It was a bit ironic that the day I started reading this “novelette” length journey in South Korea and the author’s first experiences with its culture and foods, especially kimchi, I had just journeyed almost three hours there and back to a special Asian shop where I live in Berlin which has the best kimchi bar what my Korean amah of sorts used to make. I love kimchi. It’s the one food that I actually crave in the world, so I was quite interested in the author’s perspective. I agree: it’s an acquired taste.
I started the book expecting to read of the biases, stereotypes and generalizations so many Americans traveling to foreign countries tend to express. Sometimes they don’t even seem to realize they are doing it, and I kept expecting to have those biases, some of them understandable, at least be mitigated as the author learned more about another culture, which for me should lead to respect of some level if one has an open-mind. The American ethnocentric mindset is one I encounter all too frequently and find tiresome, yet to be honest, other nationalities do it also.
Nothing was ever uninteresting but I had a mild problem regarding editing errors and continuity, and not just because it is a collection of flash memoirs and different events that happened. I felt the continuity of the work, even with the flash memoir type pieces, could have been better were there some kind of explanation between them, or they might have been put into a different order.
“Eating Kimchi And Nodding Politely…etc.” is an entertaining account of an American traveling abroad from his own country, with all the idiosyncrasies that might entail. As an American myself, an American Indian, who has traveled extensively around the world and currently lives in Germany, I could recognize some of the critical perceptions the author experienced that can provide surprising insight into other peoples…and ourselves.
Description: “Imagine leaving behind everybody and everything familiar to live in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language and don’t know a soul. Worst yet, you look different from everybody there. People find your cultural norms insulting, and you can’t get a date to save your life.
Imagine you wrote a book about your time there…
Eating Kimchi and Nodding Politely is a collection of snapshots that cover the two years that Alex Clermont lived in the country of South Korea as an English teacher. Scribed with a flair for humor, emotion, character and depth, these introspective narratives do more than act as a travel guide. They are creatively written windows into the life of of someone discovering new things about himself, the world, and the people who he shares it with-all while stuffing his mouth with kimchi.”
- Published: May 14, 2012
- Genre: Non-fiction, Travel, Essays, Memoir
- ISBN: 9781476301723
- Source: Author
- Available at Smashwords and other online distributors.
What genre(s) do you write? Why do you write the stories that you write?
Well, my first book, “Eating Kimchi and Nodding Politely,” is a collection of memoir-like stories about my two years living in South Korea, but I generally tend to write literary fiction. I can’t do genre fiction worth a damn, but really write literary fiction because I just feel comfortable writing stories about people living their lives and learning something important about themselves and the world while doing it.
I also write those kinds of stories because that’s what I like to read. Even when I’m watching a movie or listening to music I want to be entertained in a way that’s not just transient – something you take in and forget about as soon as you’re done with it. I want to hear songs that will stick in my head and make me see the world differently. I want to see a movie that will make me think. So, that’s what I try to write.
You’ve written works of fiction before, this was non-fiction. How did you approach the writing of it differently?
When I wrote the stories complied in “Eating Kimchi and Nodding Politely” I took to it the same mentality I have when writing fiction. What was important to me was writing stories about characters and growth. So although the main character is me, I treated the Alex of the book as a stranger that I had to explain to the reader.
Alex’s motivations and how he saw the world was a story I tried to tell with humor and in a way that connected to universal themes that we all deal with. Yeah, it’s a travelogue about my time in South Korea, but it’s also a collection of stories that anyone who wants to read will enjoy – and hopefully leave with a smile.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
When I was in elementary school I had some issues. Too complicated to get into now, but I used to have to go to the school counselor every week for a sit down talk that sometimes lasted for thirty minutes.
One of these sessions happened during my English lesson. The teacher went over the class’ homework while I sat and talked about sad things in the other side of the school. The session brought me to tears that I tried to hold back while heading to class. Our homework was to write a story similar to the one we read the week before, and as I wiped tears from my eyes the teachers was reading mine to the class. I stepped inside just as she finished and everyone laughed and cheered as I walked towards my desk. They were quoting my little fourth grade story back to me, and telling me how great and/or funny it was.
I was crying before, but because of the reactions from my story I was smiling. Figured I was pretty good at the writing thing so I stuck with it.
What books are currently on your nightstand?
I’ve just gotten started reading The Magician by Lev Grossman. I really mean “just.” I’m only three pages into it. A friend recommended the book when I told him that I have plans to write a novel with some urban fantasy undertones. I let him know that I didn’t want it to have a stereotypical fantasy feel since it was going to my more about character and emotions and questioning the boundaries of societal norms.
He bought me a copy of The Magician after telling me that it might help – making me eternally grateful for the free book.
Who are your favorite authors and why?
George Orwell. My high school didn’t force us to read 1984 or Animal Farm like many other schools. I read both of those books based on my sister having read and liked them. What blew me away at the time was that those stories said exactly what I wanted to say: that the world can be a scary and evil place if people don’t wake up and genuinely work together for something better. That really touched a cord with where my mind was at the time.
