Of Hunger and Fury – Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women

I can’t believe it was only in June that I was wrangling my Malaysian Chinese gothic ghost story into shape. I’m pleased to share that the twisty, creepy, moody, indigestible thing has become Of Hunger and Fury, my original fiction contribution to Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women.

At risk of being expelled from the horror community, I will admit that, at the start of my writing journey, I didn’t intend to write horror. I wanted to write stories that explored the interior world of marginalised women of colour, and demonstrate the multitudinous forms of quiet resilience. I wanted to contribute to a collective pulling-apart of existing stereotypes and make these characters fascinating and terrifying in their unfamiliar three-dimensionality.

I enjoy using empathy as a specific language to the reader. In this piece, I played with sensuality and body horror to force the reader to experience being the monster. I transpose you into the character’s skin–to make you feel what she feels, to become her.

That’s why, for instance, I thought Jordan Peele’s Us was so clever. [WARNING: SPOILER AHEAD!] Us was jarring and memorable because, for the duration of the movie, you are Adelaide. You live in her skin. You feel the horrific other-ness of the doppelgangers. And then, finally, in a compelling twist…you become them. The forced becoming of the other is powerful because it challenges your notions of who deserves to be centred and who deserves to be excluded.

I’m incredibly thankful to editors Geneve Flynn and Lee Murray for inviting a newcomer like me to contribute to this anthology. I’m so glad that your convention-hall chat morphed into this darkly delicious project, and I’m grateful for all the hard work you put in behind the scenes to craft Black Cranes.

A reprint of my Aurealis and Norma K Hemming Award shortlisted story, The Mark, also appears in Black Cranes.

Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women is available from the publisher (paperback), Amazon (ebook) or Amazon AU (ebook).

The Ethnographer – Andromeda Spaceways Magazine #79

My short story, The Ethnographer, appears in Issue #79 of Andromeda Spaceways Magazine. The Ethnographer is my humble attempt to wrangle my feelings about inequality and powerlessness. It’s far from perfect, but I’m proud of it.

It introduces my second space voyager: the solitary, empathetic ethnographer, Egal Tyro, who journeys from their birth-planet, Mars, out of a desire to explore and commune with other life forms.

[My first space voyager was the bounty hunter, Orin, from my first ever published story, The Dunes of Ranza. Orin and Egal are both cybernetically-enhanced, non-binary, flawed, strong, deeply human. I love them both. I want to write them more.]

I also throw in an intelligent non-human species, visual and tactile languages, an alien planet with vast rocky basins that change colour as the sun shifts, giant rustling indigo plants, seedpod-milk, and at least three moons. Oh, also, ion-powered blimps. Preeeetty.

Thank you to fellow Aussie SFF writer Austin Sheehan and to my brother, Peter [ah, to be cursed with a sister who shoves stories under your nose every few months and demands critique], for beta reading the unwieldy draft and helping to whip it into shape.

I’m grateful to Andromeda Spaceways for accepting the story, and to editor Joel Schanke for a deft and thoughtful editing process. The issue has gorgeous artwork, including an illustration for my story (!). The stories are tied together by the theme of love.

It was also a very cool surprise to be in the company of writers AJ Fitzwater and Maria Z Medina. Maria’s lyrical, myth-infused story, Voice of God, took my breath away. AJ’s Tāne Mahuta was similarly an immersive, out-of-body, magical ode to nature.

You can purchase Issue #79 here or subscribe as a member on the Andromeda Spaceways website.

Hear, hear: narrating for AntipodeanSF

I still remember my only redeeming quality in Year Eight Drama Class was that I had a ‘nice reading voice’. So I tried something new recently: narration.

If you’re interested in listening to my sibilant s’s and palatable palatals, you can hear me narrate two snappy, quirky short stories for the AntipodeanSF Radio Show:

Bring Back The Night, by Robin Hillard [Amata, 26 July 2020] – From approx 8 minutes: https://antisf.libsyn.com/amata

The Slow, by Antoinette Ryder [Amanda, 5 July 2020] – From approx 22:30 minutes: https://antisf.libsyn.com/amanda

I tried listening to myself again, and I can hardly bear it! In hindsight, I sound bland. If I ever have another go, I’ll let myself get more into the story. It was a fun challenge though–it involved finding the right sized cardboard box, allocating the precise distance from phone to mouth to minimise spluttering plosives and background noise, and googling how to pronounce ‘detritus’.

