Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Interview with Ellen Oh, author of WARRIOR

It's always a great day at the Inkpot when one of our favorite people publishes another book--and the Inkpot throws parades and launches fireworks when it's a second book in a series that is as good as the first one (because we know how hard that is), so we are truly cheering and dancing today for Ellen Oh, whose thrilling WARRIOR grabs the story her PROPHECY started and runs off with it at a sprint!
Here's what the back of the book has to say: "Kira, the yellow-eyed demon slayer who fiercely protected her kingdom--and the crown prince--has been proclaimed the Dragon Musado of the prophecy. With the help of the first lost treasure, the legendary tidal stone that controls the seas, she defeated the evil shaman. But her quest is far from over. Her father always said one person can change the world. Will it be Kira?"  
What do think? Will it be Kira? Will it? Will it? Why, yes!
Anne, on behalf of the Inkpot: Oh, Ellen, how much did I love this book? A dragon's worth! As I started reading, I noticed that PROPHECY's characters and places had stayed with me so vividly that I didn't have any trouble figuring out where we were and what was up at the start of Book Two. That's hard to pull off. Could you give us a glimpse of how you handled writing a sequel, not to mention a second book in a trilogy? How did you go about giving just enough backstory so that your audience is caught up, but still managing to dive right into the new story? Any tricks or tips for would-be series writers?
Ellen Oh: To be honest, I probably gave too much backstory and relied on my editors to trim it down for me. And I also relied on notes from my editors that would say things like "Here's a good place to remind readers what happened before!" So i can't take the credit for it, that is the work of amazing editors. 

Anne: What I think you do so beautifully in these books is combining action (and not just a little action, but lots of it), with a real sense of the bonds that hold a family together. Kira's brothers can be blunt with her, but you can tell they love and respect her (and that respect grows over the course of the story). Do you have brothers of your own?
EO: No, but I always wished I had an older brother. I'm the oldest and I had too much responsibility piled on to me. So the idea of a big brother who teaches you and guides you and looks out for you is so very appealing. In real life I know brothers can be just as annoying as sisters, if not worse, but for me, I guess it is the appeal of what I don't have.

Anne: Seems to me your heroine Kira, even though she's not technically an older brother, has got those "teaching and guiding and looking out for you" skills woven deep into her nature! Kira's relationship with her young cousin Taejo, who is also the future king she is sworn to protect, is really touching. They really care about each other, and Taejo is slowly maturing over the course of the books. Again, the way the characters care about each other makes us care deeply about them, too. That is not just true about Taejo and Kira, but about almost all of WARRIOR's positive characters, many of whom could be described as "fiercely protective." What do you think the ideal proportion of fierceness versus tenderness is in a heroic character--so that we not only admire her/his prowess but care deeply about her/him, too?
EO: I think it is just a representation of people's capacity to love and care for each other. And above all, especially in Korean culture - honoring your elders, looking out for your younger family members, and being loyal to the family is an absolute. that's how I was raised and so I don't know any differently. When you truly love someone, you would do anything for them. And that is why "fiercely protective" shouldn't be at odds with love and tenderness, if that makes sense.
Anne: Yes, I can see that. Of course, to bring out that loving/tender/fierce protectiveness, you have to put your poor characters into jeopardy! There are some very creepy scenes in here--deserted villages in the snow, zombie-like creatures marauding, demonic children.  Did you have to tone the horror elements up or down as you were revising? Did anything get nixed because it was too scary for kids, or did you find your story becoming more frightening, from draft to draft?
EO: Actually, I toned down PROPHECY as it was originally more violent, more frightening, and actually had a lot more death in it. I was not shy about killing characters off. It was actually my oldest daughter who demanded that I not kill a few key people off which changed the course of that novel. So for me, WARRIOR and KING (the 3rd book) follow completely in line with the level of violence and scariness of the first book. At least that is what I think. Now I'm curious, did you think WARRIOR was scarier? 
Anne: Good question. I think they're scary in different ways: in PROPHECY the scariness comes from Kira's being torn away from her family and thrown into very difficult and unsettling situations--it's all new for her, and disorienting, which of course is frightening. But the actual dangers in WARRIOR are perhaps scarier! She's more equipped to deal with them by now, but as a reader I kept ducking behind her and peeking over her shoulder, with my teeth rattling.
Okay, let's move from terror to beauty: I love the way you use the landscapes and mythology of an ancient/mythological/alternative Korea in your books! Have you had any reactions from readers in Korea yet? Are there zombie-like creatures in Korean mythology, or did you make that up? How about that absolutely fabulous nine-tailed fox demon, the kumiho? Is she a creature we might find in other Korean stories?
EO: Well the kumiho and the dokkaebi are definitely creatures straight out of Korean mythology and I loved being able to work them into WARRIOR. I believe that they were by far my favorite parts of writing WARRIOR. Anything regarding the demons and half-breeds were purely from my own twisted imagination. :o)
Anne: And speaking of the kumiho, another thing I love about Warrior is the way you give depth to your portraits of dangerous characters: demons, dragons, and villains are not all one-dimensional in your books. Kira seems to be learning that the world is far more complicated than any black-and-white theories would suggest: sometimes even villains may redeem themselves. Does this mean that Kira will end up questioning some of the things she has held sacred all her life, as we get into Book Three? Do you think the world is developing more "gray areas" for Kira as she gains experience?
EO: I will only say this. Something majorly unbelievable happens to Kira in book 3 that will test her like nothing else ever has. And I definitely think it takes her into a new area of gray that she must learn to navigate or die trying.
Anne: !!!!!!!!!!! 
Anne again, still slightly trembly: Speaking of Book Three, what is its title, and when can we expect to find it on the shelves? The ending of WARRIOR does not leave the reader in a comfortable place for waiting and waiting, you know . . . . 
EO: I don't believe in cliffhangers for the first book in a series. I think it is kind of a mean thing to do. But I'm a big Empire Strikes Back fan so a cliffhanger in the second book is I think the best place to put one. :o) I know it is still mean but it was inevitable. KING comes out December 31, 2014. And like I alluded to before, there is something that happens to Kira that no one will ever guess. NO seriously, if anyone could guess it, I would buy them a box of donuts and ship it to wherever they were. .
Anne: Really? Donuts??? You're in trouble now, Ellen. Guesses are going to be pouring in like there's no tomorrow. But I'll sneak mine in before the crowds arrive: taking your Star Wars reference as a clue, I assume we discover the demons are green-tentacled alien invaders from a different planet--right? Right? Ellen? .  . . Don't look at me that way . . . . Okay, okay, no donuts for me . . . .
So, what else have you been working on recently? What can we look forward to reading, someday, from Ellen Oh?
EO: I've been finishing off KING and have been working on a few projects that I love. One is a contemporary horror using a Korean Shaman as the main character. The other is an epic fairytale creatures war novel set in Washington DC. I am enjoying the mash up of fantasy and modern world as it is so different from the PROPHECY world.  
Anne: Those sound extremely fabulous. I'm ready! Another question: what kind of response from a reader moves you the most?
EO: Any response I get moves me. I love them all. I love the emails and fan art. I love the cards and the torn pieces of paper with writing or doodles on them. I love hearing about it in person. It never gets old. 
Anne: Do people really send you doodles? That's really, really lovely. Of course, once you have a nine-tailed fox demon show up, doodles have GOT to follow. 
Anne, after a few minutes spent attempting to doodle a nine-tailed fox demon--not a success, I'm afraid!: Food gets a lot of loving attention in this book! What's a real comfort food for you? If you were slogging through the snow and arrived finally at a snow-bound village, what would you be hoping for for supper?
EO: Steak and potatoes. Most favorite thing to eat in the whole wide world. But I eat it Korean style. I like it with rice and kimchee, ha ha. Other than that, shoot, it would be so hard to pick. I'm such a foodie. I just love to eat way too much. I'd be pretty happy with any good hot home-cooked meal.  
Anne: Kira is incredibly brave and very loyal. If you were her age and met her by chance, do you think you'd get along well, or would there be some clashes? 
EO: I would be best friends with her! I'm biased cause I created her but I really like her a lot and think she would be the friend you would want to have all through life because she would always have your back. always believe in you.  
Anne: I think she would love you, too, Ellen! How about places: what location (or scene) did you most wish you yourself could magically visit, as you were writing about it?
EO: In PROPHECY, that would be when I wrote about the Diamond Mountains where the Heavenly maidens reside and in WARRIOR it would be Mount Baekdu. They are real and both are actually in North Korea, which is not safe to visit. But some day I hope I will see them with my own eyes.
Anne: Until that day comes, you have given us all glimpses of beautiful, dangerous places we may not have thought about before, so thank you!
And thank you for being such a fabulous interviewee and writer, Ellen Oh! Try those cookies over there--I put some caramelized ginger in them, so they're a combination of scary and warm, like your books. :) Good luck to you and to all the PROPHECY novels!


