A Conversation with Gina Chung, Best Emerging Writers Guest Judge

May 10, 2024

Submissions to the Best Emerging Writers anthology contest will close on June 2. Ten winners will be chosen for a $700 prize, along with publication both online as well as in our printed book. Choosing this year’s winners is Gina Chung, author of the recent collection Green Frog as well as the novel Sea Change. Today, we’re pleased to share this interview with Chung on her writing as well as what she looks for in an emerging writer. Be sure to get your submissions of fiction and creative nonfiction in for your chance to be named a Best Emerging Writer!


Thank you for agreeing to judge this year’s Best Emerging Writers contest! We’re so excited to be working with you. We loved Sea Change and your new collection, Green Frog, is terrific. The two books have some overlapping themes, especially where they relate to human connection to, or understanding of, the natural world. Is this a common theme for you to explore?

I’ve always been fascinated by human interactions with the natural world and with animals. I think maintaining some kind of connection with animals keeps us honest, since animals themselves are honest—they can’t really lie to us or be anything other than themselves. Writing about nature and our connection to animals reminds me of the fact that we ourselves are animals and helps me stay connected to my characters and how their bodies might move through and be impacted by their worlds. I think a lot can be lost, both in life and in writing, when we lose our connection to our environment.

Green Frog is the title of the collection, but it’s also the title of one of my favorite stories in the collection. What’s the significance of the title for you? What led you to title your collection after this story?

The title of that story comes from the Korean fable of the green frog, or chong kaeguri, which haunted me as a child. The fable is about a green frog who always does the opposite of what his mother tells him to do. Eventually, his constant disobedience drives his mother to an early grave, and on her deathbed, she requests that he bury her on the banks of their river, thinking he’ll do the opposite of what she asks and bury her on high ground. Instead, he is so full of guilt that he decides to do what she asks, and buries her on the banks of the river, which is why all frogs croak in the rain, since they are worried that the rain will wash away the body of their mother. It’s common for Korean parents to call their children “chong kaeguri” playfully, and my own mother would call me this sometimes. In writing my short story “Green Frog,” I wanted to explore the impact that this fable had on me as a child, and on how notions of filial piety and obedience can shape a person’s life. In that story, my main character has to grapple with her guilt and grief, after the loss of her mother, and figure out who she is outside of the expectations her family may have had for her. I decided to title the collection after this story because I think all of my stories are, at their core, about this question of what we owe to ourselves and what we owe to the ones we love, and how those two things are intertwined with one another.

The range of focus and style in the collection is impressive—many of the stories in Green Frog engage with ideas of tradition, with generational and cultural expectations which often manifest in familial relationships and tensions, but the approach to these ideas is quite different from story to story. There are pieces that draw on Korean folklore, stories that I’d almost classify as sci-fi, and of course there’s the excellent story from the POV of a praying mantis. Is this something you were conscious of as you were writing the stories or compiling the collection?

I’ve always been fairly genre-fluid in my approach to writing fiction. I think I’m just drawn to possibilities on the page—writing fiction is very liberating for me because I can make things happen in my stories that wouldn’t necessarily be possible in real life. So while some of the stories are more realist, there are also stories that, as you point out, are more sci-fi and/or fantastical. If we think about it as a spectrum, with realism on one end and the fantastical/speculative on the other, I think I’m someone who likes to travel back-and-forth across that spectrum. I don’t think about it consciously as I’m writing, since I tend to go with whatever mode I think would best serve the story, but when it came to compiling the collection, I did try to think about how to vary those energies and modes across the book in a way that felt organic and natural.

I’m someone who’s always interested in other writers’ processes and approaches to their work. What was different for you in working on the short stories in this collection compared to working on your novel?

One key difference between working on these stories versus the novel was that I didn’t initially set out to write a collection (though I’d always wanted to write one). These stories came together over the course of several years, and I didn’t necessarily think about them being one body of work until I took a look at them side-by-side and realized that many of them were, in a way, speaking to one another. I think, with each story, I was trying to work out questions that I was asking myself at the time about the nature of love (particularly familial love), inheritance, and loss.

Since the world of a short story is so much more concentrated than that of a novel, I feel like I can be a bit more playful or experimental with a story, particularly when it comes to voice or POV. With most of my short stories, I think I am trying to explore either a moment or series of moments in a character’s life, whereas a novel feels like an exploration of a character’s whole world. I also really need an outline and a structure when I’m working on a novel, whereas for a short story I don’t usually plan things out in advance—I like to follow the voice and see where it leads me.

You’re picking stories for our Best Emerging Writers series, so what qualities do you look for in an “emerging writer”? Rebecca Makkai once wrote for us that in making her decisions for our anthology, she weighed the question of polish vs. promise, ultimately leaning toward “spark and promise.” Which camp do you think you fall in?

I think both factors are important when it comes to putting your best work out there. However, I do agree that “promise” is one of those intangible yet utterly undeniable qualities of a writer’s work that can make me sit up and pay attention to a story and feel more inclined to be forgiving if, say, the ending feels uneven or parts of the plot feel under-explored. Polish can be acquired and comes with time and experience, but that isn’t to say that it isn’t an important part of the work as well, since I think a lot of it comes from developing discipline and a better understanding of your own voice as a writer.

I know Green Frog just came out, but is there anything you’re working on now or excited to get started on?

I’m working on my second novel at the moment, which is going slowly, but I’m enjoying the process of dipping my toe back into the messy early stages of writing something new. I haven’t been talking about it a ton, because I’m superstitious, but I can share that it’s going to be a story about family and ancestry, which are enduring preoccupations for me, and that I am also playing with horror, which is a genre I love but haven’t written very much in.

What do you most enjoy doing when you’re not writing?

I have recently gotten back into running, after a long period away from regular exercise, and I’d forgotten how much I enjoy it, though I am a very slow runner. A friend taught me how to knit about a year ago, so I’ve also been knitting a lot of wobbly scarves—I find it very calming. I really enjoy listening to music and podcasts in my downtime, too. I’m drawn to anything that tells a story or makes me think about the world in a new or unexpected way.

interviewed by Cole Meyer


At The Masters Review, our mission is to support emerging writers. We only accept submissions from writers who can benefit from a larger platform: typically, writers without published novels or story collections or with low circulation. We publish fiction and nonfiction online year-round and put out an annual anthology of the ten best emerging writers in the country, judged by an expert in the field. We publish craft essays, interviews and book reviews and hold workshops that connect emerging and established writers.

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