May is a month when families gather together and reconcile their memories. While doing so, some of them might even remember their favorite childhood novels such as You Too are a Wheel Lily (2002). The author of You Too are a Wheel Lily, Lee Geum-yi, has written many children’s novels that take people back to their childhood and remind them about the warmth of family. Through her novels, she tells the story of teenagers raised in different types of families to her readers, hoping to send them warm messages. The SungKyun Times (SKT) met this so-called modern day honest storyteller to find out more about her.
|Author Lee Geum-yi|
The Honest Storyteller, Lee Geum-yi
Please introduce yourself to the Kingos.
My name is Lee Geum-yi, and I have been writing adolescent literature since 1984. I won my first prize, the Sebut Literature Award, for my first published work. I am still working hard to write stories for children and adolescents.
Could you tell us about your childhood and the reason why you wanted to become an author?
Ever since I was young, I grew up listening to many stories. As I lived with my grandparents, my grandmother told me lots of fun and exciting stories. I also read a lot of children’s books in my childhood. Among them, Heidi, written by Johanna Spyri, was my favorite. I truly enjoyed reading it, and that book really helped me become who I am today. To be honest, I was never a brilliant student, nor a social child; that is why I enjoyed reading books alone and imagining about them a lot.
How did you feel when your first book got published?
After I became an author in 1984, my first book came out in 1987. As an author though, it was hard for me to get published. It took almost two years for my book to get published which made me really excited to see it come out. I even visited book stores to see if anyone was buying my book. After getting married and raising two children, I realized that writing and getting a book published is just like giving birth. Though it is painful, once a baby is born, it looks beautiful. Just like forgetting the pain and then desiring to have another child, to me, writing a book is painful but still a joyful experience.
What kind of effort did you make to write a sincere novel?
I believe that in order to write a sincere and honest novel, experience is the most important thing to keep in mind. Whether it is direct or indirect, any experience is worthy for it allows authors to fully tell their stories to their readers. Even though I am now an adult, there was a time when I was a teenager, too. Although I have lived longer than teenagers and hence possibly know a little bit more about the world, I do not want to preach to them through my stories. Rather, I try to be connected and communicate with them and understand their problems. Through my own experiences, I can help and give advice to them through my novels.
What do you think about your nickname, “the modern day honest storyteller”?
Personally, I think my nickname shows who I am trying to be. I try to be honest and sincere while I write my stories. I think that my nickname makes sense simply because I try to create novels to represent myself and my life as an author.
Pioneer of Adolescent Literature
|Novel You Too are a Wheel Lily/ nicedream08.tistory.com|
What made you to write adolescent literature?
Many might say that childhood innocence is what drives me to write adolescent literature, but I mainly write stories about children and teenagers because that time of my life was the happiest moment I remember. I still remember that time when I read books and listened to stories as a child. Since it was my happiest moment, I feel happy while writing about it as well. This is why I continue writing adolescent literature, although it is not a mainstream genre. Moreover, adolescent literature fits my character well because most of the existing novels tend to be pessimistic about reality. I would much rather have children believe in hope through my stories, since adolescent literature, I believe, offers hope and joy to children in the end.
Through writing countless novels about teenagers, have your thoughts about them changed?
To be honest, my thoughts about teenagers did change after writing about them. At first, I believed teenagers to be just delinquent beings who were experiencing puberty. With careful observations and experience with them, however, now I am fully aware that they too are crucial members of our society. I want to say that they are not so different from adults and they have their own sets of belief and problems that should be respected as well.
Including novels like Finding a Hidden Path (2014), you have illustrated teenagers who are growing up in different types of families as well as having a hard time finding their identities. How do you convey their stories so naturally?
I always try to bring back the child inside myself when I write my novels. By letting the child inside me run free, I can understand teenagers more sincerely. It was particularly hard for me to figure out their own styles and cultures. I may understand how they feel, but it was really hard for me to know what slang they use, what clothes they wear and what psychological troubles they go through. That is why I constantly do my research to stay on top of this.
Have you experienced any difficulties as you perfect your novels?
I continually try to write more perfect novels. It sometimes takes me days and nights to get even one postpositional particle to make the flow more natural. Some of my readers have told me that my novels are very easy to read; that was possible because I perfected them by reading them out loud and revising them to be heard as naturally as possible.
Is there anything in particular that you focus on in order to produce a better novel?
In the past, I have also attempted to write fictitious genres that I have never tried before such as science fiction. My attempt, however, failed, and now I am just focusing more on writing my specialty which is adolescent literature, leaving the adventures to young authors. Another thing I try to keep in mind is “fun”. I believe that forcing readers to read a boring book is like a punishment. This is why I try to make my books as fun as possible, focusing only on what I can do best.
Sohee’s Room (2010), the sequel of You Too Are a Wheel Lily, took 15 years to be published. Between the two books, a 10-year gap exists. Was there any special reason for the gap?
When I lectured in one middle school in 2009, one of the children there asked me, “What happened to Sohee after she left Dalbam village?” At that moment, I told her that since Sohee is a smart girl, she would be doing fine wherever she went. As time went on, however, the question kept remaining in my head; I kept wondering what happened to Sohee. I even thought that I did not let her be a “child” in You Too are a Wheel Lily, but gave her a stereotypical smart girl character and not talked about who she really was. With that in mind, I started writing the story of the real Sohee.
Future Waiting for Lee Geum-yi
What kind of novels do you want to write in the future? Do you have any books you are working on right now?
I recently wrote a book about history, and it was a challenge to me because it was my first time to write in the history genre. Since it was a great experience to me, however, I would like to write more novels about history. The title of the book that I am currently working on is Fictional Life. It is a story about fathers. Traditionally, fathers have an image of working hard and always considering ways to provide comfort for their families. That is the main role expected for fathers in many countries. Throughout my book, I want to tell my readers that these fathers also had their adolescent difficulties and pain like any other children. Furthermore, I would like to give opportunities to adults and teenagers to be in each other’s shoes by reading together.
|Novel Sohee’s Room/ m.blog.yes24.com|
Do you have any messages that you would like to give to your various readers?
Compared to the past, not many people enjoy reading today because they are too busy and there are more important things to be done than reading. Moreover, society does not give the teenagers an opportunity to read books only for fun. It inspires me a lot when teenage fans tell me that my books have motivated them to read more books. In addition, for one of my novels Yujin and Yujin (2004), which is about childhood sexual assault, victims of the assaults contacted me and thanked me for telling them that it was not their fault. I feel proud and motivated to write more novels each time I get those kinds of messages. I believe that the most important virtue should be living the present life to the fullest. This is why I feel bad for teenagers who sacrifice their present lives for their futures. Instead, I hope they can enjoy their moments more because happy memories of today will eventually build up a happier tomorrow.
To conclude, what is the most important virtue of an author and what would you like to say to future authors?
A good author needs to have eyes that have keen insight into life, without stereotypes and biases. Having keen insight may be difficult, but from my experience, it is not hereditary; it is a learned trait that can only be obtained through experience. Being exposed to all kinds of experience makes it possible to see the world differently. Thus, it provides the author with an ability to differentiate what is important and not. Furthermore, I believe that a good author needs to have a sense of humanity as well. Without it, they will be pessimistic within their novels. Usually conveying negative images, pessimistic novels will only depress the readers. Being humanistic, authors would be able to give hope and positive energy to the readers.
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