Read and Dream

This interview is from March 2017 with ABC alum, Kate (Kyungmin) Lee who participated in a writing mentorship with our volunteer, Holly Ratcliff. Her story “Truth Be Told” won first place in the 11th/12th grade category of the Texas Book Festival’s 2018 Fresh Ink Fiction Contest. You can read her story here.

It’s hard to keep up with how much creative energy is flying around the Bat Cave! Here’s an inside look into the brilliant mind of one of our many inspiring Bat Cavers, Kate Lee. Kate participated in the one-on-one writing mentorship with Holly Rattcliffe back in 2016. Her contribution to the ABC Anthology, “Beethoven’s Symphony №5” is a true masterpiece, an enthralling tale that tackles some seriously brave and difficult topics with grace and humility. Kate somehow squeezed us into her crazy busy schedule as a full-time student and prolific author to answer some of our most burning questions.

ABC: So Kate, tell us a little bit about yourself as a person and as an author!

KL: I’m 15, and currently a sophomore at Westwood High School. I am South Korean and was born in Seoul, and my family moved here when I was 4. I love anything that has to do with language and telling stories and my favorite subjects in school are English, History, and French. When I’m not swamped in homework, you can usually find me reading, writing “artsy” poems on my balcony, blogging, or looking at fashion blogs for hours on end. When I was younger, I said I wanted to be a writer, but now I’ve widened my dream job to anything that involves books. So publisher, editor, librarian, professor, author, anything is fine. I hope to major in English in the future and would love to live in NYC some day. A random fact most people don’t know about me is my obsession with the musical Les Miserables. Oh, and I’m a Slytherin!

ABC: What was your inspiration for “Beethoven’s Symphony №5”?

KL: For a while, I was more fascinated with themes and concepts than the actual characters or stories themselves. So I explored the effects of art, music, books on people who were so immersed in these worlds they were inseparable from their actual lives. I also wanted to explore the sisters’ relationship. I feel like when someone has always been larger than life and annoyingly perfect like Cassie was, it’s almost more difficult to watch them fall apart. So combining those two ideas, I began writing. The music and the sisters went so well together- eventually, it was the music that connected them and brought them back together.

ABC: What was the writing process like? Did you hit any roadblocks along the way?

KL: Most of my short stories have been written in one sitting. I love to get lost in a story completely, so I’ll set out a few hours to write everything I have, start to finish. I remember writing Beethoven’s Symphony №5 was the same thing; one Sunday morning, I just sat down and began to write. For me, the most difficult process is always editing, but I find it works best when you let the piece sit on the back-burner for a month and come back. Holly from ABC was also such a great help during that process. The biggest “roadblock” was probably discovering a movement to fit the tempo of the piece as it built up and resolved. I had to ask a lot of my Orchestra friends, because being in Choir, I had no idea how movements in a symphony worked. But once I found Beethoven’s Symphony №5, it was incredible.

ABC: Your piece is deeply personal. Was this your first experience writing about such a personal topic? Do you find it easier or harder to write about personal experiences?

KL: I had written short stories about the Holocaust and the effects of bipolar disorder before, for submissions to contests, so I did feel like there was a certain level of confidence I had about writing such personal stories. However, I feel like it’s important to emphasize that I did not suffer the Holocaust, I don’t have bipolar or schizophrenia, and none of my close family does either. So although writing the actual story and getting to the core of grief and closure comes easier to me as a writer than maybe other topics, I am also careful to make sure it is accurate and not just painting a stereotype. So for some of the stories, I have talked to friends who have mental illnesses or have family who does to make sure I am telling the closest to the truth I can. But I do love writing about personal experiences because those are what create a character and what make a story powerful.

ABC: The musical metaphor plays a powerful role in your story. Clearly, writing plays a similarly powerful role in your own life. When did you first start writing creatively? What do you like about writing?

KL: I made my own books starting in Kindergarten, out of construction paper and markers. But I think I really said I wanted to be a writer in second grade, after attending the Badgerdog camp here in Austin. After that, it was a hobby throughout elementary school, but I found in middle school, my friends who had enjoyed it before were moving on to other things. And I wasn’t. So that’s when I realized this love was something special to only a few of us. I like writing for so many reasons. It is largely therapeutic for me; whenever I feel like I need to get something off my chest, I turn that into a poem, or a story, or forget about the problem writing something else. It is also the most personal art form, in my opinion. A collection of words can make someone laugh, cry, or change their life completely. To just be a little part of that is so amazing. I love that it can heal and help me as much as it can heal and help other people. I also just love everyone who I’ve ever met that’s a writer. The community is one of the most accepting, creative, and groundbreaking of any group out there.

ABC: Were you happy with how the piece turned out? Did you share the piece with your family? If so, what did they think of it?

KL: I did really like it when I finished it. Recently I’ve found that because my writing style and taste changes so quickly, I usually end up disliking everything I wrote more than 6 months ago. That being said, I felt really proud of telling a story that I didn’t know if I’d be able to tell. I actually submitted the piece to the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, where it got a Gold Key, so that was pretty awesome as well. I think my parents especially found meaning because I have a little sister as well, so they saw my depiction of a sister relationship and that was special to them.

ABC: What’s the best advice someone has ever given you about writing?

KL: I have this quote posted on my wall: “You can’t say, I won’t write today because that excuse will extend into several days, then several months, then… you are not a writer anymore, just someone who dreams about being a writer.” — D.C. Fontana

ABC: Any advice you’d want to share with other aspiring authors?

KL: Read well. I don’t know if I’m in a position to share writing advice, because my whole process is still very much that of an amateur, but reading has been more beneficial to my writing than anything else. Being a writer just makes you notice these powerful minuscule moments. The other day, I was reading a scene where the characters are escaping their house and the father told his daughter to use the restroom because they wouldn’t be able to for a while. Such a small thing, but I was amazed that the author thought to include that. With that small dialogue, the scene just became so real. Also, find a community of writers! I have a very sturdy group of friends that also enjoy writing and act as great critiquers, and I found them through various library programs and different summer camps.

ABC: What is your favorite book and why?

KL: My favorite book of all time has to be The Book Thief, followed closely by The Shadow of the Wind (I have reread The Book Thief multiple times, but have only read The Shadow of the Wind once). Both books combine everything I love about literature: novel form, incredible characters, lyrical language, books, and historical fiction. They are both literary works I respect so highly I believe that if in my lifetime I could produce just one book that was so fully developed and well-written as them, I could die happy.

ABC: Can you give us a sneak peek into the writing you’re currently working on (pretty please!?)

KL: Currently, I am working on a few things! In my creative writing class at school, I am putting together a few short stories of different genres. I also hope to publish a small poetry collection at some time, and am trying to crank out as much work as possible, so there’s more to narrow down. For a larger project, I have been developing a novel using magical realism and Korean history to show the atrocities of war and hate, but that is still in the baby stage.

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As Kate mentioned, words have a powerful effect on people. Kate’s words have certainly inspired us, and we are incredibly lucky to have her as part of the ABC family. We can’t wait to see Kate’s name on the bookshelves! In the meantime, you can keep up with some of Kate’s creative pursuits on her awesome blog Read and Dream.