Paul Yoon’s Run Me to Earth Explores the Tragedy of Laos During the Vietnam War

-How are you? -I’m very well, thank you.
I’m so excited to be here. -I’m so happy to have you here. -You nudged me out of, you know, the cave
that writers usually are in. -Yeah, that’s true.
-And, like, sunlight and people. Whoa, humans!
-There we go, yeah. [ Cheers and applause ]
I’m so happy. They’re happy to seeing you,
as well. So, this is a book about —
It’s fictional, but it’s about
a specific time in history. -Yeah, absolutely.
-About Laos and — -Yep, during the Vietnam War.
-During the Vietnam War. And it was certainly,
in the very beginning, it sort of lays out
where we’re at. It wasn’t something
I was super familiar with it. Were you familiar with it before
you started writing the book? -No, not at all.
Growing up in Upstate New York, my history classes were
completely focused on the Vietnam War and Vietnam, and so I knew
very little about Laos. I knew very little about
what was going on in Cambodia. And so,
stumbling upon this was — was heartbreaking
but also revelatory, as well, and I really wanted
to sort of explore that. -And then, is part of it
wanting to give sort of voice to this period in history that so many people
don’t know much about? -Yeah, absolutely.
There’s that. I think, also, like many of us,
I’ve sort of — I’ve gone through many emotions
these past few years. I’ve been scared.
I’ve been confused. I’ve been frustrated.
And — By certain events. And I think, when I stumbled
upon this, I felt similarly. So I was sort of attracted
to that, yeah. -This is a years-long
bombing campaign. -Nine years.
-Nine years. -Yeah.
-Just put into context sort of the size of Laos and the amount
of bombs we’re talking about. -So, Laos is the size of Utah. If anyone’s from Utah.
-Yeah. [ Laughter ]
-And so it was — Just kind of bombing campaign
that lasted for nine years, and, statistically,
the U.S. dropped over 2 million tons ordnances, which is more than was dropped
on Germany and Japan combined during in World War II.
On Utah. -Yeah.
-Or essentially, right? And so that breaks down to
a bombing every eight minutes, 24 hours a day, for 9 years. -It’s incredible.
-It’s unimaginable. -You’ve written a lot about war, about people both affected
by it, displaced by it. This is something that happened
to your grandfather firsthand. -Completely personal to me. Yeah, grandson of a North Korean
refugee who escaped, started over again
in South Korea. Son of an immigrant.
My father came here in the ’70s, and so, I was — You know, I worked on that story
two books ago, but I also realized it was
a personal story for me, but I also realized that this
was a story that was occurring everywhere it had happened.
It was happening now. And I just —
I want to continue that journey. -The story’s told from the
perspective of three orphans. -Yeah.
-And when you start writing a book like this
and you make this choice to use these three characters, do you know
when you embark on it what the outcomes
of each of their stories are, or do you find it
in the writing? -No, not at all. I’m stumbling around
in the dark. It’s baby steps.
It’s baby steps and sort of trusting.
And also a lot of, you know, mistakes and going down
dead ends. And so you’re just
literally just crawling. It’s excruciating. -You’re married
to a fellow writer. -Yes, Laura van den Berg.
-Laura Van Den Berg. And do you guys share
your writing with each other? Is it helpful
to have another writer, or is it a nightmare
to be married a writer for both of you?
-No, no, no, we share. So, we met before
we were publishing, and so writing was sort of just an extension
of our relationship. It was sort of like
another love language. And so, I just remember,
you know, living in a tiny basement apartment
in Boston with her, and it was like 390 square feet,
and I remember that exact number because I was so pissed off that
I couldn’t afford, you know, like a
400-square-foot apartment. [ Laughter ]
-Yeah, sure. -Right?
And so her desk was right there, my desk was here, and we would
both be writing together. I mean, literally close enough
so that I could reach across and touch her, you know?
-Yeah. It’s good
that you get along then. Your writing companion, though,
in the moment… -Yes.
-…is your dog. -It’s my dog, Oscar.
My Labrador, my writing buddy. -Uh-huh.
-My guardian angel, yes. -And he — like, he’s physically
on top of when your writing? -Yes. So, usually,
he’s literally on my lap while I’m writing.
-Okay. -So I’m either use him as a desk
or I have to reach over, yeah. -This is a sizable dog.
See, this is no small dog. [ Laughter ]
-There he is. -Yeah, there he is. -So we’re in Austin, Texas,
right now. As you can see,
I’m wearing flip-flops. -Yeah.
-And so, I write outside, and so he’s trying to figure out
a way to kind of be on top of me while I write.
-Right. -So he’s just guarding me now,
yeah. -This is obviously a dog you got
post-390-square-foot apartment. [ Laughter ]
-Yeah, yeah. -That’s not a good dog
for that apartment, yeah. -No, and he looks
like a sea lion. Yeah. [ Laughter ] -And you’re teaching in Austin
right now. -Yes, I’m teaching at a
graduate writing program called the
Michener Center for Writers, and it’s the best
writing program out there, and just, it’s a privilege
to work with geniuses. They’re the future
of storytelling. -That’s really great.
-Yeah. -And thank you so much
for being here. -Thank you.
-Congratulations on a lovely book. It was really a delight
talking to you. This is Paul Yoon, everybody.


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