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Ha Seong-Ran, An Author Ready to Talk

 

2018.07.31

 

In the April issue of Asymptote, which has a global circulation of 70,000, a book by South Korean author Ha Seong-ran was featured inside. Ha is known for her detailed depictions in her writing and the book that was introduced was Bluebeard’s First Wife (Changbi).
Whether she is far away or close by, Ha is ready to talk and the following is a Q&A with the author.

 

KPIPA

Please tell us about yourself.

 

Ha Seong-ran(Ha below)

Since my short novel Grass was selected in a literary competition by Seoul Daily in 1996, I’ve been writing short, long novels and prose. Before I won that award, I had about 10 years of preparation and long before that in school I wrote in literary clubs so I’ve been writing for a long time. When I experience a bit of writer’s block, I think of my middle school years when I used to write short novels. I also think of the novel that won my first award and made me a novelist. In between my pondering‘I can, I can’t ’I’ve written five short story collections, four full-length novels and four books of prose.

 

KPIPA

Recently your work was featured in an online English literary magazine called Asymptote in a competition for up and coming translators. This was Bluebeard’s First Wife that you wrote in 2002. It was meaningful because a Korean novel was introduced overseas in this way.

 

© https://www.asymptotejournal.com/search/apr-2018/special-feature

 

Ha

Janet Hong, who translated Bluebeard’s First Wife, has been working for a very long time to introduce the works of my colleagues and I to overseas readers. As a result of her toils, Next Door Woman (Changbi) will be published in the United States next year. If my novels stir interest or emotions in readers outside Korea, it will all be thanks to Janet Hong’s translation. Bluebeard’s First Wife was inside a collection of stories I published in 2002 and it was written quite long ago so it’s somewhat different from my current work. Today, you have access to so much news in real time and the gap between then and now is too large. If someone were to ask me why I wrote that kind of story, I doubt I could explain to them why. For me, as the original author, it wasn’t something I kept in mind, but I do think it took too long for Janet, the translator, to reap the benefits.

 

 

KPIPA

Last April, your serial novel Dark is Dark that was published on Changbi’s literary magazine Literature 3 finally came to an end. We’d like to know what it was like to post a serial novel on the internet while communicating with readers instead of publishing a single paper novel.

 

Ha

Publishing a novel in installments has become so natural. When I first started doing it a very long time ago, I felt it was quite interesting to catch the responses of my readers immediately. It also felt I had to keep them in mind and eye their responses. I also wondered whether I had to change the ending of my stories because of the requests I received. Now I don’t feel much of a difference between publishing on paper and online, but for online stories, I quietly go onto the websites, read the readers’ comments and quietly slip back out.

 

KPIPA

Is there a specific novel you’d like readers outside South Korea to know about?

 

 

Ha

That would be my full-length novel called A (Consonants and vowels). I wanted to write about how the letter A, which began as a brand in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter, changed into a new letter. With a cement company as a backdrop, I tried to delve into mankind by telling the story of a group of only women, their desires and failures.

 

KPIPA

Do tell us about anything new you’re working on, or if there’s anything you’d like to write about in the future.

 

Ha

I don’t know what stories I’ll be writing in the future. I’ve changed, but some of me hasn’t, so I’m sure my future work will be similar to what I’ve done so far. I’ve published three online serial novels so far on magazines and websites and these will be published sometime this year and the next. I’d like to end this interview with an short piece I wrote before one of the three novels was published, called The Fox Woman.

 

 

A decade ago I released The Fox Woman in a quarterly publication. The main character of the novel was a fox with nine tails called Gumiho. Gumiho is a well known character from Korean folklore, mainly appearing in scary summer stories and films. It’s a character that's coveted because people say the actresses who play the character will reach stardom and fame. The Gumiho that appears in The Fox Woman has lived for 500 years and she does not know when she will die. Because she has lived for 500 years, she is not looking forward to living 500 more. She is no longer a troll that casts spells and takes on the form of a fox but rather a half-human who lives an everyday life.
Back in the day of Yeonsan-gun’s tyranny, this half-human half-beast came down to earth but I had no choice but to skip over much of what had happened during the 500 years of her life because of space restraints. Present day is 2010 and Gumiho is working at a horror house in a large amusement park. Ironically, she scares people by playing herself - Gumiho. She hates the false image she has to portray every day in order to make a living, but she has no choice but to stay. When the amusement park doors close late at night, Gumiho abandons the facade that humans have made for her. In her dressing room, she removes her white face makeup, takes off her wig and costume and removes the nine tails that stick out like brooms from behind her. While sitting on the very top of a roller coaster, she mimics Hollywood actress Jessica Alba from the movie Sin City by looking down on the empty amusement park below her.
In order to write a novel you must live 500 years. History repeats itself and life’s patterns do not really change. But if you live 500 years you must surely realize something. That history repeats itself and life’s patterns do not change much.
If you are writing novels, you will find it difficult to escape the relationships you are in now. Later on in life you’ll meet the great grandchildren of your close colleagues and tell them you knew someone just like them 200 years ago. After showing off your knowledge to your colleagues who have lived just 30, 40 years you’ll come back to your desk where you have a deadline and repeat to yourself, "I’m tired of this. This is too hard," while changing the very first sentence of your work over and over again. Your writing may change, and your pen name might too, but your novels will repeat those that came before them. There is nothing new under the sun, you might grumble, but even if nothing changes and everything is the same, you must live 500 years to write a novel.
It has been 10 years since I first started thinking I could rewrite The Fox Woman into a full length novel instead of the shorter length it is now. I had gone to a zoo and gazed at one specific fox for such a long time it started getting annoyed with me. The fox wasn’t as big as I thought it would be. Compared to tigers of lions, its aura was small. I tried to crouch down at night and see like a fox. Sometimes I wanted to run through the forest on all fours when I went to the mountains.
If you want to write a novel you must live 500 years. To have a brilliant intuition might equal the experiences of many lives. If you cannot live for 500 years then you must write with the force of a person or fox that has lived for 500 years. It is the curse of the fox.

 

 


Organized by Gwon Ji-hye

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