Paul Yoon launched his short story collection The Mountain at Greenlight Bookstore last week. He was joined in conversation by Katie Kitamura, author of A Separation. The six stories in Yoon’s collection move eastward and forward in time as the collection progresses.
Yoon’s initial interest was in how information is instantly available. Today, events around the globe, especially violent events, are instantly accessible to everyone. He wanted to write a book that was set all over the world to have the reader experience that kind of information access.
The collection begins in the Hudson Valley and moves eastward. He placed pushpins on a map to determine where the stories were set. “It was as simple as a world map on the wall,” he explains.
The structure created a formal constraint, and one that he found helpful in conceptualizing the stories. “To say I’m going to write about the world is so ridiculous.”
The rules also gave him courage allowing him to focus. Also they helped make him aware of all the places he was not writing about.
As he was writing the stories, he trusted in the places he was writing about. Only later did he see through lines in the stories to form a collection. He realized afterward that he probably had specific preoccupations that he was fixated on while writing the collection and these themes emerged throughout the stories.
While writing this collection, Yoon was thinking about trauma and violence. For many of his characters, they have endured trauma that they cannot process so they end up lashing out in a violent way.
The earliest stories in the collection are about fleeing, while the later stories are about circling back home. It was a relief, he says, to return the stories back to the Hudson Valley.
When writing about foreign places, Yoon acknowledges the potential to get things wrong: “you are aware of betraying a city that exists.”
Writing requires risk taking. “I was very scared writing this,” he explains adding that letting himself go was incredibly freeing. Yoon goes through dozens of pages getting to know his characters, and says he understands the impulse to write hundreds of pages as a way of finding the story. There are many stories that can be told when creating one.
“I’m always thinking about the book I wrote before and trying to do something different.”
When his writing requires a deeper knowledge than he already knows, such as about historical events, he says he first finishes the story and then looks into what needs to be corrected. “I think if I begin with research it would paralyze me,” he explains.
Yoon had earned a fellowship to the New York Public Library that allowed him to write much of the collection. As a writer, he’s spent a lot of time in the past scrambling between day jobs, but with the fellowship, it allowed him time. He didn’t want to squander it.
“I was going to do what I wanted.”
Since reading from Snow Hunters, Paul Yoon has release The Mountain and Run Me To Earth. Support English Kills Review by purchasing books through our Bookshop.org affiliate links.