David Yoon, MFA ‘00 on Making it as an Author

October 25, 2022

Thumbnail of David Yoon for the Making it Big in 30 Minutes Podcast

David Yoon tells lies for a living. He’s been chasing the feeling of making his entire class laugh at a story in the 3rd grade, and with time, talent, and a little luck, has 4 different titles with his name on the spine in any given bookstore. Alongside his wife, Nicola, who he met at Emerson, the writer power couple has set forth on a journey to help other POC writers tell love stories for their imprint, Joy Revolution. Dave talks with Georgette about everything from the importance of taking a break, rejection, and being your own boss. Recorded on August 1, 2022.

Find more of David on IG @davidoftheyoon, Twitter @davidyoon and davidyoon.com
More of Georgette at georgettepierre.com
And more about Emerson College at emerson.edu

Transcript: Season 5, Episode 3

David Yoon


Georgette Pierre:
What does it mean to make it big? Well, it depends on who you ask. And we did. Welcome to Making It Big in 30 Minutes, a podcast for, by, and about the Emerson community. You're about to meet an Emersonian who's making it. Making a living, making a difference, and sometimes making it up as they go. I'm your host an alum Georgette Pierre. If you like what you hear, subscribe and share with your friends, and meet me and other Emersonians over on Emerge, the only digital platform exclusive to the Emerson community. Go to emerge.emerson.edu for more.

Having grown up in Orange County, California, David Yoon is a New York Times bestselling author of several books including Frankly in Love and for adult readers, Version Zero and City of Orange. He's also the co-founder of Universe Media which currently has a first look deal with Anonymous Content for film and TV development. He joins me to discuss his co-publishing deal with Random House called Joy Revolution, a young adult imprint dedicated to love stories starring people of color, what mark Emerson left on him, and how he navigates his own lulls even as an accomplished writer.

I welcome David Yoon on Making It As An Author. Hi Dave, welcome.

David Yoon:
Thanks for having me, it's good to be here.


Georgette Pierre:
Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. So I always like to start it off kind of very fun, um, way of... I guess lighthearted or quirkiest way, uh, to describe your profession?

David Yoon:
Um, I tell lies for a living (laughs).

Georgette Pierre:
Good one. Good one, good one, good one. Tell us what you studied at Emerson, 'cause you also met your wife at Emerson as well.

David Yoon:
I actually studied... I got my MFA in creative writing. That's... I was there to write, um, and so I met my wife Nicola Yoon who wrote everything... Everything in The Sun is Also a Star. Um, Instructions For Dancing. She was in my first writing workshop, uh, and we were both kind of scared of each other's writing, 'cause I thought her writing was really awesome. Unbeknownst to me, she thought my writing was really awesome. So we had like, a mutual admiration society happening.

Georgette Pierre:
I love that. And so... I know we'll get more into... More into that with you and your wife, 'cause you all also have some things that you all are working on together as [inaudible 00:02:16].

David Yoon:
Oh yeah, yeah.

Georgette Pierre:
What your writing careers look like. And so I think that's so dope. Um, what surprises you most about the work you're doing now?

David Yoon:
Uh, I didn't think that, um... First of all, I'm surprised that I wrote a novel. I didn't think I could do that, and now I have four on the shelf. And I'm just kinda like, how did that happen? And I didn't think that we'd be publishing books, because we do have our own publishing imprint called Joy Revolution. And we're publishing books, uh, uh, with love stories starring people of color, written by people of color, and I... We always dreamed about doing this thing, um, but we... I didn't think it would actually become a reality, so that's been amazing.

Georgette Pierre:
Yeah, I wanna get more into that. So, um, when I read about that I was like "oh, this is awesome, you know, for those that are aspiring." You know, obviously you're... Not obviously, but you're a New York Times bestselling author. Um... I won't brag, I won't brag.

David Yoon:
(laughs) Ah. I can't take a compliment.

Georgette Pierre:
No big deal. Um, but for two... Two fold, you know, becoming... The journey to becoming a published author looks a lot different than those self-publishing. What, um, what was your catalyst for going th- the... You know, getting uh, published, um, by a major publisher.

David Yoon:
Oh yeah, sure. I mean, I always wanted to write since I was a kid. You know, honestly like, it was like third grade. No actually, it was first grade. I wrote a poem for, um, a school contest and I won first place. And my mom framed it, and I was like "that feels good." And then... And then I wrote a story, a short story in third grade that made the whole class laugh, and I was like "I like that, too. It feels good" you know? Feels good to like, be connected with an audience. And so I've been like, chasing that feeling ever since. I mean, I... My favorite classes in high school were English. I majored in English in college. I went to Emerson f- for my MFA in fiction. Um, so I've always wanted to... I've always dreamt of having a book with my name on it in a book store. Like in Barnes and Noble.

