Suki Kim

How did you become a writer?

I don't think I became a writer. I feel that I was always one because I remember writing little stories even as a little girl. But I immigrated to the U.S. when I was 13 and did not speak a word of English. So that presented a problem for many years. But despite all that, I ended up writing. It was never a choice.


Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).

It's difficult to name influences since they change all the time. For a long time I was influenced by films. I loved Resnais's Last Year at Marienbad and Rivette's Celine and Julie Go Boating because those films questioned time and space and challenged my thought process. I loved early Tarkovsky films for the same reasons. For a while, I loved reading Joan Didion because I was a 28 year old New Yorker when I first read her essay, "Goodbye to All That" which was about being 28 and in New York and crying all the time, and I felt like I was her. I loved some of the modern Japanese mystery novels because they made me think about the great puzzle of solving plots. I loved Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go because for me, his characters feel truly alive, and I admire that. But these influences all seem to pass, and I get over them. Currently, nothing moves me, and I am a bit worried about that. 


When and where do you write?

Generally, I write at home, but it really does not matter where. When I write well, I could write on a subway. When I do not write well, I could be given a quiet cabin in New Hampshire for a month and not produce a word. It's all in my mind.


What are you working on now?

I have spent the past few months answering emails… and repeating the same information about my newly released book for all the media network. But this is the glorious part of post publication where I have an excuse to not write. We are always procrastinating, and right now I have an excuse.


Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?

Of course; my second book took 11 years.


What’s your advice to new writers?

Giving advice makes me feel like an old person, so I refrain from that because in my heart, I am still the 13 year old girl who came to this country without a word of English and feel overwhelmed with everything. I could however relate an advice from a bigger writer, now deceased Doris Lessing who made a great impression on me when I, as a young writer, went to watch her speak at the 92nd Y. She said -- probably not her exact words -- Writing should be hard. If it is easy, be suspicious. It's the hardest thing in the world, and it should be if it's any good. Now that I am no longer a young writer, I see that she spoke the truth.

 

Suki Kim's first novel, The Interpreter, was a finalist for the PEN Hemingway Prize. She is the recipient of Guggenheim, Fulbright, and Open Society fellowships. She has been traveling to North Korea as a journalist since 2002, and her essays and articles have appeared in the New York Times, Harper’sand the New York Review of Books. Born and raised in Seoul, she lives in New York. Without You, There is No US: My Time with the Sons of North Korea's Elite, a book of investigative memoir, is her second book.

Warren Adler

How did you become a writer?

As a teenager I knew that was the life and career I wanted. I started writing at the age of 15. Although I had published short stories and poems in my early twenties, I didn't get my first novel published until I was 45 years old. It was pure luck. I ran an advertising agency in Washington D.C. at the time. A man came to my office and asked if we promoted books. I said we promote everything. What is the fee for this promotion, he asked. This was the eureka moment that changed my life. My fee, I said, was that your publisher, a tiny publisher in Philadelphia, publish my first novel. He said "fine, send me the book and I will give it to my publisher." He did. My first book, Undertow, was published and that was my fee. It completely changed my life and became the realization of my life’s ambition…to become a novelist. Since then I have published a total of 42 novel including my latest thriller, Treadmill. I guess you might conclude that talent by itself is not enough. You need luck. I am grateful to this many who became my friend and has now passed on. 

My passion for writing will never extinguish. I will be 87 soon and I can no more stop writing than I can stop breathing. That’s what a real writer or artist knows in their gut. Write what you know, but write.

Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).

My mother was a prodigious novel reader and I watched her read day after day, getting her books out of storefront lending libraries for what I think was ten cents a day at that time. When she finished her daily chores and I returned home from school, she would be sitting and reading, waiting to serve the evening meal. That image of her engrossed in this parallel world seems to be the root of my own obsession to create works of the imagination. It is almost as if I am writing my stories and novels to feed her with the content that she required for her own fulfillment. It has taken many years to discover this as the seed that grew my own obsession to write. As a child and even now, storytelling has also offered me a paradise away from the reality of a contemporary world of struggle and strife.

My freshman English teacher in college, Don Wolf, also inspired me. I was passionate about wanting to write stories and I loved my English literature courses. In the class that Professor Wolf taught were two enormously talented writers, William Styron (Sophie’s Choice) and Mario Puzo (The Godfather). We bonded. We had kitchen sink readings. I was really inspired by my fellow writers. We published three books of short stories.

When and where do you write? 

In my study. I have always had a room dedicated to my work.

What are you working on now? 

As mentioned earlier, I've just released my 42nd novel, Treadmill, and I have a lot of film/TV/stage developments in the pipeline. My stage adaptation of The War of the Roses will premiere on Broadway in 2016, to be produced by Tony-Award winning producers Jay and Cindy Gutterman (All the Way, Spring Awakening), The War of the Roses: The Children is in development with Grey Eagle Films and Permut Presentations as a feature film adaptation along with Target Churchill (Grey Eagle Films and Solution Entertainment), Mourning Glory, to be adapted by Karen Leigh Hopkins, Capitol Crimes (Grey Eagle Films and Sennet Entertainment), a television series based on my Fiona Fitzgerald mystery series, and Cult which is being adapted by Alex McAulay (Eastbound & Down) who is also adapting The War of the Roses: The Children.

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? 

