Since REBEL SEOUL comes out in almost two weeks (eek!), I figured I’d share with you the journey this book has gone on, from shiny new idea to a NEW VISION of the story to publication.
Once upon a time, I was a senior in college and had this dream (it was a real Stephenie Meyer-meadow moment). In the dream, a girl was standing at the top of the tallest building in Seoul. She was listening to a song as it drifted through the wind. She was crying. I, the dreamer, felt this deep ache in my soul because somehow I knew that this girl had never heard a song before. It made me think, who is she?
Fast-forward a year to 2013. I wrote the beginning of the novel that winter and submitted it to the SCBWI-LA Writer’s Day contest for feedback. It won first place in the YA category! Here’s what they had to say:
This compelling, literary sci-fi story begins at a concert in far-future Korea. With curfew fast-approaching, our narrator counts down the minutes he has left to talk to the girl who caught his eye before he mustflee the Dome. Sophisticated language and the author’s literary sensibility combine with a fresh, well-drawn setting in future-Korea to create a read that’s more like an experience. It feels both dreamy and like a slice of gritty reality, transporting the reader, while at the same time presenting three-dimensional characters you feel like you know, but you want to get to know better. This one stuck with me long after I finished reading.
You guys, I cried. And an agent requested the book at that conference after the judges read aloud this blurb – my first request ever! Of course, it was only two chapters long, but still!
That fall, I wrote the first half of the novel while living in a railroad-style apartment in Greenwich Village, NYC. My roommate was an actress! Also, she worked at a cupcake place and gave me free cupcakes. During the day, I was an intern at Folio Literary Management. At nights and on weekends, I wrote REBEL SEOUL (then called The Amaterasu Project), while consuming a lot of caffeine and becoming addicted to, then debut artists, BTS! (I pretty much wrote the first half of REBEL to BTS’s “school trilogy” and their cover of Mariah Carey’s “Beautiful.”)
After getting my first white hair ever,I decided to move back home to finish REBEL SEOUL, while also applying to graduate schools.
I finished REBEL that summer and started querying. Most, if not all the responses came back with: “Dystopia is dead” or “Dystopia is an oversaturated genre.” It made me think: why did I capitalize Dome and Tower in my first chapter?! Seriously though, it was very disheartening. Although my novel is a dystopia (in that the government is totalitarian), it’s also a sci-fi action novel with giant robots and K-drama bromance, and East Asian themes of Confucianism and nationalism. Now, WNDB-empowered Axie would say, “Maybe YA is oversaturated with dystopias with white protagonists, but that’s not my book!” Then, disheartened Axie, said, “They must be right. You know nothing, Axie Oh.” (This is an inaccurate representation because HBO’s Game of Thrones was not out then, but indulge me.)
As I was scrambling in this sad puddle of sadness, I came upon a brochure that I picked up at that year’s annual ALA conference in Las Vegas. It was for the New Visions Award. According to the brochure, any unpublished and unagented writer of color writing in the YA or MG genres could apply. I thought to myself, “Hey, that’s me!” Also, the previous year, I’d read DIVERSE ENERGIES (Tu Books, 2012), which contained a short story by one of my favorite authors: “Blue Skies” by Cindy Pon. I decided to apply to the award and comped my novel to “Blue Skies”! (**happy side note: Cindy later wrote me the most wonderful blurb for REBEL SEOUL**)
Fast forward to that winter, the 6 finalists were announced, and I was one of them! Then in early spring, I received a phone call from my soon-to-be-editor, Stacy Whitman, informing me that I had won the 2014 New Visions Award! (Though it was the 2014 New Visions Award, I received it in 2015).
I received my editorial letter the following year, and revised it through Spring-Summer 2016. We went through developmental edits, line edits, copy edits (twice! Once with the copyeditor, and once with a Korean copyeditor) and edits of the ARC. And now final copies are in the office, and I’m so excited!!!
This has been a long journey, but one I am so grateful for. Thank you to the team at Tu Books, who took a chance on me with the award, who have challenged me to become a better writer and person, and who are such advocates for diversity in children’s literature. REBEL SEOUL could not have found a better home with them, and I could not be more honored.
If you’re an unpublished and unagented author of color writing in the YA or MG genres, you can apply for the New Visions Award: HERE, open until Oct. 31, 2017. If you have any more questions, definitely check out their: FAQS PAGE. Lastly, the editors of Lee & Low Books and Tu Books did a webinar, which you can check out: HERE, where they explain what they’re looking for in New Visions and New Voices (for PBs) submissions.
Thank you all for reading, and I wish you luck on your own rebellious journeys!