Thursday, December 3, 2020

Caroline Kim

Caroline Kim was born in South Korea. She has an MFA in Poetry from the University of Michigan, where she won a Hopwood Award and an MA in Fiction from the University of Texas at Austin, where she was a James A. Michener Fellow. She was nominated by Jellyfish Review for a 2019 Best of the Net award. Kim lives in Walnut Creek, California with her husband and three children.

Her new book is The Prince of Mournful Thoughts and Other Stories.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

Choosing a title for my collection of short stories was challenging because there was no one story title that could entirely represent all of the disparate stories, which take place in different countries and in very different time periods. The one I chose ultimately came closest because the idea of mournful thoughts reflects the Korean concept of han. Han is difficult to define and has no direct translation into English but comes out of a feeling of hardship that the Korean people have suffered historically. I’ve seen it described variously as resentment, regret, and even hatred. But I think of it more as an emotion that encompasses grief, resignation, endurance, and sorrow. Humor can come from sorrow too — just ask any comedian — so I chose the title because the feeling of han and the laughter that makes it bearable runs through my stories.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

Endings are so much harder for me than beginnings. I love beginnings because anything could be a beginning — an image, an idea, a character, a joke, a bit of overheard conversation, etc. If I get the tone just right at the beginning, I probably won’t make too many changes to it later. Endings are a different beast — the right ones usually come to me after I’ve written the initial draft and put it away for awhile.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

Yes and no. My characters are not autobiographical per se, but they all contain elements of who I am, what I think and believe. Because even if a character is very
different from me — say a middle-aged man — he’s coming through my imagination which is formed by my personality and experiences. My characters are more of a representation of the people I’ve met and interacted with in my life, and whatever I’ve learned about human nature.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

Television! TV has played a huge part in my life. As a kid, my parents not only let me watch as much TV as I wanted but encouraged me to because it was a way of learning English quickly. I’ve been told that I enunciate quite clearly when I talk; maybe that comes from learning English through the TV. Later on in my life, I began watching Korean dramas as a way to re-learn Korean and be more immersed in the culture, and it influenced my story writing. It pushed me to think differently about things like form, pace, characterization, and tension, as well as to not be afraid of going deeply into emotions. Because, as a writer, first and foremost, my goal is to entertain the reader.
Visit Caroline Kim's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Prince of Mournful Thoughts and Other Stories.

--Marshal Zeringue