Exclusive Interview: “Small Gods Of Calamity” Author Sam Kyung Yoo


When we think of ghosts, we usually think of dead people. Or that slimy guy from Ghostbusters.

But in Sam Kyung Yoo’s urban fantasy / supernatural noir / paranormal investigation novella Small Gods Of Calamity (paperback, Kindle), a full-time police detective and part-time spiritualist named Kim Han-gil is chasing a ghost worm.

In the following email interview, Kyung Yoo talks about what inspired and influenced this story, as well as their plans for more…but not about the worm. Some mysteries must remain mysterious

Sam Kyung Yoo Small Gods Of Calamity

To begin, what is Small Gods Of Calamity about, and what kind of a world is it set in?

Small Gods Of Calamity takes place in an urban fantasy reimagining of South Korea where Seoul is a city full of ghosts and has a whole network of spiritualists and exorcists working both full-time and part-time.

The story follows Kim Han-gil, a full-time police detective and part-time spiritualist, as he chases after a parasitic worm spirit that’s leaving a trail of corpses in its wake. He’s aided by his adopted sister Azuna (an exorcist), and Yoonhae (a spirit medium) who shares a difficult history with Han-gil.

Where did you get the idea for Small Gods Of Calamity?

It actually started out as a short story I was trying to write for Occult Detective Magazine. The word limit was supposed to be 7,000 words, I think, but my love of crime shows, East Asian folklore, and nature documentaries kind of took over. I blasted through the maximum word limit and ended up solidly in novella territory by the time I finished the first draft.

So, is there a reason why Kim is a spirit detective in the police department as opposed to a private spirit detective or an agent for the Federal Bureau Of Spiritual Investigations?

I came really close to having Kim Han-gil be a private detective, but ultimately I thought it made more sense for him to choose a career path that would let him investigate violent crimes and murders directly. But there is definitely an alternate universe version of Small Gods Of Calamity where Kim Han-gil is a private investigator who is constantly getting in trouble with the police for meddling and trespassing at crime scenes.

And while a Federal Bureau Of Spiritual Investigations definitely would’ve been fun, I liked the idea of having aspects of the supernatural world more interwoven with the “normal” world. Rather than there being a separate government-run institution of spiritualists, I wanted there to be people “in-the-know” about the supernatural in all manner of places and professions.

It sounds like Small Gods Of Calamity is a crime thriller / urban fantasy mash-up….

I started out calling it an occult detective story, for obvious reasons, but I’ve also seen subgenre labels like “supernatural noir” or “paranormal investigation” floating around which seem to fit as well. I don’t disagree with the urban fantasy identification though.

I will say that the crime thriller label is a little intimidating because I associate that genre with significantly more complex cases and a higher emphasis on multiple layers of policework. Since Calamity is pretty character focused, I didn’t spend as much time on that side of things, so I don’t know if “crime thriller” as a genre label is entirely earned, but I’m also not the greatest at identifying the genre of my own writing. One time, I tried submitting a short story to a fantasy magazine and they responded saying, “We enjoyed this, but your story has too many horror elements in it for our readers.”

Small Gods Of Calamity is your first novella, but you’ve had short stories published in such journals as Strange Horizons and Fireside Quarterly as well as in such anthologies as Luminescent Machinations: Queer Tales Of Monumental Invention and Unlocking The Magic: A Fantasy Anthology. Are there any writers who had a big influence on Calamity but not on anything else you’ve written?

I try not to read much of anyone else’s work while I’m doing the bulk of my rough drafting because I don’t want to worry about subconsciously trying to copy someone else’s writing style. I’ve noticed myself doing it by accident in the past and it was always very distracting.

How about such non-literary influences as movies, TV shows, or games?

Yeah, absolutely. In contrast to my feelings about books, other types of media are a much more comfortable source of inspiration for me. I think because it’s a different medium, it’s easier to compartmentalize. I also sometimes will have a show running in the background while I write, sort of like white noise.

