from the Korean Army to being published

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

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Entry #66: The Book Is Out (Finally)

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It’s been 10 years since I first thought of writing this book and five years since I started writing the earliest draft of the manuscript (and writing in this blog), and I’ve finally stopped dragging my feet and (self-)published the book.

The official title is The Accidental Citizen-Soldier under my real name (Young Chun) and it is being sold for $2.99 on Amazon.com as a Kindle edition.*

front cover3

A link to the Amazon page: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00U3BFF1A

I’ve never been good at self-promotion and I dread giving interviews so it’s going to be tough to market the book (which is one of the reasons why I didn’t want to self-publish), but I’ll have to get started.

If you enjoy the book, please take some time to write a customer review. It’s one way to get more exposure on Amazon.

Although I’m still not satisfied with the book and wanted to do another complete re-write, I admit that it feels great to finally have it completed and on the (electronic) bookshelf. Now I can finally focus on my novels, which is what I really wanted to write all along.

On another note, I’ll be spending most of this week in the hospital as I’m finally getting the metal taken out of my leg. It’s been a year since my fifth and last surgery, and once the metal is taken out, hopefully I’ll be able to start recovering to the point that I can run again.

Here’s to hoping that 2015 will be a good year.

* I’ve also signed up with Amazon’s print service CreateSpace, so printed copies will eventually be available, but due to the number of pages in the printed version (over 400), it’s really expensive ($11.99) and I don’t expect anyone to pay that price for the book.

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Written by Young

March 1, 2015 at 9:02 pm

Entry #65: “Literally” Crippled

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Every day around 10 in the morning, the Head Nurse makes her rounds of the patient rooms. She’s a kind lady who’s perpetually smiling and has this way of asking questions that may or may not be sincere but certainly seem sincere.

“Were you able to sleep last night?”

“Not so well.”

“Were these jokers making noise last night?” she asks, indicating the five other patients in the room in general and the octogenarian dementia patient across from me specifically. She doesn’t actually say jokers, but something in her demeanor makes me believe that she’s on my side.

“No, they haven’t been a problem lately.”

I’ve been ready and willing to blame others for my continued sleeping problems, but even the dementia guy and his loud wife have been behaving themselves at night and yet I still find myself rolling side to side restlessly for hours on end, trying to find a sweet spot that doesn’t exist. I’ve even tried sleeping on my stomach, which isn’t so easy with a bum leg.

I personally enjoy blaming others for my problems. It makes them—the problems, not others—easier to deal with. But when the fault is obviously not on other people, I’m forced to look at myself.

“It’s weird but painkillers help me sleep.” I feel like an addict trolling for painkillers. “I don’t feel any pain—my leg doesn’t hurt at all—but I can’t sleep at night.”

“Okay,” she says, patting my leg gently, not a tinge of suspicion betrayed in her expression. “I’ll tell your nurses to give you painkillers with your antibiotics before you go to bed.”

I still can’t sleep the entire night, but at least I can lie still long enough to fall asleep for the first four hours. I still don’t know why I can’t sleep and if it’s because of my leg. The important thing is that I can fall asleep and, regardless of what happens the rest of the night, that’s all that matters.

The problem that’s been really troubling me for the past eight weeks is that I haven’t been able to write. I can manage blog posts because it’s practically freewriting and I don’t revise. I don’t know why I can’t. I just can’t. I haven’t been able to touch the manuscript. Opening the Word file is about as far as I can get. And although being on painkillers and having trouble falling asleep has actually led to a cornucopia of story ideas, I haven’t managed to put any of them down in writing.

If I could find an easy fix like painkillers or had some idea why I can’t write like the guess that a subtle pain in my leg is keeping me from sleeping, I would at least be able to take some measures to get back into it. As it is, I can only hold out for the next couple of weeks and accept a ten-week break from writing until I can return to my routine of haunting the coffee shop, chain-smoking while sipping a tepid Americano.

* On a side note, Stephen King got into a traffic accident in 1999. He was hit by a minivan while walking on the shoulder of Route 5 in Maine. He had a collapsed right lung, scalp laceration, and a broken hip. He also had multiple fractures of his right leg—kind of like me—but after five operations in ten days, he was back writing the next month. He was only in the hospital for twenty days. (How is that possible? I’ve been here for almost sixty?)

