Today is the release day of Rebel Seoul, the New Visions Award-winning science fiction debut by Axie Oh! When Lee Jaewon is assigned to partner with supersoldier Tera in Neo Seoul’s top weapons development division, he must decide where he stands: with the people his rebel father protected or with the totalitarian government that claims it will end all war.
To celebrate today’s release, we asked author Axie Oh about her writing process, the inspiration behind Rebel Seoul, and her advice to aspiring authors.
What was the inspiration behind Rebel Seoul? Was it a place, a person, or simply an idea?
It was all of these things.
It was a place: Seoul, South Korea. At the time, I had read a lot of dystopias set in the west, but I hadn’t read any YA Sci-Fi books set in East Asia. I wondered what that would be like, considering how different the East is from the West in terms of ideology, history and culture. I wanted to set the book, not just in Asia, but in a country I loved and felt like I could show with respect and depth of feeling. Though I’m Korean American, my parents were born in Seoul, and I still visit family there every 2-3 years.
It was also a person: I had a dream about a girl standing atop the tallest building in Seoul, listening to a song in the wind. She was crying because she had never heard a song before. There was a deep ache in her soul, a yearning that I felt echoed inside me. I thought – who is she? What is it that she yearns for?
It was many ideas: I wanted super soldiers, mecha (giant robots), bromance, romance, found families & K-drama-level angst.
Your book has an incredible cast of characters. Tell us, who was your favorite character to write? Which character do you relate to the most?
My favorite characters to write were probably Alex and Ama. Their voices jumped off the page for me, Alex the broody upper class boy and Ama the sweet-tempered, but powerful telepath. The point of view of the novel is from Jaewon’s perspective, but I imagine they have their own individual stories happening outside of his, which Jaewon only glimpses at when their stories intersect. As for which character I relate to the most, it would probably be… Bora. Like Bora, I’m positive and upbeat, and we’re both artists (she designs clothing, I write books!)
Needless to say, Rebel Seoul is an action-packed, fast-paced, electrifying read, but there is also a romantic storyline. Tell us how you were able to balance both action and romance.
Lots of revisions! Ha, but seriously, I was fortunate to have Stacy Whitman as an editor who pointed out the places in my manuscript that needed more romance (or connection between the characters). The action came pretty naturally – when you have teens piloting giant robots, action is kind of a given. It was layering in the romance in a way that was tense, believable and hopefully satisfying by the end that was a challenge, but one I wholly embraced.
Present-day Seoul is naturally divided by the Han River, and so it was a matter of making the north side the “Old” side and the south side the “Neo” or “New” side. I wanted a futuristic world with self-driving cars and airtrains, but I also wanted to show a realistic Seoul, the Seoul with foodcarts and back alleys. And so, I put a “Neo” side for the fun tech, and an “Old” side as a reflection of the Seoul of today, although more rundown due to the nature of the concept.
What challenges, if any, did you face when writing this story?
One of the main challenges I faced was a sort of mental battle: of wanting to make sure every single Korean element I put into the book was as realistic and accurate as possible. Perhaps because it’s my own culture, I cared so much about getting everything as close to the truth as I understood it—the language I used, the places in which the scenes were set, the ways the characters interacted with one another as being an accurate reflection of Korean society. I’m so grateful Tu Books was as detail-oriented as me, and hired a Korean copyeditor.
What words of wisdom do you have for aspiring authors?
Put what you love into your work. It will show. Don’t follow trends or what you think an agent might want to read. Write what you would want to read. And like me, who got my book deal through the amazing New Visions Award, there are so many paths to publication. Whatever journey you take, believe in yourself!
What do you hope readers take away from your story?
I hope they take whatever they need or want from the story. If they love Korean dramas or K-pop, I hope they have fun with the references and easter eggs. If they love mecha anime, I hope they like the fight scenes and dramatic moments. The book was written for readers, so take whatever, take it all—it’s for you.
You can purchase a copy of Rebel Seoul here.