Um, I didn't actually think it would ever happen. Um, because it just seemed so far away. And as far as like, journey toward publication, everyone has their own crazy journey. Um, mine was sort of, I guess interrupted by a 12 plus year career i- in the tech industry. So I guess my little saying is it's never too late. Um, the important thing for me was to keep writing even though I didn't know what the hell I was doing. Because if I didn't write, I would get super cranky. Uh, if Nicky didn't write, she'd get super cranky and we'd call each other on it. It'd be like "you haven't been writing, have you? That's why you're so cranky all the time." (laughs).

Georgette Pierre:
(laughs). Oh, wow. Yeah. You know, there's moments where I'm like, uninspired, unmotivated. I don't necessarily always feel as strong or worthy. Uh, what is it that kept you going on the writing tip that led you to eventually, um, become a published author and then eventually having this publishing imprint, um, with... With Random House.

David Yoon:
That's... That's a great question, because it's... It's a tough one to answer. I mean, there's plenty of times, um, when I just wanted to kind of stop writing. Um, because we didn't... I mean, we didn't know how to get an agent. We didn't... We would always wonder like "what kind of story is publishable, honestly? Um, what to people want to read?" And it was tough t- to, um, balance what you think will sell versus what you really wanna write yourself. And it's so easy because we had really well paying jobs. You know, Nicky worked in finance for the Evil Empire, and I worked for Tech Bros. And, uh, we were making good money, and after a while you're like "why am I getting up at four in the morning, you know, to squeeze in some writing before I go to work?"

Um, but honestly, the way we kept motivated was through each other. W- we would cheer each other on. Um, sometimes we would go to a writing workshop for a little bit or sometimes, you know, we'd, uh, talk to our old friends, honestly, from Emerson. Like, that network was really, really important because we were all struggling with the same problem. We were like "hey, you been writing lately?" And it's always the guilty response like "no, not really." But we all understood what we were going through. And so that network was super key in keeping us motivated, uh, even rejection after rejection, you know, year after year, just not quite knowing how to do this thing, how to get published.

Um, I mean... I mean, my advice is i... To get through the tough times is to just be really kind to yourself, you know? You're, um... It takes a while to develop a voice, especially with writing, and I like to... I like to say that, you know... You don't really notice as a writer, but you're actually a small business owner.

Georgette Pierre:
(laughs).

David Yoon:
Um, i- in disguise. You don't really realize it until much later, and that makes you your own boss. So like, do you wanna be the cool boss who... Who realizes you can't just like, drive yourself into the ground. Or do you wanna be th- the mean boss who's always like, putting you down and making you feel less than? You wanna be the cool boss. So if you go for a month without writing 'cause the well is empty, that's fine, you know? Just be really kind to yourself.

Georgette Pierre:
I love that. I love the peace with, um, thinking about it from a small business aspect standpoint. Um, because you know, when you're pursuing your passions full time, that could look a lot different, right? So you're transitioning from this traditional corporate structure and you're just like "consistent money, consistent money."

David Yoon:
Oh yeah.

Georgette Pierre:
And then you're like "woo, wait. Uh, what is this?" Like, you know? (laughs).

David Yoon:
(laughs) There's nothing here but me.

Georgette Pierre:
There's nothing here, right? And [inaudible 00:08:01], I remember thinking like... I'm like "oh no, like, Georgette stop attaching your self worth to not necessarily your life looking like everybody else's, right? You're a creator, you're creative." And so, is there any piece of advice tattooed to your heart for those, whether they're pursuing, um, you know, being... Becoming a published author, or just their own passions?

David Yoon:
Um, I mean, I feel really lucky that we struggled in solitude. Okay, we were struggling in solitude.

Georgette Pierre:
(laughs) okay.

David Yoon:
Alright. Alright, so that sucked, right? But there was no social media and so you couldn't really compare yourself to anyone because you didn't know about it. And ignorance really was bliss. And it's kinda tough now, you know? I don't... Um, if you... No matter how much success you get, if you take one look at social media, you'll always find something to make yourself feel kind of worse about yourself. Like "I'm not doing enough, I'm not grinding as hard." Um, and my thesis advisor who is Christopher Tolman, he's a novelist, you know... He would... He would kind of cross his legs and squeeze the bridge of his nose and he'd be like "you know, it's just one level of rejection for another."

Georgette Pierre:
Mm.

David Yoon:
It's like, you get rejected by the small press, but then you get published. And then you get rejected by the New Yorker, but then you get published. And then you get rejected for the National Book Award. And he's like "you're always gonna get rejected." So the key is to f... To find what's... What makes you satisfied with your own work, you know? What is your own benchmark? And it's really, really hard to define. It's not easy. I mean, honestly, it takes people... Some people, like an entire life time to figure out. That... How to measure themselves on their own terms and not on other people's terms.

So I'd really focus on that. I mean like, honestly, practically speaking, just not being on Twitter or Facebook or Instagram or Tik Tok is a huge deal. Um, 'cause it's a lot of noise and i- it makes you hate yourself (laughs). And so like... And do what you can, like, meditate to carry a body, um, and really find out like, what kinda writer do you wanna be? Like, I- I wanted to be Kazuo Ishiguro when I grew up, and I still do 'cause that dude, he gets to write about whatever he wants and I'll just pick it up, 'cause it's like, Kazuo Ishiguro. I don't care what kinda story it is, um, i- it's him as an artist th- that I'm interested in, and it took me a while to articulate that that's my definition of ar- artistic success.

