Korean Witches, the Power of Revision, and Challenging Your Characters: Graci Kim on Her MG Debut THE LAST FALLEN STAR
From Graci Kim, you should expect the unexpected. A Korean-Kiwi diplomat turned cooking show host turned author, who ran away with the circus in pursuit of a Colombian tightrope walker, Graci is bringing us a novel about Korean witch clans in LA, who conduct ancient rituals and shop at H-Mart.
The Last Fallen Star, Graci’s MG debut, follows Riley Oh, the only “saram” (non-magic person) in her family of healing witches, who are part of the Gom clan. During her sister Hattie’s initiation into the clan, Riley and Hattie attempt a spell to split Hattie’s magic between them. But the spell turns disastrous, setting off a series of events that threaten the community and Hattie’s life. With her sardonic friend Emmett by her side, Riley must find “the last fallen star” to save her sister. The novel is Book One in the Gifted Clans Books series. It launched on May 4th, 2021 with Rick Riordan Presents, Disney-Hyperion and is widely available to order.
Graci grew up not seeing herself in the books she loved and is committed to writing magic-infused books about Korean diaspora kids. She is set to write two more Gifted Clans books. You can find out more about Graci on her website, Twitter, and Instagram.
Q. Congratulations on your MG debut! This book does a remarkable job of blending Korean mythology with a contemporary setting to create this unique, magical world. Was Korean mythology part of your upbringing, or was there a lot of research involved?
A. Thank you so much! Oh yes, Korean mythology was a definite part of my upbringing. My parents and my halmeoni (grandma) used to tell us lots of folktales and myths when we were children, and I remember even liking the scary ones about the dokkaebi and gwisin who would steal naughty children away. Thinking back on some of the scarier ones now, I’m pretty sure they used those as threats for getting us to behave!
Q. Riley, our narrator, has a distinctive voice—feisty and funny but not without moments of vulnerability. Would you speak a bit about developing Riley’s voice?
A. Interestingly, Riley started out in this world as an almost sixteen-year-old teenager. She was much more angsty in that wonderfully teenage way that we love to read in YA books. Then, through a series of rewrites and revisions, Riley became a twelve-year-old girl. Her voice adapted with the age change, but a lot of her vulnerabilities and internal characteristics stayed the same. I like to think I managed to add a bit more humour to younger Riley, but the readers might have their own thoughts on that 😉
Q. I’m also curious about Emmett. He likes to bake treats for his friends and dress up pets in silly costumes, but he also claims he is “allergic to emotions”! What inspired Emmett’s character?
A. You know, Emmett’s a bit of a mysterious character to me, in that he came to me fully formed. And I’m not sure where from! My sisters and I love to eat, and we adore animals, so Emmett’s love for baking and dressing pets might have been inspired by that. But his claim that he’s allergic to emotions, and that desperation he has to keep his outer shell intact, just appeared when I wrote him onto the page. It’s almost like he asked to be written that way…
Q. Without asking you to give too much away, was there a part of the story that was particularly difficult to write? And how did you push through?
A. While writing the first draft of the book, the middle was by far the hardest part of the story to write. I knew what events would kick off the adventure, and I knew how I wanted the journey to end. But it was anyone’s guess what would happen between those two bookends! I knew I wanted the conflict to build so that Riley’s beliefs could be tested from all angles, and I also wanted to make sure there were no dull moments for readers to get bored. So I kept asking myself at every plot juncture: “What could I possibly throw Riley’s way that would make her question everything she’s ever known about herself and her life?” That constant question helped me find a way through the murky middle. As did copious amounts of coffee.
Q. Would you tell me a bit about your journey to publication?
A. I wrote my first manuscript in 2017, which was a YA contemporary novel with speculative elements about a girl overcoming the grief of losing her family. I queried a few agents with that unsuccessfully, but it did land me a place in a mentoring program called Author Mentor Match. Through my mentor, I decided to work on a new manuscript, which I ended up pitching in the Twitter pitch contest #DVpit in 2018. I received over 200 likes from agents and editors, so I made a shortlist of agents from that group and sent them my new manuscript. I ended up signing with Carrie Pestritto from Laura Dail Literary Agency after a partial Revise & Resubmit request. With Carrie’s help, I did a series of revisions before we went out on submission to a list of publishing houses in Jan 2019. In June, we received an offer from Rick Riordan Presents, Disney-Hyperion following a Revise & Resubmit request. That book became The Last Fallen Star.
Q. I understand you’re a planner when it comes to novel writing. If I’m not being too nosey, what does that look like in your workspace? Are we talking sticky notes, scribbles in notebooks, colour-coded text documents, etc.?
A. I wish I had a tidy, organised system for my novel planning! Unfortunately, my reality is far from systematised. I have random bits of notes here and there, in notepads, notebooks, on my Notes app on my phone, on my whiteboard, on Trello, in Scrivener, in Scapple, as draft emails unsent, or as actual sent emails with subject headings that often say things like “Please don’t ignore me. No really, read me. Please.” What I DO have, however, is a large A3 sketchpad where I begin every story process. I like to do a brain dump flowchart to get my thoughts out of my head, and I find the best way to do that is going old-school, with a pen and a big piece of paper.
Q. Do you have any advice for young writers?
A. My biggest piece of advice for young writers is to read lots and write lots. Whenever I feel at a loss for ideas or creativity, I find the best way to refill that well is to read. Read widely across genres, even ones you don’t think you’ll enjoy. Some of my favourite reads in the past have been ones I never thought I’d like, and some of my best ideas have come from being inspired by things other authors have written. Then open your laptop and start writing. Get feedback, learn to apply it, learn when not to apply it, and hone your craft. Read more. Write more. Rinse and repeat.
Q. Finally, Riley’s family is part of the Gom clan, the healing witches. I have to ask, which of the six gifted clans would you want to be in? I read that Rick Riordan wants to be in the Miru clan, the protectors…
A. I’m going to be cheeky and choose two clans! I’d love to be part of the Gom clan and the Tokki clan. The Gom clan because their motto “Service and Sacrifice” really speaks to me, and because I’d love to be able to heal others with magic. The Tokki clan because I love to eat, and I want to be able to make my food magical! Their motto “Kindness and Heart” is hard not to aspire to, as well 🙂
Sara Truuvert completed her MLitt in Creative Writing at the University of St Andrews. She also holds a Certificate in Creative Writing from the Humber School for Writers and a BA in English, Drama, and the History and Philosophy of Science from the University of Toronto. Her work has appeared in the Literary Review of Canada among other publications.