I Dream of Fire, Always

  • onNovember 22, 2017
  • Vol.37 Autumn 2017
  • byJeong You Jeong

It is said that most authors spend their entire lives writing variations of the same topic. Hemingway, for example, used a variety of structures and subject matter to depict people facing death; for Dickens, it was boys searching for their fathers; Stephen King writes about horror within the abyss of humankind. I don’t think of these variations as copies of the authors’ prior writing, but as a part of their “theme” as a writer. And my theme is the wild beasts within us all.

All of us humans hold two distinct spaces inside of us. One is an expansive plain, with golden light pouring out of it; the other, a forest of darkness, an abyss. The golden field fertilizes our lives and gives us dignity. It houses the metaphorical sheep that lead our world in the right direction. Love, happiness, hope, honesty, morality, altruism—those sorts of things live in this field. The darkened forest, on the other hand, is where the beasts that cause all manner of problems in our lives lie sleeping. Beasts like jealousy, envy, rage, loathing, disgust, lust, hedonism, terror, hopelessness, and violence . . .

I’m always wondering why this forest of darkness exists within us. On what day, for what reason, will the beasts confined in this forest open their eyes? What is it that will set fire in their blood? What force will stir up a blazing flame from their dormancy? What will happen when this force joins hands with the violence of fate? And will our own free will be strong enough to overcome the result?

A novel begins at the moment when I find a story through which I can ask these questions. It’s at that moment when my chest beats fast, and I grow feverish as if I’d just met my soulmate. My full attention is there, on the story. The world revolves around it alone, and I am entirely stuck in that world. It’s a moment of magic in which a story that shoots in like a meteor creates my universe.

In other words, my writing uses the enchantment of storytelling to wake the sleeping beasts in this forest of darkness. The characters in my stories aren’t special villains roaming around in some faraway world; they’re dramatic expansions of the beasts inside all of us. These beasts are familiar yet unknown beings, beings that make us feel anxiety and tension and wariness. The best way I can deal with these beasts is by writing thrillers.

There are two types of novels in which form itself is not the goal. The first are novels that make us think, and the second are novels that give us experiences. The former usually appeals to the intellect, and the latter is based on emotion. My novels belong to the latter group, and in order to make readers feel and experience them, I must first pull these readers into the worlds that my stories inhabit.

Once readers have entered my unfamiliar worlds, they come face-to-face with unbridled beasts. They follow the paths of these beasts, and through the conflicts and emotions and actions of these things that they had thought were so different from themselves, they discover a sort of shared human nature. This is the feeling we call empathy. It’s a tool, the moment that the reader becomes connected to these beasts, and the sole reason that he or she voluntarily becomes stuck in the world of the story.

Each time I write a novel, there are a few things for which I am desperately eager. I hope for my readers to be fully and truly swept up into the fire for the duration of the story. I hope that they will have vivid experiences with these strong feelings of rage, hopelessness, terror, sadness, grief, sympathy, and sentimentality. I hope that after their chests have burned black in the night, they’ll see the light of an exhausted dawn.

And that’s why I wake up alone at night, while everyone else is asleep, and seek fire. To quote Ray Bradbury, I want to let you, the reader, burn through me. 


by Jeong You Jeong

Author's Profile

Jeong You Jeong’s Seven Years of Darkness sold more than 500,000 copies in South Korea alone, and its German edition ranked ninth on the Zeit and Nordwestradio “Best Crime Fiction of December 2015” list. Her most recent work, The Good Son, climbed to the top of the bestseller list even before it was published, through pre-orders on South Korea’s major online bookstores. It was also voted first by readers on Kyobo Book Centre’s “Best Fiction of 2016” list. The English edition of the book is set to be published in 2018 by Little, Brown in the UK and Penguin Random House in the US. The thriller is also being adapted into a movie and plans are underway to turn it into a webtoon. Jeong’s novel 28, featured in this issue, plays out over twenty-eight days in a city caught up in the turmoil of a zoonotic epidemic that causes people’s eyes to turn red.