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.