Author Interview with Brenda Paik Sunoo - Stone House on Jeju Island
I met Brenda through a family friend in 2016 while looking for an editor for my book TigerFish when she introduced me to her two published books and gave me some advice on writing. I also later learned that she and her husband bought an old house on Jeju Island and worked on restoring it as their residence. Little did I know then that Brenda not only lovingly restoring the stone house but she was also nurturing a book which is now available both in Korea and the United States, Stone House on Jeju Island.
When I reached out to interview her earlier this Fall, she was getting ready to move back to Jeju. Here is our conversation to give you a peek into Brenda’s writing life and preferences. She is a lovely and thoughtful person, and I am blessed that we crossed paths as authors as well. Follow her on social media, blogs, and purchase her books on Amazon and other outlets.
Hoang Chi Truong, Author of TigerFish
Where are you living now?
Living in Aewol on Jeju Island, off the southwest coast of South Korea. Summers spent in southern California. It’s too hot and humid in Asia during that time. The mosquitos go after me like crazy.
What specialty or cultural highlights we should learn about this special place?
The famous Jeju black pig—it’s pork and the edible fat is yummy. Also, the abalone porridge—the shellfish being harvested from the sea by aging granny free divers, known as the haenyeo. Also, the abalone porridge—the shellfish being harvested from the sea by aging granny free divers, known as the haenyeo. And who could resist fresh sea urchin—cracked open by the haenyeo on the spot! My husband and I once purchased 2 pounds for $50, just as the women came out of the sea. We rushed home and ate it voraciously with hot steaming rice.
What are your genres?
Memoir—non-fiction. Essays and photojournalism.
Why do you write and when did you start?
Have always enjoyed writing since I was a teenager. Took journalism class in jr. high. At age 18, traveled on University of the 7 Seas—a ship that sailed to 17 ports in 3 1/2 months. Kept a journal. Pursued journalism in the 80s. Obtained MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University in 1999.
What is your writing schedule like and how do you fit it marketing and social media engagements with readers?
When I first started publishing, there wasn’t social media. Now, I find it challenging to spend so much time managing Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter and blogging. So I have to regulate and limit my postings in order to have a life.
Are you an indie or traditional published author?
Have been blessed to be published by: Seoul Selection—based in South Korea.
Do you have any tips or advice for aspiring and new authors on publishing options?
Every book must find its home. Rather than seek big name publishers, find one whose publisher and editor share the same vision of your book. Be flexible to write e-books, if necessary, because print is becoming very expensive. Main thing is to write, write, write—single pieces and books. I tend to bypass queries, and just enjoy the process of writing without pressure. Then polish my manuscript before submitting it.
How did you define your ideal audience, and how did you find or engage with them?
Marketing like everyone else—-website and social media; book parties, interviews, etc.
What are your most successful books?
Moon Tides—Jeju Island Grannies of the Sea. I say it was my biggest success because it had such an impact on the campaign for the aging free divers (haenyeo) who received UNESCO designation as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
What are the toughest challenges in your author’s journey and how are you looking to overcome them?
My toughest challenge in my author’s career is marketing. It takes so much time to promote one’s work via social media. Since I don’t have a major publishing house behind me, the full responsibility falls upon my own shoulders. I have to keep reminding myself that what I am promoting is not myself, but my work.
What are some books on your TBR List in 2018?
Been so busy writing, editing and marketing that I haven’t read as much as I’d like to this year. But I did enjoy Lisa See’s “The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane” and reading many books about art—-my other passion.
Do you read paperbacks or listen to audiobooks?
Mainly read. Haven’t done much audio books. I love the feel of real paper books. Like to turn the pages and flip back and forth easily.
Tell us about your best fan mail or author event experience on any of your book. Did these experience help you in writing your work-in-progress or future books?
My best experience was after writing Moon Tides—Jeju Island Grannies of the Sea. When I was able to give copies of the book to the actual granny/divers and watch their faces light up, that was all the joy I needed. They had never seen themselves in an English-language coffeetable book that honored them in such a large way.
Have you always written in high school or college? Have you always dreamt of becoming an author?
Yes…been writing over 50 years: community journalism, travel diaries, oral interviews, newspaper and magazine writing, social activist leaflets, books. I even consider a well-written email a genre unto itself.
What authors resonated with you the most or whose writing styles you've admired the most?
More than any particular author…I tend to prefer non-fiction, memoirs, books about art and writing, spirituality and essays.
Do you have some favorite writing snacks, drinks? What are some of your writing distractions? (Most of us have a few to say the least!)
KIND bars (dark chocolate, nuts and salted caramel); watching K-dramas like “Jewel in the Palace,” “Winter Sonata,” and “Mr. Sunshine.” Also, playing in my art studio—doing mixed media with encaustic painting and encaustic monotypes. Swimming. Eating out with friends. Watching YouTube videos about creating abstract art.
My favorite these days is Bill Evans: Peace Piece. The other is Marian McPartland’s “Pretty Women.” Any kind of Brazilian jazz. And MoTown, of course!
BRENDA’S NEW BOOK
Tell us about your latest book and how to purchase it.
My latest book is coming out his Fall: Stone House on Jeju Island—-Improvising Life Under a Healing Moon. It’s available now through Seoul Selection in print and e-book format. Readers can also ordera copy via Amazon. I currently have two book receptions planned for California: February 27 at the Korean Culture Center Los Angeles, 7 - 9 p.m. It will feature both me and Lisa See, author of “Island of Sea Women.” We will discuss how both have written about Jeju Island and haenyeo—-but from two different genres: historical non-fiction and creative non-fiction.
My second book party will be held on March 21 in Oakland, California at the Eastbay Community Foundation, 7 - 9 p.m.
I recently did an interview with Arirang TV—an all-English international TV program about Korea culture. Here’s a link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mbwd7SL9LNQ
Stone House on Jeju Island
“Have you ever fantasized about going to an island and starting a new life? Brenda Paik Sunoo and her husband did just that when they left Southern California for Jeju Island off the tip of South Korea. Real life isn't paradise, though, and the dark history of Jeju mirrors some of Brenda's own losses. This is a lovely book filled with wonderful encounters, moments of self-examination and spirituality, and the amusing but sometimes frustrating quirks of rebuilding a traditional stone house. If you loved A Year in Provence or the fictional Stones for Ibarra, Stone House on Jeju Island is a must-read.”
--Lisa See, New York Times bestselling author of The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, Shanghai Girls, and Snow Flower and the Secret Fan