Publishers' Preview: Debut Authors: Five Questions for Julie Lee

This interview originally appeared in the July/August 2020 Horn Book Magazine as part of the Publishers’ Previews: Debut Authors, an advertising supplement that allows participating publishers a chance to each highlight a book from its current list. They choose the books; we ask the questions.

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Sora has always been her Brother’s Keeper. But care for ailing Youngsoo becomes critical when their family is forced to flee North Korea during the Korean War.

1. Would you visit North Korea, if you could?

Yes, but not at the risk of my life and my family’s well-being. I’m hoping one day in my lifetime, circumstances will change and I’ll be able to safely go, to see where my mother grew up, to walk the route she walked on that late November night when she and her family first fled.

2. Without giving anything away, did you know how painful the story would get?

I didn’t until I delved deeper into my research, and Sora and her family began coming to life on the page. I still get emotional talking about this story.

3. What did writing historical fiction teach you about reading it?

I wanted to include the broader historical context of Sora’s life beyond the Korean War, which meant weaving in flashbacks of her memories during the Japanese occupation and North Korea’s conversion to communism. I needed the complicated history to be easy to understand and flow naturally within the story. Now when I read historical fiction, I pay special attention to all the ways historical context is woven in. That is the beauty of this genre — that melding of art and fact. I also savor author’s notes, where I can get a behind-the-scenes look at how and why a story was written.

4. Do you think you could have made the journey that Sora does?

It’s hard to know. At twelve, I was a scrawny kid who spent most of my time reading. But when faced with a life-or-death situation, the human instinct for survival is strong; even stronger if you have someone to protect, as Sora does. Anything could have been possible.

5. You are in a critique group with your own sisters. Does that get…interesting?

Yes! I’d liken it to sitting in a dunk tank while my sisters hold all the balls. They’re among my greatest cheerleaders and harshest critics. A note of praise from them can make me cry; a word of criticism can…also make me cry. In all seriousness, I love my sisters and appreciate their honest feedback. I couldn’t have written this story without them.

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Roger Sutton
Roger Sutton
Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.

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