The Divining Wand

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What and Why Krys Lee Writes

March 13, 2012 By: larramiefg Category: Interviews

[A few weeks ago debut author Krys Lee (Drifting House) revealed:

Q. What is your greatest achievement?

A. Being responsible for getting a North Korean refugee to safety from the Chinese border area to South Korea will probably always remain the most important thing I’ve ever done. A distant second would be writing Drifting House, a story collection that got major publishers excited enough to begin a bidding auction between eight major publishers.

Krys indeed helped a man find freedom as the Los Angeles Times article, North Korea defector learns to trust the stranger who saved him, explains. Please take the time to read this for, by doing so, you'll understand the amazing Krys Lee.

Those are the people -- made up characters for her stories -- that Krys writes about and excerpts taken from a Viking (Publisher) Q&A tell us why she writes.]

DRIFTING HOUSE is a beautiful collection of short stories that portray life in South Korea, North Korea, and as a Korean-American in the US. They depict a fractured world. Where did the stories come from: personal experience, observations, or something else? 



The stories arose from personal experiences as well as my observations and reactions toward the societies around me. Fractured is an interesting, important word for me; being animmigrant in the United States with parents who were afraid of America lends itself to a kind of fracturing. Our house was a Little Korea, and I was fascinated by the homes of American friends that I’d visit because their way of being was so culturally different. There were other, more violent and painful fractures that influenced my life and inevitably, my stories. But my sense of story is usually more Jamesian; the autobiographical impulse is buried in character and thematic obsessions rather than in the plot.

What do you think literature can reveal to us about a people or a society that reportage cannot? Do you think this is especially true in a closed society, such as North Korea? Do you think writers continue to play an important role in the political process by giving a voice to the unseen and underrepresented factions of a culture?


The best literature helps us care about the people facing the issues and problems that the news brings us. In the case of a country as secretive as North Korea, it is easy to forget that the country is made up of individuals, some who are funny, cruel, ambitious, or restless; some from divorced families, or long to travel; who, for the most part, are trying to live normal lives despite the difficulties in their society. But when literature merely tries to deliver information or push an issue, it becomes reportage rather than a vehicle. In these cases, often the characters become types, a standard issue South or North Korean rather than an individual who happens to be South or North Korean. 

It’s important for writers to give voices to those that are underrepresented in books, but what’s most important is that writers write from a need and respond to the material that feels urgent and personal. I’m suspicious of books that tackle themes or identities that don’t seem to be driven by anything more than sensationalism or timeliness, but books that give voice to the underrepresented and help us see them as individuals within the larger context of time and the historical moment that delineates our lives will always be important. 


DRIFTING HOUSE is a collection of stories. What do you like about this medium? Is there anything about it you find particularly limiting? Anything you find particularly liberating?


Stories force you to economize and think like a poet in terms of language and scene. This compression creates a challenge that I like, but for me, people carry their history with them, and that history is not just a family’s history but the history and culture of a nation; how they absorb or react to these histories interested me. Trying to get everything in without having the story’s momentum broken by back story and context was difficult. Each time I wrote a draft, well-intended students in my MFA program would say there’s seven interesting things happening in there; you need to get rid of six. Or I would be told this story would make a good novel. But there are story writers like William Trevor, Alice Munro, and John Cheever, who managed to maintain a novel’s sense of complexity and illumination without simplifying. The world is complex, and I wanted my stories to reflect that complexity or they wouldn’t feel true to me. My decision was to try and keep all seven things in each story.

Krys Lee is an important new voice in the world of fiction and the world in general. To stay updated on all her achievements be sure to follow her on Twitter, become a friend on Facebook and, by all means, read the short story collection of Drifting House.

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Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away one copy of Drifting House by Krys Lee — in a random drawing — to anyone who leaves a comment on this post by 8:59 p.m. EDT tomorrow night! The winner will be announced here on Thursday.

5 Comments to “What and Why Krys Lee Writes”


  1. My. In a word: fascinating! I look forward to reading more from Krys Lee.

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  2. Korea is so much in the international forefront now and Ms. Lee is right, we tend to forget about many of the individuals involved as we focus on the large picture. My thanks to her for taking the time to tell the stories of the “little guy” as well.

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  3. yunah kae says:

    I attended a course on creative writing taught by Krys Lee at Ewha U…. Still haven’t forgotten that class! Would LOVE to read her book!

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  4. Really sounds like an insightful book worth reading.

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  5. I’ve had the good fortune of meeting Ms. Lee, but I had no idea she was so inspirational. The story of her rescuing a refugee is fascinating. I look forward to reading more of her.

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