Writers I read: H.S. Kim and Waxing Moon
Updated: Jun 10
Photo Credit: Amazon
H.S. Kim is the author of Waxing Moon http://www.amazon.com/Waxing-Moon-H-S-Kim/dp/1937178382/ref=pd_sim_sbs_b_1/185-6130206-7266437, a novel about feudal Korea recently released on September 2013 by WiDo Publishing.
Waxing Moon – the Novel
Waxing Moon tells the story of a group of strong women living under the protection of the O household in 19th century Korea.
A good story is about characters and how they interact to achieve their goals.
The women characters in Waxing Moon certainly have a lot to overcome… In the Confucian society of the time, women were restricted in their roles. As the opening chapter underlines, their purpose in life was to (i) produce a male heir, (ii) provide sexual companionship, and (iii) cook, clean, feed and fetch. In the case of a rich man like the master of the O household, these services could be spread across a number of women. In the case of the poor farmer tenants on O land, one woman would have to suffice for all the above. The only woman who falls outside this pattern is the village mid-wife who answers to no man and cooks, cleans and fetches only for herself.
What makes this novel is the spunk with which the main characters reach their goal.
There is a virtuous first wife who hovers like a protective ghost over her orphaned child. There is the second wife scheming to gain ascendance in the household. There is the young maid who grows into herself until she comes to very modern cross-roads, does she choose marriage or does she opt for a career? Then there is another young maid, on fire to rise above her station and prepared to do everything to get to where she wants. And finally, there is the wonderfully portrayed Village Mid-wife, who has arrived.
In the synopsis of the novel – a sub-plot about the onset of Western missionaries is mentioned. This event provided historical authenticity, but was not at all the main point of the novel. The men, too, I felt were simply props. Necessary, no doubt. But they didn’t carry the tale.
It is the interactions of the women against a vividly painted historical backdrop that engaged me from the first page. The character of the Village Mid-Wife, in particularly, was arresting. Good-hearted, bolshy, fiercely independent – she had me rooting for her from the first. The 2nd wife was unabashedly evil; I had no problem with her ending! As for the surprising evolution of the 2 maids, well… You will have to read the story to find out.
The language in Waxing Moon is vigorous. There’s a refreshing lack of artifice. The author tells it as it is, direct and immediate. I enjoyed that.
This is a book I’d recommend for anyone interested in 19th century Korean history and culture, and especially so if they would like an unbiased view of women during that period. Also, of course, if you just want a good read!
Now about H.S. Kim – the author
H.S. Kim and I were introduced by Andrew X. Pham, the Kiriyama Prize-winning author and founder of the food e-zine Spoonwiz.com. Being fellow foodies, H.S. and I ended up e-chatting about how her novel became while exchanging recipes for persimmon pies and moon cakes.
This is what I discovered:
One writer’s beginnings
Books begin with scribblings. But H.S. says she didn’t write many essays as a child because the Korean education system at the time didn’t encourage creativity. The only creative piece she remembers was a Grade 4 composition on what she wanted to be when she grew up. Her simple answer, that she would like to be a good person, was dismissed by the teacher as incorrect. But, the fiction writer was already incubating in the young H.S.; she resorted to invention. Her next submission said she wanted to be a scientist who would find Uranium (which didn’t exist in Korea)! Something, I assume, her reader was more satisfied with.
H.S. has clearer memories of listening to story-tellers, especially her mother. As a child in Korea, H.S. recalls, there used to be blackouts. During these times, H.S. would ask her mother for a tale. Her mother would always tell the same story, about a boy who left home and became the best calligrapher in the country. But, despite it being the same old same old, H.S. says, still she would thrill to every word as if it was new.
This native inventiveness and H.S.’s love of story stood her in good stead when, finally, she began to write fiction during a creative writing class at Teachers College at Columbia. She submitted a short story to a contest in NYC, open for immigrants only. Six months later, a check arrived in her mailbox. She had won the second prize!
Genesis of a book H.S. first thought about writing the story that became Waxing Moon in 1998 when she lived in Kyoto Japan.
When I asked why she decided to go so far into the past instead of her immediate childhood, H.S. replied that Korea had changed so much oftentimes, when she visited, it no longer felt like a place that evoked her childhood. “I say this with the deepest sorrow,” she wrote. And because of this, her mind races often to the past, even past her past to a past she didn’t experience. This, sadness, was the catalyst for Waxing Moon.
As for how the story evolved H.S. states simply, “When I write, I don’t have a kit in my head that comes with parts to be put together according to the instructions. I simply begin and I pick up people along the way. I think of people I know, especially women in my lineage, very strong and opinionated …” H.S. claims it is these people, who took her to places that would never have come to mind when she first started writing. “That’s why it’s so fun to write,” she concludes.
Still, after the fun there is the long road to getting the work published. In H.S.’s case, the journey began with an agent who, in her words, “quickly ran out of publishers on her contact list.” Subsequently, H.S. sent out her manuscript on her own to small publishers, until she and WiDo Publishing met and clicked.
As for marketing now the book is out, H.S. says, “I will do what I can to promote my book, but in the long run, I think writing another book is a better choice of my time. Why not focus on something you know how to do?”
So, I asked her what she was working on next.
Turns out we’re still in the past, but a much more recognizable time now. H.S.’s next novel is set in the 70’s, in a Korea under semi-dictatorship. As for the plot, that’s under wraps.
I’m looking forward to it with great interest.
In the meantime, go take a look at http://www.amazon.com/Waxing-Moon-H-S-Kim/dp/1937178382/ref=pd_sim_sbs_b_1/185-6130206-7266437, and see if it’s of interest.
Download the book, and tell us what you think.