Georgette Pierre:
Mm, I love that with, uh, there's just different levels of projection, 'cause we... Society, capitalism will tell you like "rejection, no, you gotta continue to do more. Work harder."

David Yoon:
Oh my God.

Georgette Pierre:
Right? like there's levels o- of what capitalism tells you that you should do if you get rejected or like... There's almost like th- this arbitrary, you know, plan of action on like, what you should continue to do-

David Yoon:
Totally.

Georgette Pierre:
But it burns people out, right?

David Yoon:
Totally.

Georgette Pierre:
But it forces you to spend money sometimes on things that like, maybe being still is the only thing that you need to do, right?

David Yoon:
(laughs) yeah.

Georgette Pierre:
Um, so I really... That was... Th- that's really... A really sound advice, a really-

David Yoon:
I mean, that is so true about capitalism, 'cause they really valorize the grind.

Georgette Pierre:
(laughs).

David Yoon:
And I'm like "dude, sometimes you need to take a break."

Georgette Pierre:
Now, if you could go back in time to your Emerson self, what would you say?

David Yoon:
Oh man, you know what I'd say? I'd say, um, "quit worrying about the literary establishment." Because we were obsessed with like, getting in the New Yorker or PEN/Faulkner, or that whole scene, right? And we didn't actually realize that that is just one scene out of many. Like, there are many ways to write, and many ways to tell a story. You could be into paranormal romance, you could be into something called YA, which didn't really exist at the time. Um, you could write sci-fi, you could write thrillers. But we didn't realize that. We were sort of so focused on literary fiction, like adult literary fiction that we failed to sort of let ourselves explore other ways of writing. I don't like to use the word genre 'cause it's so limiting, but there's all kinds of stories you could tell, and...

So I would tell my... My... I was... I was always the guy who had lots of plot and lots of thriller type elements in my story. And people would tell me like... Like "stuff happens in your stories." And I was like "thank you very much." And if someone had just told me like "I think you're a thriller writer, I think you are... You write... You like to write plotty, pacey, commercial stuff. I think you should keep doing that." Um, I could've really used that kind of advice.

And the second thing I wish that I would tell myself in... At Emerson is "get an agent as soon as you can. That's the most important thing that you could do is to find an agent." 'Cause um, I was intimidated by that whole process, too. Uh, and I was... The fear actually inhib- inhibited me from just going full steam ahead with that kind of process. But it literally, as an artist, as a writer, uh, there's no more important thing that you can do, uh, besides work on your art, is get an agent.

Georgette Pierre:
Mm-hmm. What does that look like? I know like I said, like, we know everyone's journey is different, but like, just to glean the process. Uh, what did that look like for you, getting an agent as an author?

David Yoon:
It's... It was miserable (laughs). It was like just, a bunch of like, query letters and a bunch of rejections which I didn't keep 'cause I'm not that guy. I- I like... I like myself. Um, (laughs).

Georgette Pierre:
A lot more than-

David Yoon:
Yeah.

Georgette Pierre:
These rejection letters, yeah.

David Yoon:
And i- it... And then you just kinda get tired and you give up, and you work your job which pays you really well, and you get a promotion and you go on a nice vacation, and you k- kinda forget about it. And then before you know it, a year has gone by and you're like "aw, crap, I should do that whole agent thing again."

Georgette Pierre:
(laughs).

David Yoon:
You try again, get a bunch of rejection letters, um, 'cause you don't really know what you're doing. And honestly, it took me forever to realize that like, the best way to get an agent is through your network. How I got my agent was through Emerson friends.

Georgette Pierre:
Mm.

David Yoon:
You know, the first of our little crew, our writing crew, who got published was Wendy Wonder, and then she introduced all of us to, you know, the people she knew, who introduced us to people they knew. And one thing led to another, 'cause if you think about it, you're an agent. You're not gonna go for unsolicited, um, pile.

Georgette Pierre:
Right.

David Yoon:
It's just too much. You're gonna rely on word of mouth-

Georgette Pierre:
Yeah.

David Yoon:
A- and personal connections. Um, so that's why I... Honestly, if you want to be a serious artist, I would say budget as much money as you can toward finding networks of people who are as serious about your art as you are. If that's a place like Emerson college, like a grad school, which I know is kind of expensive, um, do it because it's worth it.

Georgette Pierre:
Yeah.

David Yoon:
'Cause it's too easy to try to find one online or whatever, and you wind up with a bunch of weirdos and flakes who, you know, will just come and go and are not really committed to the craft and the-

Georgette Pierre:
Yeah.

David Yoon:
And the career. So if you wanna... You wanna give yourself the best opportunity to build yourself the best network.

Georgette Pierre:
Wanna d- dive in a little bit more with you and your wife, a- and Universe Media, uh, you know, you all now have a first look film in develop... In TV development deal with Anonymous Content.

David Yoon:
Yeah.