In any case, I hope you enjoy the twisty tales by Hillard and Ryder.

Thanks Nuke and AntipodeanSF for having me!

The Mark – Inspirations, Gratitudes

A couple of months ago, I clicked into the Aurealis Awards website to check out the shortlist for 2019. To my utter amazement, my psychological horror story, The Mark, was amongst the nominations for Best Horror Short Story.

The Mark is my second publication. In June 2018, I toddled along to the Emerging Writers’ Festival in Melbourne, where I came across the Monash University Publishing stand. I chatted rather nervously to one of the editors, Amaryllis, who was lovely. The theme for the next issue of Verge clung to me like a sticky film: uncanny. I loved it. Amaryllis encouraged me to make a submission.

My short story process could perhaps be compared to a ripening fruit. An idea drops into my head, but it’s a formless thing at first: smooth and hard and hidden within itself, like a curled-up bud. Then, one day, with the right dose of sunlight or water, it blossoms, ripens, sheds dried petals, and swells to bursting.

It’s at the bursting part that the words flow best.

For The Mark, the time from seed to overripe fruit was short. The seed was the Capgras delusion: a phenomenon I’ve always found fascinating, complex, and haunting. I wanted to delve into, and wrest back control of, the loneliness, grief, and powerlessness of the underrepresented, marginalised, unseen woman.

At the time, I was inspired by works like The Yellow Wallpaper and Alias Grace, both of which challenged notions of womanhood, social roles, unreliability, and madness. I was also deeply moved by women I’d encountered in my life and my work, who’d experienced subjugation in ways large and small, and crafted their own subtle resistances.

Verge accepted my piece, and it appeared in the anthology in June 2019, alongside a host of experimental, brilliant, uncanny works (I highly, highly recommend the collection). For the acceptance, I’m immensely grateful. For Stephen Downes’ editorial hand, reading recommendations, email discussions about the uncanny, and general encouragement, I’m also extremely thankful.

All in all, I feel very lucky to be on the list next to some very established names in Australian SFFH. I look forward to the results of the Aurealis Awards later this year. And as I feel like I’m still very much at the Starting Tavern of my Meandering Adventures in Writing, I look forward to engaging more with the spec-fic community, reading, squee-ing, learning, and waiting for more crazy idea-seeds to explode in my little, nutty head.

Hunger, fury, and lessons learnt from a short story

Yesterday, I finished editing the Malaysian Chinese gothic ghost story that I’ve been working on, tumultuously, with a fair amount of hair-pulling, for the better part of two months. Writing this piece was a great deal more challenging than I expected at the outset. I thought I’d share about what I struggled with, and consequently what I learnt about the craft of writing and about myself.

The first challenge I had to wrestle with was trying to write it ‘right’. All possible accusations of fraud leapt out at me. How can I claim to be a horror writer, when I’ve only ever written one other horror story (The Mark: and that was not with the explicit purpose to frighten, but to unsettle)? Who am I to write a Chinese ghost story when I’ve hardly lived in Asia and I have to reference-check every Chinese word I use? And how can I dare to label it as gothic when I had to spend an afternoon self-consciously Googling elements of gothic literature?

[It’s dark, it’s uncanny, it’s sensual, it has omens and spirits, it’s set in the 90s and there’s terrible phone reception—so, heck, I’m just gonna roll with it.]

Eventually, I figured out that I just had to write it ‘right by me’, although that in itself is much easier said than done. I had to focus on exactly what I was trying to convey, and shave away any pretence of being something else. My and my mother’s hazy recollections of talismans and spirits and superstitions are enough. The inspirations and influences from various things I’ve read, and places I’ve travelled, are enough. It’s enough that I’m emotionally honest with the reader.

The second challenge I had to overcome? My fear of being too…weird. What did I expect, really? In writing a story about suppressed hunger and fury, I found myself struggling with my own suppressed hunger and fury, wondering if I was coming across as too angry, too twisted, too much.

My story aims to be metaphorical and impressionistic, not explicit and didactic. I’m not trying to impart any particular lesson, but to inject you, the reader, into Fen Fang’s body: so that you can feel her feelings, grapple with her reality, and scramble as it distorts. I enjoyed this exercise immensely—using Fang’s senses, her behaviour, and even the form of her language and thought, to shape the narrative experience. It’s certainly the most metaphorical and twisty thing I’ve written so far.

