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.