How I Began My Writing Career

Guest Author: Ellen Oh

UntitledMy writing career started because of Genghis Khan. He is the reason I became fascinated with Asian history – in particular ancient Korean history. You see, back in the year 2000, Genghis Khan was named Man of the Millennium by Time magazine. I remember thinking how cool it was that an Asian man was considered the most influential man of the millennium. So I went and bought a bunch of biographies on Genghis and in the process, I learned more about Asian history than I’d ever learned before. It made me crave more information. But it was actually really hard to find a lot of books on ancient Korea. I researched online, scoured university library systems, and ordered foreign editions of books I couldn’t find here in the states. And it bothered me that so little of this vast and fascinating history was available to the American mainstream population. This is really the reason I began writing again (I hadn’t written creatively since college.) I just felt that all these amazing historical facts would make for a great novel.

Between the years 2000 and 2006, I wrote two adult novels that I’ve put away forever, never to see the light of day. I doubt that I’ll ever revisit them. Because during this period, I rediscovered my love for children’s books. I have 3 daughters and we were always in bookstores and libraries reading book after book. And as they got older, I began to become dissatisfied with the lack of cultural diversity in the books we were reading. We loved reading fantasies, but they were all western centric. And I kept thinking how wonderful it would be to have a Korean fantasy based on the myths and legends of Korea. (As an aside, a wonderful Chinese fantasy was published in 2011 – Grace Lin’s Where the Mountain Meets the Moon.) At the same time, I was also very conscious of raising 3 daughters and the rampant feminist in me wanted to use every opportunity I could to teach them that girls can do anything a boy can do, and better.

It was back in 2007, I was stuck in beltway traffic staring at the unmovingprophecy bumper of the car in front of me when the idea hit me. What if there is a legend about a great hero, and everyone thinks it is this young prince but then it turns out to be his despised girl cousin? I wrote the whole outline on little pieces of paper as I was stuck in traffic and ended up writing the book in 5 months. Of the 3 books I’ve written, Prophecy was the one that came out so smoothly, so easily. It felt like it was meant to be told.

I used a lot of legends and myths of Korea. One of the most famous legends is the story of the Rock of the Falling Flowers. It is a cliff in the old Paekche kingdom where 3,000 court ladies leapt to their deaths when faced with the invading Tang and Shilla army. Their colorful hanboks made them look like falling flowers – hence the name. I also use the myth of the 8 Heavenly Maidens and then twisted it to suit my needs. Usually, the folktales have the Heavenly Maidens descending to earth and bathing in a pool and some poor woodcutter comes and steals one of their clothes. Without her clothes, the heavenly maiden cannot return home and is forced to marry the woodcutter. Well I never liked that myth. As far as I’m concerned, that poor woodcutter is a stalker/peeping tom/kidnapper. So I changed that myth to make my Heavenly Maidens strong and with an important purpose in life.

I admit that I love research. I’ve spent over ten years of my life learning as much as I can about ancient Asian history. And yet there is so much more to learn. The more research I uncover, the more stories pop into my head, which is a good thing as Prophecy is the first book of a trilogy! 

About Author:

Ellen Oh is an adjunct college instructor and former entertainment lawyer who one day picked up a Genghis Khan biography and was never quite the same again. It was the start of an obsessive fascination with ancient Asian history that led to years of researching, which culminated in writing *Prophecy*, her first novel. She also loves martial arts films, K-pop, K-dramas, and cooking shows, and she thinks the *Last Airbender* series was the best animated show ever created. Originally from New York City, Ellen lives in Bethesda, Maryland, with her husband and three daughters and is always on the hunt for a decent bagel.


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