June Hur was born in South Korea and raised in Canada, except for the time when she moved back to Korea and attended high school there. She studied History and Literature at the University of Toronto. She began writing her debut novel after obsessing over books about Joseon Korea. When she’s not writing, she can be found wandering through nature or journaling at a coffee shop. She is the author of The Silence of Bones, The Forest of Stolen Girls, and The Red Palace, published by Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan, and she currently lives in Toronto with her husband and daughter.
What inspires you to write? Where do you get your ideas?
History! I have a list of Korean historical events that have always fascinated me, and I use book-writing as a way to study Korean history in-depth.
Tell us about your book.
The Forest of Stolen Girls is set in 1400s Jeju Korea, and it explores the topic of sisterhood, which I had a lot of fun writing about, and it also touches on a tragic part of Korean history that isn’t well known.
And here’s the summary official summary:
Hwani’s family has never been the same since she and her younger sister went missing and were later found unconscious in the forest, near a gruesome crime scene. The only thing they remember: Their captor wore a painted-white mask.
To escape the haunting memories of this incident, the family flees their hometown. Years later, Detective Min—Hwani’s father—learns that thirteen girls have recently disappeared under similar circumstances, and so he returns to their hometown to investigate… only to vanish as well.
Determined to find her father and solve the case that tore their family apart, Hwani returns home to pick up the trail. As she digs into the secrets of the small village—and reconnects with her now estranged sister—Hwani comes to realize that the answer lies within her own buried memories of what happened in the forest all those years ago.
Tell us about your writing journey and how you got where you are today.
8 years and two failed rounds of querying later, I put aside my first book and decided to work on a new project. A Korean historical mystery. I didn’t think anyone would be interested in a police drama set in 1800s Korea, but I didn’t care at this point and just wrote the book for myself. Fortunately, as I was browsing through Manuscript Wish List, I found an agent who was passionate about diverse literature, and so I decided to send a query her way. I didn’t think Amy Bishop would actually offer. But then in September 2017, Amy emailed me with an offer and shared that my debut was a book she wished had existed when she was a teen. Then in August 2018, I was offered a book deal and am now working with the fantastic Emily Settle of Feiwel & Friends!
What advice do you have for aspiring BIPOC creators?
Breathe. Enjoy life away from the computer screen. I know how hard-working many BIPOC creators can be, but sometimes we work to the detriment of our mental and physical health.
When I was younger, my life revolved around trying to get published, and my identity got wrapped around proving that I had a story worth sharing. I wish someone had told me: yes, be ambitious and dream big, but do NOT neglect your relationships with others and your mental/physical health. Do be kind to yourself. Do have hobbies and goals outside of writing. Life will only get busier once you get published, and there will always be a new milestone to achieve, so it’s very important to learn how to balance work/life from early on.
How do you weave your culture(s) into your book(s)? How do(es) your culture(s) influence your writing?
My lived experience as a Korean-Canadian has heavily influenced my writing.
I was raised with very traditional Korean values, and some of these values were shaped by the Confucian beliefs and practices that dominated Joseon Korea (the period all three of my books are set in). This personal connection to history allows me to create characters and stories that are (I hope) genuine to the time and culture, and to write about a world that feels familiar and home-like to me.
Then there’s the other side of me. Raised in Canada, I’ve been heavily exposed to the public discourse on gender equality and colonization, especially through my university education. These discourses ended up becoming the lens through which I interpreted Korean history, and it’s the reason why I gravitated toward certain aspects of Korea’s past, namely: gender segregation.
When I first began writing my Korean Historical, I had no idea how much my experience as a Korean-born and Canadian-raised writer would affect me, but it did. And it’s proved to be a very unique and rewarding experience!
What is your writing process like?
When I have a Korean historical event I’m fascinated by, I begin a light round of research, enough that I’m able to envision a “map” of the world. Then I lightly plot out the story and mystery arc. Once that’s done, I delve deep into research, which takes a few months. I outline the manuscript alongside my research, letting what I learn shape and reshape the story and its characters. When my imagination feels full, I begin rough drafting and when I have something readable prepared, I send the manuscript off to my editor and take a break. Once my editor sends me her notes, I begin revising, and this process repeats itself until the book is ready to be sent out into the world! And throughout this entire process, I’m always researching because Korean history is so fascinating!
What are you currently reading?
I’m finishing off STATION ELEVEN by Emily St. John Mandel (it’s a masterpiece!) and have started reading WE ARE NOT FREE by Traci Chee (and am loving it!)
What is your writing style in a few words?
Atmospheric and emotional
What’s your favorite part of the writing process? Your least favorite part? Why?
I love revising; I love molding the rough draft I have into what I want the story to be. I hate drafting; the blank page terrifies me.
How long on average does it take you to write a book?
It used to take me a year and a half, but now as a professional writer, I have a little less than a year.