** One consolation is that I’ve been reading much more than I usually do. Being unable to create, at least I’ve taken to study. I’ll probably post a separate entry on this later.

*** My fourth surgery is in two hours. Hopefully it will be my last.

Entry #64: Update: Five Pounds and a Proposal

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It’s time for my monthly check-in at this blog. (I realize I should’ve named this blog something more catchy, but it’s too late to be bothered with.) Nothing remotely significant has happened to me this past month. I wonder if the static nature of my life is a result of my time in the Army, which was maddening in its static-ness. If it is, it makes sense because it was during that time that I had to discover a certain degree of zen to get through it all.

I guess one thing I can blog about is catching a cold, something that happens to me a couple of times a year and at least once to the point where I’m essentially bed-ridden. I stepped on the scale yesterday morning and found that I’ve lost roughly five pounds. I wonder if it’s because of the illness or because the illness has resulted in a ten-day period of sobriety (unless you count off-brand Nyquil and an occasional swig from my bedside flask as drinking). I stepped on the scale because I noticed that the extra padding beneath my belly button has subsided to a level where it doesn’t cause folds when I slouch, something that hasn’t not happened for at least the past three or four years. Yay, me.

I’ve been working on my book proposal for the past week. I finally sat down and starting perusing through agent websites when I realized that the book proposal I have on file was written for my previous draft and is really a sorry excuse of a proposal. Not all agents require book proposals, but apparently there are quite a few agents who require one for a memoir.

I’ve never been good at selling myself. It’s not in my nature. I don’t like putting myself out there, preferring to spend my time locked up in the confines of the chaos in my mind and in my apartment. It’s why I’m not prolific on this blog* and why I often consider closing my inactive facebook account. It’s why I’ve been dragging my feet on the agent search even though I essentially finished my manuscript at the end of the summer. The next few months are not going to be fun.

* I actually have five or six drafts of posts that are gathering electronic dust. I already know that they’ll never be published on this blog. I don’t know why. It’s a decision based on a feeling I don’t completely understand.

Entry #63: Static

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It’s been nearly a month since my last posting, which means it’s time for another post. Since my last post, I took a trip down to Jeonju to see my mom, started teaching again, sold my old motorcycle on a rainy Sunday morning, entertained a friend from Tokyo for a couple of days full of whisky and throwing around money like a man with thrice the means, flew to Osaka over the Chuseok break to convince a lesbian to give me a chance (forgetting to bring my wallet when I left for the airport), and finally, took out a couple of friends from my past in Seattle and their wives for a strange night of drinking, patbingsu, street games, and long, drawn-out drunken debates over theology. It’s been raining the past few days, but the rains have stopped and I dusted off my bike and am here in the coffee shop once again.

While it was a rare treat to have so many things to do and people to see, I’m happy that things have returned to their “normal,” uneventful state. Being social takes a lot out of me. I don’t have classes on Tuesdays, and I spent the entirety of my day in my apartment. The only time I was outdoors was stepping out onto my balcony for a smoke. I’m sure my neighbors don’t appreciate it, but I smoke in my “at home” attire—a pair of boxer-briefs and nothing else.

My life is so predictable, sometimes I wonder why people bother contacting me when they know exactly how I’m going to answer.

“What’s new?” “Nothing much.”

“What are you doing?” “I’m at the coffee shop, trying to get some writing done.”

“What did you do last weekend?” “Drank with friends,” or “Just stayed at home.”

“Are you seeing anyone?” “Nope.”

“Still working at the university?” “Yeah.”

“Did you publish your book yet?” “Not yet.”

(If I do die early, I could probably find an automated reply program to keep up the appearance that I’m still around.)

Even when there is a development, it’s more of the same. My new (used) motorcycle looks just like my old (used) motorcycle, just a little bigger with less rust damage. My new apartment is a seven minutes’ walk from my previous place. My new coffee shop is also the same distance away. The thing is, this static life of mine, I really enjoy it.