Georgette Pierre:
Can you talk us through how Universe Media came to be, um, the one tentacle about this development deal with Anonymous Content-

David Yoon:
Mm-hmm.

Georgette Pierre:
And then how you all landed this publishing imprint with Random House? 'Cause publishing imprints are not necessarily, I- I wouldn't think... They don't give those away, right? Like, I don't think people would just give (laughs)-

David Yoon:
I mean, it doesn't happen. I don't know how we did it, like... It was... It was like, summer of George Floyd. Well no, bef... Way before that, w- we'd been kicking around this idea for like... For years. And we really... 'Cause you know, we're ro... We're romantic goobers. We love rom- romance stories, and rom coms, an- and we'd talk about 'em and worship, you know, movies like, you know, When Harry Met Sally and blah blah blah. And then... And Sliding Doors. And none of these movies had people like us in 'em. Um, like none. And so we're like "why is that? We fall in love. I know we fall in love. We fell in love with each other obviously, right?" Uh, and so we kicked around ideas like "what if we, you know, scraped together 2000 bucks and held our own short story competition for writers of color?"

Um, and... But you know, how do you publicize it? You know, what are the rules for the contest? We had no idea. And th- th- the thing we were really, really chasing was, uh, wh- what I like to call th- the Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle benchmark, right? Like, that was a story with a Korean American dude, um, the fabulous John Cho, and an Indian American dude, and they just wanted to get high and get some burgers, right?

There was no... There was no immigrant story, there was no trauma, no cops shooting anybody. It was just... They were just people living their lives and being silly, and making mistakes, and having fun. Like, being human beings, right? And there's no stories like that out there, so we were like "how do we get more of these stories out there?" So this is years ago we were thinking this stuff.

Um, when Nicky, uh, first published Everything, Everything and then The Sun is Also a Star, both of which were adapted into film, and then I hit the list with my book, um, and then things really came to a head w- with the George Floyd summer, with people really thinking about social justice a lot. And we were like "well we gotta pitch this i... We gotta pitch something." Um, so we talked to Barbara Marcus, who is the head of, uh, Random House Kids, and we were like "we'd love to do a publishing imprint dedicated to love stories starring people of color." Stuff we always been talking about since the Emer- Emerson days. And she made us write up a pitch document, she let us sweat it out for two weeks, and then she said "I'm down, let's do this."
And so it's ama... It's been amazing, like, it's really, really rare we have a boutique imprint with the full backing of like, the 800 pound gorilla in publishing, which is Penguin Random House. Um, and we're gonna publish our first two books next year. Uh, one by Talia Hibbert, who's a fabulous adult romance writer, but she's making her YA debut... Debut. And another one by Danielle Parker. And we're really, really excited that this thing is actually real, like, it's freaking us out (laughs).

Georgette Pierre:
That's so exciting.

David Yoon:
Yeah.

Georgette Pierre:
Congratulations.

David Yoon:
I'm sorry, I misspoke. It's not Danielle Parker, she's coming up later with her-

Georgette Pierre:
Okay.

David Yoon:
[inaudible 00:18:09] You Bet Your Heart. Next up i- is Queen Bee by Amalie Howard. That's a... That's a Bridgerton type, uh, rom-

Georgette Pierre:
Nice.

David Yoon:
Uh, romance, with a little bit of Gossip Girl thrown in there. Um-

Georgette Pierre:
Yeah.

David Yoon:
But yeah, it's exactly right. Like, you don't just start and imprint by kind of cold calling. It really is... By then we had like, somewhat of a name in the industry as writers, um, and, you know, we'd been doing some public speaking and we had a good relationship with... Like, an excellent relationship with people like Barbara Marcus. Uh, and we were able to just speak frankly about the need for this kind of story. Um, we were like "listen, there are plenty of books out there, which we call sort of eat your vegetable books." You know? It's like, books about social justice, about you know, trauma against, uh, people of color. And you know, we absolutely need those books because the tragedy is, if we don't have those books then people will forget that the trauma is happening out there-

Georgette Pierre:
Mm.

David Yoon:
That there's the struggle.

Georgette Pierre:
Mm-hmm.

David Yoon:
So you need the struggle books as a constant reminder like, this is a problem. We need to address this issue.

Georgette Pierre:
Mm-hmm.

David Yoon:
But there's a whole other side to our existence, which you know all about this. You don't wake up in the morning like "I'm black and I'm oppressed." No, you're like "I need to get my cup of coffee."

Georgette Pierre:
Yes.

David Yoon:
"I need to wake up a little bit. Do I look okay today?"-

Georgette Pierre:
Start your day like-

David Yoon:
"Like, what should I wear?"

Georgette Pierre:
"Yeah, yeah."

David Yoon:
And there's a whole-

Georgette Pierre:
I mean, you're kind of existing, yeah.

David Yoon:
Yeah, there's a whole other like, side to your humanity that just is not depicted in media.

Georgette Pierre:
Mm-hmm.

David Yoon:
And you know, as a kid, not seeing myself at all in media, I started to think like, I was going crazy.

