Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Q&A with Angie Kim

Angie Kim, photo by Tim Coburn
Angie Kim is the author of the new novel Miracle Creek. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Vogue and The New York Times. A former trial lawyer, she lives in Northern Virginia.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Miracle Creek?

A: Miracle Creek is centered on a fatal fire and explosion in a hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) chamber. HBOT is a real medical treatment used in hospitals as a treatment for carbon monoxide poisoning and diving accidents, and it’s increasingly being used as an experimental treatment for a wide variety of conditions, ranging from infertility to cerebral palsy and autism.

One of my kids, who has celiac disease and ulcerative colitis, was an HBOT patient years ago in a privately-run facility with a group chamber. It was an intense experience, being sealed up in a submarine-like chamber with three other families for an hour at a time for 40 consecutive “dives.”

We shared our life stories with each other and were forced to deal with minor emergencies that came up while we were sealed inside (including some temper tantrums, panic attacks, and bathroom emergencies).

When I set out to write a novel years later, I immediately thought of the chamber, a crucible in more ways than one, and I wondered what we would have done if something truly horrific had happened during a dive, when we were sealed inside with no way of getting out. 

Once I decided on a fire/explosion as the inciting incident, it seemed natural to have a murder trial provide the main throughline, given my experience as a former trial lawyer.

Q: You alternate among several characters' viewpoints in the novel. Did you write the book in the order in which it appears, or did you move things around as you wrote?

A: I largely wrote the book in the order in which it appears. It was an iterative process in which I wrote a rough and very general outline, wrote 2-3 chapters, then went back and changed the outline, wrote another 2-3 chapters, changed the outline again, and so forth.

Once the entire draft was completed, I was able to look at the outline and make structural decisions, some of which necessitated moving a few scenes and chapters (as well as adding or deleting some). But for the most part, the iterative approach I used allowed me to build from the bottom up without making huge changes in structure.

Q: Can you say more about how your background as a lawyer affects your fiction writing?

A: I have experience working as a trial lawyer, and my favorite part of being a litigator was being in the courtroom, and cross-examining hostile witnesses in particular.

I don’t just love doing it myself; it’s translated into a love of courtroom dramas in all forms, whether it be movies, TV shows, books, plays, everything! I love the drama of it, the psychological insight into the witnesses who squirm and try not to answer the questions directed their way.

So when I set out to write a novel with a mystery who-/how-/why-dunnit element, I decided to have the mystery play out in a courtroom setting rather than, say, through a police investigation.

As for the writing itself, my experience as a trial lawyer made it both easier and harder to write the courtroom scenes.

On one level, it was easier because I knew what types of questions the lawyers should ask, how the trial would be structured, and so forth.

But on another level, it was more difficult because I was tempted to make it as realistic as possible and follow all the standard rules of evidence and criminal procedure, which would have made the novel 2,000 pages and made it harder to do things like have all the characters sitting in the courtroom, listening and responding to each other’s testimonies.

So I had to take a lot of liberties in the courtroom, which the lawyer in me fought. In the end, though, I had to remind myself that this is fiction, and I had to serve the story first.  

Q: How was the novel's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?

A: Miracle Creek is the name of the fictional town in which the HBOT chamber (named Miracle Submarine) is located.

It was important for me to have “Miracle” in the title, because that’s what so many of the parents in the novel are chasing, whether it be Pak and Young, the Korean immigrant couple who moved to the U.S. for a better life for their daughter Mary, or the parents of the special-needs children who have elected to do HBOT in hopes of a miracle treatment. They have all been displaced from their normal life and are isolated, and they are desperate for connection and a sense of community.

Also, Dennis Lehane’s Mystic River was one of the novels I had by my side as I wrote Miracle Creek. That novel is one of my favorites of all time, and the voice, multiple-POV structure, murder mystery plot combined with a literary feel were all things I loved and tried to learn from, so I meant for Miracle Creek to be an homage of sorts to Mystic River.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m busy working on everything related to the release of Miracle Creek, including writing essays about both the substance and process of writing Miracle Creek, doing radio and magazine interviews, reading and signing at festivals and bookstores, and discussing the novel with reviewers, bloggers, bookstagrammers, podcasters, and readers. I hope to get back to work on my second novel soon.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I love hearing from readers and discussing Miracle Creek with book clubs, so please feel free to check out my website, which has my contact information and special materials for book clubs! 

The website also has reviews, interviews, and my essays about everything from HBOT and my immigration experience to writing courtroom scenes. Hope you enjoy it!

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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