With Graci Kim’s new book having just come out, if you haven’t heard of The Gifted Clans Trilogy, you need to get The Last Fallen Star and prepare for The Last Fallen Moon (available as of June 14). I read the first book in one night.
Two weeks ago, Graci debuted her TikTok account and posted a video of her 2-year-old daughter reacting to seeing The Last Fallen Star for the first time in a bookstore. In an earlier video, she posted, “No one wants to read about Korean witches, they said. You’ll never get published, they said. Just give up, they said.” Her book is now a New York Times bestseller, published by Disney Hyperion with Rick Riordan Presents and has won a number of awards, such as the young readers pick at Barnes & Noble, for the month of May.
Her book is a magic-infused heartwarming story set in Los Angeles that incorporates Korean pop culture and mythology into everyday circumstances. The main character, Riley Oh, travels a path with twists and turns, and because of her desire to be accepted, she learns the truth about her family. If this isn’t reason enough to read, this book also includes magic boba tea portals and fluffy dogs.
Recently, I had the opportunity to do a Zoom interview with Graci. To prepare for the interview, I completed her online quizzes. I learned that my soul animal is the Panda Avatar and my clan is the Horangi witches.
I scoured her website to find out that she was previously a diplomat for New Zealand, ran away with the circus at 16 and loves the feeling of freshly cut fingernails. Finally, I watched her TedTalk about how she removed her pen name, Graci Goldhart, that she felt she had taken for all of the wrong reasons, to then embrace her Korean heritage and publish under her actual name, Graci Kim.
We met on a Tuesday morning after she dropped her daughter off at preschool. Graci was born in Korea, raised in New Zealand and calls herself a Kowi. A kiwi is the national bird in New Zealand and most of the people who live here call themselves Kiwis, therefore a Kowi is a Korean Kiwi. She lives with her husband and daughter in Auckland.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
When you were in primary and intermediate school, were there any Asian diaspora authors?
No. Absolutely not. It was especially sad because I didn’t even notice, it wasn’t a thought process for me! And I loved books, I consumed so many and I never knew until I was an adult that I had been invisible on the page.
I remember that my favorite series was The Baby-Sitters Club because of the Japanese American character, Claudia Kishi; I adored her. I tried to be her. I hid candy around my house even though I didn’t like candy because this was the only representation that I had. Looking back, such a huge part of why I write is for my 10-year-old self who was so desperate for representation.
What was your favorite subject in school?
Lunchtime. Just kidding! I really loved theater arts and I took a class called World Literature which was pretty cool. I loved languages too.
At what point in your life did you begin to identify as a writer?
2017, specifically in May. I was still a diplomat, and I was finishing up in Beijing. I was trying to figure out what I was going to do with my life. I knew I wanted a family, and I didn’t want to have to move around so much. I just wanted more stability. I always wanted to try writing but when people asked me what I wanted to be when I was growing up, I never considered writing as an option.
How did your most recent book begin?
I had so much more of Riley’s story to tell and I just couldn’t end (my book) there. We managed to negotiate three more books in the series. I already kind of knew that The Last Fallen Moon was going to be there, but I’m just so happy that it is finally coming out.
What's your best writing food — what do you eat to get your writing juices flowing?
I’ve tried but there is nothing that seems to make the writing process easier. It’s always so painful but also enjoyable because I do love writing. I eat a lot while writing. I think there is something about the chewing process and being busy doing something else that lets my brain wander and think about things. I love eating Korean ramyeon. Korean instant noodles are just the best thing ever! I also consume a lot of my little girl’s snacks because we don’t have a lot of snacks in the house. I consume a lot of her raisins and fruit flaps.
What's your best writing sound — what do you listen to?
I can’t listen to any music with words, just kind of moody music to get me into the vibe of a certain scene. Sometimes when I’m writing a fight scene, I’ll put on one of those epic soundtracks and that gets me in the mood, or if I’m doing a muted scene, I’ll put on a more emo soundtrack.
What is your ideal setting to write?
I used to love writing in libraries. I try not to do that much anymore because of COVID and bugs. There is always so much risk in spending so much time in a public place. I do love being outside of the house because there is less to procrastinate.
I used to love writing in cafes but my dad used to run a Japanese restaurant, and I worked there all the time. Maybe because of that, I feel really guilty because I think I should be working or buying food to support the cafe so that I don’t get kicked out, not that anyone is making me leave. I used to end up wasting lots of money buying so much food and not being able to consume it all. So really, these days I just write at home.
Who or what in your life inspires the characters in your writing the most?
My family. I am the eldest of three girls, and I just love my siblings so much. They are my best friends. Because I was the oldest, I was often told that I was a bit of an old soul. And my parents were always working because we were immigrants, and they had three part-time jobs just to put food on the table. Our halmeoni basically raised us but she was illiterate and didn’t speak any English, and I was the adult-y person in the house. So I have a very strong sense of responsibility that I think stems from around that time.
The book features Mong, the white Samoyed dog. Do you have a dog?
I do not currently have a dog which I am very, very sad about because I love dogs! I think dogs are better than humans. Dogs are the best creatures to ever have lived, which you will get a good sense of in the second book.
Why did you decide to use L.A. as your setting for these books?
I contemplated setting it in New Zealand first — because I live here — but L.A. has the largest population of diaspora Koreans so I just thought it made more sense that it would be set there.
How did you decide on a design for a book cover?
Some authors don’t have any say, and the publishers just pick a cover artist and the design team will put out a brief. Sometimes they will show it to the artist and say, ‘Whaddya think of this,’ and sometimes they will just put it out as a finished product, but I was lucky and had time to think of a cover artist very early on. I picked cover designer Vivienne To, who is Australian but lives in New Zealand.
Have you met the other Rick Riordan Presents authors, and which one of those books is your favorite?
I have not met any of them or Rick in person. I was supposed to go on a book tour last year and this year — and catch up with them. Because of COVID, it was canceled/postponed. So not in person, but I do feel like I know them really well because we do lots of Zooms and things like that. I love all of the books, but one of my favorites is coming out in September — Serwa Boateng’s Guide To Vampire Hunting by Roseanne A Brown. It’s so good!
What is your usual boba order and what portal does it take you through (like what happens when you order a specific boba in your book)?
That’s a really great question! Taro boba: 50% sugar, 0% ice, with tapioca pearls. And I think I would end up underwater, still able to breathe so I don’t die but not near any waves — because I’m afraid of big waves. I would love to see what is down there because supposedly 75 percent of the Earth is made up of water.