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An Interview With Krystal Song - West Coast Eisteddfod Short Story Winner 2017

user image 2018-05-21
By: AmeriCymru
Posted in: Writing


Hi Krystal and many thanks for agreeing to this interview. Care to tell us a little about your winning entry 'Rice Paper Dreams' (link) in this year's WCE Short Story Competition?

Krystal: Rice Paper Dreams at its heart is a story about a young girl reuniting with her father. It looks into expectations and unfulfilled dreams, as well as the complicated nature of family relationships, and how they change over time.

How did you come up with the idea for the story?

Krystal: Almost a third character in itself is the setting–the Kyoto Railway Museum. My sister has always been fascinated by trains, so this past summer when we visited Kyoto, we had to make a stop at the museum. It was raining that day, on a Monday, so there were very few visitors when we arrived. It was only the true train fanatics and diehards perusing the exhibits. I remember seeing a little boy with his father, and what struck me was the way the father so excitedly explained to the boy how the gears operated in the trains. It was clear that he loved his son, that his dreams for him were big. I remember wondering how his son would grow up; would he take on those expectations, would he stray apart from them? Would he grow to understand his father, to resent him? And how would the father perceive the past–these trips to the museum? Family relationships are a tricky thing–there are so many unspoken rules, unsaid truths. In the same way, Mariko believes she has changed, believes she can control her new shiny image, but inevitably, the façade cracks. Her father too, tries his best, but new things–and old things–come to light in one simple conversation. I love the juxtaposition of the irreverent, ancient trains with the young, earnest father-daughter duo. The way people, so volatile, change every day, while trains move around us, speeding by yet ever constant. To me, that feels equal parts ironic and wonderful.

Your work is influenced by your 'experience growing up as a second-generation immigrant in America'. This is a theme that will resonate with many of our readers. How important do you think it is to examine your ancestry and stay in touch with your roots?

Krystal: How else could I answer this question? It is important to examine ancestry and stay in touch with one’s roots, but of course this looks different for every individual. Even as someone who has only seen a small sample of the Asian diaspora, I know no two experiences look the same. So who am I to press my story onto another, to claim that the way I search for “my roots” is the way another reader will find theirs? All I can say is that stories hold power: the stories my family pass on to me are the stories I will hold on to for the years to come–to understand them by, to remember them by.

What initially attracted you to writing short stories?

Krystal: Often, I find small snippets in everyday life that intrigue me, and the ones that I come back to time and time again are often the ones worth writing. I like the idea of documenting a stray thought in time or space, without devoting a huge effort to it as in novel writing. In novels, writers are ambitious–incorporating sweeping plotlines or world-changing theories and ideas. Short stories in contrast, are simply about capturing essence. A feeling, a character, or a moment in time, like an insect frozen in amber.

As a side note, I think short stories are one of the best ways to improve craft. Their constraints in size are what allow you to play around with form or genre. I would say that while I write novels for others–to entertain, to question–my short stories are primarily for myself, in an educational sense. I write to develop voice and style, learning about what works, and what does not.

One of my favorite authors, Haruki Murakami, once said that he finds writing novels a challenge, writing short stories a joy. The way I interpret that, in order to write novels, you have to fall in love with your characters, fleshing them out into three-dimensional, fully realized beings. If writing novels is like moving in, then writing short stories is more like dating. You meet these people for the first time, and you stay on their good side. They intrigue you, entertain you. They’re worth a quick snapshot, but you don't have to get into fights over the deep stuff. In this manner, I agree with Murakami in that a good balance of novels and short stories is helpful for almost any writer.

Do you have a regular process in creating a story or does it vary from piece to piece? Do you plan your stories or do ideas crowd out and you pick one to finish?

Krystal: As a student, my life and routine change constantly, likewise, the ways I arrive at new ideas also change constantly. When I was traveling in Japan this summer, every day felt like sensory overload: so many new sights, new sounds, new people to learn from. That kind of lifestyle isn’t sustainable, but for short periods of time it’s really quite invigorating, especially for creators. I found the framework and scheme for “Rice Paper Dreams” after visiting the Kyoto Railway Museum, but the initial idea was actually first sparked by a solitary image found a few days earlier: a lonely umbrella, forgotten by its companion. I was riding the bus back to Sasazuka, a residential district in Tokyo, when I saw the umbrella, jolting along with every bump on the road. For some reason it struck me as very sad, that umbrella, and the image stayed with me until Mariko’s story aligned with it, and then the two merged. Little images like that, which could mean nothing one day and then everything the next, are often the catalyst for small and big projects alike.

As for the novel I’m currently querying, the idea came from a dream, or at least, the moment before sleeping or waking–I’m can’t remember which. Sometimes the ideas are from dreams, from faces, from memories, and sometimes they’re from less romantic sources. Sometimes it’s because you hear something on the news, and it just makes you so angry. What can you do? You’re only a powerless girl with a pen. So you pick it up, and hope to make someone else feel something. Above all else, I hope to make others feel, question.

What's next for Krystal Song? Are you considering any publications?

Krystal: I am; nothing official as of yet, but hopefully I’ll have more news in the future.

Any final message for the members and readers of AmeriCymru?

Krystal: Keep writing! If you enjoy writing your story, chances are, someone out there will enjoy reading. J

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