Author RO Kwon finds joy in being completely absorbed by her work.
“I forget to eat. I forget I might be thirsty. All of that goes away and I’m gone.”
Kwon visited Sacramento last year to discuss her debut novel, “The Incendiaries.” The book, which revolves around a college romance, loss of religion and a cult, took Kwon 10 years to complete.
RO Kwon Interview Highlights
On developing the story line and the characters
I almost always start with a question, and the central question for me with “The Incendiaries” was, “What happens when people who love each other believe entirely different things about the world? What happens as a result?”
The questions breed more questions. It’s not even necessarily that the questions get answered, but the questions just lead to other questions.
I tend to be so much less interested when I read, and when I watch things, in what happens than in how and why.
On being a stickler for punctuation
Commas are so great. I love punctuation so much. I could think about punctuation all day.
I really do believe that if a semicolon is turned into a colon, but it should have been a semicolon, then the sentence is ruined. If the sentence is ruined, the paragraph is ruined. If the paragraph is ruined, the page is certainly ruined. Then the whole book is ruined, and you may as well just start all over again.
On why she chose to write much of the novel in the “conditional perfect” tense
I love thinking about tenses, too. I’m very alive to tenses in general, in prose.
When the novel is not being narrated from Will’s point of view, he’s trying to imagine what Phoebe and John Leo would have said for themselves, how they might have experienced the same events that he’s thinking about. So he uses this tense a lot, especially when he’s narrating what he thinks the other two would have experienced, because he doesn’t know. So he’s guessing. He’s imagining. He’s re-piecing things together from what he remembers, from pieces of a journal that phoebe leaves behind. There’s a lot of doubt in his narration and I thought this tense conveyed a lot of that doubt.
On what she discovered about herself while writing “The Incendiaries”
I really, really love writing. Even when it’s really hard. And it’s often so hard.
It doesn’t happen every day, but every now and then I get to a place where I’m deep in the writing, deep in a sentence, trying to make it the best possible version it could be, really moving around that comma, and I just get so absorbed that I really do forget all sense of myself. I forget to eat, I forget I might be thirsty. All of that goes away and I'm gone. And that is the deepest purest joy I know.
And it’s something that I feel so lucky to have. I feel lucky to love something this much. It’s possible to think “How the hell did it take me 10 years to write one book? What is the matter with me? What is this life?” That is one way to think about it. But I could also think about it as ”I got to spend 10 years with one book. What a privilege to be so fascinated by something that I could take 10 years on it and still be perplexed and fascinated by it."