Asian Heritage in Horror: Interview with L. Chan
L CHAN hails from Singapore. He spends most of his time wrangling a team of two dogs, Mr Luka and Mr Telly. His work has appeared in places like Clarkesworld, Translunar Travellers Lounge, Podcastle, the Dark and he was a finalist for the 2020 Eugie Foster Memorial Award. He tweets inordinately @lchanwrites and can be found on the web at https://lchanwrites.wordpress.com/
What inspired you to start writing?
I’ve always been a voracious devourer of stories – books, comics, games, movies. I guess we all start telling ourselves stories in our heads, our own heads. Oddly enough, my writing did get started in horror, in the various creepypasta forums back in the day. Once in a while, someone will contact me to narrate old Creepypasta stories on YouTube, which is nice.
What was it about the horror genre that drew you to it?
Genres are like cuisines, but horror is like a spice. It can give any genre a kick. Or you can have a dish like mala hotpot or buffalo wings – it’s all about that spice.
Plus horror can elicit such a visceral, physiological reaction, even in the written format.
But more than anything, horror is in deep, direct dialogue with what scares us and what has hurt us.
Do you make a conscious effort to include Asian and/or Pacific Islander characters and themes in your writing and if so, what do you want to portray?
I used to think of it like that in terms of representation. Especially when you start out in something like a forum-based writing community like Creepypasta, you want something which the most people can relate to, which gets the most eyeballs.
I’ve gotten to a landing point where the stuff I most want to explore in horror comes from contexts and settings that are closer and closer to me. So the settings and characters have all come home.
I love ghost stories – I’ve written my fair share of those. I love all the themes around ghost stories – being trapped and breaking free of cycles of violence. A lot of my ghost stories involve those themes. The cyclical nature of ghosts and hauntings is not unique to Asian ghost stories but those ideas and motifs gel a lot more with Asian cultural views of the afterlife. Think the Ring or Ju-On. The horror in the stories is always about how the protagonist thinks they’ve gotten away but get sucked back into the cycle of tragedy. I prefer happier endings though!
What has writing horror taught you about the world and yourself?
Maybe it’s about subtlety? Less is more works great in horror, and more so than some of the other speculative fiction genres because something subtly wrong can be used to great advantage in horror. It’s identifying things that can be used to great leverage in scenes. I also find that subtle horror lasts whereas jump scares or their literary equivalents only work once.
How do you feel the Asian and/or Pacific Islander communities have been represented thus far in the genre and what hopes do you have for representation in the genre going forward?
Like many other mediums, the internet has been a great equalizer for horror from all over the world. In Singapore, it wasn’t odd to have cinemas screening blockbuster horror movies from Thailand, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, and Korea on top of the stuff from the West. So exposure here was great but I don’t think that’s a common experience. But there’s definitely been a broadening of sources for the genre, remakes of foreign films, or cross-fertilization. I think it’s gotten more accessible for creators, big and small, to get their content out there and for readers to enjoy a broader swathe of horror. Certainly hoping that this current trajectory will continue.
In the writing, I do hope the trends go the same way. From occasionally having special Asian / POC calls to having translations and more representation in regular issues. Shout out to the Dark specifically; I’ve been reading them for a long time and they do have a broad swathe of horror.
I’d also love to see more integration of specific cultural and diasporic issues in horror. Quite a bit has been done in Science Fiction on loss of language for instance. There’s also an entire body of myths to plumb, but that comes with potential editorial and first-reader gatekeeping issues.
(L: Thought to take the questions together)
Who are some of your favorite Asian and/or Pacific Islander characters in horror?
I do enjoy many of Junji Ito’s hapless protagonists. A little like Lovecraft’s protagonists, a little like the noble but ultimately helpless boyfriends in bishoujo manga. And they generally come to undeserved bad ends.
Who are some Asian and/or Pacific Islander horror authors you recommend our audience check out?
Cassandra Khaw’s work is always worth yelling about. While Zen Cho does not seem to work primarily in horror, Black Water Sister is something I’d highly recommend. Elaine Cuyegkeng’s The House That Creaks is one of my favourite haunted house stories in the short form. And shoutout to writing buddy Vanessa Fogg, who is exquisite in quiet, personal stories, and when she turns her talent to horror, it’s really unsettling.
What is one piece of advice you would give horror authors today?
Nothing beyond the old adages of read, write and submit.
And to the Asian and/or Pacific Islander writers out there who are just getting started, what advice would you give them?
Keep on writing your specific stories and your truths, even if the publishing world is not quite where it needs to be. You and your stories matter and are necessary. They will find their homes one way or the other.
Something else that’s more relevant today, find your community! It’s so much easier to connect with fellow Asian/API writers over social media. And always remember to send the elevator back down for the next writer.