People say that my way is not really living, that life is about its ups and downs. I’ve had my share of ups, but I’m not a very excitable person so they’re mostly wasted on me. The problem is the downs. When I saw my friends from Seattle, I was reminded of my nickname in college—Job, the biblical man of sorrows. My life in college was pretty shitty. Having to serve in the Korean Army was a shock initially, but it seemed a natural culmination of all the rotten luck and tragedy up to that point. While I was in the service, I learned that the best way to stay out of trouble was to stay under the radar.

I’ve reached a degree of zen in my life—want nothing, suffer nothing. Unfortunately, this blog is one of the things that suffer as a result. My friends from Seattle told me that they read this blog—I was surprised, just as I am whenever someone tells me that—and they commented on the infrequency of my updates. It’s been a problem since I first started this blog. My personal aversion for blogging aside, I just have nothing new to share. If a month passes, at least I can summarize what little has happened and maybe some worthwhile thought will occur to me as I’m writing.

The good news for this blog is that I do hope to have something to share by the end of the year. I’ve started my agent search—I sent out one query a couple weeks ago—and I’ve decided that if I can’t (get off my lazy ass to) find an agent by the end of this year, I’m just going to self-publish. Then the question won’t be “When is your book coming out?” but “When is your next book coming out?”

Entry #62: Short Update

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I ran into my editor, Dan, earlier today while stopping by the office to take care of some errands. He had called me around noon to tell me that he had finished reading the final two sections of my manuscript but we had agreed to meet later in the week. He gave me his notes and some (in my opinion) undeserved praise and we agreed to try and meet up for beer this week.

Dan is also a writer and is preparing to return to the States in the coming years to get his MFA. Sometimes he sends me some of his work for my feedback but I definitely get the most out of our relationship. He’s read close to a thousand pages of mine compared to about a hundred I’ve read for him. If I experience any degree of success with this manuscript, a lot of it is due to his feedback.

I’m still waiting on feedback from a couple more sources but Dan’s feedback was really what I was waiting on. I have a week and a half left of vacation and it’s time to start that draining task of seriously looking for agents again.

Written by Young

August 28, 2013 at 7:59 pm

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Entry #61: Feedback

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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

Entry #60: What I’ve Learned about Inspiration

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I’ve taken a break from the manuscript for the past month. I haven’t been doing much writing at all. I’d like to blame the weather. It’s monsoon season.

Not that I haven’t been minimally productive. I’ve actually started work on my second book, the one that came to me in a revelation sitting in traffic on my way home from my part-time job.

I also have ideas lined up for my second and third novels and possibly a fourth, and I’m also sporadically working on a screenplay. The inspiration for the third and fourth came long, long ago and I can’t recall the particulars of how they were conceived but they are based on thoughts that I’ve carried around with me for a very long while. The ideas for the second novel and the screenplay are the most recent, seeds that I’ve just planted in the past couple months.

Inspiration is a strange and often frustrating thing. I can only compare it to women and I think it’s an apt comparison. There are some guys to whom it comes easily, who know how to create opportunities and capitalize on those opportunities. And then there are guys like me, for whom it is fickle and elusive because I don’t know how to approach it. I have, however, learned a few things even if I’m unable or unwilling to put them into practice.

1. Take what you can get. You can throw away what you don’t want later.

This is the point that I find unable to apply in my own life. Maybe I’m not as “hungry” as I thought I was. Even if you’re a one-project type of guy, you can always keep the other ideas on the backburner until you’re finished with the one you’re working on. And Krys told me that I should be working on one more than one project at once. It keeps the mind fresh.

Also, you can never tell how things will turn out. Some of the ideas that I fell in love with at first petered out fairly quickly and some of the ideas I wasn’t ecstatic about turned out to be the ones I’m most excited about now. I’ve never been interested in writing screenplays but when my actor friend Don approached me about working on an idea that came to him in a dream, I could see the potential in the idea. The situation is a devil’s threesome but I’m the Hank Moody is this one.

