- How long have you been writing?
I’ve been writing fiction off and on since elementary school, so a couple of decades now I guess? I’ve been focusing on it more seriously over the past five years or so, working towards putting together something that I could publish (or in this case self-publish).
- What is your favorite genre to write?
I almost exclusively write in the speculative fiction genre, but I work across the map in that area touching on different forms of sci-fi and fantasy. If I had to pick a favorite sub-genre from that group it would probably be space opera, but I like working on a lot of different styles that come out of that niche.
- Which genre have you never tried before, but would you like to try out?
I’ve never written a time travel story, and that’s something I’d love to tackle. I think writing something like that takes a lot of research, but I imagine it would be pretty fun and rewarding to write.
I’d also like to write a mystery or noir (since time travel is technically just a sci-fi subgenre), which is a genre I’ve never tackled before, but I enjoy those kinds of movies and TV shows.
- Please tell us about your book.
Nine Tails is a fantasy novella series that is based on Korean mythology. It follows the stories of a nine-tailed fox spirit who is trying to become human, a boy who inherits a magical book that he wants to use to help people, and an exiled fairy princess trying to save her kidnapped sister. Their paths cross, forcing them to work together, and they end up helping and hurting each other as they struggle to reach their own goals.
- Which character was your favorite, and why? Which character was your least favorite, and why?
I think the kumiho (nine-tailed fox) is my favorite character to write because she’s the most plotting and manipulative. She is also a shape-shifter who can take on the form of people she has killed. When the series starts, the other protagonists don’t know her true nature really, so being able to write a character who is perceived so differently by the other characters is interesting.
The fairy princess Sora is one of the harder characters to work with, I think. Her character has felt a little less clear to me than some of the others, but I think she’s starting to become more solid as I write her more.
- What was the hardest part about writing your book?
Condensing the material into a meaningful and functional narrative. I’ve spent a long time on this project, and gone through many different versions of it. There was a lot to pull from in terms of material, and there were a lot of different ways to approach the characters. Finding the story I wanted to tell in that mess wasn’t evident to me for awhile.
- What is your writing routine? Are there things you absolutely need to start writing?
It changes around. I’m a night person, so sometimes I try to arrange my schedule to write at night. Other time’s a shift back to working in the day. Either way, I try to get 2-4 hours of fiction writing done on weekdays.
I’ve found that I generally write best when hand writing. I can’t focus very well in front of a computer for some reason, especially when it comes to more creative work, so I really need a pen and a notepad or some lined paper.
- How long did it take you to write your book from start to finish?
I’m actually not sure. I’ve been working on Nine Tails off and on for several years. I would put together a draft or an outline, become unhappy with it, and then get derailed from what I was writing while I pursued another project that seemed more fun in the moment. So in focused time, I would guess maybe a couple of years from start to finish (or at least from start to finish of the first five episodes, which are novel length together), but the overall time has been much longer.
- Can you tell us about your editing process?
I make a bunch of notes on my manuscript during first draft writing, since I usually end up discovering new details or directions a scene (or even the story) could go as I write. During editing I go back through and add in all of those points, rewriting the scenes to reflect those changes.
On a more technical level, I try to weed out repetitive words or phrases and vary sentence length of structure so that the text doesn’t feel stilted. I find reading chapters backwards is a good way to spot spelling errors because it forces you to really look at the words. I also think reading the work out loud helps. I admittedly don’t do that all the time, which maybe I should, but doing so helps spot any odd phrasings that could be reworded.
- Is this book part of a series? If so, how many installments do you have planned?
Nine Tails is a novella series. I’m planning to write 15 episodes total. The first five will be available by the end of March, and then I will be taking a break to work on other projects and begin outlining the arc for the next five.
Currently the first two episodes are available in the Kindle store, and the third will be released soon.
- Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
Read broadly and write broadly. I don’t make enough of an effort to do this myself, but I think it’s important to try new things, even if you’re only reading a short story or writing a scene. You can learn some interesting things from genres you don’t usually write in, and that can add a lot of depth or nuance to your stories. If you only ever read in the genre you intend to write, then your work is likely to be just a copy of tropes without much originality or authenticity.
