Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Presenting Guest Author Angie Kim

Angie Kim



Instead of Sujata's usual blogpost, here is something special from first-time author Angie Kim, who emigrated from Seoul to the Mid-Atlantic region as a child. Angie's bestselling first novel, Miracle Creek, has been named an Indie Next and Library Reads Pick, a Washington Post Summer Reads selection, a Top 10 AppleBooks Debut, and "one of the best books of 2019 so far" by both Amazon and Time Magazine. Angie went to Stanford University for undergraduate studies and studied law at Harvard University. She practiced as a trial lawyer before turning to writing fiction. Angie currently lives in Northern Virginia with her husband and three sons. 

When people ask me what my debut novel, Miracle Creek, is about, I have a standard elevator pitch ready to go: it’s a literary courtroom drama about a Korean immigrant family and a young, single mother on trial for murdering her 8-year old autistic son. The genre is a little harder to describe, as it doesn’t neatly fit into a standard category. It’s part murder mystery, part legal thriller, part immigrant story, part family drama. It opens with “The Incident” one summer night in rural Virginia (the titular town of Miracle Creek) when someone sets fire by the oxygen tanks outside a hyperbaric oxygen therapy chamber with four patients sealed inside for treatments of conditions ranging from infertility to autism and cerebral palsy. There’s an explosion. Multiple deaths and severe injuries. We fast forward a year to a murder trial where, over four days, we hear from seven POV characters and learn not only what happened that fateful night, but how the tragedy has affected their lives since then.

Angie and her parents in Korea before they emigrated

            Miracle Creek is my first novel—not only the first novel I’ve published, but the first I’ve ever even attempted to write—and, as such, I’ve put a lot of myself into it. The first, and most elemental, strand of my life in my novel is my childhood as a Korean immigrant. When I was eleven, my parents and I moved from Seoul, South Korea, to Baltimore, where I lived with my aunt and uncle while my parents ran and lived in a grocery store in a dangerous part of downtown Baltimore. I went from feeling like a smart girl with many friends in Korea to being a foreigner in an American middle school, not speaking or understanding the language, not wearing the right clothes, not knowing anyone. I lost my voice. There’s a lot of that formative experience in the story I tell about the teenage immigrant character Mary Yoo and her family’s struggle to adjust to America and the way they lost their closeness with each other along the way. 

A rural area in Great Falls, VA, that partly inspired the book's setting


            The second important strand of my novel comes from the last 15 years of my life, as the mother of three children with wide-ranging medical issues that required, among other things, hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT). My son was four years old when he was diagnosed with celiac disease and ulcerative colitis. The standard treatments didn’t work—he was crying that his stomach hurt and throwing up and losing weight, the outlines of his ribs protruding through his skin—so we decided to try an experimental treatment I’d heard about, involving breathing pure oxygen inside a pressurized chamber. We did 40 hour-long sessions that summer, sealed inside the group chamber with three other families. Because of the presence of pure oxygen and the risk of fire that entailed, we couldn’t bring anything in—no phones, toys, electronics, magazines—leaving us with nothing to do but talk. We shared life stories and traded information about the various illnesses our kids were contending with. It was a wholly immersive and intense experience, and later, when I started thinking about writing a novel, I thought immediately of the submarine, the intimacy and confessional honesty that developed in that dark, sealed environment, a crucible in more ways than one.

            The third and final strand that brought all the threads and characters into a coherent whole was my experience as a trial lawyer, which gave me the tools to structure Miracle Creek around four days of a murder trial. As a foundational matter, once I decided to explore the aftermath of a horrific tragedy, it seemed natural to have a criminal trial anchor the story, given my familiarity with courtroom procedures and what I’ve seen of the heightened interpersonal conflicts that setting can produce. The courtroom’s demand for “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” can rattle even the most confident witness and have them questioning their own memories and the blurry line between insignificant omissions and outright lies. And although I considered advancing the mystery element of the plot through other vehicles (such as private-eye or police investigations), the inherent drama of the courtroom—the witness on a raised platform telling their stories to an audience—and the couldn’t-be-higher stakes of the death penalty ultimately convinced me that the courtroom would be the best setting to maximize the suspense and tension.

Zhang Chun Hong's My Life Strands, courtesy of Smithsonian Institutions
            Right around the time I started working on my novel, I attended the first-ever Asian American exhibition at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery and was mesmerized by My Life Strands, a charcoal drawing on a paper scroll—a long braid of coarse black hair, coming together tighter and tighter until the three strands became one and flowed onto the ground like a winding river. This image created by Zhang Chun Hong, a Chinese-born, U.S. based artist, stayed with me as I wrote, until ultimately, my novel became the literary equivalent of that drawing: a story woven from three of my life strands that are elemental to who I am today. By braiding these life strands into one narrative, I hope that I’ve been able to create not only an exciting who-/how-/why-dunit with all the theatrics and surprising twists inherent to courtroom dramas, but something more: a deep dive into the lives of immigrant families and of parents of children with special needs and illnesses, both groups isolated and exhausted by the sacrifices they’ve had to make, desperate for connection. These are two groups that are growing and especially pressured in today’s climate, and I hope that my novel can help to make readers aware of those challenges and to build empathy for them, even a little bit.


Angie Kim















6 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing with your readers, Sujata!

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  2. Thanks, Angie. Must read, must read, must read...

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    1. Thanks, Everett. Hope you get to it some time soon (AND you enjoy it)!

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  3. Zang Chun Hong has nothing on you when it comes to weaving skills. And your elevator pitch technique ain't bad either. :) Congratulations and much continued success.

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  4. That's so kind of you, Jeffrey! Thank you.

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  5. This is a fascinating post. Am glad you adjusted to life in the U.S. and wrote what sounds like a fascinating book. I will read it. This is an excellent way to educate people here about the difficulties immigrants face in this country.

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