Skip to main content

Soon Wiley: On Finding Meaning in Moments of Tragedy

Award-winning writer Soon Wiley discusses what inspired the idea for his debut novel, When We Fell Apart.

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.

He resides in Connecticut with his wife and their two cats. When We Fell Apart is his debut novel. Find him on Facebook and Instagram

Soon Wiley: On Finding Meaning in Moments of Tragedy

Soon Wiley

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
Publisher: Dutton
Release date: April 26, 2022
Genre/category: Fiction
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.

Soon Wiley: On Finding Meaning in Moments of Tragedy

IndieBound | Bookshop | Amazon
[WD uses affiliate links.]

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.

Soon Wiley: On Finding Meaning in Moments of Tragedy

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.

Fearless Writing William Kenower

If you love to write and have a story you want to tell, the only thing that can stand between you and the success you’re seeking isn’t craft, or a good agent, or enough Facebook friends and Twitter followers, but fear. Fear that you aren’t good enough, or fear the market is too crowded, or fear no one wants to hear from you. Fortunately, you can’t write while being in the flow and be afraid simultaneously. The question is whether you will write fearlessly.

In this workshop we’ll look at several techniques you can you use to keep yourself in the creative flow and out of the trouble and misery fear always causes.

Click to continue.

From Script

Adapting True Crime and True Stories for Television (From Script)

In this week’s round up brought to us by Script magazine, exclusive interviews with writers and showrunners Robert Siegel and D.V. DeVincentis (“Pam & Tommy”), Patrick Macmanus and Liz Hannah (“The Girl from Plainville”) who both have taken creative liberties in adapting true stories for a limited series.

Chanel Cleeton: On Reader Enthusiasm Conjuring Novel Ideas

Chanel Cleeton: On Reader Enthusiasm Conjuring Novel Ideas

Author Chanel Cleeton discusses how reader curiosity led her to write her new historical fiction novel, Our Last Days in Barcelona.

Writer's Digest Interview | Marlon James Quote

The Writer's Digest Interview: Marlon James

Booker Prize–winning author Marlon James talks about mythology and world-building in his character-driven epic Moon Witch, Spider King, the second book in his Dark Star Trilogy in this interview from the March/April 2022 issue of Writer's Digest.

writer's digest wd presents

WD Presents: New Podcast Episode, a Chance at Publication, and More!

This week, we're excited to announce our newest podcast episode, your chance to be published, and more!

David Adams Cleveland: On Truth Revealing Itself in Historical Fiction

David Adams Cleveland: On Truth Revealing Itself in Historical Fiction

Award-winning novelist David Adams Cleveland discusses the timeliness of his new novel, Gods of Deception.

Lisa Jewell | Writer's Digest Interview Quote

The WD Interview: Lisa Jewell

The New York Times-bestselling British author discusses creating thrilling plot twists and developing characters in her 19th novel, The Night She Disappeared, in this interview from the Jan/Feb 2022 issue of Writer's Digest.

5 Tips for Successfully Pitching Literary Agents in Person (That Worked for Me at the Writer’s Digest Annual Conference)

5 Tips for Successfully Pitching Literary Agents in Person (That Worked for Me at the Writer’s Digest Annual Conference)

Author Anat Deracine found her agent at Writer’s Digest Annual Conference. Now she’s sharing what she’s learned to help other writers become authors. Here are her 5 tips for successfully pitching literary agents in person.

Tips for Reading Poetry in Front of an Audience

8 Tips for Reading Your Poetry in Front of an Audience

Poet's Market editor and published poet Robert Lee Brewer shares eight tips for reading your poetry in front of an audience.

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Strength Lost

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Strength Lost

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, let a character lose their powers.