Thursday, March 15, 2012

Guest Blog & Giveaway! Novelist Samuel Park ("This Burns My Heart") Discusses His Heroine's Tough Choices

I'm excited to welcome Samuel Park to my blog today. To celebrate the paperback release of his highly acclaimed historical novel, THIS BURNS MY HEART, I'm hosting my first giveaway!

I read HEART in hardcover last year and found it to be gorgeously written, cinematic, and completely absorbing. Samuel graciously agreed to share his thoughts on the book's controversial heroine, Soo Ja, whose unhappy marriage in 1960s South Korea forms the basis of the story. I also asked him to discuss his research methods, since his descriptions and style immersed me in the time period.

Without further ado, take it away, Sam...

Hi Sarah! Thank you so much for having me on your blog. I’m thrilled to be here.

You asked me to write about a character making tough, compelling choices that may be difficult for readers.

I suspect you asked me that question because the heroine of my book, Soo-Ja, makes a seriously bad choice at the beginning of the book. At that point, the reader either throws the book away in frustration, or plunges deep into the narrative, to see how it all turns out. As the author of the book, of course I always hope it’s the latter.

But I like that you asked that because it’s something that often comes up in discussions of the book. A lot of readers, to be honest, disagree with a lot of her choices, and find her maddening. Still, I think that’s what makes her seem human and three-dimensional—we’ve all made terrible choices, and wondered how to make them work. And that’s sort of the theme of the book: the permanence of choice. Are we stuck with the consequences of our choices, or can we find a way to undo them?

To make that work, I think you have to lay the groundwork to make her choice seem plausible. The choice can’t be a clearly bad one. The character has to lack some vital information that the reader has. It has to make it seem like she’s doing the right thing in the situation.

Then, you have to make it clear why she makes the choice, and you have to make it seem practically inevitable. I think this is when human psychology comes in. So often, we do things that are self-defeating, and against our own interests. How many of us have chosen the wrong person to date, or said/did something that sank our prospects at work? I think Soo-Ja is a version of that, but in a grand scale. I think part of the reason Soo-Ja’s story resonates with people is that it’s about a universal theme—disillusionment in marriage. No matter how great the partner you pick is, no matter how terrific your relationship is, the dirty little secret of marriage is that a lot of people find it a bit disappointing. In other words, no matter who you choose, you feel slightly letdown. Soo-Ja’s is just an extreme version of that.

Your second question was about my research methods and integrating real life into a story. I think that balancing the demands of fiction with fidelity to real life can be very tricky. Basically, I took some elements of my mother’s life and fictionalized it. I would create composite characters, or tie together events that actually happened months, or even years apart. I made up a tremendous amount, and the book is certainly a work of the imagination. However, the part where I borrowed the most from real life was in terms of the motivation and the psychology of the characters, as well as the dynamics between different characters.

Also, I think when you borrow from real life, you borrow not just a certain truthfulness that can’t be faked, but also a certain investment in the material that otherwise might not be there. In other words, I ended up investing these characters with some of the same love, curiosity, and interest that I feel for the real life people who inspired them.

Finally, when people talk about research, they usually mean the books and articles they read. But what about the emotional research? The feelings, fears, and anxieties associated with that society, that period, or that country? I tried to really pay attention to how I felt emotionally about the locations and situations I was writing about, as ultimately the emotional truth gives the reader a much more fulfilling experience than when you just focus on getting facts right.

Thanks again for hosting me on your blog, Sarah! It’s been a pleasure! And I wish the best to everyone who is entering the giveaway!  

Originally born in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Korean-American author Samuel Park is the author of THIS BURNS MY HEART, which was chosen as one of Amazon’s Best Books of 2011, a People magazine “Great Reads in Fiction,” and one of the Today Show’s “Favorite Things.” THIS BURNS MY HEART was also a Kirkus Reviews’ Best Fiction of 2011, a BookPage Best Book of 2011, and an Indie Next List Notable Book.

THIS BURNS MY HEART is just out on paperback and is going to be a Starbucks Bookish Reading Club selection starting the week of March 13. The promotion allows Starbucks customers to read the book for free for 2 weeks when signed into the Starbucks Digital Network at the stores. The book is also going to be in the Target Emerging authors program.


