A native of Nyack, New York, Soon Wiley received his BA in English & Philosophy from Connecticut College. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Wichita State University. His writing has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and earned him fellowships in Wyoming and France.
In this post, Soon discusses what inspired the idea for his debut novel, When We Fell Apart, his surprise at being told the book would have a big audience, and more!
Name: Soon Wiley
Literary agent: Catherine Cho
Book title: When We Fell Apart
Release date: April 26, 2022
Elevator pitch for the book: A profoundly moving and suspenseful drama that untangles the complicated ties that bind families together—or break them apart—as a young Korean American man’s search for answers about his girlfriend’s mysterious death becomes a soul-searching journey into his own bi-cultural identity.
What prompted you to write this book?
Almost all my ideas for stories or novels start with character. In the case of When We Fell Apart, I was interested in delving into how Min (the protagonist) copes with the unexpected death of Yu-jin, his girlfriend.
When I started the novel, I was reading a lot of Haruki Murakami and Javier Marías, and their work got me thinking about moments of tragedy and how we look for meaning in them. I started with that initial idea, and the novel just kind of took off from there.
How long did it take to go from idea to publication? And did the idea change during the process?
From start to finish, it took me about seven years to complete When We Fell Apart. The general idea of the novel always stayed the same, or at least the spirit of it. The changes that occurred while writing it were mostly craft-based.
The first draft was written entirely from Min’s point of view. It wasn’t until the second draft that I decided to use alternating chapters and include Yu-jin’s point of view. Adding that perspective was a radical and pretty grueling decision, but it completely transformed the novel for the better.
Were there any surprises or learning moments in the publishing process for this title?
I think the biggest surprise was that people involved in the process (my agent and my editor) thought there would be a large audience for the book. When I first started writing the novel, I made a conscious effort not to think about audience or reader expectations.
At least early on in the drafting process, it was really important to me that I write the kind of story I wanted to read, which meant setting the novel in Seoul and writing about characters and ideas that I found personally intriguing. I knew that I liked the narrative and found it intriguing, but I wasn’t sure anyone else shared my literary taste, so I was pleasantly surprised when the folks on the publishing side thought that my novel would appeal to a wide audience.
Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book?
By far the biggest surprise was that it was easier for me to write from the female perspective than the male. I wrote Min’s point of view first, and it took a long time to get the voice and tone right. During the revision process I really labored over his sections, whereas with Yu-jin’s chapters, the writing was almost effortless. It’s kind of counter-intuitive, but sometimes it’s easier to write characters that you have some distance from.
What do you hope readers will get out of your book?
Chiefly, I hope readers will be entertained and transported to the fictional world I’ve created. If the pandemic has proven anything, it’s that there’s still an appetite for fiction, and I hope readers will find a real sense of fulfillment if they pick up my novel.
If you could share one piece of advice with other writers, what would it be?
Be patient. It takes a long time and a lot of practice to write something good. We aren’t very good at patience in our culture. We’ve been taught to expect instant results, and we often get easily discouraged when we can’t see the immediate reward or payoff of our efforts. But writing is really one of those things that can’t be rushed. Take your time, seek out readers, and don’t put your work out into the world until you’re absolutely sure it’s ready.