2. Always be prepared.

The right pocket of my jeans is stained with ink. (No, “ink” is not a metaphor for anything.) I try to always have a reliable pen on hand at all times. I’m still a product of a time when girls wrote down their numbers on little, torn-out shreds of paper or bar napkins. I think I still have the notes for my second novel written on bar napkins somewhere in the pig sty I call home. Sometimes I’ll make notes on the Memo function of my phone but I type too slowly to keep up with the ideas and it’s just not as meaningful as having it down on paper.

The pen in my pocket is the condom in your wallet. Because inspiration can be very fickle, it might not be in the mood or have sobered up in the time you spend running around trying to find a pen. The idea for the screenplay came to Don in a dream and the thing he did right was grab a pen and notebook and write down everything before it was gone. You can’t go about your morning routine expecting inspiration to be waiting around until you’re done.

3. A little help from my friends

I spend the majority of my time alone at the coffee shop. While there was an instance where I was approached by a cute little thing with a nasally voice who dropped a small folded note on my table before running off embarrassed, it was a one-time event in over five years. The coffee shop is like my workplace, where I go to put in the hours needed to pound out the details. It’s a place of inspiration only insofar as the writing goes, not a place of fresh ideas.

Every relationship I’ve had, however short-lived they’ve been, sprung out of a social situation, drinking with friends. I drink on my own more often than not, but nothing has ever happened when I’ve been on my own. In most of the cases, being out with my friends created opportunities that I don’t have in the hole that I live in, but there are at least two cases where I doubt anything would have materialized had it not been for my wingmen.

Krys also told me that a community is important for writers. I didn’t want to acknowledge her advice because I don’t think I’d get along with other writers, but now I realize that she was right. The idea for my second novel also came when I was having a drink with Don. He was telling me an anecdote from his rowdy childhood and I realized that it was something I could build a story around. My interactions with my editors, Dan and Diane, have proven invaluable for my growth as a writer. I used to assert that I was a man that was an island but I can say now that I’m more of a peninsula.

4. Alcohol is generally helpful

“Write drunk,” Ernest Hemingway said.

We are normally so full of inhibition that we trip our creative selves up all the time. We overthink and overthinking leads to inaction. Drunkenness lowers our inhibitions, allows us to get out of ourselves, gives us courage to say the things we want to say and do the things we want to do. I suppose many other mind-altering substances will work but alcohol is the most readily available.

Normally boring people suddenly become interesting and things happen. I can’t remember telling a story that didn’t start with—“So I was out drinking last weekend….” It’s not always a good time and is a significant drain on my meager earnings but a story is a story and I don’t know if I’d have anything to say if I decided to sober up.

Of course, everybody’s tolerance is different and finding that sweet spot is important. You want to drink to a point where you can still function at a reasonable level while gaining the courage and eloquence that only alcohol can give. You don’t want to be the sloppy drunk that’s passed out in his own vomit.

“Edit sober,” Ernest Hemingway added.

Make your decisions the day after. Alcohol unleashes the deep, dark innards of our souls and sometimes that’s the best part of our souls but sometimes that shit should not be put in the open. Take a good look in the morning after and see if what you have is something to work with more or something you’d gnaw your arm off to get away from.

5. There’s such a thing as trying too hard.

There’s nothing worse than a guy who reeks of desperation. Inspiration is repulsed by such guys. I’ve seen it too many times, especially in my own life. The harder I try, the worse things seem to turn out.

It’s important to stay loose and relaxed. Sitting in front of the computer isn’t going to change anything. Usually when I get to that point, I try and take a break to distract myself and gain perspective.

And what they say is true, sometimes it comes when you least expect it, when you’ve stopped trying. The inspiration for my next two books came when I wasn’t thinking about writing. The first was when I was driving home from work and the second was when I came out just to have a quiet beer with a friend.

This last point is the one that gives me the most hope. Being shy and lazy and anti-social and short and poor, I don’t have much game. But every once in a while, I somehow manage to get lucky.

I’m probably the last guy anyone would turn to for advice on writing or relationships, but the thing that allows me to dare to write is that I’m an observer. I pay attention to people and listen when people are talking. I can see my faults, I can decipher the psychology that makes me the way I am, but I can’t do anything to change them.

This list is not exhaustive, but I’m ending it here because it has been exhausting. If you have any other tips, feel free to leave a comment.