Georgette Pierre:
Mm-hmm.

David Yoon:
I started to think like, maybe I don't exist. Maybe I shouldn't exist. Um-

Georgette Pierre:
Wow.

David Yoon:
Without that validation-

Georgette Pierre:
Mm-hmm.

David Yoon:
Of maybe I shouldn't fall in love, maybe I wasn't worthy of love. Uh, and that's really messed up. That's a huge, um, trauma to inflict, especially on young people. But whatever, adults too. If you don't see yourself, it's really hard to be what you can't see. Um, and we just... We just want volume (laughs). Really the key is like, more and more stories about more and more different things, like, on tap, um, we've got Talia Hibbert's book which is, uh, Highly Suspicious and Unfairly Cute. And it's about two black kids who... It's an enemies to lovers, but they're camping in the woods, which you never see black people camping in the woods.

Georgette Pierre:
(laughs).

David Yoon:
And I'm like "yes, we need to publish this." And it's hilarious. She's so funny. And the next one like I said is Queen Bee by Amalie Howard, and that is uh, Bridgerton meets Gossip Girl. It's an anti-historical regency romp, but what I... I love what she's done with it. It's a... There's a lot of Indian influence in London, which is great. It's so subversive, quietly, right? Because India of course was a colony, and now Amalie's depicting it as high society, as the London-

Georgette Pierre:
Yeah.

David Yoon:
Uh, tongue, or whatever it's called. Um, with all the pretty dresses and opulent balls, and all that stuff. An- and she just does it without commentary-

Georgette Pierre:
Yeah.

David Yoon:
And that's kind of what we're after, is that kind of-

Georgette Pierre:
Yeah.

David Yoon:
Magic.

Georgette Pierre:
And then... And then the film and TV development deal, that also doesn't, you know... That ends up being a- a nice add on, right, when you have y- your books being published and-

David Yoon:
Yeah, I mean.

Georgette Pierre:
What does that look like with Anonymous Content for you all?

David Yoon:
Honestly, that was because we started the imprint.

Georgette Pierre:
Mm.

David Yoon:
And because our agent, Jodi Reamer who's, you know, the... A demon, beast mode. She's awesome. Um, she is very good friends with Kassi Evashevski who is a film agent, um, and because she k... She knew that we were serious about telling these types of stories, and just really, um, depicting people of color as just human beings, you know? Fallible, funny, silly human beings who fell in love, um, and not sort of these morality tales o- or identity polemics. Yeah, I mean, so it was easy to... It was an easy conversation to have with her because we were like "we wanna tell stories like... Like... Like Swan Song." The one that they just put out, um, which was disguised... Y... Have... Did you watch that on Apple TV+? Um-

Georgette Pierre:
Swan... Oh yes.

David Yoon:
Swan Song.

Georgette Pierre:
Oh gosh, it was so... Oh yes, yes.

David Yoon:
It's beautiful, right? So beautiful.

Georgette Pierre:
Yes.

David Yoon:
It's about a dad who's dying and doesn't wanna tell his family so he clones himself-

Georgette Pierre:
It was-

David Yoon:
So that the clone will live on. And my... Honestly, my favorite part was when his little boy is in bed and he kisses his little boy, and they just happen to have brown skin, right? And the little boy's just allowed to be a little boy. And it was easy enough to pitch that to Kassi, our film agent, and then she went to pit... To pitch it to, um... And then w- we pitched directly t- to Dawn Olmstead who's the president o- of Anonymous Content, and she is completely down. She's like so into it. Um, I think from a- a moral standpoint, like, there's a huge gap-

Georgette Pierre:
Yeah.

David Yoon:
In the media market, but also business wise there's an opportunity here. There's-

Georgette Pierre:
Absolutely.

David Yoon:
There's people like us who are dying for these stories.

Georgette Pierre:
Yeah.

David Yoon:
A- and from the publishing side, we can attest to the fact that there is a huge supply of really, really high quality manuscripts from writers of color that we've been... I mean honestly, like, honored t- to read, uh, first.

Georgette Pierre:
Yes.

David Yoon:
And just knowing that that stuff is out there just waiting to get published and adapted is like... I- it makes really happy and hopeful. You know how news, you know, they always have to... Or in PR-

Georgette Pierre:
Yeah.

David Yoon:
You always have to give some kinda news you can use-

Georgette Pierre:
Yeah,

David Yoon:
Like wrap the... Wrap the nugget of news in chocolate.

Georgette Pierre:
Yes.

David Yoon:
But you're really selling the chocolate, right?

Georgette Pierre:
Yes.

David Yoon:
And so when you're telling a story featuring a person of color, it's almost like you have to put in a morsel of educational something-

Georgette Pierre:
Mm-hmm.

David Yoon:
For the white audience.

Georgette Pierre:
Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.

David Yoon:
You know?

Georgette Pierre:
Mm-hmm.

David Yoon:
I... The weirdest feedback I ever got about my second book, which is Super Fake Love Song, which is just a- a slap stick young adult rom com. Um, and I wrote it just to be really, really funny. And the... Someone... Someone said "I read Super Fake Love Song, I loved it, I laughed my ass off, but I didn't learn that much about Korean culture."

