What did you do before writing full time?
After I graduated from university in 1990, I went straight to law school. I practiced corporate law for two years, and I had very difficult work hours. As a teenager, I’d been diagnosed with a serious liver disease, and as a working lawyer (I think they are called solicitors in the UK), I’d imagined that it would be much easier to be a fiction writer. I quit my legal job in 1995. The great news is that I no longer have the liver disease, but the not so great news is that fiction writing is not easy after all.
How long did it take for me to publish my first book?
12 years. My debut novel was actually my third novel manuscript. I have kept a binder full of rejection letters for reasons that are not clear to me. I read History at university so I suppose the rejection letters are my primary documents.
When life gets tough, I head to the kitchen. I have always loved to bake. For a while, I was obsessed with The Great British Baking Show.
What is my writing ritual?
I read a chapter of the Bible before I start work. Long ago, I read somewhere that the American writer, Willa Cather, would read the Bible before writing her pages. So I started to do this about 25 years ago, and I continue this habit six days a week before I work.
What is your favorite book?
Middlemarch by George Eliot. I have read a lot of Eliot, but nothing comes close to her masterpiece.
How did you meet your husband?
Twenty-six years ago, I met my husband at a dance. I called him a week after the dance and asked him out for our first date. We have been married for 24 years.
Do you have kids?
I have one son, and he is almost 20 years old.
What are you very good at?
I have a bizarre, world-class skill, which is also probably worthless. I have an uncanny ability to hang pictures. If you show me a picture and your home, I can find the correct place to hang it.
Are you like your main characters?
Not so much. Unlike Casey, my main character in Free Food for Millionaires, I do not know how to play golf, and I have never smoked a cigarette. Casey is modeled on several women I interviewed who were very bold. My second novel Pachinko is a historical saga, and I wish I were more like Sunja, a hardy woman who can adapt to any situation.
How did you research your books?
For Free Food for Millionaires, I took a class at the Fashion Institute of Technology to learn how to make hats. I am very bad at sewing, and my young classmates had to help me with lots of basic things. To learn more about my character Ted Kim, I pretended to be an applicant at Harvard Business School. For my second book, I interviewed dozens of Korean-Japanese in Japan and even visited the back offices of pachinko parlors.