Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Kristen Burnham, Author of Hart & Seoul

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Today we are interviewing Kristen Burnham, author of the young adult / contemporary romance novel, titled “Hart & Seoul.” 

Tell us a bit about yourself.
Bibliophile, bubble tea enthusiast, drama binge watcher—take your pick! When not hunched over my laptop writing, I keep busy working as a librarian in a public library system, and love nothing more than to connect people with books that I just know they are going to love. And now, hopefully, my own book will be recommended to someone! 

Describe the plot of your new book, "Hart & Seoul," in a few sentences.
Girl meets boy. Boy falls for girl. Girl discovers boy is a runaway K-pop idol in hiding. Let the drama begin! Merilee Hart has been doing her best to keep things together since her mother left, with little success. And things get even stranger when the mysterious and utterly infuriating Lee Hyung-kim moves in next door…because Lee is none other than a runaway member of the K-pop mega-group Thunder, and his fans are about to find him again. 

Who do you think would most appreciate this book?
This book is perfect for anyone who enjoys contemporary young adult, romance, comedy, and drama. Lots and lots of drama, K-drama style.

What inspirations contributed to this book?
The idea for “Hart & Seoul” literally hit me out of nowhere—I was at a book festival, moderating a panel, and nearly fell off my seat—and it took me a month to write the first draft. Really, I was just throwing random ideas onto the page and seeing what worked. But, I knew from the very beginning that one of the main things I wanted to show was cultural diversity. Living in the States, most people are surrounded by diverse cultures, but we don’t necessarily understand them. I wanted Merilee to experience learning a new culture first-hand, while at the same time showing the reaction of someone living in the States for the first time. I had one fantastic beta reader who had lived over in South Korea for a year, and she had excellent insights, as well as friends who helped contribute. I even went to South Korea last fall on an amazing research trip—what an experience!

Tell us a bit about the protagonist, Merri.
Merri is, in a word, a fighter. She has a dream, one that her father doesn’t support, and is struggling to find a way to follow her own path while at the same time respecting him. She tends to look at things with a sense of humor, and is completely and utterly oblivious of K-pop; I really wanted to introduce it to the readers through the eyes of someone who didn’t know anything about it, to amp up the drama and tension between Merri and Lee. And I also wanted to show, though Merri, the consequences of choices; she makes a mistake that has an impact on several people, and it all started with one choice that at first seemed so innocent. Does she learn from it? Well, of course you have to read it to find out!
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Author Kristen Burnham.

The K-pop culture plays a major role in your book. For people unfamiliar with K-pop, what can you tell us about it?
It’s addicting, I’ll be honest with you. The music videos alone are a visual eye candy that I just can’t look away from, no matter how hard I try. And the dancing! Most K-pop performers are in groups (boy bands and girl bands), and to see them all dancing is really impressive. They train for years before they actually begin performing. For those that remember the British Invasion, brought on by the Beatles, this is the Korean Invasion, also known as the Hallyu Wave. And I am happily surfing it!

What can you tell us about the mysterious Lee?
Oh, Lee. Well, first off, I guess I should say that Lee is actually his surname; Koreans always say their surname first, followed by their first name. But of course, Merri doesn’t know this, so she just assumes that she’s to call him Lee, and the name sticks.
Lee is, according to a friend, a punk: he’s moody and cocky, is firmly convinced that eating kimchi will solve most problems, and is not afraid to say what he’s thinking. But there’s another side to him, a vulnerability that he is desperately trying to hide from both his family and fans. Not to give too much away, but I tapped into my own experiences with anxiety to develop that side of him, so the emotion that he is feeling is very real to me, and adds a depth to his character that you might not expect.

Merri and Lee’s relationship is unique for a variety of reasons. What are some of the challenges they face?
Him being a mega-star is a huge one, for sure, especially when his fans, the Chasers, find out where he is. Just the sheer magnitude of what it means to be a K-pop star—the training, dictated schedule, and pressure of maintaining the perfect image—is overwhelming for them both. And that serves to also subtly highlight cultural differences, and just what kind of impact they can have on a relationship.