Georgette Pierre:
Mm.

David Yoon:
And I was like "interesting. I'm not gonna judge, I'm just gonna mark that as interesting." Like, there's an expectation to be taught something-

Georgette Pierre:
Mm-hmm.

David Yoon:
About the other.

Georgette Pierre:
Right.

David Yoon:
Um, and when you're the other, you know, th- that's one of the things you gotta consider is like, are you gonna be that... Are you gonna be the Korean food tour guide, you know?

Georgette Pierre:
Yeah. Yeah.

David Yoon:
Or are you gonna let it figure out for itself? What... What will, you know, result in more resistance?

Georgette Pierre:
Yeah, yeah.

David Yoon:
Um-

Georgette Pierre:
I love that example.

David Yoon:
It's just a tricky reality, you know?

Georgette Pierre:
I know, that's actually a good point. Sometimes, um, you know, with doing the work, people are doing the work. It's this idea, I was like... You know, I tell people, I was like "I don't get up... I don't get to get up and just exist. I have to think about"-

David Yoon:
Right.

Georgette Pierre:
"My safety, I have to think about how am I being viewed today even before my mouth starts to utter a word of anything? And so I- I have to navigate life a lot differently than-

David Yoon:
Oh yeah.

Georgette Pierre:
Than they do."

David Yoon:
Oh my God.

Georgette Pierre:
And so yeah... So that's actually an interest... I've never heard that, but that makes so much sense still. And that... You see examples of it though, and that's actually-

David Yoon:
Yeah, yeah.

Georgette Pierre:
A- an interesting-

David Yoon:
I mean, it's-

Georgette Pierre:
Feedback point, yeah.

David Yoon:
I'm trying... I'm trying to be gracious abut it, you know?

Georgette Pierre:
Yeah.

David Yoon:
Like, I've had really good friends, um, I- I'll... We'll be at the beach and we're kind of dusting off in the parking lot, and I'm like "oh God I hate sand in the car." And though... And one of my friends is like "is that a Korean thing?" And I was like "it's a human thing." I- it's strange, like, you're talking about walking out of the house and being very conscious of how you're be... How you're being perceived.

Georgette Pierre:
Yeah.

David Yoon:
Um, and I think it's interesting that you will be described as an African American. That American comes second. Um, and I'm described as a Korean American, or Asian American. I mean, again, the American comes second.

Georgette Pierre:
Second, mm-hmm.

David Yoon:
And there's a truth to that, how we're being perceived.

Georgette Pierre:
Mm-hmm.

David Yoon:
Um, there's a snap judgment first before we're b... We're considered as just kinda quirky human beings.

Georgette Pierre:
(laughs) That's hilarious. No, but I get it. I get it. And it's... And it's something that we're always gonna have to navigate in a gracious way-

David Yoon:
Mm-hmm.

Georgette Pierre:
Depending on, you know, the level of graciousness that they say it with. 'Cause sometimes it just comes out, uh, or sometimes it's... It could be intentionally hurtful, you know? And so-

David Yoon:
Yeah, yeah.

Georgette Pierre:
Mm-hmm.

David Yoon:
And, and you-

Georgette Pierre:
Yeah.

David Yoon:
It's... And also just as an artist, just really practically speaking, you know, you've got... You've got something that you're selling.

Georgette Pierre:
Yeah.

David Yoon:
So what are you gonna sell?

Georgette Pierre:
What are you gonna sell, yep.

David Yoon:
And how are you gonna sell it?

Georgette Pierre:
'Cause the people don't look like us when you're... Like, the people that you're talking to when you're pitching, they don't look like us-

David Yoon:
No.

Georgette Pierre:
And so it- it's-

David Yoon:
Yeah.

Georgette Pierre:
Yeah. Having to keep that in mind as well.

David Yoon:
Mm-hmm.

Georgette Pierre:
Um, so no matter what you do now, your experience of Emerson has influenced who you are today. Every institution leaves it's fingerprint on us, whether we use it, acknowledge it, or not. What do you think that Emerson-shaped mark is for you?

David Yoon:
Um, I th... I really think it's, uh, persistence and seriousness, um, and discipline. You know, th- the people I've met at Emerson were all really into writing. They were serious about it.

Georgette Pierre:
Mm-hmm.

David Yoon:
And it was... I knew I had to go to some place like Emerson because I'd tried to make my own writing groups. Um, and you get all kinds of weirdos and like, people who think they know what writing is, and they just don't. Or they're [inaudible 00:27:22] and they just kind of come in and out. And so when you go to a place like Emerson, you can really focus on the craft. Um, and we focused a lot on the craft, an- and it was... I- it led me to, um, to just be really, really, uh, kind of dispassionate about my own art.

Georgette Pierre:
Mm.

