Horror & Dark Fantasy

Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2017

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Nonfiction

Author Spotlight: Isabel Yap

Many of us grew up hearing ghost stories and local urban legends like the ones in “Have You Heard the One About Anamaria Marquez?” Did you have a particular one in mind when you wrote this? What inspired it?

I wrote this for week three at the Clarion Workshop last summer. I kept trying to write another story that I had fleshed out more, but it was going nowhere and I needed to submit something the next morning. I put that story aside, went online, and pestered my best friends back in Manila to tell me the ghost stories they remembered from our Catholic girls’ school. Our campus has a resident ghost named Ursula, and her story is the one where her body gets buried in the tree. A lot of the other stories were also campus legends, but with twists or embellishments. I tied them all to one particular ghost called “Anamaria,” because I wanted to give these urban legends a name. I also wanted this story to be as faithful as possible to private school life in Manila, because it’s such a big part of who I am—so the setting and the interactions were inspired from memory, mostly.

What’s your writing process? How did this story develop?

My writing process is a lot of idea-gathering, which can take weeks, and then a few false starts. Sometimes I have a “power line” I want to write, a structure I want to try, or a particular sense that I want to evoke. Once I think I’m on the right track with the first page or so, I can usually sit down and finish a story in a few days, propelled by tea and Nutella. If possible I get some distance and then do a few rounds of revisions, though I like to try writing as close to the finished draft as possible. Because I wrote this story at Clarion, I was lucky to get some feedback on it from my class and instructors right away.

For this story, I wrote down all the ghost tales my friends were recalling and added them in, while I was working on the main plotline involving Mica and Hazel. The alternating structure grew out of that process. When I finished, I had to ask one of my fellow Clarionites to unlock the printer room because it was past midnight. As I went to meet her I was jumping at everything, because I had freaked myself out remembering all those ghost stories. I actually slept with the light on that night.

You grew up in Manila, where this story takes place, and you’ve published many stories and poems in Filipino magazines and journals. What differences do you see between Filipino and Western speculative fiction?

I think the main differences are in the necessity of context: the setting, the culture, even the way the characters act. Most elements in Anamaria Marquez would probably be familiar to Filipino readers, whereas foreign readers might need more context with things like opening one’s third eye or wearing a scapular. In both Filipino and Western speculative fiction, there tends to be more fantasy than science fiction, but in my experience Filipino fantasy tends to be contemporary fantasy, or magic realism. There is less experimentation with secondary worlds or high fantasy.

Another big difference, at least for me, is the mindset towards publication. As a Filipino writer, for a long time it didn’t occur to me that I could send my work anywhere. I had no idea there were magazines that published speculative fiction exclusively. Even after moving to the U.S. for college, I didn’t think to try. It was only when I was applying to Clarion that I thought, Hey, maybe I should give this a shot. The good news is there’s a growing community of Filipino speculative fiction writers, owing largely to the annual Philippine Speculative Fiction series. Originally edited by Dean and Nikki Alfar, the series has given Filipino writers the rare opportunity to share their work. The fourth book in the series was my first-ever publication, outside of school literary folios. I would highly recommend the series to anyone interested in learning more about speculative fiction in the Philippines; the eBooks are available on Amazon and Flipside Publishing.

Have you ever had a paranormal experience? Do you believe in ghosts?

I do believe in ghosts, but not just as scary things that haunt people. I believe in spirits, in things that remain, in visitations from the other world. I have never seen or felt a ghost, even if there were opportunities for that to happen; now I think I actually repel ghosts. I do have good friends who see or hear ghosts, and I know they aren’t making that up. Again, this is a cultural thing—I think it would be very hard to find a Filipino who would say “No” when asked this question. As a race, we are pretty attuned to the fantastic. A friend of mine was visited by her dead grandfather in a dream, trying to tell her something; another friend told me about an uncle who was cursed by fairies when he hit an anthill on a golf course.

Mica and her friends are clearly fans of horror, like the Chucky movies and The Ring. What are some of your favorite horror stories, shows, or movies?

I am actually really weak when it comes to horror. I saw The Ring and parts of The Exorcist when I was in fifth grade, and for months walking in the dark really scared me. My best friends are horror lovers, and they know when we go out that I can’t watch horror movies with them. That being said, I do like hearing scary movie plots once others have watched them. Still, I liked the film Drag Me to Hell (which was more of a comedy); I was impressed by the videogame Fatal Frame II: The Crimson Butterfly (though I couldn’t finish it); I loved the manga 20th Century Boys by Naoki Urusawa, which has horror elements; and I will never forget R.L Stine’s The Night of the Living Dummy.

I wouldn’t say Mica is necessarily a fan of horror films . . . though she is certainly aware of the important ones. Those movies were pretty pervasive in the 90s and 2000s. Kids knew them and had an inkling of the plot, even if they had never watched those movies themselves, even if horror didn’t appeal to them. There’s a lot of pressure not to have fears as a kid, and to understand all cultural references. I think eventually you get used to the idea so much that it’s no longer scary—hence the girls just making their own Sadako.

What other work do you have out now or forthcoming, and what are you working on?

I have stories recently published in Horror: A YA Anthology and MAXIMUM VOLUME: Best New Filipino Fiction 2014. I also have short stories that are in slush piles or being revised, including one about brain-hackers, and a love story set in a bathhouse. But my main goal for 2014 is to finish a book-length manuscript. Another big project is writing more regularly, and submitting things once I finish them. For the longest time, I wrote mostly fan fiction, and I still do when I think a certain story needs to be told. I love fandom; it’s where I learned to write. But nowadays I’m trying to get myself to come up with my own stories more often, whether or not I have an externally imposed deadline. It’s a challenge, but I’m hoping it’ll get easier over time.

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E.C. Myers

E.C. Myers

E.C. Myers was assembled in the U.S. from Korean and German parts and raised by a single mother and the public library in Yonkers, New York. He is the author of numerous short stories and three young adult books: the Andre Norton Award–winning Fair Coin, Quantum Coin, and The Silence of Six. His next novel, Against All Silence, a thriller about teenage hacktivists investigating a vast conspiracy, is scheduled to appear next spring from Adaptive Books. E.C. currently lives with his wife, son, and three doofy pets in Pennsylvania. You can find traces of him all over the internet, but especially at ecmyers.net and on Twitter @ecmyers.