Is there an author that had a major influence on you while you were growing up?
Oh gosh, where to start? I love Jennifer Armentrout; she can build the most satisfying romantic tension between characters. My favorite author is Shannon Messenger, who wrote a YA trilogy but is most famous for her Middle Grade series. She does a fantastic job of balancing characters in a complicated plot, and making you be 110% emotionally invested in them.

Who was your favorite character to write?
It’s a toss up between Lee and Merri’s friend Ema. Ema is enthusiastic, confident, and unflaggingly loyal…and also a Chaser. And Lee? I loved finding the balance between his almost child-like arrogance and unreserved sweetness.

How do you think you've evolved as a writer since when you first started?
I finished writing a book, for starters! Laughs. There are two kinds of writers: plotters and pantsers. I am most definitely a pantser; I throw myself into the story without doing any major research ahead of time, unlike plotters, and kind of learn as I go along. My writing has most definitely improved over this journey, which really has just begun. I look at pacing and character development more closely, and show things versus just tell them, something that I’ve always struggled with in my writing.

Are there any aspects (e.g. character building, world building) of your writing that you've been practicing?
There’s this amazing book called “Save the Cat Writes a Novel”, which essentially is a pacing guide for authors. AMAZING book; I can’t recommend it enough. I’ve been using it for book number two to help me with developing the different themes and plot arches, and absolutely love it.

What are your goals as a writer for the next ten years?
To keep on writing! I want to finish book two, and then develop a Middle Grade fantasy idea that’s been bothering me for years. I actually had a series of breakthrough ideas come to me while in Asia researching my current book, which surprised me. The more you write, the better you’ll become, and if you write consistently for ten years? Better than any master class you could take in college, in my opinion.

How have your readers responded to the book so far?
I have a rule that I avoid reviews; it’s so easy to get caught up in them, and obsess over what people are saying. That being said, my publicist and some family members have had no problem in reading them, and the overall reaction is that people enjoy it! It’s fun, quirky, and a quick read that has a surprisingly emotional impact. Both K-pop fans and people who don’t listen to K-pop at all seem to like it, which just makes my debut author heart sing.

Is there any aspect of writing you don't like?
Oooooh, good question. I’d say that I really struggle with plot development. I know where I want the characters to go, and have a few key scenes that are as clear as a movie scene playing in my head, but connecting those scenes? That’s what the first draft is for…and the second draft…and sometimes even the third draft. You just keep going, and revising, and getting feedback until it’s just right. No book is perfect, and ultimately you have to acknowledge that and know when it’s time to let the book go out into the world.

Have you ever had writer's block? If yes, how'd you deal with it? If you have not had writer's block, why do you think you haven't?
Someone once told me—or I read it somewhere, I can’t remember—that there’s no such thing as writer’s block, only perfectionist’s block. And I totally agree. It’s so easy to get hung up on the fact that what you are writing is not perfect, nowhere near ready to be published, and get bogged down by self-doubt. You just have to tell yourself that of course it’s not going to be perfect, and keep on plugging away at it.

What do you have in mind for your next project?
“Hart & Seoul” was never meant to be a stand alone work, and I’ve started working on the sequel. I won’t say much, only that Lee came to the States, and I think it’s Merri’s turn to visit Lee’s home.

Is there anything else you'd like potential readers to know about your book?
This is a story that is meant to make you laugh, dream, maybe get a little teary-eyed along the way—it’s a contemporary YA reminiscent of Sarah Dessen and Meg Cabot, complete with crazy adventures and growing pains. It celebrates the magic of teenage love while it tackles the pressure of living up to others’ expectations while trying to be true to yourself, and will leave you wanting more. And I promise, I’m working on it!

An excerpt from “Hart & Seoul”:
There have been rumors that K-pop boy band Thunder has broken up, but the managers at Seoul Music want to assure fans that this is not the case. Updates will be coming soon. Press release of Seoul Music, posted by kthunderfangirl.com 
There were not enough sparkles in the picture. 
I glared at the offending image in question. No matter how hard I tried, the blasted thing didn’t do him justice. Perfect jawline? Check. Sexily tussled hair? Check. Fuzzy sweater and bedazzling wrist cuffs? It would be a challenge to get the right shade of Oscar-the-Grouch green for the sweater when I filled it in with pens, but check. 
But there’s just no way to capture his sparkliness.
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