We’ve had the pleasure of talking to returning guest Stephan Lee, whose YA novel K-Pop Revolutionthe explosive sequel to K-Pop Confidential, is set to release April 5th. After a year of turmoil, we got to ask Stephan about his writing process for him, his new favorite K-Pop bands and so much more!
Welcome back, Stephan! Thanks for joining us a second time. How are you doing?
I’m doing so well! It’s so amazing to be talking to you and The Nerd Daily again … Mimi, talking to you the first time was one of the highlights of K-POP CONFIDENTIAL’s release, and I’m even more excited to share K-POP REVOLUTION with you and the world!
Last time, we asked you about your favorite K-Pop bands and you gave us some great recommendations! Have you found any new favorite bands since then?
Ooh, I’m such an aespa fan … Candace’s girl group in K-POP REVOLUTION, THE GIRLS, is nothing like aespa, but they were still an inspiration seeing how they handled the pressures of being a super hyped new group from a major company . Their music is just getting better and better!
What can readers expect when picking up K-Pop Revolution?
Take all the stakes of K-POP CONFIDENTIAL and crank it up times a hundred! In the first book, Candace was just a K-pop trainee, and now she’s debuting in the most hyped girl group of all time, so the pressure is way higher and she has way more to lose. We also get way more glamor and K-pop tropes! You’re with Candace as she films her de ella first Music Video, stars in her de ella first Reality Show, and competes in Music Shows. Plus, her romance with YoungBae gets way more complicated, and her feelings about One.J continue to evolve. In the first book, almost all the action happened behind closed doors, but now, the whole world is Candace’s stage of her. There’s more fun and wild lewks, but also more danger and chaos.
I also think this book has more twists and surprises. If K-POP CONFIDENTIAL was more of a coming-of-age novel, K-POP REVOLUTION has elements that feel like a mystery or thriller as Candace has to find out who’s trying to destroy her debut and why. It’s a roller coaster!
Talk us through the writing process of K-Pop Revolution. On your Instagram, you mentioned what a challenge writing this story was and how you ended up rewriting all of it during a 3-week period. How did that come about?
Oh gosh, I went through a journey with this book. My first book came out in September 2020, right in the middle of the pandemic, so needless to say, nothing about my debut, which I’d been dreaming about my entire life, happened as planned. Even though K-POP CONFIDENTIAL sold well and the reception was overwhelmingly positive, the release didn’t really change the way I felt about myself the way I always thought it would. For no rational reason, I couldn’t help but feel like a failure, and my mental health took a huge downturn. I was going through all this while struggling to write the sequel. I found it hard to fully invest when I knew that if the first book didn’t “fix” certain things in my life, the second definitely wouldn’t either. I blew right past my deadline and I kept having to make excuses to my editor to buy more time.
I finally felt half of my first draft to my amazing editor, Sam Palazzi. I knew something wasn’t working — I almost expected her to reply that we needed to cancel the book, and I actually would have been relieved if she did. Instead, she was extremely encouraging — she thought there was a lot of good stuff, but that I needed to dive into Candace’s mind and character like I had in the first book.
I realized I was so frozen in writing Book 2 because I was obsessed with the end result, not the joy of creating. My editor’s notes gave me the permission to play again, and write with a sense of exploration and fun. She didn’t think I needed to throw out the draft, but I knew I needed to. My first draft just had a lot of rbrnyd that happened — the plot was not deeply connected to Candace’s desires, point of view, or her decisions. So I started from scratch, and I wrote with my heart this time. It was the most magical, satisfying creative experience of my life. After months of struggling and self doubt, I suddenly felt so connected to writing again, and so many things figured themselves out. I was writing 11,000 good words per sometimes day, and my editor had very few notes or changes. What I wrote in that three weeks is basically exactly the final book with only a few tiny tweaks. It was life changing.
I adored that in this book, we follow Candace to some very dark places where outside opinions make her question everything about herself, her relationships and the K-Pop industry. Without spoiling too much, what inspired you to write this dark turn in her journey?