What I now see in retrospect, and after having read “Homage to Catalonia” and his other works, is that I enjoy his straightforward style of writing. His books aren’t filled with poetical flourishes, but instead Orwell used descriptive language in a very concise and impactful way to tell great stories.
Yeah, George Orwell. Definitely.
Why do you write?
There are a few reasons I write. Most importantly, it’s an outlet.
I’ve been writing since I was a kid, but didn’t take it seriously until 2011. I had an awkward date with a beautiful woman, and couldn’t sleep cause I kept playing over in my head what I had done wrong. After a few hours of tossing and turning I went to my computer and wrote a short piece titled “13” (you can read it on my website AlexClermontWrites.com). After it was finished I slept like a baby.
That’s what a lot of my stories are: a release of feelings, emotions and observations about the world around me that might drive me insane if kept them inside my head. “13” helped me remember that. I’ve been taking writing serious every since.
Do you listen to music or have another form of inspiration when you are writing?
Generally, I do listen to music when I’m writing. However it has to be either a song that I know forwards and backwards so it doesn’t distract me when I loop it, or a real mellow track that hopefully sets a mood for what I’m writing.
For my upcoming novel I’ve been listing to “In The Waiting line” by Zero 7. The song speaks of the alienation brought on by conformity in our modern society, so it helps with inspiration. Plus, it’s a damn good song.
What would you like readers to know about you the writer?
I would like readers to know that I take the craft seriously. That when they see my name as the author they should know that whatever they’re reading has taken time and a lot of my energy. They should know that whatever I write has layers in it and that there are surprises to be found when you read it a second or third time.
For the most part though, I just like playing with words, so readers should know that they’ll find a pretty phrase or two in whatever I write.
Do you have a system for writing?
Yup. I think any serious writer should. I’ve heard flowery statements against a practical system that usually start with, “write when your inspired. Writing should come from your spiritual need to blah, blah, blah…” That kind of thinking will have you stuck writing horrible prose and weak stories because you never practice enough on the craft of writing, but indulge in it like a child in a kiddie pool – never learning how to swim.
First, I profile the characters so that I have a solid idea of who they are in my head. Even if the characters are real people, like in my current book “Eating Kimchi and Nodding Politely,” I still need to have an idea in my mind about what motivates them and what type of personality they have.
Then I outline my stories. Beginning, middle, and as much of the end as I know. This works as the skeleton of the story, and over a period of time I write scenes and other ideas that come to me, and stick them within this skeleton to flesh it out as much as I can before I get to the actual job of writing. The time all this takes depends on how long the story I’m writing is. For short stories most of this is done in my head, and the process takes about a few days. For the longer stories, like what I’m working on now, I find it takes about a month.
Have you ever had one of those profound “AH-HA!” moments while you were writing? Would you be willing to share it?
I wrote my book “Eating Kimchi and Nodding Politely” as a series of creative writing pieces on my site over the course of two years. A lot happened in those two years. One thing was that I became a much better writer who started producing a good amount of work. When I decided to compile the stories into a book I had to edit the hell out of the first few stores because they we so bad.
It occurred to me how much better I had become. I had reached a point where I was 100% confident in my skills as a writer. It was definitely an “AH-HA” moment for me.
What can we look forward to in the upcoming months?
I have a few projects in the works this year to advance my new indie author career. “Eating Kimchi and Nodding Politely” is my first book, so now that I’ve put that out I’m working on a novelette that I will release only as an ebook. It’s a comedy called “Missing Rib” and the people who’ve read it so far tell me that they love it. Hopefully everyone else who reads it will think so too.
After that I’m going to release my first novel. Hopefully by the end of the year. Still working on it now along with a pile of other things. “Eating Kimchi and Nodding Politely” was a way to introduce myself to readers. To say to everyone on Amazon, “Look at me! I’m a pretty good writer!”
Do you tend to base your characters on real people or are they totally from your imagination?
I think any writer would tell you that it’s a combination of both. Or maybe that’s just me.
When I write characters their general profile is usually from pure imagination. However when you get to writing them you have to give them life and personality, and in my case that personality comes, largely, form me and people I’ve met. If I write about someone’s reaction to a tragedy I’m going to have to pull that emotion and descriptive language from how I might feel as human being in a similar situation. We’re all human and so we all have the ability to put ourselves in the shoes of others. Some people have atrophied that part of their mind, but I think a good writer has that muscle flexing all the time.
I twist and turn whatever is Alex in that character till it’s unrecognizable, but there is little bit of me in every character I write, for better or for worst.
Alex has been a contributing writer to Beyond Race Magazine, covering and interviewing independent artists and musicians. He was also the managing editor of Plateau, a quarterly print magazine that focused on independent musicians.
He has been published in the Anthology, Every Second Sunday– a collection by authors from around the world. His short story, “Catching Butterflies” can be read in the 2011 Anthology Out of Place, and his story, “Standby” can be seen on the online literary magazine Scholars and Rogues.
In May 2012 he independently published, “Eating Kimchi & Nodding politely” which is a collection of Narratives about his time as an English teacher in South Korea.