  1. Fantasy that respects the bonds of family is a real magnet to me as a reader, as it lends the world such a feeling of truth and characters I can relate to more easily than those who are adrift, free to do entirely as they please without any split loyalties. And that cover is GORGEOUS, Ellen! Thanks for the fun interview, Anne!

    1. Lia, yes, I think you're right--family bonds can make even fantasy stories deeper and more believable. Immediately I think, on the one hand, of the Moomins (the coziest fantasy family, bar none), and then also of Madeleine L'Engle's works, in which family is always so important and often so warm, but sometimes really problematic, too (remember the icy dialogue between Charles Wallace and his father in A WRINKLE IN TIME?--you could discuss "family" in A WRINKLE IN TIME for ages and still have things to wrestle with). What strikes me as lovely in the case of PROPHECY and WARRIOR is the combination of the family theme with an action-based story. Sometimes in a more athletic (!) fantasy, the family has to be side-lined pretty thoroughly right from the start, so that the hero or heroine has to do everything on his/her own. But here there are family elements playing an important role through the whole thing . . . .

  2. I agree, Lia--the combination of a nine-tailed-fox demon and family dynamics is SO compelling. This was a spectacular interview, you two--can't wait to read Warrior!

    1. Thank you, Ellen! May nine-tailed-fox demons always treat you in a sisterly fashion--wait, that might not be such a good idea, as a wish . . . . :)

  3. Wow, what a great interview! I am so looking forward to reading Ellen's books. I was hesitant to read this for fear of spoilers, but I don't think anything huge was given away.

    Sounds like wonderful world-building. And hooray for your daughter for standing up for your characters!

    Thanks for interviewing Ellen!

    1. I think you'll enjoy these stories a lot, Ron!

  4. Wonderful interview! Ellen, I most loved that your daughter had a voice in the fate of some of her favorite characters! Congratulations on another wonderful book release!

  5. Well, and thank goodness Ellen's daughter saved some of those characters' lives, because it sounds like the books would have been grimmer without that intervention. Thank you, Ellen's daughter! :)

  6. I'm so glad I checked in! Thank you to everyone who read the interview and commented! Especially because Anne is such a wonderful interviewer!!

    And yes - if it wasn't for my Oldest daughter, a very well loved character (actually 2 of them) would have not made it to Warrior. She saved their lives!!! :o)

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