Krys Lee was born in Seoul, South Korea, raised in California and Washington, and studied in the United States and England. She was a finalist for Best New American Voices, received a special mention in the 2012 Pushcart Prize XXXVI, and her work has appeared in the Kenyon Review, Narrative magazine, Granta (New Voices), California Quarterly, Asia Weekly, the Guardian, the New Statesman, and Conde Nast Traveller, UK (forthcoming). She lives in Seoul with intervals in San Francisco.

Short Story Collections

Drifting House
(Faber&Faber, 2012)

reviewed by Elaine Chiew

Interview with Krys Lee

The Short Review: How long did it take you to write all the stories in your collection?

Krys Lee: It's hard to say as The Salaryman was a very early one, five years before my agent sold Drifting House, and in between that time I stopped writing for up to six months at a time. I was afraid of turning writing into anything more serious than a hobby because then I could fail. Studying at the Warren Wilson MFA program slowly gave me permission to take writing seriously, which is one of the best reasons for studying in an MFA program. Two years after completing the program, I completed my collection and got a two book deal.

TSR: Did you have a collection in mind when you were writing them?

KL:  No. I hadn't intended on writing a story collection. I was teaching myself how to write fiction, as I'd mainly written poetry. The stories began to link organically by theme, history, and time, so I knew I'd created something resembling a collection. I probably would have begun toying with a novel-in-stories format if I'd started more consciously, but instead the connections between stories came organically. It's a rewarding way of discovering who you are as a writer.

TSR: How did you choose which stories to include and in what order?

KL: Choosing the stories was easy. The ones that were the most revised and touched on similar themes were included. The order was more difficult, as I'd wanted early on for the stories to work in reverse chronology. It seemed to me that all my characters were informed and changed by their past, so beginning in the present and having, story by story, the past of a person and a nation revealed, made sense to me. But stories are also like music with their light and darkness, connections and disconnections. There has to be just enough friction and harmony between the stories juxtaposed within a collection, and that can be tricky.

TSR: What does the word "story" mean to you?

KL:  Good question. For me, a story is a moment in time that captures change, but it could also be a change registered in decades. It's an attempt to characterize people and a time, and a measure of time itself. A story has the potential compression and lyricism of a poem and the expansiveness of a novel.

TSR: Do you have a reader in mind when you write stories?

KL: The readers most present as I write are poets, writers, and readers I respect most, both past and present. They’re the fiercest, most critical of jurors, shaking their heads at you with their arms and legs crossed in the same direction as you flail about on the page. Some might find this discouraging but I find failure oddly motivating. Knowing that I haven't reached their exacting standards keeps me writing, hoping the next story or novel will be the one to stop the head-shaking.
On another note, meeting readers in person is the most rewarding experience. It feels like a miracle - a small ecstatic exerience - to meet editors, booksellers, and later critics and bloggers who read and enjoyed Drifting House. I'm looking forward to meeting other readers on the book tour.

TSR: Is there anything you'd like to ask someone who has read your collection, anything at all?

KL: What did you like about Drifting House, and what do you think could have made it a better collection?

TSR: How does it feel knowing that people are buying your book?

KL: It's exciting. Again, that small miracle that I spoke of is what each reader is to a writer. It's also frightening, as fiction reflects so much of who you are, that even if the stories in Drifting House are only autobiographical in the most oblique sense, my obsessions and values are all too transparent.

TSR: What are you working on now?

KL: I'm revising a novel about the treacherous journey that North Koreans make from their country to a safe third country through China, where they are not recognized as political refugees. It's a darkly comic novel about society, surprising friendships, and corruption that brings together a motley crew of characters from the East and West.

TSR: What are the three most recent short story collections you've read?

KL: The Dead Fish Museum by Charles D'Ambrosio, Jesus' Son by Denis Johnson, the Selected Stories of Alice Munro. I'm preparing to teach a class so am rereading some old favorites.
find something to read: reviews
find something to read: interviews
find something to read: categories
find something to read: back issues
competitions & giveaways

Find out what other authors, from Aimee Bender to Sana Krasikov, said about their collections, what the word "story" means to them, and how it feels to know that people are buying your books! More interviews >>>