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.

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.

Bodies No. 3

I hate my skin. It isn’t fair and clear, with peach-tinted cheeks, like the girls in Chinese movies. Nor does it glow with the promise of summer like the caramelised beach babes on the covers of Dolly magazine. Large pores, inherited from my mother, speckle the space around my nose. I hate my hair, which sits against my scalp as flat and black as an oil slick. I spend hundreds of dollars to volumise it, texturise it, bleach it. I hide my broad forehead behind a sweep of fringe. And my bridgeless, button-shaped nose–a stunted runty cousin to the proud pinnacles of my peers–it can’t even prop a pair of glasses up. I hate the way my face prompts others to question my foreign, other heritage.

+

I love my olive skin. I love the way it deepens to brown at the merest touch of sunlight. Its subtle green undertones remind me of the cool colours of forest undergrowth, or a beach in winter. I love my eyes, which are almond-shaped and shallow with folded lids like my father’s. I like the shiny blackness of my hair. I like my cheekbones, which are high and wide like my mother’s. I cherish the unexpected angles of my face: the strength of the cheeks and the jaw, the wide forehead, the soft chin. I like that it holds both sharpness and softness, both inquisitiveness and openness. I like the way my face carries pieces of my ancestors, and invites others to wonder where I am from.

Distance and affinity

I’m pretty sure he’s Filipino, from his chestnut skin and rolling accent. He wears a short-sleeved shirt, pale blue, with his name embroidered on the pocket: Paul. The same name as the Filipino nurse I met in my first rotation as a fresh-faced intern: too-friendly young Paul who stood against me in the medication room and pressed his hand over mine and made me freeze.

This Paul is a generation above. Salt-and-pepper hair, thinning at the temples. A slight stoop to his shoulders. A slight paunch at the gut. He walks along the corridor towards me, tacking to one side with the weight of his bucket and mop.

‘Hello! Where are you from?’ His round eyes regard me warmly, as though we’ve met dozens of times before. Perhaps I remind him of a daughter, or a niece, or an old girlfriend.

I smile and reel out the words I must have said a hundred times.

‘Oh, I thought you look Filipino! I’m Paul. Are you the new doctor?’

I nod sheepishly, glancing away from his cleaning equipment.

Over the next six months, we wave intermittently at each other, and exchange simple words, with a mixture of distance and affinity.

Two Minute Research

He walks past me, doubles back, and approaches with an earnest smile. Black backpack. Black skinny jeans. Black sneakers.

‘Hi! Do you have two minutes? I’m doing some research and I was wondering if I could ask you a few questions.’

We are kin unmet: brittle black hair,  almond-shaped eyes, olive skin that holds scars easily. There is an immediate sense of similarity.

‘What sort of research?’ I ask, tucking my handbag in to my side.

‘I’m doing a theology course.’

It’s not an answer, but more than an answer. He talks about his studies, and I’m listening, but he’s not telling me much. I smile and listen harder.

‘Mind if I pull up a seat? I’ve been walking around all day.’

We sit, knees pointing together, in the foyer of the library. He’s talking about his faith now. I wait for the research to begin. At my elbow is another Chinese girl, playing on her phone. Several feet away, a tall white man huddles over his laptop.

‘I was wondering, where are you at, in your beliefs? Do you believe in God?’

I stare into his crinkled eyes. I’m at the end of my journey; he’s in the middle of his. The question is a bridge through time. I could tell him so much, but it’s impossible in this space. I give him a single word answer.