An Interview with Author Patricia Park and Editor Pamela Dorman, by Celia Johnson
July 14, 2015
Patricia Park’s debut novel, Re Jane, is a modern-day retelling of Jane Eyre. The story moves from the heart of Queens, New York, over to Brooklyn, and as far away as Seoul. Park’s protagonist, Jane, is insightful, sensitive, and funny. But the entire cast of characters in this book are fully rendered and thoroughly entertaining, from Jane’s overly direct uncle, Sang, to the academia-entrenched professors who invite Jane to live with them as an au pair. I spoke with Park and her editor, Pamela Dorman, about writing, editing, the publishing process, and more.
What drew you to Re Jane?
PD I think it was the voice. Jane Re’s voice is smart, funny, sardonic, all the things I like in my heroines. And Patty Park’s ability to skewer academia was an added bonus. The fact that Jane grew into herself in the course of the novel is a theme that always moves me.
Which characters stood out?
PD I love Sang—his broken English, his flat practicality, his gruff love of Jane. I also loved Jane’s friend, Eunice, and her charge, Devon, who reminded me of Jane herself.
In your experience, what factors, beyond the manuscript, can contribute to the success of a debut novel?
Well, an author’s ability to promote herself, both in person and online, definitely makes a difference in a book’s reception. I think that getting word of mouth going early among booksellers and reviewers makes a difference. And then, I think it’s also timing and luck.
What do you enjoy most in your line of work as an editor?
PD My absolute favorite thing is discovering new authors and reading a manuscript that makes me sit up and take notice. Even when I read them electronically, I often get an almost physical little zing when I read something that I know has big potential.
Patricia Park, Author, Re Jane
Was there a specific moment of inspiration, a sudden flash perhaps, for your novel?
PP When I was little and I’d misbehave, my mother used to say, in her broken English, “You act like orphan!” This was a memory that always stayed with me because it was so puzzling–how do you act like an orphan? I realized that for my mother’s generation of wartime Koreans, it meant behaving in a disgraceful way that brought shame to your family. When I first read JANE EYRE, I was struck by the similar epithets thrown at Jane–wicked, mischievous–as if she somehow embodied those qualities. My mind drew a link between the Korean postwar construct of the orphan and the Victorian one, and RE JANE was born.
Would you describe your editorial process? How did that process change as you worked first with an agent and then an editor?
PP I wrote long-hand in spiral notebooks, then typed up my work while editing some more. I’d print out my work, make line edits and rewrites by hand, then start the process anew. After a number of drafts, I queried my agents. We talked over macro and micro issues, and they sent a global letter along with my manuscript filled with their line edits. I printed a fresh copy and went through their edits, making my own along the way. We worked on 3 or 4 drafts. The process was very similar with my editor, although Pam and I started out digital (Track Changes) and ended in analog (paper and pencil edits).
What were some of the greatest challenges you’ve faced as a debut author?
PP We’re talking post-publication, right? I guess it’s trying to find a balance between the personal and the public. As much as you spend years in essentially solitary confinement during the writing and editing process, when it comes to promotion you’re thrown in the public and have to be “on” all the time. You go from talking to one person a day (your coffee shop barista) to a hundred. Needless to say, it’s a line of work where nothing is in moderation.
You used to work in publishing as a publicist. Has your view of the industry changed, now that you are a published author?
PP My experience in book publishing has taught me to temper my expectations as an author; I know the average book doesn’t sell a million copies. I’m also very sympathetic to the work of my publicists. It’s a tough, thankless job–making those endless pitch calls to more often than not unresponsive editors and producers, dealing with egos (authorly or otherwise), while accounting for any breaking news that threatens to undo all your hard work. I also try to keep my demands for “Oprah! Oprah! Oprah!” to a minimum.
Celia Johnson is the Creative Director of Slice. She’s also the author of two nonfiction books, most recently Odd Type Writers.