US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in a combination photo. Photos: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque, KCNA/Handout via Reuters
US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Photos: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque, KCNA/Handout via Reuters

In the interest of full disclosure, let me come right out and acknowledge holding serious grudges against a couple of newsmakers I often write about. One is US President Donald J Trump. My disapproval of him is generic, shared by more than half of my fellow Americans.

With the other fellow, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, it’s more personal. Besides Kim’s myriad bad deeds, I blame him for interfering with my plans to morph from workaday Pyongyang watcher to world-renowned and fabulously wealthy best-selling novelist.

Several years ago I sent my agent a draft of a first novel, Nuclear Blues, in which I imagined the downfall of the Kim dynasty. His verdict: “Deserves to be published!” Before he could follow through, however, he fell ill and died.

To make a sale to one of the major publishing houses you generally need an agent, so I started searching for a replacement.

Kim kills my best-seller

I’d failed to anticipate Seth Rogen’s and Evan Goldberg’s 2014 announcement of a Sony Pictures movie, The Interview, whose plot bore a slight resemblance to mine. (I like to think theirs to mine is like Animal House to Fargo – but that’s me.)

The Interview did not play in Pyongyang movie theaters. Kim Jong-un felt offended that he’d been made a buffoon in a farce featuring a couple of doltish American assassins.

Hackers retaliated with a massive cyberattack, capturing and distributing Sony’s unreleased movies and internal e-mails. Facing hacker threats, major cinema chains declined to show The Interview. Damage estimates ranged up to US$100 million. Although North Korea denied involvement, American officials fingered Kim’s cyber-commandos.

The Sony caper didn’t scare me. I don’t have tens of millions to lose, and since then I’ve grown accustomed to being the target of hack attacks. I even had a visit from a pair of US Federal Bureau of Investigation agents to warn that, apparently related to my work, “state-sponsored” hackers “in the Far East” were trying to break into my e-mail. I invested in protective measures.

But the book-publishing industry has a lot more to lose and could hardly avoid taking note of what had happened to Sony. My (fictional) plot for regime change in North Korea turned toxic. If literary agents responded to my queries at all, they wrote something vague like, “Not for me.”

Finally giving up my quest to find an agent and a traditional publisher, I went ahead and self-published Nuclear Blues. Alas, like many a self-published book, it is not flying off the shelves. For this I say – voice dripping with bitter sarcasm – “Thanks, Kim Jong-un.”

Why they have my – grudging – support

And now those two guys I heartily dislike plan to sit down together and talk about an end to a state of war that has lasted for nearly seven decades. As if they were rubbing it in, their success would deal another blow to Nuclear Blues by creating credibility problems for its near-future plot.

So I want them to fail, right?

Wrong. As someone who has spent four decades hoping to make sense of North Korea before the peninsula explodes, I’m cheering for their success.

In my youth, I worked for two years ushering at home-town professional wrestling matches. I observed that bad guys occasionally bowed to card-scheduling exigencies, took off their meanie masks, and without further ado switched to the opposite corner of the ring. If Kim and Trump want to form a tag team and be good guys for a change, that’s fine.

Anyhow, I have an ace up my sleeve. Self-publishing software has developed to the point that an author-publisher can prepare a new edition with the push of a button.

If Trump and Kim defy all odds and come up with a sound agreement, I’ll shout “Huzzah!” even as I’m modifying my plot so that it’s not overtaken by events.

Longtime Asia correspondent Bradley K Martin’s other book is non-fiction: Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader: North Korea and the Kim Dynasty.

Bradley K Martin

Bradley K Martin has focused on Asia and the Pacific as a journalist since 1977 and has worked as bureau chief for The Baltimore Sun, The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek and Asia Times. At Bloomberg News he was chief North Korea watcher. He is the author of Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader: North Korea and the Kim Dynasty, a history, and of the speculative novel Nuclear Blues, set in a near-future North Korea after denuclearization and peace talks have failed.

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