A Joyless Existence

Immigrant EntrepreneursLately, I have been reading background material – books, blogs, news articles – on the Korean American experience. I am working on a novel that involves the 1992 Rodney King Riots (sa-i-gu, in Korean: the April 29th Incident) as background, and more specifically, the experience of Korean Americans during and after the Riots. Though I thought I had some understanding, I wanted to fill out my picture. This is especially important for Yong Soo Bok, a character in the novel  who has since become the subject of a short story (tentatively titled, “Fire Illness”).

I have never studied Korean or Korean American culture before. As I learn more, I am somewhat embarrassed by how much I let mainstream media tell me what I should think. Everything I’ve read, especially works published after the Riots, seems aimed to dispel stereotypes and replace them with a fuller picture of Korean Americans as (displaced) individuals.

One of the misconceptions is that Korean Americans are more or less natural entrepreneurs, which is why they’ve thrived as such in America. Nothing seems to be further from the truth. One book in particular put this in perspective for me:  Immigrant Entrepreneurs: Koreans in Los Angeles, 1965-1982 (Light and Bonacich). After a long, exhaustive, largely dry (but engaging) work of research, the book ends with an almost poetic plea for understanding the difficulties endured by Korean immigrants. In many ways, the book is summed up in one sentence:

Being an immigrant entrepreneur is a joyless existence.

Now, my job as a writer is somehow to relate that simple declarative sentence to readers in a way that is accurate (because it’s an important story) and entertaining (so the reader will read to the end), but without being exploitative (seeing as I have no connection to the Korean American experience).

Posted by Scott Alumbaugh in Korean-American, 9 comments


routineologyEarlier this month, Black Hill Press (now 1888.center),  publisher of Will Kill for Food, started a new project called Routineology. It is a collection of 30-second videos made by writers on their writing routine.  My son Kazu helped me film and edit together a clip for the project. It was fun to collaborate with him, and I think the finished product carries that sense of joy. Plus, Kazu’s cat, Mizzy, make a cameo. It’s worth watching just for that.

You can view it here. While you’re on that site, you might check even out some other videos.

Posted by Scott Alumbaugh in Novel Writing, Will Kill for Food, 0 comments

Sometimes a Great Notion

Sometimes a Great NotionI just finished reading this book. It took me 200 pages to realize Kesey wasn’t just fucking with me. Well, 217 pages, actually. There was just something about the following passage that told me all the POV jumping and time shifting wasn’t just a way of showing off or desperate attempts to make a boring story interesting.

Oregon October, when the fields of timothy and rye-grass stubble are being burned, the sky itself catches fire. Flocks of wrens rush up from the red alder thickets like spars kicked up from a campfire, the salmon jumps again, and the river runs often and slow . . .

Down river, from Andy’s landing, a burned-off cedar snag held the sun spitted like an apple, hissing and dripping juices against a grill of Indian Summer clouds. All the hillside, all the drying Himalaya vine that lined the big river, and the sugar-maple trees farther up, burned a dark brick and over-lit red. The river split for the jump of a red-gilled silver salmon, then circled to mark the spot where it fell. Spoonbills shoveled at the crimson mud in the shallows, and the dowitchers jumped from cattail to cattail, frantically crying “Kleek! Kleek!” as though the thin reeds were as hot as the pokers they resembled. Canvasback and brant flew south in small, fiery, faraway flocks. And in the shabby ruin of broken cornfields rooster ringneck clashed together in battle so bright, so gleaming polished-copper bright, that the fields seemed to ring with their fighting.

I don’t know why, but that paragraph told me it would be worth my time to read the next 400+ pages. And it was.

Posted by Scott Alumbaugh, 0 comments