Small Gods Of Calamity in particular was influenced by such Korean, Japanese, and Chinese drama series as Sell Your Haunted House, The Guest, Border, and Under The Skin.

Urban fantasy novellas are sometimes stand-alone stories, and sometimes they’re part of larger sagas. And the same goes for crime thrillers. So, what is Small Gods Of Calamity? Is it a stand-alone story or the first book in a series?

I was calling this book something like a pilot episode since pretty early on. I always had a continuation in mind, I just didn’t know if I’d go through with writing it since I wasn’t sure if anyone would be interested in reading more.

But I’ve been told that there are a number of ARC readers who are really hoping for a sequel, so I’m going all in and trying to make it into a trilogy. I’m really looking forward to exploring more of the world-building and character backstories, as well as developing certain character relationships some more.

So, do you know yet what the other books are called and / or when they’ll be out?

My working title for the second book is Spirits In The Killing Jar.

I don’t have anything as concrete as a projected publication date yet, unfortunately, but I will do my best.

Upon hearing that Small Gods Of Calamity is the start of a trilogy, some people will decide to wait until all of the books are out before reading any of them. But is there any reason why you think people shouldn’t wait?

As someone who enjoys binge-reading or watching things, I completely understand. I personally think Small Gods Of Calamity has a pretty solid resolution though, so I wouldn’t say there’s any cliffhanger to worry about.

Also, rather than wait for several books to come out, I think it also makes sense to try reading the first one to at least see if you even like it. If it’s not your thing, then you won’t even have to worry about waiting for the rest of the series.

Earlier I asked if Small Gods Of Calamity was influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. But to flip things around, do you think Calamity could work as a movie, show, or game?

I think Calamity could work as a film or TV show, considering the creative influences. Some of the sensory aspects of the characters’ spirit perception might not be as easy to translate, but it’d be really cool to see a film or show portraying synesthesia-like extrasensory experiences in a visual way.

And if someone wanted to adapt Small Gods Of Calamity into a movie or TV show, who would you want them to cast as Kim, Shin, and the other main characters?

That is a fascinating question. I don’t usually have a clear mental image of what my characters physically look like, to be honest, so this is going to be based more so on what actors have played roles that remind me of the Calamity squad.

I like the idea of Woo Do-hwan as Kim Han-gil. The character he played in Mad Dog often used sarcasm as a preemptive shield because he knew he was going to be disliked by the people he was interacting with, and I think Han-gil can relate to that.

Shin Yoonhae matches up with Kim Soo-hyun’s character in It’s Okay To Not Be Okay pretty well. A lot of sorrow, perseverance, feelings of responsibility, and quiet devotion.

As for Kamiki Azuna, even though my instinct would be to cast a Japanese actress, the first person who popped into my head for her was Han Hyo-joo, because her character in Happiness is the coolest noona in the world.

So, is there anything else you think people need to know about Small Gods Of Calamity?

I’ve heard that some ARC readers were wondering about this, so I just wanted to confirm: There is the beginning of a slow-burn queer relationship in this book. I’m looking forward to developing this over the course of the book series, and I hope readers will feel the same way.

Sam Kyung Yoo Small Gods Of Calamity

Finally, if someone enjoys Small Gods Of Calamity, what novella of someone else’s that you read recently and liked would you suggest they check out?

It’s a novelette rather than a novella, but I would definitely recommend A Dead Djinn In Cairo by P. Djeli Clarke. It’s a murder mystery set in a vibrant world of magic and clockwork, full of Djinn, Angels, and ghuls. I’m looking forward to getting more into the Dead Djinn Universe in the future.

And if you connected more so with the aspects of Small Gods Of Calamity that were focused on the processing of trauma and grief, definitely check out Ai Jiang’s novella, Linghun. It’s a powerful story where the living and the dead haunt each other in equal measure.



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