Kim’s twisty debut, Miracle Creek (FSG/Crichton, Apr.), centers on the fallout after a hyperbaric oxygen therapy chamber explosion.
You write from the points of view of multiple characters. Why this narrative structure?
Miracle Creek involves a horrific explosion that kills or injures multiple people. It was time-consuming; I did a lot of freewriting in first person to find a distinct and believable voice for each character. Having multiple narrators gives readers pieces of the puzzle from various angles, maximizing the fun and challenge of figuring out the who-/how-/why-dunit. More than that, this structure allowed me to explore the interior lives and motivations of a variety of characters.
You’ve worked as a lawyer, and you’ve had experience with hyperbaric oxygen therapy. Why draw from these experiences?
I did HBOT with my son, who was born deaf in one ear and developed other health issues. It was one of the most intimate experiences of my life, being sealed in a chamber for hourlong “dives” with other children and their mothers, sharing our journeys and coping with minor disasters that came along, such as power outages and tantrums. When I started writing, I immediately thought of the darkened, sealed HBOT chamber. What friendships and conflicts would arise if people with differing degrees and types of issues were forced to interact, day after day? What if something truly disastrous happened when they were trapped together? Once I decided that an HBOT fire would anchor my novel, I settled on a murder trial, because of my familiarity with courtroom procedures and the drama inherent to trials. Much of being a lawyer is tedious and awful, and I definitely prefer writing about it to practicing.
You discuss themes such as racism, motherhood, and the objectivity of truth—what draws you to these themes?
I didn’t set out to write a novel about these themes. But I’m an immigrant to the U.S., and I’ve experienced racism, bullying, and the shame of feeling like a bah-bo—an idiot who can’t understand, can’t speak, can’t even dress right. I’m a mother to a child with a disability. I’m a lawyer who’s worked for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the D.C. Public Defender Service. Given my experiences and passion for these issues, it’s not surprising that those themes emerged. Fiction builds empathy. I certainly hope my novel will lend insight to the plight of immigrant families. Novels exploring immigrants’ lives are imperative right now, when there is so much hostility to people seen as “foreign” and “different.” Just as importantly, I hope my novel will raise awareness of the challenges that parents of special-needs children face—not only systemic things like the lack of support from our healthcare, childcare, and education systems, but also with the societal expectation of having to be perfect parents to perfect children. If I can build even a pinch of empathy for those especially burdened in today’s climate, I’d consider that my proudest accomplishment.