Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Member Appreciation Month: Eugenia Kim

I read somewhere that the chance of getting published these days is like having two marbles meet in the middle after being shot from opposite ends of a basketball court. I can’t calculate those odds, but I can count the numbers behind my book. It began twelve years ago at The Writer’s Center. I’d been scribbling memoir and family stories, and somehow the pen wanted to do things I didn’t understand. And I wanted the pen to do things I couldn’t manage.

A writer colleague (I was a graphic designer) and friend, Beth Baker, told me about TWC. I enrolled in a beginner’s fiction class with instructor Patricia Elam and learned about craft and workshop. I have since been subjected to a variety of writing workshops, and am convinced that TWC’s focus on encouragement and constructive criticism is the best of this method. The experience seeded a new reality: perhaps I could be a writer.

After the class’s ten weeks, I joined a group that met monthly at the Center. My writing improved, as did my desire to pursue stories that had first inspired me. A stint at Hurston-Wright Foundation’s Writer’s Week opened my writing to new possibilities—and spurred me toward an MFA. I spent two intense years in the low-residency program at Bennington College, and asked and answered the question: am I a novelist, memoirist or essayist? I graduated as a reader and writer.

I subscribed to writers’ magazines and pored through the calls for submissions. I lurked in the TWC shop to find literary journals whose editorial bent I admired. Subtracting the many-rejections from the many-submissions-made yielded a handful of published pieces. I had more success with placing memoir in anthologies, but two stories landed happily in two minor journals. I worked on my novel, which after ten years of research, writing and staying alive with family and job, grew into a 500-page behemoth.

During the year it took to find an agent, I constantly revised my manuscript, my query package and my expectations. (See The Writer's Digest blog here.) I sent out 47 queries and decided that at 50 I would give up. Of those 47 queries, 17 agents asked to see more, proving at least that my query was effective. Then, one of my stories in the “minor” journal attracted an agent’s attention, and after a short dance, I signed on with Sobel & Weber Associates.

Another year passed with three revisions of my novel before Judith Weber decided to schedule it for bidding. Thirteen editors expressed interest, yet only one bid came in. But it was The One—editor Helen Atsma from Henry Holt who “absolutely loved the book.” Almost two years and three additional revisions later, the book was published as Holt’s lead fall title.

We aren’t marbles rolling aimlessly across a floor. All those numbers, those years, tuition dollars, revisions, all that angst, persistence and work—that’s how one writer, one agent and one publisher found each other.


Eugenia Kim is the daughter of Korean immigrant parents who came to America shortly after the Pacific War. She has published short stories and essays in journals and anthologies, including Echoes Upon Echoes: New Korean American Writings, and is an MFA graduate of Bennington College. She lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband and son. The Calligrapher’s Daughter is her first novel. Visit her Web site.

1 comment:


Eugenia: Thanks for that story--it is enlightening and inspiring! I am so impressed with your determination and love hearing stories about writers who publish first books in their 40s! Congrats! --Heather Davis