Ling Ling Huang on the Intersection of Classical Music and Writing
In Conversation with Christopher Hermelin on So Many Damn Books
Ling Ling Huang stops by the universe of the Zoom Damn Library the day after her book, Natural Beauty, graces shelves. She talks about writing the book in her Notes app, living the classical music life, how she surprised her parents with her book deal, getting shots in her butt for her beauty industry employer, and so much more. Plus, she brought along the Korean bestseller I Want to Die but I Want to Eat Tteokbokki, so of course we have to talk about therapy, and how this book surprises you with its ending.
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What’d you buy?
Ling Ling: Extraordinary Attorney Woo (Netflix) and The Last of Us (HBO), Succession (HBO), Yellowjackets (Showtime), Unstable (Netflix)
Christopher: Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver
From the episode:
Christopher: When did you add a writing practice in with your violin practice? Like, how did the writing come into it? When did you decide it was time to try your hand, and secretly write a novel, and not tell your parents?
Ling Ling: Well, I’ve always read a lot. I mean, you wouldn’t know it from our conversation, but whenever I was in a practice room and even when I was, you know, like in fourth grade, I was always with a book because it was my favorite practice break. And so I really think of music and writing as kind of translating between the two.
So I first started writing when I wanted to invite a lot of my English class friends to a recital I was giving. So I was already in conservatory. I didn’t want to write the normal program notes. We’re required to write program notes, which just give you the historical content of the pieces. And I don’t know, I find a lot of them to be really dry, and a lot of these friends were kind of intimidated by going to a classical music concert because they, you know, it wasn’t something they were super familiar with.
So I wanted to cater to them and not in a way that would dumb anything down because they’re extremely intelligent, complex people. I tried to, you know, do something in their language. So for the four different pieces I wrote a poem. I wrote a Russian short story and just two other pieces to go with the music I was playing. And that was so fun.
And it opened up something, where every time I listen to music, because there are no words in classical music, for the most part, my mind is just free to put words in, or to think of any image. And so I started writing in that way. And on these commutes where I was writing in my notes app, I was often listening to classical music. And so that’s how the music elements snuck in there. And so then it just accumulated and became this thing.
I think I was afraid to write a novel, but I moved to New York. I wouldn’t even have said this aloud to myself, but I was wanting really badly to be a writer and to try writing a novel. So I feel like I had to kind of scurry and do it on notes and all these things for me to not be intimidated by it. And then putting it all in in a Word document, it was fine because it was already done for the most part.
Christopher: And so, now you’ve got these views of like, the clean beauty world, and the classical music world. Do you feel like you’ve got a view of the publishing world now, and how do those stack up?
Ling Ling: Yeah, the publishing world has been so wild. I think there’s just so much I don’t know. A really popular question for me to everyone on any one of my teams is: “Is there an industry standard for, like, how to say thank you? Like, should I get flowers for people? How do we feel about cookies?” I’m so grateful for this journey and to be in this field that I, I’m constantly afraid of losing it or messing up somehow, especially since I feel like there’s so much I don’t know.
Even in the classical music world, if you put your stuff in the wrong place, in front of where someone usually unpacks their cello or something, it can cause a whole kerfuffle for the whole orchestra and people will hate you. Like, there are just such little things, or so maybe it’s PTSD from that, that I’m taking into the publishing industry, which is healthy.
But for the most part, it’s been a dream. I feel like, you know, I have nothing to compare it to. But I feel really lucky with with how I’ve landed.