Building off the previous question, part of what froze me for months while I was trying to write K-POP REVOLUTION was afraid of what people would say. Even though 99.9% of the reaction to K-POP CONFIDENTIAL was positive, I allowed that .1% of negativity to take up way, way, way too much real estate in my brain. I was terrified that every word I would write could potentially alienate readers.
But Candace came to my rescue! I know that’s a corny thing to say about your own character, but it’s true. Even though I went through only a tiny fraction of the scrutiny that Candace and real-life K-pop idols deal with, it took a lot of work to free myself up to put my own emotions into Candace’s story about her. When you do something public, like publish your first book or start your own company or almost anything else creative, part of the process that people don’t talk about enough is learning how to protect your joy in creating art despite the inevitable disappointment and criticism you’ll receive, no matter how successful you are. It took a while for me to realize that everything I was going through was a lot like Candace’s struggles.
With that harrowing writing process, tell us about the good memories! What was your favorite scene or moment to write for K-Pop Revolution?
Oh gosh, so many! I loved, loved, loved writing the scene where Candace and YoungBae are reunited for the first time. I cried while writing the scene where Candace has to say bye to Umma, her mom de ella, when she’s flying back to America. It calls back to the scene in the first book where Umma drops Candace off at the trainee headquarters for the first time, but it shows how much their relationship has grown since then.
I also enjoyed writing all the scenes featuring a new character, Lena Sonu, the new CEO of SAY Entertainment. Lena was the first character who came to my mind when I was dreaming up the sequel, and she just came fully formed into my head. I hope readers find her complicated and fascinating!
If you could trade places with any of the characters you’ve created so far for a day, who would you choose and why?
WooWee! She’s the K-pop veteran who debuts with Candace and THE GIRLS, and although she fits the mold of a “diva” in certain ways, a lot of that is just confidence and knowing what she’s worth. I’d love to wear her outfits and wigs and just inhabit her attitude for a day!
Candace already breaks down seemingly impenetrable walls in the K-Pop industry in K-Pop Confidential. In K-Pop Revolution, we also get to see another band attempt to make K-Pop more diverse and inclusive, with huge success! What do you want readers to take away from this storyline?
That the world is ready for some major changes! Not just in K-pop, but in the way young people are allowed to make decisions for their own lives and their own talent and humanity. Candace sees a rival girl group following none of the rules of K-pop and still become just as successful if not more so than THE GIRLS. Look at Simone Biles — she drew a line for herself and is re-writing the rules of what it means to be a champion. Of course, this scares the people who wrote the old rules, but it’s worth fighting the fight.
Now that Candace has conquered the world of K-Pop, any chance you’ll return to some other characters’ stories we’ve gotten to know so far? (I would read an entire series about SLK or YoungBae)
Perhaps! I definitely have wanted to write about SLK’s origin, and I opened the door even further in K-POP REVOLUTION to explore them in more detail.
I briefly considered writing K-POP REVOLUTION from Helena’s perspective, but I realized I wasn’t done with Candace’s voice just yet.
In fact, I have a fully formed idea for a third book from Candace’s perspective, but I haven’t shared it with my publisher yet. It would have to do with THE GIRLS’ crossover into the US music industry and Candace’s journey as she lives in Hollywood and New York preparing her solo English-language debut. Of course there’ll be all new drama and villains as well as a deeper look at some familiar friends! I’d also want to explore Ella’s Candace’s relationship with her older brother Tommy, who’s only a minor character in the first two books.
And with K-Pop Revolution releasing soon, are you already writing on another project? If so, can you share a sneak peek with us?
I recently moved to Los Angeles from New York, and like a true Hollywood cliché, I’m working on some TV pilots! It’s so much fun. I’m also working on an adult book that I’m really hoping will land at a publisher this year. Keeping very busy!
Last but not least, recommend some books to our readers!
There are so many great ones I’ve read in the past year that I’ll limit it to a few books by Korean American authors: CRYING IN H-MART by Michelle Zauner, SKINSHIP by Yoon Choi, and THE LAST STORY OF MINA LEE by Nancy Jooyoun Kim.