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K-drama YA novel alert: I Believe in a Thing Called Love

It isn’t often that we write about books on Dramabeans, but when I heard there was a Young Adult novel coming out that explicitly deals with K-dramas—and a Korean-American heroine who uses K-dramas as a love guide—it sounded like exactly the kind of thing Beanies might want to know about.

We initially heard from YA author Maurene Goo a year ago, when she contacted us about the book she had sold, titled I Believe in a Thing Called Love. Girlfriday and I got the chance to read it and act as Maurene’s encyclopedia of K-drama minutiae; we’ve been in regular contact with Maurene since then, and were waiting for the day when we would get the okay to tell people about the book. Maurene let us know that her cover has just been revealed, and it felt like a great time to let people know about the book and provide a brief introduction.

About I Believe in a Thing Called Love:

Desi Lee believes anything is possible if you have a plan. That’s how she became student body president. Varsity soccer star. And it’s how she’ll get into Stanford. But—she’s never had a boyfriend. In fact, she’s a disaster in romance, a clumsy, stammering humiliation magnet whose botched attempts at flirting have become legendary with her friends. So when the hottest human specimen to have ever lived walks into her life one day, Desi decides to tackle her flirting failures with the same zest she’s applied to everything else in her life. She finds her answer in the Korean dramas her father has been obsessively watching for years—where the hapless heroine always seems to end up in the arms of her true love by episode ten. It’s a simple formula, and Desi is a quick study. Armed with her “K Drama Steps to True Love,” Desi goes after the moody, elusive artist Luca Drakos—and boat rescues, love triangles, and fake car crashes ensue. But when the fun and games turn to true feels, Desi finds out that real love is about way more than just drama.

 
Dramabeans: How would you introduce your book to a K-drama fan? How about a K-drama newbie?

Maurene Goo: To a K-drama fan I would say this is a YA novel acting as a loving homage—not only because K-dramas are literally part of the plot, but because I wrote the book as my own version of a K-drama, which is to say it’s pretty different but still has K-drama as its beating heart: It’s about a girl who tries to get the guy using K-drama tropes—she is kind of unknowingly a K-drama heroine before she even sets out on this plan.

To a K-drama newbie: This is essentially a YA romantic comedy about a determined girl pursuing love using outrageous tropes found in Korean dramas as a blueprint. And hopefully K-drama newbies will end up with an understanding of the unique appeal that Korean dramas have, something that sets them apart from regular ol’ American rom-coms.

 
Did you find it challenging to write for both types of readers? That is to say, those familiar with the world of dramas, and those who may never have heard of them?

It was challenging. My instinct was to go full K-drama—to just revel in the tropes and push things to the limit in the plot. Like a real K-drama! But I quickly realized that reading a book is a different experience from watching a K-drama. And not only that, but a lot of my readers may not be as familiar with K-dramas, and without that context, the book may feel a little absurd. I eventually found a good balance once I understood my main character really well. Because in the end, the book is about a girl and her realization that love can’t be controlled—and that was the most important message for me to relay, as much as telling a fun love story. (Which I hope it is!)

 
We can vouch that there were laugh-out-loud shenanigans! So I know you’re a longtime K-drama fan, and you’re a published YA author. What made you decide to make those two worlds collide and write a book using K-dramas as a central concept? Also, what are some of your favorite dramas?

When I was a kid forced to go to the “video store” with my parents, I wanted to gouge my eyeballs out, I hated most of the dramas back then. (Probably because my Korean comprehension wasn’t that great, haha. And also it was all my parents wanted to watch!) And then something shifted in my teen years—a lot more fun and “cool” dramas came out and my other Korean-American friends and I loved watching them—buying the soundtracks, even picking up rando accessories with our favorite stars on them at Morning Glory. (Song Seung-heon postcards!)

I’m going off topic. So in high school, and throughout college, my best friends and I watched K-dramas on and off, and we always thought we should write and film our own. Unfortunately (or… fortunately?!), we never did. Flash-forward years later, when brainstorming ideas and I think of this. How can I combine K-dramas and YA, two of my beloveds? Because to me there’s a natural overlap in fandoms, even if not yet fully discovered (although I am hearing from you guys, one by one!). And I Believe in a Thing Called Love is what I came up with.

Ooh favorite K-dramas. So back in the day I loved Feelings, Star in My Heart, Beautiful Days, First Love, Propose, All In, and Revenge. Recent faves are Healer (thank you for introducing me to this, you guys!), You From Another Star, It’s Okay It’s Love, City Hunter, Signal, Oh My Ghostess, and Answer Me 1997 (again, thanks to you!).

 
We’re always happy to introduce people to crack dramas! It feels like Hallyu and K-pop have become a lot more mainstream these days, but a few years ago when you were pitching/shopping your book, the landscape wasn’t quite the same as it was now—it was pre-You From Another Star, pre-Descended From the Sun. Did you find it was a hard sell to have a book all about K-dramas? Were people in publishing aware of it as a genre?

