Mark James Russell

Books, blog and other blather

Author: Mark (page 1 of 86)

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.


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!


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