Author Interview With June Hur {The Silence Of Bones}

Hey everyone today’s guest on the blog is debut author June Hur talking about her upcoming debut which releases next week: The Silence Of Bones!

We’ll be chatting about writing inspirations, mystery, and lots more! Her YA Historical Fiction debut is set to be released next week: April 21, 2020!

Here’s June to introduce what The Silence Of Bones is all about:

June Hur Profile with photo credit by Julie Anna Tang

Set 1800 Joseon (Korea), a sixteen-year-old indentured servant named Seol has been tasked with assisting an inspector with the investigation into the politically-charged murder of noblewoman. As they delve deeper into the dead woman’s secrets, Seol forms an unlikely bond of friendship with the inspector. But her loyalty is tested when he becomes the prime suspect, and Seol may be the only one capable of discovering what truly happened on the night of the murder. But in a land where silence and obedience are valued above all else, curiosity can be deadly.

When talking about the inspiration behind TSOB, Hur mentioned that for most of her life she knew very little about Korean history:

“Even though my parents are “very” Korean and I lived in Korean when I was a teen. Then in 2015, out of sheer curiosity, I read further into Korean history – and fell madly in love with it. I was fascinated by everything and was gripped by a terrifying desperation to write a Korean historical mystery. I hesitated for a while, wondering if I, a Korean-Canadian ‘diasporan’, even had the right to write about Korea, and afraid that no one would be interested in a mystery set in a non-western country. It was the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement that finally gave me the courage to write.

At the very heart of this book is a more personal story inspired by my family, a family dispersed. I spent nearly half my life living with my siblings in Canada, far away from my parents, far away from my relatives. And so, while I was writing this book, I found myself wrestling with two questions that always haunted me: What will it cost to keep family together when things are falling apart? And where is home when you live far away from those who have loved you for all of your life?”

The Silence Of Bones by June Hur

There’s a particular detail about her novel, specifically the Damos (female police officers) that intrigued me and I was curious to know if that was the starting point for Hur’s research into the novel, so she mentioned:

“The inspiration for the novel first began with my interest in the Confucian-based moralistic naewoebŏp (a law that prohibited free contact between men and women) that dominated Joseon Korea. It resulted in intense gender segregation, and while researching further into this, I came across the group of women called ‘damo.’ I’d heard of these female police officers before, thanks to a K-Drama called ‘Damo,’ but I’d had no idea they were actual historical figures. These women were servants who worked for the police bureau, and they were in charge of female victims, culprits and corpses.

Damos were apparently the first female police force to ever have actual arresting power in all of world history. But this damo position wasn’t formed because women were respected. The reason for a damos existence was rooted in gender segregation. Damos were needed in the police bureau because of the strict Confucian rule that forbid contact between men with women. So basically, male officers had limited access with women in general, which made investigating nearly impossible for them. That’s why they needed these damo women to do the work they couldn’t do. But despite the deeply patriarchal reason for the existence of ‘damo’, these women were able to subvert their role and prove how capable they were. I was so intrigued by damos that it inspired the bulk of my novel, and that’s why I made the heroine of THE SILENCE OF BONES a 16 year-old damo.”

Since Seol herself is a Damo, Hur then discussed what the research process was like and whether the information was easier or more challenging for her to discover. She stated it was “intense and laborious”:

While there are academic English resources on Joseon Korea, when it came to very niche information (like details about damos, the female police officers my book revolves around), I had to look into Korean resources to provide my imagination with enough facts to get it rolling! But even among Korean articles, there weren’t too many detailed accounts of damos, since they were only briefly mentioned in primary sources. I therefore had to make some educated guesses. Damos were, at the end of the day, lowly servants. And so I studied the role of servants in Joseon Korea, and used this information to fill in the gaps where gaps existed in my research.”

I personally don’t have much knowledge on this historical period, so then I asked her about any specific resources she used to conduct her research and she shared a wonderful list of references:

“For about a year I just read up on Joseon Korea to familiarize myself with the world, and not just what I knew from K-dramas. After that, I continued my research while drafting and polishing my manuscript over the span of two years.

The resources I relied heavily on are the following:

Jahyun Kim Haboush’s Epistolary Korea: Letters in the Communicative Space of the Chosŏn, 1392–1910.

Jahyun Kim Haboush’s The Memoirs of Lady Hyegyong: The Autobiographical Writings of a Crown Princess of Eighteenth-Century Korea.

Sun Joo Kim and Jungwon Kim’s Wrongful Deaths: Selected Inquest Records from Nineteenth-Century Korea.

