Mark James Russell

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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”:

Doors of imagination

Young-Hee & the Pullocho is a “portal fantasy” — meaning a story in which the fantasy element is accessed from our boring world via a doorway, like the wardrobe in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. That meant I needed to come up with a portal. So how to get Young-hee into my magical world?

Fortunately, Korea is a country with no shortage of strange doors. Like this one I passed while on a walk today, on the right of the photo, just sitting there on the side of the hill. No steps. No signs (unless you count the graffiti underneath it).

Door in Seoul wall

Why is it there? Who uses it? Could there be a magical world lurking behind it? I have no answers. But I love wondering about it.

Wall door closeup

Genuine K-pop

Hard to believe it’s been a year already since K-Pop Now came out (thanks once again to all to bought it and/or read it). On one hand, it’s amazing how much has changed already in the world of K-pop — new groups, people leaving old groups, etc. But at the same time, I think the last year has been a bit static, without anything transformative really going on.

K-Pop Now wasn’t the most academic book ever, nor was it the most in-depth (it was fairly short with a lot of images). But I tried to give a sense of what K-pop is, why fans love it, and the spirit of the K-pop age.

One line from the book, though, I wish I had been clearer about:

“K-pop is overwhelmingly genuine. When a singer loves, he loves completely.  When he misses his love, it is a deep, soul-crushing ache”

Now, clearly the industrial nature of the K-pop business doesn’t really nurture singer-songwriters, people who spill their souls and reveal their deepest truths. But I wasn’t talking about the industry that makes the music; I was talking about the sentiments expressed by K-pop singers. The industry and the structure of the industry might be cynical and full of artifice, however the emotions and ideas of the songs are not.

Does that make sense? I might compare it to professional wrestling.  Professional wrestling isn’t “real”, but the reason people like it is because of the force of the emotions expressed by the wrestlers. It seems genuine.

It’s kind of an adolescent way of viewing the world and emotion. A grown-up, disillusioned view of love might be more like Nirvana’s “Heart-Shaped Box” or Radiohead’s “Creep” (okay, not really “grown-up”, but certainly more jaded). K-pop is more like an opera aria, and the feelings expressed by most K-pop songs are more straightforward and pure. Personally, I find the artifice of honesty a fascinating subject in all creative areas.


Pullocho now available as an e-book

Some happy news, for those of you who prefer your books electronic and your trees to continue standing — Young-hee and the Pullocho is now available at Amazon as an e-book, too. Like the paperback, it will ship on May 12.

No signs of the e-book version at Barnes & Noble, Indigo, or other stores, but I assume it will soon appear in all the major e-book formats on all the major websites.

Check out Young-Hee & the Pullocho

I just added the first chapter of Young-Hee and the Pullocho to its page here on my website. So now you can check it out, for free, in whatever format you prefer — PDF, .mobi or ePub.

It’s just a few pages long, but it starts out in the middle of some action, so hopefully it will give you a sense of what’s in store in the rest of the story.


More Shinchon changes

It’s strange seeing parts of Korea that are so familiar to me change so rapidly. Not only is the Grand Mart getting a facelift, but an old part of Shinchon is also changing fast. Down the street, where the old rail bridge used to cross the big road, looks like it is about it get its park at last.

The rail bridge used to cast a pretty dark shadow over that stretch of Shinchon, and only old, lousy buildings abutted the noisy tracks. The bridge was torn down six or seven years ago (seen here in 2009 from Google Maps).

Shinchon 2009

Then the big ugly concrete anchors were taken out and the train line was buried and turned into a subway (Naver Maps: 2012).



Then the construction was covered over, but the land on top has been left to grow wild, with those same old buildings just sitting there — an old gopchang jeongol restaurant, a tiny vegetable stall, and some little, rundown places (Daum Maps, 2014).



Or, rather, they were just sitting there. Monday night, they were all gone.

Shinchon teardown

I guess this means they are finally getting around to building the long-promised park here. It’s already done by Daeheung Station to the east and is nearly done west of Hongik Station. Now they need to fill in the middle bit. Considering how much those completed sections have improved, I’m really looking forward to seeing how this stretch will change. It’s really perfect for some cafes and open spaces, the kind that Seoul so lacks.


Kim Jong-Pil remembers

When I came to Korea, it was still the era of the “three Kims” — Kim Young-sam (then the president), Kim Dae-jung (soon-to-be-president), and Kim Jong-pil (never president, but not for lack of trying). JP, as former head of the Korean intelligence service, was the most sketchy of the three, but both YS and DJ had found it necessary to play nice with him in order to win the presidency.

Now the Joongang Ilbo has published a series of articles based on two long interviews with KJP, mostly looking back at his early days, leading up to Park Chung Hee’s coup d’etat in 1961. Of course, JP portrays himself as a positive force in Korean history, opposing corruption and trying to foster democracy, and the Joongang doesn’t push back at all against his narrative. And despite being “compiled” by the Joongang, it’s still pretty rambling and disjointed. But, nevertheless, it’s still an interesting dialogue.


Writing a declaration of principles before the coup, and why anti-Communism was their No. 1 issue.

JP’s experiences at the outset of the Korean War

Meeting Park Chung Hee for the first time (who was related to JP by marriage … I didn’t know that).

On plotting the coup with Park Chung Hee

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