from the Korean Army to being published

the blog of an "ex-patriot" writer in Korea

Entry #61: Feedback

with 2 comments

My current excuse for my inactivity is that I’ve been waiting on feedback before going through my second round of edits. I finally got a little feedback on my first 20 pages from a friend of my brother, a non-Korean and non-friend who has never lived in Korea and is not a writer, which I asked for because I wanted a feel for how my book will be received by the general American public.

The feedback was harsh. “Irritating” (in its amount of detail) is what he said. But he elaborated that he felt that way because there was no preface, no background to put him at ease while taking the time to let the story unfold.

I’m still unsure of whether it’s necessary but I’m not one to ignore constructive criticism. And I admit that my current draft is lacking in this area, primarily because my previous draft was too heavy in this sense. As a result, today I spent my coffee shop time to write a short preface, heavily condensing and editing the introduction to my previous draft.

Because all of the people I sent my manuscript out to for feedback did not get this preface, I thought I’d post it here and get feedback from you, the few readers who bother keeping up with the blog and the random people who somehow end up here. (If you’ve read this blog since its inception years ago, you’ll probably find a lot of it familiar. This, however, only applies to maybe one person.)

For your reference, the tone of the current draft is very different. It’s far less personal and conversational than this preface. I wanted the book to be more like a novel than a memoir.

I don’t know how many people read the preface of a book, but if you read this preface, would you want to read on? Would you feel more settled when going on to read somewhat lengthy descriptions about riding a bus and sitting on a concrete floor (which I still think are necessary for putting the reader in my mindset at the time)?

Here it is, the rough preface I wrote today:

“Do you blame God?” Jaime asked me one day over coffee, almost a year after I walked out of the gates of the Second Army for the last time.

I shrugged. I had never thought of it in that way. It was just something indescribably awful that happened to me. I understand that a natural reaction to tragedy is to shake one’s fist at the heavens and cry out, “Why, God? Why?” It’s never been my reaction. Tragedy is a natural part of life.

Being forced to serve in the Army of a very foreign country admittedly is not a natural part of life. It’s an incredibly hard story to tell, not because of the lingering trauma but because it was such an absurd and alien experience. One thing that’s necessary is to abandon all your preconceptions of what Army life is like. The Korean Army is nothing like the U.S. Army.

The simplest way I can relate my story is to ask that you imagine a deaf-mute getting picked up off the street and thrown into prison for two full years for no apparent reason. It could happen. It doesn’t seem likely but then again, I thought the same about getting sent to the Korean Army.

“At least you learned how to speak Korean,” Kay offered. It’s the best that can be offered, but it’s like losing a foot to a landmine and hearing, “At least you’ve doubled your sock inventory.” I’ve never felt that strange need to find meaning in tragedy. Korean men accept military service for what it is—shigan nangbi, a waste of time, or gongbaek, a blank space in one’s personal history. This American does, too.

“I envy you,” Kay went on. “My Korean’s awful.”

I sighed. Statements about silver linings or opening doors or divine plans are exasperating. Because they have no inherent comforting value, I’d rather the speakers keep their platitudes and beatitudes to themselves. I used to grow agitated and argumentative but I’ve learned it’s a waste of time and I’ve done plenty of that already.

Because this story is practically the only story of mine that people find interesting, I’ve grown weary of sharing it. I once thought of making a card explaining my handicap while I was in the Army and a card with frequently asked questions afterward. This book is that card. It’s a long story.

I was on the subway the other day, pretending to sleep so the feeble, old lady standing in front of me couldn’t guilt me into giving her my seat when I felt something placed on my lap. Head still bowed, I cracked an eye open and saw that someone had placed a piece of paper there. That someone had also placed the papers on the laps of my neighbors. The message on the paper went something like this: “Hello. I am mentally handicapped and selling these papers for the purpose of assisting me in making a living. Will you kindly buy one? Any amount will help. Thank you and God bless.”

This book is that paper as well.

Reading through this again, I realize the tone is influenced by Slaughterhouse Five, which is what I was heavily influenced by when writing the previous draft.


Written by Young

August 19, 2013 at 10:29 pm

2 Responses

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  1. I always read Prefaces – especially to non-fiction/memoirs. But yes, I’d read on. Having a framing intro is definitely important. How did you start before? In medias res? I think hooking people right away with a strong image/anecdote is always good.
    Personally, I would start right away with perhaps the 3rd paragraph “Being forced to served in the Army…” – cut to the chase. It’s the business – exec summary training in me. Tell people what they’re reading and why immediately in a few sentences. That way – they get the bullet points (which I realize is an offensive way to reduce your writing) right away. I like the anecdote about the handicapped guy’s paper on the subway.


    August 25, 2013 at 10:17 pm

  2. Thanks for the feedback. My original first chapter is just me on the bus to boot camp without much overarching commentary. I agree that I need to cut to the chase. It’s one of my problems. I think I waste too much time before I get to the point.


    August 26, 2013 at 12:10 pm

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