The Big Idea: Jennifer K. Chung
Posted on September 14, 2011 Posted by John Scalzi 16 Comments
Quick — you have to write a novel in three days. What do you do? What do you do? Jennifer K. Chung knows: She wrote her novel Terroryaki! for the 3-Day Novel Contest that takes place each year — and won the contest. Along the way Chung learned what writing under intense pressure can do to your story (and to your brain). What does it do? And what does it mean for the tale you’re trying to tell? Come find out!
The International 3-Day Novel Contest has been called many things, and it probably deserves all of them — “bizarre”, “the world’s most notorious literary marathon”, “a fad”. Held annually over Labor Day weekend, it’s exactly what it sounds like — you write a novel in three days. It’s like National Novel Writing Month, without the month.
Going into the weekend, I knew two things: I wanted to write about family, and I wanted to write about chicken teriyaki.
Coming out of the weekend, I learned that three days and no outline may produce unexpected results.
Chicken teriyaki is near-ubiquitous in Seattle. It’s still got nothing on coffee, but there’s more teriyaki than Italian. There’s more teriyaki than seafood. There’s more teriyaki than sushi. In Seattle, chicken teriyaki is unavoidable, but few people have written about it. Yet, its omnipresence can make one… obsessive. Noticing. Wondering, “How can that intersection possibly support three teriyaki joints?” They’re as bad as Starbuckses.
Minor detail: I’m a vegetarian. Perhaps it’s its forbidden nature that consumed me. So I puked it out of my system — I wrote a character who could obsess about chicken teriyaki on my behalf. Teriyaki by proxy, I suppose.
She’s a sister with a sister, like me. It’s a relationship I know quite well, though we’re on opposite sides of the dynamic (Daisy is a younger sister; I’m an older sister). I’ve lived with my own sister for most of my life, and I wanted Daisy to feel that mixture of affection and baggage that you get from growing up with someone so closely.
She’s Taiwanese-American, like me. She didn’t have to be, but it made the family easier — not because Daisy’s parents are my parents, nor Daisy’s sister my sister, but so I could start with a cultural baseline for experiences. Besides, it’s not like the literary world has a glut of Taiwanese-American protagonists.
She’s obsessive (like me..?). When she’s not slinging chicken at her part-time teriyaki gig, Daisy is on the lookout for new restaurants to try. Daisy’s eaten at most of the teriyaki joints in Seattle, and she has an opinion on every single one. She’s a teriyaki specialist with a blog full of detailed restaurant reviews. After a chance meeting in a suburban parking lot, Daisy is obsessed with finding a certain teriyaki truck — a ghostly truck, operated by a cursed soul. Think the Flying Dutchman, except he’s running a Seattle food truck staffed by the damned. It’s not so outlandish; food trucks are gaining traction in the city, and everyone knows Jesus Christ made Seattle under protest (as the street mnemonic goes).
Okay, maybe a little outlandish. Daisy reacts the only way she can, the same way any other young female slacker would — by asking out loud, “Is this guy for real?” And, of course, by trying to visit the truck enough times to write a thorough review.
Sometime during the contest, I also discovered a plot about Daisy’s sister getting married — much to my chagrin. I’m an unmarried, ambitious, thirtysomething woman, and that wasn’t the story I’d meant to write. Still, it kept the sisters busy when they weren’t chasing down a damned (but tasty) food truck which had been forsaken by God, and it let me explore the family relationships further. So it goes.
But let this be a lesson about writing freely under intense pressure — you might be dismayed by what you find. Or maybe you’ll just make yourself hungry.
Terroryaki!: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s
Learn more about the 3-Day Novel Contest.
Love the idea, love the voice of the writer, really want to read it… but didn’t buy the book yet because there was no ebook edition. It’s gotten to where it startles me when that format isn’t available, especially with new books (maybe the 3-Day Novel award provided this publication and she’s on her own with the rest?). Added it to my wish list, though, and I’ll keep checking back.
Hi C.A. – I agree, we have been very slow to get our 3-Day Books into ebook format. We’re all old-school publishers here and sadly not always so quick to find the time and resources for new technologies. But we are in the process of getting Terroryaki! (and many of our backlist titles) into epubs – look for it in the weeks to come! (And thanks for your patience…)
Melissa at the 3-Day Novel Contest
Thanks for the info Melissa – I’m adding this to my list to keep an eye out for the ebook. It sounds terrific – I love Seattle-based books, and it is so very true that there is a teriyaki joint for every cafe.
I also enjoy Seattle-based books, and look forward to checking this one out. During one visit to the city, noticing the prevalence of teriyaki places and an unusual number of taquerias in one area of town, I kept half-expecting to encounter a “teriaqueria” at some point.
What is the street mnemonic for Seattle and why is one required?
@5 – ” Jesus Christ made Seattle under protest” is a phrase that old time Seattlites use to remember the order of streets downtown from one end to the other. The initials of each word correspond to the first letter of a street name. Seattle’s not known for its rational naming processes.
I’m impressed that anyone could write a novel in 3 days… I’m doubly impressed that it’s about a cursed chicken teriyaki truck. I think I need to read this.
rickg@ #6, thanks. Honolulu could use one, then. Of course, it would have to be about 47 words long!
Surely the author can indulge herself either with vegetable stir-fry done with teriyaki, or “chicken” teriyaki made with whatever vegetarians make their “chicken” with? I’m not saying this to be snarky, just thinking that’d be a way for the author to enjoy the teriyaki without having to eat real chicken.
I read this in an afternoon and really enjoyed it. I particularly liked the posts included from the main character’s teriyaki restaurant review blog between the chapters. …and now I’m desperately hungry for teriyaki. (Conclusion so far: there isn’t any good chicken teriyaki in my neighborhood which delivers.) Are you *sure* this novel isn’t a ploy by the teriyaki industry to drive customer traffic?
Interesting to see that writing about family was one of the starting points. I really enjoyed the family dynamics, particularly the back-and-forth between the sisters. The recurring Korean TV drama is also fun.
I too look forward to reading it when it comes out as an ebook. as a weekly eater of “scaryaki” from the place down the street in South Lake UNion, I love reading Seattle background books.
3 days really? Wow — I’d read it just to see how somebody could do that, and it sounds like lots of fun besides. I’ll be looking for it on Kindle.
Thanks, Melissa! I do love my treasured print books, but now that I don’t need to find space for them my book-buying has increased to my high school levels again :)
#8- Tofu teriyaki, usually, but between you and me (and the internet), I might be a little sick of it right now. ;)
#9, 10- Aww, thanks guys. (I’d post a heart symbol, but I’m not sure if the comment system will eat my <.) I assure you, I have no ties to the Teriyaki-Industrial Complex.
(There aren’t enough Jen*s on this comment thread.)
Just passed a few days in Seattle and well teriyaki was not part of the trip at all. Dan Dan noodles with shaved noodles is another story all together and most likely off topic so I’ll just stop now.
Everybody should know that I’m her cousin. For real, I’m really not kidding! My name is Richard Chung and I really am her cousin! I met her when I was really little, like when I was 3. I hope that I can be as successful as her!