I wanted to write about how I finally accepted my voice as an #ownvoices in writing. Often times in writing (especially in the beginning) we have a healthy dose of imposter syndrome. This can occur not only with our style of writing but very very much with our voice.
To get to the meat of it, I have to tell you a bit about how I gained, lost, and regained my identity. (warning this gets a bit wordy, so if you just want to skip to the writer part of the journey, skip down a section)
|Baby Kat hamming it up in good ol’ Central Florida|
A little bit of my personal history
I mostly grew up in Orlando. That’s important to my story because it shaped a lot of my self-identity. It’s not a bad thing growing up in Central Florida. The weather is pretty decent, there are beaches, Disney World is close. However, my neighborhood was largely white. The main minority was hispanic/latinx. There were exactly 2.5 Asians in my class: Me, a Chinese boy, and a half-Malaysian girl (who was my best friend). That meant that to all of the non-Asian kids we were all “Chinese” weirdos. This was both upsetting and a fact of life for me.
My parents did what they thought was best for our family when they moved us to Orlando. However, my parents were raised in a time when they were told to just be American. A time of nationalism and when moving to America meant opportunity. Their Koreanness wasn’t something they spoke of a lot even though both had lived in Korea as children. My mother didn’t learn English until she was nine. My father was the first son of the first son and therefore the future head of our whole extended family still living in Seoul. However, that still wasn’t something that was spoken about and dissected a lot in our house, because we were American.
So, I didn’t get a good handle on my Korean heritage in an obvious way. There were subtle things. I thought that Korean words were just another way to say things and didn’t realize it was a different language until I went to school. There, I was bullied out of ever saying anything Korean. Kids also spoke to me in a mocking way where they would replace all of their L’s with R’s. People still talk to me that way now.
I didn’t realize that other kids didn’t eat kimchee and side-dishes (panchan) with all of their meals. I didn’t think that instant Ramen was a “junk food.” I just thought it was normal. I also didn’t think it was Korean. I just thought it was my family’s thing.
It wasn’t until I went to college, spent a semester in Seoul, and began writing that I fully embraced myself and embraced my heritage (but I’m getting a bit ahead of myself. Back to young-Kat…)
My Writing Journey Begins
This all matters because when I wrote my first full book (at the age of thirteen), I made the main character half Korean, half white. I did this, because I both wanted a character that looked like me and I knew the character *shouldn’t* look completely like me. Not based on the books I had read as a child. And to top it off, her Korean side was not acknowledged and played no part in developing her character. This was very telling. That at thirteen I couldn’t completely accept a full Korean main character, even though I was full Korean myself. I’m a bit sad for thirteen-year-old me because I know better now. (But what they say is true: hindsight is always 20/20).
Fast-forward a dozen years and I’m writing to actually publish. I wrote a space opera and I made the main characters (MC) white. However, this was just when We Need Diverse Books was gaining traction. It was inspiring and it made me really think about how I decided what story I wanted to tell. It made me stop and think, “Why did I make my main character white?” The book was set in outer space. There were aliens with wolf-heads in my book. Why can’t my main characters be Korean? So I made my MC Korean. But I named him Eli. I did this because, even though I was trying to come around to the idea of embracing my identity within my writing, I still believed my culture in its entirety (e.g. Korean names) was not palatable for the current market.
That book didn’t gain me an agent. And I wonder if it’s because of my hesitation while writing that book. I didn’t put all of myself into that book both figuratively and literally. And I wonder if that made a difference.
The book that actually got me where I am now is based on Korean mythology, set in Seoul, with fully Korean characters with fully Korean lives and names. And that’s the book everyone was excited about. That was the book that got me an agent. That’s the book I want to sell to publishers.
Getting to that book was hard for me. What I mean by that is that I have not always been as comfortable with my “Koreanness” as I am today. No one actively tried to take my heritage away from me, but micro-aggressions and feeling like my culture was too “other” almost my whole childhood made me tuck it away so no one could see. I went to college and called myself a “twinkie” to appease the very Korean KA students that looked at me with suspicion when I didn’t speak fluently. And when I started to get into my culture more as an adult, some people who’d known me for 20+ years looked at me with doubt. Why now? Why suddenly have interest in my culture? Didn’t that make me “fake”? To be honest, the two main things that drove me forward was losing someone I loved and writing. I learned that I wanted to write about ME and what made me who I was. A huge part of that (whether I chose to acknowledge it before or not) was that I’m Korean. So, I wrote about it and I came up with the book that I eventually got my agent with.
It makes me deliriously happy that the book that’s my full self is the one that got me here. It’s almost like the universe waited until I could accept all of myself before it allowed me to take this momentous next step in my writing career.