I believe there is no such thing as writer’s block. If you don’t surrender to that notion it will all go away. I know this sounds ridiculous, but the fact is that you’re telling yourself that you are bereft of ideas. Going on a reading orgy for a week or so always works for me. Do that and then try getting back to work. 

What’s your advice to new writers?

Write on, dear friends. Share your dreams and aspirations with the like-minded. In the great battle between art and commerce, art always triumphs. The serious novel, the story, the urge to know “What happens next?” is the lifeblood of the human experience, and will continue until the end of time. If you want to know more about my perspective on rejection then read my essay On Rejection and Renewal: A Note to Aspiring Novelists. Most of all never, never, never give up. 

Warren Adler is best known for The War of the Roses, his masterpiece fictionalization of a macabre divorce turned into the Golden Globe and BAFTA nominated dark comedy hit starring Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner and Danny DeVito. Adler's international hit stage adaptation of the novel will premiere on Broadway in 2015-2016. Adler has also optioned and sold film rights for a number of his works including Random Hearts (starring Harrison Ford and Kristen Scott Thomas) and The Sunset Gang (produced by Linda Lavin for PBS' American Playhouse series starring Jerry Stiller, Uta Hagen, Harold Gould and Doris Roberts). In recent development are the Broadway Production of The War of the Roses, to be produced by Jay and Cindy Gutterman, The War of the Roses - The Children (Grey Eagle Films and Permut Presentations), a feature film adaptation of the sequel to Adler's iconic divorce story, Target Churchill (Grey Eagle Films and Solution Entertainment), Residue (Grey Eagle Films), Mourning Glory, to be adapted by Karen Leigh Hopkins, and Capitol Crimes (Grey Eagle Films and Sennet Entertainment), a television series based on his Fiona Fitzgerald mystery series.

Jacqueline West

How did you become a writer? I was a secret writer for many years. From age nine, when I wrote my very first unicorn-y story, until the end of high school, I kept my notebooks hidden beneath the clothes in my dresser drawers. When I went off to college, I majored in music (with an English lit minor) and started publishing a few poems in small journals—but I would never have dared to call myself a “writer,” and I still kept most of my writing safely hidden from others. There was a lot of it to hide by then; besides reams of poetry, I was writing short stories, working on adult novels, and trying my hand at comic books and plays. In my fourth year of college, I started work on a story for young readers that would eventually grow into my first published book: The Books of Elsewhere, Volume One: The Shadows. I dropped out of grad school when I finally realized that I didn’t want to be an opera singer, found a paid writing gig with a local arts weekly, and published more stories and poems. Within a couple of years, I had finished my English teaching certification, gotten a chapbook of poetry accepted by an academic press, polished up my manuscript for young readers, and found an agent. So that’s how I became a writer: secretly. Or sneakily.

Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.). Because of the whole secret/sneaky thing, I’ve taken very few writing-focused classes. Most of what I learned about writing came through extensive reading and lengthy, sloppy, sometimes embarrassing practice. I was lucky enough to grow up in a house full of books—my mother was an English teacher—and I started reading early and voraciously: fairy tales, Milne, Carroll, Tolkien, Dahl, Alcott, L.M. Montgomery, Bill Watterson. As a teenager, I fell head-over-heels for poetry, devouring Plath and Sexton and Eliot and Shakespeare, with hearty helpings of Salinger, Bradbury, Dickens, Vonnegut, Poe, Atwood, and the Brontes in between. Eventually I sought out books by writers on writing: Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing, Plath’s journals, Stephen King’s On Writing, everything by Annie Dillard. It’s a weird stew of influences, but that’s what has fed me.

When and where do you write? I’ve turned out to be a morning writer. Generally, I write at home, either in my office or at the dining room table. When I need a change of scene or an absence of homey distractions, I’ll head to a coffee shop. If I’m drafting something new, I try to cross the thousand-word threshold every day…although this doesn’t always happen. (I blame the internet. And the dog. And then I go to the coffee shop.)

What are you working on now? The fifth and final volume of my middle grade fantasy series The Books of Elsewhere was released this summer, so I’m getting to delve into some new projects at last. My still untitled YA novel will (probably) be published in early 2016, and between bouts of revision, I’m making headway on a draft of the first book in what I think may be a whole new MG fantasy series.

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? The kind of writer’s block in which you stare, paralyzed, at the blank page?—no. The kind in which you are certain that everything you write is so humiliatingly awful that the authorities will arrive at any minute to take away your pens and paper and ban you from writing anything ever again?—yes. Accepting the fact that my first, second, or thirteenth drafts may be light-years away from what I had intended to write is a daily struggle. But the struggle is getting easier. 

What’s your advice to new writers? Read widely and write widely. Experiment with genre and form. Try everything. Expect your first million words to feel like dreck; expect to spend ninety percent of your time revising and rewriting. You’ll get there. 

Jacqueline West is the author of the New York Times-bestselling middle grade series The Books of Elsewhere (Dial Books for Young Readers). The series has been selected by the Junior Library Guild, received a CYBILS Award, and was named a “Flying Start” by Publishers Weekly. Her short fiction for young readers has appeared in venues including Spider and The School Magazine. A former English teacher and occasional musician, Jacqueline currently lives in Red Wing, Minnesota, surrounded by large piles of books and small piles of dog hair. Visit her at www.jacquelinewest.com.