There is no such thing as too many books, especially when they relate to K-pop and falling in love with K-pop idols. Katie M. Stout, the author of the young adult romance novel “Hello, I Love You” spoke to KultScene about her book.
1. Congratulations on publishing “Hello, I Love You”! How did it feel when you got to the end of the long writing-editing process?
Thank you! Honestly, it felt a little surreal. I wrote and edited the book for about nine months before I queried, then that took almost a year. My agent and I were on submission for about six months with it, and all-in-all, it was about three years from finishing a first draft to seeing it on shelves. So publication day was definitely a victory day.
2. The book is all about K-pop, and there’s a lot of mentions of Korean dramas. How did you get into that scene?
I’d never even heard of a Korean drama until I was in college. I was teaching English in China and went into a video store, where they had some K-dramas featured. I picked up one on a whim (it was “49 Days”), and once I’d started, I couldn’t stop. That led me to other dramas, like “Heartstrings” and “Dream High,” which ended up being two inspirations for my book.
3. What made you decide to write a book about South Korea? Have you ever spent time there?
Because I was writing about K-pop, it seemed like a natural progression for the book to be about South Korea. It didn’t make sense to me for a book about a K-pop singer to be set in New York, for example.
I had never been to Korea when I was writing the book, but I actually got to visit the same week I signed with my agent. I had finished up an internship in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and made a stopover in Seoul before going back home. It was so fun to visit the places I’d written about!
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4. I read somewhere that the book was supposed to be set in China. Why the change?
Yes, originally, the book was set in China. I wrote it that way because I was inspired by my own time in China. I also liked the idea that both of my main characters would be foreigners living in another country and they would bond over that. However, when my book was acquired by St. Martin’s, the team there felt like it was too confusing to have that many cultures represented in one book. So I shifted the setting of the entire book to South Korea, which I’ll admit, was no easy feat.
Fun fact: the book was originally called “From China, With Love,” referring to the letters that my main character writes her brother back home. My editor at St. Martin’s came up with the idea to name it after the Doors’s song that features so prominently in the book.
I listened to a lot of music while writing, mostly K-pop. I joke that, like some actors are “method actors,” I consider myself an “immersive writer,” meaning that whatever I’m working on at the time, I consume only media that matches my current work in progress. So while drafting and editing HILY, I listened to a ton of Girls’ Generation, BIGBANG, CNBlue, Shinee, Teen Top, and other K-pop bands. I also watched a lot of K-dramas; some of my favorites at the time were “Big,” “Monstar,” “Rooftop Prince,” and more recently, “My Love from Another Star.”
6. What Korean music and television shows are you a fan of? Have you ever gone to a K-pop concert?
Other than the ones mentioned above, my favorite K-drama is probably “City Hunter,” which is mentioned in my book but not by name. Two of my characters have a conversation about a specific drama, and I think people who’ve watched “City Hunter” should recognize it based on the description. [We did!]
I haven’t been to a K-pop concert, sadly. I’m from the Atlanta area, which never really has K-pop bands come through, and while I was living in England, I was in a region that had no concerts at all, so it just hasn’t been convenient. I thought about going to one when I was in Seoul, but I ended up not doing it. I still regret that.
7. What difficulties did you face while writing?
I had the usual difficulties, including the big one, which is namely trying to ensure that your book doesn’t suck. That means I agonized over words and character development and pacing of the book, etc.
But more than that, I had a lot of researching to do. I’d never been to the places I was describing, which meant I needed to know what they looked like. I also had to look up old Korean rock bands, because I didn’t know any but my characters needed to. And there was the typical research about food and language and other parts of the culture that I didn’t know previously.
And lastly, I really struggled with my main character. She’s going through a very specific personal struggle, and I wanted to portray that genuinely. While some people have felt that my portrayal isn’t sensitive, I’ve been encouraged by readers who have moved to other countries and lived as expats who’ve told me that Grace’s experience reminded them of their own. It’s certainly similar to the one I had when I moved to England, and I felt it was important to portray a character going through culture shock if she moves to another country – that’s real, and it’s not realistic to not talk about that at all.
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8. Which character do you think you want to be friends with?
Oh, Sophie for sure. I loved her from the first page she showed up. Both of my main characters have a little too much angst, so I wouldn’t want to be with them all the time, but Sophie is just kind and fun and funny. I also really like Yoon Jae, and if I were in Grace’s shoes, I think I might have been interested in him instead of a certain brooding leading singer.
9. What was it like creating an imaginary K-pop band? What were you influenced by?
My biggest inspiration for the band in my book was CNBlue, one of the few K-pop bands with members who play instruments. I knew I wanted them all to do more than just sing and dance, so I needed a real band to model them after. I imagine their sound to be similar to older CNBlue music, as well – songs like “Love Girl” or “Sweet Holiday.”
10. What’s one thing you want readers to know about the book?
I think it’s helpful for them to know that the book isn’t just about K-pop. It has K-pop in it, but it’s more about two people who have broken pasts that have to learn to recognize their faults before they can come together. It’s also told from the perspective of a Westerner with zero knowledge of Korean pop culture, who holds some distinct prejudices she never knew she had – and that she has to learn to recognize before she can move past them. It’s about culture shock, family, love, and forgiveness. And it has kissing, too.
11. To my knowledge, this is the first English-language novel about K-pop. How do you feel about that? Do you think we may see more in the future?
There may be other YA novels out there about K-pop, but I don’t know of any. In many ways, my book is the first of its kind, and that was actually both exciting and difficult. I came up against a lot of closed doors. I had numerous literary agents while I was querying tell me that they liked the book but had no idea how to sell it. I was told over and over again that the market wasn’t ready for a book about K-pop, and it was disheartening. I’m still thankful for both my agent and publisher who disagreed with everyone else and thought the YA market was ready.
It’s encouraging, as well, that my book did something new. I’d love to see more books about K-pop in the future! I’ve gotten some criticism that my book isn’t as informative as many people wanted it to be, but I like to think that I helped open the door for more K-pop-focused books in the Western YA industry – so we can have those books that are more informative and about Korean protagonists and are more in-depth studies of culture and everything my book is not. I think that would be amazing! And if my little book accomplishes anything, I hope it’s that.
Do you want to own a copy of “Hello, I Love You”? We’re here to help! Katie M. Stout gave KultScene the chance to raffle off one copy of the book, so enter now for your chance to win! (Unfortunately, this is only open to residents of the United States, but you can buy the book from Amazon and many other bookstores.)
What K-pop star would you like to fall in love with? Let us know in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.