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

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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?

Photo courtesy of author

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)?

Photo by Aditya Saxena on Unsplash

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.

Photo by Nolan Simmons on Unsplash

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”…

Was it hard for you, too?

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I first met a Korean adoptee on a trip to the countryside of South Korea. I had been living in Seoul and my mom was a tour guide for English-speaking ex-pats. The adoptee looked Korean but seemed as bewildered by the historic palaces and squid-based dishes as her Caucasian peers. She behaved like she was floating through a dream, unsure of whether she could connect to this culture from which she was birthed.

I wanted to ask: did she feel disconnected? Disoriented? I know and respect that some adoptees don’t feel a need to connect to their birth culture, that…

No, it is not a totalitarian nightmare

Incheon International Airport. Photo courtesy of author

I spent my first hours in Korea in a testing center because my temperature was 37.5°C (99.5°F), a hair above the cutoff of 37.3 (99.1°F).

That was after I was tested 37.8°C at the temperature screening station — right before immigration — and 37.6°C at the testing intake center next to it.

“Must be because of my beanie,” I explained. I had also been wearing the jacket I bought to fight off polar vortexes in Chicago. I had rushed off the plane to get home as soon as possible.

After giving me five minutes to cool down, the employee who…

YJ Jun

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

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