Today’s spotlight is Brandon W. Jones, writer of All Woman and Springtime. Brandon’s growing fascination with North Korea led him to immerse himself in the culture, and eventually evolved into the story and characters of his debut title. Learn how that story unfolds and the challenges he faced writing about a country that keeps many details of daily life extremely guarded.
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Kobo: What pushes you to write?
Brandon W. Jones: I had became interested in North Korea because it was coming up in the news quite often and I realized that I really didn’t know much about it, beyond the headlines. So I began researching, first online, then in available books and video sources; and the more I learned about North Korea, the more fascinated I became. North Korea was so utterly bizarre to me, with the Kim personality cult, the Mass Games, the extensive labor camp system, the propaganda, etc., that it really held my interest. As I began asking questions my characters became a natural evolution of those questions, and the story an evolution of the characters.
Kobo: Did you experience any challenges while writing All Woman and Springtime?
BWJ: The first challenge was finding information on what daily life is like for the average person inside North Korea. Small details, like whether or not women wear makeup, what sort of access people have to foreign goods and media, what dating is like in North Korea, proved rather difficult to confirm. Another challenge was to bridge the gaps of age, gender and culture between myself and my characters. My aim was to tell a universally human tale, to stick with themes and feelings that everyone everywhere can relate to, regardless of circumstance.
Kobo: How was it to become Gi? Are there similarities between your characters an your own experiences?
BWJ: I firmly believe that any work of art is, on some level, a portrait of the artist or artist’s life, however far removed. There are certainly elements of Gi that I can personally relate to – feeling insignificant or invisible in the light of a person I perceive as greater than myself, discovering falsehood in things I believed to be true, watching an icon fall from grace, experiencing unrequited love. There are also elements that are not directly relatable to my personal experience, such as the extreme levels of trauma that define Gi’s life and shape her personality, and her mathematical genius. I tried, to the best of my ability, to become my characters, and some days this left me emotionally exhausted. I developed a unique love for each one of them, but especially for Gi.
Kobo: What was the feeling you had when you finished writing the book?
BWJ: I felt a great catharsis, finishing my first draft––I still remember the moment it happened; and though there were several drafts afterward to polish and shape the novel into what it is today, nothing has quite equaled that feeling. The first draft, with all its flaws, was the novel I wrote for myself, and through it I found a kind of personal resolution. The final draft I did for the public eye, and that one belongs to the world. They are different books. At the end it was easy to let go of, or maybe more accurately, to assimilate my characters because they had done their job. I grew and healed while writing it.
Kobo: What books do you feel influenced you the most when writing All Woman and Springtime?
BWJ: Before I ever knew I was going to write a novel, I came across Prisoner of Tehran by Marina Nemat, which is her autobiographical account of the time she spent in a political prison in Iran. I was moved not only by the extreme hardships she faced: torture, rape, forced marriage to one of her prison guards; but also by how it had taken her years to confront that trauma, and how the act of writing about it was healing her. North of the DMZ by Andrei Lankov was one of the most informative sources I found on North Korea and certainly inspired some of the details and situations.