I recently had the opportunity to interview author William Andrews about his experience writing his recent book, Daughters of the Dragon: A Comfort Woman’s Story. This book was a departure for us as it is not a memoir, but we felt honored by Bill’s confidence that we could deepen his story and hone its writing.
I had coached and edited an earlier version of this novel for Bill (as well as two other novels) which had a different name and a different narrator. At the time, Bill was working during the weekday and writing mostly at night and on weekends.
While this is a memoir blog, I want to share with you what I think Bill exemplifies for us: a commitment to writing. It is the same commitment but in the memoir field that will see all of us succeed at our endeavors. Besides, I really like Bill and hope you will go out and buy Daughters of the Dragon: A Comfort Woman’s Story and tell your local librarian to do the same. In this interview you will learn much about how to write a book.
The interview will run in two snippets. The first is below and the second follows here. Bill will be answering any questions you may have so jump into the conversation.
Denis Ledoux: You have been working on Daughters of the Dragon for quite a while now. Can you tell us how long it has taken from the time you conceived the book to the time you had it published? How many years have you spent in active writing? Were there any long breaks in between writing times?
Bill Andrews: I wrote the first draft in 2008 in about 6 months. Then I landed what I thought was going to be a temporary job helping a large financial institution set up an internal advertising group. When they offered me the job to run the group (at about the same time the market crashed), I took it. I stayed over 4 years. I tinkered with the book during that while, but never had the time to really polish it. I even got a top-notch agent, but frankly, I couldn’t do what she asked while working full-time so we parted ways. Actually, she dumped me, and I don’t blame her one bit. Then, in 2012, the company disbanded my group, and I jumped at the chance to take early retirement so I could work on Daughters of the Dragon: A Comfort Woman’s Story.
A year later, I had a polished product and a new agent. She really helped me. And now, it’s published. I probably could have done more on it while I was working full time, but I didn’t have enough energy. And, it helped to get away from it for a while. And that’s my story about how to write a book.
DL: Can you tell us how you came upon this topic? How did you get interested in the Korean comfort women?
BA: Absolutely. It has something to do with having a Korean daughter. It’s why I first got interested in Korea and why I visited the country in 2000. We went with 15 other families with adopted Korean children, and I was embarrassed and ashamed how little all of us knew about the country. And we all had a vested interest! Then, when I learned about the comfort women and how the Koreans view America (they believe we used their country for our own purposes), I vowed to learn more. So, while not directly autobiographical, there is a lot of me in it.
About the same time I was learning about the Korean comfort women, the New York Times reported on a study that said the Korean government and American military were in cahoots regarding military brothels outside of US bases in Korea, called kijichons. Some practices were downright immoral and probably illegal. For example, a GI would go into the big city and court a Korean girl. He’d promise to take her to America and marry her. He’d bring her to the kijichon and dump her for a fee from the brothel owner (sometimes ex-US military men.) The girl couldn’t go home because she’d shamed her family, so she was forced into prostitution to pay her debts to the brothel owners—debts she had no chance of ever repaying.
When I learned this, it struck me that there isn’t a lot of difference between the Japanese and Americans. Sure, the Japanese military was directly involved in “recruiting” and managing the comfort women. And it was on a massive scale. But, as the main character in Daughters of the Dragon: A Comfort Woman’s Story says, from the girls’ perspective, there’s no difference. When I read about this in the Times, I knew I had to write about the comfort women and how they were forced into prostitution.
DL: You must have had periods of time in which you were discouraged. Can you tell us about how you kept yourself going? What worked for you? My understanding is that during much of this time you were busy working at another job.
BA: Periods when I was discouraged? Of course. All the time. When I was hunting for agents and publishers, it was a weekly punch in the stomach. I think writers have to have a combination of dogged determination, naiveté, confidence and humility. If I’d known how difficult it was going to be when I started, I probably wouldn’t have done it. But once I was into it, I was too stubborn to quit. It’s a marathon. But I believed I could do it. After all, I wrote two novels prior to this one just to learn the craft. I think the biggest problem I had was not knowing if I was good enough. Then, I’d read some dreck best seller and I’d get angry. But it isn’t about other authors. It’s about your own writing. I was getting better so I kept going. And now I can say, “Thank goodness, I didn’t get published before the book was ready. Thank you, agents and publishers, for doing your job and turning me down.”
DL: Did you envision yourself as a writer before you begin this book. What is your identification as a writer?
BA: Yeah, I thought of myself as a writer, but I didn’t allow to call myself an author. IMHO, you are not an author until someone buys your book—and not just your spouse, mother or friends. I was a writer because I was writing and learning the craft of storytelling. But I became an author when the book started selling. I think it’s important to remember this. Why are you writing, and who are you writing for?
Be sure to come by next week (Friday, April 11) when Bill will offer us another round of insights on how to write a book. Visit Bill’s website: williamandrewsbooks.com
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