So, any young writers reading this blog post, don’t wait over ten years before you write yourself into your stories. Be proud of who you are and who you could be. Write it onto the page. Create stories that are full of your personal journey and your personal heritage. Trust me when I say that there are so many people that want to hear it and support it and champion it.
And if you want to ask me any questions then feel free (you can write in the comments of this post or use the Contact Me tab on this blog).
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| TAGS:diversity, hope, ownvoices, OwnYourOwn, writing journey
I present to you my story of how I got my agent
(Warning: This post is LONG and full of GIFs):
I started my professional writing journey when I had a weird dream (yea, I know, one of those people). I told my cousin about it because she’s a writer and I said, “Do you think that could be a book you would write?”
She said, “No, but you could write it.”
And I felt like that was a ridiculous idea. So I wrote it.
It was the worst book ever. But it rekindled a love of writing that I had in middle school and high school where I would fill spiral notebooks with chapter books that I would write all day and night long. One story was a fanfic retelling of Brian Jacques’ Redwall. I had one series about horse racing and muuurder!
Anyway, after writing that first book, which I still adore in a way I can’t explain even though I don’t want anyone to read it ever, I realized that writing had never stopped being my dream. I had just taken some detours along the path of my life.
So, I sat down to write a story based on one of the dozens of ideas I had come up with while writing that first story. And I thought I was being very business savvy to choose the book that felt more “marketable.” Yup, I did that. I was a dumb-dumb, thinking I could control my fate.
That isn’t to say that I didn’t love the story I decided to write. I truly did, but it was a story I wrote for all the wrong reasons even though I loved it at the time. I wrote it to be current and that is a number one big no-no I’ve heard. I think it showed in the MS.
But, I did get that book all polished and spiffy and I went to my first ever writing conference with it. I got great feedback from agents and editors and I got two requests for pages from pitches I recited from a memorized script I’d taken weeks to write.
It all seemed to be a very good next step. And it really was. I learned a lot from that experience and I am a better writer and person because of it.
So, I dove into the query trenches with my head held high.
I queried about 40 agents with that book and I got rejected. Like hardcore rejected. I think I got a couple requests for partials. And then all rejections. Some came quickly, some trickled in 9 months to a year later. They were all very professional, some even personalized a bit. The agents I’d met at the conference were the kindest you could ever imagine even as they told me the story wasn’t for them.
Suffice it to say, I was distraught. And I did the stupid thing and let myself wallow a bit too long. I got deep into writer’s block and couldn’t dig myself out of it for months.
I started two new books with the idea that I would push myself out of the rut. I was lucky enough to have gained a critique group from that conference and they were great at cheering me on, telling me that my WiPs sounded awesome, reading pages.
But, I just couldn’t get into my writing again. I did an online writing conference (Write On Con) and it helped boost me a bit. I did NaNoWriMo and that helped me get perspective on my writer’s block.
And finally, I decided to write a book that I was terrified to write. Partly because I didn’t think I was ready and partly because I loved it too much already. What if I mess it up? What if it was a big flop?
The moment I knew I was writing the right book was when I was told not to write it and I did it anyway. To be fair, the person who told me not to write it wasn’t saying I *couldn’t* write it, but just saying that I was stepping into a place that was untried and potentially full of places to trip up and fall. I was writing a book set in Korea based on Korean mythology about gumihos and I very creatively called it GUMIHO.
I am forever grateful that I approached this project with hope instead of fear. I had the hope that people would see the merit in my work, in my story and in my culture. I had the hope that I could give life to a land that I truly love with all of my heart. And I had hope that people would support my dream even as they feared for my feelings being trampled again.
In the end, I went with my heart and that made all the difference. The response to this project was a complete 180 from my last “thought out and targeted” MS. Where I had written to trend before, I wrote for myself this time.
I first experienced positive feedback when I went to a conference, Romantic Times Convention (RT Con). It was my first time pitching at such a huge event. And I was overwhelmed not only by the many agents and editors, but by the presence of some of my idol authors. It was actually perfect for me because I was distracted from my own nerves until the moment I was supposed to go pitch. And I didn’t have time to get stuck in my own head.
I also did a thing where I didn’t memorize a pitch that I’d prewritten. Instead, I made a list of three main points that I knew I had to hit when I pitched and I acted like myself. I wanted the heart of my story to get across, not just the plot.
I’m going to copy paste from a post I wrote for my other blog about what I learned from my RT experience:
1) Just do it. You can’t hold in your work forever if publishing is your end goal.
2) Don’t be afraid to ask for advice. I met a lot of great authors who were more than willing to let me pitch practice on them.
3) Accept it if your story isn’t for everyone. Some agents loved my pitch, some didn’t. It’s the fact of a subjective industry and you just have to keep trucking.
