And how to be more productive and happy

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My kimchi was bad — again, for the fourth time in a row. I glared at my black marble countertop as I crunched, trying to make sense of how the pickled cabbage could taste too bitter and sweet at the same time.

I went over the instructions again in my head. The day-long process of prepping 20 ingredients; salt-pickling the cabbage; dicing, boiling, and blending things together for the sauce; pulling on nitrile gloves to mix the pungent sauce with cabbage; and triple-checking instructions every step of the way to make sure I did it right this time.

The fresh…

Let me be proud just a little bit

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It took 4 years of a doing a PhD in a quantitative field to admit to myself I’d rather be writing fiction.

My university wouldn’t let me audit or pay for fiction classes — undergrad, MA, or MFA — so I looked elsewhere. I found a place with decent reviews and enrolled. I had to drive 40 minutes from campus to StoryStudio and another 20 back home every Thursday night for 10 weeks while wrapping up my dissertation in my fifth and final year of grad school.

That class became the most enjoyable two hours of my life every week…

Writing Analysis

About our love, loyalty, isolation, and resilience

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In celebration of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month (APAHM) or AAPI Heritage Month, I’m sharing some of my favorite stories that showcase East Asian(-American) women in all our varied glory. #

Our identity shapes how we relate to our parents (Queen’s Luxury Spa), how we fall in love (Someday We’ll Embrace This Distance), how we fall out of love (Don’t Say We’ll Lose Touch), and how we hide ourselves (Safeword). Our identity binds us together, offering solidarity (The Lady of Butterflies) or causing rivalry (See It Slant).

Our demographic box is never the focal point of these stories…

Writing Analysis

Featuring Walter White, the Joker, Andy Sachs from The Devil Wears Prada—and the Ultimate Sad Guy Turns Bad Guy

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There are good people and bad people, and the good people are usually underdogs. That’s what we’re taught: David versus Goliath, Thirteen Colonies versus the British Empire, protestors versus what they’re protesting (the government, their employer). Most of us often find ourselves rooting for the underdog because we are them.

But power and virtue aren’t strictly opposites. The sad, weak person (“sad guy”) might be just as monstrous as the “bad guy” — they’re just unable to express their badness due to some obstacle (e.g. fear of tarnishing their reputation, or unwillingness to admit to themself). …

Writing Analysis

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Sam’s transformation into Captain America creeps up quietly. We first it see not when he dons the stars and stripes in the last episode, not when he picks up the shield, but when he pesters his sister, Sarah, in the first episode. The stubborn younger brother refuses to sell the boat his parents left to them, even while maintenance, storage, and upkeep are wringing their finances dry.

“I’ll fix the damn boat,” he says, over and over again. This refrain, more than the shield or costume, is how we come to understand he is our Captain America.

Sam is guided by his values — not by any person

Sam is not…

Writing Analysis

Can we separate an artist from their work? Should we?

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I saw Ernest Hemingway portrayed in Midnight in Paris long before I read any of his works, and even then I was struck. Hemingway’s persona and influence are so pervasive that somehow I understood that this straight-shooting, chest-thumping man on-screen breathed life into Hemingway’s words. That feeling was confirmed years later when I read his short story Hills Like White Elephants for class and his novel Old Man and the Sea, which I rushed to get after reading the former.

Direct, almost terse, but always expressive, Hemingway’s prose has a subtle, devious way of packing in essays’ worth of symbolic…

Whose blood is Daniel Plainview willing to spill?

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The movie’s title signifies a promise: “There Will Be Blood.” We see right this in the opening scene when a worker is killed in an oil well. Based on the novel “Oil!” by Upton Sinclair, the movie is a critique of the dehumanizing cost of unfettered capitalism. The title change from the novel to the movie implies the phrases are synonymous: oil demands a sacrifice.

Less clear, however, is the direction of causality: does unfettered capitalism turn men into monsters, or is it the monsters who build and spur capitalistic systems?

Is the main character Daniel Plainview a good guy…

Writing Craft

Examples from my own writing

After writing a primer on worldbuilding with magic versus science, I wanted to share examples from my own writing.

I’m working on two stories, one about plastic surgery taken to an extreme (sci-fi), the other a remake of a Korean folktale (fantasy). Typical worldbuilding elements aside (recreating Korea, past and present, for a largely non-Korean audience), each story requires its own set of rules.

Worldbuilding in Sci-Fi

In the plastic surgery story, even though I’m extending the world into the future, I wanted everything to be as believable as possible. …

Writing Craft

Navigating the landscape of speculative fiction

How do you build a world that’s believable, rich, and interesting — with vampires, cyborgs, time travel, and other things that don’t exist in our world (today)?

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Broadly speaking, it depends on whether your speculative world functions on magic or science. Speculative fiction is an umbrella term for anything that isn’t realism, i.e. anything that isn’t set in the real world as we know it. The two poles of speculative fiction are science fiction and fantasy, though, like everything else in life, there’s a spectrum, and the two poles aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive.

Below, I map out hard and soft…

Writing Analysis

Inversion is the law of attraction. SPOILERS ahead.

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A scientist places two bullets on the table in front of her. One is traveling forward in time, the other backward. “Can you guess which is which?” she asks the man in front of her.

She holds out her hand and summons a bullet. As it makes its way “back” into her palm, we see it wriggle before flying straight up, the reverse of how a bullet in forward-time would drop straight down, then ricochet before settling into a steady state.

The man has trouble re-enacting the summoning. “You have to feel it,” the scientist instructs.

The bullet flies “back”…

YJ Jun

Fiction writer. Dives into rabbit holes about stories — written, filmed, or otherwise.

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