I’d also say, really try to think about what you’re saying with your work. Stories are how we pass on our society’s cultural values. Even if you’re writing something that seems frivolous or escapist, it is full of assumptions we have about how the world should operate. I think younger authors should try to be aware of that and try to use their stories to say something about the world.
- Why should everyone read your book?
It’s inspired by Korean myths and folklore, which I think is something Western audiences aren’t necessarily familiar with, so it allows the reader to get a little bit of insight into another culture while being entertained.
It’s also a fast-paced and fun read (or so I’ve been told).
- If you could meet three authors, dead or alive, which authors would you choose?
Ursula K. LeGuin, William Gibson, and Paolo Bacigalupi
- What inspired you to write your book?
I was helping to clean out my grandmother’s home because she was a hoarder, and the fantasy writer side of me started thinking about a story where a character found a magical Korean artifact hidden in the mess.
I started researching Korean myths and eventually a very different story emerged, but that was what started me down the path of writing Nine Tails.
- Are you working on something at the moment? If so, can you tell us more about it?
I’m working on finishing up episodes three, four, and five of Nine Tails, which I’m planning to have up in the Kindle Store over the next few weeks. With those five episodes done, the first arc of the total story will be finished, and then I can start thinking about what the second arc will be.
I’m also planning to start working on another serial involving vampires. It’s about a young mother who is turned into a vampire by an ex-boyfriend. He thinks that if he changes her, she will leave her family to be with him, since she isn’t human anymore. She refuses to be with him but has to deal with her life, her kid, and her troubled marriage, all while learning to be a vampire.
I’m leaning towards that story being a web serial, so you should be able to find it for free once it’s out, but I’m not entirely sure when I will be releasing it. It may be as soon as April, but it may be later in the summer.
J. Young-Ju Harris is a speculative fiction writer and author of the novella series Nine Tails, a contemporary YA fantasy based on Korean folklore, or as he sometimes describes it “Buffy meets Korean Myth.”
He also writes a blog that features writing advice, author interviews, reviews for his favorite TV shows, books, and movies, as well as essays about geekdom in general.
When not working on his fiction or blog writing, he mostly enjoys playing video games, watching too much TV, reading less than he should, and getting lost in the endless black.
About the Book
Meanwhile, unbeknownst to either of them, a shape shifting nine-tailed fox spirit is hot on Jason’s trail. She needs to recover the magical book for her employer in a bid to save her soul and become human. Deadly and wily, she will stop at nothing to get what she needs.
Chapter One: The Kumiho
There was an open air bar in the Goblin Market, at the plaza between the food vendors and the witches who hawked low-level magic charms. The place was built as a square, a huge grill in the center cooking up kalbi ribs and other foods to snack on. The grill masters and bartenders were dokkaebi, or goblins as mortals sometimes called them, with their two stubby horns, pointed ears, and various shades of green, blue, red, or tan skin. They grunted to each other as they moved around the grill, rushing to the patrons seated at the surrounding counters to serve them.
It was at this bar that the kumiho waited, sipping a beer in the form of an old woman. She swirled the bitter drink in her mouth and considered ordering some ribs to accompany it, but food could never truly sate her, which took away half the joy of eating it. She put the glass down and continued looking over a worn piece of parchment, weathered brown and torn at the edges. She had stored it in a slip of protective plastic that she kept at the front of a journal, her only real possession, the one thing that she kept on her across all of the different identities she assumed. The parchment detailed the recipe for a certain spell, providing descriptions of how it was to be made and performed, the tools and ingredients for it sketched in faded ink next to the instructions. The rarest of these tools was a pendant, a red-blue yin-yang surrounded by golden leaves. She traced her fingers over the illustration. The memory of its cold ceramic surface against her palms still haunted her.
We’ll get it again.
The voice echoed gently in her head. She looked up and saw the ghostly image of a man standing next to her, one with a bald, round head and a smiling face. She nodded, lowering her gaze. One of her gwishin, a ghost of a shaman she had killed, the very same one who had given her the parchment. Or, more accurately, tried to barter with it for his life.
“I should’ve been quicker before, or smarter,” she said, under her breath so no one else could hear her.
No use dwelling on it. We have a plan to get it now. Not so long ago, you didn’t even think it existed.
