We’re so excited to have June Hur for today’s Author Spotlight to celebrate Asian Pacific (American) Heritage Month! I put *American* because June is Canadian and this month is for celebrating all API diaspora writers! June’s second novel, The Forest of Stolen Girls, is out now!
Axie: Hi June! Can you give us a quick pitch of your most recent novel, The Forest of Stolen Girls?
June: The story is set in 14th century Korea, and it’s about two sisters, Hwani and Maewol, who go missing in a forest, only to be found unconscious near a gruesome crime scene where a young woman is found dead.
Five years later, when thirteen more girls go missing in the same forest, Hwani’s father – who is a famous detective – decides to look into the incident himself. But when he ends up going missing as well, Hwani has to team up with her estranged sister to pick up the investigation their father left behind.
Axie: Ah! That sounds amazing! And having read The Forest of Stolen Girls, I know it’s amazing. What K-Drama would you pair each of your books with for a K-drama + Book Club?
June: Oooh I love this question!
For THE SILENCE OF BONES: Haechi (2019)
THE FOREST OF STOLEN GIRLS: Empress Ki (2013)
THE RED PALACE: Dong Yi (2010)
Axie: I love those pairings! Your books have such distinctive settings and time periods; 1800’s Joseon in the capital, 1426 Jeju Island, 1758 Joseon during the turbulent era of Crown Prince Sado. Can you tell us more about how you choose settings and time periods for each of your books?
June: I’m fascinated by the Joseon Dynasty-era, which lasted for a *very* long time, from 1392 to 1910. So there’s a lot I don’t know about the Joseon period, and whenever I stumble across a historical event that I’m fascinated by, I use the act of writing fiction as my way to deep-dive into research. In other words, every book I’ve written so far was inspired by a historical event I wanted to get to know more about!
Axie: So cool! What’s the most interesting bit of information you learned while researching The Forest of Stolen Girls?
June: I came up with the idea for this book while studying about kongnyŏ (공녀), which refers to girls who were taken from their homes by the Korean government and given up as a human tribute to China. While researching deeper into this practice, I discovered there was this whole official process behind the selection of tribute girls. Once girls were selected, they would have to pass a preliminary screening, and once passed, they would have to go through the test of wearing the Ming Dynasty dress and make-up in order to be moved to the final round. Finally, at the guesthouse, the king and queen would attend their farewell ceremony. At this time, relatives and spectators were often weeping, since the girls were often being taken from them against their wishes. It was a pretty devastating procedure.
Axie: Wow, thank you so much for sharing that. Your heroines all have distinctive identities and roles—a damo (a female servant who assists male police inspectors) in The Silence of Bones, a noblewoman and her shaman-in-training sister in The Forest of Stolen Girls, and a palace nurse in The Red Palace. What was your thought process in choosing these roles for your heroines and what sort of research went into bringing them to life as you so wonderfully do?
June: I love that you noticed this ❤ I put a lot of thought into identities and roles, mainly because, as a mystery writer, the “origin story” for a sleuth is so important. Every memorable sleuth I’ve encountered in both fiction and on TV always had something so distinctive about their identity/role, and it would be this distinction that would end up helping them solve the mystery. So for the heroine in TSoB, I made her a damo so she’d have a reason to work closely with the police, and it’s this closeness that would really help her solve the mystery in the end. In TFoSG, I made the two sisters a noblewoman and a shaman-in-training to highlight the difference in their approach to crime-solving, and their different connection to the secretive village. For TRP, I made the heroine a palace nurse since it allows her close proximity to the prime suspect (the Crown Prince), and her medical knowledge also helps her solve the mystery.
As for the research process, I just read everything I can get my hands on. For my debut, I mostly relied on English resources and spent months struggling to translate and understand the academic Korean articles. But with every book I write now, I find that my Korean gets better, so I’ve been relying on more Korean sources now. But whichever resource I rely on, whenever I find information rich with detail, it’s the details that help to flesh out the identities and roles of the heroines better.
Axie: I *love* all of that! Let’s switch to a fun question. You have such stunning covers and different illustrators for each of them. It feels like having a different piece of artwork for each of your books! Can you tell us more about your covers and the sort of info you gave your design team that resulted in such stunning covers?
June: Thank you so, so much! I do give input on the covers—but they always turn out so different from my expectation (and in the best of ways)! The info I give are usually: (1) book covers I like, (2) photos of actors/actress I imagine my characters as, along with my own physical description of said characters, (3) a paragraph that describes the mood of the book. I honestly think I just got lucky, and that it’s not so much my input, but the creative minds behind the covers that have led to such stunning illustrations!
Axie: I love how your books keep me on my toes with the mystery, but the unexpected (& aspect that I love in particular) is how thrilling your stories are. There are so many intense and even scary scenes! How did you go about writing these more thrilling scenes? Were you inspired by K-dramas, books, music…?
June: I’m easily scared, and so I think I’m able to project my fear into my writing. What really helps is listening to eerie music, which helps me feel like I’m in the frightening situation. What also helps is watching thriller shows, including K-dramas, like SIGNAL, RESCUE ME, TUNNEL.
Axie: If Seol (The Silence of Bones), Hwani (The Forest of Stolen Girls), and Hyeon (The Red Palace) were in a K-pop group, what would their roles be? E.g. Leader, Maknae (youngest member), Singer, Rapper, Dancer, hehe.
June: This is such a fun question! Ok, so Seol would definitely be the Maknae. Hwani would be the dancer. And Hyeon would be the leader.
Axie: Thank you so much June for joining us for our special APAHM of interviews over here on Writer’s Block Party!
If you’d like to purchase The Forest of Stolen Girls or June’s other titles, then please consider shopping indie! The Forest of Stolen Girls is out now!