I was hiking Wonmisan (Wonmi Mountain) just now. It was dark, and got me to thinking about ghost stories. I’m supposed to be working on one independently, but I let it stall. It’s for this call for stories, but the problem is, I don’t really know any famous Korean ghost stories. When I’ve asked around, a lot of people have said there isn’t a “most famous” Korean ghost story, and couldn’t really name me individual particular ones. What they did seem familiar with was types of ghosts — the “hungry ghosts” to whom scraps of food are thrown during ancestral rites a couple of times a year, the “virgin ghosts” who seem to be motivated by some horrid wrong in their lives that caused them to fail their Confucian duty to marry, reproduce, and thus carry on someone’s family line (or, as some have joked, because they missed out on the joys of sex), and the ghosts of urban legend, particularly the ghost stories whispered among young men doing their mandatory military service.
So I’ve been working on one story, but I’m wondering if it mightn’t be a triptych of Korean “ghost types” refashioned into unlikely settings. The hungry ghost injected into a Bucheon rather like the Seoul of A Dwarf Launches a Little Ball, a famous Korean social novel of the 70s; a military service ghost injected into the life of a pop star (or soccer hero) doing his basic training; a tale of “virgin ghosts” that draws on the (actual, historical) murder of
three schoolgirls two schoolboys on the very same mountain I’m hiking daily, Wonmisan.
(EDIT: Knowing the victims were boys puts an even stronger “twist” on the virgin ghost tradition, I suppose. Thanks for the correction, Bulgasari, er, Matt.)
I dunno, but I’ll tell you, if I were thinking of writing that ghost story, maybe the best way would beto get myself a flashlight, and bring my laptop with a few batteries, and sit out there in the dark on Wonmisan at night, typing away. After all, back in Seattle, I went down into what some of us called the “spooky bunk room” (or something like that) and worked on my comfort-woman ghost story, a tale I have yet to revise but which is likely to become part of my Dead White Guy Stuck in Korea novel… the one I’m hoping to edit and rewrite next semester, and send out for publication, like, er, sometime after that. Sitting in that spooky bunk room probably didn’t help me in the drafting process, since, once I’m drafting, there’s nothing else in the world but the screen, the keyboard, music on a loop, and a cup of water or (maybe, on a hot day) beer, but I do think that being in the dark, lightless, shuttered, spooky bunk room got me into the mood as I sat there and waited to feel freaked out, so that I could started drafting. Is there a word for that? Can we call it “method writing”? I dunno. Maybe I’m the only weirdo to do this, I dunno. Anyway, I’m sure if I go sit up on the mountain, alone, I’ll find some inspiration. I just don’t know if my little inspirers will let me down off the mountain safe, and sane, when I finish drafting the story.
Anyway, yes, I got down off the mountain at 8:35pm, quite some time after sundown (and quite late enough for me to spook some people who were taking a break by the badminton courts up near the “first peak,” and who thought they were the last to climb down. I shall have to remember not to leave it so late next time, as it was really dark and I had to take the stairs at one point where I prefer to hike down the rough dirt, because I couldn’t really see the footholds in the rough dirt and didn’t want to risk breaking a leg. Or, if I do climb up with the laptop, like a fool, I shall have to remember to bring my bug spray and a headlamp. (Yes, I have one, as I think I’d like to see the mountaintop by night sometime this summer. With tons of bug spray on, of course.)
As I was scrambling down the last bit of mountain trail, I realized that I was so busy posting about the Catholics and the protest in Seoul that I forgot to post a bit of writing news: last night, I submitted (to the excellent Claude Lalumière) the page proof corrections for “Wonjjang and the Madman of Pyongyang,” which will be published sometime later this year in the twelfth annual volume of the Canadian SF anthology Tesseracts, which is chock full of big fat novellas for you to enjoy.
When Tesseracts Twelve comes out later this summer, I’ll post a link where you can order it online — one for North Americans, and one for those in Korea who want to read it, assuming it’ll be available through Whatthebook.com — but for now, here’s a link to the page listing at EDGE’s website. Oh, and you can read the intro, and the first page of each story (including mine) here.