Author interview with Yong Takahashi

I speak with Yong Takahashi, who has just released her poetic memoir, Observations Through Yellow Glasses.

I met Yong when she responded to my call for authors who would like to be featured in an interview on my blog.

Yong is a Korean-American author, who is currently based in Atlanta, Georgia. She is a talented writer, having published three books to date: Rising, a poetry collection, The Escape to Candyland, a short story collection, and Observations Through Yellow Glasses, a poetic memoir which has just been published. Plus, she has also co-written three songs with Rebecca Hosking!

Read below to learn more about Yong, her inspiration and writing process.

Yong TakahashiTell me about yourself – where do you live, your home life, your career, and your writing.

I’m a Korean-American author. I was born in Seoul, South Korea but I grew up in Detroit, Michigan. Currently, I live in Atlanta, Georgia although I’m looking at several beachside cities where I’d love to relocate to. In my past corporate life, I was an accountant, paralegal, and real estate broker. I wrote my short story collection, The Escape to Candyland, during lunch breaks and on the weekends. It took two years to complete then another two years to get it published.

Can you tell me about your upcoming dystopian young adult novel, Camp Detroit?

Camp Detroit is a dystopian, young adult novel about family, friendship, and the journey to find one’s inner strength. Justin Grant is a fourteen year old boy, living in the aftermath of a bankrupt Detroit, Michigan. Labeled as slow and a trouble-maker by his teachers, he is given a government-sponsored intelligence test to determine if they can legally expel him from school. The results are not what anyone, including Justin and his mother, expect. 

Placing first in the county, he is courted by the Mayor and the Board of Education to attend a summer camp for gifted students. The attendees are tasked to invent marketable products that the city can sell for profit. They promise that if he succeeds in the program, he can make a future for himself and his family. Justin wants to make his mother proud for the first time in his life and tries to conform to the camp’s rules. 

The new prodigy learns the camp is not what was promised and his teenage rival is the least of his problems. It will be published by Inkwell Publishing in 2022.

The cover of Observations Through Yellow GlassesTell me about your latest book, your poetic memoir Observations Through Yellow Glasses.

I was born in Seoul, South Korea and grew up in Detroit. I went to school without knowing how to speak English. It was difficult to learn a new language but it was much more difficult to learn a new culture. My memoir, Observations Through Yellow Glasses, follows my journey as I learned to juggle my traditional home life and the modern world.

What made you decide to write a memoir, and how long did it take you?

I’ve thought about writing a memoir for several years. Originally, I wanted to write it for my 50th birthday but then COVID happened and it delayed it a bit. It took about a year or so to write the poems.

How did you decide what to include?

I wanted to divide it into the three sections that I struggled with: Surviving childhood, searching for love, and attempting to heal wounds. 

And why did you decide to go with a poetic memoir, rather than a traditional non-fiction prose style that is typical for memoir writing?

Several family members asked me not to name them. I tried to figure out a way to tell my story without involving anyone else. I decided to tell my stories through brief snapshots of a feeling or an event. This way, I could describe what happened from my perspective and as I learned to walk between two opposing cultures.

A photo of Yong as a toddler.
A photo of Yong as a toddler.

Where do your ideas and inspiration come from?

My ideas come from everywhere but mostly from people-watching. I get a lot of my character names from the baristas calling out orders at Starbucks.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?

I’ve always written stories. I found a few chapbooks my elementary school used to publish. I made it in every year. In 2009, I started writing short stories on a consistent basis and about two years later, some of them started getting accepted by literary journals. 

Did you write many books/stories before your first book was published? How has your writing style changed and developed?

I published 20 or so short stories before my first book was published. My early work was much darker. Someone suggested I lighten up some parts of the story and I have tried to do so. I tend to leave the endings a bit open-ended to let the reader decide what will happen next. 

What is your writing desk like? (if you have one!)

Yong's view from her local Starbucks

I write at Starbucks in the mornings. I only take what I can work on for three to five hours. That way, my work space isn’t cluttered. At home, the dining room has been transformed into my office. It’s really a dumping ground for my notes and research.

Do you have a writing routine? You have written both fiction and poetry — are there similarities in the writing process?

I like to write in the morning. The first hour, I write my daily to-do list and drink my chai or coffee. Then, I start on my writing or edits. 

Poetry and songwriting definitely goes faster than fiction writing. I get a spark of inspiration, jot down my notes, let it sit for a day or two, then go back and edit. Fiction takes a lot longer for me. I have to let my ideas marinate for days, weeks, and sometimes months before I write. 

If you’d like to hear a song I co-wrote with Rebecca Hosking, here it is:

Did COVID and lockdowns change your writing goals?

I feel like I’ve written a lot less during quarantine although my friends say this isn’t true. All indoor seating at Starbucks has closed so I’m at the mercy of the weather. I’ll sit at their outdoor tables until I can’t stand the heat or cold anymore. 

I edited a lot of stories and poems I had put aside for the last few years. I was able to complete a poetry chapbook, a poetry collection, a second short story collection, and a novel. Currently, I’m working on a fantasy trilogy. I hope to complete the first book next year. 

Camp Detroit is due to be published through Inkwell Publishing. What made you decide to go with a small start up? What has the process been like?

My first book, The Escape to Candyland, was also through a smaller press. It was a great experience. They really held my hand through the entire process. As I learned more about self-publishing, I dipped a toe into that world through my poetry chapbook. An editor introduced me to Beverly Floyd at Inkwell Publishing a few months ago. We hit it off and the rest is history. 

What have people’s reactions been when you tell them that you are an author?

Everyone seems supportive. They ask about my book and seem genuinely interested. 

What is your favourite thing about being an author? What have been your favourite or more proud moments?

I love the creative process. Most of my work life has been pretty black and white and writing is the total opposite. My proudest moments have been winning or being a finalist in writing contests. And of course, receiving a book contract. 

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

An author once told me to write what I want and not for the market as trends will have changed by the time my book hits the stands.

What are some of your favourite bloggers?

I tend to listen to podcasts rather than read blogs. Some are my favorites are:

And who are some of your favourite indie authors?

Some of my favorite indie authors are:

Can you share one of your favourite quotes from one of your books?

This is the last line from my new poetic memoir titled Observations Through Yellow Glasses:

“In time, my memories will be soft imprints barely visible from here.”

About Yong Takahashi

Yong Takahashi is the author of Observations Through Yellow Glasses, Rising, and The Escape to Candyland. She was a finalist in The Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing, Southern Fried Karma Novel Contest, Gemini Magazine Short Story Contest, The Writers Mastermind Short Story Contest, and The Sexton Prize for Poetry.

Her upcoming books, Camp Detroit and Sometimes We Fall, will be published in 2022.

To learn more about Yong, visit: https://linktr.ee/yctwriter