Mark James Russell

Books, blog and other blather

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K-Pop Now popping up the charts again

Is K-Pop Now some kind of stocking stuffer? Because in the last couple of weeks, its sales ranking has risen noticeably over on Amazon. And I know I haven’t been doing any marketing or publicity.

Weird, but most appreciated. Once again, K-Pop Now is the No. 1 book on Amazon for Popular Dance, and it’s up to No. 28 for Travel -> Japan. Why Japan Travel? I have no idea. Maybe that was the categories my publisher entered.

(Hey! Over of, K-Pop Now is doing even better, and is the No. 7 book for Travel > Japan. Again, weird, but appreciated).

Anyhow, I think it’s wonderful anytime anyone buys one of my books. Thanks much, mysterious Internet people.

Oh, and if you are looking for more books as stocking stuffers, might I humbly suggest Young-Hee & the Pullocho

Trudeau and Korea, part deux

Given that Canada has just elected another Trudeau to be Prime Minister, I thought it would be fun to revisit this blog entry I wrote a couple of years ago on Chun Doo-hwan’s visit to Canada in 1982.

I re-watched the video a couple of times and, sadly, there’s no signs of a young Justin Trudeau. But I hope you might enjoy it nonetheless…

* * *

I just came across this Daehan News feature about South Korean President Chun Doo-hwan visiting Canada in 1982 and thought some people might get a kick out of it.

Chun, of course, came to power in 1980 (officially), following the assassination of Park Chung Hee in 1979 and the short-lived presidency of Choi Kyu-ha. It was a pretty dicey time for North-South relations, so Chun probably needed all the legitimacy he could find.

There’s a short New York Times article on his visit here.

Just to give an overview of this video:
0:00 – Leaves African leg of his trip
0:05 – Ottawa and Parliament buildings (“Canada is a peaceful country,” says the narrator)
0:31 – Chun Doo-hwan and his wife Rhee Soon-ja disembark their plane. Greeted by Edward Shreyer
1:13 – Rideau Hall for official reception
1:31 – Prime Minister’s residence for some garden party
2:01 – Choppers to Montreal to meet with Korean War veterans
2:45 – Back to Ottawa for an awkward-looking meeting with Pierre Trudeau

Not mentioned in the video (unsurprisingly) is the assassination plot to kill Chun during his visit. Choi Jung-hwa, a son of the International Taekwondo Federation founder and North Korea-friendly Choi Hong-hi, had been living in Mississauga at the time. The younger Choi allegedly tried hiring a couple of people to kill Chun while the South Korean president was in Canada. But apparently that plot was broken up months before the visit — Choi went into hiding in Europe for years before returning to Canada and spending a year in jail.

There’s more about Choi and his return to Korea in the JoongAng Daily, including the great news that  North Korea disguised its agents as taekwondo masters working for ITF and dispatched them abroad. Given that I studied taekwondo at an ITF gym while in high school, it makes me wonder if I could be a sleeper agent.

Listen to me on Monocle Radio

I had a short segment on the very cool Monocle Radio a couple of weeks ago. You can listen to me talking about Young-Hee & the Pullocho, Korea, children’s stories and stuff like that.

Many thanks to Jason Strother for making the interview happen!

Autumn arrives

After weeks of the clearest fall skies I can remember in Korea, the smog finally rolled in last week, turning everything all throat-scratchy and post-apocalyptic. But last night it rained and cleared everything out, at least for a little while. Plus the leaves are finally turning colors (it’s been pretty warm all October), so everything in Korea is pretty lovely at the moment.

Autum Apt

Autumn Apt2

Fall fun

Is it my imagination or have we had some of the clearest fall skies in years in Seoul this year? Lots of blue — sometimes clear, sometimes great clouds.


Han River Gangdong

As happy as great weather makes me, good reviews for Young-Hee & the Pullocho make me even happier (segue!). Jo Ann Hakola, The Book Faerie, gave the book a nice write-up. And Erik over at This Kid Reviews Books said:

This was a good book. Young-hee is a marvelous main character. You can really see how her character changes throughout the book, but it is subtle until the end then you realize the growth of the character. The book is a nice solid story with an interesting plot …  The story was compelling and the world created by Mr. Russell was exciting and described vividly. This was a cool multi-cultural story that many kids would enjoy.

EDIT: Oh, and one more photo, from this evening’s sunset.

Gangdong sunset

Alternative Pullocho

When I started writing Young-hee & the Pullocho, it was originally conceived of as a very different book. For one, it wasn’t not a book at all; it was a movie. Also, it was much more about contemporary Korea than it was about spirit worlds. I think it was called something abstract and lame like Lost Apartments.

But as I realized the movie wasn’t going anywhere, I decided it was a good time to turn the idea into a novel. It was an odd period for me professionally, and I figured if I wasn’t going to get a novel finished that year, I was never going to write one. So for a year, I ground it out, writing a bit more every day until the first draft was finally finished. I assumed that I was going to have to self-publish, which didn’t bother me given the changes in publishing in recent years. In fact, with books like Wool doing so well, I found the concept kind of exciting. And over that year, the story began to change, eventually becoming something much closer to the finished story.

Also, at this point, the title was The Pullocho.

Then in 2013, Tuttle Books offered to publish the book. It was much more of a traditional route, but I’m old fashioned, so I said “yes”. They asked for some re-writes and made some edits and eventually the book ended up as the Young-hee & the Pullocho that is on shelves now.

Now, I really like the cover the Tuttle came up with for the book. But back when I thought I was going to self-publish, I decided to put together a cover of my own. I commissioned an excellent Korean artist (who is also a friend of mine) who goes by the name THZTLR to make me a drawing, then I hired a designer to turn it into a book cover. The end result was something a lot darker and scratchier, but the original version that I wrote was probably darker and scratchier, too.

Anyhow, I thought I would post that original cover here, to give people a sense of what might have been…

Pullocho cover - small

Wie geht’s?

I just got back from a work-related trip to Berlin for the IFA consumer electronics show — and as it was my first trip to Germany, I managed to explore the city a bit (finding a couple of lulls in an otherwise crazy-busy schedule).

Gear S2 Showcase

Gear S2 showcase

Apparently the weather was well over 30 degrees up until my flight arrived. But right when the plane landed, a storm hit the city, temperatures dropped to 20 and stayed below 20 for most of my week-long stay. Still great for sitting outside, but much better for my metabolism and for walking around. Plus the dramatic change in weather led to some pretty amazing skies throughout my trip.

wild sky

wild sky 2

wild sky 3

I was staying in Mitte, along the Spree River, just a couple of kilometers from Brandenburg Gate, so it was quite a nice part of town. And IFA is held way out in the western side of Berlin. So when I went exploring, I made a point of checking out Prenzlauer Berg and Friedrichshain, on the eastern side.

Prenzlauer Berg restaurant

Prenzlauer Berg was a charmingly quirky part of town. Plenty of upscale restaurants and bars, but also places that gave “dive bar” new meaning (I think one bar had a “two hepatitis minimum”).

Prenzlauer Allee

German is a funny language.


Okay, I'm 12.

Okay, I’m 12.

I loved this big complex that surrounds Strausberger Platz and runs down Karl Marx Allee.


My attempt at a panorama.

Strausberger Panorama

Then on my last night, I discovered a wonderful cocktail bar called Bryk Bar. The owner (an owner?) Frank was very fun, and gave out a lot of great advice on good restaurants and even other cocktail bars. Here’s a pic of a strange but strangely good cocktail he called a Smoked Gin & Tonic (due to rosemary and other spices that he burned and blew into the glass).


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.


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