“A Moonlit Savagery” is a wonderful story; evocative, stirring, and unafraid of its own horror. What happened to inspire this particular tale?
Bangkok is such a beautiful and diverse city, with rich cultures and people I’m lucky to call my lifelong friends, but it’s also filled with contrasts. “A Moonlit Savagery” is about one of these contrasts. When I first came to the city, I cluelessly rented a place not far from Nana Plaza, one of the biggest red-light districts. I used to jog past it, and learned the story of a woman who used to work there. She came from a poor background, moved to the city to support her family, and had a consensual but contractual relationship with a tourist—or farang—who just came and went as he pleased. It wasn’t that she was weak in any way—in fact, being a foreigner, the tourist depended more on her to navigate, receive medical care, and work through his visa issues—but I was affected by her steely sadness when she shrugged off the fact that he still sees other people despite knowing how it made her feel. Unless the foreigner married you and committed to staying long-term, there’s always this understanding that the guy could leave on a visa run and may not come back.
The experience made me think about my own privilege as a Chinese Canadian woman living in Southeast Asia, someone who looks the part of a local but mentally is all westernized. I can hang out with other immigrants (let’s never use the term expats), hop on a plane to an island for a weekend, and get invited to Muay Thai fights and family dinners because local people are super kind to someone like me. But what if I didn’t have a Canadian passport, or speak a language that’s commonly spoken by foreign-educated (and therefore more socioeconomically well-off) Thais? What would my experience be like then? Then again, as a foreigner, I also have less status than a local. I’ve been in a few bad situations where I couldn’t reach out to police because—until I started taking Thai lessons and got more integrated into society—I didn’t speak the language.
But the seed for “A Moonlit Savagery” was really planted by my own feelings of isolation from living abroad as a young, female and single person. After my core group of Canadian and American friends left, there was this sense that all my relationships were transient, that the bonds between me and someone I clicked with just weren’t strong enough to magnetize both of us to the same physical location. These are the natural lows of uprooting yourself and moving to a new country, and I imported these feelings into the story, which stars my favourite ghost—phi pop—which, fittingly, I discovered thanks to my Thai friends.
One element of the story that stayed with me long after the initial read was the casual brutality of “but old anxieties—I’m a monster, I’m not good enough—still shoot out of me like poisonous snakes when I see them,” the threshold to the horror of an abusive relationship. When writing the story, how difficult was it to humanize the supernatural in a way that made it relatable to modern readers?
The ghost may be powerful in that she can maim and kill and slurp up entrails, but she’s also bound to a tunnel under an abandoned hostel and can only eat people when they’re asleep. This keeps her isolated and starved of love. She’s strong physically, but deep inside, she’s massively insecure and feels undeserving of anything better than the scraps that Sebastian—this cool rising artist—throws at her.
Desperation is very relatable. We’ve all been in situations where we don’t feel good enough. We may have even been shamed for being ourselves or had our trust broken by someone we thought loved us. I think humanizing the supernatural comes easily when you’re being honest. I wrote this story in a blind animalistic frenzy, with no filters and no blueprints except the map of my own experiences. It was a delight to write this and finally crystallize on the page my thoughts about power, injustice, and ultimately, self-love.
How has attending Clarion West changed your writing? What was your biggest take away from the program?
The biggest takeaway is that I don’t need a lot of things around me to write. Books, a swanky apartment, all my clothes neatly folded and arranged by season and colour — forget all that. You simply sit in a room, put your fingers on the keyboard, and write. When you have a deadline to meet and seventeen peers and a teacher to not disappoint, you magically (and sometimes haphazardly, with lots of coffee) find it in you to get all the words down and hit SUBMIT.
The first step to writing is to read. The second step is to read more. Who are some of your favorite authors? Who tickles your fancy between the covers?
I love Stephen King. I have a special place in my heart for Carrie, which I devoured in one sitting in my middle school library, and was the first novel that made me feel completely understood. I also enjoy Ken Liu’s translations of Chinese science fiction and other non-English authors like Keigo Higashino and Gabriel García Márquez. For short stories, it’s Ted Chiang and Alice Munro, and I’ll always be grateful to Alyssa Wong and Sam J. Miller for showing me that underrepresented voices have a place in science fiction, fantasy, and horror.
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