Yeah, it wasn’t as big, but I could feel that it was just about to get there. Luckily, my agent, who knew nothing about K-dramas, loved this book and her support of it was invaluable. I didn’t get any feedback from editors that the K-drama aspect was an issue, which is reassuring (and I think a lot of folks in publishing were actually aware of what it was!). In general, I think that the move towards diversity in publishing really helped me when I shopped this book around—the growing awareness and discussions going on right now have changed the kid lit landscape for the better, making it more of a welcoming space for stories that may not always be familiar. (Not to say that we don’t still have a lot of work to do!)

 
Would you say you had any drama references in mind when building your overall story? I know you reference many drama titles within the plot, but was there any specific drama or style of drama you had in mind for the main overarching plot?

I was definitely going back to Boys Over Flowers a lot—because that drama went through almost every single K-drama trope you could think of! Also, it was the drama that reignited my love for K-dramas after a long dry spell. This book definitely focuses on the rom-com genre as the blueprint. I drew on things like the hate-turns-to-love type romances with brooding (seemingly) complex love interests because I felt like not only were they K-drama staples, but also recognizable to anyone who loves rom-coms. Or Jane Austen for that matter.

 
I found Desi interesting in that she’s not really a fan of dramas, despite knowing a lot about them as a Korean-American who grew up with them on the TV. It gives an interesting point of entry to make her a non-fan who was familiar with the world. Did you ever consider making her a drama fanatic instead?

I did, I actually have an older version of the manuscript with her running a very popular K-drama blog! But I realized that, like you said, having the reader go to “K-drama school” with Desi would be a fun way to intro readers to dramas without having to over-explain. And having her be skeptical of their appeal was my way of making the case for why K-dramas are the best 🙂 Also, I based her a bit on my sister who grew up in the same household as me but somehow has never finished a drama or has any interest in doing so! (I know. What.)

 
As we know, dramaland moves at lightning pace, where dramas can be planned, cast, and shot in a matter of weeks… in contrast to publishing, which is a snail. You wrote this book years ago, so did you find yourself constantly having to go back and update the drama references to be more current? Or, did you ever watch a drama and think, “I have to put that in there!”

This happened SO MANY TIMES. I discovered most of the favorite dramas I listed in my previous answer after writing and selling this book. The ones I have in there now are pretty darn recent, but by the time it comes out next year there will be a slew of more amazing ones! I love how rapidly the K-drama landscape changes, I can’t wait to see them outdo my current favorites, which dramaland manages to do every single time. Who’s going to beat Signal or Healer?! I can’t wait to find out!

 
I Believe in a Thing Called Love will be published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in May 2017. You can preorder it on Amazon.

About the author:

Maurene Goo grew up in a Los Angeles suburb surrounded by floral wallpaper and piles of books. She studied communication at UC San Diego and then later received a Masters in publishing, writing, and literature at Emerson College. Before publishing her first book, Since You Asked, she worked in both textbook and art book publishing. She has very strong feelings about tacos and houseplants and lives in Los Angeles.
 

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Ooooohh!!! Looks interesting! I hope i find it here. :D

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She loves Healer and Signal - my top two faves after more than 200 dramas. I will sign up to pre-purchase her book!

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So fun! My great love of books + my K-drama obsession = Instantly added to my to be read pile! I can't wait!

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This is exciting! I agree there is an overlap in the fandoms, it's where I live! I'll keep my eye out for this - especially since I loved the last YA series DB recommended; check out Jenny Han's To All the Boys I've Loved Before if you haven't already, and her other work is great too!

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Jenny Han fan here! *highfive*

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Yes yes ! It was such a fun book and on plus side, I won that book on the DB giveaway they held !!!

Thanks JB ! I will keep a look out for this one as well !!

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YOU WON THE BOOK! I'd completely forgotten about that giveaway. Now I know why, no shipping outside of the US. Well congratz in reverse hon. 😉

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Wow, this is great! Thank you so much for this interesting interview!

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I'd love to read this. I hope I'll remember about it next year.

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To be able to combine both of your beloveds Maurene Goo and make money out of it! #goals

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Nice article JB! I would love to read it when it comes out! Hope I will remember it when May 2017 is here :).

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I'll never been into the 'I'll make him fall in love with me' thing, but I may buy this. An outrageous book include all my guilty-pleasure drama tropes? How can I resist?

Saying that, if there's no amnesia in this book I'll cry.

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Oohh this looks interesting! I've been itching trying to find some new books (while waiting for A Million Pieces of You - anyone reads the books?). This sounds like the perfect book. I loved how you guys always gives sneak peeks of books, i remember you guys also write about To All The Boys I've Loved Before. And i reaaaallllyy love the book.

Count me in for this book! :)

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it sounds so fun! i would love to read it! thanks for the interview. i will be looking for her works now! but really, i think the book is based on me.

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This! This is what I've always wanted, a YA novel filled with Kdrama tropes and references! I can't wait for this to come out!

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Being honest, the synopsis is rather familiar in korean dramas like nothing new.
I think writers should create more dark but unique story like Memories of Bali or Que Sera Sera where viewers can't predict the ending.

