In this edition of Bookend, it's double the fun as Jonathan Wilson talks with Frances and Ginger Park. They're sisters, and business partners — co-owners of the city's oldest independent chocolate shop: Chocolate Chocolate. They've had their sweets shop since 1984, but the sisters also write as a team, crafting memoirs and a number of children's books together, focusing on their Korean heritage, and good food, of course. Following are highlights of their interview.
On how writing came before chocolate:
Frances Park: "The writing actually came first. People are surprised to hear that. Ginger's been writing probably since her teen years, and I actually started when I was ten years old. My teacher just said to me, 'You're done with the reading classes, why don't you just sit here and spend the period writing. And I just ended up writing hundreds and hundreds of pages, and reading it to classes. So that's where I started."
Ginger Park: "I actually started writing right after our father passed away. I was only 16, and it was at that time that I realized that I knew nothing about my father, and his heritage, and actually, our Korean roots. And so, although our mom has always talked to us about her life before us when she was in North Korea, I never really listened until after my father passed away. And she told us so many rich stories that I just felt compelled to put them on paper. And that's when I started writing."
On growing up in the D.C. area:
FP: "When we were growing up in Northern Virginia, it was a very different place. You would not be able to find Korean restaurants, Korean friends, Korean anything -- no Korean churches. We never met another Korean American - ever - in school. The only other ones were our siblings. So it is different for us compared to the new wave — the newer waves of Koreans coming over here. They have a lot of friends, and they can stay more culturally attached. I think that's one way that we are different, we grew up feeling very American. It wasn't until our father died that we started asking questions and becoming a lot more interested in where we were from."
On how their mother's story inspired their first children's book, My Freedom Trip:
GP: "It all started with our mom. When we were growing up she would tell us, 'I had to run away from home when I was little,' and to us... we didn't really understand that there was a war, and there were politics, and that's really the tragedy of it - she had to not only leave her homeland forever, but she was also separated from her mother, and she never saw her again. And I think that after 50 years, even though she never saw her mom again, she was still that 16-year-old girl, who crossed the border in 1947. There was a part of her that never left that spot."
On writing as a team:
FP: "I don't think we've ever had a fight when we've written. Part of the reason might be that one of us always comes up with a concept and we discuss it, and we agree or disagree that it's a good idea. And if we say, 'OK, it's a go,' the person that came up with the concept basically drafts out the story. And after that, it just exchanges hands. We go back and forth — we have never written a single page together, sitting at a desk, at the laptop, that just doesn't happen. When we're together we're talking about our customers at Chocolate Chocolate, we're talking about [Ginger's] son, we're talking about my boyfriend - whatever. It's as if we need to go into our separate worlds to write, and when you hand the page over to the other person, you may get it back the next day, you may get it back three weeks later, and it's often all marked up, all changed, and that's fine. We still just look at it, and say, 'OK, I'm gonna rework this.' We trust each other that way."
Frances and Ginger Park's first book, a picture book based on their mother's escape from North Korea, is called My Freedom Trip. Their next project is a recipe book called Allergies Away: Creative Eats and Mouthwatering Treats for Kids Allergic to Dairy, Nuts and Eggs. It will be in bookstores this spring.
[Music: "Frostbit" by Oddissee from Odd Seasons / "Take On Me (For Orchestra)" by Walt Ribeiro from Take On Me (For Orchestra)]
The Park sisters talk about books they're reading and enjoying right now.