Member Spotlight: Maija Rhee Devine

Maija Rhee Devine is a Korean-born writer whose fiction, non-fiction, and poetry have appeared in Michigan Quarterly Review, Boulevard, North American Review, The Kenyon Review, and in various anthologies.  

The Voices of Heaven, her novel/love story about a polygamous family and their struggles during the Korean War, flows from her first-hand experience of growing up in Seoul during the war and its aftermath. She is also the author of a chapbook, Long Walks on Short Days.

Q. How did you begin your literary journey?  Did you always think the material would be a novel?

A. I began by taking a memoir-writing workshop with Vicki Lindner, a NY writer teaching at the University of Wyoming, Laramie.  No, I never thought of writing, in any genre, although I've been an avid writer of personal letters and journals. I began reshaping autobiographical materials of the memoir version I completed by 2001 at the suggestion of  New York agent Stephanie von Hirschberg. 

Q. How did you find a literary agent?  

A. I met Tim Seldes, the former president of Russell and Volkening Literary Agency in New York, at the Key West Literary Seminar. He had represented major writers, including Nadine Gordimer, Annie Dillard, Ann Tyler, and Eudora Welty in fiction and Daniel Schorr and Jim Lehrer in nonfiction. He mentored me through three revisions of The Voices of Heaven before retiring abruptly and leaving me with no agent. 

Q. How did the book get published?  

A. A Korean publisher with a business license for a branch in Irvine, California, took the English version rather than the Korean one, which I translated myself, because of the publisher's vision to introduce Korean history and culture to the outside world.  

Q. What have you done to promote the book?  

A. Everything legal and mostly free. I followed Linda Rodriguez' publicity 101 suggestions I received at The Writers Place! I also read two books on self-promotion. I tried paid services, too--a publicist, a Pro-Connect page on Kirkus Reviews website, and an “Author Buzz.” If a major publisher had published my book and sent galleys three months in advance to top reviewers and got  book reviews done, I might not have had to spend as much money on promotion as I did. I maintain a website and try to keep up with Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. I also invest time corresponding with personal contacts and the contacts they refer me to. One does not know which lead will turn up something stupendous and when. I also follow one of the suggestions given by my promotion guru, Linda Rodriguez: Try to do something for fellow writers. I often feel I fall short on this. The giving should exceed the taking, I remind myself.   

Q. How did you come to do a TEDx talk?  

A. By searching for opportunities to make author visits to schools and organizations and book clubs, and showing up when asked (through sleet and storm, as I did in April of 2013, visiting Ft. Collins High School, Colorado. The plane was delayed. The inviting party suggested canceling. The school was closed and would likely remain closed the next day. I dropped my cell phone on the floor, breaking it completely. I borrowed a fellow passenger’s cell phone. . . . but I forged ahead. The next day went crazy with sunshine that only Colorado sky can come up with. The school opened, and I gave the talk.)  I tried to do the best job I could to be informative and entertaining.  After one such session at a university in Seoul, I was asked to come back to Seoul to deliver a TEDx talk.  Traveling from KC to Seoul even once a year can be tough (24-hour travel, including layovers and strain on one’s pocket book). I had already made two trips that year. Did I want to travel there again in three months? No. I said I’d think about it.  When I told our youngest son teaching at an international school in Seoul about this, he said, “Mom!  When invited to give a TED talk, you do it!”

Q. What is next for you?  

A. Writing Journals of Comfort Women (a tentative title) about tens of thousands of Korean girls strong-armed into providing sexual services to Japanese soldiers during WWII. Each woman served 20-30 men per day on weekdays; 40-50 per day on weekends without pay during WWII. I met with the few women living in a museum dormitory near Seoul. 

To learn more about the book and Maija's work, visit: http://www.maijarheedevine.com/ 

Here is a link to her Tedx Talk on YouTube:  http://youtu.be/GFD-6JFLF5A