Some writers feel a slow build up is necessary when writing horror, but you waste no time diving into the darkness in “Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers,” creating a vivid immediacy that continues to the end. When writing short fiction, how conscious are you of story pacing and voice?
Very. One of the things I love about short fiction is how condensed it is; it requires diligence and constant attention to make it work on both the sentence level and overall story arc. The challenge of getting creative within strict confines of form is one that I enjoy. Plus, I like stories that start and end with a bang, and I feel that short fiction is particularly well suited for that.
Shapechangers are a favorite horror trope, and you add to that concept with a deliberate exploration of the outsider, of queer identity, that enriches the tale. What inspired this story?
I’d been writing a lot of dark, heavy stories, and I wanted to write something light and funny about girls trying to find love in the big city. What I ended up with instead was a story about a predatory city and a girl who doesn’t believe she can or should encounter true love. So, super light and funny!
I love shapechangers. I wanted to couple that physical fluidity with a protagonist who has a very strong sense of identity. No matter what she looks like, she always knows who she is and what she’s doing. It’s that intentionality that I really like about her. She knows herself very well, and she believes that her existence makes her inherently monstrous—which is something that I remember internalizing when I was very young and bogged down with queer Christian guilt.
The integration of both the queer and cultural elements of the story is seamlessly engaging. How much of you rests behind the lines?
Oof. Actually, for this story, I spliced a bunch of my friends’ dating mishaps together and integrated them into the plot. I also lived in NYC for a while, which helped me write about the city on a more personal level.
For this story, I wanted to write about a variety of queer Asian American ladies. Luckily, I know many queer Asian American ladies, and our myriad experiences—both the commonalities and the differences—helped me put together a number of characters whose lives I felt were plausible in this setting. They’re not meant to be representative of Every Queer Asian American Woman, because I believe that the idea of an extant One True Narrative is total bullshit. But they’re people I felt that I could have met, and I’m okay with that.
Too often the representation of Asians in fiction was relegated to the “exotic oriental” or the “cultural victim to show relevance.” Likewise, queers are pigeon-holed as “psycho-killers” or “misunderstood best friends.” Growing up, how did such representations influence the girl who would become the woman you are today? How do you hope your own writing will influence others?
I grew up in a conservative, Evangelical Christian bubble with pretty strictly controlled media, and I didn’t see much queer representation at all. The first positive queer female representation I encountered was probably in Tamora Pierce’s The Will of the Empress, where one of the protagonists discovers her attraction to another woman. It’s treated beautifully. I remember reading that book over and over, always coming back to that same scene, too afraid to admit the reason why to myself.
I also didn’t see much representation in terms of Asian characters. Whenever an Asian (and rarely Asian American, if ever) girl showed up in media, she was small and demure, an exotic oddity, a prize to be won or a tragic lover abandoned after a war (thank you, Madame Butterfly and Miss Saigon). Add to that the pressure to conform to the submissive model of femininity espoused by my Evangelical background and you have a veritable Venn diagram of unhealthy modeling.
When I write, I want to remind people that we aren’t there for “flavor;” we exist in stories as we do in real life, not to fulfill some agenda, but because we can’t not exist. I write stories for the kid I used to be, so afraid of being abnormal, so eager for any kind of positive validation in media that girls like me could be fierce, ugly, deadly, soft, good, bad, anything and everything. That we were more than our stereotypes, that we contained so many permutations and variants that we couldn’t be held back. And I write to let all of the other sad, queer, Asian American kids know that there’s someone out there who might share some of their experiences, and that we aren’t alone.
If you could speak to readers afraid to explore the works of queer writers for fear of catching “the gays,” what would you tell them?
I think it’s important to know yourself. If you’re a reader who doesn’t want to read queer fiction, whether for personal ideological reasons or because it makes you uncomfortable, I see that. And I understand, because I’ve been there.
At the same time, the human experience is so vast and rich, and I believe that queerness is a large part of that. Maybe you’re not queer, but you know someone who is; maybe reading stories featuring queer characters or by queer writers will help you understand that person better, or better pinpoint what about queerness makes you uncomfortable.
Ultimately, it’s up to you. The stories should always be about the characters, and if those characters don’t speak to you, then the reason why is something important to understand about yourself.
What scares Alyssa Wong? What sends a shiver up your spine?
Now that seems like imprudent information to reveal! (It’s okay, I’ll tell you anyway.)
I hate bugs. Like, gut instinct revulsion. Which, of course, means that I can’t stop writing about them. I write about things that deeply interest me, and for me, fear is a type of mandatory interest.
Spread the word!