Intrigued? Enter my giveaway to win a copy of this terrific book. Simply comment below, stating you'd like to enter the contest, and -- if you're so inclined -- please tell me the title and author of your favorite historical novel.

I'll pick a winner out of a virtual hat next Thursday and mail him or her a copy of THIS BURNS MY HEART (international shipping is fine, too).

Good luck!


  1. This book sounds wonderful! I'd love to win a copy! And what a great interview. Very wise insight, about writing the emotion of the time period. Thanks to both of you!

  2. Ooh, this books sounds intriguing! I'd love to win a copy. As a historical novelist who LOVES devouring books in the genre, it's hard to pick just one favorite historical read. A recent favorite is BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY by Ruta Sepetys.

    Thanks for offering the giveaway, Samuel and Sarah!

  3. Hi Sarah,
    Thanks for your generosity in providing this book as a giveaway. I actually follow Samuel Park on Twitter and he's an extremely kind and down-to-earth author, most willing to respond to tweets.

    I've been interested in picking up THIS BURNS MY HEART for a while now, but haven;t yet had the chance. I'm Asian and I thoroughly enjoy reading cultural fiction especially with Asian themes. I'm not Korean, but this would be a lovely addition to my collection.

    Please enter me in this contest! It would "burn my heart" to lose...

    As for your question: mmm... I thoroughly enjoyed THE DOVERKEEPERS by Alice Hoffman as a historical novel. It was poetic, lyrical, and yet empowering.

    I am no also following your blog.
    A friend in the craft,
    Zara d. Garcia-Alvarez

    On Twitter: @ZaraAlexis
    Blog: The Bibliotaphe's Closet -

  4. Hi Sarah,

    I loved this post, and THIS BURNS MY HEART sounds gorgeous and intriguing. Please put me in the hat!

    1. Heck yeah, I'd like to win! Sign me up! This book sounds amazing! I've always been a YA fantasy girl, myself, but have been branching out lately. Mostly because I can never answer any literary question on jeopardy correctly. That's a huge red flag for me that I need to step outside my enchanted castle!

  5. I read Sam's guest post on Julie Dao's website about first 5 pages and he definitely caught me with his! I'm in for the win!

    (and I'm going to come to your house to pick up the book and see your beloved newling lol)

  6. This books sounds really great. I definitely want to read it as one of my next reads. I'd love to find out more about what happens in this book!

  7. Intrigued? YES! I must read this book! Sarah, thanks for hosting, and Samuel, thanks for the wonderful insight to your story. It sounds like it's something I'd love to read.

    Some of my favorites in historical fiction (which I love): Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet (ahhh, love that book so much); The Help (so awesome...way better than the amazing movie); and anything by Phillipa Gregory (like The Other Bolelyn Girl).

  8. This sounds wonderful! Truthfully, I haven't read much historical fiction but I'd really love to.


  9. I would love to enter this contest.

    Favorite historical novel is too difficult, but my favorite that I've read recently is Orchid House by Lucinda Riley.

    cynicalsapphire at gmail dot com

  10. Thank you Samuel and Sarah. Interesting interview. I'm beyond curious now to read about Soo-Ja's bad choice. As for historical fiction - Gone With the Wind and The Book Thief.

  11. I'd like to enter this contest. :) I've been mostly reading YA lately, but I really enjoyed the Josephine Bonaparte series by Sandra Gulland.

  12. Very intrigued! I am totally drawing a blank on best historical novel... does THE BOOK THEIF by Marcus Zusak count? I love that book.

  13. Sounds like an awesome book and a fascinating character. Excellent points about character, too.
    My favorite historical novel of all time is Shōgun by James Clavell, even though I haven't read it in years, I still think about it. A more recent favorite would have to be The Book Thief (like so many others!)

  14. This sounds like a book that'd be right up my alley. I love his points about making bad character choices make sense in the context of the character's world and what she believes to be true.

    Most of what I read is historical, or at least is historical now, since it was written so long ago. One of my favorite historical novels is Forever Amber, by Kathleen Winsor.