[Web Exclusive] Interview with Kim Bong-gon: For me, writing is a private, convenient art

  • onJune 26, 2019
  • Vol.44 Summer 2019
  • byKim Bong-gon




1. You usually reveal yourself in writing. Why?


 I don’t claim to know all of the properties of literature, but writers have a tendency to go against the flow of the world. This might be how they integrate non-literary elements into literature. Simply put, they are not willing to conform. The writing scene wasn’t as harsh as the 1980s when I started, but my I-novel style was criticized as deviating from the conventions of fiction.

While films are created in the third person, using narration is treated like a taboo. Some go as far as to say, “Why make a film if you’re going to say everything? Isn’t that a novel?” From another perspective, I believe it’s important to visualize scenes when reading fiction. I think I-novels grew popular because of the inclination to act contrary to current trends. Down the road, those who become tired of this style might come up with a different genre. This may be realized by others, or even me.


2. What made you switch to writing after majoring in film?

 I didn’t decide to write at once. It’s a decision I seem to have made over time. I attended a mandatory writing class in my first year as a filmmaking major, and it was taught by the novelist Jeong Yi Hyun. I learned about the joys of writing, but it wasn’t enough to make me want to write. But the following year, I found myself continuing to look for writing classes. Every semester and every year, I asked myself why I’m drawn more to writing than film, why I want to write, and whether I can stop filmmaking. Looking back, I think I eventually decided to write so that I could whisper my private stories into the ears of readers, like the narration of a film made by just one person.


3. Do you apply film techniques in writing?

The techniques that influence my writing mostly come from what I learned in film editing. Each scene is filmed separately, and the scenes are placed on the timeline of an editing software. They are numbered but not necessarily linear in sequence. You can have scene A followed by scene E, and it can become a story. In this sense, I see writing as a form of time art. You don’t have to write everything from start to finish. It’s alright to jump between scenes. That’s what I learned from film editing.

I also developed a habit. Location is key in filmmaking, and I tend to write better when I’ve been to the place where the story is set. This explains why most of my stories are set in Jongno, Gwanghwamun, and Hapjeong. For the same reason, I cannot write science fiction.


4. The keywords you chose for Summer, Speed were “queer,” “liberal arts,” and “romance.” Can you pick a work that reflects all three? 

The story that represents all three keywords is “College Folk,” the first short story in Summer, Speed. I’m a writer who is constantly being chased by deadlines. “College Folk” was different in that I poured my heart and soul into it while taking my time. It’s the first story where I combined fiction with my experiences. (07:40) The events that took place in Kyoto are fiction, and the part about the ex-boyfriend is my own. In sum, “College Folk” is the story that contains my three favorite elements: queer, liberal arts, and romance.


5. What is your greatest concern in writing?

It boils down to me as the protagonist versus me as the writer. It’s about how much of me to put in. The biggest issue for me was adjusting this to the right amount. In my debut piece “Auto,” I kept it at 99.9%. In “College Folk,” it’s 50-50. I mostly think about how much of me to put in, how much of me to reflect, and the games that readers can play as they get to know me. (10:53) I think this applies to writers of autofiction or those who write as “I.” When you begin to write, you have many “I”s to talk about, so you don’t get tired of it. But when this goes on, the writer will be the first to feel repulsed, more so than the readers. It’s very important to mix it up, to give it variation, and to keep yourself at the right dose.


6. Your queer love stories have expanded the scope of the romance genre in Korea. Do you feel any pressure?

Writers of queer fiction feel pressure in one way or the other. First, there’s labeling. No matter what you write, you will be labeled as a queer writer. It’s unfair, and sometimes, overwhelming. But there’s not much you can do about it. (12:38) More important than labeling, and also pressure-related, is to withstand the internal pressure as a writer. How can I write better? How can I convey what I have seen and felt? You should be able to handle this kind of pressure, and continue writing anyway.


7. Does working as an editor help in writing?

I have gained a lot from editing. I’m usually in charge of editing poetry, and reading poems feels like a breath of fresh air. To write is to know how to see, and I sometimes learn this from poets. I’m pretty responsive to words. I have a keen sense for words, and it’s exciting to re-discover their meaning. I make a note of words I find appealing in poetical works, and mix them up in my own writing.


8. The translation of Summer, Speed is underway. You’ll soon get to meet foreign readers at the upcoming translation workshop in Italy. How do you feel?

It’s truly amazing. Compared to other writers, I have thought of myself as having a narrower readership. Having my works read outside of classrooms I teach in, to as far as the other side of the world, is not something I’ve imagined. It feels good, and I’m curious about how my writing will be perceived among foreign readers with a different outlook on literature.


9. Can you tell us about your upcoming works?

I plan to write my first long fiction at the end of this year or sometime next year. It will be titled Last Love Song, which is the same as one of the short stories in my first book. I feel like it’s the best fitting title.  

The story revolves around three characters: Yutaka Ozaki, a Japanese singer who died young; the late poet Ki Hyung-do; and the protagonist who is a graduate student studying Korean language and literature. They are set ten years apart, but I’ll intertwine them into one story—Last Love Song.


10. Is there anything you’d like to say to your readers?

 A part of me knows I’m a writer who does not write for the readers. I will write solely for myself. Likewise, I hope you will read and enjoy for yourself only. Thank you.


Kim Bong-gon has authored the short story collection, Summer, Speed. He attended the Korea National University of Arts, graduating from the film academy and then the graduate program in creative writing. His career began in 2016 after he won the Dong-A Ilbo New Writer’s Contest for “Auto.” He was a finalist for the Lee Hyo-seok Literary Award and Munhakdongne Young Writer' s Award.