I want to say a big thank you to Ann Y. K. Choi for taking the time to answer my questions and to Simon & Schuster Canada for asking Worn Pages to take part in this blog tour. If you haven’t ready Choi’s Kay’s Lucky Coin Variety, you need to. It’s a truly captivating and heart-wrenching story of a Korean-Canadian family living in Toronto, establishing a life as a family unit and as part of the greater Korean-Canadian community.
Read my original review here.
Kay’s Lucky Coin Variety – Author Q & A
Ann Y.K. Choi
- Can you briefly walk me through the process of writing and publishing your first novel?
My protagonist, Mary, is a composite of several Korean immigrant girls I knew growing up. We were caught between our parents’ expectations and what we wanted for ourselves. This often led to family conflict and struggles with our sense of self. While Korean-Canadians continue to experience similar settlement issues with other immigrant groups, we also have a unique voice and compelling stories of our own. I wanted to explore and share them with the Canadian society at large.
I started writing the novel in 2007, when I enrolled in the Creative Writing program at the University of Toronto’s School of Continuing Studies (UTSC). Great authors like Dennis Bock, Kelli Deeth, and Alexandra Leggat helped me understand that writing is a process. I also studied at the Humber School for Writers where David Adams Richards was my mentor. In 30 weeks, we pounded out a rough first draft.
In 2012, I had to present my manuscript as part of the UTSC Creative Writing graduation requirements. I will always be grateful to Lee Gowan for inviting Phyllis Bruce, who had her own imprint with HarperCollins, to be on the panel. After I graduated, and that manuscript went on to win the Marina Nemat Award for top final writing project, Phyllis invited me to work with her. By then, she had moved to Simon & Schuster Canada. I signed with them in 2013, and after much rewriting and revising, the book was finally released in May 2016.
- Which character do you most identify with and how did you find that this character came to be as you were writing?
While I share many similarities with Mary (we both lived above our variety store and dreamed of being a writer), I identify most closely with Kate, Mary’s friend. Kate is challenged with mental health, specifically depression and anxiety, which leads her to act impulsively. For a long time, I struggled with feeling comfortable in my own skin. I grew up feeling deeply embarrassed and even ashamed to be Korean. We came to Canada in the mid-70s. I had no role models, nor did I see my heritage reflected in Canadian society. It’s different today. My 16-year old daughter is proud to be half-Korean. Now, Korean restaurants are scattered everywhere in Toronto, and K-pop and Korean movies are considered cool. It’s wonderful – I’m thrilled.
- What I loved most about your novel was how real and honest it felt. You really captured the essence of Toronto and the familiarity is what really helped me to connect with your story. When you were putting pen to paper, who did you envision would be reading your story? I just want to say, it’s so fantastic to see great Canadian literature published.
Thank you! I wrote largely with my daughter in mind. I wanted to capture on paper all the struggles that her grandparents went through as immigrants. My daughter’s generation will grow up not knowing about how the Koreans who came to Canada in the 70s and 80s were largely entrepreneurs – shopkeepers, drycleaners, restaurateurs – out of necessity because they couldn’t speak English. Many were teachers, accountants, and had professional careers before immigrating here.
I also wrote the story so that other women like me could explore mother-daughter relationships. Many of us, I think, want to express our appreciation and gratitude to our mothers, but don’t necessarily know how.
- Was there any part of the story that you most struggled with? How did you overcome this difficulty?
Because this novel is my first and my main character and I are so similar, I worried that some people might think I was writing about my own life and about my family. There are parallels but I wanted to tell a bigger story. As a cultural group, Koreans (like other ethnic groups) don’t like talking about sensitive issues such as domestic violence, mental health, and racial tension – themes I weave throughout the novel. I was anxious, for example, about how my friends and students might react to some of the racial tension between blacks and Koreans in the story, but the idea that my novel could spark discussion and open dialogue encouraged me to persevere.
- Do you have a favourite character?
Tico, the homeless man, and Mary’s father are my two favourite characters. Both serve to teach Mary about love, acceptance, and compassion.
I wanted Mary to have a positive relationship with a man. Her father is kind and understanding, and encourages her to take risks and follow her dream of becoming a writer. It was important for me to create a male character whom Mary respected and admired so that she could develop healthy, positive adult relationships with men.
Tico allows the reader to see Mary’s mother through a different set of eyes. Though homeless, filthy, and possibly mentally ill, Tico and Mary’s mother forge an unlikely friendship which is important for Mary to see.
- Now that the novel is published, how do you find the experience of meeting and connecting with your readers?
The story is dear to me so it’s a remarkable feeling to know that people are reading the novel. I feel privileged to have the opportunity to share the Korean culture and our immigrant experiences. Canada is a nation of immigrants. I love talking to others who are inspired to share their histories with me. It’s this kind of sharing that enriches the human fabric that is Canada.
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