Former expat in Korea shines with 'Gilded' trilogy
KOREA - Many expats in Korea think they have a novel in them. Some even go on to write and publish them. Few, however, manage to get a whole trilogy published.
But Christina Farley has done just that with "Gilded," a trilogy of young adult fantasy novels.
"It's one of those dreams come true for me," Farley said. "Sometimes I pinch myself."
But it was something she only really dared to dream of once she began working in Korea.
She used to often write as a child and submitted work to a publisher when she was 10, but she took the rejection so badly she gave up.
"(I thought) 'My goodness I'm so bad that they told me to go to writing school.'"
Things changed when she came to Korea to teach at Seoul Foreign School, when she wrote the first book of her "Gilded" series.
"There's so much about Korea that is really inspirational ― the landscape and the culture," she said.
Farley was encouraged to finally join a writing course by her husband, who praised her storytelling ability.
She also joined Inkwells, a writers' group that meets at Seoul Foreign School, and the Korean branch of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. She credits them with helping her hone her craft and learn how to approach the industry.
Several years later, she is in Korea, visiting local schools to promote her series, the first two books of which, "Gilded" and "Silvern," came out last year.
The series is a fantasy novel based in modern-day Korea but drawing on the country's mythology, particularly the story of the demigod Haemosu and Princess Yuhwa.
In the myth, Yuhwa spurns Haemosu's advances, but he fights her father in a battle in which they metamorphose into spirit animals. Haemosu wins and drags Yuhwa off in a chariot pulled by dragons.
"She escapes by taking her hairpin and cutting a hole in the bottom of the chariot and dropping back to Earth," explains Farley.
"I read this story and thought. 'Wow, this is so cool.' I wanted to know what happened after that, but there really isn't much out there about what happened next.
"That sparked the idea that maybe Haemosu is still out there looking for Princess Yuhwa."
Running with this, she based the fantasy element of the series on the Three Kingdoms period, visiting historical places in Korea for inspiration for how to describe the scenes.
"I would sit in the palaces and I would look around me and write what I saw," Farley said. "And there's something about having that opportunity to be there in that place as you are writing about those things."
The series casts Korean-American Jae-hwa Kim as a descendent of Yuwha, who must face off with Haemosu.
Farley drew on her experience as a teacher at an international school in Korea for much of the modern-day parts of the series, including the struggles of the heroine.
"She deals with all those cultural issues. She's Korean but she's American. What does that mean and how is she going to make friends in this new place?" Farley said. "The Korean culture, how is she going to fit in with her family ... ?"
Farley said these were issues students she taught in Korea would face.
"We would meet and we would discuss issues that they were going through and that was one of the big issues that we would talk about," she said.
This is the first time she has been back in the country in 4 1/2 years, and she is making the most of it by taking pictures of the places that feature in her novel.
"A lot of my fans are really interested in Korea, Korean history and Korean culture," she said.
"The scenes in my novel, those are actual places, so it's kind of fun."
The third book in the series, "Brazen," is set to come out this fall. She says that it will be the last, although she is considering a spin-off.
Other than that, she plans to continue writing for a living, but will likely set the stories elsewhere.
"Hopefully it will continue," she said. "As long as I keep selling books, I will keep writing them.
"I'm really thankful for this time that I have. I don't take it for granted at all."