ON THE COUCH ... Paul YOON
PAUL YOON was born in New York City. He attended Phillips Exeter Academy and Wesleyan University. His fiction has appeared in One Story, Ploughshares, Post Road, Salamander, Glimmer Train, TriQuarterly, American Short Fiction, The Best American Short Stories 2006 (ed. Ann Patchett), The PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories 2009 (ed. Laura Furman), and elsewhere. His début short-story collection, Once the Shore, was published by Sarabande Books in April 2009.
Tell me something about yourself.
I’m currently living in the mountains of western North Carolina with my girlfriend, in a beautiful house on a hill, working on a new book.
I am always interested in the kinds of books writers read during their formative years. What kinds of books did you read when you were growing up? Who are some of your literary influences? Who are some of your favourite authors?
I read everything while growing up, literally. My influences and favourites are international: John Berger, Kazuo Ishiguro, Alistair MacLeod, Michael Ondaatje, Per Petterson, John Williams, and so on.
Could you tell me a bit about your first collection of stories?
Once the Shore is set on a fictional island in South Korea. The stories focus on the years before the Korean War, during the American occupation, to the present.
Do you have a favourite short story or short-story collection?
Alistair MacLeod’s Island is one of my favourite short-story collections. That and John Berger’s Once in Europa.
Do you think short stories are gaining more popularity?
I’m not sure. Short stories have existed for a long, long time, and that is what matters to me, not whether or not they are a fashionable or a popular thing these days. And they will always have their devoted supporters, whether they be a few or many.
“Good books don’t answer questions, but they give us questions to enjoy for a long time.” What do you think of this quote?
I would agree. Personally, I don’t write to seek answers to anything. It’s more a way to illuminate some dark, murky corner—to see something better.
Do you think there are differences between writing short stories and full-length novels? Which form do you prefer working on?
I don’t see a difference. A story is a story.
What do you think of the suggestion that writing short stories is training ground for novelists?
This would only be true, I think, if you added that writing novels is a good training ground for short-story writers. As I said above, I don’t see why length—how many words or pages—would matter when what novelists and short-story writers strive for, in the end, is to tell a story in some way or another.
In your opinion, what are the essentials of good fiction?
I think good fiction is indescribable—meaning your experience of it transcends words and moves you in ways that leave you speechless. So it’s difficult to describe that, and to tell you what exactly that is. And I think in some ways it’s not important—if it stays with you, it stays. And that is all relative anyway, no?
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m working on a book about children orphaned during wartime set on mainland South Korea.