David Yoon:
And get feedback, an- and learn that the first draft is just the first draft in a long journey of drafts. And uh, and that... It's a huge mindset, because it kept us going when w- we didn't know what we were doing. We were getting rejected, um, left and right for years. And it just kept us going, because not only did we have the work ethic, but we also had the network of people who were serious. And when you talk about other people... When you talk to other people like Normies, you know, about writing, they're like "oh I don't read books." (laughs).

Georgette Pierre:
(laughs) right.

David Yoon:
What, you don't read books? But when you talk to real serious writers about it, it's super validating. You don't feel like you're going crazy.

Georgette Pierre:
Yeah.

David Yoon:
And th- that was really, really important.

Georgette Pierre:
Yeah, absolutely. Um, interesthing... Interesting things stand out to us, especially at our time at Emerson, and sometimes you hear something at the time that you don't deem relevant or useful, but then it ends up being useful. Um, is there anything like that that happened for you at Emerson?

David Yoon:
Um, yeah, honestly it was Chris Tolman, again my, uh, thesis advisor-

Georgette Pierre:
Yes.

David Yoon:
H- he would... He was really good at manuscript notes, and... And, um, he would just... Sometimes he'd just write "do better." And you know, you know... You know when you're busted. You know when you're lazy and you write that dumb sentence, you know?

Georgette Pierre:
(laughs).

David Yoon:
Or you lean on the cliché a little too hard.

Georgette Pierre:
Yeah.

David Yoon:
And he'll c... He called us out on it all the time, and he'd just be like "you know what, just do better." And we're like "fine. I know, I know, I'm busted." Um, and just that like, avoiding cliché was a metaphor for j- just tell it the way you would tell it, you know?

Georgette Pierre:
Mm-hmm.

David Yoon:
Really, really be yourself, because that's the thing that is gonna make you happy as an artist, you know? We had also asked like "is this publishable?" And he would always shoot back like "b- by... For who? In what?" Um, and we'd be like "I don't know, the New Yorker?" 'Cause that's all we knew (laughs). Like... And he was like "just write it your way, you know, you gotta write it your way."

Georgette Pierre:
Mm.

David Yoon:
Because not only will that make you happier as an artist, i- it's what people are gonna want, you know? I don't like Kazuo Ishiguro because he writes like Margaret Atwood, or he writes like Stephenie Meyer or whatever. I like him because he writes like him. And I like Stephenie Meyer because she writes like herself.

Georgette Pierre:
Mm-hmm.

David Yoon:
And so on and so on. I like my wife's writing. I'm her number one fan, and she's my favorite writer because she writes like her. There's no one else who could do that.

Georgette Pierre:
Yeah.

David Yoon:
Um, and you know, I think that i- is the one thing that I would take away. And just sort of going back to the network, it really, really... I can't tell you how important the network is.

Georgette Pierre:
Yeah.

David Yoon:
Um, there are things I learned at Emerson, sure, that were really practically important. Skills.

Georgette Pierre:
Yeah.

David Yoon:
Um, but the network is kind of everything. It makes like, you know... My latest book is City of Orange, just came out. That started out as a NaNoWriMo novel, which is National Write a Novel month. It's when you sit your ass down in November and you do nothing but write, and you try to hit 50,000 words in one month.

Georgette Pierre:
Wow.

David Yoon:
It's insanity.

Georgette Pierre:
Yeah.

David Yoon:
But... But Nicky, my wife, made me do it. Because in her mind, it wasn't crazy because she's a writer, too. And that's that network, you know, encouraging each other. And I wrote that book, God, ten years ago and I was too scared to show anyone, and blah blah blah, but you know, wonderful things happened, I found an editor and an agent, and now it's on the shelf. And-

Georgette Pierre:
Wow.

David Yoon:
That's... That's what encouragement can get you, you know?

Georgette Pierre:
Yeah. Yeah. That's amazing. You know, um, and a quick point, um, when you... When... When you said that you weren't really writing in your voice. That's again something I think that people and artists of color always think about. We're always appealing to an audience because... Like, a level of acceptance. Like, you're not necessarily... We want to appeal to our audience, but we also understand that the... On the other side of this, like-

David Yoon:
Mm-hmm.

Georgette Pierre:
The people that are receiving it are people that we have to make it digestible for-

David Yoon:
Right, yeah.

Georgette Pierre:
And I love that he emphasized like "no, write this for you. Things can get tweaked along the way, things can get adjusted." But like, trying to tell a story for a... Make it digestible for other people versus like, telling it in your own voice-

David Yoon:
Mm-hmm.

Georgette Pierre:
Um, I think is [inaudible 00:31:59].

David Yoon:
But it... B- but honestly, the trepidation is, I understand it too, you know?

Georgette Pierre:
Yeah, absolutely.

David Yoon:
It's a... It's a scary world out there. Like, up until very recently, like, you know... You know... You hear about we need diverse books, this, uh, movement in publishing to... Is a grass roots movement to get more people of color in books. Um, that was really recent. That just happened, honestly like, in the last few years.

Georgette Pierre:
Yeah.

