Personal Space: Each month, writer and home-tour addict Teena Apeles gives us a peek into the spaces of AA+PI creatives around the country. She’ll explore what’s out in the open—from their unique collections and family heirlooms to quirky tchotchkes and vintage furniture finds—and delve into the stories behind them, to find out what makes each person’s house a home.
Of course, writer Maurene Goo’s Los Angeles home is full of books, not to mention art and curios aplenty. Known for the young adult novels I Believe in the Thing Called Love (2017), The Way You Make Me Feel (2018), and Somewhere Only We Know (2019), the prolific writer has accomplished the incredible feat of having consecutive, critically acclaimed titles, two of which are currently being developed into feature films by Netflix. Goo finds it funny to reflect on her career now, considering that in 2005 she passed on the opportunity to attend the prestigious New School’s Creative Writing Program to instead pursue a more practical master’s degree in publishing at Emerson College. “I thought to myself, I’m never going to be a writer as my job.”
What’s particularly notable is that she’s achieved such success with Asian American lead characters—something unthinkable for any writer, Asian American or otherwise, when Goo was the same age as her teenage female protagonists. She recalls that even a decade ago there were very few Asian American authors writing contemporary stories when her debut novel, Since You Asked (2013), was released, and it was still “very rare to see an everyday story specifically about Asian Americans, just fantasies set in Asia.”
Not that the SoCal native has any issues with fantasy, the supernatural, or superheroes, for that matter. After all, she authored the much-lauded Marvel Silk (2021) comic book series, illustrated by Canadian artist Takeshi Miyazawa and featuring reporter-by-day and superhero-by-night, Cindy Moon, who is Korean American like Goo. Coincidentally, Goo is a former freelance journalist and book editor who edited mega tomes on the history of Marvel. How could one not want to see the space where she has produced such work?
“I can’t believe how hot it is,” Goo says upon greeting us at her front door, in the midst of a record-breaking summer heat wave in Northeast Los Angeles. Located in a charming-cul-de-sac, tucked back away from the street, her family’s single-story dwelling is surrounded by trees and a wonderfully overgrown garden, with a welcoming brick pathway and front porch. The tranquil scene feels more countryside cottage than L.A. ranch home.
Goo shares the 1949 home with her husband, Chris Appelhans, director and writer of the 2021 animated feature Wish Dragon, their 2-year-old son and 7-year-old cat. The home’s curtainless glass front door and windows give anyone at the doorstep a clear view of the living room, an indication of just how comfortable she feels in her pocket of the city.
Inside, among the most striking original features of the home are a decorative ceiling of striated plywood panels and floating wood shelves that connect to a wall-length, built-in wood cabinet with a surprising history. Goo pulls one of its drawers open to reveal markings indicating they were artillery boxes from World War II, a far cry from the kitchen linens and art supplies they now contain.
“So, this house is kind of weird,” comments Goo, actually referring to the layout of the house, calling it “artistic but not practical.” Her biggest issue with the design? “I wish we had an entryway, even a little bit, because I’m Asian. You know, when you have an entryway, people automatically take off their shoes. It’s like, even white people have learned. But even my parents sometimes walk in with their shoes and, I’m like, ‘Hello…’”
Past the living room is the hallway to the master bedroom, her son’s room, and, at the very end, her office. It, too, has a cool built-in wood cabinet on the far wall—stacked a few feet high with books—and lower wall paneling running around the whole room. Looking at the stack, she says, “Reading is what led me to writing. I loved reading. Reading was basically my whole life as a kid.” The inset shelf of the built-in has some of her most treasured books from her childhood and teen years, including Francine Pascal’s Sweet Valley High books, a few Roald Dahl titles, a first edition of Le Petit Prince, and, elsewhere in her office, a worn, early printing of the first book in The Baby-Sitters Club series by Ann M. Martin.
While pointing out different titles in her library, Goo recounts how it took her some time to fully embrace writing as a career: “Up until my first book, Since You Asked (2013), was sold, I was like, I’m not going to be an author,” she admits. “It didn’t seem like a viable thing [for an Asian American]. But now I know that I actually did want it, but I was very much protecting myself.”
Goo is happy to see that YA authors are getting more diverse than when she was a teenager. This fact isn’t lost on her fanbase or the next-generation of novelists. Goo often hears from Korean American authors who tell her, “Your books inspired me.” This surprises her: “It doesn’t seem like I’ve had this long career where I would inspire anybody, but it’s just been a short history of Asian Americans writing YA novels,” she says. “I think it’s because maybe starting with my age group, we’re the ones. We finally got to an age where we can write as a career.”
On the floating white shelf above the grand stacks are her own books, including an uncorrected proof of her forthcoming YA novel, Throwback, which will be released Spring 2023 and what Goo describes as “Back to the Future, but Asian American mom stuff.” Set in a fictional Glendale—the city where she grew up, just miles away—“it’s about a girl who does not get along with her mom, and basically they get into a huge fight. Her mom abandons her in the mall parking lot and a ride share picks the girl up,” she continues. “And then when she goes to school, she realizes that it’s 1995 and she’s in high school with her mom,” who is first-generation Korean American.
Goo mentions how she prizes her upbringing in Glendale and Los Angeles, where there are sizable Asian populations. “I think it’s so essential to me to be able to not feel at all different,” she notes. “I grew up feeling very included because I had such a strong Korean American community growing up. The version of America that [some first-generation American] people struggled with, I did not have to deal with as much, and I still don’t feel it as strongly living in Los Angeles.”
On the adjoining wall is a bulletin board filled with photos, artwork, and cards—temporarily framed in blue painter’s tape, as she preps the office for a remodel—and Goo’s antique wood desk that she picked up at the Rose Bowl flea market. Like other surfaces in her home, including the floating bookshelves in the living room and atop her bedroom dresser, are collections of keepsakes and many other items that inspire her.
She points out two vintage photos on the board: one of her dad, who worked as an engineer, and the other of her mom next to a soundboard. Goo laughs, saying, “My mom hates reading books. She’s always like, ‘I can’t believe my daughter ended up being a writer.’” In Korea, her mom worked as a radio broadcast journalist for the Korean Broadcasting System. “I used to write all of her employee reviews every year. She hated it so much, so she would just stand there and tell me what to write.”
While the placement of items on her bulletin board may look random and her towers of books appear haphazardly assembled, they both are thoughtfully curated, especially her library. “I used to be the kind of person that saved every fucking book. [Now] I’m very cutthroat about getting rid of books,” stresses Goo. “What has managed to be saved are the books that I have loved, I want to read, and that my friends have written.”
When asked how it makes her feel to look at all the books, she immediately responds, “I feel satisfied.”
Published on October 4, 2022
Words by Teena Apeles
Teena Apeles writes about art, culture, design, activism, and history, and edits books on an even wider range of subjects. Her latest book, 52 Things to Do in Los Angeles, is now available from Moon Travel Guides. She is also the founder of the creative collective Narrated Objects, which produces books and experiences to showcase the diverse voices of Los Angeles.
Photography by Samanta Helou Hernandez
Samanta Helou Hernandez is a multimedia journalist and photographer covering culture, identity, and social issues. She's published with LA Times, Playboy, and PRI "The World," among others. In 2017, she launched "This Side of Hoover," an ongoing visual archive of gentrification and resilience in East Hollywood. Her work has been exhibited at The International Center of Photography in New York City and The Mexican Consulate of Los Angeles.