This month we bring you an interview with New York-based author Kat Cho, who has written her debut young adult fantasy-romance novel titled ‘Gumiho: Wicked Fox’. We found out more about Kat and her life as a writer, her fascination with storytelling and motivations behind incorporating Korean culture into her stories. We hope you enjoy this interview with this up-and-coming author.
‘Gumiho: Wicked Fox’ is set in modern-day Seoul, where the lead character Miyoung harbours a secret; she is a gumiho, a nine-tailed fox, a creature of old Korean legends and fables. During the story, she encounters Jihoon, and against her better judgement she rescues him, thereby revealing her identity and losing her gumiho soul (which is in the form of a fox bead) as a consequence. The two characters form a bond which develops as the story progresses, and twists and turns await them in this diverse novel.
You can purchase the novel on Amazon by clicking here. Read on to find out what Kat had to say about the book in her own words!
Can you give us a short summary of your book and tell us what you think makes it an exciting read?
Miyoung is a gumiho, a mythical nine-tailed fox who can take on a human form but must consume men’s souls for sustenance. She and her mother fly under the radar in modern-day Seoul, where she makes meals of bad men. But saving a boy in the woods from a goblin changes everything: suddenly she and the boy, Jihoon, are bound, and the friendship-turned-romance that results leaves her on the precipice of sacrificing everything, including her immortal life.
Did you grow up listening to old stories such as that of the gumiho? What do you find fascinating about Korean mythology and what do you think is key to their longevity and relevance to modern times?
Books of Korean folktales existed in our house. I didn’t read them a lot but sometimes I’d pick one up and I noticed how much animal imagery was incorporated into so many of the stories. I always found it so whimsical. I love old stories and myths (especially from a non-western culture) because they are so innately tied to the history and culture of the place that they are from. You can point to any folktale or legend from a specific country and some of the historic ideals and beliefs from that culture will be tied within that story.
I love reimagining these stories for the modern day. Even if we don’t recognise these beliefs in their exact original intention, we might be surprised to realise that a lot of what we do and believe today is highly influenced by the past. For example, I never really thought twice about listening to my parents and making sure that I was a good daughter because I knew that [my behaviour] reflected my parents and how they’ve raised me. I didn’t know until I was older that this is a direct influence of the concept of filial piety that comes from Confucian beliefs that exists within Korean culture.
Did you always feel that it was important to incorporate your Korean heritage into your writing? What are the benefits/disadvantages about being exposed to both Korean traditions and living in America?
I didn’t always feel that it was important because I didn’t always believe that it would be possible to publish a book about Korean culture and Korean people. I grew up only seeing white people in stories and western cultures. So when I first wrote stories as a kid, all of the characters were white.
It wasn’t until I was an adult and I learned to publicly show pride in my Korean heritage, that I started to incorporate it into my stories more and more. Unfortunately, I grew up feeling that I had to hide my ‘Korean-ness’ in order to be accepted and “fit in”. Of course, I don’t believe that anymore and I’m hoping that kids from all backgrounds can be proud of where they come from and what they believe in. I think that being a diaspora author (being Korean and raised in America) helps me to see things from both sides of the coin.
I am so familiar with Korean concepts that I know why they’re important to my community. But I also know why American audiences might not be familiar with such concepts. So when I write my books, I am able to kind of find a happy medium. Even though I do lean more towards my Korean side when I’m writing because ‘Gumiho: Wicked Fox’ is set in Seoul, I truly trust and believe in my audience. Just as they can read about orcs and wizards and glean context clues to understand those [types] of non-human beings, they can also use context clues to understand why Korean teens do what they do.
Do you still put ‘pen to paper’ or do you prefer to use electronic means?
I used to write everything in spiral notebooks when I was a kid. I think that part of why I loved to write was that I loved the practice of handwriting things. But my thoughts move way faster than my pen (I’m lucky that I’m such a fast typist) so I do use a computer for all my stories.
What is appealing about writing specifically for the young adult demographic?
I love writing for the young adult audience because the mind of a teen/young adult is so open and beautiful. I like that it’s both able to understand and absorb everything about a world you present, but it’s not so bogged down by preconceived biases or notions to be unable to believe in something out of the ordinary. I honestly think that is why the diversity conversation does the best in ‘kid-lit’ (young adult/kid literature) because the audience isn’t so stuck in centuries of unequal practices. There are so many possibilities in ‘kid-lit’ which is apparent in how genres mesh and flow so fluidly into each other. Labels aren’t necessary and it’s a beautiful concept.
What kind of books do you enjoy reading? What do you think is essential to a good story that makes it one that reels you in?
I love reading all books! This might be a cheat answer but honestly I read everything from non-fiction memoir to adult fantasy to romance and graphic novels. I think the essential thing that makes a good story is good characters. If a character is someone that intrigues me then I can follow them through any plot or world.
How quickly do you know that an idea for a story is going to be one that you will be able to flesh out and use for a book? Do you have potential ideas stashed away somewhere?
I have to be able to imagine a conflict big enough that there is no easy answer or path to a solution. If it is too easy then the story will be boring. I also have to imagine a character that interests me enough to want to write about them. If a character is boring then I might as well not write the story, even if the world is amazing. I have A LOT of ideas stashed away. New ones come to me every day and sometimes old ones that I’ve given up on get a new lease of life after I have an epiphany about how to improve it.
How would you describe your life in New York? What is a writer’s typical week like?
I love it! I actually lived in New York in a ‘past life’ when I worked in cancer research. It was a stressful job/life so I moved to be closer to family. But my writing and publishing brought me back to the “Big Apple”. A typical week involves me knowing what deadlines or commitments I have that week. Scheduling my time so I can get in my creative work if I need to (writing isn’t just about making the time but also being able to get into the right headspace). I also want to make sure that I meet all my outside commitments and deadlines; if I don’t do my job then other people can’t do theirs, so anything that is part of a bigger project or anything owed to my publisher comes first!
Do you ever feel pressure to write every day now that you are writing professionally?
I do feel pressure to do something about my writing every day. But I don’t think that is always just the writing. Sometimes it means refilling my creative well (by reading, watching shows, being inspired by art and the world). Sometimes it means doing promotions for my book, sometimes it means pursuing other things that boost and support my writing – I have a podcast called Write or Die and a blog called Writer’s Block Party.
Do you ever miss your former career as a researcher? What prompted your decision to a more creative career and do you feel that your scientific writing skills helped you?
I loved clinical research. I felt extremely fulfilled and like I was honestly making a difference in the world. I also love knowing how things work, so science always called to that part of my brain. But stories had always been lurking in the back of my head, and the more I tried to ignore them, the more they pushed at me. I’ve been writing creatively since I was a little kid, so I don’t think it was that I decided to leap into a creative field, rather that I came back to a first love. I don’t know if my scientific writing skills help my creative writing, but knowing how to meet deadlines and how to schedule my time is definitely something I still use in my writing life.
Responses have been partially edited for clarity
Featured image and in-article images source: © Penguin Random House. 08.08.19. All images were provided by the author’s publisher for use in this article. All rights reserved. Image credits as stated on appended captions.
© Interview with Kat Cho. 08.08.2019. Inspire Me Korea.