Tag Archives: author

Writing Outside the Box

Meet Emma Choi

Written by K.L. Kranes

Talking with 18-year-old Emma Choi of Vienna, Virginia feels a bit like jumping into an episode of Gilmore Girls. If you are unfamiliar with the iconic TV show, it is about two fast-talking ladies who throw around references to things like pop culture, philosophy and books so quickly even the best viewers can’t catch them all. 

During our phone interview, Emma’s words and ideas swirl so fast in my ear my nimble little typing fingers can barely keep up. When she starts listing off her writing resume, I have to ask her to stop and repeat. The list is long, especially for someone so young. 

  • An off-Broadway play performed in New York. Two plays performed at DC’s Capital Fringe Fest, one of which one the “best of ” week. 
  • Gold and silver medal winner of the American Voices Award for Poetry. 
  • Commended Foyle Young Poet. 
  • Winner National Young Arts Foundation Honorable Mention. 
  • Winner Asian Pacific American Heritage Month Young Creator Contest. 

During our interview, I quip that Emma is quite the overachiever. But Emma doesn’t agree. 

“I’ve never thought about it as being an overachiever. I do a lot of contests because I want to challenge myself,” Emma explains. 

In fact, Emma is very humble when it comes to her writing. Whenever my questions turn to her achievements, her voice leaps from overdrive to hyper-speed and she quickly tries to change the topic. Emma is much more comfortable talking about literature, her writing process or diversity in books. 

Perhaps this is because Emma has a writer’s soul. She understands a writer’s purpose isn’t to shine the light on herself but to shine it on the truth. Uncovering truth is one of the reasons Emma plans to major in writing in college despite the well-known struggles that scare many writers into safer academic pursuits. 

“A lot of people frown on me when I tell them I want to be a writer,” Emma says. “They don’t realize the impact of writers on the world. Science changes but certain truths in writing always stay the same. I think writers show others their own subjective truths in the hope that it’ll resonate with someone else.” 

For Emma, writing helps her process her emotions and sort through the complicated layers of the world. She focuses on discovering her own truths, particularly what it means to be an Asian American. Emma struggles with straddling the culture of her family’s Korean past with the culture of their Western present. 

“It’s like being a child of two worlds and not really belonging to one,” she explains. 

Growing up, literature did little to help Emma make sense of her identity, if anything it further complicated her search. 

“As a reader I grew up on the classics and so many of the classics are by white men. I’m trying to reconcile how can my influences be who they are if I am who I am,” Emma says. 

It is not surprising Emma views the recent focus on diverse women writers as an important shift in the literary world. She looks up to writers like Roxane Gay and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who help bring diverse female voices to the forefront. Emma hopes to add her voice to the chorus one day. However, perhaps not in the way most people expect. 

“It’s a great time to be an Asian-American and a woman writer. People really care and want to hear about your experience,” Emma says. “But with that kind of attention comes expectations about the kind of work you put out.” 

As a minority, Emma explains, writing can become a vicious circle where simply by writing about not wanting to be defined by race, a writer ends up being defined by race. Emma doesn’t want to be, “stuck in a box by people who want you to write about being stuck in a box.” Emma wants to be outside the box. She wants to define the box, regardless of sex or race or ethnicity. 

“I don’t want to be one of the best women or Asian-American writers. I want to be one of the great writers. Period,” she says. 

This is not surprising coming from a young woman who started an underground satirical newspaper at her high school after being denied permission at every level of county administration. Determined, hard-working and driven, Emma is one of only two students at her high school to be accepted to Harvard, which is another accolade she tries to slip in at Gilmore Girl speed. 

If Emma had a motto, it would be ‘don’t stop’. 

“I tend to barrel headfirst into things and I don’t stop until I’m done. Resilience is one thing I like to pride myself on,” Emma explains. 

That said, Emma has no plans to overlook the importance of diversity. She feels writing about diverse topics drives forward acceptance and awareness and she wants to be part of that movement. 

“I made a pact with myself to make all my characters a person of color or a woman,” she explains. 

It is very likely Emma’s social awareness, drive for self-improvement and search for truth may just be the perfect combination for success as a professional author. 

“I love that writing lets me be in a space with no rules— where I can experiment and play with language in ways I wouldn’t normally,” she says. 

She certainly already sounds like one.

