Jihoon Park’s fiction is forthcoming or published in Reed Magazine, Atticus Review, MARY: A Journal of New Writing, and elsewhere. He is currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing at George Mason University where he also teaches. Jihoon is from San Jose, California. If you haven’t already read his story “The Suspended Boulder”, check it out in the current edition of LPR!
Q. I really loved this story, the comic-tragedy of it, the notion of a random, unfathomable boulder suspended over a small, insignificant town, a boulder that’s presence suspends the narrator’s music companion/best friend/love from flying off to Madrid, a place he/she sees as more exotic. I have so many questions, but namely, where did the idea for this come from?
A. Thank you for your kind words! Two things led to me writing this story. One was a painting by René Magritte called The Castle of the Pyrenees. It depicts a gigantic floating boulder with a castle on top of it. I have no idea what it represents but I find it beautiful. The other was Donald Barthelme’s short story “The Balloon”, in which a gigantic balloon appears over a city. Whenever I’m struggling with writer’s block, I find reinterpreting short stories to be a great exercise in getting myself writing again. When I read “The Balloon”, it suddenly clicked that I had to write a story where Magritte’s gigantic boulder appears over a town. I didn’t intend for the location to be a small town, or the central characters to be musicians; it just turned out that way by the second or third draft. I just like small towns and classical music.
Q. The tone of your story has terrific comedy to it. How did you manage to keep things so buoyant when writing about something that is simultaneously quite tragic?
A. I think, as a person, I always see the comedic side of things, (oftentimes in inappropriate situations—I’ve gotten myself in trouble because of this). Even in the things I read, I always hold funny stories closer to my heart. When I first started writing the piece, I knew it would on be a tragedy at its core, since the boulder would either have to fall and crush the town or simply disappear and abandon those who attached some value to it. But during the writing I found it easier to think about all the silly and comical things that would accompany a floating boulder as opposed to the more serious repercussions. I guess it was my avoidance of diving deeper into the tragedy that led to the comedy. To be honest I don’t think I have the ability to write heavy, tragic narratives. It’s something I hope to do though, as I grow as a writer.
Q. I love how the town, the world’s reaction to the boulder evolves; at first there is concern that it might not be safe, that perhaps everyone should be wearing hazmat suits, but before long, artists and performers arrive wanting to climb and explore it, that soon enough it’s a kind of Mt. Everest sort of destination, then a public park. Talk to me about how this, this notion of making a small town glamorous through the existence of a suspended boulder.
A. This is something that happens in “The Balloon” as well. In the story, as the people get used to the balloon, they begin exploring it, they grow accustomed to it, and eventually make it a part of the city itself. Barthelme, who I consider to be an absolute master of this type of writing, does this with much more finesse than I do, and at times I worried that I was borrowing too much from that story. In the end though, I realized there was no story if the people didn’t begin interacting with the boulder. In terms of the small town becoming glamourous, that sort of happened naturally as I thought about what would follow if something like this occurred in real life. I imagined all sorts of government agencies and religious fanatics and scientists showing up to figure out what the hell was happening. I thought about the two main types of reactions people would have for something like this. One was a mindset of wanting to take advantage of the attention and glamour, and the other was of quiet appreciation/skepticism. These two ideas fell in nicely with the narrator and the narrator’s friend.
Whenever I’m struggling with writer’s block, I find reinterpreting short stories to be a great exercise.”
Q. What writers have influenced your craft and how?
A. As mentioned earlier I love Barthelme’s work for its innovation and experimentation. Some other writers that come to mind are Kobo Abe, Jorge Luis Borges, Robert Coover, Kurt Vonnegut, and George Saunders. I don’t think I have a methodical approach to drawing inspiration and influence; I just try to emulate things I enjoy or find compelling.
Q. What are you working on now?
A. I’m currently working on a vignette-based short story about Vincent van Gogh’s friendship with a plastic Lego man. If you know any editors who may be interested, please let me know (ha ha). I also started writing my first novel, which is proving to be very difficult.
Q. Has this year of isolation influenced your writing? Or, rather, has this time altered what you want to write about or how you want to write?
A. I can’t think of any specifics, but the isolation definitely has affected my writing (either for better or worse, I’m still trying to figure it out). There’s something about being completely alone for months that forces you to think about what you’re doing with your life, with your writing, what you want to accomplish with it, and so on.
Q. What was the last book—fiction/nonfiction/poetry that truly moved you and why?
A. Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick. It’s a book of narrative journalism that looks at the lives of North Korean defectors. There are some absolutely brutal moments in the harshness of the Kim regime, but Demick also writes about the beauty and humanity present in North Korean lives.
The author Jihoon Park