Wicked Fox, Kat Cho’s debut, was released yesterday and of course I had to pre-order it. How was a person expected to wait after reading this summary?
Eighteen-year-old Gu Miyoung has a secret–she’s a gumiho, a nine-tailed fox who must devour the energy of men in order to survive. Because so few believe in the old tales anymore, and with so many evil men no one will miss, the modern city of Seoul is the perfect place to hide and hunt.
But after feeding one full moon, Miyoung crosses paths with Jihoon, a human boy, being attacked by a goblin deep in the forest. Against her better judgment, she violates the rules of survival to rescue the boy, losing her fox bead–her gumiho soul–in the process.
Jihoon knows Miyoung is more than just a beautiful girl–he saw her nine tails the night she saved his life. His grandmother used to tell him stories of the gumiho, of their power and the danger they pose to men. He’s drawn to her anyway.
With murderous forces lurking in the background, Miyoung and Jihoon develop a tenuous friendship that blossoms into something more. But when a young shaman tries to reunite Miyoung with her bead, the consequences are disastrous and reignite a generations-old feud . . . forcing Miyoung to choose between her immortal life and Jihoon’s.
Kat Cho was kind enough to answer a few questions about her book. After learning more, you’ll likely want to grab a copy too.
Nine-tailed foxes seem incredibly fascinating. How and when did you first hear stories about gumiho?
I first heard about the gumiho in Korean folktales as a child. But I was reintroduced to them as an adult. At this point I was writing again and I knew immediately I wanted to write a book based on the myth. She is so often cast as an evil being that I wanted to know why. As I delved more into research on the fox spirit I found a few very old stories that represented the fox spirit as an ambivalent, even helpful, being. I wondered why she became cast as so evil. And I love the exploration of moral ambiguity that must exist for someone who must kill to survive (a la vampires and werewolves). I loved the idea of doing that exploration with Korean source materials!
What do you love most about the Jihoon and Miyoung?
I love that they see a kinship in each other even though they’re two people who react very differently to hardship. I also love that they took a while to realize that they love each other (or I hope that’s how it comes across). For me, it takes me a bit to warm up to someone enough to trust them with my heart, so I wanted that for my characters too, especially because they’ve been hurt before by people they loved. I also wanted to show that often times the healthiest love is the kind that grows out of genuine friendship and affection. In some ways the story is about how Miyoung learns how to create meaningful friendships and one of those friendships just happens to grow into love.
The setting of Wicked Fox is modern day Seoul. What are your favorite things about the city and did any of them make it into the book?
The Food! And yes, it definitely did. I guess I also really enjoy the fact that a lot of the history exists within the streets of Seoul, in the way the buildings are built to what has been kept preserved over the centuries. The modernization of Seoul is newer than we might expect seeing how sleek and high tech so much of the city is. But when my mother was a little girl they still used ondol (coal/wood heating) in the floors. Some people still use it today. And I love that this dichotomy exists within the city.
I’m always excited when books begun during NaNo go on to publication. How has NaNoWriMo been helpful to you and what keeps bringing you back over the years?
It helps to motivate me! I love that writers from all over the world participate. It’s really inspiring to see others hitting their goals. So even if I don’t always hit my word count goal, I still feel like I’m not in this alone and it helps me feel motivation to keep going even when I hit some road blocks along the way.
After completing your first draft, how long did it take before you felt ready to look for an agent and what was that process like?
It took over a year for me to feel the manuscript was ready. It was a slow drafting and revision process because this book had so much importance to me. It held so much of the things I loved: my Korean heritage, influences from K-dramas, Korean mythology. I wanted to do justice to it all. So I took my time on making sure it came out the way I wanted. But even then I definitely needed guidance and counsel from someone in the industry. So when I signed with my agent, I was really happy that she was so enthusiastic to revise it with me. The book became so much better with her help and I was very confident with it when we went on submission to editors. Don’t get me wrong, the submission process was still super stressful, but it would have been ten times worse if I didn’t feel so good about the book I’d worked on with my agent.
Can you tell us about something that has surprised you during the publishing process?
How many different people get involved! There are so many departments in a publishing house and they all have a part in getting the final book out there. Of course, we all know about the editor and even the publicist. But there are copy editors, designers, artists, digital publicity, and assistants at all level who make sure the communication is always there and that all the moving parts are working in tandem. Honestly, I don’t know what I would have done sometimes if I didn’t have my editor’s assistant checking in with me and giving me information about different parts of the process. Also things as simple as knowing where to show up and when is really important in keeping an author’s anxiety in check and that stuff often comes from an assistant. There are a lot of unsung heroes in publishing, but they’re all very important to the process.
In reviews and blurbs, Wicked Fox is being described as a book for fans of Korean dramas. It’s almost impossible to choose a favorite, but can you share a few of the K-dramas that have made you cry and swoon?
Hahaha, get ready for THE LIST:
W: Two Worlds, Gaksital, School 2013, Moonlight Drawn by Clouds, Goblin, Oh My Ghostess, Pinocchio, Healer, Coffee Prince, My Love From Another Star, Goong, Descendants of the Sun
I started the vlog because I knew I was going to travel a bit both for the book and for personal reasons and I really wanted to record those times. But as I got more into vlogging I also realized I loved the idea of sharing my writing and publishing journey as well. So it became a hybrid vlog and authortube channel. For the podcast, that was first started by my best friend Claribel Ortega (author of Ghost Squad). She and I were having a conversation once when I was on sub and I was saying it felt like I’d never sell my book (fun fact: time has different meaning when you’re on submission to editors/publishing houses, it moves super slow and 1 day feels like 100). Claribel said that the submission journey always took much longer than we think from the outside and if she interviewed a bunch of authors she was sure their submission stories would be as harrowing (if not more) than my own. She was right and when I was a guest in one of the earlier episodes we found out that we loved talking about industry stuff and writing so she invited me to be co-host and the rest is history!
Kat Cho is a YA author who loves to incorporate her Korean heritage in her writing, especially if it involves describing food. She loves anything that encourages nerding out, including reading, K-dramas, K-pop and anime. She’s the author of Wicked Fox (Putnam/Penguin, 2019).