That Lonely Spell
Stories of Family,
Friends & Love
That Lonely Spell began seven years ago with a thought: For most of Frances’ life, she’d been missing her late father badly; one day she thought to try her hand at penning a personal essay about him. The piece turned out sweet yet lawless, longer than intended, and titled Mister, Your Shoelace is Untied. Another work followed, then another. At heart, they were love letters to her dad and his life, both glorious and cheated. Others, living and dead, crept into these pages: a stoic maid in post-war Seoul who finally warmed up to her the summer she was seven; a woman who lured her into her basement apartment with the promise of colorful gumballs; a golden boy she never got over; Jefferson, the soulful doodle of her heart; friends cherished, now perished; and of course her mother, alive during most of the writing here, yes, alive and cheering Frances on with the completion of each story, hot off the press.
All twenty-six stories in this memoir have been published in both commercial and literary magazines including in O: The Oprah Magazine, Spirituality & Health Magazine, The Chicago Quarterly, Gargoyle, Arts & Letters, and The Columbia Journal, to name a few. One work, her bittersweet remembrance of smuggling money out of South Korea in 1980 with her mother – “You Two Are So Beautiful Together” – earned a Notable in The Best American Essays 2017 (The Massachusetts Review).
Excerpt from a story in THAT LONELY SPELL
"Serving God, Meat and Intercourse in an Amish Diner"
Ziggy Stardust and Southern Boogie dominated the FM airwaves the era I lived on greasy tacos from Jack-In-The-Box, ditched high school cap and gown for the beach, wrote poetry and drank vodka-laced Tab and was in love with two boys who were best friends, all the while struttin’ around with an ego I’d slap today. I was at an age when you think Life is more than it is, and every hour is journal worthy. I had dreams, you know, and they weren’t to grow up and be a mere whistle in the woods.
Now I’m in an Amish-owned restaurant off a country road in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania with my eighty-two-year old Korean mother.
The vibes were good here, though. Quiet. We stumbled in at an off-hour for an early dinner as we were already out and about, and I was anxious to get back to our hotel room and call it a day. Our road trip every autumn is sacred on a plane where more, many more, lie ahead on our horizon but, funny thing, I’m a poor traveler, no sense of direction, easily frazzled and sometimes so busy measuring the earth’s bitch-o-meter I forget to live. My mom survived the Korean War and doesn’t give a damn.
“Someone don’t like me, I say, Puh, I don’t like you!”
Frances Park’s haunted essays are part elegiac after party, part Coen brothers whispers. She travels from Seoul to Soul via bus tours to Amish country, the Bayou in Georgetown, a lost cabin in West Virginia, a cosmic dog, creepy neighbors, crazed roommates, old friends, lovers, and her ex (Hug Bug). But it’s her mother and lost-too-soon father that steal that show. Grab a vodka-laced Tab and dial up family life in the burbs via pop relics, TV ads, show tunes, dance moves, and chocolate.
--Richard Peabody, editor of Gargoyle Magazine, author of Guinness on the Quay
The ferocious energy of Frances Park’s essays in That Lonely Spell, her lyrical prose, and her poignant subject matter—early loss of her father; isolation as the only Korean family in her Virginia suburb; a complex yet close bond with her mother; and a series of unfulfilling intimate relationships—captivated me from beginning to end. Park’s voice is urgent and entertaining. You won’t want to miss this collection.
--R.L. Maizes, author of Other People’s Pets and We Love Anderson Cooper
Frances Park writes so elegantly about family and personal history, and how that history gradually becomes beautiful, monumental myth.
--Ben Nussbaum, editor of Spirituality & Health
Through the twists and turns of memory, Ms. Park portrays a life lived without restrictions. The tang of childhood makes one wonder what one has missed – were we ever that wide-eyed and accepting? The exuberance of adolescence and young adulthood is told in a wry yet direct manner. Even her mistakes take on the sheen of the bittersweet – how we come to possess our own “lost paradises.”
A Korean heritage interwoven with an American-upbringing results in unique views on life and family. One cannot imagine a tighter or more loving family environment. The female perspective runs through these stories like an underground river, always present and often rising to the surface. It is a pleasure to read work that combines ethnicity and gender in ways that supersede the default versions of mainstream biographies. These coming-of-age stories – these life lessons – entertain even as they teach us something about ourselves. Highly recommended.
