Lena Jeong wrote her first novel in the fifth grade—complete with a dude in distress, a heroine named Macaroni Pizza, and a dragon that is allergic to men. When she’s not working on her Korea-inspired novels, Lena is doing everything in her power to remain the “favorite auntie” among her adorable niece and nephews. You can also find her creating hanbok-inspired outfits on Animal Crossing: New Horizons or endlessly experimenting on new ways to make the perfect matcha latte. Lena has an M.F.A. in Creative Writing. And Break the Pretty Kings is her debut novel.
We’re so excited to have Lena on our blog today to discuss all things And Break the Pretty Kings!
Hi! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your new novel, And Break the Pretty Kings?
Hello! I am a Korean American writer of speculative YA fiction, an avid matcha latte drinker, and a doting aunt. My debut YA fantasy novel, And Break the Pretty Kings, is inspired by Korean history and myth. It features a powerful crown princess who will do anything to save her kidnapped brother and protect her queendom from an ancient evil, even if that means unearthing dark family secrets and navigating a new, unpredictable time travel ability in the process.
And Break the Pretty Kings is perfect for readers who enjoyed the shadowy villain and dark family secrets in Gallant; the sibling love and strong princess protagonist of Six Crimson Cranes; and the lush worldbuilding of The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea.
What did your journey to publishing look like for And Break the Pretty Kings?
My journey was a little atypical in that a writing mentoring program is what helped me get my foot in the door. I only had about seventy pages of the first draft of And Break the Pretty Kings written when I heard about the mentoring program in question. The program’s application window was closing soon, but I’d decided that it was too good of an opportunity to pass up, so I wrote the rest of the first draft in about a week in order to qualify. A few months later, I was ecstatic to be selected as a mentee! After two rounds of revisions with my amazing mentors, I entered the querying trenches, got two offers of rep, and signed with my current agent. After a couple more rounds of revisions, my agent took my book out on sub. A few months later, I received an offer from an editor at HarperTeen, and the rest is history!
What is your favorite part about writing for a YA audience?
My goal as an author is to write the books I needed as a marginalized teen, so my favorite part of writing for a YA audience is knowing that I’m contributing to the diversification of young adult literature, and improving visibility for Korean diaspora teens in empowering ways. Everyone deserves to see themselves represented. I’m so grateful to all the trailblazers who paved the way for more diverse books to get published and become accessible to young marginalized readers. I know we’re making a difference.
What was the most valuable critique you received while writing And Break the Pretty Kings?
Back when I was working on And Break the Pretty Kings during the mentoring program, one of my mentors told me that some of my scenes weren’t doing enough legwork, which was negatively impacting the pacing of the story. While I loved having my characters banter back and forth for several pages, those scenes weren’t accomplishing enough to justify all that dialogue, no matter how fun it was to write! My mentor advised me to make sure my scenes weren’t focused on just one thing (like witty banter), or else the pacing and tension could lag. Rather, I should give my scenes at least two different goals, such as progressing the plot, and building atmosphere, or deepening character relationships and giving readers a moment to catch their breaths after a fight scene.
That advice has stuck with me, and I now do my utmost while drafting to make all my scenes much more intentional and muscular, which has helped me craft tighter stories from the get-go.
What is the most difficult part of your writing process?
This might be a strange thing for a writer to say, but I do not enjoy writing lavish descriptions! They’re so much work! Descriptions do far more than just relay what something looks like. When most effective, they act like metaphors that give insights into a character’s mental state, help build the story’s atmosphere, and evoke emotions in both characters and readers. Being mindful of all that takes a lot of energy and thought, at least for me. I’d much rather include a picture of the eerie landscape I’m envisioning, or of the actress who inspired my character’s mischievous-looking features!
For many writers, poetic descriptions are fun to write, but, alas, that is not a skill that comes naturally to me. Although I don’t particularly enjoy this part of writing, I will say that it’s a labor of love that’s very much worth the effort. It’s quite rewarding to finish a draft and be proud of the lyrical, lush paragraphs I’ve managed to craft with only a little kicking and screaming.
Do you have any other writing projects you’re working on that you can tell us a little bit about?
I can’t say much about them, as they’re still very much works in progress, but right now I’m working on two different YA projects: a Korean fairytale retelling (with lots of pining), and a creepy folk horror novel inspired by Korean mythology.
Can you provide links to any websites or social channels you’d like readers to follow?