Today I’m chatting with Hart & Seoul author Kristen Burnham about her debut novel and her favourite Kdramas. I recently read Hart & Seoul and I couldn’t stop smiling the entire time so of course, I had to speak to the woman who wrote it.
Hi Kristen, Without any spoilers, please tell us what Hart & Seoul is about?
Merilee Hart has been doing her best to keep things together since her mother left, her art a welcome escape from her depressing new reality. But things seem to go even more awry the moment her next door neighbour’s enigmatic and mysterious nephew arrives from South Korea. Lee is moody, cocky, and utterly infuriating. But when Merri’s closest friends betray her and her father crushes her dream of going to art school, Merri finds herself drawn to Lee, who seems to live within even greater shadows than her own. And just when she thought things couldn’t get crazier, Merri’s world is upended when she discovers Lee’s big and bizarre secret: he is none other than a runaway member of the K-pop mega-group Thunder.
It’s not long before Thunder’s fans, the Storm Chasers, begin to close in on Lee, ready to do whatever it takes to return their favourite idol to his rightful place in the band. Faced with the prospect of even more heartbreak and caught up in an international whirlwind that has a life of its own, Merri realizes that she must find a way to mend herself, gain control of her life, and pursue her dreams—her heart and soul depend on it.
What inspired Hart & Seoul?
I think it was a combination of being swept up in the hallyu movement— (aka the popularization of Korean pop culture in the U.S.)—and a moment of pure inspiration. The idea came to me out of nowhere, when I was least expecting it, and all but demanded that I write it. I’d never had that happen before, nor felt so strongly about a story, but I happily flung myself into the process without a clue as to what was going to happen. Three years later, here I am!
One of the things that attracted me to this book was the runaway K-pop idol element. What are some of your favourite K-pop musicians?
I don’t actually have a particular group that I like—it’s more about the songs. One of my favourite Korean restaurants plays K-music videos all the time, and if a song catches my attention, I download it. Same with watching K-dramas—it helps that a lot of them play the same songs over and over and over. By the end of the series, you can’t help but bond with at least one OST song! If I had to narrow it down to groups that I consistently enjoy, I’d have to say BlackPink, BTS, Red Velvet, and IU.
I’m a huge fan of K-dramas. What are some of your favourite K-dramas?
Oh my goodness, where to begin? As with many fans, my first experience with K-dramas started with Boys Over Flowers (which is referenced in Hart & Seoul because I just couldn’t help myself). From that minute on, I was hooked—thank goodness I didn’t start watching them until after I graduated from university, or else I probably wouldn’t have graduated! Here are some of my faves:
- Boys Over Flowers
- Playful Kiss
- She Was Pretty
- Fated to Love You
- Strong Woman
- Scarlet Heart: Ryeo
- My Princess
- My Secret Romance
Lee’s fans, Storm Chasers, were very adamant about getting Lee back into the spotlight. Do you think fans’ overenthusiasm affected his mental health negatively?
Nothing is ever simple with mental health; there can be so many factors that all compile compound, and that’s the case with Lee. Yes, he has overenthusiastic fans, but he also has a very demanding work schedule, and the pressure of trying to hide his anxiety from essentially everyone. It’s a multi-faceted issue, one that I will definitely plan to explore more in subsequent books, and I think that more things will come to the surface that affect his mental health.
Lastly, if the situation was different, what type of date would Lee take Merri on?
Oh, that’s an excellent question! You know, I think that no matter if he’s an idol or not, Lee will always be (as one friend calls him) a punk. No matter where they go, it’ll be over the top, because it’s with Lee. So if I had to choose a place, I’d say Disney World. I’d LOVE to see them in Disney World together. Can you imagine Lee meeting Flynn Rider? #priceless
Where you can get Hart & Seoul
Girl meets boy. Boy falls for girl. Girl discovers boy is a runaway K-pop idol in hiding.
About Kristen Burnham
Kristen Burnham knew that she was destined to be either a world-famous palaeontologist or a writer. The dinosaur gig never took off, so it’s a good thing she had a back-up plan. When she’s not writing, she is hunting around for the best Korean BBQ food, reading, watching dramas (Korean, Chinese, British – if it’s dramatic, she’ll watch it), listening to music in foreign languages, and having arguments with her menagerie of imaginary friends (a.k.a. book characters).
Are you a fan of celebrity/non-famous ships like Meri and Lee? Do you have any book recommendations? Let me know your thoughts on the book in the comments.