--Robert Kostuck, author and editor-in-chief, Dovetales
In this rich and artful memoir-in-essays, Park’s loves and losses become the readers as well. It’s a special pleasure to become as happily immersed in the life of another person as I did reading That Lonely Spell.
--Elizabeth McKenzie, author of The Portable Veblen
That Lonely Spell is a Tour de Force in memoir writing. Some hard truths spliced with pragmatic humor offer up a book that is informative, elegant, and extravagantly pleasurable to read. Frances Park has lived in many rooms.
--Susan Tepper, author of What Drives Men and The Crooked Heart, a Play
I can’t adequately put into words my praise for That Lonely Spell. Each story is magical, so powerful and beautifully recalled you’ll swear you were with her.
--Rick Cooper, lyricist, author of For the Record
That Lonely Spell has cast its blissful spell on me like no other essay collection I’ve read before. Told in a voice that is uniquely hers, each story is heart-tugging and painfully honest – with heaps of humor throughout. Frances Park creates true connection with her readers, leading us, contrary to this book’s title, feeling not at all lonely, as if we’ve just made a new friend. I can’t wait to revisit her world and reread her stories from start to finish.
--Scott Saalman, columnist (Dubois County Herald; Evansville Courier & Press), author of What Will you Write About When I’m Gone?, Nose Hairs Gone Wild, and Mr. Serious
While reading That Lonely Spell, I found myself wanting to highlight nearly every sentence. Frances Park’s stories are deep, blue and soulful – and I loved being lost in her sea of prose.
--Bill Adler, author of Outwitting Squirrels and Boys and Their Toys
That Lonely Spell is a luminous collection of stories that covers the beautiful and the brutal in Frances Park’s life with the kind of prose that sticks to your bones and stays with you long after you close the book. Emotionally, it packs a huge punch. Books rarely make me cry, but story after story hit me in the heart hard enough to make me tear up. If I had to choose a favorite, I could not. I loved them all.
--Megan Wessell, blogger, A Bookish Affair
Frances Park writes in a style that can only be described as rapturous. Reading That Lonely Spell brought lots of tears and some laughs as well. She describes events throughout her life with a sense of realism that sometimes entertains, sometimes shocks, and always moves. Her father’s premature passing is almost always present, and her love for both parents is evident at all times. I loved every page.
--Barbra Bailey Bradley, harpist and composer
“The beauty of life comes off like makeup” – to quote from Frances Park’s new book That Lonely Spell. I would say the beauty of an essay comes off like a short story. These are heartfelt essays that invite you in with warmth and honesty. Reading That Lonely Spell is like having a conversation with a friend you wish you had.
--Carl Scharwath, writer, photographer and competitive runner
“Frances Park’s voice as a writer is resonate and authentic.”
--Sandra Tyler, editor-in-chief of The Woven Tale Press, author of Blue Glass and After Lydia
I grew up in an era when the U.S. Census Bureau need only come to my family’s house to get a total head count of Koreans in my ‘burb. That reality is reflected in ten books published in seven languages, beginning with the novel “When My Sister Was Cleopatra Moon” (Miramax 2000). A forthcoming memoir THAT LONELY SPELL: STORIES OF FAMILY, FRIENDS & LOVE (Heliotrope Books 2022) deals with the universal themes of love and loss against the backdrop of my unique Korean American experience.
I'm happy to say that my shorter works - both fiction and nonfiction - have been published all over the place! My short story "The Summer My Sister was Cleopatra Moon" will appear in COOLEST AMERICAN STORIES 2022.
In addition, with my sister Ginger, I’ve co-authored five highly praised children’s books including “My Freedom Trip: A Child’s Escape from North Korea” (Boyds Mills Press 1998), winner of The International Reading Association Award; “The Royal Bee” (Boyds Mills Press 2000), winner of The Joan B. Sugarman Award; and “Good-bye, 382 Shin Dang Dong” (National Geographic Children’s Books 2002), described by Newsweek magazine as “the perfect all-American story”.
I’ve been interviewed on ‘Good Morning America’, CNN, the Diane Rehm Show, Voice of America, Radio Free Asia, and NPR. When I’m not in writing mode, I’m at Chocolate Chocolate, a sweet boutique in Washington, DC breaking bonbons with customers.
In closing, it’s good to know your gifts in life. Mine is NOT playing the ukulele – but I’m trying to teach myself anyway. My goal? To play a single recognizable song.