4) DO NOT try to fit your whole story into your pitch. Just tell the main gist and the main character. If you go ham, the agent will just go to their happy place and not follow your thread. I literally pitched my book as a concept instead of a full plot and I got requests. It was epic 🙂
Some advice given to me by Agents who requested:
1) Take your time! Do not send the MS right away if it is not squeaky shiny! It’s hard not to just flood all of the agents that request, but it’s kind of like being considerate that they want your best because you’d want their best if they were your agent.
2) Be excited! This is happy times! You got requests! At one point I couldn’t stop smiling as I spoke to an agent and I apologized about my face (yes, you’re allowed to laugh at me). She said it was fine, that she was happy for me too. (Agents are super nice y’all).
Then #DVPit happened. I told myself not to be greedy, said that I had opened a very nice door for myself with RT Con. And then, of course, I had to just dip my toe in. Partly because DVPit was so INSPIRATIONAL! There were amazing stories pitched and wonderful #ownvoices. And the support of the community was unprecedented.
This is what I learned during #DVPit:
(Again, copy pasting from my old post about my lessons learned)
1) Be simple with your Twitter Pitch. If you were simple with your conference pitch, do that times TEN for twitter. You only have 140 characters!
2) community is everything! Signal boost your favorite pitches. Many participants were paying it forward and it was magical to see. Seriously, I love my writer community!
3) It’s full of hope! To see these unagented/unpublished authors right now and to KNOW that their books will be published in due time. It just makes you happy warm inside.
4) Take this opportunity to cultivate new relationships. Tweet at people if you like their pitch. Say thank you when they like yours back. And be respectful ALWAYS of the time put into a huge event like this! (Seriously #DVPit trended nationwide, that’s epic).
5) Also, know that agents and editors are still professionals, don’t ask them weird personal stuff. And when you query keep it as professional as if it was a cold, slush-pile query.
#DVPit gave me so much support. Not only from the agents and editors, but from the community. It was a coming together of people who love stories and love what DVPit represented and held each other up. After that day, I was a ball of emotion, but good emotion.
And then, I felt immediately like I was unprepared for life and I freaked out (for a few weeks).
So I did “research” and looked into EVERY agent who requested in detail. I took way too much time preparing myself for what I was sure would be a rocky query ride.
It was actually good that I did a lot of research because it is smart to know who you are querying. And it gave me a chance to settle down after the great adrenaline rush that was RT Con and DVPit.
So, I sent out ONE query and I had a HUGE case of imposter syndrome IMMEDIATELY.
It’s so hard to put yourself out there. I had many moments where I felt like I was flailing in the wind. This is where your friends, family, and critique partners (CPs) come in handy.
ESPECIALLY my CPs. They knew my struggle. They understood the industry and what I was experiencing. Talking to them was like talking to someone who was running a marathon beside me. They were the rock that held me to the ground when my body wanted to just get up and fly away and be like, “Nope, I can’t exist in this world any longer.”
Well, fate had a funny way of taking my plans and turning them all topsy turvy, because the Thursday before Book Con I got an email from an agent to ask for a call. I was so flustered that I set up the call for the next day. And then I cried. My coworkers were quite concerned by my sudden outburst, but I’m lucky to work with very understanding people. They gave me supporting hugs and pats even as they didn’t fully understand why I was a hot mess.
I spent the next 24 hours convincing myself that it wasn’t THE call. My CPs were more confident than me, they said an agent doesn’t call out of the blue for an Revise & Resubmit. I was trying to temper my expectations (I was a fool to think I could do that!)
Well, my CPs were right (as they usually are). It was thrilling and surreal to talk about my book with an industry professional who liked it enough to want to represent it.
My hands were shaking by the time I got off the phone.
So, I went off to Book Con and I was a wreck. I cried a lot that weekend (but happy tears).
I gave other agents with my full, partial or query two weeks to get back to me with their thoughts on my MS. And now I was in territory I had never stepped into. I had queried before, I had gotten requests before, I had gotten rejected (many times) before. But I had never been in a place where I knew there was happiness at the end of the rainbow.
As you can imagine, I was pretty much in a fugue state for a full two weeks.
I went through phases during that time where I was like, “I got this. I can pull this around and be fabulous even though I look a hot mess.”
My CPs definitely got an ear-full when I was in those moments, because I had to talk out my reasons for why I was totally cool as a cucumber EVEN THOUGH I OBVIOUSLY WASN’T!
Finally D-Day came (not fast enough if you ask me. I’m pretty sure I found a break in the time-space continuum and it’s the two weeks after you get an initial agent offer).
In the end, I found an agent who loved my book and understood me as a writer.
I feel so lucky to be able to say that I’ve signed with the amazing Beth Phelan and I couldn’t be happier!