The Beautiful Dead: A Tale of K-Pop, Ghosts,
and Nine-Tailed Fox Women
Genre: Urban Fantasy/Paranormal
Publisher: Apollo and Nyx Publishing
Date of Publication: September 22, 2017
Number of pages: 346 (Print)
Word Count: 97k Words
Cover Artist: Damonza
A lonely Korean pop star learns her high school classmate died five years ago. So why are they still texting?
Yubin knows she’s different than the other girls in the pop group SIITY. Yes, they all got sucked into the same machine, giving up schooling and signing ridiculously long contracts before anyone knew if they'd be successful, but that's how pop stars are made in Korea. Yubin is supposed to be thankful for that, but she isn't. She doesn't even like the girls she performs with.
She’s more connected to her former schoolmate Jieun, even though all they ever do is text. Over the last two months, Jieun has become her confidant and best friend, connecting Yubin to the real world in a way she desperately needs. Now that SIITY is going to appear on the reality show The Incredible Race: Asia, Yubin will need that connection more than ever, which is why she’s devastated to discover Jieun has been dead five years and is actually haunting her.
If that weren’t enough, Yubin’s not the only SIITY member with issues. Rena’s father is emotionally abusive. Somi has a learning disability, and after a near death experience, Tae-eun becomes a nine-tailed fox woman. The only way they’ll survive the show, each other, and the supernatural currents buffeting them is to work together and win the hearts of their fans. Because if they don’t, they have nothing to go back to even if they survive what's trying to kill them.
Dawn of The Beautiful Dead and Method Writing
I was an exchange student studying at Yonsei University in South Korea. On the first day of an elective creative writing workshop, I was one of two students hit with their first short story assignment. It was due in four days. I was excited about my first writing project, not so much about the deadline. I had no idea what to write.
Fortunately, I have a wild imagination. My head is like the guy from Scrubs spiked with a dose of the old World of Darkness, The Dark Tower and Willy Wonka. I'm always having paranormal daydreams.
It was cold outside, so after class, I tucked into my headphones and winter coat, and listened to "News" by Nine Muses on the 20-30 minute walk home. During the first play through I slipped into an intense daydream about a Korean pop star being possessed by a ghost while doing a photo shoot.
There was something there. I saw faces, situations, and characters I'd never written before. I put that bad boy on repeat for over an hour and the daydream became more complex with each repetition. Before long, I had every thing I needed to write my short story. The result, then called "Smile," became the foundation of my novel. It's since been revised countless times, and is now the photo-shoot possession scene in the final version of The Beautiful Dead.
YouTube Link: News by Nine Muses
I was feeling pumped before our workshop. Given the time constraints and wellspring of creativity I'd discovered, I was sure I'd knocked it out of the park. A+ for sure, right? Not so much. At least my classmates seemed to like it when they commented, my Professor?
"This is good, if all you want to do is make a million dollars."
My insides turned. Part of me wanted to ask "What's wrong with making a million dollars?" The other part of me knew I'd been insulted.
My professor continued. "Your writing has no soul. It's all Hollywood. It's all plot. Who is this person this is happening to? It could be anyone."
After class, she and I had a sit down about writing, and she gave me some of the best writing advice I've had "Write what you know. Draw on personal experiences to bring life to your stories."
For my next assignment, I decided to focus on another member of the same pop group (Rena), but instead infusing her back story with a bit of my own. Rather than focusing on a person being attacked by a poltergeist, I went after the idea that celebrities are people too, with at times difficult family relationships.
I was rewarded when my professor closed her eyes, opened her comments with a deep breath, as if savoring fresh air, and said "That's what I'm talking about. This is real. If you keep writing the same story, my best advice is for you to keep on going."
The writing of my novel long exceeded the duration of that class, but I took those words to heart by making a point to include some element of autobiography in each of my characters. Where fact ends, and fiction begins is different for each one, but they are all made real by drawing on some element of my personal experience.
Around this time, I also became driven to get as close to the Korean entertainment industry as possible. I wasn't a pop star, and while I felt like I had the human elements unrelated to my protagonists' professions down, I wanted to get closer to the biz. I'd already met the K-Pop group T-Ara a few times since I'd been in Seoul, but after that class, I started going to recordings of TV music shows several times a week. Unlike before, I started paying close attention to what was going on before and after performers went on stage.
One day I was treated to an over 8 hour behind the scenes tour at KBS where I was able to watch band after band get ready for their studio recordings. It was amazing. During promotional events I paid close attention to the demeanors of the stars—did they seem happy? Tired? Burdened? Did their attitudes change as soon as the cameras started rolling? This was all useful information. I got to see what they typically ate for lunch. Some talked off the record about their lives in dorms owned by their record companies, and I was shocked by the lack of privacy. One time, I was present for the filming of a TV drama. Each event gave me a little more experience to draw on.
