Rebel Soul should be made into a drama, which is one of the highest compliments we can give to a book. If you haven’t read it yet, get a copy for summer and take a day or two off because you won’t be able to put it down.
Author Axie Oh graciously answered a few of our questions about her writing process for Rebel Seoul and dropped some exciting news about the upcoming sequel!
Pacific Rim meets Korean action dramas in this mind-blowing, New Visions Award-winning science fiction debut.
After a great war, the East Pacific is in ruins. In brutal Neo Seoul, where status comes from success in combat, ex-gang member Lee Jaewon is a talented pilot rising in the ranks of the academy. Abandoned as a kid in the slums of Old Seoul by his rebel father, Jaewon desires only to escape his past and prove himself a loyal soldier of the Neo State.
When Jaewon is recruited into the most lucrative weapons development division in Neo Seoul, he is eager to claim his best shot at military glory. But the mission becomes more complicated when he meets Tera, a test subject in the government’s supersoldier project. Tera was trained for one purpose: to pilot one of the lethal God Machines, massive robots for a never-ending war.
With secret orders to report on Tera, Jaewon becomes Tera’s partner, earning her reluctant respect. But as respect turns to love, Jaewon begins to question his loyalty to an oppressive regime that creates weapons out of humans. As the project prepares to go public amidst rumors of a rebellion, Jaewon must decide where he stands—as a soldier of the Neo State, or a rebel of the people.
How did you get started writing? Were there any particular books or writers that made you realize you wanted to be a writer?
I didn’t start writing until college where I took classes in narrative nonfiction, fiction and poetry. I discovered my joy of writing through these classes, and in between them, would often write short stories and flash fiction in the student lounge for fun.
I’ve been an avid reader since I was young—my favorite novelists included J.K Rowling, Garth Nix, Cameron Dokey, Tanith Lee and Philip Pullman. I didn’t read or discover Asian authors until I was in college. Then, some of my favorite authors became Cindy Pon, Julie Kagawa, Noriko Ogiwara and Marie Lu. I started to aspire to be a writer after discovering these authors whose books I enjoyed and whose careers I admired.
In your previous interviews about REBEL SEOUL, you’ve said that the book started with a dream you had. How did you go about developing this image into a story? What were your first steps?
I wrote down all the different snippets and scenes that excited me about this book. I wrote the ending before the middle and scenes that didn’t make any sense out of context but I wrote because I wanted to somehow get them in the book. For example, there’s a scene in REBEL SEOUL where my protagonist converses with an old grandfather. This was one of the first scenes I wrote, though it appears in the latter half of the book. I wrote it because I loved this grandfather character who was so wise and spoke in riddles. After I compiled all the snippets and scenes, I created the world, characters and plot and threaded them together like beads on a string.
You’ve also mentioned that you did a lot of research on colonialism in Korea for REBEL SEOUL. What did you discover that you felt you absolutely needed to incorporate into the story?
Though REBEL SEOUL is a young adult story set in an alternate-future, I wanted to incorporate themes and ideologies that were a part of Korea’s past, particularly the colonial era—themes of resistance and regaining nationhood, sovereignty and independence.
Neo Seoul and Old Seoul are fully-realized places, and the shift in mood and atmosphere whenever the story changes locations is really clear to the readers. How did you go about creating and populating these two distinct worlds—did you write down a history for each place or draw maps, what were the tools you used to build such complex and vivid worlds?
All I used was an actual map of Seoul as it stands today, dividing “Neo” and “Old” as South and North of the Han River, a natural geographical divider. In crafting the two halves of the city, I imagined the “Neo” part as a high tech anime-influenced cyberpunk city and the “Old” half as present-day Seoul but a little more run down. Any strength in descriptions is due to the vivid and complexity of the city itself, a place that has old world buildings alongside skyscrapers and modern architecture.
What were the decisions behind Jaewon’s character, especially in terms of his background, the moral choices he has to face, and his feelings for Tera? Why did you think it was important to centre the narrative on him?
I chose Jaewon as my protagonist because he was a character who had a connection to both Old Seoul and Neo Seoul and I thought the world could really come alive through his point of view. He also had the most compelling emotional journey, as someone who begins the novel hurt and closed-off due to betrayals in his past and ends the novel with new friends and hope for a brighter future.
After REBEL SEOUL was published, did anything happen that was completely unexpected for you (with regards to publication or even the book promotions)?
One of the best surprises was that REBEL SEOUL was praised by the New York Times Book Review as “moody, explodey fun.” Another unexpected moment was when my publisher came to me asking for another book in the REBEL SEOUL universe. The sequel, currently untitled, is set to be released Fall 2019.
As one of the few published WOC writers out there, based on your experiences, what do you think are the biggest challenges for fellow POC/WOC writers and do you have any advice on overcoming them?
The biggest challenge always are the naysayers, the people who say “books by people of color don’t sell” (this is a big lie), the people who say “this genre is dead” (no, your take on POC vampires is very much needed), or the people who say “diverse books are a trend” (big eye roll). Don’t listen to these people. Listen to yourself that yearns to write a book that you as a child would have loved to read.
Remember those books I read as a child? I loved them, but they were all written by white authors because that’s all I had access to. The fact that kids nowadays have choices is incredible – they can read books by and about people who look like them. That is so empowering. I’m very excited for the future of publishing.
About Axie Oh:
Axie Oh is a first generation Korean American, born in NYC and raised in New Jersey. She studied Korean history and creative writing as an undergrad at the University of California – San Diego and holds an MFA from Lesley University in Writing for Young People. Her passions include K-pop, anime, stationery supplies, and milk tea. She currently resides in Las Vegas, Nevada with her puppy, Toro.