Richard Li, a high-school senior in the Running Start program published a novel last year called “Find True North.”
In Li’s story, protagonist Hwa Yunsang lives in Pyongyang, North Korea. Hwa is an idealistic individual living in a Communist and totalitarian society where he can be threatened by the government for expressing his ideas. One morning as Hwa was walking to school he notices his mother sitting in the back of a police vehicle. It turned out that Hwa’s father had reported his mother for possessing an anti-government journal.
After Hwa learned why his mother was arrested, he feels disloyalty in his family. He reviews his past and present in order to discover himself, while struggling with the notion of honor in a collectivist society that suppresses idealism and individuality. Hwa searches for hope. According to Li, “this marks the beginning of a quest to find a new life, meaning, love and truth, in the midst of a world that only values blind obedience to the state, and takes pleasure in depravity.” “Find True North” can be purchased on Amazon and through Barnes and Noble.
Li began writing his novel around April 2013. He felt that the process of growing up meant giving up one’s childhood. According to Li, he was inspired to write “Find True North,” when imagining someone similar to him living in the North Korean society.
Li thought the beginning of his novel would be a way to express his own disenchantment within his society.
As another source of inspiration, Li stated that he “wanted to help the people in North Korea by bringing attention to the depraved conditions they live in” through writing about the citizens and exposing their society for the world to see.
“I feel that every writer will take emotion, take experience from their own childhood and their own family and put it into their own writing, but really good writers won’t be subjective about it,” said Li. He believes that writers should view their work objectively. “Find True North” contained scenes and memories from Li’s own childhood experiences but he had to view those emotions objectively to make it work for his novel.
Li is an only child of Chinese descent. A few of his hobbies are composing music, hiking and playing ping pong and Super Smash Bros Melee. He has his first degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do, “a great family,” and “loyal friends.”
Li’s first step in producing the novel was to create and design characters by producing detailed profiles describing their features. Li said “I was surprised by how often I referred to the character charts.”
Next Li mapped out the setting, to get a mental grasp on the environment of “Find True North.” Environments “influence our actions, thoughts, and machinations,” said Li, and so they are an important consideration in developing the characters and their story. Li used Google Maps to study Pyongyang and Chongjin.
He advises other aspiring writers to utilize the same technique, “refer to these pictures, expand them in your mind, and imagine your story taking place in that world.”
According to Li, he cannot rate his own work. He markets his novel on his blog. Li has created a blog after the suggestion was offered by his teacher in order to catalog his journey in marketing “Find True North.” Li also mentioned that his teacher found his novel to be “really interesting and educational.”
Visit Li’s blog for continuing updates on his adventures.