David Yoon:
And before that, in YA at least, most YA book covers had only white girls on the covers. And so that's the momentum, the cultural momentum and legacy that we're dealing with. Um, so it's perfectly fine to be scared, um, of telling your own story, uh, in the way you want. But honestly, I don't think you have much of a choice.

Georgette Pierre:
Yeah.

David Yoon:
Because if you try to tell a story that's not yours, you're gonna be unhappy.

Georgette Pierre:
Yeah.

David Yoon:
And you're not gonna... You might make it, like, financially. But you won't make it kind of spiritually and personally.

Georgette Pierre:
Yeah. Mm-hmm, absolutely. No, I- I connect with that wholeheartedly. Um, quickly switching gears. Uh, if you had to switch careers, what would you do?

David Yoon:
Oh, you know what? I would be uh, a- a music composer f- for like, video games and film and TV.

Georgette Pierre:
Oh, wow, okay.

David Yoon:
I would love to do that (laughs).

Georgette Pierre:
(laughs) You knew that quickly.

David Yoon:
And I swear to God, in another life I was a musician.

Georgette Pierre:
Yeah. I think that, too. I- I literally was like "oh, was I a recording artist in my... A past life?"

David Yoon:
And how about yourself?

Georgette Pierre:
I thought I was a recording artist in my past life, I promise. Like, I- I- I did s- some... I went on some journeys... I'll leave it at that word, journeys-

David Yoon:
Uh-huh.

Georgette Pierre:
And I literally was just like "ooh." I'm like "man, I- I mi..." That or a lawyer. I had to be one of those two things in my past life, because I am like-

David Yoon:
(laughs).

Georgette Pierre:
I'll read and chalk a contract up. Or I could like, even like, semi write my own contacts [inaudible 00:33:42].

David Yoon:
Wow

Georgette Pierre:
But like, I am very type A i- i- in those types o- of ways.

David Yoon:
A singing lawyer?

Georgette Pierre:
And so yeah, a recording artist or a lawyer.

David Yoon:
Like a... A vocalist lawyer?

Georgette Pierre:
Um, what's one thing you'd like to try next, and why haven't you tried it yet?

David Yoon:
Um, I mean I really wanna try, um, God... Like, well, I'm kinda doing it. It's like development for film and TV. But I- I just... We just don't quite know what we're doing, 'cause we're so new at it. Um, that's one thing I would really like to do. But like, on a less serious note, I wanna be in a dad band. And like... And just play like, Pixies covers on the weekend (laughs).

Georgette Pierre:
(laughs). I love it. It's so lighthearted. I mean, we gotta be, right? Like, I love it, I love it, I love it. Um, and lastly, what does it mean for you to make it and how will Dave know when he gets there?

David Yoon:
Okay, so this is an excellent question. I- I rea... I read y- y- your previous interviews, and it's... It's like, so tricky because you think... You think that getting published is making it. You think that like, earning a certain amount of money is making it. Um, you know, possessing certain items is making it. Um, having the respect of certain people is making it. And that's all part of it, sure, you know? It- it's nice to have a certain level of money so you don't have to worry about certain things. Um, and it's nice to be read by people. Um, it's also our greatest fear as writers (laughs). It's like... It's also really nice.

But honestly, making i- is, um, when you have freedom. And, you know, what do you do... It's sort of like, just ask yourself, what do you do... When do you feel the most free? Um, And I like to say "when do you feel the most like a little kid again?" Because that's when you're the most free is when you're a little kid, and you're creating things without thinking about like, an audience or money for sure, or marketability, or social media, or any of that. You're just making stuff for the sheer joy of it.

Um, and the closest you can get to that in your life, just making things for the sheer joy of it, on your terms... Having an audience that will actually, you know, buy it, they'll provide you with the money to live your life. Um, whatever level that is, uh, I think that's really making it.

And also, you need to have love in your life. Like, I'm really, really fortunate to have won the love lottery with Nicky. I mean like, I don't understand how... Like, i- it's gonna be 20 years an- and we're still not tired of each other at all. Like, honestly, we'll sit there and we're having a version of the conversations we had a- at Emerson. A- at, um, what was that... Johnny Flynn's? Or Charlie Flynn's? There was a bar right down the street from the Little building-

Georgette Pierre:
Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

David Yoon:
And we'd go and like, smoke cigarettes and drink and talk about poetry. Um, we're still kinda doing that. We're not drinking as much, and we're certainly not smoking, but like (laughs).

Georgette Pierre:
(laughs).

David Yoon:
And our daughter is amazing. And she is making her own comic books and stuff, and-

Georgette Pierre:
Aw.

David Yoon:
Definitely following in our footsteps. And there's just a lot of love in the house, and when you have a lot of love in the house, you're safe. Um, and you can take risks and be silly and explore, um, creative ideas without fear of getting shot down, or misunderstood, or ridiculed. Um, and so that love and trust i- is also I think... Get as much of that as you can, and honestly that's a huge part of making it, too.

Georgette Pierre:
I love that. I love that, I love that. Dave, thank you so much.

David Yoon:
(laughs). It was so nice talking with you. It was just like... I feel like we could talk for hours, honestly.

Georgette Pierre:
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