Sunday, November 19, 2023

Q&A with Angie Kim



Angie Kim is the author of the new novel Happiness Falls. She also has written the novel Miracle Creek. A former trial lawyer, she lives in Northern Virginia.


Q: What inspired you to write Happiness Falls, and how did you create your character Mia and her family?


A: We talked the last time about how I didn’t start writing until I was in my 40s.


One of the short stories I wrote was about Mia and her family when she was about 14. That started a whole voice for me. I entered it into a writing contest and it won. The judge was Charles Baxter, whom I greatly admire. He talked about how he loved the voice. I felt like, Oh, I have something here. If Charles Baxter liked it, there must be something there!


That voice stuck with me—I loved it because of its humor. That’s how Mia and her family came to be.


Then the question was, what as the story going to be? I experimented with having Mia be one of the narrators for Miracle Creek, but it didn’t work.


Q: How was the novel’s title chosen, and do you see a connection between this title and that of your previous novel, Miracle Creek?


A: That wasn’t deliberate on my part! In fact, we were worried about it: Happiness Falls, Miracle Creek—are we creating an inadvertent brand?


My original title was Happiness Quotient, but the team said it only focuses on one of the three strands of the book.


When I sold the book, I had a Venn diagram that I used. One strand was the missing father and the mystery element. The second was the voice fluency aspect, why that’s important to me as an immigrant and as someone who teaches writing to nonspeakers. The third was the happiness theories that the dad was obsessed with.


They thought Happiness Quotient sounded like a nonfiction title. My UK editor came up with Happiness Falls, and the whole team loved it. Falls can stand for a waterfall and also for happiness rising and falling.


I joked that I was willing to do it for this book because I see the two books as companion pieces in some ways: parenting choices, sibling dynamics. But I’m not going to go for a third title like this!


Q: You’ve discussed the experience you had as an immigrant to the US and how it compared with that of your nonspeaking character with autism, Eugene. Can you say more about that, and about how it factored into your decision to write this novel?


A: I always knew Eugene was a nonspeaker—in the short story, it was due to his autism.


I came from Korea as an 11-year-old in middle school. It had a profound impact on the rest of my life, and the way I felt with my voice fluency.


We as a society equate oral fluency with intelligence. Because I had that assumption also, not being able to speak English made me feel stupid, and created a sense of shame and incompetence.


I thought it was really interesting that that happened, how it really scarred me, to the point where I’m still very much not that confident a person, and it’s been such a long time. I really wanted to explore that.


As an immigrant, I saw parallels with other people who had trouble speaking. I wanted to tell the story of being a nonspeaker or a less fluent speaker. I did that in Miracle Creek too, and I wanted to do even more with this.


Q: Why did you decide to tell the story from Mia’s perspective?


A: She is the original character, and also there’s the fact that she is a skeptic. By virtue of her skepticism, she’s a good character to take the reader through the complicated narrative of Eugene’s journey. And she’s so hyperverbal, and she prizes that.


It’s a missing person mystery and a coming-of-age story for her.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Just getting through daily events now, managing my [book-related] travel. When I am finally sitting down, I’m going to be working on linked stories with a high-concept dystopian premise. I hope we get to see some of these characters again.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: About the genre—it goes to a missing person mystery at its core, but I like to use the mystery as a Trojan horse, a way to grab interest, and once there’s interest, to use the story to tell deeper stories, linked, about different members of the family. Hopefully the next book will have that as well.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Angie Kim.

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