Later, I was asked if I'd like to appear on a Korean cooking show, Olive Show, as a guest. I accepted in a heartbeat. If I didn't have experiences of my own to draw on, I made them. Writing started to feel a lot like method acting, as I actively sought to put myself in situations that my characters found themselves in. In this case, sitting in a TV studio and being filmed for television. It was method writing.
I write supernatural fiction. Whether or not ghosts, nine-tailed foxes, and were-creatures are real, it's important to anchor the tale in emotions that are distinctly human. Have you ever been afraid? Channel that. Have you ever accomplished something that you didn't think you could do? Let that feeling guide your prose when your protagonist experiences a similar emotion. Are you writing in a completely made up world? Fantastic, that doesn't mean you can't borrow enchanting elements of the real one. Remember, just because you're telling stories about monsters doesn't mean its not at all real.
The best works of fiction contain some elements of autobiography. It's the means by which characters become people, and settings evolve into places. If you feel you are lacking experiences to fuel certain areas of your writing, you can always make them.
“Ha Yubin! Where’s Somi?” Yubin limped into the practice room and sat in a folding chair next to her gym bag, both their manager and the choreographer looked annoyed.
“I don’t know. She wondered off.”
Manager said, “Yubin! You’re the leader right?”
“Then act like it! It’s your responsibility to keep everyone together!”
Then Somi walked in with a bagel sandwich from Dunkin’ Donuts. Everyone looked at her, but her eyes widened in an expression of bewildered “What?” as if nothing happened. Their manager snatched the half eaten sandwich out of her hand and slammed it into the garbage causing both Yubin and Somi to recoil as if slapped.
“No more junk food while we are promoting you fat cow! You want to go join the Piggy Dolls and sell music to fat kids?” Although the words were meant for Somi, the glare behind them was shot at Yubin. They both bowed their heads looking chastened. He mumbled “What a morning” under his breath.
“No, sir.” Somi murmured.
“That’s right…” Yubin thought. The maknae had every right to be ashamed, and yet it was somehow also Yubin’s fault that Somi didn’t know how to show up on time or stick to a diet. Yubin had never asked for the title of leader. There wasn’t much benefit, and quite a lot of grief. Those other stupid girls couldn’t take the job seriously. She was only the leader because she was the oldest, and she’d never be an equal partner with her manager because he was more than a decade her senior. The combination of his age and title entitled him to speak to them however he wanted.
“Now everyone’s here. Let's go. Take your positions.”
Yubin felt a sharp pain in her knee with each step and limped to her position in the practice room.
“I was hurt this morning. I fell down the stairs.”
“You fell down the stairs? During promotions? Yubin! How could you be so stupid?”
It wasn't like she wanted to take a header down the stairwell, and couldn’t help that she felt watched. It made her uneasy, but she also knew that voicing her protest wouldn’t help.
“Sit down! We don’t need you stumbling around and falling even more. We’ll get you a brace, and have doctor Kang send you some Vicodin. Don’t move until he gets here.” SIITY was pre-recording today, so they had to arrive at the studio early. She'd go to the hospital after they were done.
For the second time that day Yubin was struck by the things it was possible to get used to. Get hurt outside of promotions and everyone screamed “Hospital! Hospital!” Injure yourself within the first three weeks of your comeback, and it was “Eat some pills and get back to work! We’ll get you checked out when we have time.”
What did that make her within this chaotic world she’d grown into? The waves of contempt flowing off everyone with the title of “Manager” or above made her feel hollow inside. It was one thing to have the general impression that they only cared about profits, and another thing all together that her psychic whatever-you-call-it made it so she really knew.
She sampled the outside emotions simmering in that ghostly second heart of hers in the opposite side of her chest that was responsible for her psychic abilities, and she knew that to him her physical pain was nothing more than expensive broken merchandise. A man might be willing to crash his hundred billion won sports car if he thought he could make three hundred billion won in the process. They only cared when it might hurt profits, and while all the executives had private penthouses to call their own, she was trapped living in a dorm with three morons that she hated. What was the point? She'd expected to find more purpose in stardom. As it was, the only point she could see was to build more popularity.
She sighed. The show must go on. A few hours of rehearsals and then she’d be at SBS awash in a few minutes of cheers from her adoring fans. Then she’d remember why this was all okay, and why having some other reason to exist didn’t really matter. Until then and after, it was going to be a long day.
About the Author
Jun has lived in Asia for the better part of the last decade. During his years in Korea, he made a point of learning about and getting as close to the Korean entertainment industry as possible while writing his first novel "The Beautiful Dead." He enjoys telling stories about monstrous humans and humanized monsters.
He has a MFA from the University of California - Riverside, graduated with a BA in English Cum Laude from the University of Washington - Seattle, and attended Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea as an exchange student.