[Web Exclusive] Interview with Chung Serang: An Uncategorized and Uncategorizable Writer
- onJune 11, 2020
- Vol.48 Summer 2020
- byKorean Literature Now
KLN: When did you first decide to become a novelist?
Chung: After university, I began working as an editor for a literary magazine. It was as if the job offered real-time viewings of contemporary literature freshly coming into existence. During those days, I devoured modern Korean literature like an eager caterpillar. I was rotated through several different divisions. I worked in the Eastern classics division for some time, and then in the foreign literature division. I put together all kinds of books, including anthologies of poetry, short story collections and cookbooks. But the one that influenced me the most was the magazine. That’s why literary magazines are important.
KLN: You’ve gained a large fan base. How do you account for your popularity?
Chung: My novels make a good reading at the end of a long tiring day. I think they’ve reached out to those in need of such stories. I write light-hearted popular literature. And I actually enjoy it very much. So, I think I've found my rightful place as a writer. At any rate, writers and readers with similar sentiments recognize one another from afar and make connection. That’s why I often talk about the things I like.
KLN: You write about diverse subject matters. What kind of world do you aim to convey in your works?
Chung: Books are a slow medium—the medium with the slowest feedback. Yet, I think readers seek a better world than the one we live in. Books are read and written by people who mull over how to steer our world in a better direction. Books may seem disconnected, but they are a highly connected medium, which can turn into a conversation in the long run. Our answers or differing opinions are likely to become more and more connected in the future. For that reason, I usually write about beliefs or the next way forward.
KLN: Your previous novel about a pandemic is not far off from the present reality. What do you think about that?
Chung: I wrote a pandemic story back in January. To my surprise, it overlaps a bit with what has happened since then. I’ve long been interested in zoonoses. Last winter and even before that, diseases from pigs and wild boars caused trouble for many people. On the news, the domains of wildlife, livestock and human life appeared highly interrelated. We must think about it carefully. Has the world become too damaged for us to retain our ways of living? Other genre writers had already explored this question extensively, and I just followed suit.
KLN: When we discuss universality or contemporary empathy, which works come to your mind?
Chung: I have a soft spot for stories about how society functions. For example, Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence shows some striking similarities with the present time. That’s what appeals to me. People of the past weren’t vastly different from us today. We turn to classics to learn that life a century or two ago was still very much the same.
Albert Camus’ The Plague is a number one bestseller at the moment. I find it fascinating that my books are placed alongside not just contemporary works but also the revived classic by Camus. I’m constantly amazed by the power of narrative that transcends time and space.
KLN: A TV adaptation of School Nurse Ahn Eunyoung will soon be released on Netflix (title: The School Nurse Files). Please tell us about the work.
Chung: At first, I began writing The Scholl Nurse Files with a light heart. An ordinary school nurse turns out to be an exorcist. She protects her students without seeking any money or honor in return. It’s the story of one grown-up’s charitable goodwill towards minors. Despite the absence of reward, some people in this world keep up their acts of kindness. The novel touches on several aspects of Korean society. I’ve been fully involved in the process of dramatization. It’s a wholly different approach. When you write a novel, although you consult and get help from your editors, you have total control over every single detail. For a TV series, you provide the basic framework onto which other experts add their own interpretations. It is a collaborative effort whereby those in charge of directing, wardrobe, set design, lighting, and filming all bring in their own ideas. Therefore, the work is both mine and not mine. It is fun and challenging at the same time. In the future, I’ll continue to write scripts for myself or others. I expect it’ll have various effects on my fiction, so I’ll see how it goes.
KLN: Please tell us about your future plans as a writer.
Chung: I hope to continue writing for many years to come. But I understand that’s not just up to me. If possible, I’d like to keep growing and evolving as a writer. I aspire to become a writer who cannot be summarized—a writer who exists outside all categories and expands the boundaries of Korean literature.
English subtitles translated by Helen Cho
Chung Serang (b. 1984) debuted in 2010 with the story “Dream, Dream, Dream” in the SF fantasy magazine Fantastique. Her first novel, Show Me Your Snaggletooth, incorporated stories ranging from science fiction to the historical. Her second novel, Hana from Earth, was an ecological SF love story. She received the Changbi Prize in Fiction in 2013 for As Close as This and the Hankook Ilbo Literary Award in 2017 for Fifty People. Her other popular works include Jaein, Jaewook, Jaehoon, a story about three siblings with minor superpowers, and School Nurse Ahn Eunyoung, a story about a school nurse who performs exorcisms. Her latest novel, From Sisun, comes out in June 2020. She has also published two short collections: See You on the Rooftop and I’ll Give You My Voice. As Close as This (CUON, 2015) and Fifty People (Akishobo, 2018) have been translated into Japanese. School Nurse Ahn Eunyoung has been published in Japan (Akishobo, 2020) and Taiwan (The Commercial Press, 2020), and is set to air as a Netflix Korea Original, titled The School Nurse Files, in 2020.