Susan Lee’s debut novel Seoulmates is an ode to all things romance as estranged childhood best friends Hannah Cho and Jacob Kim reconnect over one hectic summer filled with San Diego sites, memories, and more surprises than the best K-drama. I got to read Seoulmates early for a panel I moderated in May for SLJ’s Day of Dialog (read the recap) and knew I had to ask Susan to chat on the blog about her swoony debut.
Miss Print: Can you tell me a bit about your path as a writer? How did you get to this point?
Susan Lee: I hadn’t set out be a writer. In fact, it wasn’t something even on my radar as I’d already built a pretty long career in corporate America. But, as I started to read more and more, my own stories started swirling around in my head! I wrote my first completed manuscript in 2018, which got my into the mentorship program Pitch Wars, and eventually allowed me to sign with my first agent. My career has taken some twists and turns in the few short years I’ve been writing, but I feel like every one of those steps was going down the right path for me!
Miss Print: What was the inspiration for Seoulmates? Your book alternates between Hannah and Jacob’s narrations–did you always know you’d follow both characters? How did you decide which parts would be from which point of view?
Susan Lee: I just wanted to write a romance about 2 Korean American teens. That was the original base of the inspiration. But it all came about during the rise of BTS’ global phenomenon…and as I was dealing with my own “identity crisis” of sorts surrounding all of this, I started writing these bits and pieces into the story. I read a lot of adult Romance and alternating POV’s is much more prevalent in those books. So it felt natural for me to do this.
Miss Print: In Seoulmates we see Hannah reconnecting with her Korean culture including Korean foods like kimchi while Jacob tries to recapture his childhood in San Diego with a bucket list including a search for the perfect California Burrito. Can you talk about how you integrated food into your stories? How did you choose the dishes you highlight?
Susan Lee: LOOK..FOOD IS LIFE. ha! When I go on vacation to other places, I look first to where I want to eat before researching what I want to see! :) Also, food plays such a huge part in family dynamics in Korean culture. So yeah, I was pretty sure food was gonna be its own character in the book!
Miss Print: Who was the hardest character to write? Who was the easiest?
Susan Lee: Hannah flowed very naturally for me as I wrote her chapters. I wouldn’t say she IS me…but there’s a lot of myself in her. Snark, abandonment issues, the tendency to push people away instead of face the emotions. I LOVE HER. :) Jacob wasn’t hard to write, per se, but I did want very much to get a male “voice” correct. I wanted to write a tender, kind, strong lead…who was vulnerable but reliable. I LOVE HIM. :)
Miss Print: We’re living in a strange time with the pandemic as we all continue to wear masks, practice social distancing, and work together to stop the spread of Covid-19. How would Hannah and Jacob be handling the pandemic?
Susan Lee: Cue scene…and action! “Hey you idiot, why aren’t you wearing a mask? Can’t you see we’re indoors and there are a lot of people here?” My voice gets louder with every word, but I can’t help myself. Why can’t people just try? “Hannah.” Jacob’s kind voice pulls me from my rage and he gently squeezes my arm. “But Jacob…” I whine. I know he won’t judge me for getting angry. In fact, I know he agrees with me. But we just communicate…differently. “All we can do is wear our masks and protect ourselves. Let’s grab the stuff our moms put on the shopping list and get out of here,” he says. Voice of reason. “Fine,” I grumble. “But can we get McDonalds soft serve cones on the way home?” His smile spreads slowly and it makes me all gooey inside. I’m such a sap. “Yeah, we can do that,” he says. And suddenly I forget why I’m so angry. He’s right, we can only do our best to get through these hard times. No use getting angry at everyone else. I hold back the swoony deep sigh I’m tempted to let out any time I think of Jacob Kim. I look down at my mom’s chicken scratch on her shopping list and lead the way to the eggs.
Miss Print: Both Hannah and Jacob are struggling with some big questions in this story while they try to figure out if they’re enough of any one thing for themselves, their friends, and the people they choose to love. What is some advice you would have given your characters or advice you wish you’d received as a teen when you might have had similar questions?
Susan Lee: I think I was one of those teens (and adults, frankly) that always wanted to get it right. That needed a plan. That was driven. But what I’ve come to realize as I’ve gotten older, as those plans have often changed or fallen by the wayside, as I’ve failed many times in life and not gotten it “right” is that we need to show ourselves a lot more grace. It’s okay. We’re okay.
Miss Print: What does a typical writing day look like for you? Has this changed in light of the pandemic?
Susan Lee: I honestly don’t have a “typical”. I don’t always write in the mornings or in the evenings or even at all some days. I spend most days thinking of writing (ha!). But honestly, I’m a “when the inspiration strikes me” type of writer. So I sit and wait. I stress. I daydream. I procrastinate. And then…when the time is right…I write.
Miss Print: Can you tell me anything about what you’re currently working on?
Susan Lee: It’s a YA contemporary romance with 2 Korean teens from very different backgrounds…but that’s about all I can share right now! ha! I think it’s SUPER cute and funny and I love it!
Miss Print: Do you have any advice to offer aspiring authors?
Susan Lee: WRITE YOUR STORIES! It’s the most basic advice…but everything hinges on you WRITING YOUR STORY. So, when things seem overwhelming and there’s too much to think about, bring it back to the core…WRITE YOUR STORY! :)
Thank you to Susan for taking the time to answer my questions. You can find out more about Susan and her books on her website.
You can read my review of Seoulmates here on the blog.