Another gwishin appeared, this one a woman in a hanbok, the traditional Korean garb with its long-sleeved top and billowing skirt. The translucent figure pointed toward the food vendors where a young woman was entering the main aisle of merchants. The kumiho nodded and folded up the journal, putting into the pockets of the robe she wore and slapping some coins on the counter as she left the bar.
The young woman didn’t look particularly special. She had rather plain features and wore a simple shawl and skirt, peasant’s clothing really, but the kumiho knew she wasn’t any ordinary girl. She had tracked this woman’s movements for over a month, at least whenever the girl was sent on excursions outside of her order’s temple. That was where the kumiho needed to go, and this young woman, or at least her body, was going to help.
“Excuse me, miss,” she said, approaching the girl. The kumiho had chosen the form of an elderly woman for this mission specifically to make the girl feel at ease so she wouldn’t have any suspicions. She bowed in greeting, and the young woman returned the gesture.
“Are you a member of the Order of the Farseers?” the kumiho said, lowering her voice to a conspiratorial tone.
“Who told you that?” the young woman said.
“One of the vendors here,” she said, waving at the booths of salesmen around her. “I need help. My daughter is very sick, beyond the aid of a normal healer, but they told me a shaman of your power might be able to help.”
“I’m only an acolyte,” the girl said.
“Would you come and look, please,” the kumiho said, reaching out and taking the girl’s arm with her bony fingers. She squeezed gently and gazed at her with pleading eyes. It wasn’t too much of an act. She did need the woman to come with her away from the eyes of the Market.
“I will come and see, but I can’t promise I will be able to help,” the acolyte said, bowing her head.
“But maybe you can,” the kumiho said. “I just need what little hope I can hold on to.”
The kumiho muscled through the crowded spaces of the Market, prodding people with her elbows in the way that only an old woman could get away with. Eventually the booths and crowds gave way to narrow streets and rows of decrepit huts in a less populous area of the Goblin Market known as the Downs. She had secured a hut there a week prior, agreeing to rent it out from its inhabitant. It was an out of the way place, the buildings on either side boarded up, so she could do what she needed to without drawing attention. She opened the shaky wooden door and gestured for the acolyte to enter.
There was no lighting, only the few rays from the fading sun that managed to slip through the shuttered windows. Some piles of clothing and a sleeping mat were pushed against the walls, but the space was spare and had the damp smell of decaying wood. In the center of the small room was a bed on top of which the kumiho had loaded a bundle of blankets and pillows to make it appear as though a person was sleeping there. She closed and sealed the door, while the young woman walked slowly up to the bed and rested her hand on it. But when the bundle didn’t respond the acolyte pulled away the sheets and revealed the decoy below.
“What is this?”
The kumiho shifted out of her old woman form, her body morphing into her natural state. Her hands turned into sharp claws, her ears grew pointed and fur covered, and nine fox tails billowed out behind her.
“No.” The young woman let out a gasp before the kumiho leaped, tearing at her neck and then rending her side open. As she tore into the girl’s liver with her sharp teeth, she felt her strength growing, the hunger that always gnawed at her insides finally being sated. At least for the moment.
Where am I?
The kumiho had been sitting in meditation when the voice of the young woman interrupted her thoughts. She looked up and saw the acolyte had turned into a gwishin, a spirit only the fox could see.
“You’re dead,” the kumiho said. “And your soul is trapped, something to do with being my victim.”
No, this…this can’t be.
“Now I need your help,” the kumiho said.
My help? Why would I help you? The acolyte’s voice was a shrill yell, piercing the kumiho’s thoughts. She grimaced as the words were spoken.
“Because it will set you free,” the kumiho said. She pulled the journal from her robes and set it on the floor, opening it to the parchment. She pointed to the sketch of the pendant. “This recipe is a spell to turn me into a human, and once that happens, all of the gwishin of my victims will be freed. If you help me gain access to your order’s temple and find the Pool of Seeing, then I will be one step closer to being able to enact the spell, and you will be one step closer to being at peace.”
You killed me and now you’re forcing me to do this. What if I refuse?
She can’t force you, child, the shaman said, appearing next to her. But there are many of us, and we need to all be set free. If you don’t help, then you are condemning all of us, not just yourself.
The acolyte glared at the kumiho. Then after a moment she lowered her gaze.
What is it that you need me to do?