 

K.L. Kranes is a blogger and author of young adult novels. Her debut novel, The Travelers, was published in 2016 by Saguaro Books, LLC. See more from K.L. at www.klkranes.com/blog. 

Young Female Writers Club

Better on Paper: An Introverted Teen Writer 

Written by K.L. Kranes

Hannah stands in the middle of the hall and pulls out a notebook, fumbling for a pen. She can’t wait. She has to write it down now. 

Pressing the notebook against the wall, she begins to write. The idea flows out as her hand scribbles fast across the paper. When she’s done, her shoulders relax.  She stuffs the notebook back in her bag and sets off to class.

At 16-years-old, Hannah Mullen of Mechanicsville, Virginia often feels this grip of an idea and the compulsive need to get it out on paper. On paper she can be herself. On paper is where she feels safe.

“I definitely use writing to work through my emotions,” she explains. “I use my notebooks for everything. I have a reading log in the front. I doodle. I write. It’s usually just whenever and wherever I get inspiration.”

Although Hannah is a writer, she doesn’t necessarily want to make an impression. She would probably rather tiptoe through life making no noticeable divots in the fabric of the world, at least not until she first gave each step a great deal of thought. But, whether she wanted to or not, Hannah made an impression on the Hanover Writers Club. Even three years after she stopped attending meetings, they still remember her, the 12-year-old girl working on her first novel. 

When I ask Hannah why she decided to write and publish a novel, she replies, “I just woke up one day and decided this is what I wanted to do.” 

Two years after starting the novel, at age 13, Hannah self-published Experimentals on Amazon. She didn’t think anyone would read it. But attention and accolades do not seem to matter much to Hannah. 

In fact, it becomes clear early in our interview that Hannah doesn’t like to talk about herself or tout her accomplishments. I get the sense she would rather have her nose in a book than be on the phone with me. Regardless, she is gracious and witty, even if a bit reticent. 

“I’ve always loved books,” she says. At the beginning of our interview, Hannah answers my questions with these types of brief answers. 

I quickly realize, Hannah, like many writers, is introverted. I ask her, “You don’t trust easily do you?” She answers, “No.”

I feel an instant kinship with Hannah as I too have introverted tendencies. By the end of the interview, I think I have won her trust, but I’m not certain. 

Once Hannah gets more comfortable with me, her personality begins to shine through. Although I can’t see her expressions, I imagine she is not quick with a smile, but when she gives one, it is meaningful.

“Sometimes I will go a whole day without saying a word,” Hannah tells me. “People expect me to talk. I don’t mind presentations or anything of the sort but socially I’m a wreck. People think just because I don’t talk to them it means I don’t like them.”

Writing helps Hannah cope with the social pressures of being an introvert in an extroverted world. When she writes, Hannah can carefully craft her words in a way that eludes her when speaking. 

“I can erase my writing and I cannot erase what I said. Sometimes I don’t think before I speak, but writing forces me to think,” she says.

Although introverted, Hannah doesn’t spend her days hiding in her room. She has starred in theater productions since she was 8-years-old and takes part in her high school theater program. It isn’t the spotlight that unnerves Hannah, it is not being prepared for it. 

“In my head, things aren’t really thought out. It’s big word vomit,” she says. “I like acting because I don’t have to think about what I say.”

Hannah’s thoughtful mind translates to a thoughtful person. Once Hannah opens up during our interview, it becomes clear she has a big heart. 

“I’ve always been drawn to helping people,” she says. 

In fact, although Hannah finds writing therapeutic, she doesn’t want to be a writer as her profession. It is partially practical. She knows the obstacles and difficulties writers face. Hannah is content writing for herself and pouring her emotions into her notebooks or her poetry blog, https://angsty-teen-poetry.tumblr.com. 

Hannah is more interested in helping people than gathering followers on Snapchat or Instagram. She donates her time at a nearby hospital, assisting with discharges and stocking the pharmacy, while dreaming of one day becoming a pediatrician. Her voice thrums with excitement when she talks about being accepted into a program called SODA (Student Organization for Developing Attitudes), which helps teach 4th graders how to deal with peer pressure. 

Speaking with Hannah reminds me that writing is not just about getting published or how many people follow your blog. Writing is a deeply personal experience. Hannah doesn’t want to just be known as a girl who wrote and published a book before she was even in high school. She would rather be known for her thoughtfulness and how she helped people. She may feel better on paper, but I think we would all feel better if we viewed the world a bit more like Hannah.