Yungchung Kim’s Women of Korea: A History from Ancient Times to 1945.

Peter H. Lee’s Sources of Korean Tradition, Vol. 2.

Moo-Sook Hanh’s Encounter: A Novel of Nineteenth-Century Korea.”

With TSOB being a historical fiction/mystery novel, I then asked Hur if she had any favorite TV shows/books/etc. in a similar vein:

“Oh, I love this question!

For Historical: The Seven Husband’s of Evelyn Hugo, Pillars of the Earth, The Song of Archilles, A Thousand Splendid Suns.

For Contemporary Mystery: Sadie, and Tana French’s books.

TV Shows: Broadchurch, Mentalist, Signal (a K-drama).”

Seol becomes part of an investigation into the nobelwoman’s politically-charged murder. I then asked what inspired Hur when creating the case and if the mystery was easy to develop:

“The inspiration came from the historical event of a Chinese Catholic priest who smuggled himself into Joseon Korea, which was a dangerous idea, as Catholicism was considered to be ‘Western teaching’ and all things from the West was prohibited by execution. The entire Korean kingdom ended up going on a manhunt for this priest. At the same time, the number of Korean Catholics was also growing exponentially fast. To make things more complicated, the Queen Regent’s rivalling faction tried to use Catholicism to regain power in the government, and so the Regent used Catholicism as a scapegoat to massacre her Catholic rivals. Innocent believers were also swept into this mass persecution.

I wanted to base my book on this event, so I used the murder of the noblewoman as a vehicle to introduce readers to this world of religious and political tension. It wasn’t easy developing the mystery element of my book! The hardest part was figuring out who the killer was. I began writing this book with no idea, so I was always suspicious of every character. And that’s the way I wanted it to be: I wanted to create a killer who wasn’t obvious even to me.”

I can’t wait to meet Seol and follow her journey, so I had to know what Hur enjoyed the most about developing her character:

“I enjoyed writing about her kindness. But nice means to be pleasant and smiling, while kindness means to consider the good of others. And sometimes doing what is best for others is the hardest thing, harder than, for example, wielding a sword against one’s enemy. So I really enjoyed writing about this type of kindness—a loving and gritty, difficult and sacrificial kindness that drove Seol to commit an incredibly difficult act of kindness.”

Alongside that, I asked Hur what inspired TSOB to be set during the Joseon Dynasty:

“The fact that I couldn’t find the book I wanted to read! I grew up watching historical K-dramas set in Joseon and I wanted something as epic and poignant in book form, but I ended up frustrated by my lack of options. I’d never been in this situation before. I read tons of historicals set in England, and whenever I wanted to be swept away in a BBC period drama-like book, I could easily search one up and borrow a copy. But this time my options were super limited. So, for the first time (and I’ve been writing for a while), I decided to write the book I wanted to read.”

There’s a lot of YA Mystery novels set in places like the U.S. and Europe. I had to ask Hur what made this special to her, not only being a Korean author but also having TSOB being set during an era rarely explored in YA Historical Fiction:

“As you mentioned, historical Korea is rarely explored in YA literature, so I grew up knowing almost nothing about Korea’s past. I thought Korean history was irrelevant to me. Then, when I began researching about Korea out of curiosity, I ended up being deeply surprised, shaken to the core, to find that so much of who I am is rooted in Korea’s past. By studying the past, I learned more about myself and realized that I’m not as disconnected from Korea a I imagined myself to be. And so, in the end, the act of writing a Korean historical fiction became my way of reclaiming my roots.”

To conclude this interview, I wanted know if there were any specific quotes from The Silence Of Bones that Hur enjoyed writing and why:

“The opening paragraph of my debut! It opens with a description of Joseon Korea, and that’s one of the few paragraphs that survived several rounds of intense revisions.”

We then finished up the interview with some fun lightning round questions:

1. Recent YA reads? Elizabeth Lim’s Spin the Dawn, and I loved it!

2. If Seol could meet any other YA character who would it be & why? Jo Kuan from The Downstairs Girl. She’s witty and fun and intelligent. I think they’d enjoy solving mysteries together.

3. Pitch TSOB in three words: Rain. Mountain. Revenge.

4. Favorite YA Book (or Books) of 2020 so far? Liz Lawson’s The Lucky Ones.

5.When you were writing TSOB how did you picture it (TV show, movie, etc.)? A Korean Drama!

Thanks so much to June for joining me on the blog today! Are you looking forward to The Silence Of Bones? 🔎📚🦴

If you’re able to support indie bookstores during this time, you can pre-order Here or Here in paperback! It’s also available to add on Goodreads

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