MFA in Creative Writing

A copy of my thesis which I hope to turn into my second novel

A copy of my thesis which I hope to turn into my second novel

Choosing to complete my MFA studies in Creative Writing at National University in San Diego, California, was one of the best things I did to develop as an author. The following is an excerpt from a reflection paper I wrote for a course. A special thanks to Professor Bryan Hurt, my thesis adviser, and Professor Frank Montesonti, Academic Program Director, for their guidance and support throughout my studies.

I want to be less worried about making mistakes and have more fun with the writing process. While reading fiction gives me great pleasure and satisfaction, writing fiction is too often filled with insecurities, sometimes crossing the line into dread and despair. I know from having written about this in one of my courses that many of my insecurities as a writer stem from past experiences as a former ESL student struggling to learn English, and some racial assumptions I faced (and continue to face) as an ethnic minority.

But I want to move beyond the negative spaces that occupy the writer in me. What I want to focus on as I move forward is this: Each of my courses has provided me with the opportunity to consider aesthetics in poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction. It is one thing to delve into writing, where pouring words onto paper is like throwing paint against a graffiti covered wall. It is another process entirely to consider creating art as one writes; to consider writing a poem using the abecedarian form and to experiment with constrained writing to see where it takes me. The desire to create art in prose commits me to take more risks, to play with form, style, and structure as I explore the possibilities around me using language and the written word.

My goals in writing poems, literary fiction, and creative nonfiction are to inspire, provoke, and challenge the reader at some level. Earlier this year, my debut novel, Kay’s Lucky Coin Variety, was published. The entire process of writing that book and getting it onto bookshelves took nine years. I began writing Harmony’s Story, my second novel and thesis project, through National University. Set in 1924 before Korea became a divided nation, it is a story inspired by my great-great grandmother, Boon, and loosely based on her experiences.

Having written a novel already does not make writing this second one easier. I feel though that I have a greater understanding of what it takes to write one. Writing gives me a voice. My MFA studies have challenged and motivated me to refine that voice and the messages I want to deliver.

Focusing on my professional growth as a writer will help quiet the inner voice that is intensely personal and continues to struggle at some level with sharing my writing with others. However, unlike the first step I took as a writer years ago, today I am mindful of the process of creating art and appreciative of how I have changed and will continue to evolve as an author. I remain committed to my writing and moving forward with it.

Author Names & Book Titles

Logo designed by Darcy Morgan

Logo designed by Darcy Morgan

One of my challenges after writing my book was deciding on what name to use as an author. It seemed like a simple decision, but in the end it proved to be a lot of work! I wrote an essay about it that was published by Writer’s Digest. You can read it here.

The other question I get asked a lot is about my novel’s title. Kay’s Lucky Coin Variety was not my original choice. I loved Paper Swan, a title that my editor came up with. The Ugly Duckling was my favourite children’s story growing up. I saw Mary, my protagonist, as the duckling that grew up into a swan. Origami swans are a motif in the novel. After much consideration and discussion, Kay’s Lucky Coin Variety was chosen. It reflects the story’s principal setting. As well, each word conjures different connotations that come together to create varied layers of meaning.

 

It’s December!!

It took nine years from writing the book to publishing it.

It took nine years from writing the book to publishing it.

Click on the image to make it larger.

Click on the image to make it larger.

There’s been a few changes since I last posted a blog in the spring …

My debut novel, Kay’s Lucky Coin Variety, was released by Simon & Schuster Canada … I finished my MFA studies in Creative Writing … I’m now working on my second novel set in 1924 Korea …

It’s December. I think I’ll take some time to reflect on this past year … it’s been quite eventful!

11th Floor Writers

The guidelines we use to run our writing circle, The 11th Floor Writers, have been added to its website. I can’t believe that we’ve gone eight years. It helps that we follow a set routine: we meet the second Saturday of every month at the same venue, we rotate chairs, and everyone adheres to guideline expectations.

I’m currently working on my second novel, and continue to be grateful for the support and constructive feedback I get from this group.

Some online resources worth checking out:

A Workshop Guide for Creative Writing
A great place to start. The guide asks a series of questions we should be considering as we critique others’ work.

Tips for Revising Creative Nonfiction
The tips also apply for fiction writing.

15 Tips for Successful Writing Groups
A comprehensive guide with lots of useful suggestions and tips.

 

David Adams Richards

With David Adams Richards at the IFOA

With David Adams Richards at the IFOA

I met up with David Adams Richards this weekend at the International Festival of Authors (IFOA) in Toronto. He was my mentor at The Humber School for Writers.

David is one of the most accomplished writers in Canada. I still can’t believe that I was lucky enough to work with him. At all times, he encouraged me to persevere. We completed the first draft of my novel in only thirty weeks!

David’s new book, Crimes Against My Brother, was released earlier this year (Doubleday Canada).

New book by David Adams Richards

New book by David Adams Richards

 

 

Promoting Korean literature

Jae Kim is currently a student at the University of Toronto. In September of 2013, he founded the University of Toronto Korean English Literature Society (KELS). His goal is to encourage thoughtful reflection of Korean contemporary culture. He shared that while Korean pop music, film, and cuisine have gained tremendous popularity within North American society, books and other literary works by writers of Korean heritage continue to pass under the radar. You can find out more about KELS by visiting its website.

Three GenerationsI just started reading Three Generations by Yom Sang-seop. It’s the first Korean book I’m reading that has been translated into English. The story, set in Japanese-occupied Korea during the 1930s, chronicles the highs and lows of the Jo family. It is considered one of the most influential works of fiction in modern Korean literature. You can read more about Yom Sang-seop’s book here.

 

Contemporary Poetry

Billy CollinsIn Thirteen Ways of Looking for a Poem: A Guide to Writing Poetry, Wendy Bishop states that “contemporary poets prefer rhyme that doesn’t call attention to itself; concrete, particular images; and conversational… language.” Since starting a course in contemporary poetry, I’ve been intrigued by Billy Collins’ poems. They epitomize the “unexpected phrases and strong sensory details” that Bishop includes in her characteristics of contemporary poetry.

See or hear Collins read his poems by clicking on the following links:

Forgetfulness (animated)
I Chop Some Parsley While Listening to Art Blakey’s Version of ‘Three Blind’ Mice
Some Days (animated)
Walking Across the Atlantic (animated)
Now and Then (animated)
The Trouble With Poetry