YEM Author Interview: Grace Shim shares what writing a story with a Korean-American protagonist means to her

Grace Shim is the author of The Noh Family. The Noh Family is Grace Shim’s debut novel. The book is K-drama inspired novel. It introduces teen Chloe Chang, who is reunited with her deceased father’s estranged family via a DNA test, and is soon whisked off to Seoul to join them. YEM was able to speak with Grace about how representation within The Noh Family has made an impact on her audience, what her writing process was like, and if Chloe Chang is inspired by anyone from her life personally.

Young Entertainment Mag: When did you first realize that you wanted to be an author?

Grace: Shim: Looking back, there were probably always signs that I wanted to be an author, but the path to becoming one wasn’t clear, let alone feasible. I didn’t know any authors personally, nor did I see myself in any of the books, so it never crossed my mind that I could actually become an author. Many years later, when I was in graduate school, we had to do a project introducing ourselves to the cohort. As an early childhood educator, we often use books to introduce new ideas or subjects to students, so following that line of thought, I wrote and illustrated a large book about me. When I presented the book to the cohort, the director of my program commended me saying I should consider writing books. That was probably the first time I seriously thought about becoming an author.  

YEM: How does it feel to have your first novel The Noh Family out for everyone to read?

Grace: It’s definitely a mix of emotions. On the one hand, I’m extremely proud of having a published novel. On the other, it’s intensely intimidating knowing others are reading and critiquing my work. I’m constantly waffling between shouting about my book and crawling under my covers and deleting all my social media accounts! 

YEM: What does being able to write a story with a Korean-American protagonist mean to you?

Grace: Oh, this questions gives me all the feels! Writing and becoming an author has been a deeply personal journey for me. I wanted to write stories that were authentic to me and at the same time ones that anyone could relate to. But the problem was, I didn’t know how to. When I was a teen, I didn’t see any books with characters that looked like me, so for a long time I struggled with writing about Korean-American characters and deferred to the white, cis characters I had read about growing up. When I had the idea for The Noh Family, doubt and insecurity kept niggling at me, wondering if there would be a place on the shelves for a book with an almost all Korean cast. I was blown away with the process. Not only do I have a super supportive team that was excited about The Noh Family from the start, but they were champions of it. The most rewarding part about writing stories with Korean-American protagonist is that other Asian-American kids, including my own, are able to see themselves as main characters in stories. 

YEM: Have you been able to see first hand how representation within The Noh Family has made an impact on your audience?

Grace: I have been fortunate to have some really kind readers send me messages about how grateful they are to be able to see themselves in The Noh Family and that has definitely been some of the highlights of debuting. In my own family, my kids and nieces recreated my book cover in cosplay, which was really fun to see. But on a deeper level, I got a bit emotional seeing how much they resembled the characters on the book cover.

YEM: What was your writing process like?

Grace: I consider myself to be a plantser (plotter + pantser). I have to write a general outline of what happens so the story has a solid plot, otherwise I’ll undoubtedly lose my way. But I’m not so prescriptive in the outline in order to leave room for the conversations and scenes to happen organically and sound more natural. 

YEM: How have you seen yourself grow through the process of writing this book?

Grace: I’ve become a lot more aware of character development for the side/supporting characters and creating a more fully dimensional cast of characters. My editor is always so good about asking me about the side character’s lives and what their goals are, and not just focusing on the main characters. It gave me an awareness in my next novel which is definitely making the characters stronger in early drafts.

YEM: What is some advice you have for someone who wants to be an author?

Grace: I’m a self-taught author who started this career later in life and the thing that helped me learn a lot about plotting and craft is the writing community. I was fortunate enough to be part of two mentorship programs (Author Mentor Match and Pitch Wars, which is sadly no longer running). The mentorship programs not only connect you with a seasoned author who helps you in the process of revising a manuscript, it opens up your network of aspiring writers who are in the same mentee class as you. Having your work read and critiqued is definitely daunting, but it’s the only way to learn and grow in your craft. 

YEM: What is something you hope your readers learn or take away from The Noh Family after reading it?

Grace: The heart of the story is about a girl finding her place. I hope others who are also struggling to fit in will be able to find some comfort in reading Chloe’s story. I also hope that readers will enjoy getting a glimpse of the Korean culture as Chloe is experiencing it for the first time.

YEM: What was your inspiration for The Noh Family?

Grace: The inspiration for The Noh Family was a pretty literal one. My sister took a 23 and Me test and we discovered family that was unknown to us at the time. While we were trying to figure out who this person was and how they were related to us, the idea for The Noh Family came to me. It was also during the beginning of the pandemic and I was binging quite a few K-dramas. There was one in particular influenced the story line called Hospital Playlist, which is unofficially dubbed as a Korean Grey’s Anatomy. 

YEM: What was the first book that made you fall in love with literature?

Grace: This is a tough one as I’ve had many favorites over the years. My earliest memories of books I loved was the Ramona series by Beverly Cleary. Even though I didn’t look anything like Ramona, I had an older sister like her and remember relating so hard to her, especially in Ramona the Pest!

YEM: Was Chloe Chang inspired by anyone from your life personally?

Grace: I guess you could say that Chloe Chang was inspired by the family member we “discovered” through the 23 and Me test. The predicament for both Chloe and my newly discovered family member was life changing and took them on a journey of self-exploration. But like all of my main characters, Chloe’s personality is based in part on me. Her sense of feeling like she was meant for a different path than the one she was living is something that was drawn from my own life.

YEM: Do you have any future books in the making that you can talk about?

Grace: I’m currently working on another Young Adult novel about a Korean-American girl who is hoping to break out into the mainstream music industry, but finding herself up against some big obstacles. The book will potentially release sometime in 2023. 

YEM: Favorite quote from the book.

Grace: The first line is a favorite of mine: “Next to kimchi, Koreans have perfected one other thing: The Dramatic Pause.” 

I also like this line that refers to The Dramatic Pause: “After bingeing countless hours of K-dramas, I have yet to finding episode that doesn’t have The Dramatic Pause. It’s like the Lee Min Ho of K-dramas; it never gets old.” 

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