Author Chat with Won-pyung Sohn (Almond), Plus Giveaway! ~ (US Only)
Today we're excited to chat with Won-pyung Sohn author of
Read on for more about Won-pyung Sohn and her book, plus an giveaway.
Meet Won-pyung Sohn!
Sohn Won-pyung (b.1979) earned BA in social studies and philosophy at Sogang University and film directing at Korean Academy of Film Arts. She won the Film Review Award of the 6th Cine21 in 2001. Her movie script “I Believe In the Moment” won the Science Fantasy Writers’ Award in 2006. She also wrote and directed a number of short films including Oooh You Make Me Sick (2005), and A Two-way Monologue (2007). She made her literary debut in 2017 when her first full-length novel Almond won the Changbi Prize for Young Adult Fiction, immediately garnering rave reactions from the readers. A new generation of a storyteller, she wrote her next full-length novel, Born in 1988 which won the Jeju 4.3 Peace Literary Award. She is active in both movie and literary scenes as a film director, screenwriter, and novelist.
This story is, in short, about a monster meeting another monster.
One of the monsters is me.
Yunjae was born with a brain condition called Alexithymia that makes it hard for him to feel emotions like fear or anger. He does not have friends—the two almond-shaped neurons located deep in his brain have seen to that—but his devoted mother and grandmother aren’t fazed by his condition. Their little home above his mother’s used bookstore is decorated with colorful post-it notes that remind him when to smile, when to say "thank you," and when to laugh. Yunjae grows up content, even happy, with his small family in this quiet, peaceful space.
Then on Christmas Eve—Yunjae’s sixteenth birthday—everything changes. A shocking act of random violence shatters his world, leaving him alone and on his own. Struggling to cope with his loss, Yunjae retreats into silent isolation, until troubled teenager Gon arrives at his school and begins to bully Yunjae.
Against all odds, tormentor and victim learn they have more in common than they realized. Gon is stumped by Yunjae’s impassive calm, while Yunjae thinks if he gets to know the hotheaded Gon, he might learn how to experience true feelings. Drawn by curiosity, the two strike up a surprising friendship. As Yunjae begins to open his life to new people—including a girl at school—something slowly changes inside him. And when Gon suddenly finds his life in danger, it is Yunjae who will step outside of every comfort zone he has created to perhaps become a most unlikely hero.
The Emissary meets The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime in this poignant and triumphant story about how love, friendship, and persistence can change a life forever.
~ Author Chat ~
YABC: What gave you the inspiration to write this book?
One of the things I learned after I had a child is that the most fundamental and instinctive communication is not through language but emotion. This book was sparked by the question “What if there is no emotion? What happens when one does not have any emotions?” And then I discovered through research such a condition does exist - “alexithymia.”
YABC: Who is your favorite character in the book?
It is hard to pick just one. All have their own charm and I have great affection for each one of the heroes of my story. Of course, the opposite protagonists Yunjae and Gon hold a special place in my heart. I also love the female characters, Granny, Mom, and Dora---they are independent, resilient women who stand their ground no matter what life throws at them.
YABC: Which came first, the title or the novel?
The title came during my early stages of writing. I became aware of the amygdala and its key role in processing emotions in the brain, as well as its almond-like shape. So in a way, the title and story came together early on.
YABC: What scene in the book are you most proud of, and why?
I am not sure if I can say that I am “proud of,” it but I have a soft spot for Gon and Yunjae’s interactions. For example, the scene where Yunjae mimicks Gon at the pizzeria - on the surface level Yunjae just copies Gon because he does not understand Gon, but for the larger arc of the story, the scene serves to build up tension and trigger Gon to explode.
Also in the scene where Gon rips the butterfly to teach Yunjae emotions, Gon pretends to act strong and tries to impress Yunjae as their friendship sprouts, but in the end it is Gon’s vulnerability that is laid bare, contrary to his intention.
All in all, I tried to show their dynamics through Yunjae’s placid and detached perspective.
YABC: Thinking way back to the beginning, what’s the most important thing you've learned as a writer from then to now?
People say reading is the key virtue for a writer, but I believe keen observation and contemplation of the world are equally important. I’ve grown to learn that a writer’s job is to ruminate on small little things, even those deemed petty and useless. I think that is where a writer’s own world is born.
YABC: What do you like most about the cover of the book?
I like the illustration of a face with just an almond shape inside without eyes, nose, and mouth. I also love that the cover itself has a bright and colorful tone even if the story is about an emotionless boy.
YABC: What was your favorite book in 2019?
I enjoyed Sou Linne Baik’s short story collection, Please Don’t Disappear Tonight. She describes subtle emotions in such an elegant style.
YABC: What’s up next for you?
My first feature-length film I directed will premiere soon. And I have a new novel featuring four characters to be published later this year. I also have a forthcoming publication of a children’s book about a young girl who realizes she is Kumiho, a nine-tailed fox.
YABC: Is there anything that you would like to add?
I am excited to have ALMOND published in English.
They say all higher animals with a certain intelligence level are born with emotions, but that does not mean that we all practice emotions the right way. We see the misuse happen in our daily lives and throughout history.
My hope for this novel is to offer an opportunity to reflect on how we treat and practice our emotions. And maybe ask ourselves if we have ever been quick to judge others accordingly. I also would like to stress that reason is required in practicing emotions the right way.
YABC: Which was the most difficult or emotional scene to narrate?
I do not have a specific scene in mind, but in general when I described scenes with Yunjae’s detached voice, I had to constantly guard against letting my own voice as a writer slip, which was actually a delightful challenge.
YABC: Which character gave you the most trouble when writing your latest book?
I always write stories with different characters and I have not had an issue where a specific character gave me a hard time. Rather, as a writer, I have often found it difficult to navigate through a story arc or structure.
I am currently writing about relationships of four men and women and the focus is on their inner growth. Depicting character arcs are a difficult challenge for me as a writer.
YABC: Which part of the writing process do you enjoy more: Drafting or Revising?
I enjoy both. But as for drafting, I actually love the early process of synopsis where I loosely map out structures, much more than writing a draft afterwards. And the process after that is a series of pain.
As for revising, it really depends. If I have a heavy revision, it is much harder than drafting. But I enjoy it when I have a minor revision. It gives me a relief that I am almost there towards completion.
YABC: What would you say is your superpower?
I wish I had superpowers! Writers are actually more human than what people think. I, for one, procrastinate as much I can at my desk. Nevertheless, I think writers are destined to have no choice but to write.
By: Won-Pyung Sohn
Release Date: May 5th, 2020
Two winners will each receive a copy of Almond (Won-pyung Sohn) ~ (US Only)
*Click the Rafflecopter link below to enter the giveaway*
This novel tackles some very serious issues, from bullying to alexythemia, which has been getting more notice since it is commonly diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. The cover draws you with its brightness, despite the heavy topics.
What a wonderful novel for young adults! Sharing realistic situations and thinking about mental issues brings them to light.