A Conversation Between Two
Updated: Aug 22, 2021
Heartfelt Thanks to our regular Contributor, Carl Scharwath, who recently interviewed writer, Frances Park, exclusively for ILA Magazine, please read on!
Carl: I had the pleasure of interviewing Frances Park for ILA Magazine. Frances is not only a prolific writer, but also owns a chocolate shop with her sister, Ginger. The shop - Chocolate Chocolate - started in 1984 and is located in Washington, D. C. Good morning, Frances, I am so grateful you decided to share your writing experience with our ILA Magazine readers, and I would like to ask you the following questions, please: Tell us about the first time you felt the need to write and how old were you?
Frances: I was ten years old, and it was more of an assignment than a need. One day, Mrs. Anderson, my fifth-grade teacher, announced that a few of us had filled the year's reading requirements and no longer had to take reading class. Instead, we were to form our desks into a horseshoe-shape and write. No restrictions, just fly. I loved it and ended up writing a several hundred-page manuscript titled "Betty Lou", which the teacher loved. One day, Mrs. Anderson opened up the accordion doors to the other fifth-grade class, and asked me to start reading from "Betty Lou." With that, the ritual began. Every day after lunch, I would read a new chapter to my classmates.
Carl: Of all your amazing diverse types of writing, is there one style you prefer most and why?
Frances: I've been published since the early 90's, and always thought of myself as a fiction writer, but in 2014, when I tried my hand at my first personal essay since college, the experience was nothing short of epiphanic. Suddenly, my whole soul was set free - I could say anything I wanted, I didn't have to be proper or polite - it was like running naked into an ocean or a field of wildflowers under the moon. Liberating. Exhilarating! I was hooked and knew right then and there that deep and honest personal works were my true calling as an author. Over the course of seven years - nothing short of a cerebral adventure - I composed twenty-five more, until I had a themed collection that practically titled itself That Lonely Spell.
Carl: How have the past influences in your life weaved their way into your writing? Frances: The main influences in my life have been my parents, and my Korean American experience which is reflected in most of my work. My parents came to this country in the mid-fifties, as part of a nearly-invisible wave of South Koreans comprised of students and scholars. Growing up, I had no cultural references here, and never met or even knew of another Korean American student from kindergarten through college. If I could quote from one of my novels - ". . .the US Census Bureau need only come to Ahn dinner table for a Korean head count in our Virginia 'burb." That was our family as well. My psyche is vastly different from the younger Korean American generation.
Carl: If you could tell your younger writing self some advice, what would it be?
Frances: Not to think of writing as a way to impress anyone or conquer the world. Or to get rich or famous. Even though it's a hard pill to swallow, that very likely won't happen and will only end up in crushing disappointment. Even when I've had my 'moments' - like when the sale of one of my novels was announced in the New York Times or when I was interviewed on Good Morning America, etc. - I can tell you they never matched my imagination. A minute later, they really felt like nothing, to be honest. The best moments are when you're pouring your soul into a work and derive pleasure from it. Period.
Carl: Please share with us, what is your most interesting writing quirk?
Frances: It's not really a quirk but I can only write when I'm alone, without any distractions. No music, no television, just peace and quiet. I'm a big daydreamer, so that's distraction enough!
Carl: What are some best practices you can share with a new writer? Frances: Well, everyone's different. Unlike many authors, I don't work well with schedules, I couldn't possibly tell myself to write two hours in the morning, every morning, or whatever. I like to write when the mood and the call, the inspiration, comes over me. More chance for magic.
Carl: What does literary success look like to you, Frances. Frances: Like everyone, writers go through different phases. As a younger author, like many, I had an ego and wanted that bestseller so badly I thought I would absolutely die if it never happened - and the sooner the better! For me, the dream had little to do with money; I just wanted everyone in the world to realize I was an artist, an important somebody. And then, as previously mentioned, when the big moments came, they weren't fulfilling to me at all. At this stage of my life, I just want the satisfying journey.
Carl: Thank you again, Frances, for your time today and for allowing our ILA Magazine readers to get to know you a little better. My only wish would have been to interview you in your chocolate shop with a plate of your best chocolate samples.
Frances Park is a Korean American author or co-author of ten books published in seven languages including the novels, 'When My Sister Was Cleopatra Moon' (Hyperion) and 'To Swim Across the World' (Hyperion), the memoir 'Chocolate Chocolate: The True Story of Two Sisters, Tons of Treats and the Little Shop that Could' (Thomas Dunne), children's books 'My Freedom Trip: A Child's Escape from North Korea' (Boyd's Mills Press) and 'Good-bye, 382 Shin Dang Dong' (National Geographic Books). Her short fiction and personal essays have appeared in O: The Oprah Magazine, Spirituality & Health Magazine, The Chicago Quarterly, The London Magazine, Gulf Coast Journal, Arts & Letters, and The Belleview Literary Review, to name a few. Praised by The Times Literary Supplement, The Washington Post, USA Today, The London Times, NPR and Voice of America, Frances was a finalist in the 2020 Dzanc Diverse Voices Book Prize and the 2019 Dzanc Novella Prize. Frances earned a spot on The Best American Essays 2017 Notable List with her essay, "You Two Are So Beautiful Together." Prizes for children's books, which are used in reading classes across the country, include the International Reading award, the Joan G. Sugarman Award, Notable Books for a Global Society Awards and the Paterson Prize. Her forthcoming memoir THAT LONELY SPELL: Stories of Family, Friends & Love (Heliotrope Books 2022), deals with love and loss against the backdrop of her unique Korean American experience.
Carl Scharwath has appeared globally, with 150+ Journals selecting his poetry, short stories, interviews, essays, plays or art/photography. Two of his books have ben published, 'Journey to Become Forgotten' (Kind of Hurricane Press), 'Abandoned' (ScarsTv) and recently published book, 'Playground of Destiny' (Imspired Publishing). His first photography book was recently published by Praxis. Carl is an Art Editor for Minute Magazine. He is a competitive runner and holds a 2nd degree Black Belt in Taekwondo.