The Things We Tell Ourselves is the recently published debut novel by Victoria Namkung.
Described as the perfect summer beach read, The Things We Tell Ourselves, has an interesting side note to the story due to the protagonist, Georgina Park, being Korean on her dad’s side (which happens to be the same case as Victoria).
Although The Things We Tell Ourselves is her debut novel, Victoria has a very distinguished writing and journalism career that has spanned 15 plus years. Her work has been published in a variety of prominent publications.
HalfKorean.com was able to discuss Victoria’s background and her novel The Things We Tell Ourselves.
Please note that HalfKorean.com comments/questions are in BOLD.
What is your mix?
My Dad is Korean and my Mom is from Ireland and ethnically Eastern European/Jewish.
Where/when were you born/raised?
I was born in 1977 in Newport Beach, California and grew up in Irvine, California.
What is your current occupation?
I have been a journalist, copywriter, and essayist for more than 15 years.
Do you speak Korean?
No. Bibimbap is one of the few words I know which makes communicating with my 100 year-old grandmother especially challenging.
Growing up, what was your “mixed Korean” experience like?
It was atypical even among other mixed Koreans for several reasons. My Dad grew up in Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Tokyo, and doesn’t speak Korean fluently. My Mom is from Dublin (although she knows how to make mandu and loves Korean food) and when we are together no one thinks she is my mother, which is a strange experience as a daughter. All six of my Dad’s Korean siblings married non-Koreans, so I grew up with tons of mixed Korean cousins and my younger sister. Our family often fascinated people, here and abroad. I really didn’t think too much about my racial identity until I was in college and then the floodgates opened.
Have you been to Korea? If so, when was the last time? If not, do you plan to go soon?
My Dad took me to Seoul for the 1988 Olympics and I was a bit of an attraction wherever we went because of my mix and being American. I would love to go back again someday.
What do people think your ethnic background is (ones that do not know you)?
I am often asked if I am Hawaiian, Thai, or Chinese. No one has ever come up to me and asked if I was Korean.
Let’s get into your career. We know that you have had a distinguished journalism career. What are some the notable publications that you have written for?
The Huffington Post, The L.A. Times, USA Today, Washington Post, InStyle, Los Angeles, and style.com, among other publications.
Was journalism/writing something you were interested in since you were young?
In middle school I expressed an interest in writing and took a summer program at UC Irvine. I took my first journalism class at age 15, while at summer boarding school at Choate in Connecticut. We got to tour the Hartford Courant and see how a newspaper is put together and printed. I think that visit made a huge impression on me. I eventually wrote for our high school paper and was the editor of an Asian American ‘zine while I was an undergrad at UC Santa Barbara. I also took a magazine writing class in college that was hugely influential in me becoming a journalist.
Have your parents and family been supportive of your writing ambitions?
One hundred percent. I can’t recall a single instance of my parents being anything but supportive and encouraging. I credit them with any success I have had because they always let me be who I wanted to be and provided me with an education and a lot of travel. My extended family is also incredibly supportive and many of them are also in the arts.
Has being of mixed race played any role in your career?
It has only played a positive role in my career. Being mixed gives you insight into the world in a myriad of ways. Because of my background, I feel like I have a unique perspective and can effortlessly move between ethnic groups, communities, and even countries. I think mixed people have a different and broader viewpoint than monoracial folks.
Who are some of your writing influences?
My favorite authors are A.M. Homes, David Sedaris, Roxane Gay, Dave Eggers, Jonathan Safran Foer, and Katherine Dunn. I read about 50 books each year so I am influenced and inspired by so many different people. My former professor and friend Kip Fulbeck, who is prolific in the mixed community, was a big influence on me becoming a writer. In college, I met Korean American author Helie Lee, and she was really generous with her time. I always followed any Asian bylines in magazines and newspapers. Jennifer Tang and Jennifer 8. Lee are two names that come to mind. They made me think I could do it too.
The Things We Tell Ourselves
Tell us about The Things We Tell Ourselves. When did you start writing it and what motivated you to write the book?
I began writing my novel in the spring of 2013 and finished it a little over a year later. I have wanted to write fiction for many years, but I was always busy with my journalism career and being scared of actually writing a book by myself (I had previously contributed to several non fiction books). I was motivated by the current state of technology, and how it hurts and helps us as a society, as well as themes of love, morality, and loss.
We understand the protagonist is half Korean. Was that due to also being half Korean and wanting an ethnically similar character to yourself?
Most authors write characters who share their own ethnic background, as it feels more natural and authentic. My protagonist, Georgina Park, has a Korean father like I do, but her ethnicity is not a focus of the story. That was hugely important to me as we have many books that highlight the challenges that come with being a person of color or being mixed, and they are important stories. I just wanted her to be portrayed as a regular Angeleno who deals with the same highs and lows in life that all people do. When I was a kid, I never once read a book or saw a movie that portrayed a family like mine. Representation is important because it says, “You exist in this world and your experience is valid.” I wondered if my editor would suggest that I change her to being white or full Korean, for marketing purposes, but the conversation never even occurred.
We know that The Things We Tell Ourselves has just recently been released. How has the feedback been so far for the book?
The feedback has been really positive. Books are so subjective, but I’ve been thrilled with the response from fellow authors, readers, and book clubs. Countless people have told me that they read the book in one or two sittings and I take that as the ultimate compliment since I set out to write a sexy and scary page-turner. I am truly honored that anyone would give up hours of their valuable time to read my novel.
Any other projects that you are currently working on outside of The Things We Tell Ourselves?
I have my copywriting clients who I love working with and I write essays and cultural commentary when the mood strikes. I would like to write a second novel, but I honestly don’t have any ideas at the moment. I’m ready for inspiration to strike.
Any immediate future plans?
My immediate future plans include a long vacation with my husband this fall. I have never worked this hard in my life and now that the book is out, I am anxious to take a little break and recharge. I usually come up with my best ideas while traveling so we’ll see.
What kind of goals have you set for yourself?
The only goal I have is to be healthy and happy. I’m really proud of what I have achieved so far and anything else is a bonus.
Anything else you’d like to share?
I am an advocate of Be the Match and stem cell donor to an unrelated recipient. People of mixed backgrounds are especially needed and so I like to bring this up whenever I can. You can join the national marrow registry at bethematch.org.
Any final words to the mixed Korean community?
I always feel a bond and kinship with fellow mixed Koreans and loved meeting so many of you at the recent meet in Los Angeles. I truly appreciate the support of my own community and hope I can return the favor.
We want to thank Victoria for discussing her background and book The Things We Tell Ourselves with us and we congratulate her on the accomplishment of publishing her book and wish her much continued success!
For more info on Victoria and The Things We Tell Ourselves, please make sure to check out her official Website / Twitter / Facebook / Instagram.