Mark James Russell

Books, blog and other blather

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Taking stock

Summer is still nasty hot out, but the end is in sight, as at last temperatures are falling somewhere close to okay in the middle of the night. With my son on the verge of turning 1 year old, I thought this might be a good time to take stock of where I am and how things have changed over the past year or so.

  • Baby is nearly a year old. Hard to believe he’s so old already. But as the saying goes about parenthood, the days are long and the years are short. It’s pretty amazing seeing this little guy getting so big and alert and human-like. Kind of annoyed with myself for waiting so long to do the parenthood thing.
  • New job. A little over a year ago, I left a pretty bad newspaper gig for a really nice job with a big Korean conglomerate—and, much to my surprise, it was actually pretty good. Smart and good people, decent hours, interesting content (nuclear power, desalination plants, etc.). But last week, I left that company to start as a director at Edelman Korea; it’s a lot more challenging, but I’m enjoying the potential for the job for the future.
  • Writing. Young-hee & the Pullocho finally came out a few months ago, which was great. I also finished a couple of short stories over the past year, and hope to find a hope for them soon. And I’m about halfway through the sequel to The Pullocho (yay!), and am lined up to write a horror novel after that.
  • Moving. We’re about to leave Hongdae at last, to try living in a totally different part of Seoul. It’s about as far away from where I live now as you can get and still be in Seoul (geographically and metaphorically). But with the baby getting older, perhaps it is time for a change.

To everyone who checked out one of my books or read this blog, thanks much for your interest. And hopefully I’ll have more to interest you soon.

Summertime (and the bloggin’ ain’t easy)

Erg, August already? Apologies for the lack of updates. It’s been a hot, soggy summer in Korea, one that doesn’t really lend itself to blogging.

On the plus side, I’ve been making some decent progress on the writing. Finished one short story (very short) and I’ve been cranking away on the sequel to Young-hee & the Pullocho. Most significantly, I think I finally worked out a few bugs in that story and nearly gotten through a re-write. But still a long way to go.

Back in early July, Bank Street Bookstory in New York City was nice enough to have a reading of The Pullocho. That was a wonderful surprise, but I was even more surprised to discover they filmed the reading, and put some highlights up online.

  • Also, there have been a couple more reviews of The Pullocho, at London Korea Links and ATK Magazine (very positive reviews, too, so big thanks to Philip and Cindy, and huzzah!).
  • Publisher’s Weekly did a very nice writeup of Ed Greenwood’s new publishing ventures … something that should directly relate to my own writing (eventually).
  • Hey, the Wondergirls are back, with a very, very ’80s song:

Sundown (better take care)

We had a pretty amazing sundown last night.


And incredible skies this morning.


Korea stories

As Korean culture has grown more popular all over the world, there’s also been a rise in non-Koreans who want to join in the fun. No surprise there, I guess, but it has been pretty cool to watch — and it’s been doubly fun to have been a part of it, in my small way.

First came the rise of the Korean film scene, and foreigners flocked to the big film festivals. Then TV dramas and K-pop grew and spread all over the place, and so did bloggers and people who wanted to participate — K-pop even started having auditions all over the world. And while few non-Koreans made the cut (and almost no one who didn’t look Asian), still you find more and more people of all colors and countries looking to get in on the fun.

And now, I’m seeing more people from around the world writing stories set in Korea. My own novel, Young-Hee & the Pullocho, has been in the works for years, in one form or another, and when I started it, I never would have expected to have so much “competition” (although in writing, it’s not really competition, because one person’s popularity really does help everyone else and the overall scene). Still, it’s cool to see.

Christina Farley has written a Young Adult fantasy series called Gilded that is doing very well. She lived in Korea for a eight years, teaching English at the Seoul Foreign School in Yeonhui-dong, where teaching about mythology led her to growing interested in Korean traditional stories.


Gilded is the story of an American-raised teenager name Jae Hwa who moves back to Korea and soon finds herself struggling with an ancient family curse, pursued by a demi-god and, of course, trying to sort out her love life (this is YA, after all). Jae Hwa is a strong character, and the series has a real Buffy the Vampire feel.

Her first book, Gilded, came out in 2014, followed by Silvern later that year and the final book Brazen is due in September. If you check them out on Amazon or Goodreads, you’ll notice she’s gotten hundreds of votes and comments, so she’s really connected with a lot of readers.

I especially find Christina’s story fascinating because of all the similarities with my own. In both of our books, we have such creatures as Dokkaebi, Haechi, Samjogo and Blue Dragon (although our interpretations are pretty different for all of them).