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Haha, she just described my adolescence, too. Going to the video store, being obsessed with dramas like Star in My Heart and Propose, buying cute albeit expensive stationery at Morning Glory, and getting the OSTs for the dramas I liked...brings back such memories!!

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A YA book about K-dramas! I'm so buying that.

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Come to think of it, YA does use some major kdrama tropes (second leads, anyone?) so in a way this could be perfect.

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It reminds me a bit of the concept of Jane the Virgin (telenovela tropes abound with a telenovela-loving heroine who finds herself in telenovela-like situations)!

I love YA books (although mostly fantasy) and K-Dramas so much, just sit me down in a room with an endless bookshelf and a computer I can stream Viki and DramaFever on and I am set for life, haha. Definitely checking this out!

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i LOVE jane the virgin! the obvious difference is that, here, it sounds like the protagonist intentionally puts drama tropes into action, whereas in jane, her life is just a telenovela, but through not fault of her own lol

the premise of this one reminds me of another book i read ages ago, in like, high school. it was about a girl who was [secretly] obsessed with romance novels and she tried to use the plot of one she had just read to make a guy like her :p kind of cheesy and predictable but i'm all about that haha

def going to keep this title in mind :)

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*jots it down on the TBR list*
kdrama + books is literally my life in a nutshell so obviously I'll be reading this book.

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Ahhhh,romance,kdrama and comedy...I want to read it so badly but i sadly know i don't have a chance,doubt it will ever be available in my poor little country Romania...Hope it will become a bestseller!

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I need that book ASAP but I doubt if I will ever see it in my country (Nigeria)

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I'm dying a little at the idea of anyone using kdramas as a love guide, imagine if someone took the cue from Boys Over Flowers to fill your love interest's swimming pool with ducks? But it sounds awesome in a very meta way - I definitely want to check it out!

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Or like Ha Won admiring HJ's perseverance/stalking. SMDH

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This is very exciting. It's always inspiring to see an author's hard work and time pay off. Plus, whenever someone reaches a goal doing something they are passionate about, it's a great thing to see.

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YA is my fav genre. Kdramas? And an Austen mention?! Yassss. Hope I remember to read it in May.

It reminds me of a couple overlaps:
Maya(GMW)/Ho Joon(SG,G) shipping music video I saw the other day
Austenland (which I still haven't seen)

And beloved parodies:
Lost in Austen
Clare from Dramaworld ofc
Monthly Girl's Nozaki
Ouran High School Host Club
Daily Lives of High School Boys
Cinderella and the Four Knights
Wagnaria!
6teen
Haven't you heard, I'm Sakamoto?

And my precious modern adaptations of English classics.

I'm so excited!

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Me: Awesome, I haven't read a book in a while and this is so, so perfect! *looks at release date* I have to wait that long?

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Hardcover – May 30, 2017!

Will be worth the wait.

GREAT JOB, totally will buy the book!

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Hands up to her!!!!

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that is sounds interesting because she's actually did what we always thought and talked about here in every comment how kdrama romance usually absurd but we still love it.
i wish i can found the book ^^

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Sounds great, looking forward to it. Only bummed I won't be able to buy it for Christmas gifts this year!

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"love can’t be controlled".

So does that mean that real love and a truck of doom are soul mates?

🤔

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Great taste in dramas! Must.Read. May 2017, check.

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Gosh, this is awesome! I wish her all the success in the K-world and real world.

I actually wrote a YA novel. Put it down.
Went back and tried to K-drama spice it up a bit. I even tried adding a love triangle, but that pretty much through any realism right out the window.

Maybe it's time to try again!

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oh nooooooooooo.....i have to wait 8 months for the book to be released!!

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Hopefully it will be available for shipping out of the US, otherwise I can now imagine the horror,teasing looks and what not my male cousina would send my way once I tell them to buy something fo me.. but YA+Kdrama, I guess I'll have to endure their teasings again

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Oooo wow. I can't wait now! :)

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the title reminds me off the thai movie " A little thing called love" which was one of my favorites.
The book sounds something I would enjoy.

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Thank you for this interview! I didn't know this book was coming out and I am looking forward to it; I also looooove the cover, I think I'm going to have to buy it.

The diasporic experience of pop culture from the 'mother land' is something I've been thinking about a lot recently (thanks for that, Dramaworld), so I'm really excited about reading something that tackles that in what seems like a very natural way.

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Great interview! Sounds like fun! I'd be interested to know what Dad's taste in k-dramas was like! Hopefully not too much makjang or crime thrillers! :D

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Hope they publish on Kindle as well. I would definitely love to purchase and read this book.

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WOW! I bet that'll be one interesting book! Dang drama knowledge coming to use helping authors, so cool lol. Gonna add this to my to read list asap

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So a YA novel that incorporates K-drama tropes, itself is full of Asian-American tropes/stereotypes?

Overachieving AAF student - check
Socially awkward (at least when it comes to the opposite sex) - check
Has crush on a white guy - check

Now, quite possibly, there is more depth to this novel than what it appears on the surface, but wish Asian-American writers wouldn't stick so much to tropes/stereotypes (more AA writers are branching away from this basic premise, but too many still stick to it).

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Ordered for my library! :)

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