Hello there, my name is Frances Cha, and I am the author of the novel If I Had Your Face, which is set in modern Seoul, Korea.
When did you start falling in love with storytelling? What artistic aspects of your early life do you see now have inspired your passion for writing?
I’ve always been a hungry reader, and I think the only reason I became a writer was because I couldn’t figure out how to read for a living. My mother would take me to the library every week, and she would read books to me, even though I now realize that she actually did not understand the books she was reading to me in English. Starting in high school, my solo trips to the library would often involve bringing a suitcase so that I could check out the maximum amount of books. I still do this.
I am currently reading your debut novel, If I Had Your Face, and I am mesmerized by how you introduce your different female characters and how you effortlessly pull the reader into their worlds. What was the process of creating those characters like, and do you find yourself gravitating to any of them in particular?
Thank you so much for your kind words. I began writing this book as a series of short stories, so they were very separate in my mind. In Korea, I lived in front of an officetel, which is a multipurpose apartment building, and I began to imagine the lives of the young women living by themselves who were coming and going every day. My boyfriend at the time (now my husband) lived in a different officetel temporarily where there was a married couple living on the floor below him, and I would wonder a lot about them too because it was unusual for a married couple to be living in an officetel. That became the genesis of the character of Wonna. And I grew up in a province just outside Seoul called Gyeonggido, and I would volunteer at an orphanage. And I sort of wove all these stories as backstories together in my head and wondered what they desired of the world. I think my favorite character changes depending on the day, but Wonna is very dear to me as she is so fragile, and Ara, because she is in her own private world.
Who are your biggest inspirations, both in writing and in everything?
I read every day, and am inspired by the latest book I read, whether it is so beautiful that it changes my life, or if it’s terrible, and I am led to the confidence of “ok, I can at least write better than this.”
What do you find the most fulfilling about writing? What can be frustrating?
I think the best part of writing, for me, is to try to capture in-scene very particular emotions and burdens and hurdles that are specific to relationships I am interested in. World-building and relationship-building, and personality-building are deeply enjoyable. The frustrating part is envisioning this very intricate, encompassing story and then finding that your writing falls so short of what is in your head.
What do you consider to be the biggest challenges facing Asian women today?
The fear of making decisions that will not be understood or forgiven by your friends and family, and the love for family that conflicts with personal dreams and desires.
Do you have any rituals that you do to get into the mood for writing?
Ha. Great question. I start out drinking about three cups of coffee, then switch to a green tea matcha latte, then cold green tea, then a hot earl grey, and I end up with a dozen mugs on my desk. It’s so weird—I don’t know why I am like this.
What pieces of art involving Asian women have caught your eye lately?
I am so obsessed with the fantastical works of JeeYoung Lee. And a recent love is the corner store art by Me Kyeoung Lee. So many fantastic illustrators out there: Cat Min, Anna Kim, Michelle Lee, Julie J Kim. They inspire me so much.
Do you have any advice for young Asian girls who want to pursue writing as a career?
I think of all the times in history, now is the best time for a young Asian woman to begin a career in writing. There are many works being published now by female Asian writers in the international canon of literature, and such a long way to go before we are truly represented.
What’s next for you? Any exciting projects?
I love children’s picture books and will be publishing two with Crown, Penguin Random House in the near future. And I am working on the television adaptation of If I Had Your Face, which will be at a global streaming service. And, of course, my second novel, which takes up all of my brainspace and dreamspace.
Frances Cha is the author of the novel If I Had Your Face. She grew up in the United States, Hong Kong, and South Korea and graduated from Dartmouth College. For her MFA in Creative Writing, she attended Columbia University, where she received a Dean’s Fellowship.
She worked as the Assistant Managing Editor of Samsung Economic Research Institute’s business journal in Seoul and as a travel and culture editor for CNN International in Seoul and Hong Kong. She divides her time between Brooklyn and Seoul with her family.
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