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Matthew Salesses Believes Being Better People Makes Us Better Writers
Akanksha Singh interviews Matthew Salesses about his new novel “The Sense of Wonder,” decolonizing storytelling, and what K-dramas can teach us about plot.
Craft in the Real Worldaha
The Sense of Wonder
Akanksha Singh: You chose to tell this story from two points of view—Won’s and Carrie’s—alongside sections dedicated to two different K-drama plots Carrie’s working on. Before we talk about the K-drama as a form, I wanted to ask how you arrived at the decision to have two viewpoint characters.
AS: That’s so interesting! Coming back to K-dramas more generally, I think there’s something to be said about how they’ve garnered a global following, sort of proving that there is room for “unfamiliar” stories—something the novel itself acknowledges. Yet, the novel’s protagonists themselves are constantly brick-walled by their identities. Was it important for you for this book to be about alternative storytelling forms as much as it was about how two non-white characters navigated the world?
AS: If you were to give viewing suggestions to readers who weren’t familiar with the K-drama as a form of storytelling, which ones would you pick?
AS: I thought the structure advanced the story well, and I liked that we saw notable overlaps in time between Carrie and Won’s narratives: it wasn’t one of those books where one character picks up where the last one left off. Knowing what I know now, of how you wrote this, was this deliberate or did it happen organically?
AS: One thing I appreciated about this novel was how it challenged a lot of what Global North readers know/feel/think about storytelling. You write,“Unlike in Hollywood, in Korea, plot happens because of who people are, not what they choose. They have to deal with the circumstances of their lives whether they cause those circumstances or not.” You touch on this in , but can you speak to me about the importance of decolonizing the idea of “plot,” as a writer?
AS: Would you say there’s more space for these decolonized voices in publishing? Have you seen a shift in your own time as a writer?
AS: There’s a character’s death in the novel. There’s a buildup to the death but how it happened was completely unexpected! How do you choose how to kill off a character?
AS: Do you believe character deaths to serve the plot? I feel like, a lot of the time, we (mistakenly) believe fiction owes us answers, and I didn’t necessarily get the closure I expected with a lot of characters, which is how real life goes. Do you think that is part of decolonizing our expectations as readers?
AS: Another thing that struck me was that a lot of the basketball stuff wasn’t explained in the same way the protagonists’ racial experiences were explicitly spelled out. I’m curious how you go about balancing the identities of your characters as a writer. Do you think we have a duty to let people (especially white people) into our worlds with some hand holding or is it up to them to do the work?
AS: What’s one piece of advice you’d give to (primarily white) writers incorporating racial minorities in their fiction?
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To refresh our sense of empathy we have to expose ourselves to other perspectives. In the news, in literature, in life.