by Paul H.B. Shin
North Korea’s ambassador to the United Nations was hospitalized in New York City in the summer of that year, and when word spread that he couldn’t pay his medical bills because the North Korean government was in such financial dire straits, the local Korean-American community rallied around the cause. Yes, that really happened, as you can see from this article in The New York Times. (http://www.nytimes.com/1997/09/03/world/korean-americans-assist-an-ailing-envoy-from-the-north.html)
Around the same time, there were several high-profile defections of North Korean officials, and those events got me wondering what it must be like to be an official from the reclusive country stationed overseas -- someone who has to peddle the propaganda but also has seen enough of the outside world to know the paradoxes of their own country.
I filed those stories away for a while, letting them stew in my mind until I came up with a story arc. That's how I got started on “Half Life.”
I wanted to tell a story that weaves in real-life events and places to make it more relevant to a reader who may not be all that familiar with North Korea beyond the headlines you see in the news. I also wanted to get at how grave a decision it is for a high-ranking official to defect. It’s treason of the highest order, and I tried to get into the mind of someone who has to make that choice.
It took me more than 10 years to research and write the story -- in part because I was writing the novel while also working a full-time job. As a way to keep myself on track during that time, I created a relatively detailed outline that hit upon the major plot points of the story. And occasionally, as I fleshed out the narrative and the characters, I would go back and tweak the outline accordingly.
And even though the story is based in the year 1997, many of the themes have become quite topical again, with North Korea back in the news because of its nuclear program, as well as another high-level defection -- an official who was based at the North Korean embassy in London.
It that sense, I am gratified that the concept for “Half Life” has proved durable.
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Paul's Newest Release: Half Life
Nuclear scientist Han Chol-Soo is on a tenuous diplomatic mission to the United States. There he is forced to embark upon a high-stakes pursuit after his wife disappears with their newborn son. Paralyzed with fear at the repercussions of her decision, Han turns to his colleague Park Jun-Young for help -- a man that he suspects is an intelligence operative. He soon regrets his decision as Park cuts a swath of mayhem in the name of helping Han, and the chase forces Han to confront the harsh realities of his home country.