Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Using Real Life to Make Fiction More Compelling - Half Life by Paul H.B. Shin

Some writers can spin an amazing yarn by conjuring up a purely fictional world or situation, but for “Half Life,” I wanted to ground the story in real places and real events and use those as jumping off points for the characters and the plot. 

That’s probably the main way that my day job as a journalist informed the way I write fiction, and also the way I tried to make my work relevant to a reader who may not be familiar with the topic of North Korea.

Some stories begin with a high-concept idea (a lot of science fiction does this by posing a “what if” scenario), some with an image, others with a character. The genesis for “Half Life” was a real incident in New York City in 1997.

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

This came on the heels of several high-profile defections of North Korean officials, and it 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 how backward their country is.

By anchoring a story with real-life events -- and maybe even weaving in some real-life historical characters -- a writer can add some depth and relevance to a story in addition to making it work purely on the level of entertainment. (Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mocking Bird” comes to mind.) It can resonate with the reader because the reader will recognize these events and characters from their own lives.

When reading good non-fiction, many readers have probably had that experience where we find it extraordinarily compelling because we understand that what is being described really happened.

So, even if a story is pure fantasy, adding those elements of real life can add an extra dimension to make your story more compelling.

Half Life
Paul H.B. Shin

Publisher: Fiery Seas Publishing, LLC 

Genre: Thriller   

Release Date: September 6, 2016

About the Book:

The year is 1997. North Korea is suffering from a devastating famine that has shaken the foundation of the ruling class. A series of high-profile defections to the West has lead the reclusive country's leadership into the grasp of paranoia.

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.

Half Life Reviews

“Half Life is a terrific novel. Right from the start you'll be drawn into many dark worlds—politics, espionage, and North Korea—and it will keep you on the edge of your seat right until the last page. Paul H.B. Shin’s authenticity and style cannot be missed.” –Dale Brown, New York Times bestselling author of Starfire (William Morrow)

“A gripping, taut espionage thriller, Half Life is enriched by the love story at its core and the refusal to give simple answers. I loved it.” –Robert Ferrigno, bestselling & award-winning author of Heart of the Assassin (Scribner)

“Paul H. B. Shin wraps an engaging tale of espionage and intrigue around a failed marriage in his new international thriller, Half Life. With sure-footed prose and vivid characterization, Shin takes readers inside the paranoid claustrophobia of North Korea’s political world, where even high-ranking diplomats live in constant fear. With North Korea's nuclear arms program as a backdrop, the eminently believable and thoughtful plot will have readers wondering if they're looking at tomorrow's news. A well-wrought debut.”

–Jim DeFelice, #1 New York Times bestselling co-author of American Sniper (William Morrow)

About the Author:

Paul H.B. Shin’s debut novel follows a career as an award-winning journalist for more than 20 years, most recently for ABC News. He previously wrote for the New York Daily News. He was born in South Korea and lived in London during his childhood. He now lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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