We can’t get enough of Kat Cho’s thrilling fantasy adventure, Gumiho, that we just had to pick the brain behind it all. First Look Club member Reina (who reviewed Gumiho here) took on the task and asked Kat a few questions about this Seoul-based saga. Read the conversation below.
REINA: Hopefully, this is a question you never get tired of answering: what seed of inspiration did Gumiho grow from?
KAT CHO: I’d heard variations of the story about the gumiho when I was younger, but it was reintroduced to me as an adult via K-dramas. I was really into the idea of taking this story about an evil, female fox and turning it on its head (kind of how vampires got their own POV in YA stories). I also really wanted to tell a story that was rooted in Korean mythology and Korean culture. There were a few real life inspirations like my time in Seoul and my upbringing. It seemed really natural to use my own experiences in a book that involved my own roots and culture.
Jihoon plays League of Legends, a computer game where one of the champions is actually a nine-tailed fox named Ahri! Were there gumiho stories in folklore or popular culture that inspired you in the writing of this book?
Yes! The gumiho retellings in K-dramas and manhwa were huge inspirations!
Miyoung is a beautifully-layered character; she’s tough-talking but also wonderfully vulnerable, and we see her in moments of both physical prowess and weakness. What were the best and the hardest parts of writing her?
It was hard to write her at first because she’s so closed off. So it was hard for me to figure out what made her tick. But then when I realized what drove her was a deeply buried feeling of loneliness, it was easy to figure out what motivated her. And it also made it so clear why she and Jihoon could connect better than anyone else she’d had in her life.
How would you describe the relationship that developed between Gu Miyoung and Ahn Jihoon?
One of mutual respect and trust. It’s hard to Miyoung to trust anyone, so the only way she would trust Jihoon is because he clearly shows her that he cares about her for who she really is and that he respects her as a person. That’s very important to Miyoung and she would never be able to fall for someone who doesn’t respect her.
Gu Yena is a particularly fascinating person because she starts out portrayed as cold and overbearing, but is slowly revealed as someone who is actually capable of great love. Can you tell us more about how you developed her character?
She is the character I use to explore immortality more than Miyoung because Yena has lived for hundreds of years. It was important for me to explore how she’s lived through times where people truly did believe in the gumiho and feared her. How would that influence how Yena was treated by society? And how would that warp her view of her place in the world? I wanted that to be clear in Yena in the beginning. But at the end of the day Yena and Miyoung come from the same place, it’s just that Miyoung had a loving mother to protect her (or overprotect her). So Yena still has that root of someone who wanted to be loved.
Which of Gumiho’s characters do you identify with most, and why?
I probably identify most with Somin. She is very loyal to family and friends (like a true hufflepuff, which is my Hogwart’s house) but she’s also often sure she knows best (an unfortunate flaw).
The book tackles themes of loss – Jihoon grew up without his parents, Miyoung had never met her father, and later on they both deal with more loss and grief. What message do you hope the book will convey about the holes left by people in our lives, and how to fill them?
I think that it’s important to know that all relationships are changing. And as we grow up it’s true that most kids will have a moment when they realize their parents are human and fallible. That definitely happened for me when I was a teen. I was lucky because despite learning my parents were human and didn’t have all the answers, they were still amazing parents. I think it’s important to realize that the flaws of our parents don’t mean we need to follow in their footsteps. And it’s not about filling the holes but about realizing that we always have the capabilities to create new relationships or develop old ones. It’s not about checking off all the boxes about who we have in our life, but making sure the people in our life are positive additions to it.
Aside from gumiho, the book also includes other supernatural characters like shamans and dokkaebi. Given a choice, would you rather be a gumiho, a dokkaebi, or a shaman?
I’d probably rather be a shaman.
Gumiho takes place in Korea. How did you go about making the setting come alive to a reader who has never been there?
I used my own lived experiences. And I made sure that any place I named was a place I’d been to and spent a significant amount of time in. Other places are inspired by places in Seoul but I don’t give them names because I take creative liberties.
Over the past few years, we’ve been seeing headway in pushing for diversity in YA – both in characters in stories and in the authors telling them. How do you think Gumiho helps broaden the landscape?
I’d like to think it’s one of (many) views into my culture. I want people to be able to explore a world other than the one they’re familiar with. But it’s also important to realize we are not a monolith and there are many other stories that can and should be told about the Korean experience.
Currently, we’re seeing active – sometimes heated – discussions in YA about how social themes like race, gender, and cultural experiences are represented in new releases. As an author, how do you balance these expectations with your fundamental job of simply telling a story?
I make sure everything I tell is authentic and thoughtful. I make sure all of my own experiences that are influences are being told as authentically as I can. And any experience that might be outside of my lane should be read and analyzed by someone who came from that experience.
Do you have any advice for authors of colour, especially those who are hoping to bring their stories and voices out into the mainstream?
Be true to yourself and your identity. If you have a part of your identity you want to celebrate, then do it loudly and proudly. The best part of our stories is that they come from a personal place in us. So don’t write something that you don’t think represents something you love and enjoy and can be proud of putting out into the world.
Thank you, Kat! But before we let you go, we need to prove that you are indeed human, and not a nine-tailed fox waiting to devour us. Would you mind taking a selfie for your fans in the Philippines?
Gumiho (Wicked Fox) by Kat Cho is available at Fully Booked branches and Fully Booked Online. Get your copy here.
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