There’s personal overlap, too. Christina lived in Yeonhui-dong, where I lived for a couple of years (a long, long time ago). Even today I live close to that neighborhood and often go walking through it.

Katie Stout’s Hello, I Love You takes a different approach than Christina or I did. Rather than looking at fantasy and folklore, Katie went to K-pop, imagining an American girl coming to Korea and signing up to become a star. But it’s still firmly YA (YA romance, I guess) … and to be honest, K-pop is probably more unreal than dokkaebi and blue dragons.

Hello I Love You - cover

For recent “grown up” SFF fiction, you have Naomi Foyle (Seoul Survivors), Fiona Maazel (Woke Up Lonely) and my friend Gord Sellar (who has mostly written short stories thus far, but  to no small acclaim, and with his wife has started translating Korean science fiction). And then there’s stuff like Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son (a Pulitzer winner).

Exciting times. It’s hard to believe this is the same Korea I encountered nearly 20 years ago. But it’s great to see so many other people now beginning to “get it”.

Summer sunsets

For no particular reason, here are a few photos of a couple of sunsets from last week.

June20-sunset1 June20-sunset2 June27-sunset1 June27-sunset2 June27-sunset3 June27-sunset4 June27-sunset5

I’m going to miss this apartment when I move…

Some early reviews for Young-hee & the Pullocho

So, Young-hee and the Pullocho has been out for a couple of weeks now. Still a bit early, I guess, but we have a few reviews out there. The nicest probably came from the children’s book site Kidsreads:

“Author Mark James Russell does an incredible job with descriptive language; readers will want to reread the descriptions of the landscape, characters and events simply so they can enjoy the sentences a second time.”

Booklist had some nice things to say, too (the Booklist website is paywalled, but the quote can be found on Amazon):

“A likable, modern heroine, Young-hee deals with challenges that, while sometimes dreamlike, bring about definite changes in her viewpoint. This quick-paced adventure story is one of the few middle-grade novels available here that reflect Korean culture and lore.”

Finally, Amanda Boyarshinov, one of the founders of The Educators’ Spin on It, also had some nice things to say about my book.  Her inital comment was on Instagram, where she called The Pullocho “a challenging, but good girl adventure read.” That led to some emails between us where she also called the story “a delightful girl adventure story that encourages strong brother-sister relationships.”

All very much appreciated. And hopefully there will be some more before too long.


Pullocho giveaway

I just noticed over on Goodreads that my publisher has set up a little giveaway for Young-Hee & the Pullocho. If you head over to The Pullocho‘s page on Goodreads, you can enter the contest for a chance to win one of two copies. You have until June 5 to sign up.

And a bit thanks to everyone who took the time to enter the contest so far!


Random notes

  • The Kyunghyang Shinmun was just nice enough to write an article on Young-Hee and the Pullocho (and me).
  • Hard to believe that I’m just one week away from my novel officially being available. It’s been so long since I came up with the idea, then decided I was going to write a novel (the idea preceded the novelization). But it feels great to finally be getting to the end of the process.
  • Eight episodes in, I’m really liking the Daredevil TV series. It might be my favorite superhero-related movie/TV show.
  • Hey, look, sunset over Hongdae:

Hongdae sunset2

Hongdae sunset


New Ppi Ppi is just … wha?

Ppi Ppi Band was one of the biggest indie acts of Korea in the 1990s, with a very weird sound and Lee Yoonjung’s weirder vocals. The band broke up and went in a bunch of different directions — Park Hyun-joon was in Wonderbirds and other bands (and spent time abroad) and is now in Honey Moss, Dalparan got more into film scores and producing, and Lee Yoonjung is half of the group EE.

But these days, everything ’90s is big again, plenty of older groups are having comebacks, including Ppi Ppi Band. Here’s their first single and video, “ㅈㄱ ㅈㄱ” (or “J G J G”), as strange as always:

New Big Big is just wow

Big Bang just released a couple of songs and music videos, “Loser” and “Bae Bae”, which instantly showed the group is still miles ahead of the rest of K-pop. Just wow.

“Loser” is okay, but the real gem to me is “Bae Bae,” with its organic, trippy vibe. Fascinating stuff, totally unlike the rest of pop music in Korea.

Actually, this is almost too interesting. It makes it way too clear how “meh” the rest of K-pop has been for the past year or two.

Here’s the video for “Loser,” too. It’s actually doing better on the Melon song chart, but I don’t think it is as interesting as “Bae Bae”:

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