Plus, yeahhhh, there’s a ghost in it!

I hope that I can share it with you soon.

Father’s House – Aurealis #129

My short story, Father’s House, is in Aurealis #129.

Here’s my ‘Story Behind The Story’:

Father’s House sprang from three concepts mashing together unexpectedly in my head. The technology to map and deconstruct the human brain is growing increasingly sophisticated. How long will it be before we try to replicate a human mind in digital form? More importantly, when we do so, how closely can we say it represents the original? At the time I was mulling about this, the Voluntary Assisted Dying Act came into effect in Victoria—and with it, the crucial issue of determining capacity to consent. Finally, this story holds a great deal of personal significance. I was reflecting on the things that parents pass on to their children: stories spoken aloud, and stories so hidden they’re only a vague feeling. Like Henry, we carry pieces of previous generations in us, and we grapple with them throughout our lives.

You can purchase the issue or sign up as a subscriber through the Aurealis website.

Jigsaw Children in Audio

Forgot to post this a few weeks ago.
My story, Jigsaw Children, is available in audio form, narrated beautifully by Alethea Kontis.
Available at the Clarkesworld website: http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/audio_02_20d/
Or also on the Clarkesworld Podcast:
…and other podcast sources.

Aurealis Awards 2019: Shortlisted!

Greetings, digital ghosts.

Just a little post to announce that my short story, The Mark, has been shortlisted for Best Horror Short Story in the 2019 Aurealis Awards.

 
Wang Yibo dancing on stage with a seductive twirl.
Mood

I’m feeling incredibly privileged and honoured that my second published work is an Aurealis Awards nominee.

Congratulations to all the other finalists: a stellar line-up!

https://aurealisawards.org/2020/03/25/2019-aurealis-awards-shortlist-announcement/

2020

Although the demands of the day job have slowed down my writerly habits over the last six months, 2020 has been off to a wonderful start. At the start of February, my gene-splicing novelette, Jigsaw Chidren, was published in Clarkesworld. A year ago, I would never have imagined that I’d have my first publication in a pro SF&F magazine in the United States!

I’m thrilled to share two further acceptances, both of which have special meaning to me.

Father’s House is slated for publication in the April 2020 issue of Aurealis. This short story toys with the hypotheticals of medical technology, and also draws on my reflections about intergenerational stories and parent-child relationships. I’m over the moon that it has found a home in the Aurealis world!

Mother of the Trenches has been accepted into CSFG’s upcoming anthology, Unnatural Order. This is a wacky, wonderful, tentacled short story with my most experimental structure yet! I had a ball writing it (I was also devouring, at the time, with great fascination, this book–a gift from my brother). I wanted this story to disgust, delight, and challenge our anthropocentric biases. My excitement levels are super high to see this appear in print. Slated for release at WorldCon 2020 in July.

I’m also working on a piece for Black Cranes, an anthology of horror stories by Asian women writers, edited by Lee Murray and Geneve Flynn. Black Cranes is also slated for release at WorldCon, and it’s a project that I’m ridiculously excited to see come together.

And, finally, yes–edits for my novel in progress, Uploading, are plodding along. If only I didn’t have to study for this pesky exam…!

Off to make another coffee.

Jigsaw Children – Clarkesworld

I think I’m reasonably lucky, only having five parents. I guess my donors didn’t have too many risk mutations. Some of my classmates have been spliced together from eight, nine, even twelve donors. I don’t envy them the task of juggling their Chinese New Year dinners.

In 2018, I scribbled an opening line in the back of my diary: ‘I have three mothers and two fathers.’

A few weeks later, I had an unwieldy sci-fi story about gene splicing, mothers, attachment, and identity, set in near-future Hong Kong. It was too long. It had a terrible first title (which I changed, thanks to my writing bud’s feedback).

But I liked Lian’s story. I reworked it. Submitted.

And held my breath.

And screamed a bit (OK, a lot) when I saw the acceptance email.

Jigsaw Children has just been published in Clarkesworld’s February 2020 issue, alongside five other fascinating stories–and that sweet, sweet cover art!

I hope you stop by to hear Lian’s story.

PS. This is my first publication for 2020. There are a couple more things in the works, so do follow, stay tuned, and maybe even drop me a line…we of the writer-hermit folk subsist on little nuggets of feedback!