A Point of Pride: Interview with Elaine Cuyegkeng
Elaine Cuyegkeng is a Chinese Filipino writer. She grew up in Manila where there are many, many creaky old houses with ghosts inside them. She loves eldritch creatures both real and imaginary, ’80s pop stars, and caffeinated drinks with far too much sugar. She now lives in Melbourne with her partner, and their two small cat children. She has been published in the Bram Stoker winning anthology Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women, Pseudopod, Strange Horizons, Lackington’s, The Dark, and Rocket Kapre. You can find her on @layangabi on Twitter and on Facebook.
What inspired you to start writing?
I’ve always wanted to write ever since I was Wee! Tiny! Elaine! I think I was drawn to it because the act of writing always seemed so magical—an act of creation, yes, but a way of examining the world in its fragments: all of its bewildering glory and its haunted shadows.
What was it about the horror genre that drew you to it?
This is where I confess I did not think of myself as a horror writer until my friends pointed it out: “uhm. Elaaaaaainne…” And then I looked at my stories, which actually do contain quite a bit of body horror and themes of transformation, and I kicked myself for not realising it until they pointed it out.
I think I was drawn to horror because it is such a powerful genre in exploring themes of otherness, the monstrous in yourself, in other people, in grappling with a world that is often malignant and beyond your control. And how grappling with it can change you, refract you, the way the Annihilation’s Shimmer refracts everything around it. How do people hold on to themselves, to who and what they love, in the face of that? Interview With the Vampire’s Louis faces the weight of years, behind him and ahead, and two broken families left in their wake. “Her Deepness’s” Gillian moves through her nightmare of a world—its relentless gobbling of souls—grappling with an unspeakable loss. Horror is such a powerful genre for dealing with grief wrought by monsters in the dark.
Do you make a conscious effort to include LGBTQ material in your writing and if so, what do you want to portray?
I had not—but most of my work comes out queer anyway. I cannot help it—there’s such a freedom in writing yourself, or part of yourself, into the narrative.
I didn’t realize I was queer until I met my partner—didn’t understand that part of myself until I met her. I think as a result, I love writing tenderness between characters, people finding connection with each other in spite of themselves and in spite of the horror around them. In the “Genetic Alchemist’s Daughter,” Leto is complicit in awful things (murder among them) but she has always believed that she was monstrous, that it was her and her mother against the world, that connection with anyone else was impossible. But over the course of the story, (and albeit uncovering some horrific things) she also discovers that that wasn’t true.
What has writing horror taught you about the world and yourself?
Well, one, I have discovered, on the way to writing horror, that I am enamoured of themes of transformation. Possibly because as an immigrant, and someone who discovered her queerness late, in her early twenties, I have had to undergo multiple transformations, living in a country apart, and coming to grips with this new knowledge of myself.
How have you seen the horror genre change over the years? And how do you think it will continue to evolve?
What I love about the past several years is the explosion of queer horror and speculative fiction. And I love that SF and horror publications have been including more and more LGBTQ writers, and more POC and non-Western writers in their table of contents.
I think the genre is far richer for it—that we have been able to explore otherness and monstrousness in new ways, with compassion and understanding.
How do you feel the LGBTQ community has been represented thus far in the genre and what hopes do you have for representation in the genre going forward?
I love that more and more of us are writing ourselves into the narratives, into the past, present and futures—from nineteenth century Gothic horrors like Kelly Robson’s A Human Stain to the space faring dystopia of Caitlin Stirling’s The Luminous Dead.
Who are some of your favorite LGBTQ characters in horror?
Oh Gosh. I’m going to cheat and throw in all my Mike Flanagan Haunted House babes—Theo from Hill House is such a wonderful character, thorny, compassionate, angry and sad and I adore her to bits (though no lie, I want to yell at her girlfriend to run). And the queer ladies of Bly Manor! Dani, who didn’t know she could be who she was, love who she loved, until she met Jaime. Jaime, with all her love and patience and care, her love for Dani with all the years they had.
I’m also going to throw in Carmilla from the amazing 2014 webseries— both a monster and the girl in need of rescue. That she carries all the weight and wisdom of hundreds of years and the fragility of a girl who is daughter to a monster. Natasha Negovanlis is amazing in conveying all of these contradictory aspects of the character.
Who are some LGBTQ horror authors you recommend our audience check out?
I’ve named Kelly Robson and Caitlin Stairling already, but to the add to the list: Alyssa Wong! “Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers” is such a wrenching, beautiful work about monstrous girls and the need for connection. “Natural Skin” is a darkly disturbing tale about beauty and the poisoned bond between siblings. You should also read Isabel Yap—amazingly, all her wonderful short fiction is available in the collection Never Have I Ever, but in particular, “Have you Heard the One about Annamaria Marquez?” is a darkly beautiful ghost story passed between girls.
Nibedita Sen has so much beautiful meta and fiction about horror— “Ten Excerpts from an Annotated Bibliography on the Cannibal Women of Ratnabar Island” is beautiful, precisely told and chilling story about colonialism and murder, presented in academic writing.
What is one piece of advice you would give horror authors today?
Find your people! Find your writing group, your crew, the people who will support you, challenge you, who will understand you and your work, help you bring out the best in it. Then turn around and do the same for them. Nurture each other and have each other’s backs. I think this is so, so important—the act of writing itself is solitary, but we need community to thrive.
And to the LGBTQ writers out there who are just getting started, what advice would you give them?
My advice would remain the same—but I think it’s particularly vital for LGBTQ and marginalised writers to find that community and support.